Month: August 2007

Banana Split Tradition

Every time I saw Grandpa, there was one thing we always did. From the picture and title, you already know what.

 

The first problem was finding a place that made them. This used to be an easy task even in Kittson County given that Hallock had a Dairy Whirl (?) just outside of town. During summer this place would always be so busy. Winter meant that it was closed, closed, closed.

 

Then there was North Dakota not far away. Pembina had a place (Tastee Freez?) that served lots of ice cream as well. As the years went by it got harder and harder to find places since the old places closed up. Towards the end it almost became impossible.

 

The tradition starts younger than I can remember. That would mean it is somewhere around when I turned 5 or 6. I couldn’t tell you who had the idea either. I loved banana splits growing up so I probably inspired it.

 

Grandpa would always ask about when we were going. It was something I always looked forward to. We would have contests to see who would finish first. There wasn’t a prize but rather just the right to say who had finished first.

 

The quality of banana splits varied greatly but it really didn’t matter. It was a simple tradition that Grandpa and I shared over all the years that we spent together. Even when he came to visit us in Tucson he would still insist that we go out and get some banana splits.

 

It wasn’t until I was older that I actually gave him a run for his money on finishing. Of course, when I was young he would sometimes make it easier for me to finish before him.

 

It probably didn’t do his health any great wonders. This was all before the focus on heart disease and avoiding high fat foods. Towards the end of our tradition, I would sometimes wonder if we should stop.

 

I’m not sure the last time that we bought banana splits. It was probably in Phoenix when my grandparents came to visit Mom. It might have been after then but I couldn’t say clearly. One of the last times, I remember going to Cold Rock with them.

 

Grandpa had a heart attack and later a stroke in 2003. I have seen him since then but things have changed. I’m not sure he recognizes me, and when I talked with him I could not get through.

 

Here’s to brighter times Grandpa. The next time I get a chance, I’m going to buy a banana split and remember our ice cream times together.

 Banana Split Tradition

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Underage Driving

When I was 12, I drove a pickup truck.  True story.  Even better, I had an accident.

In 1977, we went to visit my grandparents in Humboldt, Minnesota.  Humboldt is a kind of place that has plenty of room.  Not only that, it is safe.   Kids could wander through the very few dirt roads without parents and try to find something to do in a very sleepy town.

Grandpa (Harvey Diamond) would often invite grandkids to come to the farm.  Sometimes he would have small jobs for us (like picking things up) or perhaps bringing out some food or drink to the tractors in the field.  Over time the jobs would get bigger.  There was machinery to be driven including cultivators, and grain trucks.

One thing you need to keep in mind is there is always a limited supply of drivers for the grain trucks.  During the farming year, you really only need a few farmers due to the amazing amount of automation.  However, after harvest, there is a need to haul massive quantities of grain (or other crops) in a short period of time.  The weather does not stay good forever (remember bitter winters) and crop prices can change quickly.

This means that every available driver in the family has to help.  This includes grandkids (in their teens).

Now, I cannot say what the motive was but Grandpa decided that it was time that I learn how to drive.  These were pretty exciting times for me.

Grandpa took us to a field that needed cultivating, put me and my cousin James in the two pickups, gave us some basic instructions, and as I remember him saying “I let them loose”.  I had the green pickup that was Grandpa’s main work truck.  It was a Ford automatic with a shifter on the steering wheel.

Ford Pickup circa 1973

The included picture is not the pickup itself.  It’s the closest I could find on the web.  Grandpa’s version was more like a deeper green with a single color.  (Most of the pictures I found showed nature reclaiming the Fords from that era)

Grandpa and his son Dennis started plowing up the field starting from the outside.  James and I were ready to get going.  James had his Dad’s Chevy pickup.  If I remember this correctly, James was the driver and was also five years younger than me.  They start early on the farm.

James was first to go since I was still not sure this was okay.  I remember staring at everything and thinking Grandpa must be crazy to trust me with his work truck.  Eventually I worked up enough confidence to pull the shifter into drive with the brake engaged.  Letting the brake off, I was surprised to find the pickup moving forward.  I had thought that it would not move forward until you hit the gas.  Another one of the grown up mysteries revealed.

