To Maine and back

Time for another trip. I maintain another blog where I keep track of our trips so this post is just to let folks know we are travelling.

This is the first entry from our Fall 2016 trip. We decided to drive to Maine and back to look at the leaves. To get to Maine, we took the northern route through Canada. I have little to report from this part of the trip. You drive slow when pulling a camper and Canada is large. We spent most of the time driving. Nice country – Canada.

Now, we are in Maine. Our immediate goal is to spend time in Acadia National Park. It is the 100th anniversary of the U.S. National Parks and Acadia is rated as one of the best. National Parks are great, but often very crowded. No place to park. No campsites unless you plan far ahead. We  waited until the kids went back to school and the parents went back to work. Old folks are smarter than most people think.

Today, it was time for lobster. We settled on lobster rolls – all meat and none of the mess.

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Cell phone companies

I understand that many people have struggles with phone companies. The various plans are complicated and the companies make it difficult to make transitions when the company will lose out on revenue. Phone companies and used car businesses are not good cases for the benefits of free enterprise systems.

My skepticism aside why is it that technology companies are so inept at taking advantage of technology. Why is record keeping and digital communication ignored as a way to better serve customers?

Here is an account of our recent struggles with AT&T. We are on the road for a couple of weeks touring the northeast U.S. We decided to drive through our destination through Canada. I am teaching at present and online communication with my students is important. We realized that the 4-5 days in Canada would be a challenge. However, just before we left we heard that AT&T was now allowing customers traveling to Mexico and Canada to use their US data in these countries. We have a 30-gigabyte monthly plan allowing up to 15 gigabytes to be rolled over from month to month. The only times we use anywhere close to this much data is when we travel. Anyway, Cindy called and talked to an AT&T rep and asked about our situation and we were assured that we would be fine and need not worry about data use.

As soon as we crossed into Canada we started getting messages warning that international rates would apply to any use of our phones. Cindy immediately called again to ask about these warnings. She was then told that while our plan was substantial it was not unlimited and that the deal applied to unlimited plans. Cindy has been through these issues so many times. She patiently explained that the unlimited plan was not particularly useful because unlimited does not allow tethering.  We need to tether computers and iPads so we purchased a large plan that allows tethering. In addition, we had purchased a UNITE (a mifi) as a third line to make tethering easier. So, we were paying an additional fee beyond the cost of our data so we can tether through wifi instead of our phones.

This conversation went on for 45 minutes. Finally, there works out some deal which provided us with 4 gigabytes of international data and switched our plan from 30 to 15 gigabytes as a way to save money. She was told you are allowed to upgrade on a month by month basis so we could change back to a larger plan in a month we knew we would use more data. Cindy then patiently went through her understanding – here are the three numbers from which we will access data, here is the amount of international data we can use, here is the time frame within which we can use this amount of data. We were told to ignore the warnings as the warnings would not keep up with the changes. She was assured that all of these commitments were entered as notes into our account.

Next day we continued to get warnings and it was indicated we had spent $500 in charges. Even without the expectations that had been established, this amount of money seems beyond belief. We had used all three devices, but the amount of data was very small – far less than a gigabyte.

So, Cindy calls AT&T again. The expectations we had were not allowed. The plan proposed to us was not an option AT&T allowed. I am still assuming that the charges have been dropped (after acknowledging that the amount of data used was very small). We will have to wait and see.

Here are some observations (this situation seems similar to an experience we had with Verizon).

  1. The representatives you contact may appear informed, but may actually be unfamiliar with the options that the companies actually provides. What you are told may not be accurate. I cannot say if this reflects a lack of training or something more sinister. What I can say after sitting in the car and listening to several hours of conversations is that what Cindy described to the representatives was very precise (she knows both the technology and our uses very well) and should have resulted in a negative response from the company representative should her understanding not have been accurate. She had three separate conversations with three separate representatives all of whom had access to all of our stored information and a clear description of the issue in question. Each appeared to understand AT&Ts plans in different ways.
  2. Do not assume that an accurate or complete representation of any discussion you have with a representative will be recorded “in the notes”. Comments associated with your call may not exist or be incomplete even when you ask that specific information be recorded.
  3. Do not assume that a representative will send you “the notes” in your record, identify himself or herself in a way that is useful in future conversations with other reps, or will send you anything useful related to your interaction as a text or email.

