Well into her '80s, my mother (now 91) had a tried-and-true safety mechanism when she needed (or so she thought) to get up on a ladder around her house. She would wait until it was almost time for the mailman to arrive, figuring if she fell and couldn't get up, she could yell for him.
Not too many people visit at the house anymore. Her two best friends -- sisters who never married -- died within two weeks of each other in December. She had to give up driving last month under pressure from her dastardly children, and she rebels against the very idea of Meals On Wheels. The one constant daily (almost) presence in her life is the letter carrier, who -- it turns out -- is the son of my high school English teacher. When last we chatted (a couple of years ago), it was clear he knew everybody in the city, and certainly the habits and needs of the people who lived on his route, my mother included.
"I keep an eye out for her," he said.
It probably makes good economic sense that the U.S. Postal Service today is announcing it wants to get rid of Saturday mail delivery. Maybe it's a bluff to Congress. Maybe it's not. And while we probably can do without a day of credit-card solicitation letters, it certainly signifies a loss to our culture. In cities and towns across America, the letter carrier watches out for the old, widowed ladies.
It's not their job, of course. It's just their legacy.(0 Comments)
Anyone who has spent any time watching the light-rail construction in the Twin Cities probably understands the artistic side of construction workers. Sometimes it's the gentle touch of a backhoe digging around a gas line. Lately it's been this:
This is the installation of reinforcement bar -- rebar -- for the track. Each long piece of steel is cut, bent, fit into place and welded, much as an metal artist would do, creating a beautiful symmetry of design.
The difference between the artist and the construction worker/artist, is when the work is completed, they dump a bunch of concrete on it, and nobody ever knows it's there.
One must suffer for one's art.(1 Comments)
The Minnesota Department of Transportation released this video last week about one of the more fascinating jobs in the state -- the guy who runs the Stillwater Lift Bridge.
Like the lighthouse keepers before them, eventually the last bridges requiring humans to operate them will likely disappear.(4 Comments)
Moving to a window cubicle in the World Headquarters of NewsCut has afforded me the opportunity to spend most of my day watching light-rail construction on Cedar Street in Saint Paul, see the array of construction talents on display, and marvel that someone -- somewhere -- knows eactly what everybody needs to be doing.
So far, however, this is my favorite one:
Her job, when she's not making sure pedestrians can safely cross the street, is making sure the crosswalk area is swept of sand and mud. This is not easy because yesterday, dozens of dump trucks spent the day dumping sand in the middle of the street...
... which, we sidewalk supervisors theorize, will eventually be used to cover up the earth's core that the workers uncovered while moving the various utilities.
In the midst of this chaos, there's a mighty clean crosswalk thanks to someone who went to work today to literally shovel sand against the tide.
(Be sure see Dan Olson's "then and now" post on MPR's The Cities blog)
Once again I rise to the defense of the newspaper carrier!
The Argus Leader in Sioux Falls reports that one of its newspaper carriers was arrested for burglary. Apparently, the carrier took note of the "stops" that subscribers phoned in for their vacations, and broke into their homes.
That tidbit comes from the Poynter organization which also relayed the story of a scam run by a guy who would leave Christmas tip notes (I talked about those here). He wasn't actually a carrier, but he collected the money.
It was the way Poynter led into that story which caught my attention:
In another crime that won't help newspaper circulation,
Funny stuff. Don't subscribe to the newspaper because you might become the victim of a crime. You know how newspaper carriers are.
Here's how newspaper carriers are, with some stories that Poynter missed:
Greg Blackburn was delivering newspapers early in the morning the day after Christmas in Cloquet when he saw smoke coming from an apartment house. Three people are alive because of him - Marlen Salo, 80, and his two adult sons, Mark and Michael - all of whom had been sleeping at the time the fire started.
Coincidentally, a carrier saved a family the next day down in Austin, Texas when a fire broke out. Oscar Hernandez alerted the family, then helped put the fire out.
Poynter also missed the story of Laurie Lambertz, who delivers papers for the Argus Leader. Last week she celebrated 25 years doing so. "A woman with South Dakota pride and values," one reader said.(4 Comments)
This is the time of the year when the newspaper carrier tries to tell you to give him/her a tip without actually asking for a tip. It's all very Minnesotan, and I have some expertise in this field.
As I've written before, I delivered the Pioneer Press for 10 years and perfected the art of getting the Christmas-New Year's tips. I was once told by the Pioneer Press circulation manager that I was "a legend." Yes, of course.
The best way to get a tip if you deliver newspapers is to hit the top step, even when the homeowner couldn't be bothered clearing the two feet of snow from the driveway or sidewalk.
Also, when you leave the Christmas card, put a letter in it, use your name and address, and say "thanks for shoveling the walkway," which is Minnesotan for, "do you think you might get off your fat tush and make life a little easier for me? I'm only making 10 cents here!"
The holidays were a wonderful time. Every day between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I'd come home to a mailbox full of cash (note: don't ever leave cookies or food for your newspaper carrier, they're not out every morning at 2 a.m. for a sugar fix).
And so every Christmas I pay attention to the subtle ways my carrier asks for money.
Today, almost a week after Christmas, I got the card with no name signed, and an envelope with a convenient "return" address already stamped on an otherwise blank envelope, tucked inside the paper, which was tossed in the bushes.
Be looking for a plate of cookies on the top step, friend.(5 Comments)
Shoot, Texas, sometimes you are so entertainingly you.
Keller Crockett's the name, and reinforcing the stereotype of the nation's largest state is the game. This radio ad has gotten him into some hot water with the state, which is considering pulling his license to teach a gun safety class.
The Associated Press visited him today:
Inside a remote highway cabin on the edge of the Llano River, where a draped, full-size cannon is parked across from his desk, Keller said he was inspired to make the ad after being "flabbergasted" by a couple neighbors who left the state to campaign for Obama. As for refusing to teach Muslims, Keller described that as an afterthought tacked onto the spot, which he couldn't remember but said was likely generated from something in the news.
