Thursday, August 14, 2014

An outlet mall! in Eagan! With Nike shoes!

kid in eagan buys $1000 of Nike shoes at new outlet mall
The new Eagan Outlet Mall opened today. I don't understand the hype surrounding it. It's not like you couldn't buy semi-outdated clothes, shoes and accessories at equally low prices during a sale at Kohl's but people have and will continue to flock to the southern suburb of Eagan - just a short trip across the Minnesota River from the Mall of America - to buy hundreds or thousands of dollars of crap they don't truly need.

Then there's the fact that the media in the Twin Cities are running a story about it tonight.

Sure, that kid plopped down over $1,000 of his own cash to buy those 21 pairs of Nike shoes.

As for this being a story, I don't really see why. Outlet malls are nothing new. I was about ten years old when the one near Medford, MN opened. It was about a half hour drive from my house and we have family in the area so we occasionally stopped there. My dad stayed in the car and my mom took me to a few stores to buy clothes or shoes. It was alright but it's not like it gave me a huge shoperection or clothesboner.

As I said, outlet malls are nothing new. Hell, Albertville, MN is on the map because it is home to a huge outlet mall. North Branch, MN has a tiny bastardized version of an outlet mall. And even Woodbury was once home to an outlet mall. It's old news to me. I get that people are only drawn to shiny, new palaces of consumerism but in ten years it will be a half-empty shit hole with a crater-filled parking lot and a smattering of stores which aren't outlet shops at all as it becomes a typical suburban strip mall complete with a massage parlor where happy endings can be had for the right price.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Joke: One Finn can beat one Russian

When life gets you down, there are many ways of getting over that hump. I could list them off but instead of doing that, here's a great joke about an Finlander and some Russians.

One day a Russian infantry column is moving along a road with a large hill to one side. Suddenly, they hear a shout.

"One Finn can beat one Russian!"

The officer of the column laughs and sends one of his men over. After a moment and a few shots, the silence is broken.

"One Finn can beat ten Russians!"

The officer laughs again and sends ten men over the hill. After a minute of shouts and shooting, it gets quiet again.

"One Finn can beat ONE HUNDRED Russians!"

The officer, now becoming annoyed, sends one hundred men over the hill. The fight lasts then minutes, and afterwards it gets quiet again.

"One Finn can beat FIVE HUNDRED RUSSIANS!"

The officer is now irate. He angrily yells for five hundred men to mount the hill. The ensuing battle lasts almost am hour.

As it gets quiet again, one Russian comes crawling back over the hill.

The officer goes up to meet him. The wounded Russian's last words are,"Don't send any more men. It is a trick! There are two of them!"

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The fun of home remodeling

With a house that turned 115 years old this year, it is inevitable that there will be the need for repairs and remodeling. This year we ended up going (relatively) big on that front.

For years we mulled over what to do with our enclosed three-season porch. It had windows in it from the 1940s or earlier. The foundation was sinking and the fact that it sits (sat) at the front of our home made the rest of the large, white rectangular house look rather shitty.

This year, though, we pulled the trigger and  started assembling the materials we would need to basically tear down all but the roof of the old porch and rebuild it from the ground up. I scored a truckload of clearance vinyl windows from Menards. My parents had a truckload of 2x4s, 2x6s and plywood from a temporary wall liner they had built many years ago in their machine shed to store a bumper crop of corn. The rest, though, came from an extensive and ever-changing plan and a few trips to Menards. Another truckload of insulation, plywood, a door and dimensional lumber would build the bulk of the structure.

After an entire day of digging by hand and swinging sledgehammers inside relatively confined holes we were ready to pour the concrete pads on which the 6x6 posts would sit and provide the support for the new structure.

Next up was removing the existing walls and floor while propping up the existing roof att the same time. The construction of the new floor went surprisingly fast and so did boxing in the underside of the new floor joists with treated plywood so the new floor could be insulated. Along with these steps came wiring for an exterior light on the front of the new porch and running yet more wire for the eventual installation of electric baseboard heat.

Insulation went into the existing ceiling and the 1940s-era beadboard went back up. The home's first housewrap went on making this new piece of construction the best built piece of the house yet. Windows were installed and made weatherproof on the exterior. Vapor barrier went on after I insulated the walls and next up was the drywall.

On the exterior we installed new Cedar siding and sleek new trim harkening back to the simplicity of the original house built in 1899. I even went the extra mile and matched the existing wood drip cap installed above the rim board on the original house making the new porch look like a well-maintained original piece of the house.

