Hi. Welcome to March 2020. The month and the page are in progress. Last worked on March 11 morning (addended Retirement write-up).
We start the month in Nicaragua in Matagalpa. We plan to go to Esteli, Nicaragua on the 3rd and then back to Granada on the 10th. Our scheduled flight back to Canada starts with a flight from Managua to Panama City, Panama early on the 27th so we plan to go to Managua on the 26th and stay across the street from the airport. That’s the plan anyway.
I’ve always like going through Sebaco. It is a crossroads. It is on the Pan-American Highway from Managua to Esteli and points north to Honduras. It is also the point where the highway into the mountains of the Northeast leaves the Pan-American Highway and heads toward Matagalpa, Jinotega and many smaller mountain towns. Coffee from the highlands is dried near Sebaco. Markets near the highway junction display colourful garlands of locally grown vegetables. Vendors get on the buses and hawk bags of fruit and vegetables in addition to the usual chicken, soft drinks, candies and baked goods.
This year I haven’t taken any good pictures of the vegetable stands yet, but one thing caught my eye by the side of the road. It is some form of RV made maybe made from an old Russian military vehicle. I want to know more, but not enough to get off a bus and commit to standing the rest of the trip somewhere when I get back on another bus.
Home Delivery Milkmen
Nicaragua still has home milk delivery. It is pretty low tech. I have seen delivery by pushcart, horseback, motorcycle and bicycle. The milk is definitely unhomogenized. It will separate into cream and milk if left to stand. I am pretty sure it is unpasteurized as well, but don’t know that for a fact. In a country where they will make you take down a small round sign on a historic building in a tourist zone and where it is rumoured you will be fined for cutting down a tree they don’t seem to care about delivery of raw milk dipped out of milk cans into the customers’ containers.
Some Things Don't Change
The typical lunch for a volunteer on a mission trip is a piece of lunch meat (often labelled “ham”) between two slices of bread. This is what Mark Twain had to say about crossing Nicaragua in the mid 1800’s
“On the lake boat they fed us on coffee and tea, and on sandwiches composed of two pieces of bread enclosing one piece of ham. On this boat they gave us tea, coffee, and sandwiches composed of one piece of ham between two pieces of bread. There is nothing like variety.”
Matagalpa to Esteli
There is always a trade-off between rushing off first thing in the morning while it is cool and leaving a little later so your hotel room in the next location is ready and not being cleaned while you wait to check in. Juanita, as usual, was all packed, yesterday. After my morning shower I started to pack as well. We went up to the little yellow kiosk across from the park and had our daily scrambled eggs and coffee and then walked back to the hotel.
My understanding was that the bus to Estelí leaves Matagalpa Cotran Sur terminal every hour at twenty past the hour. We got to the terminal at twenty to nine figuring we would have time to buy a ticket and get onboard early in the rush to choose a favourable seat on the 9:20 bus. Nope. The bus leaves every hour at quarter to the hour. The tout rushed us onboard where every single, double seat had one person in it. I thought I spotted one empty seat about half way back but it was just a woman even shorter than the rest. Short enough you couldn’t see her behind the back of a school bus seat. I headed back to the front of the bus and suggested to Juanita that we get off and wait for the next bus. A young fellow volunteered to give up his spot and double up with another passenger. We accepted with alacrity. It was a less than perfect location but better than waiting and at least we were together.
I gave the young fellow and his seat mate and a few others, curved illusion tracts. Then settled in for the ride. Along about the time we were headed down the mountains from Matagalpa on the curviest section of the road the conductor collected fares. I gave him a curved illusion tract. Then the driver wanted one. He was fascinated by the illusion. He held them above the steering wheel and steered the bus around the curves with his elbows while he repeatedly shuffled them back and forth. Then he read the message on the backs. Then the conductor laid out the four cards on the dash and moved them around while the driver watched and they discussed what was going on. I said in Juanita’s ear that I never thought handing out a tract could get you killed in a highway accident. But we didn’t crash and die.
We arrived at Esteli terminal around 10:30 and got a cab to Mi Hotelito. We put our bags in the room and went down and signed the register and paid for a week and ordered breakfast for tomorrow. Breakfast is $US 3 if you order on-line at time of booking but is under $US 2.50 if you pay as you go. Hmm.
We finished unpacking, laundered my shorts since I was wearing trousers for travelling, hung them to dry and went out to explore the town. This is our first time in this spot, but it didn’t take long to get oriented. We had lunch and walked around a bit and bought some supplies and toiletries and dropped them off in the room and went out to wander around some more. After an extended coffee break at Don Luis, an old favorite we had supper at a fritanga a shopkeeper told us was there.
