Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Leech Lake Fishing Report - Memorial Weekend 2011

The bite started the week off very nice, but the weather couldn't develop a consistent pattern, and by the time the weekend hit the fish were very tough to target.

We we fortunate to have our dear friends up to spend a good chunk of the weekend with us, and we had a ball.  We ate and drank too much, fished hard but not too hard, and caught enough for a nice fish dinner (complete with Old Fashioned cocktails).

Here's a nice fish boated by my buddy - just shy of 24".  Considering that he had a brand new boat from which we were fishing, this was the very first walleye boated in it.

Not a bad way to lose your cherry.  Well done, Miller Time!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Junior Says Goodbye to Charlie

Rod Carew offers final words on the passing of Harmon Killebrew:



They could not have been more different, these two.  Physical size, race, hitting style, background, approach to the game, power, speed, personality, etc.  Yet what a beautiful bond they forged.

May we all be blessed with such friends in our lives.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Paul Ryan - Undiluted Leadership

Here is the only politician on the scene that has the leadership and fortitude to talk about the truth of our economy.

My man-crush on Paul Ryan goes on unabated...

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Only 38 Percent of Americans (plus one) Take All Their Vacation Days

CNN reports today that a majority of working Americans do not take all of the vacation that they're due.  The reasons vary: vacations tend to be expensive, in lean business environments folks are doing the work of two and don't want to get behind, in a tight job market most don't want to give their employer any excuse that the company can "make due" while the employee is out, etc. 

That may certainly apply to most Americans, and does to many of the peers with whom I work.  They wear their unused vacation like a badge of honor. 

Good for them. 

Personally, I'm using every day of my allocated vacation.  Every last day.  You see, vacation is pretty much the only way that I can see my family and friends. 

In the normal work environment here in Green Bay, basically all I do is work.  We have no family here, nor do we have any friends here.  There's work and my wife - that's it.  Clearly pathetic, but it is what it is.  So when I get a chance to get together with those whom I love, I'm taking it. 

And I understand my obligations - pre and post vacation I put in massive hours to accommodate the time away, and when I'm "on vacation" I'm definitely still working.  I'm fully connected to the office, taking emails and calls and cranking things out.  I have to do this as it is required for our business to continue to move forward, and because the deluge I'd encounter upon my return to the office would be nearly insurmountable.  

So I keep up, albeit without physically being in the office, and enjoy as much time as I can with the folks that mean the most to me.  In fact, I'm headed back to the cabin later this afternoon as soon as I can get out of work.  It is a 7 hour drive, but to be there, with my wife and friends, it is worth every minute.    

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Leech Lake Fishing Report, Late May 2011

We just completed out annual guys' weekend at Leech the weekend after opener, and despite really bad weather and some tough times off the water, we had a good time. 

As far as the fishing went, we were fortunate to boat fish every time out, with many in the slot and some nice big ones above it as well. 

Here are some images:

Here's Fuzzy with a nice slot fish

Our esteemed captain, in a rare moment of fishing

A beautiful Leech Lake sunset

Bill and boat joined us for day.  The two hot Rangers in which we rode garnered lots of unwanted attention

A stoic JT at the helm

JP with three great slot fish

JP with a last night beauty.  This was one of about 3 dozen fish boated in the final three hours.  It was about as fun as fishing could be.

While we had some tough times, we were still able to boat some fish, eat and drink far too much, make some memories, and of course laugh.

It's what we do. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Saying Goodbye to Harmon Killebrew

My earliest baseball memory was of Harmon Killebrew.  I was pre-kindergarten, and we were living in our old, old, old house in Crystal.  My dad and I were sitting in the living room, it was dark, so it must have been fall, and my mom was asking me to go to bed. 

I was watching the old black and white TV with dad.  We were watching the Twins game, and I asked to stay up to see Harmon hit.  My dad had told me of the long home runs the giant man hit, and I wanted to see one.  My mom overruled my protest, came to scoop me up, but just as she arrived dad lobbied on my behalf, "Harmon's coming up next inning."  Mom reluctantly agreed, and I remember the conscious thought of how dad had the ability to buy me some more time before bed. 

At this date I don't know what Harmon did at the plate.  He didn't hit a home run, but the fact I got to stay up a little later with my dad was reward enough. 