I experimented with the gas pedal to quickly realize that I was pressing it too hard.  With an instant adrenaline rush, I was hooked.  After a few circles around the center of the field, I was getting the hang of steering and also avoiding the only other truck that could cause an accident.  The tractors were far away and the field turned out to be a very safe place to learn.  It is kind of like going to a parking lot with a teenager.  On the farm, you only have lots of field and very little to hit.

I noticed that James was mastering it much faster than me and also going a bit faster.  I decided not to be so cautious and try a bit more speed.  No wonder so many people find driving fun.

James had found a dip in the field that if you hit it just right at the correct speed, you could almost go a bit airborne.  That looked a bit naughty but at this stage I was willing to give a go.  I didn’t clear the ground but it was a rush to feel a sudden down and then up.

I don’t know how much time passed.  We had the best time.

Eventually Grandpa told us that we needed to get off the field.  They had plowed under almost the whole field and they needed to do the section that we were on.

Wow! Now we get to drive on real dirt roads!  This was incredibly exciting for my 12 year old self.

I exited the field and turned right on the one lane dirt road.  There were stories of my Uncle Dennis having an accident in the ditch when he was a young driver.  I tried to be careful.  I would call it hyper reality when everything slows down and everything seems incredibly new.

Soon, I realized that I was coming up to a T intersection.  I would have to turn.  Then something happened that was completely unexpected.  TRAFFIC!!!  Another pickup truck crossed the intersection on the other road.

My mind panicked.  I was not prepared for driving with other drivers on the road by myself.  I had to somehow turn around and get back to the field.

But how?  There was no place to just turn around due to the deep ditches around the road.

I decided the best bet would be to use the T intersection.  I moved up and turned left.  Then, shifting the gear to reverse, I started going back.  I couldn’t see real well where the road was due to the tailgate (and lack of experience).

Clunk!!  The pickup slipped into the deep ditch between the two roads.  I don’t remember what I thought at the moment but I do remember the shear panic.

One of the first thoughts to enter my head was “My Grandpa is going to be really, really mad”.

I tried moving forward again by shifting it into Drive but the wheels just spun.  The pickup was at a 45 degree angle.  In fact, the pickup was stuck on the undercarriage on the side of the road.

Realizing I couldn’t get the pickup out of the ditch, I ran back to my Grandpa in the field.  I must have looked pretty worried.  I told Grandpa what had happened and he just smiled and said that he would get his tractor and pull out the pickup truck.  He took the tractor to the T intersection, hooked up the pickup with some chain, and pulled it out of the ditch.

Not only did he not get mad at me but he also made me feel like it was just a mistake and that it was okay.

My story joined Dennis’ story in the family history.

I’ll never forget how good Grandpa was about this accident.  He was always such a kind thoughtful person.  He showed it in everything he did.

For years afterward I didn’t like backing up around ditches.  Things worked out eventually :).

In later years I was entrusted to drive the grain trucks when I was there on summer holiday.  The training paid off!

Casual Blogging

There are always so many things that could be written about.  It becomes difficult to isolate what would potentially have the most value.

I’ve been blogging for almost a year now.  It seems that blogging falls into a few different categories.

  1. Professional blogger – blogs so much that it becomes a job in itself
  2. Casual blogger – already has a full time job but enjoys writing
  3. Amateur blogger – starts blogging but then stops soon afterwards

I’m number 2.  I enjoy it but I couldn’t do it all the time.  Depending on advertising seems a bit suspicious to me.  I’m not knocking it but I really don’t want to base my existence on someone else’s opinion for my livelihood.

True freedom comes from being casual.  You have the right to say what you want without worry about how many people are going to read it.  With wonderful places like WordPress.com, the risk is very low.  All you need to do is invest some of your spare time to write whatever you feel like.

It does help to have some sympathy for the reader of course.  It’s good to know that the message is getting through.  And, I will admit that for now I love to check the stats for this blog.

I learned at my other blog that trying to drum up numbers is a very difficult task and that it is far better not to worry about it.  It is kind of like when writers start ignoring the critics.  So, the trick is to not let the numbers rule your blogging life as you experiment with what you really want to write about.

