Friday, December 28, 2007

How prepared is enough?

In the online gun community, preparedness for every situation is well-discussed. People of course advocate carrying a gun, but many also advocate carrying spare ammo for the gun, a backup gun, and sometimes spare ammo for the backup. A high-quality assisted opening knife is also a must, plus several classes at elite gun training schools. All this is used to fight your way to your trunk or armored saferoom, where you keep a bug-out-bag that has a combat rifle with at least 15 fully loaded 30 round magazines, and supplies to live for several days. If you take this sort of thing that seriously, you have not only crossed from prepared to paranoid, you are now spending your time preparing for disaster instead of living. If you are not law enforcement and there is any significant chance that you will need more than 15 rounds of ammo, you probably need to make some changes to your lifestyle. I'm not saying that everyone who trains hard is paranoid. If shooting is a hobby and training is part of that, it is no more paranoid than a race car driving school. So what is enough? A basic gun safety course, preferably with live fire--The NRA course that most Ohio CCW trainers use is a good start, although with 10 hours of classroom time, some extra should be covered. 2 hours range time is decent, if it isn't split with one instructor and 15 students. You should have some training or practice in fast "close enough" shooting--have someone else signal when to start, and shoot 5 fast shots at a paper plate (or even better an IPSC target) at about 7 yards. If you miss the plate (or A zone) often, you are going too fast. If your shots are all centered in the plate, you are going too slow. Working with a shot timer is an added bonus--Time does funny things, and what feels like half speed may drastically improve accuracy with a minor increase in time. "You can't miss fast enough to win". If you will carry, it makes sense to do some practice from the holster--This is hard to do with live ammo, because most ranges won't allow it. I really can't argue with that rule, there are lots of people who shouldn't draw and fire unsupervised. I'm lucky that my club range allows "known action shooters" to shoot from the holster. You can also get some benefit from practicing with an empty gun, or even better an airsoft or BB gun. If you get a chance to shoot IPSC, IDPA or even Cowboy Action shooting, you will learn a lot in a few matches. These are sports designed aroudn scenerios--you will draw, fire and move around on the clock, and your score is based on time, with time added for poor accuracy. Much beyond that should be considered only if it is fun--If it isn't enjoyable, you should look at other ways to improve your safety. For strict time and cost-effectiveness, I should get a car with airbags before I spend money on self-defense stuff--I've been in far more car accidents than violent assaults.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


I don't know how much mainstream press the problems in touchscreen voting has got, but it is an amazingly scary situation.

is just the top result from Google "Ohio Voting" on Google News.

An article from Wired: Magnet and PDA can change votes

It may seem odd to non-geeks, but the most secure cryptographic systems are the ones where the program source code is public--This lets experts verify that the code works as stated, and that there are not back doors. The code is public, but without the proper keys, the data is still secure. This is a bit like being able to examine the design of a lock to make sure that only your key or combination will open it, and there isn't a passkey or default combination.

Many (possibly most, or all) of the voting machine companies resisted having a human readable paper ballots as part of the system--Coincidentally the only way to verify that their machines are working properly. The problem here is not (primarily) random error, but either biased error or more importantly intentionally introduced error. In the Wired article they found that a person with a PDA and a magnet could make significant changes to iVotronic systems, even if they didn't know the passwords. In addition, there is an undocumented account that bypasses security--Essentially a master key, not unique to a particular machine, but common to all of them that lets an unauthorized user take complete control of the machine. iVotronic is not the only system with poor security--All the top systems have significant, exploitable flaws.

Premier Election Systems used to be a part of Diebold, who also makes Automatic Teller Machines. Odd that they have figured out security there (which includes a mechanically-printed audit tape...)

Various quotes from the voting machine companies say things that basically amount to "not fair, we fixed that in the next version". I reluctantly believe that this is incompetence and laziness rather than deliberate action. It doesn't matter though--Incompetence exploited by others is just as dangerous, and the amount of paranoia that is reasonable in this situation is nearly infinite.

The bare minimum standard is that there is a voter-verified paper ballot printed and saved. Machines should be randomly spot-checked, to make sure that the paper ballots match what is being reported. Any company that resists that should be immediately disqualified from building voting machines. Encryption, security and all software specific to the voting machine should have the source code available for examination--Ideally, all code would have source available.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

More zero-tolerance

Student Arrested After Cutting Food With Knife. The horror!

It should probably be against school rules for students to bring steak knives in, even if they are just for food. Pressing charges on this is utterly silly. Does this mean that staff can't have a Swiss Army knife? How do the cooks make lunch?

(H/T to Of Arms and the Law)

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

CCW class audit

My brother-in-law recently figured out he could get his CCW, despite a colorful past--None of his "youthful indiscretions" were serious enough for him to fail a NICS check, and from what he's told me, none should give him problems with a license. An added problem is that he grew up as a migrant, and can't read. We convinced my mother in law to go also--She can't read either, so my wife and I went along to help them with paperwork and such, even though both of us already have our licenses.

I found the instructor online. I'd talked with him briefly at his shop, and thought he would get along with my BIL. I'd explained the situation, asked about sitting in, and he said it would be fine. Day of class, it changed to us sitting in if there was still room.

He would be OK for someone who already knows what they need to and just needs the course certificate with minimum hassle, but he was not the right one for someone who needs to actually learn.


Claimed it was illegal for a CCW holder to keep a loaded gun in a locked container under your seat. Ohio law says the container must be either locked OR in plain sight. I questioned this, read the part of the book that explained and he was all "I'm the expert here" about it. I didn't continue to argue, but he kept on the subject for a few minutes.

Was wearing a Concealed Carry badge to carry next to your gun. Technically legal, but the long-term gun guys I've talked to are about 95% against. Said that someone irresponsible wanted one, he refused to tell them were it came from. (Google search turned that site up as the first result)

Claimed that Extreme Shock was the best ammo ever, made out of powdered titanium (according to him). This ammo only does well when tested by people involved in selling it--In independent tests it is well below average, despite the cost of nearly $2 per round.

Said that carrying a gun where a business has posted signs against is only a $60 fine--Like a ticket. Advocated carrying a gun into a rest stop, despite the law, and didn't mention that it is a felony.

If he were injured by violent crime where guns were banned, or if a policeman violated his rights, "I would OWN them. I would OWN their ass!!!!" Probably 5 different scenarios caused him to say this, always at least twice.

A .22 will bounce around inside the body and cause more damage. (Um, no. )

Range time was mostly with a scoped .22 that malfunctioned often. He did have a variety of other guns of various calibers. The range was 25 yards--Not his fault, but fairly difficult to actually see what you are doing at that range. I got to shoot a Keltec PF-9, a gun I've been considering. Recoil was less than I expected, so I may get one later.

Gun cleaning was "Here's some Hoppes, oil and Q tips, go to it".. No explanation, no organization.

Maybe 6 hours was spent actually teaching. That is probably enough to cover the minimum course requirements, but since Ohio requires 12 hours of attendance, there is no reason not to use it.

I won't be recommending him over a random instructor advertised on a telephone pole.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Marko gets it right again:

The number of casualties at the site of an attempted mass shooting is usually determined by whether the gun used to stop the killer is already at the site, or whether it must be carried there in the holster of a police officer.

(Text by Marko, links mine)
I was half-listening to Divorce Court (or a similar show) when they were arguing about who pays for a child's health care. Fairly standard orders--If medical insurance is available from the employer, it must be provided, and the father is responsible for half the medical bills. In a divorce, I don't know if there is a completely fair way of handling this, and that probably is a decent compromise.

This led me to another thought--There is a belief that medical costs are all legitimate and necessary, and not subject to economizing. I've said before that one of the (many) problems with the US system is that there is no economy-class care, and neither the means nor incentive for most people to make decisions that will save money.

What could a doctor (or nurse-practitioner) charge if his care was "as is", with no possibility of malpractice recovery?

Some people would rather have a prescription than over the counter, because insurance will pay prescriptions. If two drugs work almost equally, should you take the one that costs 20 times as much?

Would you like car insurance that covers not only collision, but routine maintenance and repair? Oil changes, new tires, maybe even fuel?

Or, how about if engine replacement is covered, but oil changes aren't?

Of course, the average person will be paying at least the same costs as before, with some administrative overhead tacked on. In the case of the car--If fuel is covered, you'll be paying the average costs of people with no incentive to save gas--may as well drive as fast as you can without getting tickets, jackrabbit starts, no incentive to drive economically. Or if the engine will be replaced if needed, no reason to bother with oil changes. No matter how insurance like this is structured, it will change behavior.

This is one of the reasons medical insurance has screwed up our system--someone else pays the individual bills, and the incentive to reduce costs is reduced or eliminated. My employer is offering options where there is a high deductible for everything except preventative care, but there is also a medical savings account with employer contribution--I get to decide how to spend pre-deductible money, but I'm covered for extreme circumstances. It is decent for the individual, but I think the whole country would be much better off if this had been the standard for the past 20 years.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Mistaken for a gun free zone

A gunman was recently killed by armed security during an attack on a Colorado Springs church.

