Saturday, January 27, 2018

Bicycle Repair

My back's a lot better but I'm still a bit leery of doing much of anything that requires lifting, turning, bending over, or standing upright. I did finish up a job that I was working on down in the basement "laboratory". Scratch one off the list.

I also took my touring bicycle to a shop for some work. The bottom bracket was thrown together when I was getting ready to take the Portland to Missoula trip a few years back. I needed a triple set of gears on the front for the mountains we were expecting to climb and I ran into some problems getting it converted. The main problem was that my mother passed away just as I was preparing to take the trip, so I was involved with funeral arrangements and all that goes with the passing of a parent. I took the bike to a couple of shops to get a new crankset installed and got a couple of it can't be dones, so I rigged up a solution that worked rather well and was expedient but there were some issues with the threads.

I took the bike to a small shop in Valparaiso, Indiana - Leo's Mobile Bicycle Service - and he got it all straightened out. I could have done the rest of the service work myself but I want the bike ready to go when the nice weather comes and I've got a ton of other things on my plate. He lubed and trued the wheels, greased the headset, installed a new cartridge type bottom bracket, new chain, new cables, adjusted the brakes and the derailleurs - $200.00. That's a fairly good chunk of change for an old steel frame bike but I've got relatively new wheels and rear derailleur on the bike. Plus I put new tires and tubes on it last summer. The seat is a nice sprung leather saddle that is very comfortable and the bike fits me well. So basically, everything now is pert near brand new and ready for another tour across the heartland. Which I'm hoping will be this summer. I talked to my old saddle pal last year about doing the Cowboy Trail across Nebraska this year. I haven't talked to him of late but I'm hoping we can put something together. By the way, if you are anywhere close to Valpo and you need anything bicycle, check out Leo's. I'm real pleased with the work he did.

I've got a couple of sessions of the Multi-Axis CNC class under my belt. We're making a small spur gear for our first project. We - meaning the instructor - wrote a program for the horizontal machining center the last session to produce the blanks. It's interesting the different approaches to making parts depending on your background and the equipment available. I look at things much differently than the instructor and the young guys in the class. I'm a old school guy with very little formal training versus young guys who were brought up in the digital age. One of the other students drew up the gear and printed out a sample on the 3D printer that he has at home. Lot different than me and my old South Bend lathe making drawings on the back of bar napkins. That's the difference that two generations will make though. I did notice in the other CNC class I took that combining old duffers and young pups makes for a pretty formidable group. However, the main reason I'm taking these classes is to see these new technologies in action and to keep from getting too far behind the curve on manufacturing techniques. Looks like it's going to be a good experience for me.

More Family Tree

Still working on the family history. I've got everything on my side of the family finished up other than scanning in a few more photographs. The photo above is my grandmother's older sister and her husband. Old Herb snored louder than any person in the known free world. I remember one time walking over to their house from grandma's on a nice Sunday afternoon. Herb was outside taking a nap and I could hear him snoring two blocks away. And his wife? One of the sweetest old gals you could ever meet.

I was real lucky growing up. We never had much money, but my brothers and I never really wanted for much. We all had chores to do and Mom threw us out of the house during the day as long as it wasn't raining too hard or too cold. There were no electronics to amuse us back then other than  transistor radios and black and white television sets and Mom limited our television time. We all had bedtime stories read to us when we were little and we all grew into being avid readers as adults. We all made it through the 60's and the 70's for the most part unscathed. Typical middle-class story but it gave all of us boys a good start in life and we all turned out to be productive citizens who valued working for what you want and having a decent education or skills in order to make your way in the world.

Most of my early ancestors on both my Mom and Dad's side were small farmers, getting by but that's about all. Two sisters on my dad's side started a family reunion in 1957 that continued for years. I remember going when I was a kid and everyone was always happy. My dad would play the piano and two of my uncles would play guitar. There were always Canasta and Euchre games going on. The kids would run around playing tag or throw the ball around. I never realized until I was older what that older generation went through growing up. Aunt Florence was born at home in 1891. No hospital, no central heating, not even any electricity. Family and neighbors were what you relied on for your support system. Maybe that's why they were always so happy at the reunion. They had lived through all the hardships growing up and raising their families and now they could relax a bit and enjoy all the modern conveniences that made life so much easier for them in their later years.

