Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas at Casa Collins

Season's Greetings from Minnesota! I am the last person standing. Carolie has gone to bed and the boys have gone back to their respective homes. It was a successful holiday. Sean seems to really enjoy the camera gear. Patrick has a new laptop. I have Guitar Hero World Tour. I gave Carolie a copy of Leif Enger's latest book - So Brave, Young and Handsome.

We got Sean a little r/c helicopter from Brookstone. Here are his early minutes of flight school.

Eventually, he got it working pretty well and was in the process of hovering in an attempt to land on the ceiling fan blades when something went terribly wrong and it crashed head-first into the bowl of sauce for the shrimp. It didn't work after that. Fortunately, Carolie was smart enough to buy a service plan.

I bought Patrick a cookbook (he doesn't cook) called "Beer is not a food group." The word beer was in large letters and as he unwrapped it, he exclaimed, "Coool!" I figured then and there that I was the world's best Christmas shopper. But, alas, he thought it was a cookbook of beer recipes or a book on how to make or drink beer. It wasn't.

Here's some pictures:

Six Degrees of Mary Lucia

A Christmas present to ourselves and a curiosity have led me to invent a new game -- Six Degrees of Mary Lucia.

The 4th Season of Rescue Me -- my wife and I are big fans -- was tucked in between the doors this morning. It must've come yesterday. So we watched the first episode which ended with the song, "Backseat Nothing."

"Who does that?" I asked my wife. "It sounds very Elvis Costelloey."

She didn't know so I logged on and did some research and found it was the Del Fuegos, a Boston-area band in the '80s. Dennis Leary, the Emerson College grad (as am I) is from the area.

Anyway, the description said the Del Fuegos were an up-and-coming alternative band that had garned some celebrity support including Tom Petty and the Replacements.

The Replacements were fronted by Paul Westerberg. Paul Westerberg is the brother of -- wait for it -- Mary Lucia (on whose show I do waht can loosely be called the news in the afternoons).

So to recap

Christmas Day ==> Rescue Me ==> Del Fuegos ==>Replacements ==>Paul Westerberg ==> Mary Lucia.

This game is going places, I tell you.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Christmas miracle

No, not the miracle you think. I am legend in my family for many attempts at projects that collapsed. I was known as the "Scotch Tape kid." Years ago, my attempt to fix a lawnmower didn't go so well, either. I hoped that I wouldn't need the parts that were left over when I rebuilt the engine, but when I started it, it exploded. I guess they were needed.

This is my latest "project," an arctic ice candle. OK, you can't really screw these up, but I've lived out here for 16 years and I've always wanted to make one. Some listeners on The Current gave me some tips which were too hard for me to follow, so I bought a "mold," a simple plastic bucket with an indentation in the bottom (which becomes the top of the candle). Freeze for 12 hours and pop it out. The unfrozen part becomes the part where you put the candle. Even the Scotch Tape Kid couldn't screw it up.

We don't do big holiday lights at our house; it just doesn't seem a wise use of electricity (although I think LEDs change the equation on that). We go for the simple Pagan approach: wreathes and boughs.

So tonight the arctic ice candles lining the driveway fit perfectly. Add -3 degree weather and a ton of fluffy, powdery snow and, well, it doesn't get much better. The only thing missing is Lex Luthor and Superman.

Maybe if you click that and look at the bigger photo it'll make more sense. In the background is the picture window with our illuminated tree. Trust me, the person that brings the morning paper on Christmas morning is going to love it -- and the tip.

(Update 7:47 a.m. 12/15 - I think they look even better just before sunrise. By the way, sunrise this morning is at 7:50 a.m.)

So we're wrapping presents for the kids who will stop by tomorrow. Carolie is showing me a wrapping bag that says "no peeking," when you pick it up, a siren goes off and a voice says "put the present down and back away slowly. Nice.

Some of Sean's presents for us arrived today, but the apartment complex office was closed so he can't get at them. That frustrates him, I assume, as it does all young people.

When we were kids, our parents would always say 'you don't need to get me any presents' and we just figured they were saying that because everyone says that and nobody could possibly mean it. But I'm pretty sure they did. Because I know Carolie and I have everything we need, and when our two kids walk in the door on Christmas Day, they will have given us the best presents ever.... again.

Friday, December 19, 2008

The "for sale" sign

I've put 7 -- almost 8 -- years of work into the RV-7A project and I intend to continue working on it, but I have to prepare for the obvious -- that I'll have to sell it. The economy is bad -- a dozen folks got gassed at my place today and more are due -- my health and that of my wife have been deteriorating to the point where it's obvious my plans for how we'd spend our senior years are not in sync and not really possible, and the economy has pretty much destroyed our retirement funds and although there's enough time before we retire (I hope) to get them back where they were, there's nowhere near enough time for the fund to get anywhere near our being able to live at the level we'd hoped.

I'd hoped to be able to finance the engine purchase but that hasn't worked out well either and this is not a good time to carry debt.

I've sketched out roughly what I've put into it and that's what I'd likely sell it for -- what I put into it. No profit, no charge for the work and no discount.