It’s still not easy however.  It still feels good when people stop by.

For whatever its worth, I’ve decided to write more about things that are more at the heart of what matters to me.  It is difficult to do this at first but it seems that patience will eventually pay off.

Geeks with an Attitude

From a previous post I mentioned that there were two famous films that were made in places that I had lived. The first film was “Groundhog Day” which was filmed in Woodstock, Illinois. The second film is “Revenge of the Nerds” which was filmed at the University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona. Unlike “Groundhog Day” which was filmed in the early 90s, I was actually at the university when “Revenge of the Nerds” was made in 1984.

Revenge of the Nerds poster

The student body was quite excited about this film being made due the the opportunity of actually being in it as extras. A guy down the hall from me in the dorm not only got to be in the movie but also managed to tell a short joke towards the end. The movie crew transformed sections of the campus to look like Adams College and used many existing university buildings to host the scenes.

U of A
Towards the beginning of the movie, the fraternity brothers accidentally burn down their house. They manage to get permission to move into a dorm nearby. In doing so, they actually throw out the freshman living there (including the nerds). One freshman was unfortunate enough to be thrown out a front window. I saw part of this filming when walking to class. Later that night I went back to look under the window to see if there was any sugar glass left. There were some pieces there and I picked up one to examine it. I thought about keeping it as a souvenir but realized that it would easily break apart and would not keep. I’m not sure why I’m telling you this anyways. 🙂

The dorm that was taken over

I remember them shooting a scene with the coach where he barks out a few commands in front of the dorm and then zooms off in his golf buggy. It was a few years before I realized that this was John Goodman.

John Goodman

Guys from the dorm went down one night to the fake fair that the movie crew had built. Unfortunately a few of us already had too much and one of us decided it would be a good idea to try and steal a stuffed animal off of the display of a fake game. He almost managed to bring down the game in the attempt to remove the animal. The security guards noticed and soon he was running with said stuffed animal down the street back towards the dorm. The police busted him about one quarter of the way back. I didn’t see this happen since he had run pretty fast. I seem to remember that we had dared him to do it and couldn’t believe he had actually done it.

The police let him go after the movie group decided not to press charges. In fact, the movie group was very generous about all crimes committed against it. As long as the culprits returned the items, they were not charged. There were several fraternity pranks pulled involving stealing lots of big props. I guess real life was trying to match the level of what the movie would show. It seemed the fraternities were testing their pledge classes with more and more brazen attempts. All of us at the university would read about it in the school newspaper the next week. The most brazen was perhaps stealing a banner that fit against the back of a football scoreboard at the main outdoor stadium. It was massive! It was meant to cover the U of A logos with its own “Adams College” version. It was returned but I never understand how they did it in the first place. It was so big and heavy that they would have needed crews of people to pull it off.

It’s hard to believe that “Nerds” was filmed so long ago. I can remember a few more bits based on what I heard from the students that worked as extras. The rumour was that the director was trying to replicate some of the same feeling as “Animal House” but with the twist of the nerds striking back. There were also many stories about the crew attempting to recreate party atmosphere by sponsoring free parties for the extras.Ending party

I haven’t seen the movie recently but whenever I see it, I have minor flashbacks to people and places I haven’t seen for years. It’s good to see old faces and places from time to time. As for the movie itself, I don’t think I can get very philosophical about it this time. Perhaps I’ll just say that nerds are people too. Oh, and nerds are more likely to bloom late. That’s more than I can say for my high school football captain. He peaked in high school. Last I saw him years ago he was working as a security guard at the local convention center in Tucson. That might be construed as being a bit mean when really that wasn’t what I intended. The point is that if you do your best too early, you are unlikely to succeed later in life. I think it has something to do with believing your own hype too much when really you need to continue to grow. Well, I guess I managed to get philosophical after all.

Nerd Fraternity
Oh, there is one thing this movie proves. If you are a nerd that bucks the system, you are likely to end up going out with the cheerleader. I wouldn’t have figured that. I guess that is the surprise ending.