Harmon was always bigger than life to a little kid growing up in Minnesota in the 70's.  As we'd play ball, kids would often pretend to be a player - Carew, Oliva, Tovar - but nobody really ever picked Killebrew.  It was like he was just too big, too powerful for a little kid to even pretend being him. 

I ended up meeting him later in my childhood, at a Camera Day at Met Stadium.  We stood there, my brother and I and about a dozen other kids, and Harmon came over to us for the photo.  My brother happened to be wearing a kid's batting helmet that day, and just as the shutters of the fathers' cameras were about to flash, Harmon reached his massive bat across and tapped my brother on the top of the helmet.  I felt at that moment that my brother had to be the luckiest kid alive. 

In a franchise full of incredible players, Harmon was a gem.  Unassuming, quiet, but ridiculously powerful in a way that basically can only be mimicked through illegal methods, Harmon was unique.  He had a unique name, hit uniquely massive home runs, and had a unique look that basically prevented him from looking like he'd aged over the past thirty years. 

And he had the unique ability to allow a father and son to share a first baseball moment together. 

Thanks for everything, Harmon.  We will miss you.  

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Protester Plans Flag Burning...At LSU?

From last week comes the report of a protester at LSU looking to burn the flag of the United States.  But since he didn't have the requisite permit, he chose to make a political statement instead.  As you'll see in the video, he ends up getting shouted down, pelted by water balloons, and ultimately ushered off the police for his own safety.

Don't get me wrong - I respect our freedom of speech.  But just because you can say or do something, doesn't mean that doing so is a stupid freaking thing to do.  Examples: you don't want to walk up to the biggest guy in the bar and tell him that his girlfriend is ugly, you don't want to go to Harlem and start dropping the "n word," and you don't want to go to the LSU campus and burn the flag (or talk smack about the Tigers). 

In each instance, you'd be well within your rights to say what you wanted.  But you should also be fully expecting to get your butt kicked in order to do so.

Somebody really needs to point this guy the way to Berkeley...

Monday, May 16, 2011

Newt Gingrich Video with Pelosi a Presidential Game Ender

A couple of weeks ago I made a post of the Republican hopefuls, and at that time I talked about some of the issues Gingrich would have to address.  Now, like a bad digital camera off of a drunken Vegas trip, comes this video to the forefront.

Not only did Newt buy into the "Climate Change" junk science (it was the DC thing to do for a while), but he got in bed with the most hated and reviled of congressional leaders, at least to Republicans.

Do yourself and your supporters a favor, Newt, and bow out gracefully.  Immediately.  For this and myriad other reasons, you're unelectable.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

2011 Green Bay Marathon Recap

My good buddy (since the first day of kindergarten) came into town this past weekend to run the Green Bay Marathon.  We didn't get into too much trouble as he couldn't do dinner or drinks for obvious reasons, but that didn't stop us from having a good time just hanging out.   

We started out on Saturday doing the pre-event stuff at Lambeau Field.  There were lots of vendors, some good bargains on athletic gear, plus a pre-race pasta dinner in the stadium itself.  The pasta was just OK, but between my beer tickets, my buddy's beer tickets, and just about everyone else there that was running the next day and not drinking, I had a good time.  I mean a really good time.  Note to Green Bay drinkers: you'll not find more free beer at an event other than crashing a wedding.  Seriously. 

We came back and hung out by watching Hot Tub Time Machine (much funnier than expected), then watched the Twins choke away another game in extra innings.  With that under our belts, it was off to bed for the big day the following day. 

We awoke to sun, but to some brutal 35 MPH winds, with gusts well into the 40's.  It was coming out of the northeast which meant that the first part of the course would be right at runners' backs, but the second half would be right in their faces.  And that second part was brutal.  I ended up riding alongside my buddy for race, and just riding a bike into that wind was horrible.  I can't imagine what it was like to run into it for  10 miles or so. 

I was surprised at how much of the course I was able to ride with my buddy - I estimate about half of the marathon altogether.  In spots where I couldn't ride near him, I'd find a parallel route, bust up ahead of him, cut back to the course to stand on the sidelines and offer encouragement as he passed, then do it all again.  It worked really well. 

Here are some shots from the race:


This is the view at the four mile mark.  Hat's off to all of the Green Bay citizens that came out and cheered runners on.  You guys rock. 


Here's a good shot of AB, my buddy, in the middle of the pack looking at the camera. 


By about mile 10 things got stretched out, but there were still folks alongside the road cheering runners. 