Phone companies have great opportunities for record keeping – your phone number (phone or device) is unique, is known to the representatives and is used to tag interactions and information.  Customers should have personal access to any notes claimed to reflect the issues and disposition of any interactions with the company. Entries in this record should identify all parties involved as a way to establish accountability. You should be entitled to the identity of anyone “helping” you. Your identity is known to the representatives. Why not record the audio from interactions with customers and link this file to the notes associated with a customer account?

The use of technology as a way make agreements concrete seems such a simple thing to do. The financial advantage to technology companies for being unsophisticated and unresponsive should not be tolerated.

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I just finished watching the Iowa/NDSU football game and was inspired to write a post about NDSU football. This is a very low probability event. I seldom write about sports and this is probably the first time I have ever written about NDSU for any reason.

I have a secondary connection to both Iowa and NDSU. I attended the other Iowa school (Iowa State) and I worked at the other North Dakota school (University of North Dakota). Still, I keep an eye on the other schools.

I watched ISU and Iowa play a week or so ago. It was pretty much a blow out. I thought Iowa had an obvious advantage over Iowa State because of the offensive and defensive lines. NDSU could have lost both of the first two games of the year, but squeaked both out at the end. I assumed Iowa would win their game with NDSU probably after a close first half by taking advantage of the extra scholarships allowed by BCS status and wearing the NDSU lines out in the second half.

I should have known better. NDSU has won the last half dozen or so games it has played against BCS opponents. Sure enough, NDSU came from behind to win on a last second field goal. Fewer scholarship players or not, it was NDSU dominating in the 4th quarter. Even after failing to go ahead by going for two after what could have been a tying score, NDSU immediately stopped Iowa and then drove the ball down field to score on a field goal.

When the UND/NDSU division II rivalry ended, I thought NDSU was craze to move to division I. UND dominated the final years of the division II rivalry and any North Dakota school faces recruitment challenges. It is cold. Somehow, NDSU turned their fortunes around even after moving up a level.

Explaining their success if difficult. I thought it was probably coaching. However, coach Bohl took advantage of his success at NDSU and moved up to coach Wyoming. UND then played up a level last year and defeated Wyoming. I suppose it takes some time to build up a program. I think the NDSU thing is really a matter of confidence. They just seem to assume they should win. They play the game to the end and seem to rise to the occasion in the most demanding situations. Pressure seems to improve their play and they have pulled out wins in three straight games. Whatever the level of an opponent, this is not a team you want to have to take on at the end of a tight game.

It would really be a shame if BCS teams starting avoiding good lower division I teams. You should get some credit for defeating a team that would be easy to rank among the best in any division.

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Lobster Mushrooms

One of the things we have noticed in moving from Grand Forks to Minneapolis is that things are just bigger and more diverse. You really notice this when visiting farmers’ markets. There are so many, they are larger, and the farmers as just ethnically more diverse.

Our favorite is the Minneapolis Farmers Market. We usually go Sunday morning, have a brat for breakfast and wander through the isles. We have learned to differentiate resellers from those who sell fresh produce. The posted signs must tell you which is which.

There are so many things I have never eaten or heard of. The strong Asian presence is usually responsible. Strange looking stuff even Cindy and her willingness to try recipes she finds online has not been willing to take on.


We did decide to try Lobster mushrooms. According to the mushroom hunter, these are mostly found North of Minneapolis into Canada. Clean the dirt. Cut into pieces and fry like steak.

BTW – if you are looking for a good read, I recommend The Mushroom Hunters. Those who collect mushrooms for a living are really interesting characters.

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Sign of the times?


There used to be an informative message here. This and the other signs at the edge of our property were removed. Evidently the request that you not kill stuff in my backyard was offensive to someone. Sorry.

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Wild Rice Pow Wow 2016

Pictures only




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Scrabble is evil

I hate playing games, but I have special contempt for Scrabble. My wife’s family considers Scrabble a way to evaluate intelligence. It drives me crazy that they play these strange words that they cannot pronounce let alone use in a sentence. Scrabble at the highest level mostly recognizes experience playing Scrabble.

Ok – that might have been a little bit of sour grapes. But, only a bit.

My family plays Words with Friends – the Scrabble game you can play on an iPad. Technically, “ words” is not Scrabble because that would be a copyright violation. I can’t tell the difference.

The game has nothing to do with friendship. You should hear the language players use. These expletives are really shocking when the players are competing online. There I am quietly reading on my kindle and out of the silence come these angry utterances that disturb my concentration. The debate over whether or not games make you more violent is not really a debate as far as I am concerned.

