Thursday, October 6, 2011


Steve Jobs

1955 – 2011

Steve… thank you.

Thank you for your inspiration, for showing us what could be.

You were the original crazy one…

You were the genius…

You dared to be different…

You dared to fail…

You dared to succeed…

You dared to tell us what we wanted – definitely against marketing tradition, which says “give ‘em what they want.”

You knew we didn’t know what we wanted until you thought it into existence…

and then built it.

and showed it to us, like a proud parent.

You were… and always will be…

Insanely great.


Countless years from now, explorers will finally reach the edge of the universe. There they’ll encounter a curious, inexplicable phenomenon... a dent.

Rest now, Steve Jobs... your work here is done.

Monday, May 3, 2010


Dunno why… of all things, a Facebook question got me to remembering this morning…

I remember sitting in a movie theater in the summer of 1985. I was waiting for a movie called Top Gun to start. The theater half-darkened, the previews of coming attractions rolled, and then the popcorn ad appeared.

After the popcorn ad finished, the theater went black. Paramount’s mountainous logo appeared and a trail of stars went silently flowing onto the screen to surround it. An echoey drum beat began. Low rhythmic strains of piano, bells and something else joined in. A shadowy scene materialized: the red-brown mist of an ocean dawn.

Men and jets crawled slowly around a carrier deck, maneuvering and lining up for take-off. The music began to build. The intensity grew... and grew... and grew - for almost three minutes.

Then some guy in goggles and a yellow vest standing on the flight deck came to attention, cocked his left wrist shoulder-high, and pointed forward. With that little move everybody ducked, the catapult exploded, and the first jet was off like it was shot from a gun.

That crazy-wild guitar started playin', Kenny Loggins started singin’, I wet my pants, and the rest is movie history.

Watch this and see if you can remember what the first four minutes of history felt like.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Class of 2009... Goin' to the Moon

Inspired by a tremendous Minnetonka, MN Class of 2009 Commencement Ceremony last evening, I came across this transcript this morning. It's the oft-quoted speech that John F. Kennedy gave at Rice University in September of 1962, announcing our country's decision to go to the moon.

In case you can't reach the link, the fifteenth paragraph goes like this:

"We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon... [interrupted by applause] we choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too."

Several outstanding young men and women spoke last evening at the Minnetonka commencement and, to a person, what you just read is what they said. Oh, they may not have used the same words (although one faculty speaker discussed the "Ten Year Race" to one's dreams and ambitions that begins with high school commencement). In fact, by my recollection, not one student even mentioned the Moon. But there wasn't any doubt. Each and every one of them said the very same thing, nearly 47 years after President Kennedy spoke with the same ambition, the same spirit, the same fire, the same brashness, indeed, the very same impetuousness.

My faith in our future was shored up big time last night. Perhaps you can see why...

Sunday, May 10, 2009

A Comment on the Hubble Telescope

Well, the shuttle Atlantis screams skyward tomorrow for one last mission to the Hubble. If you'd do me a little favor, at 1:01pm CDT tomorrow, stop whatever you're doing for a minute or two, say a little prayer, look up, and pump your fist a couple of times, because that's when they hit the LOUD button down there at Kennedy.

Frankly, for my money they could fold the tent on Hubble right now... if - IF - Atlantis would just pluck it out of orbit, pack it up, and bring it home to hang in the Smithsonian's Air & Space Museum. The Hubble is a cultural and scientific icon of the highest order. The HIGHEST order. Not only has it sent back images far in excess of expectations, the damn thing was broke when it went up. Unfixable. A blurry, unfixable, screw-up of a white elephant. A laughing stock if there ever was one from our scientific community.

So what did NASA do?

They fixed it.

They sent Story Musgrave up to fix the thing so it could become something that, 500 years from now, will be mentioned in the same breath with Galileo. Musgrave should have his statue right beside Neil Armstrong, the crew of Apollo 13, and the crews of Challenger and Columbia - hell, they should print his face on money - for what he accomplished on the spacewalks he took.

Wish I had the energy... I'd start a grass roots campaign to bring it home.