We could learn a lot from that group - if only they were still around to tell the story. At least they won't be forgotten - as long as I finish typing up the family history, that is.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Volcanic Action

The photo's from here and it identified the volcano as being Mount Vesuvius. So I wrote up a little blog post about Mount Vesuvius as seen below. However, after I wrote the post, I went out to get the mail and the paper and there's a front page photo of a volcano in the Philippines, which I assume to be the one in the photo. So here's a post about volcanos.

This is a photo I shot looking down inside Vesuvius.  You can see a bit of steam in the center of the picture. The tour guide mentioned that it's roughly due to erupt again according to past occurrences. The people in charge over there are supposed to have a notification system in place if it appears as if it's going to blow, giving the people living in the area time to pack their bags and scoot. After touring Pompeii, I don't think I'd trust any warning system enough to do more than what we did, which was ride the bus about half way up and then hike to the top. It is kind of cool that I managed to get to the top of a volcano regardless of which volcano is in the top photo.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Truck's Fixed

Music to work on the truck by.

The back and the weather were both good enough yesterday to tackle the window on the truck. Took me a bit to figure out how the door pad was mounted onto the door but I managed to get it off without breaking anything. Putting the window back in the track was simple enough. Likewise putting the door pad back on was relatively easy except for the lock button. A third hand to guide the door lock through the hole would have helped but only took about five minutes of wrestling. Probably wouldn't have taken that long if I wasn't worried about twisting my back the wrong way. As long as I had it inside the barn I checked all the fluids and aired up the tires. I put new wiper blades on last time it warmed up, so I should be able to make it until spring before it needs anything else. If it needs much else, I'm going to jack it up and drive a new one underneath it.

Monday, January 22, 2018


From Here

And that's just about the size of it. The back is doing much better, however. No pain unless I happen to move the wrong way and then I get a sharp stabbing pain but the spasms have stopped. Should be back to my normal old man aches and pains in a few more days.

As my back improved I started wasting a little more time on the computer and stumbled across this little thing at a post from Red in Indy. It's the Mosquito model by 47Moto. 250cc single with six speed transmission for about $5K. According to Red, the design is by a guy who did similar work for Buell. There's supposed to be two other versions of this rig in the future. I think I'm going to go to the big International Motorcycle Show in a few weeks. Might be one of these on display. I checked the exhibitor list and didn't see it on there but if you're building motorcycles in Wisconsin, I'd think you'd show up to a show in Chicago. Like wise with Royal Enfield.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Mysa School

There was an op-ed in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal by the head and founder of the Mysa School in Bethesda, Maryland. The school operates from the standpoint of mastery-based education. When you finish a unit you move on - those that are quick to pick up on the subject matter don't have to wait for the rest of the class and those that are slower on the uptake stay with the subject until they too have it mastered.

I used to do a similar thing in my vocational welding classes. The students could decide what they wanted to work on on any given day. Their grade was determined by how many items were completed off the task list as well as how well they completed them. A student could work ahead, get his nine weeks grade covered and then work on what ever he felt like working on - usually some project of his own he wanted to build. I had one kid who worked super hard to get ahead and then he took the last nine weeks of his senior year off. He didn't have to do anything because he already had his grade covered. He did do things, however, because he was a go-getter who didn't like to stand around.

As an instructor the system allowed me to work around equipment limitations. Initially, I only had one TIG machine in the shop. With this system, one ore two of the students could use the machine while the remainder of the class could be working on other things. There was never an excuse for anyone to be standing around waiting their turn to get on a piece of equipment.