Here's a shot of my buddy and a friend of his. 

This was my first attendance at a marathon, and I have to say I came away quite impressed.  It really was a community event, and I loved to see how the citizens of my new home supported the participants.  Likewise, I was really struck by the strength and fortitude of the runners.  They came in all shapes, sizes, and conditions, but each and every one of them were inspiring in their effort and perseverance.  Awesome stuff, all of it.

When this weekend started, I had no idea what to expect.  I came away from it proud, moved, and a little saddle sore.   

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Derek Boogaard Found Dead

I read the news this morning with incredibly deep sadness: Derek Boogaard was found dead in his Minneapolis apartment last night.  Boogaard, 28 years old and hands-down the best tough guy Minnesota professional hockey ever had (including the tough guys of the North Stars), is gone. 

No word yet on the cause, but regardless of what's found, it won't mitigate the sadness of the news. 

When he left the Wild last year, I wrote a small article about him and his dominance on the ice.  You can find that article here. 

RIP, number 24.  On behalf of hockey fans everywhere, we will miss you.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Songs in Heavy Rotation - 2011 Edition

For the past couple of years, I've been giving my brother an iTunes mix of songs that I have on heavy rotation as a means of sharing new music with him.  I always include some notes about the songs I'm sending, so instead of just sending that to him, I figured I'd throw it in a blog post.  

Here's some stuff that I've been listening to:
 
Crash Years, The New Pornographers: Fun little song from the Canadian indy band.  I'm a big Neko Case fan (as you'll see), and her contributions here are not unnoticed.   

Tragedy, Peter Wolf & Shelby Lynne: Yes, that Peter Wolf.  He sounds great, and Shelby Lynne is downright incredible.  Their harmonies are completely unexpected - like a really smooth shot of fine whiskey.   

Non Photo-Blue, Pinback: Catchy little indy tune that makes you wonder just why the genre is not more popular than it is.   

Primitive (The Way I Treat You), Ambulance Ltd:  If Lou Reed were making indy rock in 2011, it would sound exactly like this.   

Fresh, Devo: After all of these years, all these guys really are, still, are horny nerds.  60 year old horny nerds, but horny nerds nonetheless, and I love it.     

March 11, 1962, Mary GauthierWhen we saw her in concert, she had the entire audience in tears with this one.  A songwriting gem.  Personal, poignant, emotive, descriptive, and raw.  I wish I could write that that.  

Walking On a Dream, Empire of the SunI'm not a huge fan of pop-sounding music, but this really works for me.  Great song for summer driving with the windows down.             

Next Girl, The Black Keys:  Yeah, this one is obvious, but damn these guys rock it.  There is so much to like here, on so many levels.  If this song was a wine, you'd describe it as having hints of Cream, with an unmistakably strong flavor of vintage Robin Trower.  

Revenge (feat. The Flaming Lips), Danger Mouse & Sparklehorse:  Deep song that is hauntingly beautiful.  The bell makes the whole thing for me.    

Sing Me to Sleep (feat. Neko Case), Fran HealyMs. Case makes another appearance, and in this instance steals the song.  I just love her voice.  It is not outstanding; it is just plainly beautiful, like a wheat field or a soft rain.  In thinking about her, I kind of see her as the Stevie Nicks of 2011.  Part of an accomplished band, but with a strong solo career in her own right, and with this, asked to sing with other artists just as Nicks did with Tom Petty, Kenny Loggins, and John Stewart.  
     
Flume, Peter Gabriel:  A Bon Iver song (and I'm a huge fan) that sounds exactly like classic Peter Gabriel.  

Almost Cut My Hair, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young:  OK, stick with me on this one as  I'm kind of into some older, off-the-beaten path stuff from the 60's and 70's.  In this classic from Deja Vu, check out the guitar work and the use of stereo.  People just don't make music like that anymore, and it is damn good.  Just forget the genre and appreciate the music (and the lyrics).  Rock and roll in its most classic, earthy state.        

Total Life Forever, Foals:  While they only have two albums under their belt, this band is worth following.  They should be releasing something soon, I'd hope.  This track is awesome.  

Stop!, Joe Bonamassa:  Ah, the blues makes a stop on the list.  Outstanding guitarist, and soulful vocals, Joe is making some really great blues music here in the 2010s.       

The SuburbsArcade Fire:  I guess this band is obvious, given their acheivements and critical acclaim the past year.  While I just liked portions of The Suburbs, the stuff that I liked, I really liked.  This is one example.           