At the fritanga we had an interesting conversation with a guy from Nebraska who came back to settle his father’s estate. His father was killed by machete at the hands of his daughter’s boyfriend in December. The boyfriend is in jail. The daughter posted good riddance to her father on Facebook within ten minutes of his death. Might be some family issues settling that estate.
The food was terrible and the flies were worse. We ate one-handed while batting at flies and left most of our meal. Maybe should have tried the chicken, but there still would have been flies. On the way home we wandered through a huge second hand store in an old elegant department store. Good prices. Lots of selection. Don’t need clothes, but it would be an option if you wanted to travel light and buy Dockers or Eddie Bauer cargo shorts for less than $US 2 each and throw them away before going home.
Our daughter recently bought a new washing machine. The event was positive on a number of levels. The machine replaced a dying, older model that came with the house. The purchase used up a number of gift cards they had accumulated with a chain store that may or may not be around next year. She was able to do it all from the comfort of her home: purchase, delivery, installation and removal of the old washing machine. This is important when you are caring for and home-schooling five kids while your husband works in the next country. The one unanticipated benefit was its function as an entertainment centre. For the first month or so the front-load appliance fascinated her young children. They lined up lawn chairs and watched it do its thing. The toddler just learning to talk would call out the name of her stuffed toy each time it passed the window.
The other day I quoted Mark Twain about Nicaragua and ham sandwiches. Today Tony Heller (@Tony_Heller) tweeted another Mark Twain quote:
“It’s easier to fool people than to convince them that they have been fooled”
Too true. One summer back home from university I spent a bit of time hanging around a friend’s house. The family was renting a room to a couple of construction workers working on an expansion to the local paper mill. They had a magazine about UFO’s with lots of pictures and articles and a report form to submit to the authorities when you saw a UFO. I noticed the low quality of the pictures and thought, “If I couldn’t do better fake UFO pictures than that I’d give up my photography hobby.”
One afternoon my friend’s father threw various objects off the sun deck and while she retrieved them. I took pictures of these “flying objects” using the slowest shutter speed possible and the worst focus that still showed something. He threw dog dishes and a whole variety of things. Probably the best was a garbage can lid that wobbled through the air with some clouds and part of the neighbour’s brick chimney in the background. I took the film home and processed it and put the 8 x 10 prints in a blotter roll.
That evening I showed up with the roll of prints. We excitedly told the roomers that we had seen a UFO and taken pictures. We showed them the pictures. They got excited as well. They said we should phone the hotline number and report this. We said we didn’t want to get involved. They insisted. We insisted. They said they would phone the number and say they had seen the UFO’s. We told them the truth. They claimed we were just saying that to stay uninvolved. I am not sure we ever convinced them we faked the pictures. I know whatever inroads we made in sharing the truth of the fakes took a lot more effort than our first few sentences and a couple of damp pictures.
Who's Handling Your Food?
A co-worker told me he worked at McDonald’s when he was a teen ager. He said he got into a rhythm making their signature burgers. He hated it when somebody would order a “special grill” which have customer requests like “no ketchup” etc. His response to the break in his work flow was to spit on the hamburger patty. Think about that next time you annoy somebody handling your food.
One rainy Saturday morning on the coast I drove to an advertised garage sale way out in the country. With the rain and the distance from town I was the only customer there. I poked around looking at stuff and selecting a bit. I opened a box of miscellaneous kitchen stuff and the vendor realized it was a box from their last move that she had never got around to unpacking. Not for sale.
One thing I selected was a section of galvanized furnace ducting. The lady asked what I was going to do with it and I explained I would make rabbit feeders out of it that would hold a week’s worth of food at a time. She asked me how I killed them when butchering day came. I responded that I shot them.
She got all concerned for my safety and wanted more details. I said I put them in a box well away from my hands and used a rifle with a .22 short cartridge to shoot them in the back of the head. She seemed relieved. It appears she had a friend who decided to shoot a largish rabbit with a .22 pistol. The friend grabbed the rabbit in one hand and the pistol in the other. The rabbit struggled. The end result was a gunshot wound to the hand.
Sticker on a Car
“I’m a nana. What’s your superpower?”
Buddy worked for a company building subway cars in a Montreal suburb when they first got into the business. You probably have contributed to welfare payments sent their way.