"I got to thinking, `Hmm, I'm arming the enemy,"' Keller said.
Oh, the story from Mason, Texas gets better...
"He's a character and likes attention," said Diane Eames, a jeweler with a downtown shop in Mason's quaint town square.
Eames and Joyce Arnold, a real estate agent, said they worried about the radio spot embarrassing the city. Eames ran what she described as a successful sex-toy business in Mason before opening the jewelry store...(4 Comments)
In the 40 and 50 mph winds today, a storm is brewing all over the state...
It's the harvest in Minnesota...
This combine worked soybeans in Lake City.
This one handled corn north of St. Charles.
In almost every combine I stopped to watch, a young lad was riding with his dad.
The "harvest haze" will be around for weeks, yet.
I was in St. Charles today to talk to Ralph and Mena Kaehler, who'll be my tour guides in a couple of weeks for a NewsCut day on the farms. The harvest will begin in a few weeks for some; it's over for others.
We stopped at the Daley Farm in Lewiston, where they finished the harvest last evening.
Today's chore was pulling tarps over the harvest and holding it down with recycled tires, no mean feat in a wicked wind.(2 Comments)
The newsroom here, like most newsrooms in Minnesota, is "all hands on deck" covering the shutdown. It's quality coverage, to be sure. We imagine everyone hanging on our every word, even if it's just analyzing why one side is calling the other side "liars."
I don't conduct scientific surveys of what people are interested in; I tend to choose them at random and see how their lives are going and where the news fits in, if it fits in at all.
James Taylor of St. Paul was standing at the I-494 on-ramp at Tamarack Road in Woodbury this morning, with a cardboard sign that said "White Bear Avenue." When I stopped and motioned for him to get in the NewsCutMobile, he was still bemused by the woman who'd just stopped, given him $10, said "God bless you," and drove off, presumably in the general direction of White Bear Avenue.
"I apologize for sweating," he said as he fit a too-big frame into a too-small car, "but this air conditioning is great."
"It works pretty well as long as I'm moving but it just blows air when I stop at traffic lights," I said, before adding, "so I don't stop at traffic lights anymore." Apparently, that was the funniest thing he'd heard all day, which started out with him hitchiking in the other direction, he indicated.
He had to make a payment on a storage unit in Woodbury today, but his vehicle -- a Jeep -- is broken down with a bad transmission. "The guy was nice enough not to charge me late fees," he said.
"But it's the first of the month," I said.
"I'm a month behind."
I didn't get a chance to find out what a guy from St. Paul's East Side is doing with a storage locker full of stuff in Woodbury because by then we'd exchanged names and he wanted to tell me that his inspires one of his dreams: To open up a bar or restaurant featuring people with famous names without the famous talent. He's got Steve Miller from South Dakota on board, he said. Some dreams die hard.
When he asked, I told him I work for Minnesota Public Radio, which happened to be playing on the radio as Gary Eichten asked former state finance boss Pam Wheelock if one side calls someone else "a liar," does that make it harder to settle the state shutdown?
"I talk to people," I said. "I leave the big stories to real reporters. I like to talk to people and find out how they spend their day."
He asked if I only talk to Minnesotans and when I said "no," his face lit up. He had the perfect person for me to talk to: the Texas preacher who, he said, has inspired him to turn his life around -- the one who was once homeless and is now a millionaire. James said he's now an inspirational speaker, too.
"You know what the secret is, Bob?" he asked. "Gratitude. I'm very grateful for everything I've got." If you're consistently grateful, he said, you don't have to depend on the state for help.
"It's probably a bad time to depend on the state," I said.
"That's right," he said. "It's like MPR; they're probably grateful to the private donors so they don't have to depend on the state for money."
"Imagine," I said.
By then we'd reached his street and he told me to let him off right behind the broken-down Jeep, and he was off to inspire others and be grateful for the chance to do so.
I went back to the shutdown with no similar sentiment.
Bernie Ockuly, of Cleveland, fairly well bristled last January when he read an MIT professor's suggestion (by way of News Cut) that people who have been unemployed for 99 weeks probably aren't trying hard enough to get a job. He knows better.
Workers ages 45 and over make up a disproportionate share of the long-term unemployed -- those who have been out of work for six months or longer, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Ockuly, who is now driving as a long-haul trucker and stopped during a run through the Twin Cities on Thursday, is the "mancession" up close. He had a long career as a salesman and manager in the truck leasing business, survived 10 mergers, takeovers and countless management changes.
"Except for one," he said. The one that left him unemployed at age 56.
He started with the giant Fruehauf Corporation and his career ended 33 years later -- November 2006 -- with XTRA Lease. "I got an award for $2.5 million in sales in March, the company changed hands in July, and they gave me a cardboard box to pack up and get out in November," he said.
It was a devastating moment, but not as devastating as a year earlier, when a doctor told him he had prostate cancer. When the company's "hatchet man," told him he was being let go, he told him, "I've gotten worse news from smarter people than you."
He beat cancer, then unemployment. A friend's offer to help out as a salesman ended after six months in a collapsing economy. Then, though the managers of a distillation plant told him he was overqualified, he told them "I'll do a good job for you and show up every day." They hired him. But the plant, owned by Veolia, closed last May. Bernie Ockuly was unemployed again. It wasn't for lack of trying.
He was willing to work for much less than what he was used to making, but found no offers. "I was turned down left and right for $10- to $12-an-hour gigs," he said. With no jobs to be had, he helped a friend in Illinois bring in last fall's harvest, blogged about the experience, and showed the side of him that apparently can turn any task into fun.
That's when the idea of driving a truck for a living was born. The 65% subsidy for continuing his COBRA medical coverage (from the economic stimulus bill) was soon going to end, and he couldn't afford a $1,500 a month payment for health care. So he found a work retraining grant and learned how to drive a truck commercially.
