Mitch's Blog 7.0

Mitch's Blog


Saturday, August 27, 2005

Meine erste Woche

I’ve been in college for a week and so far everything is going well. I’ve now had all of my classes at least twice, and I’ve also been able to do quite a bit of exploring around the campus.

As it turned out, the first book I’m reading for my honors inquiry into the humanities class is Tim O’Brian’s The Things They Carried, which is a semi-fictional, semi-non-fictional, semi-memoirist look into the experiences of the author during and after the Vietnam War. Although I’ve only read seven chapters of the book – including “The Things They Carried” and “On the Rainy River,” which I both read last year in AP English Language – what I’ve read so far has been pretty good. We get together in class twice a week to basically discuss our opinions of what we’ve read, much like what a book club would do. In addition, we’re also required to post at least two discussions to an online message board set up through UND’s “Blackboard” application.

Chemistry is currently my favorite class, due to quite a few reasons. The professor seems to be really good – it’s quite apparent that he knows what he’s talking about – and, since it’s a 200-level course, everybody in the class is either majoring in chemistry, chemical engineering, or something else that would require a thorough understanding of chemistry. Chemistry is my only class in a lecture hall environment, but, even so, it’s held in a rather small lecture bowl that can only seat about 50 people. The total number of students in the class, however, is around 25. Right now, we’ve just basically been reviewing material that should have been covered in high school chemistry, AP chemistry, or chemistry 121.

German II is another class that I’m enjoying. The professor is what I imagine Herr P will be like in 25 more years, with a mellower disposition and grayer (facial) hair. The class is kind of boring, though, since all we’re doing right now is reviewing the very basic stuff from German I, like how to properly conjugate a verb. There are all sorts of abilities represented with the 30-or-so people in the class, though, so the review is necessary, especially for those who may have just begun their German instruction in college.

All in all, Herr P really deserves to be commended for how strongly he believes in actually teaching German, since I’ve been hearing quite a few stories from people who had horrible high school German teachers, or at least ones that feel teaching German involves merely showing videos and giving everybody an A. I haven’t yet spoken with anybody who was required to speak in German the entire hour that German class met.

I’m also taking Calc this semester, which is turning out to be quite the interesting class. My professor does not believe in the usefulness of having a calculator develop graphs to functions, and would rather we spend some time drawing all graphs out by hand on a piece of paper. I guess I can draw simple graphs all right, but it could get annoying and frustrating if/when I have to draw out graphs to increasingly complex functions.

One of my favorite features here on campus is the ability to get the newspaper every morning. Complimentary copies of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the Grand Forks Herald, and the USA Today are delivered each morning to all of the resident halls, so basically I just have to go downstairs to the lobby area to pick up the morning newspaper.

While on the subject of newspapers, the Grand Forks Herald is one of the best manufactured mid-sized city newspapers I’ve ever seen. Logically enough, the first section – A – contains only news pertinent to the city of Grand Forks and the surrounding area. The second section, meanwhile, appropriately labeled “the second front” is where all the world, national, and regional (North Dakota/Minnesota area) stories are stuck. This is one of the things I wish the Brainerd Dispatch would try, since I’ve always felt its greatest problem is how best to balance the important local stories/features with the important world and national news stories culled from the Associated Press's wires.

Continuing on with newspapers, like putting a firecracker into the hands of a toddler, one of the advertisements in Friday's Grand Forks Herald was a huge fold-out poster advertising NDSU as now being an NCAA Division-I school. Let's just say that some people got this unwelcome poster taped to their doors while they weren't looking.

And once more about newspapers, UND's official one, The Dakota Student came out today. It has two distinct sections with quite a few articles and is overall a very nicely written student newspaper. It comes out twice a week, on Wednesdays and Fridays I believe, so that means I'll have one more thing to read whenever I get the opportunity.

The food in the dining hall I’ve been primarily eating at (Terrace) has also been pretty good. It’s definitely not at all like the food served in the public schools in Brainerd, and it feels like I’m in a restaurant, rather than a cafeteria, every time I go to have lunch or dinner. The selection of food has always been really good as well, and I’ve always gotten full thanks to the all-you-can-eat buffet type atmosphere presented at each dining hall.

