I used to work for Blue Cross of North Dakota and met president Mike Unhjem a few times, but an unexpecting homeowner met the person in charge of his health insurance last night when the drunk Unhjem broke into his home. Unhjem, when discovered, took off in a vehicle, and was promptly captured by police -- all allegedly, of course. If I remember right, Unhjem had quit drinking and gone through AA years ago; it seems he's got some more work to do.
Make sandals out of old tires -- and I've actually got four truck tires out back...summer project, maybe? At the very least, I forsee a cottage industry that helps recycle tires (which are nasty polluters anyway), plus gives a cool factor that would make them sellable, especially if they're made and designed from high performance tires that would normally be shredded just like any other tire.
Ah, to live in a Wal-Mart: this guy tried it. He did pretty well actually, despite only a passing resemblance to Natalie Portman, but eventually he seemed to attract attention from the blue-vested minions and ended his experiment.
The Fargo Bookmobile is done; the library cites the addition of branch libraries as the reason for the change, but no doubt a lot of people are shocked by the change. Granted, I've never been that impressed with the Fargo library (it doesn't feel bigger or fuller than ones I've seen in towns of 10,000 people), but I worry that the bookmobile was less of a book-delivering service, and more of a outreach program to remind people that the library exists. Without it, will there be enough reminders for adults and children who already need a 'push' to go to the library?
Making game of things always helps learning -- in this case, the game is Scrabble, the lessons are in the Native American Dakota language. Various Dakota Sioux students will compete in Scrabble tournaments, the first of which was last week, on boards authorized by Hasbro and made from indigenous materials of the upper plains.
I awoke with a start -- whatever that means, but it sounds about right for what happened. I hadn't gone to bed until after 3am, when the Wifey arrived home from her road trip to pick up her Boy from his dad's. I sat up and tried to see the alarm clock, but couldn't; I wondered who set something in front of it. Standing up and moving closer, I could see that nothing was in front of it. The power was off. I dug around in my pants pocket and found my celphone. It was not quite a quarter after 7 in the morning.
The children were up and thumping around upstairs, just shy of what we call The Ow Game. The Ow Game, forbidden in the house, is played by deliberately causing pain to another gameplayer, after which everyone laughs, then the next player causes pain to the other player, and so forth until the parents get mad. This morning's game sounded like it could shortly become the Ow Game, but wise children were avoiding the most important part of gameplay (the loud "OW!") and were simply wrestling around violently.
Half-awake, I scrambled around the pile of papers on the table to find the electric disconnect notice. At the beginning of February, we recieved a $800 electric bill: in December they apparently either misread the meter, estimated the meter (which they've done in the past with similar results) or simply missed billing us once, causing a large bill only two or three weeks after the previous bill, and only a few weeks before the next bill. In five weeks, our electric bill balance went from zero to $1,200, making us scramble a bit to catch up. The disconnect notice is automatically generated, despite our intent to pay things off soon. The notice gave us until the end of the month, so I doubted it was the cause, but thought it best to have it in-hand when talking to the electric company.
Paul Flaherty, creator of the AltaVista search engine, has passed away at 42. Altavista, in my opinion, was the first 'real' search engine along the lines of today's Google and MSN Search, and it was my search engine of choice for quite a long time (in internet years). He even has a local connection: he's from the region, and his funeral will be in Fargo next week.
Desktop Blues: for the soulful, yet musically-challenged computer operators. Like you. Yes, you, you toneless, emotion-repressed freak. Go get your blues on, right now.
Behind the scenes at The Office, for video technophiles like me. Most interesting is that Season 1 was filmed in an actual office environment, but with Season 2, they recreated the office on a soundstage.
Remember in A Christmas Story when Ralphie fights back and beats the wholy crap out of Scut Farkus? Jean Shepherd originally wrote this story in a 1964 Playboy, a short story called Grover Dill and The Tasmanian Devil. Fans of the movie will note that Grover Dill was Farkus' toadie in the movie.
And people think I talk funny: Metropolitan ladies are developing a new accent, called the Affect, which sounds like a cross between Valley Girl and rich rude women from black-and-white 1940s films.
Tired of watching yourself on TV and seeing they 'pixellated' out your cool t-shirt? Save the producers the trouble, and wear pre-pixellated clothes for your appearances. They'll appreciate it.
Minnesota: The 2020 Olympics? Okay, what to say...I could just add a "ya, shoor, ya betcha!", or talk about all the potential new sports (muskie wrestling, Hennepin Avenue parallel parking, finding the money Buscemi buried in the snow), but I won't. It seems they're trying to get the summer Olympics, though -- for a wintry land to get the summer Olympics would be quite a feat, but it would definitely give the international community a feel for a different part of the US than they usually see when the Olympics come to this hemisphere.
