Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Too Big for One Post

I've started watching The Big Bang Theory.  Being who and what I am, a guy with no antenna on his TV, I'm watching the seasons on DVD.  I do enjoy an absence of commercials.

The show opens with a small vignette, then goes into the theme song.  It's pretty cool that there are some shows that still have theme songs.  One line is "fourteen billion years ago expansion started.  Wait..."

Expansion started.  That's one way to put it.  According to a commercial for Discover magazine back in the 80s, in a few seconds the Big Bang had created a universe that was already hundreds of lightyears across.

So how does that work?  Light speed limit, hundreds of lightyears, something's got to give, right?  Well, it does and doesn't.  There's so much mass around, so much gravity altering the shape of space itself and even time that it's pretty hard to define such a thing as time and distance under those conditions.  A physicist could actually define it, but I'm no physicist.  I understand the topic enough to know that the rules bend under conditions like that.  They bend because the conditions themselves are bent.

So the expansion is happening at something less than lightspeed under the conditions - space itself is pretty tightly compacted, space itself is expanding as the Big Bang unfolds.  But I'm a little confused by a few things:

How do we know the Big Bang is even over?  Some researchers posit that the universe must keep expanding, but these same researchers will admit that gravity's range is essentially infinite.  Given enough time, all expansion will come to a stop and reverse direction.

Using gravity lens effects, astronomers can bring in pictures that show what appear to be entire clouds of galaxies in the distance.  They are not clouds but multiple images of the same galaxies.  The light is bent so that what appears to be two or more remarkably similar distant galaxies is in fact the same one.  If your telescope is good enough, how likely is it that eventually you see so far into the depths of the universe that you're looking at yourself, the light of your own image bent back after billions of years, eventually slowing down and falling back onto yourself?

Granted, you won't be able to do that today.  Like I said, billions of years.  The light's going to be traveling for quite some time.  If your telescope is good enough, you could maybe look far into the distance and see a tiny, faint image of a young Earth, still cooling from its formation.  If you want to catch a peek of yourself, you're going to have to take one whammy of a nap, and set an alarm to wake yourself later.  Much, much later.

Have to collect my thoughts.  More on this tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Irony in the News

The Supreme Court has struck down the California law banning sale of violent video games to kids.  That's good, it's a bad law and not really supportable in what's supposed to be a free country and a free market.  But it's bad practice to make those violent images available to young kids while their impressionable young minds are still forming world views that define right and wrong.

Commenting on the successful alteration of the video game marketplace, Common Sense Media CEO James Steyer said, "I think we definitely hit the industry over the head with a two-by-four."

No word on whether a law has been passed that will censor Mr. Steyer.


The United States government is spending a lot of money making money - in the literal sense, in big coin stamping mills - that no one wants.

US Dollar coins have been a consistent flop since the Susan B. Anthony dollar.  The Susan B. was cursed with its compact shape, only two millimeters wider than a quarter and the same color. The Susie B also suffers from the fact that the portrait on the obverse side (that's "heads" to non-numismatists) shows a pretty crabby looking lady.  The Sacagawea dollar was a gold color so it was easily distinguished though its size stayed the same.

The Presidential dollars are the same size as the Sacagawea, and the same color.  But there are precious few vending machines that take them, and no retailers have ordered tills for their cash registers with an extra slot for the dollar coin.

A dollar coin makes good economic sense.  A dollar bill can survive in circulation on average up to a few years; a coin in circulation can go a couple of decades.  Even if it costs ten times as much to make the coin, that's a good return on the investment.

But people don't want coins.  There's already rumblings about dropping the increasingly worthless penny.  With more and more people never touching cash, doing all their trading with debit and credit cards, why would you bother with another coin?

Why indeed.  Like the Ark of the Covenant in the cavernous warehouse at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, there are pallets and pallets of dollar coins - over a billion dollars worth! - sitting in a warehouse, unwanted.

The Obama administration is considering demanding a 56+ mpg CAFE standard for all cars by 2025.  That's pretty funny coming from the guy whose presidential limo is in fact a heavily modified medium-duty TRUCK sometimes referred to in-house as The Beast.  And while it may be rather more than just a car, you can bet it isn't getting anywhere near even the current CAFE standard mileage.

