2013-02-21 / Columns

From the Heartland

By Allan Burke

Highs between 11 and 24 degrees, lows from 1 to 13 degrees and snow showers are mentioned for this week’s weather. Last week, the weather flirted with spring, and this week we’re back to winter. Calving is underway, and it will be fun to see the young ones romping around the pastures.

E-mail saga

Last week, I wrote about some of the questionable emails I receive, some of which come from close friends. Over the weekend, I heard from three friends who are innocently circulating an e-mail that I have received several times before that claims there is an excise tax on general merchandise in the national healthcare legislation. Typically, with this type of e-mail, there is some truth in it and some faulty information.

In this case, Cabela’s, the sporting goods company, started adding a 2.3 percent excise tax on Jan. 1, 2013, and itemized it on receipts given to customers. The tax applies only to certain medical devices sold after Jan. 1, and Cabela’s doesn’t sell medical devices.

The company discovered the error, issued an apology and refunded the tax to the customers who paid it. That doesn’t stop people from continuing to circulate the e-mail. If you do a Google search for the topic, you will find 76,800,000 listings, as of late Sunday afternoon. That is some indication of how widely the misinformation has spread.

In the newspaper business, we are subject to libel laws. If we knowingly print something that is damaging and not true, we can be sued. In that sense, we are regulated. The misinformation being circulated by e-mail and through the Internet is not regulated, and there are no penalties for spreading electronic lies. Unfortunately, many people think anything they read on the Internet is true, especially if they agree with it. That’s downright scary.

Texting and tweeting

Instant communication, such as e-mail, texting and tweeting, has been on my mind recently. Last week, someone hacked a Montana television station’s emergency contact list and sent out a message that zombies were on the loose. It was a practical joke, in that case, but a number of people called the police to find out if it was true that people were coming alive in cemeteries and marching toward town just like in the movies. A certain percentage of people will apparently believe most anything.

I wonder what would have happened during the Super Bowl power outage if someone had tweeted or texted that an alien spaceship had landed and was draining electricity from the grid. Or, perhaps more believable, someone could have caused panic by saying terrorists had knocked out the electricity and were going to attack.

It is only a matter of time before instant messaging and e-mail causes a disaster or tragedy.

Nope. I’m not likely to be hired as a motivational speaker for the instant messaging industry.

Former teenager

Margaret became eligible for that exclusive club, Former Teenagers of America, last week when she turned 20. My bride and I are in shock that it has been two decades since our youngest was born. Yikes!

I was 44 when Margaret arrived, so adding 20 years to that number does more for my age than my ego. However, we are very glad and proud to have her as a daughter.

Time goes so fast, and I need to be reminded 100 times a day to stop and smell the roses and savor the important things in life.

Keeping the trains on time

Recently, I achieved a milestone in my model railroading career, having rebuilt a locomotive motor. Marx engines are quite primitive, fortunately, but I have never had one apart.

The motor needed a part, which I found used on eBay for $5, and I successfully performed the transplant. After soldering a wire in place, I tested the locomotive. To my delight, if not surprise, the beast chugged down the track.

Now that I know what to do, I need to overhaul several other motors to get them running smoothly.

Also on eBay, I found a lubrication kit that is perfect for oiling and greasing the small parts on engines and cars. Nearly all of my O gauge trains are around 60 years old, so they need to be cleaned and tuned up.

My most valuable steam engine needed repairs beyond my grade level, so I sent it off to a fellow who lives in New Jersey and specializes in model trains. I received an e-mail over the weekend that the engine should be rejoining the fleet this week. The goal is to have it pull several lighted Santa Fe passenger cars similar to the set I had as a boy.

Yup. The trains must run on time even in the basement.

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