The library here, named after Chester Fritz, is also quite amazing. It's housed in a 4-story building and is the largest library in all of North Dakota. Every floor has a large quiet studying area, but the largest, and my most favorite, is the “fishbowl” one on the second floor. I like to think of it as an über-SRC, since it’s basically a gigantic room enclosed in glass with glass windows and doors, hence the name “fishbowl.”

There are two large computer labs in the library, plus some more computers scattered about here and there. On Thursday, I even used a small lab that had nothing but Apple computers. It was pretty fun to play around with OS X again, and I really enjoyed playing around in Adobe Photoshop CS that all of the computers have.

I also stumbled upon the periodicals section of the library, where all of the documents that come out on a periodic basis are kept. All of the normal things you’d expect in such a collection, such as journals of medicine and reviews of what’s been happening in government are there, but so too are magazines, such as Life, The Saturday Evening Post, and National Geographic. In fact, the periodicals section includes issues of magazines such as these dating all the way back to the 1930s; for National Geographic, the archives go back to 1908. There is also a whole row of nothing but German publications, including Der Spiegel dating back to the 1940s. Although only staff and graduate students are allowed to check the periodicals out from the library, there’s nothing preventing me from picking up one of the hardcover books the issues are held in and sitting down at a table to look it for awhile.

Even though there are about 12,500 students this year at UND, the area of the campus containing the majority of the academic halls gets really quiet at night. It’s pretty peaceful, actually, to go out for a walk at about 7 PM – an hour and a half before the sun sets these days – and gaze around at the ornate buildings and gardens on campus.

I actually went out earlier last evening to take some pictures around the campus. If I get them uploaded to my computer shortly, I will likely make a post sometime in the future.

Monday, August 22, 2005

I'm in Grand Forks

So, I’m writing from college at UND right now. I moved into my dorm on Friday, which, “officially,” was the earliest that students could begin occupying their rooms. I say officially because anybody who was willing to pay a fee had the opportunity to move in either on Wednesday or Thursday.

Anyway, I’m currently getting myself situated into my room on the top floor of Fulton Hall. My room faces north, meaning that it will more than likely get cold during the winter. The view isn’t exactly what I would have wanted, but, I suppose you could say it isn’t that bad either. I look into a good sized courtyard formed by the Fulton, Johnston, and Smith residence halls. I can see a tree – I believe it’s an oak, although it could be a cottonwood since those things grow like dandelions around here – as well as some sidewalks and a sand volleyball court.

Classes didn’t start until 4 PM this afternoon, but, even then, that didn’t concern me since I don’t have any classes after 4 on Mondays. However, I will have 3 classes tomorrow: Honors 101 (“inquiry into the humanities”), German II, and Calc II. Although I’ll have to walk all over campus to get to these classes, I do have an hour break between all of them that I can utilize to eat lunch or something.

Speaking of classes, I went over to the bookstore yesterday and on Saturday to pick up all the books I’ll need. The bill ended up being a little less than $400, largely due to the fact that my chemistry book cost $107 (for a used version, no less) and that I needed to get 7 books/novels for my honors class.

And these 7 books are, in alphabetical order:
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
The Laramie Project by Moisés Kaufman
Maus by Art Spiegelman
The Partly Cloudy Patriot by Sarah Vowell
The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
What Does it all Mean? by Thomas Nagel

I’m pretty happy to see two books on that list that I am familiar with. If we don’t read The Great Gatsby first, I’m likely to grab my papers and journal, which I have saved, along with pretty much everything else from high school I found important (including the “Simone ist am klügsten” sign from the former German room), from Wanniger’s pre-AP English class the next time I go home. I should probably also fetch my thoroughly highlighted and marked-up The Great Gatbsy from said class as well.

I know that Niemi in last year’s AP English Language class also exposed us to some exerpts from The Things They Carried, so, when I get around to it, I’ll probably look through my essay and multiple choice folders that I coincidently decided to bring with me to college. If I don’t find anything in those, I could always dig through some boxes at home to find the folder with all the handouts from the class.

