Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Olympic Flashback

Taking a night off from being glued to the Olympics, or at least long enough to post about them. (They're on in the other room and I can feel the pull of them. Help me!)

The problem has been that since they started, I tend to watch the events from end to end. One great showing leads into another. Add to that that DVR makes it possible to skip commercials, and I could cram 4 hours of programming into 3. Nice, but still a time suck.

Watching them has jogged my memory to some of the more memorable Summer Olympic moments. I actually prefer the Winter Olympics, but I do recall some very memorable summer athletes, events and milestones. These include:

1. The terrorist guerrillas in 1972 taking hostage and eventually killing 11 Israeli athletes in Munich. I remember watching some of the highlights when I was home during those long summer days. It was incredibly frightening, sad and difficult to understand at that age.

2. Frank Shorter's marathon performance in 1972. Not sure why I remember it, but it was probably because of his name.

3. Olga Korbut. She was the Russian who made us wonder why we hated the Russians.

4. Nadia Comenici, my first grade school crush. I wasn't keen about moving to Romania, but would have if I had gotten the call. I actually cut the articles out of the newspaper in the name of writing a report about her. I did the report, but kept the articles afterward. I still may have them somewhere.

5. Bruce Jenner's decathlon gold medal. To do one event good is one thing. To do 10 pretty good is amazing.

6. The Atlanta bomb. Great event, marred by violence.

7. Paul Hamm's Gold Medal comeback in 2008. AWaukesha native makes us proud after overcoming some serious mistakes.

Those are just some of the key events I remember. There are hundreds more somewhere in the banks of grey matter that are now devoted to remembering where I put my car keys and whether or not I fed the dog yet.

Blogging off...

Friday, July 27, 2012

ESRI UC 2012 Post Mortem

I just returned from the ESRI 2012 Users Conference. As always it was jam-packed with good content about the upcoming 10.1 release of ArcGIS. The plenary, keynote and sessions were all very good. Some weak moments in the afternoon of Monday's plenary, I thought, but not too bad. One of my goals for the conference was to not walk myself to death as I've done in years past. Usually I'll walk down to Seaport Village a couple of times to have lunch, a ten minute walk each way. This year I came across a food truck right outside the center, that was serving really good Mexican food, so I had an authentic burrito there instead. Supporting the local economy, saving myself a few bucks and a little walking. Nice.

One of the maps in the map gallery was the map above showing the evacuations routes in the event of a Zombie Apocalypse in Portland, OR. It was an application of GIS I'd never actually considered before. It's good to know that someone has it covered. I'd better get on that for the Waukesha area, especially given our location near the Prairie Hill Cemetery. I don't need Les Paul or former city Mayors showing up on my lawn anytime soon, and if they do, I need to know where to go, and where to avoid.

Another notable map was the one from Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD) which was put together by a friend of mine and her team of interns/part time student help. A great looking map with a historic cartography look to it. (Thanks in part to Photoshop.) The map is shown below.

On top of all the maps, apps, technical workshops and exhibit halls, there was almost nonstop opportunities to network with my peers from far and wide. Our business (GIS) is unique and obscure enough, that it is so nice to be able to talk with others about the successes and failures of their various systems. It is invaluable, and I am so lucky to be able to attend every year.

I can't say enough about San Diego as a city. The weather is always amazingly comfortable. It seems even in full sun, that the sun isn't as hot or as intense as it is up here. This can be dangerous, because its probably the same or worse. We came back to decent weather in Milwaukee, 80 and partly cloudy, but it was windy and humid. When San Diego gets 80 degrees, it doesn't come with the intangible wind and humidity. You might say "pleasant with strings attached."

I'll keep this short, as the jet lag is kicking in.

Blogging off...

Thursday, July 19, 2012

4th Grade Tales - The Adventures of Joe and Mac

Below is the second of my, let's call them my "early writings." Again, these are the first stories I can remember formulating as a kid. All of them were 3 half page stories. Evidently, I had a word limit at age ten too.
This is another runaway fantasy of mine. It seems I was preoccupied with leaving home and all of the adventures that might come of it.