February 21

Ten years of being in Australia! I can’t believe it. February 21, 1997 I arrived at the Brisbane Airport to be with my future wife. Such an adventure to leave South Florida behind and move to the land Down Under. I remember getting off the plane and thinking how hot it was. Even though I knew it was summer in Australia, I didn’t think it would be much different from South Florida in winter time. The flight itself was killer. I flew from Miami to LA to then hop through Sydney to eventually land in Brisbane. Based on layovers and flying, it took 24 hours to get into the car in Brisbane. Everything was out of sync with night being day and day into night. Seasons were flipped and it would take me almost a week to adjust.

It didn’t matter.

I was coming to Australia to meet my Australian girlfriend. The plan was to stay in Australia for 8 weeks and then go back to Florida. I never left based on that plan. In fact, I did not return to America until 1999. I stayed in Australia on a visitor’s visa until August and then started working then under a temporary resident visa. I was offered a job to stay with Citrix in April 1997 as a systems engineer but I declined. I started working as a systems engineer at a local reseller in Brisbane. I stayed there with that reseller until they went out of business in 1998. I then when to another reseller and stayed there until 1999 when I decided it was time to work for Citrix again. By that point Citrix had an office in Sydney (North Ryde) and there was development work in the Advanced Products Group. Being in Brisbane made this impossible before until the policy changed to allow remote workers for engineering.

I live near a small town in the country with 2 acres, 2 dogs, 3 great kids, and a lovely wife. I live a very lucky life.

I wanted to share some insights into Australia and Australians. First of all, their spirit is great. They are so proud to be Australians and yet they respect humility. Become too proud of yourself and you become a “tall poppy” and you deserve to be taken down a notch. They are willing to help you in a crunch and the common thought is that we are all in this together. The country contains roughly 20 million people and most of these people reside in or near capital cities throughout the states and territories. Canberra is the nation’s capital and due to a dispute between Melbourne and Sydney, it is in-between the two cities and essentially in the middle of nowhere. The culture of Australia is heavily entrenched in being surrounded by water. There is a strong beach culture and also an intense love of sports. I thought America loved sports but Australians have them beat. They might not have as many people but they make up for it in the true belief of the power of sports. If there is an event that has Australians competing, you can be guaranteed that there will be a contingent of Australian fans there as well. Look for the green and gold and the chants, and you will know.

There is so much I could say about Australia. Fortunately for you it is getting late and its time to shut down the house.

I call Australia home!

I love it here. I’m glad that the beauty of Australia is still mostly a secret. I hope that others don’t catch on too quickly. 🙂


Life in the Movies

A few films have crossed paths with places that I have lived. Two of them are fairly famous. Why not write a post about these movies with the hope that I might find some relevance? Wish me luck, but be rest assured that if you have something better to do, you better go do it now. I’m only going to include the first film in this post and save the second for another day.

The first film is Groundhog Day which was filmed in 1992. Most of the core scenes were shot in Woodstock, Illinois in or near the town square. The square is famous within the county area for its rustic feeling due to its being built in the late 1800’s. In the center of the square is a monument to the soldiers of the Civil War. In the film, they actually managed to hide it from view during the groundhog ceremony. The streets enclosing the square are cobblestone and many of the buildings are original. The Opera House and Courthouse are the most obvious landmarks besides the monument itself.

Jumping from the Opera House

I remember watching this film for the first time and being shocked to recognize landmarks. I wasn’t quite sure until I noticed a “Woodstock Jewellers” sign in the background that it was Woodstock. I was having my own version of deja vu.

We lived in Woodstock from around 1973 to 1978. Before that we lived in nearby Crystal Lake in the heart of suburbia. I’ve been getting more nostalgic as I get older for the places of my childhood. What made Woodstock so good is that we owned 5 acres out in the country on Fleming Road. It was perfect for kids and it was so easy to go on adventures just in the backyard.

The film itself was quite impressive with its use of reliving the same day over and over again. I thought the concept was well developed and Bill Murray nailed the aspects of people who are always seeking things without having any idea of how to deal with what they have already.

There is quite a following of this film and even today you will hear people mention it in context to work. There is a contingent of people showing up in Punxsutawney, PA hoping to find elements of Woodstock, Illinois.