The peregrine falcons are back! Downtown Fargo has had a couple of falcons that return every year named Dakota Ace and Frieda -- one year I saw one sitting along 10th street south during rush hour, in a big area of blood-stained snow, disemboweling a pigeon. Now that's a downtown bird you don't mess with.
North Dakota Colleges bring in more new students than leave for college -- NDSU, in Fargo, is one of the biggest of them. This means that, compared to the 'brain drain' which asserts that our youth are leaving the state in droves, there's more 19-year-old college freshmen in Fargo than there were 18-year-old high-school seniors the previous year. I find it promising, even though keeping them after they graduate college is going to be tougher than getting them to come in the first place.
First watch the video of sCrAmBlEd?HaCkZ! -- it is nearly impossible to describe without simply deferring to the video. The use of computers to remove all knob/slider/scratching tools and make the magic of the mix simple is unbelievably impressive; were I a talented DJ with a venue and audience, I might have to try this out more than once when it becomes available.
Oh, the number of times I've wanted to do this - taking out a troublesome piece of hardware with a golf club. Blogger, being a Google company, can afford to do it once in a while, but I have to rely on some salvage value in whatever goes bad. We did take a 20lb sledge-hammer to a computer monitor once - Wifey did the honors. First strike, hammer swung like a croquet mallet (Wifey couldn't lift it much more than that) -- the hammer hit the screen with such force that it went 'dink!' and caused no damage. Second strike, however, succeeded with a hugely explosive sound and cheers from all.
The Princess of Norway will be visiting Fargo in April. Part of me, upon hearing that headline, wonders how a 19th-century transatlantic paddle-wheel steamship will make it up the Red, but apparently Norway still does have a royal family, of whom the most princessly and literary of the bunch will be in town to read from her children's book, and will no doubt partake of our American-Norwegian amenities. More details on the tour are found at her publisher's website.
Our next, newest book is out! Well, retail shops don't have it yet, but if you email me I can arrange for an early order: Augusta College is the lucky posessor of the only 10 copies in existence right now.
The book is Decomposition, by J Eric Miller, with an epilogue by Susannah Breslin that started out as a foreword, but the book is rather iconoclastic so things just didn't end up that way. It's a story of a young woman who, having killed her emotionally distant boyfriend, tosses his body in the trunk and hits the road to find the good ex-boyfriend that always treated her right. The book is rather short, barely 110 pages, which makes for easy reading. Miller has been a short-story writer for quite a while, producing a critically acclaimed book Animal Rights and Pornography and teaching writing in Colorado. If you're near Augusta State University, he's speaking at the Sandhills Writers Conference, whose horrible, horrible website tells you nothing, so he could be speaking tonight, or tomorrow, or Saturday.
And, just a recap of other books we've got out: The Suburban Diva: From the Real Side of the Picket Fence has sold a couple hundred copies in its first month of availability, which is our biggest seller so far and a nice start for a fledgling publisher. We've heard rumours that a fan took it to New York to hang out outside the windows of a network morning show, and managed to get a copy to one of the anchors. W00t!
In our erotica genre of books, Jude Mason's Dance of Submission isn't selling as fast as we'd like, but the readers of BDSM slavery erotica are fewer and further between than one might think.
And, I suppose I never have mentioned our reprints: we've only got two out at the moment, Famous Hussies of History and The Masculine Cross. Hussies is a collection of short autobiographies of influential historical women, written wittily (originally for a magazine) by the author of the Lad collie books. Masculine Cross is a pantheistic analysis of the Cross across religions, and the inevitable (yet sometimes specious) realization that the cross is phallic in nature, sometimes funny, but sometimes eye-opening.
Oh, wait -- this is a blog -- I gotta throw in some self-aggrandizing comments. First of all, every book is electronically typeset by me, and all the covers are designed by me (even if I didn't create the original art). Unlike a lot of reprints, who are essentially photocopies of the original pages, I convert the scanned pages to computer text, which creates crisper, easier-to-read text and allows us to change book size & number of pages without affecting the text itself. The original books, of course, come to me as email attachments from the editors, to which I add page size, margins, page numbers, running headers and footers, and all the trappings of the book world.