Even in states with liberal concealed handgun laws, churches are often banned places. In Ohio, a church is off-limits unless specific permission is given by the church leadership. In other states, it is an outright ban I would not be surprised if the gunman believed he would meet little resistance, and used that in determining his target. While this is a tragedy, I am glad that he chose a church that believed in and could afford armed security. (Update: It wasn't a paid security guard, it was a heroic member of the church, Jeanne Assam) What about a little 200 member congregation struggling to just pay their basic bills?

Multiple victim shootings happen disproportionately in places where guns are not allowed--According to John Lott, ALL attacks with more than a small number of victims take place in "gun free zones". To be fair, I don't know how relevant some of these cases are--It is possible that the last two malls with shootings only technically banned guns, but not in a way that most legally armed would be required to obey. I've heard rumors that many malls in my area ban guns, but rather than posting the restrictions 'conspicuously at eahc entrance' as the law allows, they are in the middle of long lists of rules. As long as I don't see the buried prohibition, I am still legally allowed to carry.

I don't think the biggest benefit to concealed carry is to me personally. I live a low-risk life, and I am unlikely to need my gun. I believe that the benefit is to society--Criminals and madmen are less certain who and when they can attack without resistance.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Sleepy boss

If your offices are at the customer's site, and your boss is snoring really, reeally loud, what is the proper course of action?

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Walking in snow

Work now has instructions posted on the door on how to walk in snow... Previously unknown tips like:

"Don't jump out in front of cars, they may not be able to stop in time"

"Watch out for black ice-It is extremely slippery".

No kidding.

Parable of the bird feeder

Had this sent to me by a co-worker. Original is in indented italics, my comments are standard full-margin.
(Full Disclosure: My wife was born in America, but of Mexican descent)
An interesting parable

I bought a bird feeder. I hung it on my back porch and filled it with seed. What a beauty of a bird feeder it is, as I filled it lovingly with seed.

Within a week we had hundreds of birds taking advantage of the continuous flow of free and
easily accessible food.

But then the birds started building nests in the boards of the patio, above the table, and next to the barbecue.

Then came the poop. It was everywhere: on the patio tile, the chairs, the table ... everywhere! Then some of the birds turned mean.

They would dive bomb me and try to peck me even though I had fed them out of my own pocket. And others birds were boisterous and loud. They sat on the feeder and squawked and screamed at all hours of the day and night and demanded that I fill it when it got low on food.

After a while, I couldn't even sit on my own back porch anymore. So I took down the bird feeder and in three days the birds were gone. I cleaned up their mess and took down the many nests they had built all over the patio.

Soon, the back yard was like it used to be ... quiet, serene and no one demanding their rights to a free meal.

Now let's see .... Our government gives out free food, subsidized housing, free medical care,

OK so far....

and free education

Probably a good idea to continue this. I want the country run by smart people--We are competing with the whole world, no sense handicapping ourselves by a lack of education.

and allows anyone born here to be an automatic citizen.

Part of the constitution. This is nowhere near a big enough problem for me to second-guess the founding fathers--They were a lot smarter than I am, and did an amazingly good job.

However, just because Junior is a citizen doesn't mean we have to let Mom and Dad stay here--Junior can stay with a legal resident guardian, or he can come back when he's 18 to claim his citizenship.

Then the illegals came by the tens of thousands.

Non sequitur--Most of the illegals are here to "take our jobs", not to live off our welfare. Most of our welfare requires ID.

Suddenly our taxes went up to pay for free services;

Another non sequitur--Most illegals work "real" jobs, with taxes deducted. Illegals cannot claim social security or many of the other services they pay for.

small apartments are housing 5 families; you have to wait 6 hours to be seen by an emergency room doctor;

This is because emergency rooms are not allowed to say "you don't have a real emergency, go away". Patients can pay a taxi to take them to their family doctor who will also expect to be paid, or they can call an ambulance to take them to the ER, costing them nothing--Where they will complain about "poor service".

your child's 2nd grade class is behind other schools because over half the class doesn't speak English.

...instead they speak some ghetto dialect, and deride their peers who try to learn for acting like they are special.

Corn Flakes now come in a bilingual box; I have to "press one" to hear my bank talk to me in English,

Not a problem until they make me press 2. If you were in a foreign country would you insist on only using the native language, or would you prefer businesses that would work with you in English?

Should businesses have mandated standards of customer service, and be forbidden to use other languages?

and people waving flags other than "Old Glory" are squawking and screaming in the streets, demanding more rights and free liberties.

Valid point. Maybe they would prefer Mexican immigration law...Probably not, ours is lenient by comparison.

Just my opinion, but maybe it's time for the government to take down the bird feeder.

No argument at all. While there are a few immigrant shitbirds, the majority are native. Some people are willing to live among shit to be supported without working.

You don't see Americans trying to get jobs as day laborers--They are hanging around the bird feeder, bitching because it isn't filled with Caviar. "Lazy Mexicans are living off our welfare....and stealing our jobs!".

If you agree, pass it on. If not, continue cleaning up the poop!

I'd love to get rid of the poop, but I sure as hell don't want to sort it into piles--American poop stinks just as bad, and there is a lot more of it.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Customer service

I ordered 2 pepperoni pizzas from the place down the street. They sent me 2 cheese instead. When I called to get the right pizzas, the manager seemed to think that because the computer said "Cheese", that must be what I ordered. He finally relented, said he'd send the pepperoni.

When they got here, there was a $1.50 delivery fee. When I was going to call the store, the driver didn't insist on charging me. I called the manager back--He seemed to think it reasonable to pay another delivery fee, after all "you've got two free pizzas" as if that is what I intended in the first place. I told him he can have them back, I don't like plain cheese. He kept arguing with me until I hung up on him.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Mixed meals

I was trying a Trader Joe's Indian dish--Punjab-something--Spicy, with Chickpeas and other stuff. I put it over rice, and it was pretty good, but needed a little extra. Wife was having a pork chop, so I diced a bit and tossed it in--Excellent, although I have to admit not particularly authentic.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Gun Control (for Death Wore a Feathered Mullet readers)

This is the continuation of a discussion from Death Wore a Feathered Mullet. Since he wasn't interested in continuing, I don't think it would be polite to use his blog

I may be wrong on the fight with a sibling--I was under the impression that a physical fight with any household member was automatically domestic violence, but after a bit of research the definition appears to be slightly narrower.

A 250 pound psycho who wants to beat or kill his ex should be assured his ex can't defend herself? Protective orders just help with the aftermath, they do almost nothing to protect the victim.

Most gun people would be fine with gun laws equivilant to car laws--you need a license to take one out in public, but you can have as many as you want unlicensed on private property. Gun Education as a high-school class? I'm not sure about 16 year olds being allowed to carry...

You can cut hair without a license, you only need the license to do it professionally for money.

I'm libertarian rather than conservative, so I can't speak for them. My view: Police should have the tools to deal with criminals decisively, but policies that prevent those tools from being abused against the law-abiding.

Scarlet Hip: We already have the
National Instant Check System for background checks. This is a telephone system every gun dealer is required to use. It generally takes about 5 minutes. Some states have waiting periods in addition to the NICS check. I don't have a problem with the background checks themselves, as long as they don't wind up being used for other purposes.

Waiting periods mean I have to make a second trip to the gun shop. Not too bad if it is nearby, but I've bought guns while visiting halfway across the state. I'm also immature enough to want to play with my new toy right away. If there's a good reason I could deal without too much grumbling, but I don't think "cooling off" periods beyond what is needed for a background check do anything but add yet another layer of inconvenience.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Went to two different thanksgivings, and managed to not stuff myself to the point of pain at either of them. That is really hard for me at Mom's, she makes too many different delicious things.

My daughter's kitten, and Brother's Golden Retriever were visiting. The kitten is extraordinarily patient, and my nephew is extraordinarily good with cats for a 2 year old-They sat together for 20 minutes at a time. The Golden was interested in the cat, but frightened. She would sniff, then bark. When the Golden barked, Mom and Dad's small Pekingese mix would come running from the other room barking, to see what the excitement was about. The cat ignored all of it.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Honest Deception

I was going to do a rant on some of the deliberate flaws in Excel--I've got it half done, but I can't manage to make it interesting, so there it sits.

This morning, I opened my mail to find an "Item Expiration notice" from Godaddy. A vague product descripton about "Complete Email Renewal", with no mention of the domain name this is attached to, then dire boilerplate warnings about losing your domain. The "item" in this case is webmail for a domain I bought my daughter as a gift a few years ago, but it would be difficult to know from the mail they sent.

Excel has a bunch of "flaws" that make it difficult to work with .csv files. .csv stands for Comma Separated Variable, a simple way of storing tables in a text file The one I deal with the most is that you have to jump through hoops to get it to retain leading zeros in numbers. Most of Microsoft Office makes it difficult to use the file formats of older versions. One of the versions of Word (2000, I think) would let you "save as" Word 97 format, but you had to do that every single time-It would not save in the original format without being told, and it would give an error "This file already exists, do you want to replace?"

Sony's minidisk players were amazing in their day--When MP3 players had limited and expensive memory, their minidisks were a fraction of the cost of flash. However, they had a major flaw--They used a proprietary format. Eventually they came out with a player that said "MP3" in big letters on the packaging. When you got to the fine print, there was software to convert MP3 to the Sony format--Very buggy, and when it did work, it was extraordinarily complicated.