It was pretty embarrassing when The Beast got high-centered coming out of a driveway a couple months ago. Could we maybe step back a little bit from the ostentatiousness of the gigantic limo, maybe make do with something a little more modest?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Dying for Spiritual Awakening

Would you give $10,000 to this man?

How about this one?

Same guy.  He's James Arthur Ray, a proponent of the wingnut "law of attraction" quasi-spiritual path to riches, enlightment, and general good vibes that rich people with apparently more money than sense just can't seem to live without.

Ray's taken on the idea that a sweatlodge, or to put it more appropriately, a "sweat" is what a lot of people need.  He's wrapped it up in his own weird brand of spirituality, draped it in the rich history of the Lakota people and their spiritual beliefs and practices, and then totally screwed it up.  Ask any Lakota and he'll tell you in no uncertain terms, Ray's approach was just wonky.  It lasted too long, the people operating the sweat were insufficiently trained, and the sweat lodge itself was dangerous.

Take a look at Ray's sweat lodge.  Those are tarps.  People were giving this shyster up to $10,000 so he could bake them over a period of several days under tarps.


And any Lakota will also tell you that to charge money for a sweat is offensive on many levels, not least of which being an offense to the Lakota spiritual path itself.  Nobody's selling tickets to white man's churches, Ray.  Get a little perspective.

But why am I saying all these things?  Why bring them up?  Three of Ray's customers, well-intentioned but woefully uninformed and gullible people with money, died during an extremely long period in the sweat lodge. 18 more were hospitalized.  One would hope that at the very least, Ray refunded their money to their families.  But all the money in the world doesn't get those people back.

You can make the argument that they were asking for it.  It doesn't take a lot of wisdom to see that the operation, whatever you might call it, was pretty shaky.  It doesn't take much discernment to hear the mumbo jumbo behind all the flowery language of the guy's pitch.  How did these customers ever amass enough money to waste it on this event?  But that wouldn't be fair - no one was asking for it.  No one ever would.  The Lakota go into a sweat knowing it wouldn't last this long, knowing they would be carefully monitored in smaller groups by an individual who had been carefully trained in the art over several years.

Ray somehow escaped the manslaughter charge the first time.  But the ride has to come to an end.  He's dangerous, careless, and evidently doesn't learn from his mistakes.  The man might be a spiritual leader, certainly - by leading those foolish enough to follow him to their final sunset.

I understand to some extent where these people were coming from.  I want a deeper spiritual understanding.  But the last thing I want is a careless money-grubbing pretender like James Arthur Ray slowly cooking me to death in my own juices to try to make it happen.

How Broken is American Health Care?

Well, that's a question I can't answer.  I'm no economist, not a pundit, not even a journalist.  But I'm not blind, either.

When a guy robs a bank to get some medical attention, you know the system is broken.  His name is James Verone, and he's got a raft of assorted medical issues.  He, like so many other Americans, lost his job when the economy suddenly sounded the dive dive dive klaxon and he hasn't been able to find work since. Without a job, getting health insurance is pretty hard.  Hard, as in expensive.  And of course when you're unemployed expensive translates into unattainable.

What's a guy got to do to get a little doctor face time?  Hmm...where are there doctors a guy doesn't have to pay for?

Assorted developing nations, except it's not always easy to catch up to the Doctors Without Borders people.  Free clinics here and there, but if your problem is more involved than a little gauze or an Ace bandage, a lot of them can't do much.


Verone robbed a bank.  He handed a teller a note demanding a dollar.

You read that right: $1.00.  He made no threats, did not mention any weapons and was generally a quiet and unassuming, for lack of a better word, "customer."  No word on whether Verone holds an account at the bank where he made his desperate foray into a life of crime.

Police, being not without some compassion, only charged Verone with larceny of an individual instead of actual robbery due to the very mild nature of his transgression and the extreme modesty of his demands.

So what's it going to take, America?  Obamacare isn't the right answer, but pitching out the entire plan without having a suitable substitute isn't going to get the job done, either.  Here's how awful our current healthcare system is: I have no idea what the healthcare system is.  That's it.  I've said it before, I'm a pretty smart guy but when we get to matters like this, my eyes just cross.