There was a job to be had, but it involved leaving home and hitting the road.
A few months ago, he was hired by an Oregon trucking company and has been seeing the United States since. Being away from home has its drawbacks, although his children are mostly grown now. He says of his wife in Cleveland, "we've never gotten along better."
He went into the business eyes wide open, researching the lifestyle and business aspects of it on the Internet. "There's about a 100-percent turnover in it," he said, as he took his cheeseburger out of the bun and chewed on fresh vegetables at a cafe in White Bear Lake. Since starting his new career, he's lost weight by not eating like his new career generally dictates.
He writes about his experiences on Facebook and still shows wide-eyed wonder at the road that lies, literally, ahead. "Crossing the Continental Divide has a whole new meaning when one is struggling to pull 80,000 pounds up a mountain pass, even with 450 horses under the hood," he said. He rates the Columbia River Gorge and a lonely, two-lane highway in Nevada as favorites so far. His stop this week in Fargo gave him the opportunity learn some history.
This week he dropped off Coors Beer in Washington state and picked up french fries that will be delivered today in Plover, Wisconsin.
With time on his hands before his scheduled arrival in Wisconsin, he spent last evening with local friends boating at sunset on Bald Eagle Lake.
"Life is good," he says. From high up on his perch in the cab of his truck, one almost can't see the mancession.(15 Comments)
I've hesitated posting this because it will seem somewhat self serving to MPR. Trust me: It's not meant to be.
Everyone has a story; I've said it a thousand times while trying to convince News Cut readers to volunteer to let me find theirs and tell it.
I didn't know Gadeise Gebywe's story until just a few days ago, when two of my colleagues, editor Bill Catlin and reporter Annie Baxter, sent a note around that they were raising money for her. Gadeise cleans up our messes around the MPR newsroom:
Gadeise has occasionally treated us to her terrific Ethiopian cooking. One day I [Bill] asked her for a recipe to make one of her delicious dishes for some friends who recently adopted a little girl from Ethiopia. Instead Gadeise cooked two wonderful, traditional Ethiopian stews for the family - without ever having met them.
I [Annie] once told Gadeise that my brother and his family were coming to town, and she went home and made a bunch of injera for us and brought it in the next day. She never met my brother, but she called me at home on my cell phone to let me know the food was ready for pick up.
The story we didn't know until now was that when Gadeise left Ethiopia about 12 years ago, she left a son behind because he wanted to stay with his grandmother.
Although Gadeise and her son, Faisal, talk by phone frequently, she has not seen him since she left Ethiopia. Faisal is now graduating from college with a degree in psychology, and Gadeise intended to return to Addis Ababa for his commencement.
Catlin and Baxter investigated and found a round trip ticket costs about $2,400. The two figured it might have been a tough ticket to swing -- she's a single mom with five children -- so they passed the hat and raised enough to help.(2 Comments)
Julie Ovenhouse is part traffic cop, part therapist, and part handyman. Her actual title is Special General Adjuster for Farmers Insurance Group. Ovenhouse, who flew in from her home in Michigan this week, specializes in large-loss catastrophes. North Minneapolis more than qualifies. Her job is answering the question that is always the first one victims of disaster ask: "Where do I start?"
Deb and Ed Funk of Newton Avenue have been asking that question since the tornado ripped part of the roof off their home and destroyed a garage. Deb was sitting on her front steps when Julie arrived early this afternoon.
"I'm so sorry for your loss," Ovenhouse said. She meant it. She's seen the looks that greeted her before. On Tuesday, for example, she visited another home -- this one a total loss -- whose owners weren't sure the insurance would make things OK. Stunned early in the morning, by the end of the day, she says, the homeowners had a check for over $200,000 and a plan: They'd pay off the mortgage, demolish what's left of the house, move away, and donate the property to Habitat for Humanity.
It's a human success story, but not for a neighborhood that doesn't need people moving away.
Ed and Deb Funk have lived on Newton Avenue for 31 years. On one side of their home, a foreclosed home sits without any attention to its destruction. The man who once lived there was unable to make his mortgage payments after he quit his job to take care of his mother. But he returned this week to help the Funks and other neighbors.
On the other side of the Funks, another house is empty. Renters lived there. After the tornado, they left, leaving some pets behind.
"Over the last 10 years, we've thought about moving out," Deb told us.
"I could never leave here," Ed told me later. "This is my home."
Deb, it seemed to me, wouldn't mind hearing that the house was a lost cause. Ed wanted his house fixed.
All of that depended on Julie Ovenhouse, who discovered right away that this is a different sort of house. This is a collector's house. Thousands of action figures and collectibles occupied most every inch of the home.
Ed says he's been collecting toys since he was a boy -- he still has his wind-up toy collection. He started by going to flea markets to buy more collectibles, but now he goes mostly just to socialize with other collectors, and maybe add to the collection of stuffed Opus characters in the bedroom.
Ovenhouse discovers the problem there fairly quickly. Water from the hole in the roof means the ceiling is about to give way. Deb hasn't been up to the second floor since the storm, but quickly retreats when she looks at the mess. Piles of old tax returns are mixed in with the General Lee toy car collection from Dukes of Hazzard.
"What do you think, John?" Julie says to a contractor from Woodbury.
"I'm a gut guy," he says. "We can gut this right down to the studs, and then we're going to find the real issues."
Things aren't looking good on Newton Avenue, but a visit to the cellar reveals no game-ending structural damage, and the condition of the walls doesn't suggest the tornado picked this house up and left it unrepairable.
"You'll tell me whether it's better to just bulldoze it?" Deb Funk says, with a hint that it's a suggestion more than a question.
Ovenhouse delivers the best news the Funks -- at least, Ed -- could have hoped for. "You have plenty of coverage to repair what's damaged. It's not a total loss," she says. The Funks are insured for $236,000 and Ovenhouse doesn't believe the repairs will come close to it, although the contractor isn't so sure. He notices that the house is covered with asbestos shingles. There is also the question of how strict Minneapolis will be in requiring contractors to bring the homes in the area up to a code they didn't meet before the tornado struck.