I'm convinced that this sort of thing is deliberately designed to be confusing. In Microsoft's case, it makes it difficult to use older versions of files, therefore difficult to avoid upgrading to newer versions of their software. Godaddy could easily explain exactly exactly what you are about to lose, but instead you have scary messages--Better to just pay the $10 rather than risk losing the domain. Sony shows the conflict of buying hardware from a music company--The hardware side knows consumers want MP3 hardware, but the music label side hates the MP3 format.

These companies are being honest without being ethical.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Money Management

This has more to do with gathering thoughts than a real-live post. Someone has asked me how to manage money--Not sure why they pick me as a mentor in this particular subject, but I'll do what I can. The particular case is about barely over minimum wage management, not day trading or house flipping.

The concepts of managing money aren't complicated--Pay close attention to income and spending, manage risks and prioritize.

Spending priorities:

1. Keeping your job.
2. Generic food--NOT restaurant food. not convenience food.
3. Shelter.
4. Limited clothing
5. Emergency reserve

Circumstances may shuffle these a little. If you can't afford these, there's a good chance it is because you didn't prioritize properly earlier.

Tasty food, entertainment, cool clothing is all way down on the list, although with imagination you can afford at least some of each.


You're buying money with your time, you use the money to buy other stuff--Mostly the products of other people's time. Get to work a bit early, so if something delays you, you get there on time anyhow. I show up for work. I think I average less than a day per year missed. I don't push limits at work. This means that I survive staff reductions, and if I do screw up badly, I'm liable to get more leeway.

Auctions, garage sales and thrift stores are good ways to get stuff cheap--Clothing, small appliances, and household goods. Be creative--Do you need a stove, or can you make do with a hotplate and a toaster oven for a while?

Learn to fix stuff. I'm not entirely sure how far others can take this advice--I don't know if I've got a talent so I fix stuff, or if I've gained the talent by fixing stuff. I suspect both. If you're going to throw it away because it is broken, you might as well try to figure out what is wrong with it--Even if you fail, chances are you will learn something that will make it easier to fix the next thing.

A crock pot is a nearly essential tool for cheap cooking--Most good, cheap food takes a long time to cook. Learn to like stuff made with dry beans--Cheap, easy and nutritious. Ham and beans, chili, 15 bean soup. Cut the meat to a minimal amount--consider it a flavoring, rather than a main ingredient. You would have to try hard to not get enough protein in the US. In general, ready to eat foods are the most expensive, completely from scratch the cheapest.

Take care of your stuff. Keep a set of clothing when you might get greasy or dirty, not your work clothes. Don't leave your bike in the rain, keep it oiled.

Figure out what it really costs to have a car--You may need one for a better job, but you might also be better off taking less pay within walking or bicycle distance.

A bicycle is real transportation.

Don't smoke.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

My wife with our dogs, from the front page of the local newspaper:

Bella's second appearance on the front page, Angie's first.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Non-elitest guide to bigger bikes

In the 70's, there wasn't all that much difference between a department store bike and a low-end bike shop bike. Same basic components-Usually Ashtabula cranks, on American made bikes, cottered steel cranks on low-end imports. Chrome-plated steel rims. Brakes would be decent alloy side-pull on 3 speeds and some 10 speeds. Center-pull brakes were considered a step up on 10 speeds. Both were OK on the relatively narrow wheels used, neither would work well in the rain with the chrome rims. The bike store bike might have thicker metal in the bearing cups and other slightly more durable parts. It would be assembled and adjusted better--a bigger improvement than you'd think, and responsible for much of the apparent quality difference.

In the late 80's and 90's, Ashtabula cranks and then steel rims faded away in adult bike store bikes, replaced by cotterless cranks and aluminum rims. Meanwhile, department store bikes got worse, at least at the low end. Mountain bikes became fashionable. This led to much wider tires and rims, not suitable for the sidepull caliper brakes that were still used. To compound the problem, the calipers got cheaper and flimsier becoming stamped steel rather than cast aluminum. Other parts had many of the same problems--The gauge of metal used in bearings got thinner and weaker, more plastic in inappropriate places, and general cost cutting. Some of these bikes are still sold.

Lately, however the better department store bikes have been improving drastically. Pacific Cycle has been largely responsible for this trend. While bike snobs will (correctly) complain that the Schwinn and Mongoose bikes that they now sell at Walmart aren't as good as before the brands were bought by Pacific, it is also true that they are considerably better than the best you used to find outside a specialty shop. You can get aluminum rims and cantilever or direct pull brakes, both making braking a lot better, especially in the rain, especially with fat tires. Shifting is usually 21 speed index, and far more aluminum parts are used.

In a previous post, I talked about the first bike I bought myself in the 70's, a basic 10 speed as cheap as I could find. I just bought a low-end adult bike as a gift (because I couldn't find a decent used bike in time) and it cost less, and had better features than that mid 70's 10 speed.

If you are close to average men's or woman's size, you can get a fairly decent bike at a mass market store. It will not be assembled as well as a bike from a specialty shop, but most of that is easily corrected with basic tools and a bit of knowledge. These aren't suitable for off-road or high-performance use, but will do fine for basic transportation and recreation within their limits. The biggest problem is fit--If you are the size of an average woman, you will be stuck with a woman's style frame--an engineering compromise resulting in a heavier, weaker frame to allow riding with a dress. If you are a large man, you won't find a bike big enough. If you don't match the stock sizes, you will have to compromise significantly.

A modern bike with hand brakes should have aluminum rims. There used to be well-made steel rims, some with patterned sides to give better rain performance. Since the 1980s, steel rims are just cheap. Aluminum is stronger, lighter and brakes better especially in the rain.

Brakes should be cantilever or direct-pull except for the thinnest road tires. There are now very few department store bikes with wheels and tires narrow enough for side pull brakes.

An adult bike used for more than riding on flat ground should have gears. It is better if it is index (clicks into gear), although that is nearly universal on new bikes now.

Ashtabula cranks are still used. They are much heavier, but work fine. I'm enough of a snob to insist on cotterless for my bikes, but I've also got several bikes already. More important is the right crank length. 170mm is standard, and is unfortunately used even on cheaper bikes meant for smaller people, where a 160 or 165mm would be more appropriate.

Most people would do better with far less tread if their riding is limited to pavement . Because of the long oval contact patch and relatively low speeds, even on wet pavement bicycle tire tread is unnecessary and adds rolling resistance--tread is necessary with a car's rectangular contact patch, wider width and higher speeds.  Putting slick or semi-slick tires on a mountain bike with knobby tires is likely the best bang for the buck upgrade. Be cautious of sizes--a 26x1.75 tire is not the same as a 26x1-3/4. You can usually replace a tire with a wider or narrower version, as long as the replacement is the same (decimal or fraction) as the original.

The more aluminum parts, the better. Frame materials are largely irrelevant. Most mid-grade frames are now aluminum, but steel is still used at both ends of the price scale. Slant-parallelogram derailers are better than straight, (although this example is of an older top of the line derailer) but not by a huge amount. A derailer mounted to the frame rather than held on by a claw is better. Quick release wheels are nice, especially front.

Adult bikes typically come in road (what most people would consier a racing bike, the traditional "ten speed" type) mountain and Hybrid.  Hybrids are the most useful for most people-more comfortable than a road bike, but easier to pedal than a mountain bike.

Suspension in a department store bike is almost entirely for looks, increases weight, adds reliability problems, and does not improve performance. It is unfortunate that bike makers will often add suspension before they go to aluminum wheels--I wound up buying from Target rather than Walmart because of this.

What did I wind up buying? A Magna from Target. 15 speeds, aluminum rims with bolt-on hubs, a quick-release seat, an almost nothing else. Paint had problems--I found the one with the least scrapes. The rear derailer had the limit screw adjusted wrong so it woudn't shift right into low gear, and the front derailer was crooked. Only took a few minutes to re-adjust if you know what to look for, but it is stuff you wouldn't have to deal with on a bike store bike.

Later: The Magna has some other issues--A shifter screw came loose, the rear bearing cone came loose, and the freewheel snapped a couple teeth. The freewheel was possibly abuse, the rest is poor quality. Don't know that I'd recommend one, but I don't know what in the price range would be better

If you want a road bike there are fantastic bargains available at garage sales and thrift stores, generally priced less than a newer but lower-quality department store bike. I mean a bike that was originally $500+, still in good condition for $25 or less.

No-fuss two-wheeler training

The easiest, no fuss way to teach a child (or actually anyone) to ride a two wheeler. This assumes they can pedal a bike or trike:

  1. Start with a bike small enough that the seat can be set to allow feet flat or nearly flat on the ground while seated.
  2. Remove the pedals and training wheels. (One pedal will be reverse-threaded, turning backwards)
  3. Let them ride until they are balancing. For a kid in the summer, anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. They will probably start with very little coasting between foot pushes. Eventually there will be long periods of coasting between pushes, this means they are ready.
  4. Put the pedals back, or move to the bigger bike.

That's all there is to it! This is easiest when a child is fairly young, and won't feel silly without pedals. An excellent time to do this is when a child has outgrown their current bike and is ready for the next size--both my kids did this when outgrowing the smallest size sidewalk bike.
Both my kids did this when they went from 12 inch wheels to 16 inch.
If you aren't going to be using the outgrown bike again, it will be slightly easier for the kid if you remove the crank and chain as well as the pedals.