I see that there is now a version of Words with Friends for education. Maybe this is a good idea. If kids must play Scrabble, they should learn the game in a setting supervised by adults who will teach them sportspersonship and that using words in sentences is important.



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Maybe the jobs aren’t coming back

In the heat of this political season, unemployment and the US economy are major issues. Presidental candidates each have a position and blame one thing or another (immigration, the ultra rich) in the hopes of convincing voters they have the keys to “make America great again”. What if the vision either side offers is wrong and each candidate is responding to the concerns of their base in a way that ignores reality? What if the jobs of yesterday are not coming back?

I read a commentary on the recent “recovery” that explains things in a way that make sense to me (wish I had the reference). Many employers had to lay off employees in the aftermath of the down turn of 2008. As the economy has recovered (check the level of the stock market), these employers have realized that they can generate a larger profit margin by not employing at the level pre-2008. Technology has contributed to this situation, but for whatever reason employers have realized they do not need the number of people they thought they did. This makes sense to me and it may be the reality of the future.

What if this is the new reality and politicians are just unwilling to tell us this unpopular truth?

I don’t buy the isolationist argument. The various economies of the world are now interrelated and the US probably makes out far better than most. We are too hopelessly hooked on cheap goods sold in big box stores to get into trade wars with other nations. My challenge for Trump supporters who think otherwise is to wean themselves from shopping at Walmart or Target and to find an alternative to their iPhone that is made in the US. There is a difference between dealing interactively with the economies of other countries in a fair way and accepting the way economies interact.

My reality check does not come with easy solutions. My thinking has been influenced by Tom Friedman because he seems to accept the reality of globalization. He promotes education and the exploration of new types of work.

I do think that redistribution of wealth is necessary. The US is doing far better than most may realize because the disparity in who gets what continues to increase. Trickle down has never worked so I am with the Democrats on supporting different approaches to taxation.

I also think we need to consider the retirement age. As an academic, I used to think the old guy who tottered around campus and refused to retire was kind of interesting. As I functioned as an administrator and then retired myself, I changed my opinion. The old guy was taking a job away from someone else. Retirement does not have to mean that you no longer contribute or are intellectually inactive. Holding one of a limited number of jobs at some point is kind of selfish. The professions at least need to take a look and see if there are ways to redefine retirement to offer both new employment opportunities and ways for those “retired” to continue to contribute.

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Hillary’s email server

I don’t know what to think of the issue with Hillary’s private server. I wish she would admit she was lazy or whatever motivated her behavior and move on. This seems such a focal point and I struggle to understand whether it is that significant or not. I have and still run an email server. My first email system was hacked and I shut it down. The present system is used only to forward email generated by my blogs and seems to be clean. I think most citizens have far less technical insight and have even less capacity to evaluate whether this is serious or not.

I understand the issue with using multiple email systems and how it can be a hassle when you work from many different devices. The university I worked for used a Microsoft email system and required changes in passwords every three months. The situation there was less about security – we were told that emails sent on the system were considered part of the public record and could be requested. My email was purposefully not to be considered secure and it was my personal emails rather than my work emails that I might be an issue. My preference had little to do with concern for the public record and more with the personal preference for GMail over Microsoft exchange.

I am not in a position to evaluate the information in the emails she received and sent. I have no idea whether she was given any directives beyond the general rules for government service. I pretty much ignored the general rules I was given because I did not think my behavior was damaging to anyone and I valued my time and the daily commitment I made to be available to anyone. I suppose if I was directly asked to change my behavior I would have changed. This is not a justification in any way, but I understand how expectations related to our online behavior are not always taken seriously.

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Superior Fish

Why is it people like to post pictures of food? I think it is because they are trying to make their friends jealous. Anyway, I have been places with food worthy of a picture and worthy of generating jealousy. Or – I may be easy to impress after living in North Dakota for so long, I am easy to impress. North Dakota was a fine place to live, but I cannot think of a food that would attract visitors.


I am not a fan of super fancy food. I am a fan of cheese pizza and Cobb salads. I took a chance this past week on some delicacies from Northern Wisconsin. On the left, you have fresh pickled herring. I do eat the stuff you can purchase in most grocery stores, but this offering was far better. On the right you see the rar,e lightly breaded and fried, Whitefish livers. Try finding this in your local grocery or fish market. Both are great with a light, summer beer.

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