Ten noteworthy things about this story:

  1. It seems I favored 3 letter names.
  2. Evidently I liked to do my own illustrating. I was never good at drawing and here's proof positive. I cover this subject in more detail in my Draw Like an Egyptian post. Some kids got the talent, some don't. I'm a don't.
  3. I see lots of erasures and would like to know what I had written before it was erased. It could be a hidden gem like painters that reused their canvases. There might be a Michael Crichton thriller hidden in there.
  4. I don't know what's more disturbing, two young boys building a raft on a river near their home or the fact that the woods they live near have lions in them. I'm not sure there are any lions in North America at all, actually.
  5. It would be nice if I used quotes in my dialogue.
  6. The raft appears to be sinking in Part 3. 
  7. Lions and Owls and Snakes, oh my
  8. Boy kills lion with .22 caliber handgun. This might need some screenplay editing before Hollywood.
  9. I'm pretty sure my editor would say my ending was abrupt and inconclusive.
  10. As in the last story, I seem to have an underlying moral message to the reader. Don't runaway or you might get eaten by a lion that lives in the woods. 
As funny as it is to pick at it, this is the mind of a 10 year old boy in 1971. I was formulating my love for telling a story, albeit at an elementary level. 40 years later, I still struggle with the same things. Plots, characters, dialog, conclusions, action, etc. This was the beginning and I'm glad it happened. I wouldn't re-live it any different.

Blogging off...

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Fourth Grade Tales - Camping on the Trail

Everyone gets their start somewhere. Everyone has a dream, a passion, a love. I'd like to think that my love of writing began in earnest when I was in fourth grade at St. Luke's Grade School. It was then that I started creating short, short stories and somehow over time I've managed to hold on to them. My mom actually had them in her possession for years and gave them to me a few years ago. I've scanned them and will use them in this and future posts. 

I can remember vividly writing these and even had my homeroom teacher, Sister Patricia ask if she could put them in her classroom "drawer of special things," or something of that nature. Evidently I feared copyright infringements even back then because I told her I'd rather not. (It was either that or an unhealthy dose of  humility.)

As you'll see over time when I post these stories, most of them have a clear moral, or lesson to them. It seems I was a judgmental, or self-righteous child and was out to teach my readers a lesson about what the right thing to do was. This is a character flaw that I've carried my whole life, ironically enough. At least I know it now and admit it's an issue.

I also notice that there's a slant toward adventure and natural disasters in all of my stories. It hearkens back to my love of all things outdoors; camping, fishing, and the like. But I also think my obsession with it was partly attributable to the disaster movies of that era (stories written in 1971-1972), like Poseidon Adventure, etc. Add to this that boys that age just like death and mayhem, I think.

The story below is about a couple of boys on a camping trip. This was something I always dreamed of, namely going off on a camping adventure with brothers or friends and no adults. Perhaps the ending was my way of rectifying why I never had the courage to carry it out. 

All I know is I loved writing these stories as much then as I do the stories I write now. It seems to be a good fit, and I think I'll run with that. 

Enjoy the 30 second adventure. 

Blogging off...

Saturday, July 14, 2012


I took Ben out for his first golf outing this afternoon at Moor Downs Golf Course in Waukesha. The course is a short, fairly wide open course that I thought would be a good way to introduce him to the sport. We had a good time together, despite the high temps and uncomfortable dew point. I could tell he was getting tired near the end, as was I. I haven't golfed in a couple years, and it showed. I shot in the neighborhood of a 55 (par for the course was 34.)

Now, I am the world's most honest golfer, and my score is indicative of that. I don't  see the point in lying about my score because what will that get me? I know my abilities. I also know that over the years I've played I haven't improved significantly, either. Is lying going to make me feel better about my game? No. If I got a 7, I score a 7. More often than not, I forget how many shots I'm at anyway. In those cases, I usually just score 2 over. I have a hard time taking the game seriously. I enjoy it, but it frustrates me, no end. I don't do it enough to be good, and it's a game that requires practice. I have neither the patience nor the money to make it a regular pursuit. If I get out twice a year, I'm having a good year, I figure.

At the seventh hole, a short par 3, I saw an area that was roped off, and in it were standing a few Canadian Geese, the bane of all golf courses in America. I jokingly said to Ben that I'd give him a dollar if he hit a goose. Ben lined up with no intention of hitting a goose and what happens? He hits one squarely in the back, sending it squawking away, flapping its wings and honking. I looked at Ben, laughed and gave him a buck. (The goose was fine and will live to crap on the course another day.) The rest of the flock (gander? gaggle?) did pick up and move to the south about 10 yards though. Evidently word got around.

In the end, it was a great way to spend an afternoon with my son. Ben just flat out is not strong enough to hit the ball far, but had some fine shots nonetheless. It didn't help that the "Jr" set that they provided for him had a 3 wood, 2 eight irons, a wedge and a putter. Really? Nothing between a 3 wood and an 8 iron? Lets just say it was a day with a lot of wood shots for Ben.