When a pretty smart guy - I've taken tests that quantified that I'm not stupid - can't make sense of the healthcare system, where does that leave the average Joe? 

My entire interpretation of healthcare at this time is: don't get sick.  Don't get hurt.  It's too confusing and too difficult to have to wade through all the red tape and folderol.

It's seductive to get caught up in the question, "who do we have to blame for this mess?"  But frankly that's unproductive thinking.  If we dig a little, we'll find that there's plenty of blame to spread around, on both sides of the aisle in Congress, over the past few presidents, and onto ourselves, the taxpayers and voters, who put the decision makers in office.  They make the decisions we tell them to make, after all.  So really it all falls on us.

 Skip past the naming of blames.  That won't help anyone.  But let's get this straightened out.  If we're supposed to be a free country, how can we look each other in the eye and say that, when we're making prisoners of ourselves just to save our own lives?

Monday, June 20, 2011

Drinking & Driving: Jackass

One of the former stars of the wildly popular "show" Jackass, that staple that sets the tone for so much of MTV, is dead.  Welcome to it.

The guy's name was Ryan Dunn.  He rose to stardom of a sort, doing stupid things to himself and others, inserting foreign objects into bodily orifices and spoofing doctors at emergency rooms when the badly misplaced Hot Wheels showed up on the X-ray.  It all came to a crashing end both literally and figuratively when he got up from the bar after a few hours of tossing back beers, staggered unchallenged to his car, fell behind the wheel and cheerfully piloted the car, himself and his passenger headlong into the next world.

Jackass?  Dumbass.

So the world's short a jackass.  Is that a bad thing?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Weiner Withdraws from Congress


There are many unfair puns I could make on the guy's current situation, many of them involving his name.  Unfair because he has no control over his name.  In deference to that lack of control and the fact I have been teased with my own name for years, I will resist the very very strong temptation.

Too bad Weiner didn't resist temptation.  But that's water under the bridge.

After the fact isn't the time to claim you have a problem and need help.  Millions of cynical voters look at the timing and say, "yeah, right."  Had Weiner gone for counseling, been outed after being in counseling a while, this might have blown over very quickly.  If nothing else, he would have received a much more sympathetic reaction from the public in general.  But saying you're a sex addict and going for counseling after the white hot spotlight of getting caught letting your fingers doing the running around on your wife, doesn't wash.  Sorry Tony.

Maybe he can get a job as a sex addiction counselor.  He's got a good name for it.

Lunar Eclipse

A lunar eclipse doesn't make the moon disappear.

On Earth, we humans enjoy a celestial juxtaposition of distances and sizes such that, when eclipses occur, we are treated to an especially remarkable show.  From the Earth's surface, the Moon and the Sun appear to be the same size.  They're not, of course, but since the Moon is a mere quarter-million miles away its disc of 2100+ miles is sufficient to block the Sun's 865,000 mile disc.  It's almost a perfect overlay.

What does that mean for us?  Well.  From the Moon's surface during a full eclipse of the sun, you wouldn't see any Sun at all.  But unlike the Moon, Earth has an atmosphere which leads to some startling effects.

During a full lunar Eclipse, the Moon seems to fade away as the Earth's shadow slides across it.  But then, just as you thought it was going to be completely blacked out, the Moon makes a startling reappearance.  But now it isn't the pale silvery orb we know so well, but a haunting ruddy orange.  How come?

In that moment, the Moon is experiencing a sunset like you wouldn't believe.  Just as we see the sun fade over the western horizon into darker and redder shades as its more oblique rays are deflected and defracted until only the longer, redder wavelengths reach us on the ground, the Moon gets the weaker but longer wavelengths of the Sun shone on it, and that's what we see reflected back to us during the lunar eclipse.  I imagine an eclipse from the Moon's surface must look like a fiery ring in the sky where the sun ought to be.