The lengthiest portion of this project, though, has been painting. This 20-foot tall two-story home has a ton of surfact area and trim. Using a total of three colors maintains the character but makes painting a straight up pain in the ass. While the wife tackles what she can from the ground and using a step ladder or two, I perilously cling to my trusty extension ladder and pain the upper story of the home' siding, soffits and window trim. And with changing the colors from white (siding) and blue and red/pink (window trim), much of the house requires two coats of paint. Haivng already gone through 13 gallons of paint and a trip to Menards for another gallon or two, the paint alone is costing us a small fortune.

With most of the garage left to paint, the two way-too-high-up dormers, hardwood floors to install and stain, a ton of interior window trip to cut, paint and install and new front steps to build; this project seems to have no end. I look forward to working on projects like this because it's not a part of my day job but I am looking forward to seeing th end of this one because after two-plus months, I just want to experience some summer weather that doesn't involve me on a ladder until 9 PM every night of the week.

Monday, June 23, 2014

The 2014 Minnesota River flood

And so it has begun again. I could see it coming nearly two weeks ago. It simply hadn't stopped raining this spring since the snow melted. Then on Saturday, June 14th much of Minnesota experienced torrential rainfall for most of the day. I believe that final total was approximately 4 inches at my house. This, coupled with even heavier rainfall upstream on the Minnesota River drastically increased water levels on the already high river.

The forecast did little to make the outlook more favorable. The first half of the upcoming week was predicated to be humid and stormy with heavy rainfall again predicted. And the predictions were right. It rained Monday and Wednesday. The worst, though, was Wednesday night. The river valley community I live in received six or more inches or rain overnight.

I awoke Thursday morning knowing that I had heard some thunder overnight and that it had likely rained again. I was totally unprepared for what I saw as I looked out the second floor bedroom of my house at the creek which runs alongside my property. I was expecting a foot or so of water in it because it has kept raining for what seemed like months. Instead I saw about five feet of water in it. I was shocked. I turned on the news to see reports of flash floods and astonishing rainfall amounts. This wasn't looking good.

I was in for a shock as I made my way across the Minnesota River on my usual bridge of Minnesota Highway 19. It would be the last time crossing there for possibly three weeks. About a mile after the river, as th road curves and begins its way up out of the valley through the tree-lined bluffs, I encountered flashing lights from MnDOT trucks and the first of three mudslides. At least one lane was open as traffic took turns navigating the trees, sand, grass and mud.

As I turned north of U.S. Highway 169 I figured that I had seen the worst. I sped along at 75 miles per hour until I again saw flashing lights and, this time, water. The southbound lanes were completely submerged under at least a foot of water and the northbound lanes were partially under water. Traffic squeezed slowly through the water on the roadway and sped up again. A mile or so later I encountered more water witht he southbound lanes again submerged. In this stretch I had seen four vehicles stopped in the water. I suppose it was dark and raining heavily and they thought they were encountering inces, not feet, of water.

The scene repeated itself most of the way to work that day. Water lapping at the shoulders of highways. Fields covered in water. City streets impassable with water covering them.

The drive home, though, was worse. Water had closed both directions of U.S. Highway 169. I meandered through somewhat sketchy county roads and knew that I would have to take a rather lengthy detour once I crossed the Minnesota River to return home to my peaceful Minnesota River valley home. I encountered washed out roads where roads had existed a mere twenty-four hours earlier. I came across more "road closed" signs than I thought could ever exist. Again, more roads submerged under flood waters and people manning tractors, pumps, road graders, loaders, backhoes and excavators already beginning the clean-up process.

It also marked the official beginning of this particular flood as the first television news truck, this time from KMSP FOX 9, did a live report from the levee as the reporter swatted away mosquitoes.

The fun, though, was just beginning. Friday brought scored of dump trucks as excavation of the hundreds of tons of gravel from the bluffs above this small Minnesota River town which had been deposited in creeks, streams, drainage ditches and parks which do double duty as ponding areas during floods. All day the volunteer firefighters worked to hold back water during the excavation and clean-up process as the moved barricades and sprayed mud and gravel from the city's paved streets. It was a different story, though, as the Minnesota National Guard rolled in to town shortly after 7 PM along with the remaining Minneapolis-area television stations (KSTP, WCCO and KARE). The coverage included the inevitable rising waters, the National Guard being brought in for levee patrol (it is a federal levee after all) and the mudslides which had destroyed two houses just outside of the city limits.