The system worked really well, in fact, the State of Indiana came up with the system as a result of the  V-Techs program from the late seventies - early eighties. However, towards the last of my high school career, it was decided that all grading had to be uniform and computerized. The guy in charge of the Tech stuff wasn't too interested in figuring out how to make my stuff jive with what the corporation was selling, so a conflict arose. The concept of mastery education is rock solid, though. A lot of vocational/trade schools use it. Going to be a mechanic? Take the transmission module. When you master transmissions, move to brakes, etc. It's really quite logical - and effective. I'd like to see how it works when the whole high school is doing it, like the Mysa School is.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Checking In

Still spending most of my time riding the recliner. At the rate I'm progressing, I figure it'll be at least another week before I can do much. It turned cold again, so I wasn't going to do much outside anyway. I did get some welding done on the motorbike the morning the back seized up. I was planning on going back out and working on it a bit more later in the day after taking care of the chores and eating my lunch. I'm hoping to get back on that project this weekend when it warms up a bit, back allowing.

I went out yesterday and fired up the truck to go down and get the mail. The driver's side window was frozen from the sleet the other day and when I went to crank it, the window and the track parted company. Now there's something else on the list that needs fixing. Again, depending on how the back is treating me, might take a look at that this weekend.

Photo above is the wife's grandpa holding Surly when he was just a pup. I scanned that one in for the family history project.

And that's about all I've got. 

Monday, January 15, 2018

Back Trouble

Threw my back out last Thursday - bent over while filling the waterer for the chickens and felt it start to tighten up but couldn't get straightened up in time. I'm still hurting a bit but not like I was. I'm sure the muscle relaxers the doctor prescribed have something to do with that. It's snowing out now but I've got no place I need to go for a couple more days, so let it snow. I should be in good enough shape to get the tractor out and clear the lane tomorrow. In the meantime, I'll just take it easy and keep reading.

It's hell gettin' old.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Home Ec Class

Interesting post about Home Economics class as it used to be and a link to a place teaching skilled trades as it should be. I can't be all negative all the time about public education.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Basket Weaving

Top photo is how I've been keeping busy as of late, other than all the family history typing stuff, that is. Not really basket weaving - figure of speech thing. I've seen people weave baskets and that takes some real skill. Anyway, I put a new bladder in a couple of speed bags for the gym and made a couple of paracord lanyards for one of the guys who works out there. Not much to it but it's something to keep me amused while it's cold outside. Actually, making the lanyards reminded me of some of the stuff I used to do as a kid. I remember making a wallet from a kit that contained the leather with punched holes that had to be laced up along with a key holder and a couple other items. I also made some stuff with those little tiny Indian beads that you strung together. Not much different now 50 some years later. Simple things amuse simple minds. 

The second photo is something Jimmy got me the other day. He and his wife were out shopping and came across this and they both figured I should have it. I suppose I am an award winning athlete but no doubt about the trophy wife part. The old gal's a winner.

Sticking with the award winning theme - the bottom two photos are the latest Welding Journal. If you look close you can see Shop Teacher Bob in the group on the Society News page (of course you'd have to know what I look like). Pay your dues for 25 years and you too can get your picture in the magazine. 

I did finish typing up the one section of the family history - 28 pages. I need to dig through some of the old files now and see what else I should include on the wife's side of the story and then scan in some documents and photos still. It's supposed to be warm today, so I'll be out in the shop for a while for a much needed therapy session. More cold and snow on the way, though, so work will resume on the family history again shortly. I'm bound and determined to finish this thing up.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

More Education BS

“The Dumbing Down of Scholastic Achievement”

by Sheriff David Clark

"When all 164 of Washington D.C. Frank W. Ballou Senior High School’s graduating seniors last year applied for and were accepted to college, the whole community - students, teachers, administrators, parents, and education reformers - had reason to celebrate the achievements of these obviously hard-working graduates. With a graduating class the school system considered “academically disadvantaged,” someone in the school district should have smelled a rat.

After all, 98 percent of Ballou’s 930 students were African-Americans, and two percent were Hispanic/Latino, according to data from the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) system. One hundred percent of them were considered “academically disadvantaged” by the system. Kids like this deserve the great opportunity that a high-quality, character-building education can help provide. There was a time when good educators, in fact, would tirelessly fight to give it to them. Those days are apparently over.