That’s all for now; I’ll keep everybody updated whenever I get around to doing so.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Day 7 Summary

Day 7 Summary – August 6, 2005
Rochelle, IL to Brainerd, MN

The final day of my 2005 vacation would be spent doing pretty much nothing but driving, as there would be a grand total of 500 miles that would have to be covered in order to get from Rochelle, IL to Brainerd, MN.

Because of all the driving involved, there wasn’t much time to stop and do much major sightseeing. Still, I did get to see a lot of interesting stuff from the car window.

We opted once again to take a non-interstate route to get from Illinois to Minnesota, so the first action on day 6 was to take Illinois Highway 251 north from Rochelle to where it met up with Illinois Highway 64. Then, we followed this road west through the cities Oregon and Mount Morris and up to where it flowed into U.S. Highway 52.

The scenery on these three roads was much like what I had accustomed to before retiring to my hotel room in Rochelle the night before; there were a lot of farms, few trees, and very straight roads. The number of trees began growing, however, as we came to where highway 64 came together with highway 52. By the time we had gotten to Savanna, the landscape was hilly, there were a lot of trees, and the road was windy. We had once again reached bluff country along the Mississippi River.

After seeing – and stopping for awhile – in the quaint city of Savanna, we got on Illinois Highway 82 heading north through bluff territory. After going about 8 miles, we crossed the border into Illinois’ Jo Daviess County. It was at this point that I could say I had been to the southernmost county in Illinois (Alexander), the northeasternmost county in Illinois (Lake), and the northwesternmost county in Illinois (Jo Daviess).

Highway 82 eventually met up with U.S. Highway 20, onto which we turned left to go in a northwest direction. Immediately after the intersection of highways 82 and 20, the road ascended a very steep hill. Right at the top, miraculously enough, was a scenic overlook that featured a tower you could climb up to get an even better view! I, of course, went up to the top, and was treated to a wonderful view of the northwest Illinois countryside. Some people on the tower also said it was possible to see Iowa and Wisconsin from the top as well, so, who knows, I may have been looking at more than just Illinois.

After finishing up at the observation tower and scenic overlook, we got back on highway 20 heading toward Galena, IL. About 3 miles outside of the town, which is located in a steep valley that was a 7% grade along the roadway, we came up to a big traffic jam. It took about 30 minutes just to get to downtown Galena, where we figured out what was causing the giant blockage of traffic...the downtown’s one stoplight: it went red in way too short of time intervals.

We finally got through the mess in Galena, however, and were off on the way toward East Dubuque, IL, just across the Mississippi from Dubuque, IA. There wasn’t any time to make a stop in the Iowa city, however, so we instead turned onto Illinois Highway 35. From here, the Wisconsin border was only about 2 miles away.

Upon entering Wisconsin, Illinois Highway 35 turned into Wisconsin Highway 35, the same one we took on day 1 of the vacation, and the same one that goes all the way up to the Minnesota/Wisconsin border in Superior, WI.

There were a few more dairy farms and cornfields once we got into Wisconsin, but other than that, the countryside was pretty much like it had been since Savanna, IL. There were a lot of small hills, and every so often the road came close to Mississippi River, so that the state of Iowa could be seen on the other side.

Prairie du Chien was the first Wisconsin city of significance along highway 35, followed by La Crosse.

After going, this time, through downtown La Crosse and then later on the U.S. Highway 53 interstate-spur that runs north of the city, we got back onto the same highway 35 heading toward Trempealeau, WI that we had ridden along during the first day of the trip.

The road from Trempealeau to Prescott was much as how I remembered it from the first day, as was the subsequent road from Prescott into St. Paul. Not much happened along this stretch of roadway or the U.S. Highway 10 stretch of roadway that we got on and went north on in St. Paul. After all was said and done, we finally got home to Brainerd just as the sun was set at around 9 PM, and my 2005 vacation came to an end.

