Archive for June, 2010

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Paul Bunyan is my New BFF

June 28, 2010

So, I just came in from the back yard.  Or rather, our back stretch of asphalt.  Whoever put in the driveway before we bought the house decided that we needed twelve feet of blacktop in any direction from the house itself.  Comes in handy when I’m under a car, but for other things?  Pain. In. The. Posterior.

So what was I doing out in the sweltering 90-degree 90% humidity?  Trying to stay warm.

Oh, not now.  In January.

One of the first things Vesta and I did when we bought the house was to have a wood stove put in.  I took a picture, but the internets ated it.  So here’s a much nicer installation of the same model, complete with rear heat shield:

Nice, huh?  Ours is not as nicely installed and has a lot more blue in the soapstone, but it is still flushed to the wall. It puts out about 50,000 BTU’s, which they say is enough to heat 1,500 square feet.  We still end up using a space heater on and off upstairs, but it does the job nicely.  We have ours in the living room, and there have been nights in February where we’ve cracked a window to keep it below 85 degrees inside.  Please note, I’m not complaining here.

So a few weeks ago, a friend of my mothers’ calls up and tells me that she has several cherry trees that were trimmed, and would I like the wood?  Expecting a few arm-sized branches, I raced over in the Jeep.  Trimmed, as I found out, was a bit of an understatement.  I found veritable wood burners’ gold:  16+” rounds, pre-cut, that had been down for a couple months, free for the taking.  All told, about a cord and a half, I expect.  Whoopee!!

So I ran home, hitched up the trailer, and four loads later, it was all in my back yard.  Or back black top, whatever.  I’ve been whittling away at it ever since.

In acquiring our wood to burn, I have three main tools at my disposal.

Husqvarna 455 Rancher Chain Saw

7-ton Electric Log Splitter

Fiskars Super Splitter

I’m considering doing a detailed write up on each one of these as I putter along on this blog, incidentally.  I have a couple other odds and ends that help along the way, but these are my big three.  Oh, and a lot of sweat and determination.  I don’t have a lot of land (standard 1/10th of an acre city lot) so I need what I use to be compact and productive.  I don’t have room to store a full sized gas splitter, so I use the electric.  It’s split just about everything I throw at it.  Vesta even gets on on it, it’s so easy to use.

We actually sat down and figured it out on day.  Heating with wood warms you about 10 times.  First by cutting it, then by hauling it, then stacking it, then splitting it, then stacking it, then hauling it, then stacking it, then stacking it again, then burning it, then getting rid of the ashes.  Pretty cost-effective at the free price, I think.  There’s the added benefit of what Vesta calls the Woodburner’s Diet:  eat whatever the hell you want, then cut/split/stack wood for a weekend.  Guaranteed to lose weight.

It’s a ton of work, but in the middle of February when it’s hovering around a balmy no degrees Fahrenheit, and I get the gas bill, I love opening it in my PJ’s in 75 degree comfort to see that it’s only $35 bucks*.

*We still cook with gas, and have a gas clothes dryer, gas (tank) water heater, and we do run the gas furnace for about a half of an hour a day in the morning to take the chill off.  Otherwise, we’d have no gas bill.
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On being unarmed…

June 18, 2010

So here’s that post I’ve had rattling around in my head for two weeks or so.

 On the cruise, and many other places, we have top surrender our tools of defense.  As a concealed handgun licensee (thinking about starting instructing, actually) I’m used to have certain tools at my disposal for a worst-case scenario.  Please note, I’m using the word tools – for a reason.  I’ll get to it in a moment.

 On our recent trip, I had to leave virtually any conventional implement of defense at home.  The cruise line even prohibits folding pocket knives, regardless of size (including the Kershaw Chive with a blade under 2” that permanently lives attached to my pocket) leaving us theoretically defenseless in a safe, weapons-free environment.  I saw theoretically because in practice, there is no such thing as a truly weapon-free environment.