Sadly, this happy story collapsed in November, when an investigation by WAMU and NPR found that the much-ballyhooed Ballou graduated dozens of these students despite high rates of unexcused absences throughout their senior year. Half of them missed more than three months of school. One in five was absent more than present. When kids don’t show up for class, no learning can take place. And many continue to be perplexed about the growing achievement gap between black and Hispanic kids and their white counterparts. These truancy rates are a big part of the problem.

Some teachers, saying they felt pressure to pass failing students and get them to graduation, cooperated with the investigation. An internal e-mail shows that in April, just two months before the end of the school year, only 57 students were on track to graduate. Many of the others could scarcely read or write. All of which means the graduation jubilation in June was not, in any way, justified. Put bluntly, Ballou’s administrators and some teachers cooked the books, used taxpayer money to commit fraud, and above all harmed poor black youths and their futures the most. Quite an indictment.

Perhaps even more alarmingly, NPR’s report led teachers from around the country to share similar situations in many other districts. This is a nationwide academic scandal in K-12 urban school districts, not to mention the serious disciplinary issues they have.

As I recall, when the multinational energy corporation Enron cooked the books and committed private-sector fraud that hurt mostly white-collar investors, people were actually indicted and in some cases sentenced to prison for crimes. Shareholders sued. That scandal ended with Enron closing its doors for good. And even that wasn’t considered sufficient accountability in the private sector: the fraud also essentially ended the life of Arthur Andersen, the distinguished accounting firm Enron had used.

I hope the same kind of attention will be paid to the Ballou scandal. So far, it’s being taken with apparent seriousness. In late November, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and DCPS Chancellor Antwan Wilson announced two investigations arising out of the Ballou deceit. One will be conducted by D.C. State Superintendent of Education Hanseul Kang and is slated for completion later this month. Another will be led by two deputy DCPS chancellors who are examining the problem system-wide. I hold out little hope that anything more will come out of this than for the school district to attribute the problem to a lack of teacher training or a misunderstanding with no intent to deceive.

The D.C. Council’s education committee held a lengthy hearing on the matter in mid-December, and Ballou principal Yetunde Reeves has been reassigned, pending the outcome. That is likely the worst of what will happen to her, because the teaching establishment tends to punish only by reassignment.

Two things were left out of the story. First, where were the parents? They had to have some inkling that their son or daughter was not attending school regularly and certainly were not learning. They have a duty to see that their child shows up to school everyday in a state of readiness to learn. Second, what colleges accepted the kids who can’t read or write? They should be outed.

Whoever is responsible for perpetrating, encouraging, or tolerating this Ballou fraud should be held as accountable as those who were behind the Enron scandal. Having helped to deny real opportunity to mostly poor black kids who deserved it, the fraudsters should receive what every such crook deserves. Jail.

But that will require major change in America’s schools. Today, Enron’s cheating is a felony. Teachers’ cheating is job security.”

From Here

First of all, it would be hard for me to believe that all of any graduating class was going to college. Surely someone would have joined the military, taken a year off to travel, gone to work to get a grubstake to pay for college, or just decided they needed a little time off from school before they committed to four more years. Secondly, regardless of how good the high school is, if they came up through the Washington D.C. school system, from what I've heard over the years, it would be real surprising if the majority of them were even close to being prepared to do high school level work without a substantial amount of remediation. 

The attendance records tell most of the story. You can't learn anything if you're not there. If half of the students  missed more than tree months of the school year, do you really think they're going to be well prepared for college? I would bet there's a rule on the books in D.C. that after so many days you are going to be expelled for truancy. Obviously that didn't happen.

We had similar problems at the high school I retired from. The first day of school the principal goes through all the changes in the handbook and explains the new attendance policy. The second day of school I explain the new policy to the students. On the third day the absences begin. After one student had 22 days of absence, I discuss the situation starting with the superintendent, then the principal and then the student's counselor. Lot of tap dancing but no good answers. The answer no one wanted to give was if we expel a student that has a negative affect on the graduation rate, which affects how the school is graded by the state. Also, if we expel the student we don't get any money from the state. The longer the student is on the books, the more money the corporation receives without having to provide any services. Why wouldn't the school keep them on the books? Because you're not doing the students any favors, that's why!