I explained some of my philosophies about golf to Ben; trying to impart some of my duffer wisdom on him. Here were some of my golfing pearls of wisdom:

Jim's Duffer Nuggets

  1. If you end the day with as many or more golf balls than you started with, consider it a "great round" of golf.
  2. If you're hitting over water, even if your shot sucks and you clear the water, it's still a great shot. 
  3. If you hit into the woods and find a ball that is not yours, there is no lost ball penalty. Life is good. Consider it a great shot.
  4. If you lose a ball in the woods, but come out of the woods with 2 or more golf balls that are not yours, you should consider declaring it a "great round" and going home immediately.
  5. If you do not leave a pitching wedge on the fringe of a green and have to run back for it, it was a good day. Unless of course you're using rented clubs that include 2 eight irons. Then you can afford to leave an 8 iron back.
  6. Forward is good.
  7. People who think the world of their long drives, usually lack in their chipping and putting game.
  8. Take #7 above and reverse it.
  9. On the 9th hole, if you hit a bad drive, take another. In fact, take as many as you need to feel good. Life is too short to end the day on a bad drive. 
  10. Canadian Geese are fowl (foul?). Play it where it lies 

That's my list and pretty much sums up the level of seriousness I take this game at. I love most sports, but golf is a different animal. It's as much a head game as anything else. Some people love it. One day I may. Until then, I'm going to take today for what it was. A great day with my son, whom I love more than anything, and a funny memory to boot.

Blogging off...

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Top Ten (Plus One) Vacation Spots

Since it is that time of year when people are either on, returning or planning a vacation, I thought it would be interesting to think back on some of the best vacations I have had over the years, and why. There are too many to count, but I'll try and run down some of the top ones.

In no particular order:

Top 10 + 1 Best Vacations:

  1. Colorado (2010). The Rocky Mountains were the most inspiring natural wonders I've ever seen. Breathtaking vistas around every bend. The pictures we took from the top of Trail Ridge Road are singed into my memory forever.
  2. South Dakota, 2007. I love that area. The Black Hills, Needles Highway, Custer State Park, Wind Cave and the beautiful house we stayed at on the top of a mountain. It will always stand out as one of the best vacations I took with my brothers Tom and Rob and their kids. I'll never forget seeing the Buffalo after losing hope that we'd ever see them in anything but a pen. There were hundreds. Sarah almost cried with joy.
  3. Pennsylvania, 2008. Philadelphia was amazing with all of its history. The Poconos mountains were beautiful with wooded gorges and lots of water. Whitewater rafting, again with my brothers and their kids was a blast! Throw in NYC and Hershey, PA + Amish country, and you have a perfect vacation.
  4. Myrtle Beach, SC. We used to go down every other year or so at Spring Break. Nothing like bumming on the beach for a week to bring the Blood Pressure down. A bit touristy, but a nice, relaxing climate. Go to Charleston if you get a chance. A nice, historic side trip.
  5. Adirondacks-Thousand Islands (2011). Camping and hiking in the Adirondacks was amazingly fun. We hiked a small peak (Mount Jo) and camped with our Sister and Brother in-Law and their kids. Good cousin time, despite the rain. The Thousand Islands portion of the trip was great too. The area we stayed in was like it was from a postcard or a snapshot from 1930. Quaint, friendly, people walked instead of driving, swimming in the St. Lawrence Seaway, catching Northern Pike with my friend Rich Moose, and seeing my wife's old college friends. It was fabulous.
  6. The BWCA (Many years). Too many good memories and trips to recount. The most recent with our kids and Nick goes down with one of the best, for so many reasons. The Chainsaw Sisters, the Hoary River, stops at Courage North, trips with friends, trips with kids, beautiful sunsets and amazing scenery.
  7. Maine, 1991. A whole lot of driving, but very much worth it once we were there. Bar Harbor, Cadillac Mountain, Acadia (camping next to an RV with a generator = not so fun) Whale watching, good food. Great trip.
  8. Los Angeles, 1983. Drove out with two friends from Montgomery Wards where I worked at the time. This trip was huge for me in that it was my first time seeing California. I went over St. Patricks day and could not believe the weather. Being a MN boy, it was all so cool. Palm trees, Hollywood, 12 Lane Freeways, Long Beach. We also toured the Queen Mary and Spruce Goose. Cool stuff for a sheltered St. Paulite.
  9. Uchi Lake, ON Canada, 2006. A fly-in fishing adventure with my friend Steve, made possible by our loving wives as a graduation gift to him and a "forever want" gift to me. Fishing started out tough the first day, but that night we found a hot spot and that night will forever live in me as one of the best fishing experiences ever.
  10. Disney World, 2005. I was a Disney cynic going in. Thought it was totally for kids and it would be a nightmare. After 3 days, I still couldn't get enough of it. Great fun with our kids at a great age. (Sarah 10 and Ben 7). As corporate as it is/was, they treated us right and we had a BLAST!!!
  11. Mercer, WI (aka "The Cabin").  Pine Forest Lodge is the place of so, so many good family memories. Swimming, fishing, basketball and shuffleboard, screen doors slamming, canoe trips to the flowage and the little island and I can't forget the Wampum Shop. It's all good, and it is one of my kids' favorite places on earth.
As I said, there are many, many more trips that I am likely forgetting. Trips home to Minnesota and New York, (Niagara Falls, Taughannok Falls, Watkins Glen) have special meaning to both of us and our kids. Several other smaller trips to Chicago, Door County and other places. Forgive me if I've left out a major one, as I feel I may have.