The solar eclipses we experience on the ground are one of those fortunate happenstances that make the religious nod knowingly.  During a full eclipse, our planet's moon - so ridiculously large compared to its primary that many astronomers consider the Earth-Moon system a double planet - perfectly blocks out the Sun.  What's left?  Coronal mass discharges, the coronasphere, Baily's beads.  All kinds of visual phenomena you can't see without the eclipse.

Baily's beads in particular require not just an eclipse, but the Moon.  Baily's beads are a little bit of extra light making its way to us on the ground as it gets past lunar mountains.  But back in the day, the eclipse was not just a stunning phenomenon, but a scientific opportunity.  "I could learn so much about the Sun," thought early astronomers, "if I could just block some of it out."  Hey presto, a little blocking coming right up.

Of course, the difficulty is that an eclipse doesn't last.  Just like the Moon last night being orange for less than an hour, the Sun is totally blocked for just a few minutes.  Then the Moon's orbit and the Earth's orbit carry everything back out of alignment and the light comes back.

Enjoy the show.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Anthony Weiner

It's almost too easy.  Like Charlie Sheen, Weiner is his own worst enemy.

By now there's no vertebrate lifeform that hasn't heard Weiner got in trouble for sending photos of himself - and his Weiner - to assorted women all over the US.  That's bad enough.  You're a US Representative, Tony.  You're supposed to be smart, wise enough to know that that kind of thing is Frowned Upon.

What makes it worse is that he told at least one of the women how to lie to cover up their relationship.  Ouch.  Not bad enough?  The woman in question is porn star Ginger Lee.  Ouch ouch.  Stop, Tony.  You're making it too easy.

Then Weiner goes on the news, first to turn on the waterworks and admit he's been bad and he's terribly sorry about all the women he's "hurt," which I find frankly ridiculous, and he'll never never do it again and he's by golly going to stay the course in his Congressional seat and ride this thing out...

This is the part where the other members of Congress say "Like Hell,you will," because as bad as it is to have this kind of scandal land in your own political party, it's even worse to keep it around.  Weiner says he's seeking treatment to "become a healthier person," which might imply he's claiming sexual addiction.  If so and if it's real, more power to you.  If he's shamming to dodge harsher criticism: man up.  You've been thinking with your glands, Tony.  Admit it.

Except it isn't just glands.  I've said it before, that it takes a certain towering ego to seek public office, to believe you're the right one for the job.  It's not a far stretch to believe you're too smart to be caught, too much man for one woman, too sexy for Internet security.  Wow - way to learn the hard way!

So now there's a call for Weiner to step down.  I say, step down.  Go on.  It's tough to be taken seriously as a Congressman when you're showing your junk to phone sex buddies on the side.  Some of us are more mature than that.

Hey - if not showing pictures of my pasty white self to women on the Internet is a qualifying stipulation, I'm ready for politics!  Who'll vote for me?  I assure you I won't be as embarrassing as Anthony Weiner or Eliot Spitzer.

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Presidential Race

The latest news item is that the Republican Party is scrambling to find a presidential candidate strong enough to take on Barack Obama.

Say what?

Now, so far I've been an uninterrupted Democrat in my voting.  Let me back that up, there was a vote a few years ago when I split my ticket, voting Dem for President but Republican for the representative seat.  I don't remember why but, in the words of Lucentio, my reasons must have been "good and weighty."  But even though I voted for the guy, I haven't been thrilled with Obama.

His Medicare plan wasn't well met.  To be honest, I don't think anybody Medicare plan is ever going to be well met.  That's just the way it is: you can craft a plan that covers everybody and nobody is left behind but the thing costs as much as buying Algeria, or you can craft a plan that is lean, tight and affordable, but doesn't cover anyone or covers everyone, but with next to no coverage.  Pick your poison.

Obama has one big advantage in his favor that has nothing to do with his politics: his skin.  In what has been purported to be the Land of the Free where all men are created equal, Obama did the one thing that really brings that truth home: he's a black man as President of the US.  Where this country once wallowed in the backwards traditions of slavery, where a man whose absent father was an African national and himself a native of the then-new state of Hawaii, Obama is the quintessential melting pot American.  After an uninterrupted history of white Anglo-Saxon presidents, Obama's presence in the Oval Office brings home more than anything else, the doors are officially open to anyone.