Night Life, Aretha Franklin:  I went back and got off the beaten path, and downloaded a bunch of old Aretha.  Not the singles.  Not the common stuff.  But stuff like this.  This woman is a gift from God.          

Feed the Tree, Belly:  After it got overplayed in the '90's, this tune came back to me for some reason, and I developed a substantively deeper appreciation for it.  I don't know, something just clicked.  I adore the darkness of the lyrics of this tune.         

F**k This Town, Robbie FulksA poor man's Lyle Lovett, Robbie cuts open a vein, but also has a ball on this song.  You'll need top hit "skip" when playing in front of the kiddos, but this is alt-country at its best.   

Second Chance, Peter Bjorn and JohnNew song on heavy rotation with me.  And just about everybody else, unfortunately, as it will likely burn me out on it.   

Miss the Misery, Foo FightersI was privy to good debate as to who was currently the best rock band.  There are multiple options, but for my money, I'll take the Foo Fighters.  This example of something off of their recent album makes a good case.   

Lotus Flower, Radiohead: 100% pure Radiohead.  Just a great song.           

Beautiful Wreck, Shawn Mullins:  This is the only Shawn Mullins song I own, as I thought I that I hate Shawn Mullins.  But when I heard this song, and felt him channeling John Hiatt, I changed my opinion.  For this song, anyway.             

Simple Math, Manchester Orchestra:  These guys are slowly sneaking into the range of becoming my favorite band.  Their new album is fantastic, and this is just one gem in a slug of other ones from that effort.  I really need to find a way to see these guys live again, as they put on a hell of a show.               

Monday, The Sea and Cake:  While indy-rock has congregated into a lot of fuzziness, reverb, and a surfer-sound mess, this band has totally gone a different direction.  Clear vocals, smooth music, and almost a jazzy feel.  This track reminds me a ton of China Crisis from back in the day.  Likely why I like it so much...  

Happy birthday to my bro!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

MLB.TV on Apple TV - A Review: Buyer Beware

With our move to Green Bay, I decided to buy Apple TV, as well as a subscription to MLB.TV as a means to watching my beloved Twins going forward.  I sure as hell was not going to become a Brewers fan, although to do still have Gomez, and I still like to watch him play. 

Set up of the system could not have been easier, and within minutes I was watching Dick and Bert calling the game just like I was still in Minnesota.  Unfortunately, there are some problems. 
  • The MLB.TV feed is not good.  Not at all.  While games should be broadcast in High Definition, I'd say only 25% of my game feed ever comes through in HD.  The rest is pixilated, broken up, and unclear.  Note this is not an Apple TV issue; my Netflix movies downloaded from the same system come in HD no problem. 
  • Other features and functionalities that MLB.TV touts don't come on the Apple TV system.  The only features I have are pause, play, fast forward (without images), and rewind (ditto).  Nowhere in MLB.TV advertising do they say that Apple TV owners will be suffering with such a rudimentary system. 
  • The Twins suck.  I mean flat out suck.  They have the worst record in baseball, are losers of five straight, and show no signs of improvement.  They're on pace to be realistically out of the race before May is over.  As such, I can't watch the games anymore, or when I do, I only watch the at-bats for hitters 1-6 in the lineup as the other hitters and action on the defensive side of the game are not worthy of my time and attention (save for Frankie's no hitter). 
Thankfully I've gone back to watching The Trailer Park Boys via Netflix, so my evenings are at least back to being entertaining.  And speaking of entertaining, season seven of that show is simply one of the funniest things I've ever seen on TV.  If it wasn't for that little show every night, Apple and MLB would both be looking at a return from me. 

Disappointments abound. 

On a lot of levels.  

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Weber Spirit E-320 - My Most Recent Accomplishment

I believe that mechanical aptitude is something with which one is born.  Spatial relations is a key asset, as is patience, creativity, and an engineering mindset.  While some of these can be developed or honed, I think we're limited in some ways by what's given to us at birth, and despite how we try, some of the limitations provided by nature cannot be completely overcome. 

I tee all of this up as I stink at putting things together.  It is frustrating, anxiety-causing, and just plain not fun.  I blame all of this on my dad.  My dad was horrible with his hands.  I mean horrible.  Anything that got built in our house growing up was done either by my mom or by my maternal grandfather.  And while most kids learned how to fix things from their dads, the only thing I learned from mine as he attempted to work was profanity.  And it that medium, he was a true virtuoso.  His vocabulary when it came to swearing was colossal, and his creative use of the medium, especially in the use of compound words, was something to behold. 