If it's a relief for Ed and Deb, it's a temporary one. With one big question answered, other big questions move up in line.
How long will it take? About three months, the contractor says, which means they'll have to stay with a relative in Big Lake for three months.
The contractor also says he's not sure when he can begin. It might be another three weeks. "I'm not sure I can get my guys to come into the neighborhood," he says. It's a pain in the neck to constantly lock, unlock, and watch the vehicles and tools, he says. North Minneapolis is a tough part of town. Deb Funk thinks she might like to consider another contractor.
"How will we get everything out of here?" Ed asks Ovenhouse. Insurance will pay to have things packed and moved to temporary storage, she says.
As we sit on the porch, a man walks up and says he's from a nearby church, checking to see if everything is OK and whether the family needs anything. "We have some access to funds for you," he tells Ed. But Ed says they're better off than most people.
"I go from feeling lucky to be alive to wondering why I'm still alive," Deb says.
A neighbor stops by to tell a tale of looters. He's carrying a pad of paper with license numbers of people he's seen stop to grab things out of people's yards. "I was putting stuff in my garage on one side," he says, "and they were taking it out of the other."
As he sits on his porch and surveys a treeless neighborhood, Ed says he knows he should be moving about and doing something. But right now he can only sit and watch, thinking about the vacation time he's taken from work this week, the houseful of collectibles that need to be moved, the pride he'll sacrifice to depend on extended family for three months, and the resentment he has over the gawkers who jammed his street on Sunday afternoon.
For more than four hours, Julie Ovenhouse measures and photographs the home, and ministers to the couple. Even the bad news -- the insurance company won't replace a fence -- comes with the compassion of someone you'd think was at her first disaster.
At the end of the afternoon, Deb Funk has a warm hug for Ovenhouse. A check will come in a day or so. Today's delivery was more valuable: A start.
As she walks to her car, Ovenhouse's phone rings. It's a call from home. "Oh no," she says. "My daughter has an event tonight and it's formal and only my husband is home."
Julie Ovenhouse specializes in disasters.
Ever wonder what it's like to drive a plow during a big storm? Here's some video from MNDOT:
(h/t Tom Weber)(2 Comments)
A recent Labor Department report found that older people who lose their jobs take longer to find work, and that more than 2 million people without work are over 50, according to Midmorning. The first hour of the show featured a discussion about the challenges facing educated, experienced workers looking for a jobs.
It was a harsh dose of reality.
Here are some highlights gleaned from the program:
-Older workers who've left the workforce are adapting to being rejected by employers, but not in a willing way. They just don't see the opportunity. We have to be careful to conclude they are just closing the book on themselves. What's really bad: They are at risk of losing their skills so that even when the economy revives, they will not be able to find work. Fifty-five is way too young for this to happen. (Newman)
-Prospects for improvement in the short term are not great. The recession is just too deep. (Van Horn)
-Older, unemployed workers are chewing through whatever resources available to them, just like Roger, a 57-year-old caller who burned through his 401(k) after submitting 400 resumes and two and a half years with no response. Workers are trying to get disability, spending their savings, and retiring early to get Social Security benefits. (Van Horn)
-Forced early retirement will expose older Americans to poverty. People will be having "a much poorer old age." Some people will be on Social Security for 25 years. This has huge consequences for the whole country, not just for those who are unemployed. (Newman)
-Going back to college for an older America can be both help and hurt job prospects. Some employers think salary demands from an applicant with an advanced degree will be too high so the applicant gets passed by. On the other hand, many employers will see an opportunity to get a very qualified person for much less money than during a healthy economy. Job seekers must be prepared to lower their salary expectations. (Van Horn)
-More education is a very good thing in aggregate, but we should recognize that as a country it will be hard to keep educating people when public higher education institutions are in terrible shape, fiscally speaking, especially when we need them most. (Newman)
-Before you chase a new degree, do extensive research into the real job prospects for the field you want to enter, as well as proof that the school you want to attend is good at job placement. School is expensive, results in lost income, and takes you out of the labor market. (Van Horn)
-The situation for older, unemployed Americans is not impossible. But it will take an extraordinary injection of economic growth to make things better for older workers. (Newman)
-Some employers feel freer to behave badly toward their older employees because they can more easily find replacements. (Van Horn)
-Part time jobs are almost as hard to find as full time jobs but if you can get one, because there is an opportunity for it to expand to full time. Any foot in the door is good. (Newman)
You probably could've walked along the levee from South St. Paul to St. Paul and beaten this ADM towboat and barges there. The river is above flood stage with a wicked current, which tow-boat captains are masterfully conquering. But, of course, the going is slow.
The water level is already dropping from Saturday's crest.
Kristine Fladeboe Duininck, 36, of Willmar, won the title of top female auctioneer in the country over the weekend.
Her company specializes in selling farms via auction and raising money in benefit auctions, according to a press release. The above video was produced by her company. among other things, it reveals that there are actual auctioneer schools, which sounds like a definite future News Cut video.(3 Comments)
Mark Suppes has become the 38th private person to build his own nuclear reactor.
A fad broke out in the MPR newsroom recently. Several reporters reconfigured their cubicles to allow them to stand up while working (expertly demonstrated here by reporter Dan Olson). Many of the participants, truth be told, also tried sitting on giant exercise balls a few months ago, but we don't know if this is all related.
Humans weren't made to sit down, we're told. Now, the Mayo Clinic is studying whether any of this makes a difference, the Associated Press reports.
The Idaho National Laboratory has been collecting data on classroom desks that require the kids to stand up. The Mayo Clinic will compare the students before and after their stand-up desks were installed.
Could the stand-up desks play a role in the fight against childhood obesity? Do students really focus better when they're allowed to move around a bit?