The Republican Party doesn't have anything like him in their paddock.  Their closest challenge would be Sarah Palin, who as a female steps outside of the old mold and almost meets Barack on a level playing field as far as breaking the mold of stuffy old white men running the show.  But that's where the level field drops off.  Sarah Palin has shown herself to be an increasingly uneven performer, certainly off the cuff when on her so-called "vacation" across the country with her kids in tow.  Word to the wise, Sarah: it's not a vacation when you give it a theme, an event name and take an entourage of cronies on a great big bus with your name on the side.

Newt Gingrich is out of the running.  Regardless of what he says, he's just done.  Most of his upper management team just upped stakes and left.  Bummer.  Well, maybe not - Newt is also the guy who held the line so hard on the budget, he shut the government down during the Clinton administration.  Being President isn't about getting your way, it's about finding the compromise that does the least damage.

They could field Tim Pawlenty.  He may be too conservative for the US at large: he would bring back the old abortion fights and the "don't ask, don't tell" rule.  As far as that last one goes, does anyone really care?  Can the soldier pull a trigger?  Take orders?  That ought to cover it.  As for abortion...well.  I have no valid comment.  I'm not the one that's ever going to be pregnant.

There's also talk around Texas governor Rick Perry.  Perry's pretty conservative too, at least as conservative as Pawlenty and probably more.  He's a hellfire-and-brimstone Bible believer.  While I support that on its face, it doesn't have much place in the governance of people.  Unless they're a congregation in your church and you're the preacher and they want you there, your religious beliefs are your own business.  They may guide you in your convictions, but you can't expect others to be guided the same.  Either respect your entire constituency, or none of them.

Perry has also spoken positively of the potential secession of Texas.  You read that right, the independent sovereign republic of Texas.  He hasn't advocated for the actual secession, he just speaks positively of the possibility, of the right.  He says Texas should be able to secede if it needs to, and speaks against the large, unwieldy and unnecessarily oppressive US government and its incessant meddling as one of the many reasons why Texas might conceivably secede in the future.

Yipes.  These are the people the Republicans might put up against Obama for the 2012 election.

Makes Obama's unwieldy Medicare plan look pretty good, doesn't it?

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Jack Kevorkian, "Dr. Death," Dead

The irony of a dead Dr. Death is almost palpable.  At 83, Kevorkian lived a fairly long life and according to current accounts was in pretty good health up until fairly recently.

Kevorkian had been diagnosed with a few health issues, including cancer, but nothing doctors considered terminal.  So it's not ironic that Kevorkian was seeking to extend his life, the only irony is his nickname juxtaposed with his current status.

On the whole, I find Kevorkian's stance on physician-assisted suicide as, if not noble, then at least necessary.  Doctors take a vow that states up front, "Do no harm."  Well, that's a stumbling block, that sweeping statement.  The art and science of surgery was held back possibly hundreds of years by Hippocrates' well-meant oath.   You can't exactly call cutting a living person open doing no harm, can you?  But if you're cutting him open to remove a tumor or repair a rupture or something else, you have to take a longer view.  You're doing him harm right now, but it's nothing compared to the harm that might come to the individual by doing nothing.

Modern health care has, at its core, a basic flaw.  It treats each person as if he or she could reasonably expect to live forever.  There's pediatric care for the very young, general care for the average person, obstetrics and gynecology for the unique plumbing associated with the female body, geriatric care for the very old.

Not a lot in there about terminal care.  That's changing, slowly.  There's hospice care, which I don't think is treated as an actual discipline within the larger school of medicine.  I think it should be.

You're going to die.  Everyone who ever lived, eventually died.  Elijah in the Bible may be an exception.  Everyone who is alive right now is going to die.  That's a fact and there's no getting around it.  Barring a stunning new development in the understanding of telomeres, you can reasonably expect your threescore and ten and now, thanks to advancements in modern medicine, maybe a score or so more.  Telomeres being reset to make you the genetic equivalent of a 20 year old might give you a new lease on life, but does it mean you'll live forever?  No.  It's just a stay of execution.  You too will discover what lies beyond the veil, someday.