They had a subway car under construction and hadn’t worked out the details of the automatic door openers, yet. There were some VIP’s that wanted to see the results so far. One evening buddy and a co-worker lay under the subway car in the factory. When the VIP’s came on their tour Buddy and his co-worker used ropes to open and close the subway car doors as appropriate. Another successful tour accomplished.
Choosing the Right Target
Buddy was a motivation trainer. He claimed that one year he worked with the Miami Dolphins. Leading into the season and all through the season he worked with them on the mantra “we’re going to the Super Bowl!” And it worked! They arrived at the Super Bowl.
Then a more effective “What Happened?” analysis than Hillary’s kicked in. They figured out that their goal had been one step short. Once they achieved their goal of getting to the Super Bowl they kinda ran out of steam. The new mantra became “We are going to WIN the Super Bowl!”
What Happens in Vegas
I’m young at heart. I am still an insufferable know-it-all even at my advanced age. There is really no excuse for that. It’s is both a bug and a feature. Buddy, however, was pretty young so he can be excused for thinking he knew something that just wasn’t true.
He went to the last session with the pastor with his wife to be and the best man and the maid of honour. They went through the checklist for tomorrow’s wedding. They got to the wedding license part. Buddy said, “we don’t need a wedding license for a church wedding.” Pastor, “Oh, yes you do. I can’t marry you without a wedding license.”
What to do? The process in California takes more than a day. There just wasn’t time before tomorrow’s event.
Buddy and his fiancé hopped a red-eye flight to Las Vegas and grabbed a cab at the airport. They directed the cabbie to a wedding chapel and directed him to wait for them. Now married, they headed back to the airport and a flight back to San Diego. The bride got back in time to go to her wedding day breakfast with her father. The wedding “ceremony” was held with nobody being the wiser other than the immediate wedding party.
They say, that two people can keep a secret if one of them is dead, but this secret held for years. Until one day, years later, Buddy’s widowed mother was discussing remarriage plans with the same pastor. “You could always do what your son did.” “Oh? What was that?”
I remember buttermilk from when I was a child and my memory is that it is vile. Tastes change, however, and I had been pondering whether it would still taste as vile to my adult palate. This was just idle thought that didn’t rise to the commitment level of buying a whole quart or liter of buttermilk. Then one day Buddy mentioned when he went to Cracker Barrel he always had a bowl of pinto beans and a glass of buttermilk. This was a commitment level I could embrace.
The next time we were in Cracker Barrel I ordered a bowl of pinto beans and a glass of buttermilk. “I’m sorry, sir. We do not have buttermilk.” “Oh. Okay.” A while later I ran into Buddy. “I thought you said you order pinto beans and a glass of buttermilk when you go to Cracker Barrel. I tried that and they said they don’t have buttermilk.” “Yeh. They tell me that, too. I just ask them if they have buttermilk pancakes. They say they do. Then I ask them what they make them with. They come out with a glass of buttermilk every time.”
Before we got back to Cracker Barrel I was in a supermarket which had half-pint bottles of buttermilk. “Worth a try,” I thought. Nope. Tasted just as vile as I remembered. People sure have different tastes.
Speaking of differences, I was working with a fellow one time. He told me his life story. He was married to his first wife for decades. She contracted some horrible illness that she died from over a period of years. He remarried. A few years into that marriage his second wife came down with an illness that took her a few horrible years to die from. He was now married to a lady he had met online. We knew her. She definitely marched to a different tambourine.
I said that with his experiences he must have some insights on marriage. He said, “I’ll tell you this. People sure are different.” A lifetime of experience, summarized in a couple of phrases.
Economies of Scale
Everybody wastes some money. Some people waste a lot. Others only a bit. Nobody is perfectly consistent, but we all have some mental model of spending that we more or less follow. I mentioned in Jail Mindset somebody who was willing to go to jail to save money.
Last week we were in Matagalpa. There was a weigh scale in the Pali for one Cordoba. I would use it on the way to breakfast. Here, in Esteli there is a scale in the Pali around the corner. It is the same basic scale, but costs two Cordobas. The break even point over buying a bathroom scale in Matagalpa is 3.4 years and in Esteli 1.7 years. If we lived here I would definitely own my own. I’d be weighing myself the same time, same state of undress, same alimental situation every day. That would be worth it to me. Maybe not to you.
We belong to a group of couples who volunteer to help various ministries. Most couples have cards that they share with their names and contact information. Buddy was telling me he met one guy who was more frugal than either of us would expect to be. His wife died. He remarried. Rather than waste all those perfectly good cards he scratched out the name of the former wife and wrote the name of the new one on the card in ink. I suppose it could have been worse. It could have been pencil.