Non-elitest guide to department store bikes: Sidewalk bikes

The most important features are

  1. Proper fit. The child should be able to (barely) reach the ground with their toes. If they can stand nearly flat-footed while on the seat, the seat is too low. If the seat cannot be adjusted higher and they are still on training wheels, that is a good time to use the painless two-wheeler training method. They must be able to stand over the frame.
  2. Bearings in the headset (fork bearings) rather than bushings. Bushings stick, and make it far harder to balance. If you don't plan to transition to a two-wheeler on this bike, bushings are less of a problem, but with the painless two-wheeler method, even a child who can only manage the smallest sidewalk bike can learn to ride two wheels nearly effortlessly.
  3. Brakes. A few bikes have no ability to coast and no brakes. These can be easily recognized--Most will say "no brakes" on them, and when you pedal backwards, the back wheel goes backwards. Skip these.

Nice but not essential:

  1. Bearings in the crank and wheels: These will last longer and pedal easier, but won't interfere with learning to ride.
  2. Auxiliary handbrake: Hand brakes should not be the only brakes on a sidewalk bike, but can be useful for the transition to a two-wheeler, especially if there are hills in the training area.
  3. Air tires: Easier to pedal and faster, but can get flats. Foam tires don't go flat, but ride rougher and slower.

Silly stuff:

  1. Suspension. Looks neat, but should be counted the same as paint, or "motorcycle" look plastic. May cause extra mechanical problems, and makes the bike taller and less suited for a smaller child.

Luckily, bushings seem to have gone away in sidewalk bikes, or at least the ones with brakes. To tell if a bike has bushings in the headset: Look at a bigger department store bike, and look at the area where the handlebar stem connects--That is what a proper inexpensive headset should look like. The stem should go into a large nut that holds the fork to the frame. If the stem and handlebar are one piece, and a set screw holds them in, it probably has bushings. (I tried to find pictures of a good department store headset, but Google only had high-end bikes in the first few pages)

Cranks with bushings will generally have a roll pin instead of nuts holding them to the frame.

Cheaper bikes will have thick welded spokes, instead of standard thin tensioned spokes.


I remember buying my first 10 speed. I was in grade school, and it was with my own money. The Sunday newspaper had a Gold Circle ad with a Sunn 10 speed for around $60--I could afford it! Dad took me to the nearest Gold Circle, and we found that they were in a different district, and that bike wasn't on sale there yet. I don't remember if we waited, or if Dad took me to Dayton, but eventually I wound up with the bike--Unassembled. I did a lousy job, and Dad took it to a student who was into cycling who tuned it up and replaced the derailleur with a better one. I had a dented rim, which meant the back wheel would lock and skid in the same spot every time, quickly wearing a hole. I don't remember what happened to it, but eventually I bought a used Schwinn Sports-Touring from the same guy.

The Sports-Touring was a fantastic bike for the time. It was built on the "handmade" department at Schwinn. Fillet Brazed of straight-gauge chrome-moly steel with reinforcing sleeves at the joints, using very good Japanese alloy components. Mine was aftermarket nickle-plated, with Suntour bar-con shifters at the end of the handlebars and toe clips. Extremely cool for a Junior High kid, when racing bikes were the style. Mine was a 21" frame--Just a bit smaller than the standard adult men's bike, suitable for my junior high size. Typical of Schwinn marketing at the time, there was little explanation of the superiority when compared to the standard heavy Schwinn frame used by Continentals and Varsities.

I remember having to look carefully at sidewalk bikes for my kids, to find ones with actual bearings instead of bushings. Bearings in the headset ("handlebar bearings") are essential for learning balance--A bushing will make it a lot harder to balance. Crank bearings are mostly a durability issue, and not as important. One of my daughter's small bikes had spatter paint over the bearing cups, inside the bearings--The paint immediately flaked off and mixed with the grease. Even with that flaw, it was the best for the price.

I've recently bought two new department store bikes as gifts--The first two I've bought since my kid's sidewalk bikes. I'm fairly surprised at what is available now. Lots of crap, but there are actually some bikes that meet my standards, at prices less than I paid in the 70's.

To come: Non-elitist guide to department store bikes

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Series review: The Chanur books by Cherryh

This is one of my favorites. The main character for the first 4 books is Pyanfar Chanur, of the species Hani. She is the captain of a private trading ship, "The Pride of Chanur" (usually shortened to "the Pride") in Compact Space.

There are a handful of species in Compact space, which doesn't include humans. The 3 methane breathing species have the most technologically advanced ships and share space stations, but communication is nearly impossible--Only one will communicate understandably to oxygen breathers, and they somewhat translate for the others.

The oxygen breathers are diverse. The Hani are feline, with a social structure similar to a pack of lions. Males are the head of clans, with leadership determined by physical prowess. Hani are the most recent species in space, and their society has not yet adapted. A clan leader will have several wives. Many adult males will not survive, and males are not considered stable enough to do useful work. As a result, only the Hani women are in space.

The Mahendo'sat are primates, and are responsible for bringing Hani to space.

Stsho are non-violent to the point of hiring guards from other species. When threatened they will "phase"--Their personality will fragment and they will become a different person, without the memories of their previous personality. They are essentially the economic leaders of the Compact.

The Kif society is based on competition, without the concept of loyalty. A Kif leader who finds himself losing will often be killed by his crew who will then join the winning side. This is considered proper in Kif society. They prey on other species when possible.

The first book (The Pride of Chanur) is a stand-alone story. Tully, the first human in Compact space escapes from the Kif and takes refuge in The Pride. Pyanfar refuses to give him back. This sets off a war with a faction of the Kif, who destroy several uninvolved Hani ships and set The Pride running and manipulating, trying to save both clan and species interests.

The second (Chanur's Venture), third (The Kif Strike Back) and fourth (Chanur's Homecoming) books are a single story-Don't start one unless you've got all three. The Pride is trying to recover from incidents in the first book. At the end of the first book, Pyanfar's husband was defeated and chased off his estate. Pyanfar brings him to space, the first male Hani. Tully returns --This time making contact with the Mahendo'sat who secretly turn him over to Pyanfar. Kif threaten the Hani homeworld, and Pyanfar is the only one able to deal with this threat.

The fifth book is a standalone, some time after the first 4. Pyanfar has become one of the Compact's most important people. Her niece Hilfy is now the clan leader, and has her own ship, "Chanur's Legacy". Male Hani are starting to venture into space. The Legacy picks up a male Hani that has been abandoned by its crew, and take a very complex contract to deliver a Stsho artifact, without fully understanding the contract written in Stsho. The terms wind up sending The Legacy on a wild goose chase with a Stsho passenger. One of the things I like is that this book doesn't try to be even more intense and important than the previous ones. The first 4 books had the potential of wiping out the entire Hani species if things went wrong. The fifth book is primarily around the survival of the Legacy and the Chanur clan--Still intense and fast paced, but not artificially enhanced.

Complaints: Humans and Stsho need to be drugged to deal with hyperspace. Hani who have never met humans have compatible drugs available in appropriate dosages, without experimentation.

The scale doesn't feel interplanetary. Space stations hold a couple hundred ships at most. The shops have a feel of bazaar or flea market. The feeling is that there are a few thousand sentients in space. With this scale, space transport would be limited to luxury goods, but they mention carrying bulk food as well.

The fifth book was obviously written after the author became aware of computer viruses and trojans, and avoiding these is a minor and distracting plot point.

The final complaint is the organization of the omnibus editions of the book. It contains the first three novels of the series instead of the more logical arrangement that would contain the second story complete.

A good thing is that you can use the first book as a sample-If you are like me, a book has to be really bad before I'll abandon it before the end. Here you can get a good sample of the style in one book. If it doesn't suit, you can stop after the first.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007


I had a great-aunt who was in almost all ways a sweet and kind person. When she was in her 80's, she talked about going to visit the old people in the nursing home nearby.

She was also a racist.

When my uncle came back from WWII, he started a candy store in Chicago. It did well, and he ran it until the late 70's. They lived over the store, originally in a middle class white neighborhood. Like much of the inner city, the neighborhood deteriorated. The mostly middle class whites moved out, and poor, mostly blacks moved in. They started having problems with bums and panhandlers, and the store was robbed at gunpoint several times. They still had a good business, mostly selling to the families that had lived there in the 50's and 60's who would come back for their traditional Christmas and Easter candy. Finally, they decided to sell the business and retire to the suburbs. The best offer they had for the business including the building and the fixtures was less than they made from it in a year.

My aunt rarely (if ever) met middle-class blacks. From her point of view, the blacks moved in, chased the whites out and everything went to hell. I tried once to explain to her that the problems were economic and not racial--The blacks I knew from my small town were pretty average. Some of them decent, some of them nasty, but in about the same proportions as whites. She was polite about that, but not convinced.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Classic Politics

I can get along with most views described as 'classically conservative'. Fred Thompson isn't perfect, but I think he'd make a better president than we've had for quite a long time--This from someone who's never voted republican for president.

'Classically liberal' is often used to describe libertarianism, which matches my views closer than any other one-sentence description.

Somehow "classically liberal" and "classically conservative" are closer to each other than they are to "liberal" or "conservative".