So when our new Weber grill arrived, I looked at the opened box with dozens of parts with equal parts of loathing and trepidation.  But I was blessed with good weather and a number of hours with nothing better to do, so I dove into the task.  Here's the end result: 


While not without flaws - I have 6 washers left over from something - I was able to pull it off in a couple of hours.  Oh yes, I did engage in massive amounts of profanity (I am my father's son), but in the end it all came together. 

Now I know that the way things are constructed at this date, a trained ape could have done it.  I also know that somebody with some skills could have knocked this project out a hour earlier than I did.  Regardless, I still found a strong sense of satisfaction with completing the process.  While I know it is no big deal to others, every time I use this grill going forward there will be a quiet voice in the back of my head that says "You put this together!" 

Pathetic, huh?  

As for the grill, it is fabulous.  When grilling, I usually forgo gas as I like the flavor that charcoal imparts when cooking, but gas is great for something quick like chicken fillets, kabobs, vegetables, burgers or bratwurst. And that's surely the case with this one.  Temperature controls are surprisingly sensitive, allowing you to control with heat with precision.  There's plenty of work space.  And the side burner is great for cranking out the meal all at one station, and will be even better for frying fish outside. 

I'm a big fan of what Weber does in grills.  While this isn't a cheap grill, you do get what you pay for, and this will be something that serves us for years.  I'm thrilled with the purchase, especially when you can get it from Amazon with free shipping.  Considering the box is nearly 150 pounds, that shipping offer itself is a great deal. 

The grill construction dragon has been slayed.  The beer fridge is stocked.  The meat market is right down the road.   Now we just need some good weather and some friends.  

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Sen. Franken Demagogues Privacy While Economy Burns

With housing prices headed for a double dip, unemployment at 9%, gas prices surging, and things economically worse than they’ve been in nearly 100 years, the esteemed Senator Al Franken has decided to take on the mobile phone companies on “privacy.” 

Here’s a little hint from someone who understands this technology slightly better than the average bear: if you believe you can use these devices and have any kind of assumption of privacy, you’re ignorant on how this technology works.  Even without GPS technology engaged, your location could easily be estimated by triangulating cell tower usage. 

The bottom line is that you are protected on line – there are laws against sharing your credit card information, your email address, your physical address, your health records, etc.  Those are already safe.  So what’s Al trying to protect? 

Easy. 

“Privacy.” 

This is a demagogue distraction, trying to prove that the government “cares” about you.  Here’s a hint, Al.  If you really want to make a difference in our lives and protect us, how about getting us some jobs and getting nearly 40 million of our American brothers and sisters off of food stamps, huh?

Monday, May 9, 2011

Door County Vacation Notes

For my wife’s birthday, we spent last weekend in Door County.  While I had heard lots about the area, I’d never been there, and while it didn’t sound like a place I’d much enjoy, I was surprised by the following:
  • The area is very pretty.  Not quite Minnesota north shore pretty, but close.  I have to believe that in the fall when the leaves turn or in the spring when the thousands of area cherry trees come into bloom, it will look incredible.  
  • We didn’t make if off of the beaten path as my wife wanted to shop (remember, it was her birthday), but I can see there were lots of options for hiking, biking, and hitting the lake. 
  • Just about every restaurant there offers a nightly “fish boil.”  After walking into one restaurant, learning that it would be the only thing they’d be selling that night, and catching a big sniff of what was being served, my wife and I promised each other that we’d not ever do one of these.  You can find about a fish boil here. 
  • We had a great dinner of small plates at the wine bar at The Cookery, and had a wonderful stay and dinner at The Whistling Swan Hotel.  Both are highly recommended. 
Given how much my wife enjoyed our trip, and give that it is just a short hour or so from Green Bay, I’m sure we’ll be back. 