Doing no harm has to have some asterisks, some footnotes.  Harm is causing injury unnecessarily.  What about when the patient has no hope of living?  You can extend his/her life with intensive care.  Put the person on machines that circulate and oxygenate the blood, help the breathing.  Dialysis.  Beat the cancer back for another month with Gamma Knife treatments, interferon drips.  But nothing will change the fact - it's coming.

We have at our church an absolutely delightful lady who has been diagnosed with cancer.  I think it's a terrible shame.  Bless her, she has a deep and breathy voice that doesn't sound great when she sings the hymns, but her musical talent and skill is such that she takes her oddly bullfroggy voice and sings the most excellent counterpoint.  She raises goats.

She has a month or three left to live.  How much effort should be put into "saving her life?"  It can't be saved.  The cancer is all through her, if you were to try to cut it all out, there'd be nothing of the lady left.

Now we get to the stickier question of "quality of life," the fuzzier part of the Hippocratic oath.  To do no harm is admirable, but when nothing can be done with causing unnecessary harm, the pendulum swings toward the patient's wants.  Needs are basic: food, shelther.  Life is terminal and will end regardless, so stop worrying about the extension of the patient's life.  If the patient wants you to extend his life, do so.  Do what you can.  Advise as you can on the way: this procedure will extend your life but it will hurt a lot.  This one won't extend it as much but it won't hurt as much either.  This one won't extend your life at all, but you won't be in as much pain.

None of them will save your life.  You can't have the threescore and ten.  The end is coming.  The doctor can push the end back a little, at the expense of great suffering, or you can allow the end to come as it will, but the suffering won't be as bad.

I'm pretty sure which way I'd choose.  I'm still not comfortable with the concept of my own mortality, even though by most other measures I'm a perfectly rational person.  I don't like to think that there will come a day whose sunset I may not see, a dawn that never comes.

Maybe a new, greater dawn is waiting.  That should be quite an awakening.

So it's still illegal in many parts of the world to have a doctor help ease that last passage.  Doctors seem to think they have to have a hand in so many things that they really just don't.  People had babies long before there were ever doctors and they seemed to do just fine.  They still do, in fact.  Yes, having doctors around does make the process a lot less risky, but really - do we need them that much?

How many people who are not really very healthy still made it to adulthood to have children?  My eyesight is lousy, as a hunter-gatherer I would probably not have made it to pass my genes along to the next generation.  My wife's eyes are pretty bad too; when our kids were born we were halfway expecting them to not have eyes at all, like cave lizards.  Or a heart murmur, or a propensity for springtime allergies?  These are the kinds of things that weaken a body, but with doctors and treatment we don't succumb to them.   We just stagger along for our threescore and ten, and maybe a score or so more.

But whatever is ailing you doesn't necessarily go away.  The weight of years is always there.  Lungs get weaker, the heart gets weaker.  Joints can't hold up the weight.  Eventually, you go down, but you're not quite done.  You won't be getting up again, but you're not done yet, either.

And the doctors will extend your life.  Gasping for breath though you are, they can make sure you gasp longer.  Your heart hammers to push the thinning blood through your veins; they can prescribe blood thinners to make it easier to pump.  They can install pacemakers to keep your heart pumping regularly.

How much suffering will you tolerate to have a few more years, a few more months, another hour?  Eventually there comes an hour that must be your last.

Kevorkian's mission had been to make that last hour and the ones leading up to it less awful.  People talk about dying with dignity, and I think that's so much baloney.  Very few things associated with the workings of the living body are what you could call "dignified."  Bathroom trips, eating, having babies: these are all biological absolutes that you don't get to escape and none of them have any dignity associated with them.  What you can have, however, is a little control over the context in which they happen: doors on the bathrooms and knives and forks at the dinner table.  The functions become less of a spectacle.

Kevorkian's machine.  The life-extending procedures are all used up and now the inexorable decline begins, or we simply pull the car off the highway here and say, that's enough of that.   I don't have to plow my battered old ride into the bulldozers at the end of Vanishing Point.  I'm just going to step out now.  No big crash.  No unnecessary drama.  So long, and thanks for all the fish.