What happened to modern politics?

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Book (series) review-Honor Harrington

Short review--A really good space opera in desperate need of an editor.

Yes, it is a space opera. Entertaining, with no deep meaning and little subtlety. The basic story: Honor Harrington is an officer in the Manticorian space navy with amazing ability in almost everything but romance. Manticore is a constitutional monarchy with an extremely productive economy and very high standard of living. The enemy is the People's republic of Haven, a multi-planetary government where the "doleists" are the majority of the population--Unproductive, stupid and mostly useless, but the government feels that they need to be kept satisfied with an increasing "basic living stipend". They can't support this without continually taking over new star systems. We start after they have taken over all the easy ones, and have set their sites on Manticore.

While the Peep system is evil, many of the individual officers are honorable and decent people. Even the "head peep" is to some extent trapped by circumstance, and believes the evil things he does are justified, in order to get real reforms.

A secondary plot line is the modernization of the planet Grayson. When we are first introduced to Grayson, they are a fairly recently rediscovered religious colony. For an initially unknown reason, there are several times more women than men born. The planet is contaminated by heavy metals, and requires massive effort to survive, but women aren't a meaningful part of the workforce until Honor comes in and shakes things up.

It feels to me that Grayson wasn't initially intended to be a major part of the story. Their progress both militarily and especially socially is unrealistically rapid, giving the impression that once it was realized their role was increased they needed to be transformed from backwards fanatics to something more easily sympathized with.

The most annoying issue is exposition. Lots of speeches that start "I know most of us already know all about...but explain it again from the beginning for those who don't". The explanation will be more detailed than necessary to advance the plot. Space battles are described in a way that feels like the author is saying 'go ahead and check--All these maneuvers and positions are actually possible'. At a scene change the viewpoint sometimes switches to mid battle, only to find it is a simulation. Characters will have long internal monologues, and situations will be dire, oh so dire, could it get any worse...Yes it can, I don't know if I can handle any more, but duty requires that I continue, have I mentioned that this is a dire, nearly hopeless situation... There is also heavy-handed political commentary that too obviously pokes at real-world liberal views.

Some of my complaints may be because I've got the series on my PDA, and have re-read it more often than I would if it were traditional paper books of similar quality. Despite my complaints, it is a series worth reading, at least the first time. Available as a legal free E-book.

Adult trikes

My wife is borrowing her mom's adult trike, to make it easier to walk the dogs with her bad ankle. It looks strange, but it works--She takes the dogs through the alley to the bike path while riding the trike, from there to the river where they can go off leash.

The trike is a Walmart special, a Worksman Trifecta. I'm not impressed. It started grinding, and when I investigated, I found that one of the bearings has chewed itself, because the rear axle shifted. There's nothing to center the axle except the chain and side loading of the cheap bearings--If I remember right, this type of bearing isn't designed to handle side loads.

I was able to swap the chewed bearing with the one in the drive wheel, which is used as a bushing instead of a bearing. Don't know what I can do to prevent this from happening again. also sells a Schwinn adult trike for a few dollars more. I haven't seen it in person. Schwinn is nowhere near the brand it was even 10 years ago, but I'd get it over the Worksman just based on the internet pictures.

Adult trikes are surprisingly hard to get used to for someone who rides a bicycle. When you steer a bike (or motorcycle) you countersteer--First steer away from the direction you want to go. This doesn't work on a trike. To make matters worse, the trikes at work have one drive wheel in the back, and the coaster brake is on the drive wheel. The first time I rode one was at work--I wound up crashing into an electric flatbed truck.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Strange stuff at the dog park

I had the day off, and we decided to take the dogs to the dog park. Stranger than usual people there.

First was a very unconvincing and slightly drunk transvestite. She wasn't Halloween-costume bad, but "WTF?" from 15 yards. Bad makeup--Lips were purple-red with a slightly uneven black outline. Horrible auburn wig that didn't match her dark eyebrows, in addition to the large adam's apple. Dressed in a skirt suit, with high heels, completely inappropriate to the dog park, which is 95% steep hill. The suit didn't match the pierced tongue, either. Oralia said "Gross" about our dog Bella chewing on a muddy tennis ball. The transvestite said "Are you talking about my dog's poop? Because it has been runny. I don't know why it's runny, I feed him...." On and on, not listening at all when Oralia said no, that's not what she was talking about. Several other inappropriate remarks, then she left. She was drinking something from a travel cup and a straw. I'm not sure if the cup or her breath was heavily alcohol laden, but I could smell it from 8 feet away.

After the transvestite left, one of the regulars said 'Oh, shit, there's the crazy lady'. Older woman with a cane and a boxer. Woman couldn't control the boxer to the point where it was biting at her, and she was whacking it with her cane. This increased the dog's aggressive behavior. Not the first time according to the regulars. Several were discussing camera phones and video, to get the dog taken from her. The dog was fine with everyone else. Lots of people trying to give her advice. I hope she gets real help, because otherwise that dog will wind up mauling her and will have to be put to sleep.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Dimmable compact flourescents

I like CF lights, but in some applications I like dimmers, too. For several years I've been looking for dimmable compact flourescents with no luck. I finally found some a few weeks ago.

I'm not impressed. My main reason for a dimmer is to get barely enough light to see, without completely waking me up. These lights fail. They really don't have much range of brightness. They can go to about half-bright, but lower than that and they blink and flicker, or go out entirely.

I've made accomodations for that in the upstairs bathroom--A single overhead light on a dimmer, and a vanity light on a switch.

Friday, October 19, 2007

A better written version of a thought I've had--We cannot 100% protect ourselves from terrorism without losing too much freedom:

The Atlantic

(Thanks to The Unforgiving Minute)

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

In this John Stossel article, he talks about laser eye surgery, among other things.

Basically, since these procedures are rarely covered by insurance, there's competition--Procedures get better and cheaper, doctors are more concerned with pleasing their patients.

One of the problems I see with the American medical system is that we've got a policy of either excellent care, or no care. Economy-class care isn't available. Some of this is malpractice, but some is because in most cases, care is paid for by someone other than the patient. The result is that basic minimal care costs a lot more than it should.

More and more I think what we need to insure is catastrophic medical, and let the ordinary day-to-day stuff come out of pocket. Require (or at least encourage) providers and pharmacies to post prices in a decipherable way, ideally web-based. Somehow encourage doctors to consider the cost of medication, and give alternatives.

Monday, October 08, 2007

What went wrong with GM

I got rid of my 84 Buick Century about a year ago. I currently own an 86 Buick LeSabre. Both are examples of what was wrong with GM at the time. Not a problem with the basic platform of either car, but lots of detail issues, especially considering that Buick is supposed to be the near-luxury division. (Note: Neither car reflects my choices in vehicles, but rather my lack of desire to go into debt over cars. The LeSabre is the result of taking too long to make up my mind, and missing out on 3 different cars as my Sunbird faded into death)

The Century had a pushrod 4 cylinder engine. Fine in a Chevy, underpowered and unsophisticated for the Buick market. Should have been at least a OHC 4, and probably a V6 minimum. The LeSabre's engine is the 3800 V6. Ancient design, but continual development has resulted in a pretty decent engine. Adequate power and smoothness, not one of the problems with this car.

Both have the standard GM heat controls--Top lever controls whether the AC is on, whether or not fresh air is on, and where the air will blow from. Because it does everything in a limited number of positions, some choices are not available. Bottom lever mixes heated air with whatever you're doing. In the Buick class, the controls should be at least as good as an Escort or Sentra. One control should be for where the air goes. One control whether or not AC is on or off, one for whether or not fresh air is on or off. You can save full climate control for Cadillac, but for a near-luxury, some form of thermostat for the AC wouldn't be difficult, and would be a good way to differentiate.

Seats are another weak area on both Buicks. Neither had adjustment for the driver's seat back angle--That is a pretty minimal requirement, even on a bench seat. Materials are decent, and held up well enough for the age, assuming no repairs.

Instrument panel--The Century had reasonable gauges. The LeSabre has spedo, fuel, odometer and gear indicator, everything else is idiot lights. LeSabre's uninformative dash does announce "Information Center" on each side-Tacky, even more so because there is so little information. I suppose you can argue that an upscale driver doesn't want gauges--I can somewhat accept that, although I think this is an economy rather than a style decision. Buick should have a trip odometer standard. It should also have a stand-alone clock, not just a mode on the radio.

Cupholders and storage--LeSabre has a glovebox for it's sole interior storage. I don't remember if the Century had pockets in the doors, I think it did. Both should have cup holders, although I'll give them a break for their age--What seems obvious now might not have been then. Both should also have some other pockets and cubbies in the dash-Use the space taken up by "Information center" signs.

A Buick the size of the LeSabre should have power windows. It does have power door locks, but these are obviously tacked on. These should be integrated with the key locks, so you can unlock all doors at once with the key.

Everything except the AC thermostat is stuff I had on much cheaper cars of similar age.

This of course isn't an exhaustive list of GM's mistakes-I don't want to go into the mind that decided a V-8 Saab SUV is a good idea....

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

On the recommendation of a nice Highway Patrol officer, I stopped by Walmart last night to get a bulb for my license plate light. As usual, I grabbed a couple other things, and tried to find a short line. A few minutes later, a couple of teenaged girls stood off to the side of the line, and started talking loudly--"People with a bunch of stuff should let people with only one thing go ahead of them".