Here's what I've put into it:

Tru Trak single axis autopilot = $1,500
Icom A210 Radio - $1,200
Artex 406 mxh ELT - $950
Whelen System 6 Strobe package - $950
GRT EIS - $1500
VP-50 - $1,500
Dynon D100 Super Bright pkg - $2500
Garmin 327 Transponder $2,300
Airflow high-performance boost pump - $415
Equipment Subtotal --> $12,815

Seats (Flightline) $507
Hooker harness w/ crotch strap - $750
Oregon aero cushion core -$580
Interior subtotal -->$1,837

Mattituck IO-360 FP engine (but can be a CS) fuel injected with one Lightspeed ignition - $24,500
Engine subtotal --> $24,500

RV-7A project
On landing gear (nosewheel breakout force has not been set), canopy frame is done and the front fairing completed. Tip-up. Tops skins not riveted on (I need access to the tail). 1,800 hours of work invested so far
Total -->$20,000

I get about $60,000 in my calculation and that's about what I'd sell the project for. No tools are included because I need to hang onto the hope that I can build an RV-12 and do the kind of flying that I'm more likely to be doing -- by myself, in the daytime, in the vicinity of the airport.

Alternatively, I'd consider taking on a partner in the plane, although I have to admit I have no idea how such a partnership works. So you'll have to supply the brains.

If you'd like to take a look at things, I would encourage you to plan to come up to the hangar at South St. Paul (KSGS) and assess it for yourself.

Like I said, I'm not anxious to sell it and cash out, but at the moment I'm willing to and I probably should before I absolutely have to.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Don't hit the cow

I'd love to tell you that one of the first things they teach us in flight school is "don't hit the cows." But it's not.

(h/t: Michael Wells)

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Christmas shopping trip

Today was the annual Christmas shopping trip for Carolie and me. We both take the day off and head to the Mall of America for people-watching and gift buying. There weren't, as you might expect, as many people this year as in years passed, but there's still plenty of buying going on.

And we also got the annual goofy picture of Carolie. Check out the sign(click on the image to enlarge it).

Thursday, December 11, 2008

You Are My Sunshine

It was a bittersweet day in my "career." I live-blogged the end of The Morning Show on Minnesota Public Radio. I dare say there was no place else in the galaxy this morning where someone was singing "Getting to Know You" on a live radio broadcast. And there will be no more.

But people started lining up in 9 degree weather at 2:30 in the morning to hear it. And an overflow crowd at the Fitzgerald Theater spilled into the Central Presbyterian Church. It was a remarkable moment in broadcast time and a real highlight of the 35 years I've spent in the business.

At the same time, it was a funeral; a passing of an era. And later in the day we got a budget update. We have millions of dollars to cut like every other media company and I suspect there'll be a layoff for many people in the future. For me? Maybe. Maybe not.

I just know that no matter how bad things get, I'll always be able to hold onto the feeling I had when hundreds of people sang along with Peter Ostroushko on "You Are My Sunshine" in the pre-dawn darkness of Minnesota. A theater full of people were doing more than singing words; they were comforting themselves and others with a reminder that all is not lost as long as get tears in our eyes when someone plucks a mandolin.

Things get bad, life goes on and will get better.

An occasional chill up your spine is a good thing to regain perspective. So here it is. Have a box of Kleenex ready.

Here's the blog:

And here's the entire show.

Monday, December 08, 2008

The health care scam

I've been having a problem with my neck. I think. My neck itself doesn't hurt but the neckbone is connected to the legbone -- OK, it's not, but work with me here. The neck is the spine and something's wrong in there somewhere which has caused my left shoulder to be about as productive as Eddie Guardado's. It also has left two of my fingers numb. I don't know whether they're hot or cold or what. The only thing they seem to tell me is I'm old.

Which, not surprisingly, is what a neurosurgeon told me last week. My spine is shrinking and it's compressed a nerve... or something. I really don't know because after two doctor visits, an MRI, and then a referral to a neurosurgeon, nobody has told me exactly what's wrong with me. And, because I'm a typical health care consumer in the United States, I haven't asked. I just expect them to do something. And they have; they've collected co-pay after co-pay after co-pay.

I'm stuck in co-pay hell; the criminal system that is the American health care system, referred from one person to another, always just a step away from someone who might be able to do something about it.

My MRI was three weeks ago. I never did get the results, just a phone call from the neurosurgeon's office who said I'd been referred there. Fortunately, I only had to wait 10 days for an appointment and, I presumed, relief from "old man hell." I had anticipated I'd get a shot directly into the spinal area. That's what my regular doc had predicted. That would be followed by months of physical therapy, all at $35 a pop.

When I finally got to meet the neurosurgeon on Friday, he asked me in rapid succession, "what is your name, where do you live, do you live with anybody there, what is that person's name?" I figured my diagnosis was going to be worse than I thought.

"There's a 75-percent chance you won't need surgery," he then announced, displaying an uncanny ability to gaze into the inner workings of my spine merely by my identifying the name of the woman I've lived with for 26 years.

He offered several alternatives, suggesting a priority on "the shot." "OK," I said, "let's go with that."

"Fine," he said. "The nurse will be in to set up a referral to one of our pain clinics."

Say what?

The neurosurgeon's office to whom I'd been referred, apparently doesn't actually do anything but tell you pretty much what you already knew, take your $35, and whatever could be billed to the insurance companies. The original doctor, the neurosurgeon, the pain clinic, and the physical therapy center are all owned by the same health group.

How stupid do you have to be to not understand what's happening here and millions of other doctor's offices every day?

Oh, the pain clinic, I've got my appointment and I only have to put up with the pain of a shoulder coming apart for 2 1/2 weeks. I think.