"It's the first, real-world, large-scale study of what will be the future of education," said Levine, who purchased a used Sears treadmill for $350 and assembled his own walking desk after publishing a study that found that thin people were on their feet an average of two hours more and burned 350 more calories daily than obese people.
Dr. James Levine, at the Mayo Clinic, is running the study. Levine has been a long-time proponent of the treadmill desk.
For the record: None of the MPR reporters involved in the stand-up movement are overweight or obese.
And none is a blogger.(2 Comments)
Great ideas occasionally come from a broken furnace.
Sometime in the next month, Twin Citian James Gorney, and two of his friends, will launch a Web site to provide reviews of apartments and the landlords who own them.
The idea came as a result of his introduction to Minneapolis five years ago when there was no heat in the apartment he'd just agreed to rent. "I called the office and the owner happened to be there and he said, 'I don't know what you're complaining about. We sent someone in to fix the radiator. Everything should be fine.'" It was a broken boiler. "I don't think I was asking anything ridiculous, I just wanted my house to be more than 55 degrees," Gorney told me.
"There was no reason to treat people like that. I went online and thought, 'there must be a place to blog about this or post comments and say 'this guy's a jerk; stay away from him. Find someplace else,'" he said. "But there wasn't."
Gorney, a software engineer, has since come up with an idea for a social networking site that would provide reviews of properties and the landlords behind them. "I've got to believe other people are going through similar things."
"I've always had the best luck just finding an area I want to live and then just wandering around, looking at the For Rent signs and just writing down the number," he said. So he created ApartmentTruth.com. "It's not a place to hook up with the apartment renters; that's been done before. It's more like a 'how is this place?' I want to hear from someone who's lived there."
It's not far from the hotel/motel reviews on travel sites, such as Travelocity. "You can pick an area and it'll come up with the previously-rated apartments in the database," according to Gorney. The site will include apartments across the country. "We're focusing our energy on Minneapolis because that's our hometown."
His challenge, however, is to get current renters not only to write reviews of their properties, but also to move out before people start going to his Web site to learn about the apartments. "There's statistics out there that if someone has a bad experience, they'll tell six people and if they have a good experience they'll tell two or three, he said. "We're kind of in that area of how to get that kicked off and I'm not sure there's a better way than just putting it out there."
"We don't want people getting on there and saying, 'my sink's dripping; I'm going to trash this guy,'" he said. "So we came up with an algorithm that makes it extremely difficult to just trash somebody, because there are good landlords out there."
He hopes to unveil the site around May 1. He says the information it will be free. "Even if takes off and we don't make any money on it, we haven't spent a lot of money on it."
Perhaps you've had days at work like Jim Playfair, the coach of the Abbotsford (British Columbia) Heat of the American Hockey League. He lost it over the weekend:
Today, the league fined Playfair for his tirade.
But the video has us recalling the fond moments of great sports meltdowns.
Jim Schonfield, then coach of the New Jersey Devils, provides one...
The target of Schonfield's rath, ironically, is the father of the target of Playfair's.
Former Vikings coach Dennis Green's meltdown is legend:
Jeff Jirik and his team at Faribault Dairy Co. are happy cheesemakers.
They won the top prize Thursday in the Gorgonzola category at the World Championship Cheese Contest in Madison, Wis.
This contest is an Olympics of cheesemaking. It's held once every two years and draws thousands of entries from around the world.
"It's been crazy trying to absorb it," Jirik said. "It's such a big accomplishment for such a small plant like ours."
The Faribault dairy is Minnesota's only winner, beating 16 other entries in the Gorgonzola category. In all, the judges considered more than 2,300 cheeses from 20 countries. Winners were announced Thursday.
Jirik credits caves for the quality of his firm's Gorgonzola. The Faribault dairy makes its Amablu brand cheese in a series of interconnected caves along the Straight River just outside downtown Faribault.
The St. Peter sandstone is perfect, Jirik said. The pure quartzite creates a pure hygienic environment with 99 percent humidity -- an ideal place to grow Gorgonzola.
The plant has quite a history. The cave opened in 1854 as a brewery, but shut down during Prohibition. Cheese master Felix Frederickson turned the cave complex into the nation's first blue cheese plant in 1936.
Jirik took a job at the plant in 1979.
"My first job was scraping mold off cheese, for $4.65 per hour," he said.
After the plant changed hands a few times, ConAgra shut it down in 1991. Jirik moved on to another dairy and eventually to another industry. But his heart remained in the Faribault caves.
In 2001, Jirik bought the property and started making cheese again. Today, the firm turns out 18,000 pounds per week.
You can buy the prize-winning Amablu in most major grocery stores.
"We don't grow special cheese for the contest," Jirik said. "I am saying with 100 percent accuracy that the cheese that won is out in the marketplace now."
Despite all the bellyaching over “unseasonably low” temperatures this summer, it’s not as though Lake Superior has frozen solid.
But, if the autumnal weather did spawn visions of augers and tip-ups dancing in your head, check out photographer David Friedman’s profile of Tom Roering, inventor of the Wilcraft, an amphibious, convertible ice house.
The company that makes the Wilcraft is based in Maplewood, Minn. Friedman’s other inventor profiles are worth reading and watching, including one with Art Fry, inventor of the Post-it note.(1 Comments)
It's amazing, really, how many great stories are tucked in the back roads of the Upper Midwest.
What would lead a couple to turn 12 buildings on the farm in Wisconsin into "the world's largest bookstore"?
So it's a good time to repeat my call for those of you who know stories like this, to let me know.(5 Comments)
For the ability to elicit a pure jaw-dropping reaction to a news story, the award today goes -- again -- to the New York Times for its story on a debt collector to the dead.
Even better for those of us in the constant search for the elusive local angle, it involves a debt collection firm in Minneapolis (Golden Valley) -- DCM Services, which -- the story says -- specializes in calling the distraught relatives of the recently departed.
Dead people are the newest frontier in debt collecting, and one of the healthiest parts of the industry. Those who dun the living say that people are so scared and so broke it is difficult to get them to cough up even token payments.