"We've only got one thing, those people have a bunch"


They repeated themselves along these lines until I got my PDA out and started reading. For the record, I had 4 items, the guy in front of me had maybe 10, and the cart in front of him was in the process of getting rung up.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

More work whining

I've been asked to get the serial numbers of our spare Cisco gear, to make sure it is still under service contract. On the back and bottom of the switch I'm looking at are a whole bunch of stickers with what could be serial numbers. None of these numbers are identified in English. One of them is identified in what appears to be Chinese. After eliminating the numbers that are obviously not a serial, I'm left with about 5.

I go to Cisco's web page and search for Serial Number Location. I get text directions--Instead of saying "click here", it tells me to go back to the home page, click this, then choose that. I do.

In order to see which of these numbers is the serial number, I have to log in. I find a diagram that doesn't match the specific model number of switch that I specifically searched for. I also find the one useful clue--the serial number is 4 letters, 4 numbers, then 3 letters. After counting numbers and letters, I'm finally able to eliminate all but one label.

Why couldn't they just print SN: on the label? There's plenty of room.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Book Review: Ayoob files

This book is a collection of magazine columns on shooting incidents, plus a similar column on the Rodney King incident.

The first half of each article is a shot-by-shot description of the action. After is an analysis and critique. The descriptions are a little overdramatic, but not too bad. The after-action report appears to be balanced, and points out both flaws and proper action. Entertaining and instructive, and much, much better than "In the Gravest Extreme".

Thursday, September 06, 2007

In-house spam

We get an incredible amount of useless email here. This may be common to all large employers these days, I left my last job when their email system was new.

Not much pure spam from outside sources, some crap that trainers I've been sent to mostly.

A little internal spam, from both us and our customer--Charity raffles, health tips, events. I used to get deluged with events hundreds of miles away, thankfully that stopped.

We get "Make sure you do this task" emails, or "Someone is late doing this".

Most of the "do this" are sent to lots of people who don't actually have to do it, but have to open the mail and decide if they are a "customer facing buzzword compliant performing supplier" who needs class AZTB123AC, or a "Back Office non-exempt servicing auditor" who needs class AZTB123BC... Occasionally these will be sent only to the people who need them--However, if that happens, a manager is sure to forward the message to everyone in the account, so you have to search to see if your name was in the original message. Sometimes you need to open a spreadsheet to see if it's you they are complaining about.

Computer patches. Jebus, the computer patches. First a pre-mail, telling us how to verify that the patch was automatically installed, and the website to go update when the patch is installed, but telling us the patches won't start for a few days. Then the same basic email, telling us the patches are being installed now. Then the same thing, saying they are finished, then finally the same thing, but warning us that we'll be cut off the network if we don't check the box on the website that says the patches are done.
Plus managers forwarding the obligatory "make sure this is taken care of" identical copies.
By the time you are done getting mail about this month's patches, you are only days from getting the next month's set.

Misdirected crap. My employer has at least 8 other people with my first and last name. Outlook will accept a first and last name rather than an email address. If the name isn't in your personal address book, Outlook apparently just picks one rather than letting the sender know there are 7 more possible matches. I notified one lady not only was I the wrong one, I figured out who the right one was. Her response was "I'll probably do it again, yours is the one that comes up".
If it doesn't matter that he gets this important message, why bother sending it?

Book Review: In the Gravest Extreme

I've heard that Ayoob's In the Gravest Extreme is an excellent book, although the firearms chapters are extremely dated.

A few of the chapters may be somewhat useful to people who don't frequent gun forums, but overall I'm extremely disappointed. Cheaply printed, and the black and white photos are amateur snapshots with an obvious on-camera flash-I'm a lousy photographer, I would have done a much better job.

The meat starts in chapter 2, "Self Defense and lethal force". Basically, you can't shoot someone unless you are under imminent threat of death or severe injury, a bit on disparity of force. Says you can't be the one to start a fight, then claim self-defense if it gets out of hand. 22 pages, the longest chapter in the book.

Chapter 3: The dangerous myth of Citizen's arrest. 6 pages, about what you'd guess from the title.

Ch. 4: Samaratans with guns: 2 pages: Legality depends on the state, be darn sure you know who is who.

Ch. 5: Women and guns: Women can't handle more than a .380 or a .38, a .22 might be the best choice. "If you do work up to a .38, lean way forward into the recoil, unless you're a big girl"

Ch. 6: How and when to use firearms in your store: Rehash of when it is appropriate, then some obsolete hardware information, and a bit of useful advice on where to keep a gun, and .45's and .357's require extensive training to deal with the recoil. Again, .38's and .380's are the best choice.

Ch 7: In your home, probably the best chapter overall. How to move tactically (doesn't call it that) in your own home. The picture "proper way to check for prowlers" shows the model with his finger on the trigger--Rather than re-taking the photo, he just complains about it in the subtitle.

Ch 8: Gun in the street: Throw money at them, shoot as a last resort.

Ch 9: Gun in your car--Don't pick up hitchhikers, don't leave your gun in the car.

Ch 10: Deterrent effects: Guns often scare criminals away without being fired. Comes with 2 personal encounter stories where he drew on people, from before he was a cop.

Ch 11: Common sense on carrying: You should have training. Don't let your gun be spotted.

Ch. 12: High price of machismo: Try not to shoot anyone, even if you are justified you'll be sorry.

Ch. 13: Picking a gun: .38 revolver. Others are too powerful, .357 and .45 are for experts only. No mention of shooting .38's in a .357

Ch 14: Ammo: .38 or .45. 9mm is only used for the features of the guns chambered in it.

Ch 15: Technique: Use a belt holster at 3:30, shoot COM.

Ch 16: Safety: 4 rules, don't get into aruments or drink while armed, keep guns away from unsupervised kids.

Ch 17: Aftermath: Get a lawyer, don't talk to the press. 4 pages.

Total, 130 pages.

I suppose back in the day this book was good information not easily available elsewhere, but none of it is new to anyone who spends even a little time on gun-related internet sites. I honestly don't understand why it gets the recommendations it does.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Stopped by a garage sale, and found a non-working 20g Ipod for a dollar. I figured that it was worth a gamble, so bought it. Opened it up...and smelled urine. Faint, but definitely urine.

I think I know what happened to it, but I don't think I'm going to fix it.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Just fix it

My wife has a bad foot, first showing up after she slipped and fell at work. If we had known the results, she would have clocked out for 5 minutes, fell, then clocked back in so our regular insurance could have handled it.

Workman's comp has selected the doctor she is to go to, but apparently they don't trust the doctor because they take at least 3 weeks to approve his treatment. Because it is workman's comp, we can't use our health insurance.

"Reading between the lines, it appears you want to go on disability"

No. She wants her foot fixed. She doesn't want narcotics, which they are quite willing to approve, with no questions. She wants you to give the doctor that you picked permission to actually do his job in a timely manner. If this goes on, disability is a real possibility because most of the jobs she is qualified for require her to be on her feet a lot, which isn't possible UNTIL YOU LET THE DOCTOR THAT YOU CHOSE FOR HER FIX HER FOOT!. If you don't trust him, don't send people to him, or take it up with him.

If this is a preview of nationalized health care, no thanks.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Just wrong

On my way home tonight around midnight I saw 2 bmx bikes parked outside a bar...

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Work Rant

Tonight I got a call from the plant floor saying they needed to swap a printer out. Note the word swap-That would imply 2 items, one that is currently in place, one that is waiting in the wings. I tell supervisor AB (not his real initials--His name is unpronounceable to most English speakers, he goes by initials) that we need information for both printers--IP address would be best, but the barcode is enough. Since the old printer is working, we ask if it is necessary to do during production, he says this has been a problem for the last 3 shifts and needs to be fixed ASAP. "All I have is barcode". OK, let me have them. He gives me one barcode and explains in detail what is wrong with the printer--Information I don't need, we aren't even allowed to touch them. I ask for the numbers from the other printer "All I have is barcode", gives me the same barcode again, and explains what is wrong with the printer, and that they are still using it. I give up, and go the half a mile (literally) to where the printers actually are, so I can get the other barcode.

By the time I get back, get in touch with the central people who will actually make the change (somehow it is considered more efficient to have a central team who I have to get out of bed, instead of having the local people maintain their own addresses) it is too late to make the original window. I call AB again, tell him we can't guarantee we will be done in time, so we need a new window. "All I have is barcode. I'm under a lot of pressure to get this fixed" and he describes the problem again. Explain that I went to the floor and got the barcodes for both printers, and I have the information I need. He interrupts to tell me "All I have is barcode" and tell me what's wrong with the printer. I explain again that I have the information that I need to make the changes, I can't get them done before lunch is over, all I need from him is the next window when we can do it He tells me next break, I ask when that is.

Make arrangements with the central people--The woman I talk to is going to set her alarm so she can wake up and push the changes.

AB calls again, saying he is uneasy about doing this during production (which is exactly what we told him before...) and that if he can't print labels he'll be f'd up. I explain that worst case, he'd have to put the old printer back and it would work. He repeats himself again--I tell him it is his call, but if he cancels, we won't be able to reschedule again until production is over. He cancels, then tries to explain why he's uneasy--I tell him I have to wake up the person who will do the change and stop her, so I need to go.