Monday, December 1, 2008

Confessions of a Recovering Engineer

Discussing texting and the abbreviations 'NASA' and 'NACA' with a friend the other day got me to thinking again about how I miss being part of the space program and the aerospace industry. A life regret I guess. I suppose I could still pursue it.

I am still – to this day – intensely proud of my degree in Aerospace Engineering & Mechanics, a true dual degree (aerospace engineering is one discipline, and theoretical mechanics, a discipline which no one really understands when you tell them about it, is another) and the last one offered by the University of Minnesota's Institute of Technology in 1981 (I don’t know what they call the degree these days). My diploma hangs in my home office where I can see it as I sit and type. I still love to tell people I’m an engineer by training, and when they ask what kind of engineer, I feel a flush of pride when I tell them, "Aerospace." This is not an ego thing, this is a validation-of-self thing.

As a twenty-something young man, all I ever really wanted was to be an engineer. In those days I was always happiest while working alone in my office, doing design calculations. I remember late afternoons, sitting at my desk, with a set of blueprints effectively forming a desk blotter, and with my trusty Hewlett-Packard calculator and a yellow pad of my company's custom printed engineering paper, figuring out the geometry or calculating the stresses on whatever part I was designing at the time.

Of course, the calculator and pad of engineering paper were soon overtaken by the PC and spreadsheet programs like Excel, but – indicative of my true nature – these days I enjoy working with Excel and my CAD system at work. I design jewelry with the CAD system and I do all my custom job costing and other financial analysis with Excel templates I’ve set up.

I suppose I should be paying close attention to these feelings as I contemplate the next phase of my work life.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Hello all, and Happy Thanksgiving!

Something this morning is compelling me to put down some thoughts about Thanksgiving. I receive a daily electronic newsletter on business, entrepreneurship, and personal growth. All this week, members of the staff have been taking turns listing their top ten favorite things about Thanksgiving – more to the point, the Top Ten Things they’re thankful for.


For me, as the youngest of four kids spread over 17 years and flung to the four geographic winds, “over the river and through the woods…” has often meant a car trip of 500 to 1000 miles or more: Manhattan, Kansas to Denver, Colorado; New Paltz, New York to Wamego, Kansas; Albert Lea, Minnesota to Chicago; Albert Lea to Lufkin, Texas; Albert Lea to Wamego; Minneapolis to Wamego; Minneapolis to NE Colorado.

Each one of those trips was a long ride in a cramped car, with family not seen in many months and perhaps a couple of years waiting at the other end. I remember listening to self-help books on tape for 1100 miles on my way from Minneapolis to Colorado one year. Another year I had my two small kids, Caitlin and Melissa, sitting in the back seat with stacks of library books, crayons, and toys piled high around them as we cruised through the grey Iowa landscape. When I was young, my parents and I made a loooooong road trip from Albert Lea to East Texas to see my brother Jack and his wife, Carol. Man! I thought that trip would NEVER end! Lufkin, Texas stole my heart however. What a beautiful little city, tucked into the pine woods of East Texas .

And of course, the food. My Mother’s “wet bread” stuffing, which wasn’t stuffing at all because we never did a turkey in those days. “Dressing” is a better word for it, made in a Corningware casserole and baked in the oven, and it was delicious! I wish I had the recipe, but I wonder if I could repeat the dish. Mashed potatoes and gravy… yummmm! Ham or ham-loaf, our family Thanksgiving meat of choice – I didn’t learn what turkey tasted like until I was 19 years old! Peas, green beans, and – OH YEAH! – turnip potatoes, those weird orange mashed potatoes with turnips mixed in and all mashed up together. I never could eat those… couldn’t get past the color. And rolls, and sweet pickles, and olives… and cranberry sauce. My Mother alternately tried making cranberry sauce from scratch – which never jelled – and serving it out of a can. To this day, it really isn’t Thanksgiving for me without cranberry sauce in a lovely crystal dish – with the tin can’s rippled sides molded into the sauce. (Side note: every year my sister still tries to make cranberry sauce from our Mother’s recipe. When we talk across the miles on Thanksgiving Day, she always gives me the report on whether the sauce jelled. She’s always a bit disappointed when it does.)

