Saturday, September 23, 2006

It's OK, I'm with the band.

Mrs F and I decided that we were going to make a commitment to actually see oldest son's marching band competitions this year. In the past she was studying constantly and we did not have the time to see him perform due to everything we squeezed into a weekend.

That is a shame since for past two years the high school marching band has won the championships for their division. Let's hope they do as well this year.

We headed over to the "away" competition in the next county only to find that the band needed a massive amount of help since they had more props than a "fancy brigade" and we were quickly recruited to move props onto the field.

The theme for his band this year is "Down on the farm" complete with a barn, fences and half completed pictures of animals. It took a small army of people to move everything on to the field and off in the 15 minute time limit. They really needed the help.

I thought they performed great but then again, I am a little biased. Usually in the beginning of the "band season" they are a bit rough around the edges since the choreography is rather complex. By Thanksgiving they should be very sharp.

The parents really support the bands with cheering of course but the real cheer-leaders use cow bells. Our band parents association hands them out as soon as you join and expects that the parents will use them at all the competitions. One band at this competition took cow-belling to a new level with huge custom cow bells. They were obnoxious baritone cow-bells. They were loud and huge. One guy actually wore a glove to handle his. A glove. What, did he get blisters?

I have a fever ......

We had a wonderful time and expect to make a lot more of them.

[update]
They made second place in their division.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Philly Underground Fire

I am beginning to feel like Jimmy Olsen, cub reporter.

At about 1:15 I was in my next door neighbors office when we heard what sound like something large being dropped a long way.

BOOM!

Of course we all headed to the windows to look out on 15th street where the noise seemed to have come from and as we examined the construction site across the street, looking for what dropped, we noticed a manhole cover was missing and in parts on the street.

Smoke was still coming out of it as I grabbed my camera and rushed off a few shots from 17 floors up.

We watched out the window for a while and noticed that the fire company had already been on the scene before the explosion and we watch as the fire company put orange caution cones around the manhole and for a while people walked down 15th right past the cones like nothing had happened.

The office started to stink like fire by about 1:25 and word was passed that we could go home if wanted. It wasn't smokey but you could smell something electrical burning.

No one was really frightened or anything it was just sort of "oh well, what is going on at the window now?"

Later an announcement was made to evacuate the building using elevators or stairs. Again, things were calm and relaxed with people headed to the bathroom before heading out.

We all hopped on the freight elevator and walked out on the plaza with the Clothespin sculpture and decided it was best to go home before anything happened to the trains.

Just another day in the city.

Of course those weasels at Philly.com got better pictures somehow and I was there the whole time!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

This just in .... A shed update.

As you can see the new shed construction is coming along rapidly. I am not sure why the zoning variance was required - those zoning guys are so strict about 3 story steel frame construction! They are just nuts. I hope the lawn mower fits on one of the floors and the wheel barrow on another. I'll have to get some of those expensive organizers as well to hang my rakes and shovels. I hope it all fits.

The roof is a concern since I don't seem to have one but I'm sure the Amish guys will get to it. I am sure the neighbors are going to love it since it such an improvement over the old one.

So what if it is 100,000 SQ FT. and blocks out the sun.

Actually the Amish showed up at exactly 6:30 AM Saturday morning in the rain. The schnauzers started barking so I went to the door expecting some strapping milk fed bruiser like in the movie Witness and found - Doogie Houser. I swear the kid couldn't have been more than 16 and he was wearing glasses. He was 100 lbs soaking wet.

So doogie had his "crew": a guy driving the truck was a little older - maybe 23 and another heavy set kid that was 15.

They started taking the old shed down right away and had it down by about 9 am. We started to figure out that they weren't real Amish when they started cussing up a storm.

The cursing Amish. Never heard of them before Saturday.

I had some errands to run and by time I came back the new shed was nearly done. They had brought it in pieces so it went up rather quickly.

Mrs F got home at about 1 and noticed right away that they had the windows on the wrong side. We had made some oral changes and the Amish moved the windows on us as well as moving the porch. Not much you can do now though - so we have two windows that look at the neighbors fence.

The glory of the cupola more than made up for it. It rises above high the roof with a rooster that points the wind direction. A real thing of beauty that must be seen to be appreciated.

The thing is that I had my weather station on the old shed and no one ever noticed the wind direction. Mrs F spent most of Saturday telling me "Now it's from the South East". That never happened with the old weather vane even though the data was on the internet.

We had the ceremonial moving of the lawn mower at about 2 PM and of course speeches by the Mayor and most of the town council. The Mayor spoke on the need for more shelters for homeless wheel barrows.

It really is a beautiful shed and it's like something out of Disney world. I plan to add and animatronic Lincoln on the porch next year and have a version of "it's a small world" inside.

"It's a small world after all,
It's a small world after all....."

I could sell tickets.

The boys took one step inside and each had the same thought: "I could live out here". Why do guys have this primeval urge for solitude? Youngest Son wanted to know if he could have sleep over in it. "Does it have electricity for my Xbox? He wanted to know.

The neighbors love me again and have stopped me on the street saying how wonderful I am for having the vision and determination to replace the old shed.

I just have to remember to paint this one.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

I remember 9/11

I had spent a small portion of that Monday (9/10) being coached by the manager that I needed to spend less time in meetings and catch up on some work I needed to do so I cleared my calendar for that Tuesday morning. I was a supervisor of about 8 people in IT in a office tower in Philly.

I remember the weather that morning was one of those near perfect September days. It had rained the day before and a big dome of that legendary Canadian Air poured in from the North to the entire Eastern Seaboard of the US. The sky was cloudless and blue and the temperature was to be in the 80s.