I just hope my credit card is up to it.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Me vs. Millennials

My career is electronic commerce - selling stuff via electronic websites, and marketing via electronic methods.  And as a 46 year-old, I am definitely in the 90th percentile of age for my industry.  The space is filled with Millennials and digital natives, and is a young person's game.  Technology is moving faster than it ever has in human history, and it is accelerating at a shocking rate, yet for the Millennial age group, they've known nothing different.  That is their life.  So how do I remain competitive and relevant?  There's a couple of things:
  • I have to constantly push myself to remain on the forefront of new technology and techniques.  I need to be able to quickly understand what I need to start adapting, what I need to keep my eye on, and what I can ignore.  It is a constant chess game, and I need to make sure I'm constantly planning three or four moves ahead.  I spend about 2 hours a day, every day, just on this aspect of my career. 
  • I must be a practitioner of technology.  It is not enough for me to know the concepts, I must immerse myself into it.  Fortunately, I've always been an early adapter when it comes to technology, so this hasn't been a stretch for me, but I need to constantly push for fear of falling behind.  For example, I worry that my lack of owning an iPad will have negative career ramifications for me before too long, so I can't stall on this for much longer. 
  • I must have the basics of "business" not only right, but great.  I've got to be an effective leader of my team and company.  I've got to post results and meet my numbers.  I've got to be a dependable and valuable peer to the leadership team.  All day, every day. 
  • I've got to work hard; every day.  I have liabilities, but I can address some of them by simply putting my head down and cranking through hour after hour of work.  Millennials as a peer group treasure their personal time, and as a competitor of theirs, that is one area in which I can win.  Few will simply outwork me.  This trait will come in more handy soon, as I predict that companies will finally recognize that geography is no longer relevant to their hiring decisions.  Virtual office adaption, soaring energy prices, and the need for companies to improve production and productivity will soon result in recruiting overseas where there is a massive amount of talent that is better educated, better trained, cheaper, and willing to work significantly longer hours that will make our domestic workforce's head spin.   We're likely 3-5 years away from this coming to fruition, but coming it is, and it will drastically change how "work" is defined in the United States. 
  • Finally, I need to know Millennials.  They work for me, they're my customers, and will soon my success or failure will be solely based on my ability to effectively interact with this population segment.  As such, I look to learn from that group as much as possible, and have gone so far as to take folks to lunch just so I could pick their brain on a new technology or to learn what new things they're geeking out on. 
So how am I doing?  I guess OK.  I've built a career of which I'm very proud, but have sacrificed greatly to get here.  I'm working harder than I ever have, and know that I'll need to work even harder still in the future.  Life will get tougher and tougher.  Such is my lot. 

In the mean time, I keep watch on my environment, and try to Millennnialize myself as much as possible.  Toward that end, I recently took the following test and scored an 80, which surprised me as I don't have piercings or a tat.  Not yet, anyway.

Check it out and see how you score.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Case for Robert Plant for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

With the tragic and untimely death of John Bonham in 1980, the surviving members of Led Zeppelin disassembled and went their different ways.  But of the three that remained, Plant was the only one to carve out a successful, stand-alone career separate from Zeppelin.  Oh, Jimmy Page was here and there (even before Zeppelin), but nobody did anything close to what Plant did. 

Which got me to thinking - of those who were involved in significant groups, who were the ones that were able to go off and develop Hall of Fame type careers subsequently?  2 1/2 of the 4 Beatles were obvious.  Peter Gabriel (look for a write up on him soon) did it after his departure with Genesis.  Dave Grohl with the Foo Fighters after Kurt Cobain's death.  Beyond that, I don't think there are any others (please post up if you have some). 

But back to Plant. 

He could have easily gone out and just done a Led Zep redux, but instead his post-Zeppelin career has been steered into new waters, with occasional tips of the hat to the past.  His initial work with The Honeydrippers could not have been a bigger departure of the with which his fans had been accustomed, and that was just the start.  Pictures at Eleven and The Principle of Moments steered him firmly into Album Oriented Radio, whereas Shaken 'n' Stirred was more electronic/world. 

Fate of Nations was more old-school 60's, and No Quarter (with Page) was driven by Middle Eastern sounds.  With Dreamland, he focused on traditional blues and folks, and with Mighty ReArranger, it was back to world sounds.  His duets with Allison Krauss went to country, bluegrass and folk, and he continued that sound with Band of Joy. 

Was all of this a universal hit?  No, there were plenty of misses in this body of work.  But there were also moments of sheer brilliance - brilliance that belie that Robert Plant is just "the voice of Rock and Roll."  He's a prolific artist who has the luxury and courage to poke on the fringes of popular music for new sounds and influences.  His contributions are many, and his sell-outs few when he had the chance to do just the opposite, and be handsomely rewarded for it.  For this, and some really fabulous music, Robert Plant is worthy to stand alone in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.   