I took breaks from my own construction prject during the day on both Friday and Saturday to watch city crews, construction companies and the volunteer firefighters continue to clean up the mess left from the torrential rains. All that remains now is the still rising water which is predicted to crest Wednesday and then slowly recede leaving the city I call home rather isolated from the world for about two more weeks.

It could be three years before this all happens again or it could be a decade. The fact is, though, that it will definitely happen again. This year's crest is predicted to rival that of the fall 2010 flood which broke what many considered to be the benchmark for all floods on the Minnesota River -- the 1965 spring flood which nearly wiped out many communities along the Minnesota River. The levels of the floods are increasing and so is their frequency. Like my neighbor who has lived in his house for 47 years said, this is the new normal.

Friday, June 06, 2014

My life before Netflix

There was an earlier time in my life when I lived with a couple friends. One had an account to something called "Netflix". I had heard of it in passing but never really understood the value of it. It was a cute little business model -- set up an account, click some movie titles on their website and you would begin receiving DVDs of movies and a few television shows which Netflix offered. Watch at your leisure, toss the disc in the enclosed envelope and mail the sum'bitch back. A few days later your next disc arrived, lather, rinse and repeat.

I then went over ten years without any first-hand exposure to this company. Until my sister-in-law got a Netflix account and set me up with her password. It was as easy as rolling out of a tilted bed. The Netflix app was already on my Roku box and within minutes we were entranced with the treasure trove that is the legal online streaming world. Oh, sure, in the past we had dealt with torrents of television shows from networks we legally subscribed to because our cable package didn't come with a DVR (it's something like a $10/month add-on) but that was getting to be a hassle to deal with what with the downloading, having to leave the computer on and the mildly clunky interface with whatever app I was using on my Roku.

In short, Netflix was flat out easier. The Roku interface is easy as hell to use -- even our then four year-old could navigate through Netflix and find a plethora of cartoons to watch. The price was right, too and it has never once failed to function even when pushed through the lowest speed internet tier I could find because I am cheap.

Last summer, though, truly proved the value of Netflix when, in August, a little show entitled 'Orange is the New Black' appeared exclusively on Netflix. We devoured that series, watching two or three episodes each night and, sadly, within a week or so we had finished what was a truly well-written series featuring a topic (life in prison) which hadn't really been touched since HBO's 'Oz'. The difference being that OITNB had plenty of moments of humor in it and the writing team managed to blend drama and comedy with a setting that is anything but funny. It is a series that feels like it could easily exist on the best cable channels (think along the lines of FX or A&E or AMC) whom dabble in original programming.

Instead, 'Orange is the New Black' landed on a platform which is designed for binge watching. Much like the fourth season of 'Arrested Development', you could sit down for a few hours and devour episode after episode and feel extremely sad after a couple sessions when you realize that you have to wait about an entire year for fresh episodes. Then, if you're like me, you dive into the first episodes of 'The X-Files' and start watching those early episodes that aired in one's teen years before your rural home received a FOX television station signal.

I have taken a more leisurely approach to watching the first handful of seasons of 'The X-Files' due to time constraints, summer being here and the simple fact that a shitload (120 or more) of episodes exist and I don't have 90-some hours available to block out to watch one of the greatest procedural / sci-fi case-of-the-week series to ever air on television.

But even with my lessened viewing, I continue to subscribe. I wholly plan on finishing season eight of 'Dexter' even if it completely ruins some of the brilliant earlier seasons (it should have ended after the season with John Lithgow as The Trinity Killer) but I like to finish what I start.

I'm sure there will be a day when I  no longer see the value of netflix but, for the time being I still subscribe, I still watch and it manages to keep myself and my daughter entertained. It is there for me on cold winter nights and rainy summer afternoons. It isn't appointment television because that hasn't existed in a decade. It exists because it's easy and it's a quality entertainment option. Who needs movie theaters when you have Netflix and RedBox? Who really needs cable or satellite when you have the earlier options combined with Hulu and Amazon Prime? I have sampled the Hulu and Prime options but I stick with Netflix as my lone streaming option because I have yet to cut the cord but that day is coming... fast. Streaming is the future and Netflix is doing it right. Now if we can just get over the whole net neutrality issue, then Netflix has a solid future. Without net neutrality, Netflix will be unaffordable and unreliable. Fix that and streaming is clearly the future.