One time a distant relative came into our lives for a brief period. He was a total dunce when it came to investments in technical terms, but consider what certain habits accomplished. He only carried a little cash, had no credit cards and carried no cheques. If he saw something he thought he’d like to buy, he had to go to the bank and withdraw the money. That created enough friction that he hardly ever did. He had all the normal shop tools of a homeowner, but had only bought them after careful consideration. He owned a number of houses. He and his family bought their first house and paid the mortgage off early and moved out and rented it out and bought a second house as a family home and paid it off. Rinse repeat.
With consistent frugality he accumulated several houses in one of the more expensive real estate markets in the U.S. He had bags of silver coins in his attic and hundreds of thousands of dollars lying dormant in savings accounts. So not very bright at investment, but a whiz at frugality blessed by a good job and an expanding economy.
Some years ago I was having dinner with the national sales manager of a control valve company. He was around 60 and told me he had had his own valve company for years and sold it for millions of dollars and retired to Florida when he was 51. Every day he would go to the golf course and play golf with other retired men. They were all closer to seventy than to fifty and had the health problems that can go with that territory.
He would hear them complain about “my hip this and my gall bladder that and so on.” He told he that he came to realize that if he carried on like this every day he would fall prey to all these ailments. So he wandered out of retirement and found a job that used his skills and kept him around younger, healthy people.
Another buddy worked at a uranium mine. They worked a schedule of one or two weeks in camp at the mine and an equivalent time back home. In his case, home was Saskatoon. His buddy, a millwright, decided he’d finally had enough of work and decided to retire to Saskatoon.
Upper class people train for leisure with hobbies and leisure pursuits. Working class people tend to have their life and skills built around working. Without having to work the retired millwright soon got bored. He took a part-time job pumping gas at near minimum wage, but at least it got him out of the house. It wasn’t long before his employer realized that he had skills as a mechanic and put him to work in the service bay. It wasn’t much more time after that he found himself working five or six days a week of every week for not much more than minimum wage.
The light came on, as they say. The now enlightened millwright realized that working half time in camp as an industrial mechanic at industrial wages was a way better deal than working full-time as an auto mechanic at service station wages. He went back to the uranium mine and had half his life back.
Buddy worked at another pulp mill before coming to the paper mill where we both worked in the instrumentation department as technicians. He told me a curious tale of somebody who developed his own work rules.
Each day all the instrument technicians would line up and each be handed their two work orders for the day. This one individual, and individual he was, took his two work orders and went off and completed them just like everybody else. Unlike everybody else who managed to milk their work orders and take all day to do them he just settled in and got to work. Then he went home. Usually by ten o’clock. All the others stayed until four-thirty. This drove his supervisor even crazier than the average instrumentation supervisor (disclosure – I’ve been one).
The individual was told he couldn’t do that and put in for eight hours pay. “Why not? I’m doing as much work as everyone else. I’m not the problem. If you give them more work you can give me more work.” Apparently, some familial relationship with a member of the board of directors for the corporation prevented the supervisor from taking disciplinary action. I have no idea how or if the situation resolved itself. My wild guess is that the individual got bored and wandered away, but that is just a guess.
Years after hearing that story I had a job where I analyzed a company my employer was thinking of buying. This company had institutionalized the above practice. They had six production lines. For any given product run they would take the pinch point of the line and determine 300 minutes worth of production. That’s five hours. Add an hour for clean-up and you can go home with eight hours pay when you have made five hours of product. I have never seen a more energized work place. The work crew represented the United Nations with people from all over the planet, but they worked together seamlessly. The goal of many of them was to be home in time to watch the soaps.
Of course, there were constraints. If quality issues arose from shoving stuff through that would come back and cause reductions in past pay. However, if a crew member called in sick the rest of the crew had the option to share his work load and his pay as well.
If a production run was close to completion the crew could keep working to fill the order and build up credits for days when the production line broke down and it was impossible to make the five-hour production target. When I analyzed the operation it was paying people with five years experience about twice what its competition paid and it was getting about four times the productivity as its competitors. Talk about alignment of interests between employee and business owner!
This operation had the simplest and most effective key performance indicator system I have seen. It summed the production and contribution margin for each production line. This took about ten minutes a day to know which line was producing the most contribution toward the operation’s fixed costs and if the operation had kept their head above water the day before.