 Think about it for a moment.  Let me suggest a few scenarios.  Let us say you are in an airport and have gone through security already.  The TSA likes to call this a ‘sterile’ area, so I’ll use that term as well.  Someone picks up a chair and starts beating someone else with it.  You’re in a so-called weapon-free zone, but that person could be charged with assault with a deadly weapon.  Hmm.

 Here’s another good one.  In Ohio, business owners have the option to post a sign which prohibits the carrying of a firearm in their business.  In Ohio, we have a slang term for such places, Criminal Protection Zones, or CPZ’s.  Those signs don’t work so well. (All of those are posted, and that search took less than 5 minutes)

 So, in practice, there is no such thing as a weapons-free zone.  How do we handle this?  As a law-abiding citizen, if I am inconvenienced by being asked (or forced) to disarm, I might be without my favorite tool for a specific job, but I am far from unarmed.  I don’t mean I’m carrying a backup gun, or a knife, or mace, or a baton, or some other mall ninja worthy persuit.  I mean I’m not unarmed, because I AM the weapon, the gun is the tool.

 Self defense is a mentality.  A carpenter has the skill to frame a house, even if you take away his favorite hammer.  A mechanic can still fix your car even his tools break (that was not fun, incidentally.)  In the same vein, self defense is not about carrying a sidearm.  It’s about staying safe, and keeping those around you safe.  That’s situational awareness.  It’s the determination to do whatever is necessary to stay safe.  Identifying potential threats before they act gives you time to prepare and remove advantages that a potential bad guy may have.

 I break situational awareness into three categories:  myself, the people around me and our surrounding environment.  If I have a person of significance with me (Vesta or some other family member, for example) I count them with the ‘myself’ portion.

 For myself, I take stock in my condition and what I have on my person.  How is my knee?  Is it up to running if necessary?  What am I carrying?  Do I have at least one hand free to intercept/react?  If I am with Vesta, is she carrying a weapon?  This should be the easiest category to control and be aware of.  Most of the time if I’m out and about, I’m carrying either my Walther P99 or my KelTec PF-9.  The Smith & Wesson MP9 in my header image is actually Vesta’s, which is what she carries.  (I was too lazy to run downstairs to the door safe to take the picture, and the MP9 was right upstairs with me at the time…)  If I’m at a CPZ, do I have my pocketknife?  Or my walking cane?  What do I have on my person that could be weaponized or assist with getting out of dodge?

 When looking at the people around me, this is something that working as a bouncer and uniformed security taught me – to watch people to predict what they’re going to do.  Look at the body language.  Look at the eyes.  If someone looks agitated, chances are that they are agitated, and may act aggressively.  This is what some of my friends who are peace officers call ‘cop-dar.’  Some say it’s a trained reaction, other say it’s instinctual.  Either way, I say that if someone sets off your radar, go with your gut reaction and keep an inconspicuous eye on them.  Our subliminal is far more observant than we are, and has evolved to evade predators.  We should listen to it.

 Lastly, the most complex thing you can observe is your environment.  I say that this is the most complex because it is constantly changing.  In everyday situations, can you say offhand how many exits the building you’re in has, and how to get to the closest one?  What available tools are at hand to break the window separating you from safety?  What cover or concealment is available for you to use until you can evade or act?  What is around you that can be made into an improvised weapon? Now think about those same things in the context of a dynamic critical incident, where you may not have time to find what’s around you.  If you already have the knowledge prior to the incident starting, you can react that much faster, and the faster your react, the greater your chances of survival.

 One little saying that I use to remind myself of this is ‘head on a swivel’ – constantly looking around.  I also use this when riding my motorcycle, for many of the same reasons.

 So what’s the real-world application of all this theory?  Back to my original thought-starter, our recent cruise.  I was without my tools, but at no point was I unarmed or unsafe.  A little forethought and I was aware of the exit points from the interior of the ship to where the lifeboats were, and where our muster station was and how to get there.  I did my best to ensure my safety, and those around me.

