Away From Work Archives
Before the snows return, I thought it was time to take a few days off and see some more of this incredible state. I turned off my computer last Tuesday and drove down to the southwest part of Colorado to see some places I had heard about.
Road Trip Redux
Chelle, who didn't say where in the U.S. she was from, was one of many who wrote appreciative notes about last week's description of my vacation trip to Southwest Colorado.
"I loved your note about Ouray!" Chelle wrote. "I got to visit there over Christmas last year and... wow!! It was even amazing at night, as the layer of steam settled over the town, and driving in on the road above, Ouray was just a glowing disc below. My reason for seeking out this tiny town was that my favorite author, Ayn Rand, used it as the setting for 'Galt's Gulch', a hidden place in the mountains, in Atlas Shrugged."
Howdy from the Deep South
I've been in Georgia and South Carolina all week, there for my first time to attend a conference, eat my fill of seafood (hard to get in landlocked Colorado!) and enjoy a bit of Southern Hospitality.
Southerners really do know how to make good fried chicken (but watch out! I got a second-degree burn on my lip it was so dang hot!) And I got a taste of Krispy Kreme doughnuts.
Hit the Road, Jack
The True offices will be closed October 8-23 while I take a trip. This is True will still be coming out, so don't worry about getting your fix!
Where to? Eastern Europe. When I first started True, part of my plan was to do once-a-year trips to interesting places to immerse myself in a different culture ...and collect the local newspapers to do special issues of True. I got the idea on a trip to Canada, of all places. You might think that Canuck newspapers would be pretty similar to those in the U.S., but no: there are clear differences. I can't imagine how different other, non-English cultures, might be. By going there and collecting the newspapers, I can not only (perhaps!) work to sell True as a column to those newspapers, but also be in the culture so I can ask questions of locals in order to best understand what I read, and understand the context of what's "news" to the people there. And, of course, what's "weird"!
Art Imitating Life
I caught up this week with one of the few TV shows I'm watching -- the newest Star Trek series, Enterprise. The episode I saw this week had the ship come across a comet. A landing party went down to it, blasted out a crater, and took a core sample. (Nitpick for the producers: an 80km comet* doesn't produce full Earth gravity! Sheesh!)
OK, Pal, Where's the Fire?
Forest fire season has started in Colorado. Last week you may have seen pictures of the "Snaking" fire in the mountains west of Denver on the news. I volunteer for a special Red Cross team that provides communications in disasters (radios and cell phones don't work well in the mountains). I'm a "ham" -- no, not that kind of ham, an amateur radio operator! -- and hams in Colorado have set up some amazing radio systems that work quite well in the mountains.
Where There's Smoke, There's Fire
I was called out last week for Yet Another Wildfire, this time just over the county line from Boulder, about 20 minutes from my house. This time we weren't quite as lucky: one of the air tankers "bombing" the fire with retardant crashed, killing both of the crewmen aboard.
A Brush with the Grammys
Yeah, those Grammys — the Grammy® Awards. But interesting as it is, the story takes a bit of background.
Last week my wife and I took off for a few days on the "Western Slope" of Colorado. We find the area around Ridgway (population 750ish) to be some of the most ruggedly beautiful terrain in the state, and recently bought some land on a mesa above town to accommodate our long-range plan to move there.
Hold Your Breath
Last week, I ran this paragraph:
It's very weird to call 911 to summon help, but I did so this weekend. We have a carbon monoxide alarm, and it was going off. Once may be a fluke, but after being reset it went off again, so I asked the fire department to swing by with a professional grade detector to see what they got -- and they found 250 ppm of CO, which is definitely NOT good. Luckily, levels in my office were low, but we opened a window, turned the furnace off, and I went back to work. The men in red called the gas company and a beleaguered guy being run ragged by emergency calls all over the county showed up about 5 hours later. I love it when a competent person shows up! We figured out that the furnace was not defective, but rather the problem was "my fault": my wife had been painting the walls while I was writing this week's column, and when she was done I turned on the attic fan to blow out the paint fumes. Since it was chilly outside the furnace had kicked on, but by then there was so much pressure from the attic fan that the furnace's vent pipe had a downdraft, which blew the CO fumes into the basement. Case solved, but we never would have known without that detector. The $40-60 they cost is well worth it. If you don't have one, give your family an early Christmas present: Get One!