This is typical for him. Although he's foreign, that's not the problem--when he listens, he can comprehend, and his accent is understandable. With him, everything us URGENT, and then when he changes his mind, the change is URGENT as well.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Rude cheaters

This post from ERnursey reminded me of a guy in my bay when I was in Air Force tech school. He lived in the room farthest from the payphone, and he smelled funny. I lived closest to the phone. His girlfriend would call at 11 at night, when we had to be up at 4am. She'd let the phone ring continuously for 5 or 10 minutes until someone would answer and get him.

Needless to say, those of us with rooms near the phone would get irritated with this. I finally answered the phone and angrily shouted politely explained that we had to be up at 4am, goddammit please don't call so late anymore.

The phone rang again a few minutes later.

"Hi! Can you get smelly guy for me?"
"I just told you, don't call this late!"
"That wasn't me, I didn't just call"
"Well, I just told some girl to quit calling this late!"
"Damn him! (click)"


The first call for him the next night:

"How many times a night do I have to tell you to quit calling this late?"
"Wasn't me..."
"some girl..."
"Damn him (click)"

(We never did figure out how someone who smelled like him had any success with women)

Monday, August 20, 2007

2 wheel training

Jay posted about his son getting rid of training wheels. The best method for weaning a kid off training wheels I've found is this

1. When you remove the training wheels, remove the pedals as well, and make sure the seat is low enough that they can easily reach the ground with their feet.

2. Let them ride that way for a week or two, pushing with their feet hobby-horse style.

3. Put the pedals back on and raise the seat again.

That is all there is to it-They learn balance while still being able to catch themselves. This works best when they are very young--I did this for my kids just before they entirely outgrew their first bikes with 12 inch wheels. The concept works at any age, but older kids may not want to ride without pedals long enough.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Practical math

One of the things that doesn't get taught as well as it should is the practical application of math. At one time I worked for Panasonic in a still-being-built picture tube factory. One of our tasks was to measure the approximate capacity of various tanks--Probably at least 100 tanks overall.

People were using various methods. Tanks ranged from 20 liters up to 2000. We didn't have all the equipment we needed. We had unmarked buckets, 3 liter pitchers, metric scales and tape measures.

I saw various methods used-The most common was "3 liters, 6 liters, 9 liters, 12 liters....36 liters...Crap, I lost count". A few knew that a liter of water weighs a kilogram, and tared out a big bucket, filling it 10 liters at a time. A couple used the 3 liter pitcher to mark 10 liters in the bucket, then used the marked bucket.

The vast majority of tanks were either rectangular or cylindrical. To me the obvious method was to measure, and use 6th grade math (Pie are square, base times height) and metric system to calculate.

Reaction was varied. Some people didn't believe me (usually the 3/6/9 oh, crap people). Others remembered the formulas, but didn't quite understand that this is where they applied. A few had a "Duh--Why didn't I think of that" reaction. It seemed incredible to me that I was the first to think of this, with that many people spending that much time.

I think this is a failing in how things are taught. Kids should learn these things hands-on, by measuring things around the classroom. Maybe I'm strange, but I'd have an easier time learning the concepts if I was handling things, and measuring them. Have the class figure out the capacity of the wastebaskets, desk drawers, the room... I know that not all concepts can be taught this way, but wherever they can, they should.

Libertarians and education

In general, I seem to agree with libertarians more than other political views, although I'd call myself an "open source libertarian" rather than a "free software libertarian". For non-geeks, (or geeks of a different stripe) that means I'm not wedded to the ideals in their pure form, but rather believe that in most cases those ideas will have the best results.

Public infrastructure is a legitimate place for government. I think at least K-12 education is in a sense infrastructure--it is the basic core that aids progress and helps avoid tyranny. Education promotes commerce, educated soldiers are better able to defend our country. I don't think this translates to an individual right to education. Rather, it is good policy to spend education dollars as efficiently as possible, with several goals.

The first goal is to get the majority of the population to a reasonable level of education. Literacy, history, math (with a lot more practical applications--I'll do another post on that a bit later) government--How it works, and how to be involved to influence it. I think sports is over-emphasized. We worry too much about sports in school--It may benefit individuals, but I don't think sports programs benefit society. I may be biased, because I'm not an athelete and was never involved in school sports.

The second goal should be to identify Talent, and nurture it. This isn't for the benefit of Talent, but rather for the benefit of the rest of us--The more Talented people we have working on our problems, the quicker those problems will be solved.

Another reason that K-12 education is different is that kids shouldn't be held to the same standards as adults, and shouldn't be punished more than necessary for their parent's failures. By the time you can be responsible for yourself, it is essentially too late to catch up, regardless of talent or effort. I don't want generations of uneducated people, especially clustered together where the kids don't get to see the benefits.

I see some of the pitfalls of public education. I deplore most of the zero tolerance rules. It is an immense mistake to make self-defense a zero-tolerance offense, especially in cases where the truth is reasonably deciphered. I don't think it is intentional, but the result is teaching that authority is responsible for everything, don't be self-reliant.

I don't know what level of government should be responsible for education. Federal has an interest, but I don't know if it is enough to justify federal involvement in most cases. On the other hand, there are problems with education being funded entirely locally--There are cases of poor areas spending a higher percentage of total income on education, and still not having enough.

Friday, August 17, 2007

I reload for .40, and will probably eventually reload for 9mm unless I switch my IPSC gun to another caliber. I save my brass, plus whatever other reloadable brass I find at the range. This means I've got a big plastic kitty litter bucket about half full of brass. Probably about 2 gallons or so.

I made a little sifter with wood slats to separate the 9mm and smaller from the .40 and bigger. I spent a few hours perfecting it and sorting. The result was several boxes of brass in the garage--One of mostly 9mm, one of mostly .40, one of unsorted, and one of odds and ends, mostly revolver brass with a few rifle cartridges.

My wife decided to straighten up the garage. The first thing she did was clean up all these different little boxes of brass I had laying around everywhere. She didn't realize they were separate, so she just dumped them all back into the bucket...

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Cheapskate car statistics

I bought my first car in 1982--A 1962 Valiant that I paid $125 for. Slant 6, 96,000 on the odometer when it finally died, and I assumed it was actually 196,000. Drove it for about 10,000 miles over about a year, then I couldn't afford insurance. Total repairs--About $6 in brake springs. A friend borrowed it for a while, gave it back with a bad rear wheel bearing. Another friend bought it, and tried to transplant it's engine into his Rambler. The Rambler is a story in itself... I've still got the hood, trunk and 2 doors from the Valiant in the loft of my parents barn. 
 Including the Valiant, I've spent a total of $15,195 on cars. 2 were given to me free, but during the tenure of each of those I had another car as well. I've collected insurance on 2 cars that I kept driving. I've junked several, and sold most of them. The total "earnings" from my various cars is $6985, which doesn't count mileage reimbursement. This leaves me with $8200 in total payout (not counting repairs and maintenance) on cars over 25 years, for an average payment of $328.40 per year, or $27.37 per month. 
The most I spent on one car was $2800 on a Nissan Sentra wagon. Drove it for 8 years. Sold it for $400.  
Worst car was a 1989 Toyota Corolla. Was buying it as a spare car. I test-drove it in the evening, I didn't see how badly it smoked for the first 5 minutes it ran. Stranded me once due to a bad battery. Had a badly-leaking radiator that cost $135 (and a couple hours of my time) to replace, then it burst a brake line. Decided that wasn't worth replacing, because the lines were covered with a plastic thing held in by about a hundred rusty screws. I don't think I drove it 400 miles over 6 months. Junked it for $130. 
The most lucrative car was my recently-deceased Pontiac Sunbird, that I found for sale while walking back from my parents' garage where I was trying to fix the Corolla. Paid $450. Collected $675 in mileage for three trips to Detroit, spent about $120 of that in gas. I was run off the road by a commercial truck, was paid $1975 to "repair" my car. Didn't repair it other than putting a junkyard wheel and tire on for $20. Wound up with what I presume was a head gasket leak and some sort of vacuum problem. When the vacuum problem started affecting the brakes, I quit driving it except to take it to the range twice to use for an IDPA range prop--We did several scenarios where we drew and fired from the car, or left the car and fired from behind it. 
 I'm currently driving my wife's Nissan Sentra with a bad transmission--When it is hot, it often doesn't want to shift into high gear. She doesn't have to go far, so she's driving the $400 S-10 with 260,000 miles I bought to haul crap for the house. The S-10 has one seatbelt, no headliner, dash lights or radio, drivers' door window doesn't roll back up--You have to lift the window with one hand, roll the handle with the other. No grill, black body, blue driver's door, red bed. These are below even my standards, so I'm actually shopping for a replacement. I hate car shopping.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

David Bernstein on Universal Health Care

This pretty much sums up my thoughts on Universal Health Care.

"I'm against socialized medicine, and I'm against a single-payer system, (and I'm against Medicare for that matter, which not only subsidizes many well-off rich, but could hardly be better designed to waste money if it were done intentionally), but I simply can't get up in arms about "universal health care." We have a version of it already, but it's just a stupid and counterproductive version, and I'm willing to listen to alternatives that are less costly and more efficient, even if it means that the government is more directly involved, as with employer mandates."