This is quote from the article last year in the Washington Post:
Groundhog's Day The Borough of Punxsutawney has been celebrating Groundhog Day since 1886. But it’s only since the 1993 movie “Groundhog Day” that it has become Times Square for a day, attracting up to 35,000 people and emerging as the most famous town of its size since Mayberry.

Punxsutawney does have a dark secret, however. It is not, in fact, the small town from the movie that made it famous. That town is Woodstock, Ill., where “Groundhog Day” was filmed.

One of my favorite scenes is when Bill Murray steals the pickup truck and drives it to the quarry. He hijacks the groundhog and holds him up the the steering wheel as if he is driving. At one point he says “Don’t drive angry!” and for some reason that gets me almost every time.

Most people can relate to the feeling that we live the same day over and over again. That might explain why it is so popular and also has such staying power. If you read the article in Wikipedia about “Groundhog Day” you’ll get an idea of how influential this movie has been. Personally, I was surprised by how highly it was rated against other films of the last 20 years.

Personally, I find hope that there is a way out of the loop. In a way, “Groundhog Day” captured in part what life is about. You struggle, you fight, you plot, you wander, you steal (well hopefully not), you experiment, and you find a way out. If there is any point to this is that whatever you do not accept in life, there is a good chance that is the very thing you are supposed to be paying more attention to. Whatever you think you know, you must admit to yourself that you don’t always know what is best for yourself.

This post was saved from my other blog for Citrix.  It was really fun working on this one.  It quickly became one of my favorites.

Home, Here and Now

The title is in reference to “Take the Long Way Home” by Supertramp. This song is part of the classic album “Breakfast in America“. There is something incredibly nostalgic about this song. It has all of these images coming forward based on the words. It sounds very autobiographical based on touring with the band.

Breakfast in America cover

I’ve been completely nostalgic about the old days at Citrix going on with fifty some odd posts about Citrix history. There is one thing that you must realize about being nostalgic. There is no way “home”. Those idealized places and times simply do not exist anymore. It is far better to focus on living in the present and realize that the current moment is really all you really have.

If home is now that home is also very near. I’m rambling a bit but it is very difficult to fully believe this is true. The more you focus on what is currently happening the more likely you will give it your full attention and your best actions. I could say that I’ve read a few books about this (which is true) but if you think about, it really is just common sense. If you are thinking solely from the point of reference of what you did yesterday or what you are going to do tomorrow, you are most likely missing what is happening today. If you work at this enough, it is possible to fully live in the moment AND be able to handle any situation as if you were a natural.

A fictional example I will give is based on the character Neo towards the end of the first Matrix film. When Agent Smith killed Neo, Neo was transformed. Not only did he come back to life, but he also knew instantly, without caring, how to handle Agent Smith and dispatch him. His actions speak of living in the moment and being able to exist beyond the realm of knowledge alone.

Alright, I sense I’ve lost some people there. I’m not really trying to confuse you. I’m just trying to explain things from a slightly different perspective.

If you are connected to the moment and all things around you, you can actually comprehend and participate in ways that go far beyond what humans usually experience. It is almost like a transcendence of individual life to feel the harmony of many lives living in a unified experience. That, by the way, is the conclusion of most people that have seen this perspective. It is hard to see things as not being connected.

If you consider something to be truly separated from yourself than most likely you don’t see the connections. If you do not see the connections you will not realize that actions will affect these connections. If these actions are negative or otherwise uninspired, most likely the division and separation will grow. As a result of this splitting and growing distance, the mind will further see proof of separation. The cycle will continue.

If, however, you see things as connected and working together, your thoughts will bring things together. Things will get easier and thoughts will become more common. You will see things more clearly and you will be able to see things from many different perspectives. This ultimately will result in a kind of critical mass that would be similar to an implosion. Not physically but more mentally.

If you got this far, you must have a fairly open mind :). I know it really isn’t the place for a research engineer to ponder such matters… or at least not yet. Thanks for being so understanding.

This is yet another post saved from the archives over at my Citrix based blog.  It still rings true and explains the concept of focusing on the current moment in very simple terms.  I don’t necessarily follow this very closely but I do find that I get much better results if I block out thoughts about the past or future.