A Bat Out of Hell
I moved this week, from just outside Boulder, Colorado, to rural Ridgway, Colorado, in gorgeous Ouray County. Actually, I'm not even in Ridgway (population: about 700; the entire county only has around 4,000), but outside town, on a mesa looking at two mountain ranges. I've long said that as a writer and online publisher, I can live anywhere I want -- so why was I in a city when I truly prefer more rural areas? As long as I have a decent Internet connection, I can live anywhere I want.
Come On Down for a Visit
After posting a few details about where I moved last week, several readers wrote with concerns similar to Sheryl, who didn't note where she is located: "I can certainly see why you'd be thrilled to be moving to such a lovely place, and obviously understand why you want to share it with the world. But I hope you didn't do yourselves a disservice! What if your glowing picture brings thousands of your readers to the area?"
Penny Wise, Pound Foolish
I'm the founder of an industry group that has a conference every year. My wife is organizing next year's event and negotiated with a large hotel to host us. Conferences are big money makers for hotels: they get a bunch of people staying in the rooms, and they get to feed the conference attendees rubber chicken and industrial coffee for exorbitant fees. So once she finished negotiating with the hotel and finalizing all the costs and details, the contract arrives and there's a charge they never disclosed: a $3/room/night "energy surcharge."
Small Town Life
The new place I live in isn't really rural, per se -- we're 20 minutes from a town big enough to have a Home Depot, for instance. But that's in the next county; the county I live in has fewer than 4,000 full-time residents. As it happens, one of the leading local politicians, Alan, is the brother of a good friend of mine from California. I should say "was" a leading local politician; he retired from politics, but as an ex-sheriff, he's still pretty active in the community. He's one of the volunteers for the local ambulance service, and recently was appointed the head of the Office of Emergency Services. (It seems everyone wears more than one hat around here!)
I'm getting sooooo sick of in-the-mail solicitations from credit card companies! But they're starting to make me angry, and I hope you'll join me in getting revenge. The major USA issuers subscribe to a service by one of the credit reporting agencies that will supposedly cut down on the mailings (toll-free: 888-567-8688). I called and registered with them, but I didn't notice any slow-down in the junk. But it's the new attitude they have that makes me angry.
Ouray Ice Festival Photos
It's winter in Colorado. No, I mean winter! The temperature here this morning was -12.2F (-25.5C). The high today was 10.7F (-11.8C). This weekend, then, was perfect for the Ouray Ice Festival, held each year at what is likely the premier ice park in the world -- at the very least the best public park of its kind, the Ouray Ice Park.
I don't watch very much TV, so when I do I want something that's interesting and thought-provoking as well as entertaining. There's a new show on this year that I really like -- and naturally it's not doing all that well in the ratings. Why? Because, I think, it's interesting and thought-provoking as well as entertaining, and what really seems to attract a big audience these days isn't the smart stuff. So I'd like to urge you to try out Studio 60 on NBC, which comes on (for me, anyway!) at the exact same time Premium editions come out (Monday night at 9:00).
Winning is Everything
A good friend of mine was inspired to create this video and post it to YouTube yesterday:
School Bus Plunge (On Purpose)
I spent most of the day Sunday working at the scene of a school bus that plunged (buses always "plunge"!) over the side of a steep embankment on Ouray County's famous "Million Dollar Highway" below Red Mountain Pass.
Out My Window: a Golden Eagle
I just love my job. Even though I "have to" work Sundays, I really have a gorgeous view out my window, and I sometimes see the most amazing things.
It was a good day to stay inside today. Just because it's well into Spring doesn't mean it doesn't want to snow in Colorado! It came down all day today, sometimes in "whiteout" conditions, piling up about 18" (46 cm) at my house. It stopped about two hours before tonight's newsletter went out, so I just posted an amazing photo of what happens here when it snows:
Herb Caen: Master of the Three Dots
This story is what got me started on remembering Herb Caen — it's from True's 17 May 2009 issue:
Honest to Goodness Good Stuff
Hm: good question. I said I was pondering it -- but I don't very often tell stories about my volunteer EMS experiences in my weird news newsletter, yaknow? Another piped up: "Do it. People need good news right now. Especially some of us who are getting nervous as 50-somethings around us are dropping. Mortality is weighing quite heavy on some. Good news, firsthand accounts of honest to goodness good stuff helps."
Taking a Day Off
I live in one of the most beautiful parts of one of the most beautiful states in the union. If you've been following this blog, you know I work a lot, and know I stare out at the mountains from my office window -- I have a great view.