I've decided to be a bit more organized in my blogging. "Journal" stuff--Daily life, my remodeling progress, cute dog stories and similar will go to Basically anything where if you aren't related to me, you won't care.

Political and hobby stuff will go here. I'm going to go through livejournal and pick out some of my older stuff and repost here.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Loud and rude

It's second shift, and the building is nearly empty. Our offices have partial walls between us and the hall, so we can clearly hear anything in the hallway. I'm on a conference call on speakerphone.

There is someone having a long, loud cellphone call in the hall just over the wall from my desk. I've turned my speaker phone up as loud as it will go, and rather than wander off to the 95% of the building that is empty (and has full-height walls) she just gets louder.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Modal: Annoyed

I'm setting up my new laptop at work, and it's driving me nuts with silly interface stuff.

We use SMS to keep software up to date. Because it is new, SMS is finding lots of stuff that needs to be updated. SMS can do most of the updates without interrupting your work, except...

Some genius decided to make the SMS window that tells you it is doing stuff locked to the foreground--You can work on other programs, but only after you move the SMS window out of the way.

On the other hand, Oracle has the exact opposite problem--It takes a while to install. Answer a question, wait a while, answer another question. Being an impatient sort, in a case like this I'm more than likely to go do something else while this happens. The problem: Some of these questions show up in another small centered window that doesn't have a toolbar button, or any notification that the window exists. If you leave the install window on top, no problem. However, if you go to another window and then return to the install process, the window asking a question is hidden behind the main install window. All you see is an install window that isn't doing anything. If it had a toolbar button, or would sit on top of the other install window it would be fine.

Someone decided that it is important to tell me that my virus definitions have been updated, and force me to click OK before I can go back to whatever I was doing. Often a couple times a day.

I'm not an interface expert, but it amazes me how bad the interface design of even major software can be, especially when the software does complicated internal stuff well.

Law as a game

This story shows a good part of what's wrong with our legal system. Some DA's are more interested in racking up a score of convictions than in serving justice. My guess is the DA doesn't actually intend to take this to trial and imprison these children, but by threatening that, he can get an easy plea bargain to a misdemeanor--Either that, or sitting in jail for a few days waiting to be tried on a felony is more punishment than an accurate charge could generate (in this case, it should have been handled in school)

We need to find a way to take away the worst of their weapons against decent people, without severely hampering how they deal with real criminals. I think the best way to do that would be to limit the ratio of original charge to plea bargain--If a prosecutor charges someone with rape or murder, they can't accept a plea of littering or disorderly conduct. I don't know what he exact ratio should be, but something like 50% of the penalty sounds reasonable. Probably also need something to prevent a points-scoring prosecutor from sending maxed-out charges to a jury, expecting them to drop most of them. Maybe a similar limit--Juries can only find one or two levels below what the prosecutor charges, otherwise either not guilty, or guilty without a sentence.

There should also be a real juvenile cutoff age, and anything that happens before cannot follow you forever. I'm not saying that if you're 17 and kill someone it's gone from your record when you are 18, but I do think stuff somewhere before around 14 or 15 should be expunged automatically after 5 or 10 years.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

New Shooters

This is based on an original found at . Used with permission, edited to match my range and rules.

The Four Rules of Gun Safety

Study these rules carefully. These rules apply everywhere with every gun, not just at the range.

Rule One: Always assume that a gun is loaded and treat it as such.
Lots of people are shot with guns that they or someone nearby assumed was unloaded. If you are handed a weapon and do not intend to immediately fire it, check to make sure that the chamber is clear and there is no round in the magazine ready to be loaded—Even if the person handing it to you has just done that. Check it again before you hand it back. If you are aware that it is loaded, announce “It’s loaded” before it changes hands, even if you feel silly. I will show you how to do this for any weapon you will be handling before we start shooting.

Rule Two: Never point a firearm at anything you are not willing to destroy.
If you are handling a weapon, you must be extremely careful to always point the weapon in a safe direction. The ground is a safe direction, but beware of ricochets if standing on a hard surface like asphalt, and angle the weapon so it is not pointed straight down or in the direction of a person. Be careful not to point the gun at any part of your body. Downrange is a safe direction, provided there is nobody standing in front of you anywhere on the range. The sky (also known as up) is not a safe direction, as what goes up will eventually come down.

Additionally, take care not to “sweep” the barrel in an unsafe direction when moving the firearm. It is very easy to unthinkingly cross the direction of the weapon over the person next to you while moving from one point to the next, so be mindful of your actions. I do not enjoy having loaded weapons pointed in my direction, and will inform you loudly should you do so.

This rule does not apply if the weapon in question is in a holster with the trigger covered, or is placed on a table and is not being handled. Guns do not “just go off” by themselves, and are only dangerous when handled by a person. If we are sitting at a table, for instance, and I remove my sidearm and holster (without removing the pistol), and place both on the table, you need not worry about it. I will still take care not to point the weapon in your direction, but if for some reason it ends up that way and you would like me to move it, I will not be offended when you ask.

Rule Three: Keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to fire.
Keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to fire! KEEP YOUR FINGER OFF THE TRIGGER UNTIL YOU ARE READY TO FIRE! This is the rule that is broken most often, especially when people have built-in bad habits from years of unsafe gun handling, or playing with toy guns. I will show you before I let you handle a weapon how to hold it with your finger straight and out of the trigger guard. If I see your finger anywhere in the trigger guard and you are not in the process of firing the weapon, I will correct you.

Rule Four: Be sure of your target, and what is behind it.
This is closely related to rule two. Are you sure that your target is something you’re supposed to be shooting? Are you sure that anything behind it is something that’s OK to shoot? Is there anyone or anything around that could move into your line of fire or that you could accidentally hit?

At the range we’ll be attending, it is OK to shoot at a paper target with a hill behind it. It is NOT OK to shoot at a leaf sitting near the top of the hill. It is NOT OK to shoot at something on the ground between you and the targets. It is NOT OK to shoot at the trash cans or the signs, or to intentionally shoot range scenery.

So that’s the safety talk. We’ll review the four rules and their justifications before we start shooting. Remember, I’m going to quiz you!

Guidelines for the range

  • While we are at the range, I am the boss. You may be a friend, a relative, a co-worker or an employer, but we are attending a range that I pay for membership at, firing guns that I own with ammunition that I purchased. It is not about my ego and I am not on a power trip, but while I’m not an expert, I presumably have more experience with these things than you do, so you will follow instructions that I give you. We’re there to have fun and learn, but this is not Chutes and Ladders. Please attempt to remain serious and conscientious of your actions while attending the range as my guest.

  • You will wear eye and ear protection at all times while a gun is being fired. I will always look behind me to check for “ears” being on, and I suggest you do the same.

  • You will follow the Four Rules at all times at the range. If you do not, I will correct you. Please do not be offended if I am stern. I am not attempting to be condescending, and I’m not angry at you, I just don’t feel like standing in line at the emergency room today. If you perceive that I am acting in an unsafe manner, PLEASE ask me to explain what I’m doing. I will not be offended if you catch me breaking one of the Four Rules and correct me.

  • We will be shooting at an unsupervised range. This means that there is a possibility that we will interact with other people during our time at the range. If we are approached and you are holding a weapon, you will hand it to me in a safe manner, and let me do the talking. If you are asked a question directly, answer directly and honestly. Humility and respectfulness are the words of the day for both of us when interacting with strangers on a firing range.

  • If you repeatedly fail to respect safety while at the range as my guest, or fail to follow my instructions while handling firearms, we will pack it up and go home early. I’ve never had to do this, but I suspect that one day I will. Please do not spoil our fun day at the range and place a spot on our friendship by acting like an idiot. Thanks!

  • If you see anything dangerous, yell “Cease-fire” or “Stop”. If anyone yells “Cease fire” or “stop”, immediately stop shooting, but keep the gun pointed downrange until you can set it down safely.

On the big day

  • Blue jeans work best for the range, since you may have occasion to kneel on the ground to pick something up or while reloading. Khaki’s are OK too, as long as you do not mind either getting a little dirt on them or kneeling on the hard concrete in thin pants. Range rules say no open-toe shoes.

  • I do not recommend a shirt with a loose collar because the hot brass shells that are ejected when you fire a semi-automatic pistol fly in an arc, and in some cases a collar acts as the perfect method of catching that hot brass, sending it down your shirt and inducing a dance not unlike that which a bee would cause. Holding a loaded gun while contorting and jumping around frantically is obviously not good. Women should be especially aware of this, as exposed cleavage is a magnet for hot brass.

  • A hat is recommended, but not required.

  • By the way: If you should happen to get stung by a bee, hit by a piece of debris, have a hot casing go down your shirt, or any other minor mishap, try to remain calm until you can safely set the gun down. However, simply dropping a firearm is better than waving it around, or worse, fumbling with a loaded gun for fear of losing your grip. I can clean, replace, or repair the gun. It is more difficult to replace or repair you. If the gun starts to leave your hands, LET IT DROP. Do not grab at a falling gun! Even a gun that is not drop-safe is more likely to go off in a bad direction by grabbing than by falling.

  • I will provide all ammunition, eye/ear protection, and targets.