Collecting from the dead, however, is expanding. Improved database technology is making it easier to discover when estates are opened in the country's 3,000 probate courts, giving collectors an opportunity to file timely claims. But if there is no formal estate and thus nothing to file against, the human touch comes into play.
For those who survive, many tools help them deal with stress: yoga classes and foosball tables, a rotating assortment of free snacks as well as full-scale lunches twice a month.
Most new employees don't make it past 90 days and for those that do, there's yoga classes and foosball tables, free snacks, and full-scale lunches twice a month. (The company says it was named one of the best collection places to work.)
The company gets no love from the people who commented on the article. Says one:
I have personally spoken with several people from DCM while helping my daughter sort through the mess that her father's suicide left. No matter how "nice" the person was on the other end of the phone, the industry is preying on the innocent. It speaks volumes of the state of this country when debt collectors masquerade as "grief counselors".
If you work or have worked for a debt collection agency, I want to talk to you.(8 Comments)
This video, depicting the difficulty of getting ideas around the suffocating government bureaucracy at NASA, is getting lots of traction today.
The video was produced by astronaut Andrew Thomas.
The film shows how innovation-blocking behaviors are "all too common" at the space center, according to a story on NPR's Morning Edition today.
The film was shown at a NASA retreat, seeking to find out why good ideas don't get implemented.
Question: How much different (or not) is this satire from the way ideas get considered at your workplace?(2 Comments)
Chesley Sullenberger III, the pilot of the jetliner that ditched in the Hudson River last week, put out a statement yesterday that basically told America's media to calm down and move on. He was to be at the inauguration today but, mercifully, no media seems to have spotted him yet.
Through not fault of his own, the attention to Sullenberger seems to be -- understandably -- bristling others in the "pilot community," who point out that more people than Sullenberger were involved in the successful ditching.
On his excellent blog, Blogging at FL250, the Minneapolis-based regional airline pilot known only as Sam makes the point.
Although we don't know much about what happened in the cockpit during the ditching yet, we do know that Sullenburger was a Captain's Captain in his conduct during the evacuation and afterwards.
That said, there were a lot of things going on here that go beyond Captain Sullenburger. First off, he wasn't the only crew in that airplane. Both the First Officer and the flight attendants were very experienced, and obviously very capable. The aft flight attendant, in particular, is known to have stopped panicking passengers from opening the rear doors, which would've sunk the airplane much more quickly. Luck played a pretty big role, too. If they'd hit those birds at 500 feet of altitude instead of 3000, this could've turned out very differently. If the 1/2 mile visibility in snow that prevailed earlier in the day had stuck around, I doubt the outcome would've been so positive. If you're going to have to ditch an airliner, you can't really beat a calm Hudson River just off midtown Manhattan.
I'm going to have to disagree with Dave in his assessment that only a handful of pilots could've pulled this off. I personally think that a majority of airline pilots, if put in this situation, would rise to the occasion. This outcome was no accident in the same way that the safety record of the last eight years hasn't been an accident. It is instead the product of a safety culture almost unique to the airlines, one which has the efforts of thousands of pilots like Captain Sullenburger at its core. The fact that the crew responded so well to a scenario nobody trained for isn't only a testament to the crew, it's also a testament to a system that has in recent years recognized that the most serious situations are usually those that are unforeseen and has responded by adjusting training to emphasize dealing with situations there's no checklist for. It's a system that recognizes that truly safe pilots are made, not born. It's a system that seeks out deficiencies and remedies them, that hunts down threats and reduces risks.
Another pilot blogger, known only as "Dave" on Flight Level 390 takes a different stance:
I may not have had the "right stuff" to pull this off. The passengers of this A320 are very lucky that this amazing crew kept their cool. I would hesitate to guess how many pilots flying the Line could have done this... Probably not more than a dozen.
I'm having dinner tonight with an acquaintance from Delta and his co-pilot. Both are making their first trip into the Twin Cities now that Delta has taken over Northwest. I think I'll leave the issue out of the conversation.
The next time I get on a plane, however, I'm going to go with Sam's version.(1 Comments)
On Sunday, the New York Times ran a piece from local-boy-makes-better Thomas Friedman, in which he called for an end to the federal income tax for teachers.
One of the smartest stimulus moves we could make would be to eliminate federal income taxes on all public schoolteachers so more talented people would choose these careers. I'd also double the salaries of all highly qualified math and science teachers, staple green cards to the diplomas of foreign students who graduate from any U.S. university in math or science -- instead of subsidizing their educations and then sending them home -- and offer full scholarships to needy students who want to go to a public university or community college for the next four years.
Philip Greenspun, the former MIT computer guy and educatior, takes Friedman to task today.
Were we to implement the tax break immediately, 100% of the benefits would flow to existing teachers because no new ones will be hired until September. Friedman implies that these existing teachers are untalented because they are paid so little (topping out at just over $100,000 per year after 22 years, or age 44 for the typical person who starts after college) I don't think he believes that the untalented will do a better job without the distraction of paying federal income tax, so perhaps he is holding out hope for five years from now. In September 2009, a truly talented young person, hearing about this tax break, will decide to go to a teacher's college to pursue a Bachelor's in Education. In September 2013 that person will have graduated and be ready to work. Assuming an average career length of 30 years, by 2014 fully 3 percent of our schoolteachers will be the talented ones attracted by the tax break and taxpayers will only be wasting 97 percent of their money by paying the untalented legacy schoolteachers extra.
Neither mentioned a dilemma that I didn't think about either, until I was out at Minnesota West Community and Technical College in Worthington a few weeks ago. Gary Gillin, the Dean of Communication & Enrollment and Amber Luinenburg, the campus marketer, were giving me a tour of the campus, which featured some well-equipped labs for plant research. We also discussed the the nursing program.
In both cases, I remarked about the demand for both in today's economy; biofuels and nursing are growth areas.