Recently I decided it was time to spend more time outside, living in the view, rather than just looking at it. This is the story of taking just one day off this week. I never do anything in a terribly conventional way: I took off from 5:00 p.m. Wednesday to 5:00 p.m. Thursday....
In the Line of Duty
The county I'm in is pretty small, population-wise: about 4,200 people. (Geography-wise, it's medium for the west: about 550 square miles.) As you might guess, there's not much shopping in my county, so for groceries we pop into Montrose, which is a town of about 16,000, and is only 20 minutes away. (Montrose County has a population of around 34,000 in 2,240 square miles.) So we know the town pretty well.
This week I've been dragging after a tough weekend. "Just" two ambulance calls, but they were doozies. I was just starting to make a late breakfast Saturday morning when we got a call for a rollover just 3 miles down the road.
A Glorious Dawn
I'm really taken with a video released on YouTube last week. It's an Auto-Tune, which is the name given to soundtracks that use the audio plug-in of the same name. Auto-Tune was designed to correct the pitch of vocals, but clever music creators realized they could use it to make spoken word recordings musical. This is a fantastic example of the genre.
Yeah: Looks Like I Got It!
I've been out of the office for the better part of a week, and am even farther behind on e-mail and other work than usual. Last Thursday I drove with a friend to Reno, where we were both speakers at the Mensa "gathering" put on by a friend of ours there. I'll have more to say about that later, but my talk went very well. We drove back Sunday, through a couple of snow storms and a sand storm in the Utah desert, and again straight through -- I only took over at the wheel for a few hours. (My medic buddy Norm is a road warrior!)
Avatar Movie Review
I'm not sure if I've ever done a movie review in True before, and I won't be doing them that often, but I went to see Avatar this weekend, and I was very impressed. Over the past several weeks I saw a lot of the hype for the movie, including quite a few clips, and frankly none of it attracted me. I was intrigued that several actors who weren't in the movie were promoting it, apparently not sent by the studio or James Cameron; that said more to me than anything else.
Mystery Power Outage
We have a pretty complex power system at our house in the country: critical systems (heat, fridge/freezer, and the office, including the computer network) are on backup power so we can run them for days in case of a power outage. The worst so far has been just a few hours, most recently when a pole on the edge of our property snapped when it was really, really cold (apparently the pole had rotted, and then couldn't take the cold). So I was really perplexed when I got an alert last night that the backed-up circuits had failed ...yet the rest of the house was on. Huh?!
On Stage with Penn & Teller
This is the sordid tale of my having been exposed to Teller's bodily fluids.
The Life You Save May Be...
A special "extra" story this week. I've pulled it out separately because it doesn't "really" fit in with True's theme. While it is a bit weird, it's certainly not about someone doing something stupid.
OK, I'm a crank. I like Facebook. I really do. But one of the things I hate about it is how all up-in-arms people get about nothing. Today, I got Yet Another "invitation" to join a group to protest Facebook's plans to start charging for using the service -- the variant I got was "NO! I WILL NOT PAY $3.99/MONTH TO USE FACEBOOK STARTING JULY 9, 2010! JOIN." Again.
It's Independence Day weekend in the U.S., and I thought I'd share a couple of photos I took yesterday in the "real" Rural America.
Everyone Talks About the Weather
Everyone talks about the weather, but I only write about it when it's really weird!
I write True to make a living, yes, and it's gratifying that enough people support the publication to make that happen. But there's another reason, too: I want to change the world just a little bit, on both a micro and a macro scale. It's really cool, for instance, to see other columnists slowly getting on my anti-Zero Tolerance bandwagon.
Watching Out For My Peeps
As with every Sunday, I "had to" work on Easter -- it's when I write the stories for True (and edit the ones that come in from the writers). I pull together 10 or more stories each Sunday (11 yesterday, as it happens, plus one that I'll be adding to the blog later since it must include a photo.
It came together quickly and well, which left me a bit bored. I decided to have a little fun on Twitter....
There's No Such Thing as Writer's Block
A friend of mine asked me for some advice last week. He's preparing to leave the military, and thought writing might be his next career. Did I have any pearls of wisdom? I gave him two main pieces of advice. The second one: he must understand that there's no such thing as "writer's block."
Bonfire of the Gravities
I don't tell many stories about the ambulance calls I run on as a volunteer medic here in rural Ouray County, Colorado, but this one is worth telling. At 12:51 a.m. this past Saturday morning, my pager went off for an injured 16-year-old female, just a few miles from my house. It was in an odd location for a middle-of-the-night rescue, and as my wife and I got dressed, I was a bit confused.
Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?
It was Labor Day in the U.S. on Monday, and I was laboring. Not just to get the Premium edition out, but I put it together sitting at the Labor Day rodeo here in Ridgway, Colorado.
Dah-Dit Dah-Dit, Dah-Dah Di-Dah
Now and then I mention ham radio. I've been an "amateur radio operator" (the more formal title) for [gasp] a third of a century now; I'm K0RCC. You'd think, with the Internet creating instant, "free", worldwide communications, that ham radio would be dwindling away, with just a few old-timers (heck: even older than me!) grasping at the straws of "No! Don't change!"
I'm happy to say nothing's further from the truth.
Today I'm working while listening to my collection of "weird Christmas music", which I've compiled over the years. Things like the "Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth" mashup duet -- by Bing Crosby and David Bowie in 1977. Yeah, really.
My Highest Recommendation
Now and then I mention interesting books I'm reading, or TV shows I'm watching. I've found two related TV specials that are so good, I ended up saving them and showing them to my wife, who is also finding them fascinating.
Planning for the Rest of Your Life
A friend who is a career military man is retiring soon. He's still pretty young, so he asked for some advice on what to do next; he sees that I'm pretty successful, and he wants to be successful too, in the next phase of his life.
His question was: how does he figure out what's really right for him, for what he wants to do next? My reply was fairly detailed. After sending it to my friend, I also sent it to the smaller of my two Mastermind groups, asking for their feedback. Some of their responses: "Wow!", "INNOVATIVE", "Thought provoking indeed!", "LOVED the article, literally devoured the whole thing! (Okay, not quite literally, but you know what I mean.)", "What a great job Randy has done at capturing and articulating all of this", and "This is HUGE gift." I thought I'd share that gift with you, too.
Working In An Unusual Environment
This is being written in an unusual location. Not my office, not home, not even sitting in the passenger seat while Kit drives. Someone else is driving on our trip to Reno for the Mensa "Annual Gathering" (read: national convention), where Kit and I are speaking. We're on the California Zephyr — a train (yeah, in the United States!)
Dinner with Neil Armstrong
On Saturday my wife and I had the opportunity to "have dinner with" the first man to set foot on the moon, Neil Armstrong. It happened to be almost exactly* 43 years after that spectacular event. Like many kids who grew up in the 60s and watched that history being made, Armstrong was a hero to me, so when I got the opportunity to do this, I of course leapt at it.
The Risks of Emergency Responses
I sometimes write about my fantastic experiences as a volunteer medic. Yet sometimes the experience isn't so fantastic. All emergency responders put themselves at great risk whenever they go on a call. This is a story of not beating the odds (but it could have been a lot worse).
Curiosity: the Mars Science Laboratory
My writing time this week was interrupted, even I only started in the late evening, because I had my satellite TV tuned in to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where they were monitoring the landing of the latest rover on Mars, Curiosity (the best-named science craft ever); the mission itself is called the Mars Science Laboratory — accurate, if not as inspiring.
Hours of Boredom Punctuated by Moments of Sheer Terror
It was one of those cases of serendipitous timing, and why I find EMS so interesting as an avocation. This morning, I jumped out of bed to help a helicopter land on the highway.
Someone Has to Live Here
Last week my wife and I went driving to see the fall colors. I thought you'd like to see what the trees look like in the Colorado mountains at about the time the first snow dusts the top of the San Juan mountains.
There Are Still Adventures
It's 2012. There are no more adventures. Been there, done that, seen it, ho hum, right?
There are still adventures to be had in this world, and several of them happened this past week.
One of the things I like about being on the rural side of Colorado is the frequent wildlife sightings. Bunnies and jackrabbits are common. On our property, we've also seen coyotes, deer, elk, a badger(!), a bear (alas, only my wife saw that one), prairie dogs, eagles (both Golden and Bald), vultures, foxes, and while we didn't see the animal, we've found mountain lion tracks here.
"They're Landing On My Car!"
Well, that's the way it felt, anyway! For a brief moment.
Last fall I talked about helping a helicopter to land — in the middle of the highway in the middle of the night. Just got back from doing it again, except this time it was the middle of the day ...and I had my camera ready.