Which brings us to family. Family is perhaps what we, each and every one of us, are most thankful for. Health, security, world peace, a good hair day, and a clean, ironed shirt are all blessings of course, but having family makes the absence of one or more of those tolerable. I remember the first Thanksgiving that I was able to out-eat my big brother. Paid for it later of course. I remember the time I thought I had to eat everything my kids left on their plates (after cleaning my own) so the food wouldn’t go to waste. Paid for it later of course (ooo… that was a bad one). I remember being a little kid, basking in the warmth of laughter, snacks, and a game of Parcheesi, listening as my family caught up on all the happenings of their separated lives, rejoined for a few days in the late fall of the year.

I remember so many Thanksgivings, traveling in a car across a cold, snowy or icy landscape – west Kansas, Iowa north to south, never-ending Nebraska east to west, Pennsylvania-Ohio-Indiana-Illinois-Missouri, with Family at the other end of the trip. Hugs and handshakes, carrying the suitcases in out of the car, spilling over with news of our lives, and never enough time to get everything covered. But it’s OK. Family understands… and now we have e-mail and cell phones and web videophones, if we remember to use them, all relatively free to use so we can keep up between Thanksgivings.

To you, all my family and extended family, I hope this little missive, describing what I remember and what I’m thankful for, has jogged a few memories from across your years, and helped you reflect on what this holiday means to you. You all mean the world to me!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

A Brief, Incomplete, and Possibly Imprecise History of Adams™ Reels

Adapted from two e-mails I recently wrote in response to inquiries about the reels, the man, and the company I briefly owned in 2003.


I’ve had a couple of inquiries about Bill Adams and his reels lately, so I thought I’d create this post while the information is still fairly fresh in my mind.

I’ll cover the reels first: They are made of lightweight 6061-T6 aluminum, hard anodized black on the side plates. The anodizing is then machined away on the rims and the “S” handle. The center axle/ spindle, pillars, and all screws are 303S stainless steel, the gear is brass, and the bushing/ bearing is Oil-Lite®. There are a few small internal parts that are non-stainless steel. The rest is aluminum, so unless the reel has been around salt water or was stored wet or never cleaned, corrosion should not be a problem.

The spool is CNC (computer/ numerical control) machined (actually, when I made the reels, virtually all parts were made on CNC lathes and machining centers). Bill always hand finished the spools to remove the machine marks before anodizing. (This is death for anyone trying to sell these at a profit – the hand finishing takes too much time and is a real pain.) My shop and I figured out how to use tool selection, ultra-high tool speeds, and unique automated polishing techniques to get the finish we needed without the hand work. Make sure the reel you’re looking at is nicely finished, with no tool marks under the anodizing. Once anodized, there’s no going back.

Bill hand fit all the parts when he was making them. He made all parts on a small mill and two small lathes in his bedroom-sized shop, which was attached to the back of his house. Such parts need hand fitting during assembly. This is important to note should the reel ever need service or if you purchase a spare spool later on. If you ever do that, be aware that the new spool may need to be worked on in order to fit the reel, if the reel is of Bill Adams vintage (roughly pre-2002). CNC techniques standardize parts and reduce/ eliminate the need for hand fitting.

The reels were always a little wide for my taste and I believe Mr. Lacey, who currently makes the reels to Bill’s specifications (see below), is now offering a ¾” wide reel, at least in the 2-¾” size. I think that’s a great idea, and had plans to do that myself when I owned the company. I also had plans to use the wider frames for a large arbor version, and I think Mr. Lacey is also offering something like that. I think they now get $465 for a reel and $200 or more for a spool, so the price you’re being quoted isn’t bad, assuming the reel is in good shape.

They’re a delightful little reel for small to medium fish. They have only a click-pawl drag (and a light one at that). They work fine on smaller streams while chasing fish up to a pound or two. They look great on a cane rod and have some modern features (a palming rim and the ability to quickly change to a spare spool) that make them easier to use. I know people who’ve caught bigger fish – up to five pounds or more, but it’s a challenge to land such a fish. The reel does have a palming rim, so a fisherman who has good technical equipment handling skills can palm the spool to augment the drag and stop bigger fish.