My wife paged me on my two way text pager with the news that an aircraft of some kind had crashed into one of the two "twin towers" in NYC. It went something like "MIKE A A&RPLAN$ H!T THE TOWERS IN NY%" because the stupid pager was notorious for dropping characters and mangling sentences. (I once got a message to PICK UP HUGGIES when our kids were 8 and 10 - I was very worried until I realized she had meant HOAGIES).

The first thing I did was to hit the Internet for news so I typed msnbc.com into my browser and I knew this was going to be a huge news story by how long it took the farm of servers that MSNBC must have to render the page. When I finally got a page all it had was a picture of the smoking tower and a half baked story about an accident involving a small plane and the north tower.

I remember that the office just went a little nuts then with people yacking it up and looking for information. The other tower was hit. One guy that worked for me at the time who was a well-known maven rushed in my office and told me the news. I told him to "get back to work - there is nothing we can do here". Another guy that had just started working for us ran off with a look of fear and sadness that I just can't explain. Later we found out that his former employer had merged with Empire State Health and had offices in the North tower. He knew missing people.

One resourceful guy found a TV in a conference room and wheeled to his office and attempted to get a signal. The TV was meant for DVDs and videos and didn't have an antenna so we watched the snowy picture of the smoking office towers.

I went back to work.

My maven rushed in to tell me that the south tower, the second one hit, had fallen.

I remember thinking that "this never occurred to me" that the towers might fall. I figured if they survived the initial impact that they would just burn themselves out and leave scarred office towers behind.

I rushed over to the crowded snowy picture and watched in disbelief. A short time later the second one fell.

About this time I started thinking about disaster recovery and started printing out everything I could find and syncing my laptop with the latest documents we had on DR. I had reams of paper printed and I heard that the Pentagon had been hit as well.

About this time all kinds of crazy rumors were flying about: Pittsburgh had been hit, there were more out there, Camp David had been hit, etc etc.

The Camp David one struck me as "suspicious". How do you even find Camp David, let alone run a 757 into it at 600 MPH? It sounded to me like there was one weak team in the organization and they were told "you go long, out by the Buick". Camp David?

About 11 we were told that the office was closing and we were to get our people out so I went about finding everyone one by one and telling them to go. I couldn't find "J" our college recruit so I search the building looking for him until my Maven told me he left after the first plane crash.

I headed off with my boss since she and I took the same PATCO train from Jersey everyday.

I recall how efficient PATCO was. They had every one of their trains stacked up at 16th and locust and were filling them and sending them off as fast as they could. They had stopped even taking tickets and opened the turnstiles for anyone that wanted out of the city. All of the people in the city and on the train were humbled by the experience and were solemn. They were polite to one another. It was different.

I got home by lunch and turned on the TV and was glued there for the next 24-36 hours.

The kids came home a little after I did and seemed unfased by the whole thing. All they knew was that was the second day of school and now they were off. Oldest Son was 11 and Younger was 8.

That night there was a prayer service at Fellowship Alliance Chapel and it was there that I heard the name Todd Beamer for the first time. He was a member of the Princeton Alliance chapel and was known to have been on flight 93. He left behind kids and a pregnant wife.

The next few days were strange. The skies were quiet and the people remained solemn. God bless America signs were everywhere. People were nice in traffic.

This lasted about two weeks before everyone went back to being themselves.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Bad News 2 days in a row.

On Tuesday we brought the minivan into the dealership for what seemed to be the 50th time for them to find an elusive problem with the transmission. It was the second time in a week that we brought it in. My front floor area is filling with those paper floormats the dealership leaves behind that say things "We value our customers" with a giant pair of shoes.

We have done this numerous times over the past 2 years or so. The transmission would act up on us, only to be well behaved at the dealership.

Once, on the way to Boy Scout Summer camp, I thought we had it nailed. The transmission really acted up and the "D" indicator went crazy and started blinking and the "Check Engine" light came on. I knew the computer on board "recorded a code". The only trouble was that one of the boys left the interior light on and the battery died taking my precious code with it.

This time the dealership found it.

1st Bad News: We need a new transmission at 60k miles and the warranty is long past. The good news is that Mrs F is good at maintaining the car and she did everything the manufacturer recommended at every 15,30,45,60 whatever mileage they wanted.

Honda is replacing the transmission if we pay labor. I'd sure rather have a transmission that lasted 200k miles but that is better than we pay for the whole enchilada.

On Wednesday I call about the permit for the new shed.

2nd bad news - no permit. The shed thing is now beyond ridiculous. Apparently if a shed is greater than 10' high or greater than 200 square feet, the shed must be on a foundation with pilings that are below the frost line.

No, it doesn't matter that we have a 196 square foot 11 foot high shed on a concrete slab already, we need pilings.

Nuts.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Ernesto rips through South Jersey

Tropical depression Ernesto ripped through southern New Jersey overnight causing downed leaves and branches and bringing over one inch of rain. The fifth named tropical storm of the Atlantic season reached the midlantic states mid-day yesterday and slowly moved through the region overnight.

100% of the local schools were closed as school children enjoyed an extended holiday weekend. Many properties are littered with sticks and small branches. One man was reported as saying "I am not sure how long it will take to dig out from all of this debris".

One local man reported a wet newspaper and was forced to disengage a canopy top in order to prevent Ernesto's powerful winds from toppling the 2 year old aluminum canopy structure. A garden umbrella was also forced to close in this same neighborhood.

Additionally swimming pools in the area were reported as filling as much as another one inch as sump pumps worked to remove ground water from under homes in the area.

Ernesto began as a tropical depression on the 24th of August in the Leeward Islands and briefly reached hurricane status last Sunday making it's way across Cuba and Florida before heading out to sea before striking the Carolina coast. The exact location of the Leeward islands is unclear but is believed to be warm.

Damage is reported in the tens of dollars and governor Corsidine is expected to tour the area by small plane later today.