Mouth-watering Omaha Steaks

Friday, April 4, 2014

Business review: Milaca Unclaimed Freight

My first time. I’ve heard of Milaca Unclaimed Freight before, but don’t pass that direction often enough to think about making the stop. Next time, it’s on the agenda.

Take along your patience and resistance. The aisles are narrow and crowded. But if you take your time, you’ll be surprised at what you’ll come across – often at decent prices, once in awhile a terrific bargain.

I don’t think you can go looking for something too specific. Instead, approach it like an upscale garage sale, but new stuff. There’s food, hardware, toys, cleaning products, vitamins, paper goods, kitchen utensils, fishing equipment, clothes, towels, etc., etc., etc. – and a huge furniture department.

I was more proud of what I resisted than what I did get. Best surprise of all: guessing our full cart to check out at $225, but it barely cracked $100.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Book review: 'No Shortcuts to the Top'

“No Shortcuts to the Top” is not a book about a single expedition but an autobiography of climber Ed Viesturs (pub. 2006). He was, of course, the first American to climb all fourteen 8,000-meter peaks in the world without using bottled oxygen.

You can accomplish something like that, he explains, by breaking such a large goal into small pieces. Sometimes it’s as small as trying to reach the rock 40 feet away. “It’s only by nibbling away at those immense distances that you can achieve the whole,” he wrote.

As with any mountain, a frequent question is “Why?”

He answers: “There’s an immense pleasure in getting all this business down to a science, in carrying out the climb of an 8,000er as efficiently and safely as humanly possible. And there is nothing else in life like getting to the summit. What’s more, I’ve always felt that the greater the challenge, the greater the reward.”

Viesturs also spends several pages going into detail about what a mountain climbers wears and carries, as well as the day-to-day drudgery of a long expedition – details I haven’t seen explained in other mountain books.

Viesturs also played a part in helping keep the 1996 Everest disaster from being worse than it was. (Unrelated but interesting, he got married shortly before that Everest trip.)

That particular venture was part of making an IMAX film with David Breashears, a laborious task with heavy equipment made even more difficult at altitude. There’s a nice little reference to having to re-shoot a short segment, referred to as “the highest take two in the world.”

At another point, Viesturs gives a good explanation of altitude’s effects on the body. In his case, besides a strong work ethic, testing determined that he was very high on the scale of being able to function in thin air with little oxygen, plus having a larger than normal lung capacity.

Stats time (I like stats): We hear about the famous mountains but Viesturs point out the ratio of climbers who reached a summit to the number of climbers who died, through 2003, was 7:1 on Everest, 3:1 on K2, and only 2:1 on Annapurna.

Annapurna was Viesturs’ last of the 14 big ones to successfully climb, and it took a couple attempts. Reaching that summit with partner Veikka Gustafsson, “We hugged each other hard. I couldn’t speak, I was so choked up. But I didn’t have the emotional flood I’d expected . . . (we) sat there for long moments, as I tried to comprehend that my dream of eighteen years had at last come true.”

He did it, in small pieces at a time. And then in true Viesturs fashion: “The climb of Annapurna was only half over. Never had getting down been more mandatory.”

One more interesting point from the book is a short discussion of how the Internet became a part of mountain climbing. Some 50 years earlier, it could be as much as two weeks before news of a climber reaching a summit made it back to the general population. Now, it’s possible to monitor expeditions with constant updates sent right from the mountain itself.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Proposal: simplify income taxes

Part of our SPARE TIME gets taken away doing things like filing income tax returns.

Instead of the cumbersome process of tax filing in place, it would be so much more efficient if everything was reduced to the equivalent of the 1040-EZ form, which takes only a few minutes to breeze through.

Simply, what was the income? Then look up the tax from the table.

If it was that easy, most citizens could handle filing their own returns, either electronically or on paper.

This would, of course, wipe out the entire tax preparation industry, but look how much it would save the government itself. Instead of trying to enforce all the obscure details, the IRS could simply look at the bottom lines.

So many fewer forms to deal with. So many fewer opportunities for cheating or errors. So many fewer problems.