It's important to take these vacations when you can with your kids/parents because time is precious. Where are your top 10 vacation spots?

Blogging off...

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Take A Kid Camping

We spent the Fourth of July with good friends again last night. It's our tradition, strange as it is, to meet them in the parking lot at Center Court Sports Complex near the airport to watch fireworks. They tow their camper out there and set it up, while we bring food, beverages and lawn chairs. We call it our "white trash Fourth," and we usually have a blast. This year was no different, though the fireworks were shortened because they kept igniting grass fires, causing the fire department to race out and douse the flames. It's been as dry of a summer as I've seen in a long time.

Our friends are bringing this trailer to Kohler Andrae State Park next week when we join them for camping, as I mentioned in my previous post.

The trailer and the upcoming trip brought to mind all the "State Park" camping trips we took as kids, many with our stepbrothers and sisters. These trips, unlike any of the "roughing it" trips of the Boundary Waters were really "camping" as most people know it. A family or families, loads up a tent or pop-up trailer and heads to a State Park a few hours north and spends 3-5 days camping.

While the BWCA is nice, I think my foundational love for all things camping and outdoors came from these trips that Mom and Jack used to take us on. St. Croix State Park was our most common destination. It was a very popular campground being only a couple hours from the city. We would load up the Impala and the Galaxie 500 ragtop and head north. There was swimming, hiking, eating outdoors and a whole lot of messing with the fire.

One particular trip we ran out of bug spray, so went to town to get some. When we came back I remember my stepfather saying "Thank God you're back. I was about ready to start spraying Raid on myself."

Good times.

Then there was the time my brother in law and I were sitting up around the fire until it was quite late. He was in a lawn chair and happened to fall asleep. While he was laying there a skunk walked under his chair, right through our camp. I just about flipped my dip (as my kids are so fond of saying). I sat as still as I could and whispered "Timmy. Hey Timmy," to no avail. When I flipped a small rock at Tim, the skunk stopped and raised his tail. It sat there and looked at me for a few seconds and then ambled off. It was a close call, and Timmy slept through it all.

Good Laughs.

Another campground was Father Hennepin State Park near Isle, MN. A beautiful park. The best part about it was the beach on that 6th Great Lake known as Lake Mille Lacs. Huge waves, clean, cold water.

Good Memories.

I guess the underlying message here is, you don't have to trek to the Canadian border to give your kids a great experience in the woods. Nor do you have to do it in a tent. Donna has great memories of camping in her family's pop-up trailer. Most states have great State Park systems, and not as great private campground systems. Take advantage of either of them to give your kids memories they'll never forget. That's what being a parent is all about.

Blogging off...

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Next Thing

As usual I am looking toward the next vacation break. With July 4th falling in the middle of the week, there's not much happening around that date. We'll probably just go to the local fireworks at the Waukesha Expo and help stomp out  all the ground fires the fireworks start. We are in the early stages of drought around here and could use a couple of feet of rain. (Not all at once, please.)

No, the next big vacation is the next week when we will spend 3 days and 2 nights with good friends at Koehler Andrae State Park near Sheboygan, WI. I've never been to the park, but it looks like it has some great beach area to it, which will be nice, given the scorching weather we've had the past 3 weeks or so. Hopefully the water won't be too rancid, like it gets down in Milwaukee when the algae comes floating in. 

We will be tenting it at the park, while our friends stay near us in their RV/Trailer. It will be good to get some fishing in, as they have a small fishing pond in the park. Unfortunately these kinds of ponds usually serve to disappoint, especially if its a dry year. They tend not to be fed from a spring/stream, so can get fairly tough to fish fairly quickly. None of this will stop me from looking into it. Our friends' kids like to fish, so will probably make a go of it as well.

Life is much more interesting when sprinkled with diversions like this. This by no means is as rough as we saw a few weeks ago, and I'm OK with that. Some good laughs, campfire and beach time with friends should do my soul good. Looking forward to it.

Blogging off...