There was a magazine I read back in the 80s that I enjoyed: The Journal of Irreproducible Results, or JIR. A lot of the nerdy folks at NASA liked it (and there are a lot of nerdy folks at NASA!): it is, according to its tagline, "The Science Humor Magazine".
Randolph Mantooth: Still Active in EMS
The NBC television show Emergency!, which ran 123 episodes on NBC from 1972 to 1977, plus six made-for-TV movies that aired in 1978 and 1979, did a lot to make the public aware of professional Medics, playing a significant role in elevating the profession from mere "ambulance drivers." The show starred Randolph Mantooth and Kevin Tighe as Paramedics Johnny Gage and Roy Desoto, running out of the fictitious Los Angeles County Fire Department's Station 51. It was the last show created by Jack Webb (of Dragnet and Adam-12 fame).
Banned Book Week
It’s Banned Book Week this week, an annual event (started by the American Library Association in 1982) to draw attention to the fact that there are still many self-appointed censors out there who want to control what you read.
Ground Control to Major Tom
It’s been forever since I’ve written a “What I’ve been reading lately” blurb. You’ll like what has been on my tablet lately. (It’s amusing that while putting this in my blog software and having to choose categories, both “Away From Work” and “True Business” seem appropriate. Read on, and you’ll understand!)
A Friend in Need
Not quite three weeks ago (Wednesday, April 9, the day before my birthday), Kit and I stopped by the local hospital to visit a friend. James, a fellow medic, and sometimes firefighter, was also from California, evidenced by his online handle, “FFEMT1A” (a California designation: Firefighter-Emergency Medical Technician-1A; I was a plain old EMT-1A myself at first, the A designating Ambulance duty certification, which added some elements beyond the non-transporting FF designation. He had both, and was extremely proud that he dedicated most of his life to helping others in need.)
And help people in need he did: his wife says that on their first date, they were going down a dark road when James suddenly pulled over and jumped out of the car. She had no idea what was going on until another car drove by, and she could see in its headlights that there was a car on the other side of the road with a flat tire. James had spotted it, and was changing the tire for the stranded elderly couple.
The Mockingbird War
Years ago on Jumbo Joke, I related a story about fireworks at my house in Upland, Calif. I barely escaped trouble with the police. It was not the only story about fireworks at that house — and I’m pretty sure the police were called this time, too....
Never a Dull Moment
It’s Always Something Around Here! Last Tuesday night, we were awakened at 4:00 a.m. by screaming. Took us a little bit to wake up to figure out what was going on, but we realized it was a baby bear that was screaming. Not a good sign: they usually scream because they got separated from momma. Kit popped down to the garage to check the cats (they sleep there, since it’s a safer place than outside!), and “heard them moving around” so she came back to bed.
NASA Outreach on Social Media
As a life-long NASA geek (and former employee of a NASA center), I pay reasonably close attention to the goings on at NASA. I spotted something in my Facebook feed, though, that made me roll my eyes about how not to inform the public about something that should be of great interest.
My New Hobby
My New Hobby ...is drones. Nah, not the things that drop bombs from ten miles up, but, basically, a flying camera.
Changing to 2015
Another Year Gone Already. It sure seems to have gone by in a hurry. In Future Shock, Alvin Toffler’s 1970 book about the future, he thought people might want to stand out as different by wearing weird clothes and oddly colored hair. Check. He thought the pace of change would accelerate. Check! But what really caught my eye when I read the book way back in the 70s is that time seems to go by faster the older you get. The theory: a year is a long time to a 10-year-old, since a year is a tenth of her life. But a year is a mere 2 percent of a 50-year-old’s life, and that’s just a flash by comparison. That intrigued me as a youngster when I read the book — that different people could perceive the same events in different ways. These days, it seems hard to find two people who perceive the same events in the same way....
I Was Hoping to Write a different Honorary Unsubscribe this week, but couldn’t because I couldn’t get information. Debbie Crawford, a 25-year veteran paramedic in Denver, died this weekend. The scuttlebutt is that her PTSD got so severe, she committed suicide — she could no longer handle the stress of the job. If that is indeed what happened, and I don’t know for sure because none of the media outlets in Denver has covered her death at all, that’s truly a tragedy.
Burbank, California: My Home Town
How Cool is my home town (Burbank, Calif.)? Sure, “Beautiful Downtown Burbank” is where Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In was taped, but it was also (from 1928) the headquarters city of Lockheed Aircraft Co., and that was apparently reflected in the city seal.
A Short Personal Note
I'm a marked man.