The bottom line is you’re not going to break one of these reels unless you run over it with your car. They are held together with screws however, so they can theoretically work loose from time to time (I’ve never experienced this with mine, and I’ve fished them since 2002). If you chase bigger fish, or fish salt water at all, I would not recommend the Adams, but if you fish smaller streams chasing fish up to 15” – 20” and like traditional tackle with some modern design features, this is a great little reel. I wish I’d been a better business man in those days. I’d love to still be making them.

Now the history:

I'll try to remember as much of Bill’s story and the story of Adams Reels as I can without digging deep for my notes (which are God knows where). So, caveat emptor on some of the details.

Bill Adams was trained as a tool & die maker and was in the Navy on, I believe, a light cruiser during WWII. When the war ended he went home and eventually went to work for AMF, servicing bowling alleys. He was a fisherman and tinkered with reels in his spare time. He generated several designs and prototypes before coming up with the present design. He knows/ knew most of the reel makers around New England - you may know he lives northeast of Albany, NY, near the little town of Cambridge - and they all talk, or did in those days.

Bill really liked the classic look of the 'S' handle, but liked the newer development of a quick release spool. Upon the encouragement of friends in the business, he developed and standardized the current design sometime in the early '90's, I believe. The design is patented, but (I think) the patent is weak and there are some irregularities with it.

Bill made the reels himself in a small shop off the back of his house near Cambridge. He made most parts by hand or typical machining methods (lathe & mill), but had the spools CNC machined at a local job-shop. As he got older he was looking to sell the company. I live in Minnesota and learned about him from a local fly shop owner who’d tried to purchase a couple of reels from him and had heard the company was for sale.

I got ahold of Bill to discuss a possible purchase of Adams Reels. Bill was indeed interested in selling, so I bought a sample reel to inspect and test-fish. I was quite pleased and impressed with the reel and subsequently made a couple of trips to see Bill, the first in late summer of 2002 to see his operation, and again in January of 2003 to consummate the sale, pick up the assets of the company - existing parts, tooling, plans & documentation, the above-mentioned patent, etc. - and to document his manufacturing process as best I could. When I took over manufacture, I redesigned a few parts and had all parts CNC machined, and that eliminated the hand fitting.

Unfortunately, I misjudged how to market the reels - misjudged the market altogether for that matter, and spent waaaay too much on big-time magazine advertising with no increase in sales over the numbers Bill had seen. Thus, I could only keep the business going for about a year. Through the purchase agreement I had with Bill, if the business failed, the assets that I took posession of reverted to him. That indeed happened, at the end of 2003. I spent the week between Christmas and New Years packing up boxes and shipping stuff back to him.

(A little aside here, these things are incredibly expensive to make in small quantities, paying modern US shop rates. That's why you see so much going overseas, to China and elsewhere. And that in turn is why you can now find a very good machined reel still in the $100 range - foreign manufacture. And it's also the biggest reason why you don't find a lot of these reels around anymore. I think if someone was a hobby machinist and didn't need to turn a profit, they could make a nice side hobby business out of reels - these or any other. And of course, that's what is happening with all these modern classic reels. They’re all boutique reels, made in small numbers by machinists, and appealing mostly to connoisseurs.)

I believe Bill made reels for another year or two. I'm not sure though, as I lost touch with him (I frankly was pretty embarrassed about my lack of business performance). I didn't know what became of him or the reels until they showed up in LL Bean's fly fishing catalog a couple of years ago. I know he'd also previously approached Orvis about the reels (Cambridge is near Manchester, VT). I mean no disrespect but I have to say the reel in the photo in Beans' catalog, and also on their catalog website, was of inferior finish. You could see machine marks all over it. I was surprised LL Bean would use such a photo. As I said above, make sure the finish on the reel you’re considering is good.

As alluded to above, a cane rod maker in Georgia by the name of Gary Lacey is apparently making the reels now. I believe he's the same one who made (makes?) them for LL Bean. The gentleman at Just Reels (I can't remember his name - Jim Williams, I think) notes that he hasn't gotten any reels from Mr. Lacey in quite some time, so I don't know the situation there.

That’s an overview of what I can remember about the history of Bill Adams and Adams Reels. There are obvious holes in this history, and some of the facts may be a bit vague, but it’s the overall story. I have to say, I’ve found this exercise inspiring! It’d be fun to pull together a real history of Bill Adams, his reels, and his company.