Typesetting is a more involved project than you might think: When you open Word or Works and start typing a long document, the computer just lets you type, on and on and on, maybe making it look like you've rolled across onto another page as you typed, when in fact you're just typing a long string of text on a page. You're not concerned about where things actually fall on the page because you trust the computer to handle that for you, and when you hit 'print,' it comes out on paper and doesn't run over the edges and is big enough to read, so you're happy. Typesetting for a book involves imagining what this long string of text in the computer will look like when chopped up into little 30-line chunks, approximately 60 characters in each line, and spread out on the fronts and backs of facing pages. It's a rather foreign concept from a computer standpoint (backs of pages? can you print on those?), but I'm getting the hand of it, along with research and reading that's given me a number of tips.
So, we're an official publisher now: go search for my name in the Library of Congress database under "Command Keyword" -- I've got four entries already! We've got books being sold all over, in college bookstores and online, maybe in the hands of Good Morning America, and we're hoping this keeps up. We're eventually aiming for a book every two weeks...we'll see if we can get there by the end of the year.
Two examples of coolness in video: first, some fake physics, in the form of a kick-ass lightsaber duel created by two Star Wars fans. It seems they've done work at theforce.net, and put their talents together for one high-quality short. Next, we've got what appears to be real physics (but might hear otherwise depending on which physicist you ask) is a video of antigravity work from the 1970s.
There's a number of situations where "just kidding" doesn't resolve the problem. Today's example: bank robbery. Note that, while this occurs in North Dakota, I wouldn't call it 'local news' -- Williston is a long ways away, and they're a different sort of folk out there.
Wal-Mart, one of my favoritest places (I was there today! Twice!), has been giving exclusive information to bloggers, in hopes of combatting the rampant Wal-Mart bashing that usually occurs online. All I ever got from them was a 'cease and desist' (which I negotiated with them to retract) -- but I'd really like a roll of Wal-Mart smiley stickers. Those rule. However, bloggers acting as shills without full disclosure can be a no-no, especially with the journalistic respect the big bloggers expect, but this also shows Wal-Mart's understanding of where word-of-mouth is occuring these days.
Guess what state had the greatest rate of wage increase? North Dakota did. Now, we could get into the semantics of what this means: the larger rate doesn't necessarily mean the better end result, but in terms of improving wages versus inflation this is a boon to the state, who has problems keeping employees in the first place. Let's see 2006 as the year wages go on an increasing run, and home valuation takes a dive. This'll be scary for the people who took out an insane $200,000 loan on a poorly-built home in the Sprawl, but if you're making more money put more thought into your financial planning and get the most out of the raise. However, in terms of bringing wage-earners into the economy and/or reducing welfare, high wage-vs-housing ratio is much, much better for everybody.
There's a Russian-made sawed-off shotgun on the ISS. You might think it rather useless in space (more bad things can come from using a gun in a spacecraft than the original problem), but the gun is actually there for what the astro/cosmonauts will encounter when they leave. Russia, long doing land-recovery (unlike the US' ocean landings) found that returning cosmonauts sometimes landed in places where the locals weren't so friendly...namely, wolves. Fans of post-apocalyptic stories might also reckon that terrorism, revolution, civil war, or zombie-creating viruses might also be a problem for future astronaut homecomings, too.
It's got a story worthy of a PG-rated film, a'la 'Ocean's Eleven' meets the 'Cohen Brothers': gambling losses, an undefeatably complex building-destroying bomb, helicopters and airplanes, car accidents, failed extortion, twists and surprises, a huge explosion, and justice in the end. And, it's the real story of the Harveys Lake Taho Casino in 1980.
A controversial filmmaker successfully got the German goverment to allow displays of swastikas during filming a "comedy about Hitler"; usually, any display of Nazi symbolism is illegal. Filming begins, and Berlin is covered in Nazi flags and symbols, a sight not seen since the 1940s. Guess who they forgot to give a 'heads-up' to? Berlin residents and foreign tourists. Oops.
Miss the Oscars? This one-liner summary of the show isn't too bad.
Red rain fell in India in 2001, and few outside India noticed; most attributed it to red desert dust swept up into the sky. One scientist, however, beleives the red 'dust' is actually biological material dumped by a crashing comet or asteroid. Analysis of the material appears biological, even bacterial in appearance. He has more on his website.
While it's not exactly the water I drink every day ('round here we get water from the river), the rest of Cass County wins for having the tastiest water. Tastiest, compared to other rural water systems -- which, no doubt, are pretty tasty too, if you look at the water that comes out of pipes, overall. It can't be worse than the stuff you pay for in bottles. Next stop: Washington! Last year, they actually did pretty good in the nationals. We should hold a pep rally before the water heads off to competition.