Well, I'm a little addled.  Just clambered out of bed.  Hopefully this all made sense.  Kevorkian's gone and went suddenly enough that he didn't wind up his own last customer.  I guess that's my main point, that and when your life's options have pretty much run out, he still made it possible for people to have a little control over the ends of their lives, to have one more option.  That's the gist of it.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

It lives!

I'm not sure if it was advice from my dad, or taking the mag off to a local alternator shop, but I got the old Farmall running under its own steam last night.

Some days you get home from work, and all you want to do is sit down.  That's certainly understandable, especially if yours is kind of a physical job like mine, or Sweetie's.  We both are on our feet chasing after stuff, moving things around, not really spending a lot of time behind desks.  So getting home to a place where we can sit down, sit down without a steering wheel or computer in front of us, feels pretty good.

But last night I got home full of vim and vigor and feeling like I could keep going for a while.  So I dug out a jug of condenser coil cleaner, took the air conditioner apart - it's actually a heat pump - and cleaned the coils.

Spray 'em up and watch 'em foam.  Gross.  Gritty, gray and black foam.  Blech.  Spray 'em again.  Still gray, but at least it's monochromatic and not so dark.  Spray 'em one more time, and that ought to do it.

Then I put my gauges on the system and watched the needle come up.  32 degrees coil temperature.  Not good.  You might think you want the coils running just as cold as you can, but it isn't so.  For them to be running at that temperature, the refrigerant is completely boiled off before it's run all the way through the coil, and can't take more heat away.  So the frost begins to form near where the refrigerant first enters the coil, then slowly marches all the way across the coil until, eventually, the entire coil is covered with frost.  If you don't discover this condition, it thickens and becomes ice.  So I'm going to have to get some refrigerant to add to my home AC, and unlike recharging the AC in your car which can be done with chemicals bought over the counter at any parts place, R-22 is more tightly controlled.

Once I was done with the AC, I put those parts away and dug the magneto out of the back of the car and stuck it on the tractor.  Dad sent me a link to a video, how to time a Farmall Cub.  I'm not sure how much that helped me, but it was educational nonetheless.

Mag goes on.  Two bolts, five wires.  Crank crank crank.

Nothing.  Well, check the fuel.

It's as dry as the Sahara in there.  If I'd been intended to remove the fuel tank for service, that would have been the time to do it.  So add some fuel.  The sediment bowl fills.

The fuel filter (I added one) fills...slowly...a little.  This might not be doing me any favors.  Is the fuel filter adding to my problems?  There's no fuel pump on this thing, it relies on the so-far-uninterrupted force of gravity to get gasoline down the line into the carburetor.

Crank crank crank.  Hmm.  I fiddled with some things, not really realizing what I was doing.  I put that wire over here but if I recall that's the one that's supposed to ground the coil when you turn it off, so take it loose...

Crank crank vroom sputter.  Oddly anticlimactic.  I had thought I might turn cartwheels when I got it running, but no.  It ran like I expected it to, and there was no reason for it to stop.  For it to sputter and quit, I thought: fuel.

I added fuel to add a little weight on top of the fuel, drive it through the line a little better.  That helped.  I choked the engine and started it again.  Again, it fired right up.  Keeping the choke on kept the engine running, and it didn't quit until I got it to the bottom of the driveway, on the flat street.  Then it died again.  Grumble grumble.

Long story very short, it took me about a half hour to drive the tractor from its former resting spot behind the house, down the driveway and around the end of the block to the front parking space.  It's a distance of less than a quarter mile.

So I think I've got my ignition problems sorted...for the moment.  But now there's a fuel delivery problem, and that's a whole different thing.  Fortunately, I understand fuel delivery a lot better than I ever did ignition problems.  Some of this I can address with a can of carburetor cleaner and be well served.  If I have to, I can order a set of gaskets online, take the carb apart and clean everything by hand, with a wire brush.

I remember jobs like that.  And since I know he's reading this, remember the Opel, dad?  Taking the carb apart on that thing just about doubled the entire parts count on that engine rebuild.  That was fun.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Where Is Your God Now!