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This was the view of the farm fields from our hotel room

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This is along the road going into Rochelle

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Scenery along the road in north-central Illinois

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Another scene of the roadway in north-central Illinois

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The view from the tower near Galena

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Another view from the tower; the countryside consisted of gently rolling hills

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A farmstead viewable from the tower

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Looking south from the tower, U.S. Highway 20 can be seen in the lower right

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Looking north from the tower

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This is the tower

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The countryside from the bottom of the tower

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That farmstead that was seen in picture #7

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The town of Galena off in the distance, with a stack of hay in the foreground

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There is a 7% grade going into the city of Galena

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The Galena cemetary

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The brick building is President Ulysses S. Grant's home

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Going up and down in the bluffs of Wisconsin

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That's Granddad Bluff in La Crosse

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The sunset along Minnesota Highway 371 near Fort Ripley

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The Welcome to Wisconsin sign

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More going up and down in the bluffs of Wisconsin

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Welcome to Minnesota

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Finally, at 9:07 PM, the welcome to Brainerd sign becomes visible

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The local forecasts on The Weather Channel in the Chicago area also contain traffic updates

There are no videos related to day 7

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Day 6 Summary

Day 6 Summary – August 5, 2005
Metropolis, IL to Rochelle, IL

Day 6 would be an anomaly during my vacation, in that the entire day would be spent traveling entirely within one state. After spending the previous day in 5 different states, this would be a refreshing change of pace.

I woke up on day 6 in the city of Metropolis, IL. Now, if you’re familiar at all with the comic strip hero Superman, you’d realize that Metropolis is the name of the city he lives in. While Superman’s Metropolis was not intended to be located in any one state, the city of Metropolis, Illinois, the only place in the United States to have that name, has adopted Superman as its own. Besides having a large billboard that says “home of Superman” and banners along the town’s main streets that prominently feature Superman, the city also has a Superman museum and a gigantic statue next to the county courthouse. The museum wasn’t yet open when we drove past, but the statue was, and it was quite fun to look at.

After seeing the Superman stuff, we headed on down to Fort Massac State Park, which is very conveniently located within the city of Metropolis. The state park is the oldest in Illinois, having been established in 1908, and features a recreation of an 1802 American fort that was on the site, right next to the Ohio River overlooking what is presently Kentucky. The fort contains 2 barracks, 3 block houses, officer quarters, a well, a stockade with a fraise fence, and offered a fascinating portrait into the life of early American settlers in the area.

Besides the fort, the park also featured the usual interpretive center, hiking trails, and picnic areas so common in state parks. Illinois’ state parks are all free, however, which can be looked at as both a good and bad thing.

Following spending a little more than an hour at the park, it was time to get on the interstate to begin the arduous journey from nearly the very southern tip of Illinois to a city about 45 minutes away from the Illinois/Wisconsin border.

First, we had to get on Interstate 24 heading north through the very heavily forested country of southern Illinois. The interstate actually closely abuts the Shawnee National Forest in this portion of Illinois.

After Interstate 24 ended and merged in with Interstate 57, we continued along this road for another 70 miles. Past the towns of Marion, West Frankfort, Benton, and Mount Vernon we went, until finally reaching exit 116, which would start us on the way to traveling on a 2-lane highway for the 80 or so mile stretch to Decatur.

Exit 116 brought us up to U.S. Highway 50, which we followed into the cities of Odin and Sandoval. At Sandoval, we had to turn onto U.S. Highway 51, which would be the one we would be taking more or less up to the cities of Bloomington and Normal.

Although interstate highways provide a fast way to get from one point to another, it is definitely true that you see more by traveling on 2-lane back roads such as highway 51. I enjoyed going through all the small towns along the highway between Sandoval and Decatur.

As a side note, one of those small towns I passed though was Vandalia, which, if you didn’t know, was the capital of Illinois from 1819-1839. That’s just something interesting I thought I’d point out.

By the time we finally made it to the Decatur bypass on highway 51, things were beginning to feel much like the Illinois I had known before. The endless block of trees began to give way to endless blocks of corn and soybeans, the terrain became increasingly flatter, and the people started to speak with a Midwest accent rather than a southern one.

From Decatur, it was just a short, 30-minute drive on the 4-lane U.S. Highway 51 up to Bloomington, which was one of the cities I stayed overnight in during my 2002 vacation to Washington D.C. Needless to say, we pretty much bypassed the Bloomington/Normal area to get on Interstate 39 going north.