In celebration, I offer up one of the best night-driving songs ever recorded:


Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Francisco Liriano No Hitter - A First Step, of Just Falling Forward?



Last night the Twins fielded a team that had 7 batters that were batting below .240.  They were starting a pitcher with over a 9.00 ERA.  They boasted the worst record in MLB.  And finally, by the night was over, they lived up to some of the preseason high expectations as Francisco Liriano scatted 6 walks and delivered the first no-hitter of 2011 MLB season to the rival White Sox. 

It was not a dominant showing - Liriano walked too many and got a favorable call in the 7th, the bats were silent except for Kubel (same story as all year long) - but it worked, as Frankie got not only his first no-no, but also his first shut out and his first complete game. 

When the sun rises, things are still going to be tough.  The Twins will still be 9 1/2 games out, they'll still have a starting catcher that is batting .100 (no rounding - a legit .100), and they'll still be looking at a daunting task to get back into the mix.  But a journey of a hundred miles starts with the first step, and Liriano made a great big one.  Hopefully the rest of the team can contribute and they can propel along. Because the only other movement is falling flat on their collective face.  We'll see what happens. 

In the mean time, congratulations to Francisco on the rare feat.  It was fun to watch.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A Dog Named Blitz - Chapter Five, "One Year Old", Part 3

3or background on this serial, please click here. You can also start at the previous section


While that first year made for some interesting episodes inside the boat, it also added those moments when time on the water was just too quiet.  Duck hunting can be defined as 14% preparation, 1% hunting, and 85% waiting and thinking.  In those thinking moments I often reflected on the times that dad and I spent in the very same boat, doing the very same thing.  When reflecting, I couldn’t help but miss him terribly, and found these times being more and more melancholy.  I missed our discussions; both important and trivial.  I also missed the silence that you can share with someone you know and love that does not have to be filled with conversation or distraction.  I missed everything about him not being there with me. 

Fortunately, Blitz offered a perfect distraction.  She was usually into something she shouldn’t have been, which required constant management and correction.  But in those events where she was actually behaving, she would be doing something endearing like thumping her tail against the bottom of the boat at a volume that would scare away any duck in the county or sit with her head on my knee, patiently waiting to be petted. 

In these moments, and especially when we were out there just by ourselves, she became a treasured hunting companion.  She also made for a great conversationalist, as while she never verbally responded to anything, she listened well, and would sometimes sympathize with an appropriate whine, yawn, tail wag, or episode of flatulence.  In many respects she was a perfect hunting partner. 

Beyond conversation, Blitz was a commensurate duck hunter.  Armed with a canine’s keen hearing and amazing eyesight, she’d often spot ducks in the distance well ahead of my noticing them.  Dozens of times I’d be able to look at her face, at it would belie that she was tracking ducks – her ears were up, her brow lowered, and her unblinking brown eyes focused onto a distant target.  In these times I’d try and align my gaze to hers and see what she was tracking.  Surprisingly, it would often be ducks.  I say that this was surprising as there are many birds that one encounters while duck hunting – seagulls, swans, pelicans, cormorant, blackbirds, eagles, hawks and crows just to name a few.  However, there is something very distinct about the flight pattern of a duck, namely it constantly flaps its wings, and only stops when in the process of losing altitude or landing.  While that pattern is distinct, it can be mimicked at times by other birds, and it can take hunters many hours in the swamp before being confident in identifying birds on the wing at a distance.  Despite this difficulty, Blitz was true on many of her identifications, and I was able to call and work birds I would have otherwise never seen had I not been paying attention to her. 

The focus she was able to display in those moments made me question my original concern about her potential case of ADD, but then the birds would leave, she’d be back to tying to eat a cattail or chase a spent shell around the bottom of the boat, and the cycle would begin itself all over again.   

*      *     *     *     *

Outfitting a hunting dog for training, waterfowling, and upland hunting is quite expensive.  Beyond the costs of the training itself and staples like food, crate, dummies, toys and snacks, there are a plethora of other components of gear that help to make a sporting dog’s time in the elements more effective, and unfortunately none of these are cheap.  I was fortunate as at the time I owned Blitz I was running marketing for a major outdoor retailer, and was lucky enough to obtain cheap gear through my employee discount or by samples received from sympathetic merchandise buyers. 