Religion gets in the way of an awful lot of common sense.  For instance, being of a scientific bent (though not having achieved any higher degree in anything, let alone a science) can sometimes test my Christian beliefs.  Sometimes you sit there and just wonder, which kind of time am I wasting?

I do find Scientologists highly amusing.  Ooh, delicious: spellcheck doesn't like "Scientologist."  Interesting, it doesn't like "spellcheck" either.  Idiot computer, you're refuting yourself along with the silly cultists.  Anyway, a Scientologist tried to explain to me how Christianity was patently ridiculous, with its principal coming back from the dead.  Knowing a little bit about Scientology, I explained how my zombie trumped their space aliens any day of the week - at least Jesus was local and could relate to humanity.

For some reason, that wasn't well received.  Bummer.

But what about when your religion gets in the way of your work life?  Where I work I'm surrounded exclusively by Christians, but I've worked alongside everyone, from Muslims to atheists to Buddhists to just about everything else.  Even the old Viking religion Asatru or, as I like to call it, Norsican.  My understanding of Asatru is that is organized drinking and partying.  I might be wrong.  Weigh in if you have a viewpoint you'd like to share.

Haven't met anyone practicing Shinto, yet.  There's a conversation I'd like to have.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Sex Tapes and Fools

This title will probably do wonders for my view count.

At first it was the driving force behind such relatively harmless entertainment as "America's Funniest Home Videos."  Well, they weren't always the funniest.  Sometimes they were the grossest.  But the clear message behind that show was that there were a lot of people rolling video on their own families.  Most of it is pretty tame stuff, harmless.  Kids doing something silly, cats, et cetera.  But as the Internet and particularly video on the internet really took off, the show lost momentum.  You could see all kinds of stuff like that and lots more, especially stuff not suitable for family viewing, on the web.  Some of the videos on the web really didn't belong there.

It's in the news right now that Paris Hilton is really regretting that famous sex tape she made.  And now Jennifer Lopez is facing the fact that a tape of her - no facts yet as to what's on it - can be legally released by her former husband, an otherwise unremarkable waiter to whom she was married for a few months back in the 90s.

Why make the tapes in the first place?  These two young women, and many more just like them, are just a couple of the bigger names in the growing list of people who've allowed video to be shot of themselves while they were in, well, let's just call them compromising positions.  In most cases, it's video of the kind of thing you'd do with the curtains drawn because you don't want to show it off to everybody.

Just a quick ironic point: if you draw the curtains, why roll the video camera?  Now most of these folks will tell you that the significant other in the video assured them that the video wasn't going anywhere, that it would stay safe and be only for their future perusal.

Some folks have their pictures stolen.  Their phones get hacked and whatever's in the phone's memory is subject to being lifted.  The video is in the computer and of course that's perfectly safe, right?  Right?

Raise your hands if you've had to run antivirus software more than once in the last five years.  Your computer is no safer than a window with no curtains.  Anyone that wants to can peek in.  It's up to you to not put things there that you'd rather keep private.

And of course, there's the whole matter of rolling the video in the first place.  It seems like everybody and their cousin has a video camera of some kind on hand.  They're built into phones and even some iPods, for crying out loud.  The building where I work is festooned with dozens of cameras.  You would think, with all that coverage, most people would choose not to have video shot of them in their most private moments.  Clearly I'm wrong and not just about the famous names like Paris and Jennifer.  Lots of regular folks have their private video become public.

Sometimes it's a betrayal.  One video I caught - not the compromising one itself but a different recording, of the act of betrayal taking place, showed a boyfriend or husband weathering the reaction of his significant other as she discovered that their "private" video was on the Internet.  Needless to say, she was pretty upset.  There was a lot of yelling and a few punches thrown.  I felt pretty bad for her, but not as bad as I could have.  She had allowed the compromising video to be shot, after all.  It can't get released to the public if it doesn't exist in the first place.

In this technologically advancing world where the only privacy you're assured of is that inside your own head, such things are increasingly unsafe.  Better to not have them at all.

And if you have anything of the sort, if you should discover it on the Internet, who do you have to blame?  No one but yourself.  To expect to not have to live with that kind of decision is nothing short of foolish.  Paris and Jennifer and thousands of other people could tell you.