"You have to have the passion for whatever career you're going to go into," both stressed to me. It was a light-bulb moment then, as it was when I read Friedman's column.
The dilemma? How do you attract people to an industry as important as teaching without making it about the money? And what is the point at which the passion for what you do becomes secondary to the monetary benefit you derive from doing it? Is it possible to provide a financial incentive without ending up with people who are only doing something for the money?
Somewhat related: Be sure to read Elizabeth Baier's excellent story today on highly-educated immigrants who came to the United States, only to start from scratch. On the one hand, we want talented people to go into particular careers. On the other, we present significant obstacles to the ones who want to.(9 Comments)
I've written a couple of times in the last few months about the generally-forgotten aspect of Obamamania -- his call for people to volunteer more.
It's not happening all that much, although it's still early. Still Michele Obama sent an e-mail message around today with a firm date for you to pitch in -- Monday.
Here's a site where you can find who needs your help and where you can sign up.
If you sign up to help out somewhere, let me know. I'll stop by to document your help.(2 Comments)
Two stories today remind us that these are not normal times, and not even normal downturns. In a normal economic "downturn," there are recession-proof jobs, jobs that are so critical, or fill a need of the times so perfectly, they can't possible be eliminated.
Health care is one such historical recession-proof job. But two large area health care organizations have announced cutbacks. Park Nicollet Health Services and North Memorial Health Care will trim 613 jobs.
"My colleagues thought health care was recession proof," Lawrence Massa, president of the Minnesota Hospital Association, told the Star Tribune. "We're seeing that's not the case."
Meanwhile, the New York Times reports today, another recession-proof gig is endangered -- prostitution.
Big Sister is not the only brothel suffering the effects of a battered global economy. While the world's oldest profession may also be one of its most recession-proof businesses, brothel owners in Europe and the United States say the global financial crisis is hurting a once lucrative industry.
Egbert Krumeich, the manager of Artemis, Berlin's largest brothel, said that in November, usually peak season for the sex trade, revenues were down by 20 percent. In Reno, Nev., the famed Mustang Ranch recently laid off 30 percent of its staff, citing a decline in high-spending clients.
An article on Yahoo Jobs earlier this year suggested education is a recession-proof job. Teaching? Have you seen the size of the state's projected budget deficit?
Forbes says there's always jobs for salespeople, although now they're called "business development specialists."
What about you? Are recession-proof? If so, I'd like to talk to you about your job for News Cut's "The Jobs We Do" category. Use this form or e-mail me.
(Posting here will be very light today. I'm driving to Worthington today to meet with officials at Minnesota West Community and Technical College. It will be on of the stops on the News Cut on Campus tour starting next month. Each Wednesday I'll be at a different college/university in Minnesota, talking to students about their journey and their outlook. Stops will include, White Bear Lake, Ely, Duluth, Worthington, Winona, and Moorhead. Everybody has an interesting story to tell and if you're in college, I'd like to tell yours. So stay tuned for more information.)(10 Comments)
You think you're having a rough Monday?
Outside of Boston, a backhoe operator went to work today thinking it would be just another day on the job, right up until the part where he demolished a house by accident.
Says a local TV report:
Residents of a home on Winthrop Street in Stoneham were lucky to escape unharmed Monday when a heavy-equipment backhoe demolishing the house next door crashed through the roof of their house.
Crews were in the process of demolishing a house at 6 Winthrop that had burned on July 4th when the large backhoe hit their home, the Stoneham Fire Department said.
They said the operator of the backhoe was unharmed.
It was not immediately clear what caused the accident.
"It was not immediately clear what caused the accident?" Pssssst. It was the backhoe.
Here's to a better Monday for you.
Only two pieces of evidence proved that the hardest working person in journalism stopped by today: Tracks in the driveway, and a newspaper on the doorstep... or at least close to it.
Few American workers get as little recognition as the newspaper carrier, a job that -- like newspapers themselves -- may be disappearing. They do their work while we get our beauty sleep.
Even with a lousy economy, this is the worst and best time of the year for the carrier. There's nothing worse than a thick Sunday newspaper and during the Christmas season, the inserts add hundreds of pounds to the carrier's load. The Minnesota winters, of course, are a horrible time to be out on the pre-dawn streets and the unshoveled walkways.
But it's also tip-time, or didn't you notice the Christmas card mixed in with the ads? Occasionally there's a note with it from your carrier. Sometimes they ask for a tip, most of the times they don't. Send them the money.
I worked as a newspaper carrier for 10 years, up until around 2004. I usually don't sleep very well after 3 in the morning and I decided one day I might as well get up and be productive. I delivered the Pioneer Press and Wall St. Journal and here's what I learned that most people don't know:
On one morning, a carrier in the depot had a heart attack while carrying a load of newspapers to his car. He stumbled back inside, collapsed near a door, and died. For over an hour, some supervisors grumbled that his body blocked the door.
But the little old man living in a mostly-senior-citizen complex left a nice note and $3 at the end of every month. I loved that guy and not because of his money. He died a few years ago and I felt like I lost a close friend, even though I only met him once or twice. He left me nice notes, and I'd scribble a message at the top of his morning paper each day.
Judging by the help-wanted section these days, there aren't many carriers needed anymore. In the '90s, the Sunday jobs section was four sections big. Today, the Star Tribune's is four-pages long, and there are no ads in there for newspaper carriers. In a good economy, newspapers have a difficult time recruiting people for a difficult job. In a bad economy, they don't.
The hardest-working person in the news business, is the person who brings you the newspaper.(16 Comments)
So the last diaper service in the Twin Cities is closing. Cheek-to-Cheek Diaper Service went out, not with a bang, but a swipe at the young parents of Minnesota. "Minnesotans are not as environmentally conscious as they pretend to be. Cloth is just as easy to use as disposable," the owner told the Star Tribune.