Some innovative filmmakers, apparently in the UK, have recreated the Simpson's opening sequence in live-action, presumably to advertise the cartoon overseas. Very cool, overall -- a few things were cut and/or shortened, but who am I to nitpick?
Blowing $39 at a casino doesn't feel like that big a deal, even if the odds are so bad. This guy decided to be more productive, and spend his $39 mailing letters to ask for free things from corporations. He hasn't completely failed -- two places actually have sent him free samples. If he gets more publicity, I wouldn't be surprised if the freebies flow more easily.
It's nice to see family businesses are still around -- for example, this family's business is film. No, not actors, or producers -- they're stuntpeople. They're also training the next generation: their son is showing quite the talent. When you come from a family of hollywood stuntpeople, a rebellious teen's only option is to run away to Seattle and write computer software.
Back in the 1930s, or maybe 1920s, they had a Veteran's Day parade here in Fargo. Well, I suppose they had them every year, since that was the custom of the time (it was probably called 'Armistice Day' back then, too), but the difference with this particular parade is that I have a film of it. Not a copy, not a video tape -- the actual film, taken from a camera and developed in chemicals. It's part of a moderately-sized archive of old 16mm films that I rescued from the trash a few years back, and hopefully will show more of them here in this space soon. Converting film to online video isn't an easy process, but I've got a "system". Having a "system" always helps things along.
Thanks to the friendly people at Google, you won't trash my server's bandwidth by downloading the film. If the video below is too 'jumpy,' I'd recommend downloading it directly from Google - make sure you have Google Video Player installed though (it's easy). You can turn down the music if you like, as it was added by me: the original film is silent.
I immediately recognized the setting of this parade -- the block looks almost identical today, seventy years later. The buildings seen across the street, behind the paraders and revelers, is the 500 block of North Broadway, the short block between St Mary's Cathedral and the Great Northern railroad tracks.
At the South end, closest the camera, is an IGA store -- Fargo records show the building was built by H Idelkope, but the younger of you will recognize it as Duane Johnson Bookseller's building. I often rode my bike there to buy comics in the 1980s, and it is still a bookstore today even though Duane no longer runs it. There's two small shops just north of the IGA (both are still there, but I believe are unoccupied), and the two-story building with the brick stripes across the top is the Aggie Block -- from my childhood, it was Lantern Comics, who moved into the Aggie when the building they occupied across the street was razed to 'improve' the area by building an ugly strip mall that's 90% unoccupied today. The Aggie Block was refitted a few years back, just before the current explosion of Broadway improvements, and gained a lot of attention because it looked like the original building. As you can see, the front of the building hasn't changed in seventy years. The retail space is actually available right now, since Lantern closed last year, if you're looking. Since the building was built in 1926, it helps date the film.
The ice-planet Hoth has entered its bid for the 2014 winter Olympics. Sure, it's a ways off (two olympics away), but it's a good time to start looking at the options. I mean, come on, it's gotta be better than some snowy Balkan country.
Well, Fargo was projected on the Radisson as planned -- and MPR as a nice article, with photos and interviews, including a silly photo depicting somebody interviewing a statue of Frances McDormand. Me? I didn't see it. I had to be at work by 6:30am, so I was in bed pretty early. And it was cold. And snowing. And we had blueberry pie.
Dr. Evil has infiltrated DARPA -- while they haven't quite developed the technology to add frickin' lasers to the heads of sharks, scientists have actually gone inside the heads and implanted remote-control circuits in the sharks. While animal behavior scientists have all kinds of great ideas for the application of the technology (which has the potential to work both ways, transmitting thoughts to a reciever), but, of course, the military thinks sharks would be great spies and weapons platforms. Head-mounted lasers seem much more feasible if a soldier at a computer can aim it by messing with the shark's brain.
While we're not all that backwards around here, having running water and indoor lavatories and all, sometimes we show our colors just a little - like when a French camera crew and a Hawaiian model show up in town. They stopped in Fargo to take rustic pictures for the MarlboroClassics catalog (request one!) in Bonanzaville, and then moved on to real rustic in Enderlin. Finding things not quite as rustic as they'd like, they had the model dirty up her boots, hung up an antelope head and a flyswatter, and went just that little more grungier. Ah, picturesque North Dakota!
Walter Cronkite has finally gotten his moon rock. Sadly, it won't be appearing in his flower garden, holding down papers on his desk, or propping open that one door -- that honor is for pet rocks. As a condition of the award, Cronkite's rock will be on display in a museum, which, compared to the uses for rocks in most people's homes, is a more appropriate place for a moon rock.