They graduate from high school and then fail at college because they aren't prepared. They go out into the work community and can't do simple math or put two sentences together. The employer asks where they went to school and he then thinks twice about hiring anyone else from that school. Or when the kid fails to show up on time or at all, the boss knows the kid had to learn that behavior somewhere, so even though the school allowed you to show up only a third of the time, our company prefers 100% attendance. Here's your check - you can sleep as late as you want tomorrow.

There's a lot of things that could be done to improve public education. Cooking the books obviously isn't one of them. I doubt much will ever change until the decision making process is driven by outcomes rather than outside influences. In the meantime, the value of a high school diploma continues to drop.


Monday, January 8, 2018


I've been making a lot of progress typing up the family history but I've still got a ways to go. My typing has improved but there's a couple of booklets that I'm re-typing that are pretty time consuming. The one is about my wife's great grandmother. She married and boomed out from Minneapolis to homestead on the north western corner of North Dakota. They lived in a dugout at first, moved up to a little shack and in 1917 her husband went back to Minneapolis on business and never came back, having gotten into a fight, stabbing some guy and going to the big house, leaving her out on the prairie with four little kids. She moved into the little town of Alkabo later on. That's what's left of it in the photos above. They were taken in 2010. Just a ghost town now except for the school house which looks pretty well maintained. Apparently it's a museum now. I wouldn't mind taking a trip out that way to see what's in the museum.

Interesting story - tough old bird. All that typing I've been doing is a real pain in the ass for me but her story needs to be told and remembered.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Keen Foundry

Saw this on posted on Facebook. I didn't know the guy who posted it at the time, but I think we both worked at Keen Foundry back in the early seventies. I met him later through a mutual friend and we played on a 6 foot and under basketball team way back when.

I worked at the foundry for almost exactly a year. I started out as a laborer. I worked in the grinding department in the mornings knocking flashing off the castings before they went to the snag grinders. These were like big versions of a bench grinder - big like with a 3' diameter grinding wheel. In the afternoons I worked the pouring floor shifting weights. That was a back breaker. Later I worked afternoons part time swinging a sledge hammer knocking feeders off the castings and I drove a bucket loader doing clean-up work and transporting castings from the pouring floor to the shake-out table.

I ended up there because I was in a desperate need of a job and because the work was hard they were always looking for non-skilled help. No easy jobs at a foundry. Hard work, really hot in the summer and the black dust got into everything - turned your underwear dingy and your lungs. Long term employees out in the plant - molders - ended up with brown lung/silicosis. I was working my way through college, so I knew going in this wasn't going to be a long term position. It's the kind of job every young man who hasn't decided on a career path should be in for a while, though. Won't take long to figure out a skilled trade or college is a much better option. The only decent jobs in the whole plant as far as I was concerned were the pattern makers. Good working conditions, good pay, highly skilled.

The great thing about the job from my standpoint as a 19 year old was when I went on the night shift, the plant was only working four days per week. I started the week Monday afternoon at 5:00 and worked until 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning. I finished up late Thursday about the same time of the morning. I'd sleep until about noon Friday and then have the rest of the weekend up until 5:00 on Monday off. With the overtime every day I was still getting close to 40 hours, plus anything over 8 per day was at time and a half. Not a bad thing except I was a laborer in a gray iron foundry.

I don't think there's a gray iron foundry left in the United States. The EPA closed most of them down and Taiwan took over a lot of the work. Keen had a bit of labor unrest that was probably the last nail in their coffin. If I remember correctly, they had a work stoppage, somebody drove a truck through the picket line and it got firebombed. That got the Feds involved and nothing good ever comes out of that. They've been closed down now for a lot of years. Too bad - other than the labor jobs that had a lot of turn over, they had a lot of good people who spent a lot of years working there.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Puzzling Weather

Big warm up this morning - almost thirty degrees warmer than yesterday morning. Of course it was still only 12 friggin' degrees out. Snowing now as well. It's like a real winter this year. I don't usually bitch too loud about the winter weather. I like the change of seasons and I usually get out and do things outside in the cold. I don't ice fish or hunt, but I like to tramp around in the woods, ice skate, snow shoe -  on the rare occasions we have enough snow on the ground to make it worth strapping them on. I don't even mind shoveling snow, within reason of course. I was watching the weatherman the other day and he summed up how I'm feeling about the current weather. "The frigid temperatures are taking the fun out of winter." Yep.