How many diaper services are left in the state? Two, according to Carmen Barthel, the manager of one of them -- the Small Change Diaper Service in La Crescent. "But most of our customers are from Wisconsin."
Business is picking up for her firm, though. It's doubled -- from 13 in January to 26 now. It's not enough to make a buck (Cheek-to-Cheek had about 6 times as many customers), but then it's not really designed to.
The diaper service is part of the Ability Building Center, a program that provides ability training to developmentally disabled adults. It trains 80 people between two sites.
"When we first started, we had high hopes that we were going to have lots of customers, Ms. Barthel told me today, "but it just never worked out as we had hoped."(1 Comments)
ESPN presented a nice little segment -- heck, it ran longer than the Celtics-Cavaliers story -- about the resurgence of roller derby. It features a few shots of the Minnesota RollerGirls, and one of its players, Jill Riley of the Current.(1 Comments)
If there is one job that most people probably don't want, it may well be Rev. Jeffrey Stewart's, the director of the Minneapolis Police Chaplain Corps. His job is to tell people their loved one is dead.
"It's not for everybody," he told me during a break in a conference in Brooklyn Center today, exploring the psychological footprints of disaster. He and chaplain Linda Koelman were the people who broke the bad news to the families of the I-35W bridge collapse, the focus of much of the conference. "One of the things that we look for in chaplains and the type of chaplain that we've been able to get in Minneapolis is people who have a genuine calling for working with people in crisis and who have a belief that because we're there, this terrible situation will be better because we spent the time to talk to them, to make the notification in person, to help put them in touch with the resources they need."
"We see ourselves as the ones that walk the families through the valley of the shadow of death," he said. And after a relative is told of the death, he said notifiers should have nothing to ever do with the family again. "Like a smell that might take you back to your mother's kitchen, we remind people of the death of their loved one and the healing process can't begin. We get hugs sometimes. We get handshakes and then people say 'thank you. I hope I never see you again.'"
Stewart says he doesn't deviate from a standard procedure. "We ask the person if they know someone named (name of deceased), and they'll say something like, 'yes, he's my son.' We never want to notify the wrong person, so we have to establish the identity of who we're talking to. And then I'll say, 'I have some very bad news. Your son is dead.' We don't say how he died and we don't use colloquialisms, and then we let them ask questions."
Stewart and Koelman were a constant presence at the family assistance center for the I-35W collapse. The center closed 10 days after the disaster, but before the last body was recovered. In cases involving mass casualties, he said, "everyone is afraid they'll be the last family there." When the center closed, Stewart and Koelman kept in touch with families of the missing two to three times a day. When the last body was recovered, he was already heading for the home of the victim. "We had a race against the media," he said. "It was a huge sigh of relief for the victim's spouse and we beat the media by 18 minutes. We were happy on the way home."
Listen to the comments of Rev. Jeffrey Stewart
Gasoline rose about 20 cents a gallon this week, a drain on the home economics of most people. But it could always be worse; you could be an independent long-haul trucker.
Take Danny and Carma Glascock of Jermyn, Texas, who are spending the next 34 hours sitting in the TA truckstop in Somerset, Wis. Truckers aren't allowed to work more than 70 hours in a week and the Glascocks time is up. So today they're not making a dime.
The rising cost of diesel and inflation in general has made a tough life tougher still for people like the Glascocks. Some truckers pulled off the road earlier this week to protest, but the Glascocks have loan payments to make on their trailer, which this week is hauling a giant tank down to Texas, now that they've dropped off a load of acoustical tile in Owatonna.
There was a time when diesel was much cheaper than gasoline; those days are over. Today, diesel was going for $3.99 where the Glascocks filled up. That gets them about 6 miles, and it's one of the reasons why they're picking their loads more carefully these days. It's an art, figuring out how to get the highest-paying loads from Point A to Point B, and having a load someone wants shipped at Point B so you don't sit for days on end, or you don't end up with a load that's costing you more money to move than the shipper is paying.
"It used to be alright to run a cheap load once in awhile," Danny told me today. "But now you can get into an area that you can't get out of." He pulls out a calculator to explain. "Let's say I get a load that pays $1.80 a mile for a 1,000 mile trip. At $4 a gallon, and six miles to the gallon, it'll cost me $668 (167 gallons). " The shipment will pay $1,800. Because he leases himself to a national trucking firm, the Glascocks will get 73 percent of that, or $1,340. "You can't do 1,000 miles in less than two days," he says. He figures with the cost of breakdowns, other equipment, and loan payments, he needs to make about $350 a day to survive. His hypothetical trip -- a pretty typical one these days -- will pay him $336 a day, $14 less than what he needs.
A blown-out tire costs $500. Any mechanical work costs about $85 an hour. He pays $676 a month for the loan he took out for the trailer and once that's paid off, he figures, it'll be time to buy a new truck. He has three tarps to cover the loads that wear out regularly and costs them $1,000 to replace.
The Glascocks figure they grossed about $65,000 last year, though they disagree about how much profit they made. "I think we made about $10,000," Carma says. "I think $20,000," says Danny.
They'll figure it out when they get back home to do their taxes. They get home once every three-and-a-half months.
The Glascocks started their trucking career 13 years ago when the factory that employed both closed. "The oil fields in Texas are booming again and I can always go back there and work," Danny Glascock says, " but the thing with the oil business is you'll be looking for work eventually because it's a boom-bust business. This gives me steady work."
It's not all bad, both admit. They like to see the country together. Carma says she enjoyed last Christmas, even though a load didn't come through and they had to sit and wait for one, missing Christmas with the family. "It's a good thing we were in Las Vegas," she says.
As we talked, another truck pulled in within feet of theirs. If it stays, it might be tough for both to sleep tonight, thanks to the idling tractor. That's not always the case, though. The Glascocks say the load they picked up a few weeks ago was one of the best ever: honeybees. "Nobody parked anywhere near us," Danny Glascock says. "It was the best nights' sleep I've ever had."(2 Comments)