About 40 miles past Bloomington/Normal, we exited on exit 41, Illinois Highway 18, to head into the rural city of Streator to take a backroad way into Rochelle.

From Streator, we got on Illinois 23 and went north to Ottawa, a city that appeared to be a far exurb of Chicago. The city was quite a nice place, though, and is located in somewhat of a deep river valley.

After Ottawa, all that was required of us to do was follow highway 23 up to where it came to an intersection with U.S. Highway 34 going west. This was a pretty neat area, since it was so utterly rural for being a mere 65 miles away from downtown Chicago, the third largest city in the United States. The land was completely flat, there were few trees, and corn seemed to be growing everywhere I looked. It was just amazing how far removed from the hustle and bustle of the Chicago metropolitan area this region of Illinois is considering how close it is to Chicago.

It was also in this area of Illinois that I was reminded of why I love the landscape of western Minnesota and eastern North Dakota so much; north central Illinois looks so incredibly like the Red River Valley region of the Upper Midwest. In both areas, I just love the paucity of trees, the flatness of the land, and the straightness of the roads. It’s ironic, considering I’ve now intimately seen both the Rocky Mountains and Appalachian Mountains, but I’d love to live in a house offering an interrupted view of nothing but flat farmland. Although I think mountainous areas are extremely beautiful, living in, for example, one of those Appalachian towns in North Carolina would feel far too confining for me; I prefer the “big sky” county much more.

In Mendota, we turned off from highway 34 and onto Illinois Highway 251. It was about 7:30 PM – about a half and hour before sunset – when we began faring the 30 miles from Mendota to Rochelle.

I can honestly say that this 30 mile trip was probably one of the most beautiful and memorable I’ve ever been on. The sun was right on the verge of setting, with all the colors that make up a stunning sunset beginning to appear, and all of the corn and cropland looked wonderful lit up in the final sunrays of the day. Neither words nor pictures can express how inspiring this voyage was.

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As can be seen in this picture from the radar on The Weather Channel, Paducah and Metropolis lie almost in the middle of a region containing 6 different states

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Looking down main street in Metropolis, notice the Superman displays on the streetlights

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Metropolis's huge Superman statue

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The Superman museum

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The fort at Fort Massac State Park

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Another view, this time from the outside of the fort

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Inside one of the barracks at the fort

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Another view inside one of the barracks

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The Interstate 24 bridge that spans the Ohio River between Kentucky and Illinois

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A view of the Ohio River looking into Kentucky

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Fort Massac State Park also had this statue of George Rogers Clark looking onto Kentucky

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The inmates were out mowing the grass at the park

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Another view along the shore of the Ohio River

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Appropriately enough (Illinois' state bird is the cardinal), this cardinal showed up to feed while I was at Fort Massac State Park

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The scenery near Pana

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Illinois farmland near Decatur

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Some farmland near Streator

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A country road near Mendota

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The beautiful road on the way to Rochelle

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Somebody decided to fly over the farmland near Rochelle

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This insect managed to hold onto the window, while the van was going 60 mph, for quite a distance (see the video below)

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Downtown Pana

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Normal's watertower

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The Amtrak train from Chicago comes to Mendota

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Our van made quite an interesting shadow amongst the cornfields while on the road to Rochelle

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Just a few minutes before sunset

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Just as we got to Rochelle, the sun set

Fort Massac State Park
512k (broadband) or 56k (dial-up)

Ant at Fort Massac State Park
512k (broadband) or 56k (dial-up)

An Insect Clings onto Window
512k (broadband) or 56k (dial-up)

Previous Posts

Four Years Have Passed
Winter of 2007-08 Musings
7th Annual Top 10 Super Bowl Commercials
Another Birthday
A Beltated Update
2007 Vacation: Day 10 Summary
2007 Vacation: Day 9 Summary
2007 Vacation: Day 8 Summary
2007 Vacation: Day 7 Summary
2007 Vacation: Day 6 Summary


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Mitch's Blog began on December 23, 2001