Besides being dangerous outside with wind chills down around -25 to -35, it's a little tough keeping the old farm house warm. The original part of the house was built over 100 years ago and it has been added on to several times. I don't think there was ever a lot of thought put into insulation and sealing up drafts. I've improved things quite a bit since I moved in but I need to look into replacing some windows, especially on the west side of the house. We've got hot water heat, which I like, but there's a couple of places without fin tubes which creates cold spots. Also, with just the two of us in the house, there isn't a lot of movement so the air doesn't circulate much, which doesn't help much. I put a programmable thermostat in a few years back and it's set to drop the temperature at night but when it gets really cold out as it has been of late, the furnace takes forever to get caught back up in the morning. When I replaced the big through the wall air conditioner a couple of years ago, I bought one with a heating element in it as well. Smart move on my part. I tried it out a couple of times last winter but didn't really need it. I've been using it every morning lately, however. Warms things up PDQ. I don't know what the electric bill will be like but better than being miserable, or more importantly, better than having the Missus miserable.

Might start another jigsaw puzzle today. The one above I started after the Winter Classic on Monday and finished it up yesterday. It's a 500 piece puzzle. I've got a couple more that are 1000 pieces. Probably start one of those today - keep me busy until the weather breaks this weekend. I did see the old card table I'm using needs a little welding repair. The spot welds holding one of the legs on have broken loose. When it warms up a bit I'll take the table out to the shop and re-weld the leg. Likewise the scale I fixed the other day.

We've got a beam scale like at the doctor's office. There's a piece of 3/16" key stock on all four corners underneath the platform that slip into square holes. There doesn't seem to be anything holding them in the hole other than a little tension when not in use. One of them popped out and I was able to wrestle it back into the hole but it wouldn't hurt to put a little tack weld on it so it won't come out again - do all four corners, in fact.

Stay warm!

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Minus 17

Woke up this morning at about 6:15 - checked the outside temperature and saw -17. Crawled right back between the sheets. Looks like another day of reading and jigsaw puzzles.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Bike Horn

El Cheapo bicycle horn I got for Christmas - just exactly like what I wanted. In fact it's red, which is extra good. This is going on the motorbike if it ever warms up enough to work on it. Probably have to wait until March before it gets warm enough to paint it anyway. The temperatures have been frigid of late and it appears they are going to stay that way for at least the remainder of this week - single digits during the day, negative numbers at night and wind chills down to -25 to -35. That's cold.

Still working on some things down the basement and typing up the family history, so no shortage of things to keep me busy. I'm hoping to have the family history pretty well tidied up in the next couple of weeks. I talked to my brother at a family get together we had last week and got the skinny on getting it published, so I need to make a bit of a change to the way I've got the pages formatted but nothing that I can't handle. It'll be good to get that knocked out.

Still haven't exactly decided what I want to do about my reading for 2018. I've got other things that are more important on the horizon than reading a book just to be reading a book. I'm leaning towards just reading things as time and interest allows and see how it goes. I've already got one I'll finish today, so I'm off to a good start and if it remains cold like it has been, I'll be knocking them out on a regular basis anyway.

Not going to make any resolutions as such for 2018. Just planning on doing what I've been doing these last few years - just try to do a little better job of it. My diet's been slipping a bit, so go back to a little more strict vegan, drop a few pounds, get some more things done around the shack, do a few more things with the grandkids. Just need to find the "middle path" and stay on it. Life's pretty good around here right now, just want to try and savor it before something comes along to screw it up.

Happy New Year y'all! Let's hope 2018 is good to all of us.