How much did you make? Send most of it in.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

High school sports: sportsmanship

Hopkins got a lot of attention during last week’s state basketball tournament, first for using slow-down tactics in overtime and then for questionable sportsmanship afterward. Several players removed their second-place medals immediately after receiving them following a loss in the Class AAAA title game.

While sportsmanship needs to be taught and promoted, I often wince at the forced sportsmanship before or after playoff games as the players are required to go through a pre-determined ceremony. Sometimes it’s captains reading a script before a game. Afterwards, it’s one player from the other team coming forward to shake hands as medals are handed out. Some pre-game announcements go on and on and on.

It’s too bad that in our society so many people have to be reminded to do what’s right and act appropriately. That includes fans, sometimes even more so than the participants.

Once in awhile, though, we are treated to genuine acts of true sportsmanship.

I recall a high school football playoff game many years ago between two rival teams from neighboring towns. It was a hard-fought, competitive contest and in the end, the upset did not occur as the favorite pulled away at the end.

In those days, awards were simply a trophy to each team, no individual medals.

But I still clearly remember that as the championship trophy was awarded, the players on the other team – losers on the scoreboard only – stood and applauded.

It was a spontaneous, honest display of respect and sportsmanship at the highest level – not expected, required, or planned in advance.

When players are able to step up and show that kind of character, we are all better for it.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Movies: ideas from books

The movie industry seems to be a very low point in its life cycle. Attendance is down, ticket prices are up, and both of those have to do with, well, there just aren’t very many good movies these days.

Mostly, we get recycled scripts, sequels of sequels, and pretty much trash. How much horror, sex, or violence can you scrape together and put it on film?

That’s why I’m looking forward to Heaven is For Real coming out soon, of which I’m cautiously optimistic.

Books are often sources for movies, and although the books are usually still much better than the screen versions, at least they can provide unique or interesting story lines. If Hollywood needs more ideas, and sure appears that it does, here are a couple I’d suggest:

• Cheryl Strayed’s “Wild” (reviewed here) – story of a woman’s difficulties in life, followed by which she turned it around by hiking 1,100 miles alone through California and Oregon.

• “The Fourth Procedure” by Stanley Pottinger. Simply, the main characters on opposite sides of the abortion rights debate are put into circumstances in which their self-interests are deeply in conflict with their political/philosophical positions. I won’t spoil it with more; enjoy reading the book.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Sports: basketball uniforms, part 2

High school basketball playoffs are in full swing, and the uniforms and accessories keeping getting crazier.

The latest trend is for players, and sometimes entire teams, to wear knee pads. Considering how rough the sport has gotten, it is a good idea. It’s just that in order for the pads to stay in place they are so long that coupled with the modern over-sized uniform shorts, they look like tights under a skirt.

This year, I’ve also seen a few players wearing headbands – not the typical sports headband, but the single-strand type worn by girls. Another player simply went the pony tail route. I guess if you need to keep long hair out of your face, following the lead of experienced female athletes is a logical choice.

So what’s the next accessory we can sell to our young athletes?

I got it – gloves! There aren’t too many body parts not covered yet, so gloves that will help you grip the basketball and be a fashion statement should be a big seller.

These would essentially be the same gloves a wide receiver wears in football, but there needs to some distinction so that an athlete would have to buy both, not cheat the manufacturer by wearing football gloves on a basketball court. That would never do.

Basketball: state high school tournament

The state high school boys basketball tournament gets underway today. Even with four classes going at it, this is the premier event of the tournament season.

Basketball is a sport in which the casual fan can follow the game easily – unlike football which often is a jumble of players too far away to see what’s really happening. Basketball has enough scoring to keep it interesting, unlike hockey. And despite how good girls are these days, boys games are still faster and usually more entertaining.

High school basketball has one other key ingredient – actually one element that isn’t part of it: the shot clock.

It takes a lot more skill to work the ball around for a couple minutes and finally break loose for an open lay-up when the defense falters, than it does to get off a shot within a prescribed amount of time. It often ends up being a lousy shot, and means that the defense only had to play defense for a relatively short amount of time.

You would think it’s better for young athletes to learn to play defense for extended stretches so they have better skills and are well-prepared to go on to a higher level of competition.

Unfortunately, the higher level has a shot clock, so you don’t have to play defense very long there.