 I’m not paranoid, I’m prepared.  I don’t stockpile tons of food and antibiotics in my basement, but I keep a modest pantry and freezer.  Knowing what’s around me is in the same vein.

 You can take my tools, but I’m still armed, for I am the weapon.

*I didn’t mean for this post to be this long, but it’s a complicated subject, and I wanted to present enough to convey my message.  It’s still a little long to read, but if I cut it any more, it would speak in incomplete thoughts, which I hate.

**Damn, it’s still over a thousand words.  Oh well.

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Aaaaaaannnndd… We’re back!

June 15, 2010

Ok, so we’ve been back for a few days.  Had to at least attempt to recuperate.  I took today off work so I could get some requisite odds and ends done, and I’m sad to say that only the odds got done, the ends, I’ll have to squeeze in somewhere in the week.

How was the trip?  I have to say it was OK.  Yes, I realize a cruise that is essentially free (minus tax, and there’s a hefty amount of that…) can’t be all bad, can it?  I got to go snorkeling, after all.  But I have to say, there’s one or two glaring things that kind of overshadow the entire experience.

RCL is an odd company.  It has some amazing people working for it.  Our stateroom attendant, for example.  Pampering almost to the point of smothering.  But I will say, our sheets were clean and drum-tight every time we walked in the room.  As near as I can tell, his job is to scrub the room, top to bottom, either two or three times a day.  And there’s the cute little towel animals, too.  The pics are uploading in the background (1.6 GB takes a little time on my DSL…) but I’ll link one here when I get a chance.

However, RCL has some absolutely crap-tastic managers.  Vesta has Celiac disease, which for the unindoctrinated, means that she has a…  negative… reaction to eating gluten.  Rashes are really the least of the symptoms here folks, and we own a single-bathroom house.  Prior to the cruise, I had to fill out a little questionnaire asking about food allergies.  They even had a little check box next to Gluten-Free Diet, right next to peanut and shellfish allergies, so they are aware of the issue.  I thought this was a good sign.  I called ahead, and was told (by a very rude CSR) that the ship would be able to accommodate any special diet.  When I got on board, I made a point of asking the guest relations desk.  They said that the chefs would be able to make anything.  OK, I thought, we’re good to do.

I, as it turned out, was wrong.

The main cafeteria-style buffet on most RCL lines is called the Windjammer Cafe, and it is about as average as cafeteria foods get, albeit a little more colorful palette (I should mention that my father is an executive chef, and Vesta is writing a food book – it’s a subject we’re comfortable with)  The only thing I could find the entire week that I was sure was GF was some yogurt, pineapple, and maybe the salad, although Vesta stopped eating the salad because something gave her a rash, indicating a cross-contamination issue.  Even the meats were slathered in a gluten-containing rub and rice cooked with stock (they both use it as a texturizer and extender.)  Even dishes that are normally prepared with corn starch, like sweet and sour chicken, were done with flour.  It’s not a matter of cost, because corn starch is a lot cheaper than flour, it’s a decision that one of the kitchen managers made to simplify their ordering.  The net result is that Vesta was left with virtually nothing to eat for a solid week.

In case you weren’t aware, a suffering spouse is not conducive to a good vacation.

To Vesta’s credit, she did ask one of the line chefs to show here what was gluten-free.  After a very frustrating tour of constant ‘no, that has flour in it’ the chef told Vesta that if she’d brought her own food ingredients, like GF pasta, they’d be happy to make it for here.  Lot of good that does in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, really.  The next meal, when I asked the same question, a different line chef said ‘Well, she can have a salad right?’  I didn’t even bother explaining the cross-contamination issue.

So bottom line, my wife couldn’t really eat anything but some Snickers bars and stale potato chips the I’d found in the on-board shops, which were expectedly overpriced.  I thought that a good deal of the reason that people went on cruises was the so-called fabulous food.  I guess not.  Culinary Fail, Royal Caribbean.