Blitz, though, earned some of this gear herself. 

Occasionally product would be featured in our advertising and would really need to be modeled in order to best reflect the item.  While this was obvious for clothing, it also worked for some of the dog gear, and with Blitz’s photogenic good looks and extremely light yellow coat, she’d make a great pallet from which to sell our gear.  Her first opportunity to be a dog model arrived when a buyer stopped into my office with a camouflage neoprene dog vest.  “Mike, you have a light-yellow colored Lab, right”  he asked.  I nodded in the affirmative, and he continued, “I have this camo vest that needs a yellow dog in order for it to really show up well on film.  The lighter the better.  Would you be interested in using her as a model?  You can keep the vest.”  I told him that indeed I’d be interested.  But things got tricky after that.  “She’s well trained and will sit, right?” he asked.  “Uh,” I stammered, “yeah I spent a lot on her training and…” I trailed off.  “Perfect,” he replied, “I'll have the Photo Studio to contact you on the shoot.” 

While the vest was a great incentive, I wondered exactly what I might have gotten myself into. 

The day for the photo shoot arrived, and I had purposefully put Blitz through some rounds that morning in an attempt to burn off some energy from her.  We had doubled our morning walk, and I followed it with a session of retrieving training dummy after training dummy in the back yard.   By the time we had finished, I had one very tired yellow lab who was eager to get back into her crate while I got myself ready. 

Upon completing my shower and dressing, I was pleased to go downstairs and see that Blitz was calmly laying in her crate, and had obviously just woke up when she heard my footfalls on the steps.  Given her state, I was cautiously optimistic that this photo shoot might just go OK.  I loaded the dog into the back of my truck and headed for the photo studio.  

Upon arrival, every iota of my optimism was immediately dashed.  It seemed that the studio was also shooting for another retailer that morning, and that shoot just happened to be for kid's clothing.  There were literally kids everywhere, running around, screaming, and acting like kids.  While Blitz loved people, she absolutely adored kids.  If you introduced her to a group of people, she'd always greet one of the kids first, and would do so with her tail wagging, ears down, and with that canine facial expression that can only be described as smiling.  And as far as she was concerned, the more kids around, the better things were.  So when I saw 20 or so kids spilling out of the studio lobby into the parking lot, I knew that all of my hard work to wear down my dog as a means of keeping her calm was for naught. 

As I opened the lift gate, Blitz could already hear the squeals of the kids, and was thumping her crate with her tail like she was beating a bass drum.  I opened the crate door, barred her exit, and attached her lead as quickly as possible.  Once attached, instantly she bolted from the crate to the end of the lead, looking to meet those wonderful kids that were making so much noise.  As we approached the building, I was met by the evil and disapproving eyes of the kids' mothers, as I'm sure their concerns about keeping things calm were on par with mine. 

W.C. Fields is credited with saying "Never work with children or animals."  Given the next few minutes, I knew exactly what he meant.  Blitz was overloaded, as she was quickly surrounded by kids.  Moms were yelling to kids to not get dog hair on them.  One kid asked if she could pet my dog, and I answered in the affirmative.  That gave the entire group the green light to pet her, and immediately the dog was buried beneath little hands wanting to pet the friendly dog.  Another little girl asked "What's the puppy-dog's name?"  "Blitz," I replied, and immediately every  kid was happily yelling "BLITZ!  BLITZ!"  Confusion reigned in our kid-dog party.  Reigned with an iron fist.

I somehow got the dog out of the middle of the chaos, and got her to sit, but a little boy standing nearby couldn't stand it anymore and threw his arms around Blitz's neck and gave her a huge hug.  Blitz always liked this, and she thumped her tail approvingly and gave the kid a big lick.  Immediately other kids quickly lined up for their turn for a hug, all while the mother of the first little boy was chewing him out and trying her best to get the yellow fur off of his black pants.   It was a scene of joy and love shared by the kids and the dog, and simultaneously one of frustration and seething shared by the moms and me.  Happily, photo studio staff soon arrived on the scene and ushered the dog and I into our stage area as calls of "GOODBYE BLITZ!" echoed behind us. 

The calm of the studio room was a welcomed relief, and Blitz continued to make more friends as we met the photographer and the two assistants.  After introductions, one of the assistants asked if Blitz was ready for her first modeling job, and held out the neoprene dog vest to me on a crooked finger.  Little did I know that that the chaos had only just begun.
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