So, that aside, we got to go to Key West and the Bahamas, which was very cool.  Actually, I tell a lie.  It was not cool, it was hot.  Very hot.  Fog-your-camera-lens-when-you-step-outside hot.  Key West set a temperature record while we were there.  In 95% humidity.  Joy.  Snorkeling was cool.  I have a Kodak Playsport camera, which is waterproof to about 10 feet, so I have some really cool footage of use snorkeling in the Bahamas (again, waiting on the upload to post here) so there are parts we did enjoy.  But such a glaring issue does tend to overshadow the fun we had.

I have more thought on the cruise that have been bopping around for two weeks or so, I’ll see if I can hammer them out for my next post.

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I’m leavin’ (on a boat…)

June 3, 2010

So, I know I just got this thing up and running and all, but I’m going to have to take a brief hiatus of sorts.  My company has a performance-based reward conference/recreation trip every year.  It’s not a sales-based thing, as we’re not in sales.  It’s awarded on how well you do you job, peer/manager recommendation, that sort of thing.  Out of our 70,000+ worldwide employees, about 1,500 are selected.  This is my second year going.

This year’s trip is a cruise from  Miami to the Florida Keys to a private beach (near Haiti, actually) and back, over 5 days.  Now, yes, we do have a few mandatory business meetings (served with champagne and mimosas, no less) and I have to pay about 30% of the total tax on the whole shebang, but the wife and I are going a frickin’ cruise that the company is paying for. How cool is that?  Downside?  My boss is going, so I can’t get really trashed.  He, on the other hand, will certainly get shitfaced more than once, and I have a new Nikon D5000.  I see a very good raise next year…
Interesting fact #1:  Did you know that there is a PIRATE MUSEUM in the Keys?  Guess who’s going and taking a few thousands pictures.

So I mentioned that I’ve attended this conference before.  Each year is a different location (I’d love to have the job of whoever picks them out…)  The last time I went, it was also a cruise, albeit from Los Angeles to Baja by way of Catalina.  Nice trip, that.  The boat we’re going on this time (RC’s Majesty of the Seas) is the sister ship to the one last time, RC’s Monarch of the Seas.  The nice thing here is I already know my way around the boat.  The one we’re going has just had a top to bottom renovation, where the last one, being 30 years old and showing it, needed one.  While Monarch was a nice boat, I’m really excited to find my way onto the Majesty.

Interesting fact #2:  Remember the cruise liner that dropped off virtually all of their food and medical supplies to Haiti after the quake, and refilled at their private beach, then the main stream media and a bunch of bliss ninny bloggers jumped all up in their shit for stopping at all a beach on the other side of the island?  With passengers on board, who spent money there, which the Haitian economy still needs?  Even though RC used those stops to ferry donated relief aid to the Haitians who needed it?  Yeah, that was Royal Caribbean.  They stood up to the plate and got swung at for it.

I have more to say about the trip, but I think that what I have to say deserves it’s own post (plus, I need something to do tomorrow while we do laundry) so I’ll leave you with this:

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Test pattern…

June 3, 2010

Testing to see if the email blogging thing works…

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Workin’ on the Weekend…

June 1, 2010

So with the weekend and the beautiful weather comes a list of project to do around the house.  Vesta, naturally, has her list, which is usually centered around digging in the dirt or hanging bracket for curtains or something.  This past weekend, my list was but a single project:  Brakes on Maximus.

 Maximus is our ’99 Jeep Grand Cherokee, so named because I have pulled a 10,000+ lb trailer over 100 miles several times with him without incident.  (His I-6 engine should only be good for ~half that, but necessity being the mother of stupidity…)  I have Maximus set up pretty decently for towing, with a transmission cooler, PowerStop blank (as in smooth, no slots or cross-drills) rotors and R1 Concepts Posi Quiet ceramic pads.

 The problem with those ceramic pads is they tend to wear out a little quicker than semi-metallics.  And they go from stop-on-a-dime great to stop-somewhere-in-that-field –over-there sucky in oh, a week.  Or less.  And they get LOUD – not the hey-its-time-to-do-your-brakes squeal, but the your-pads-gone-and-your-pressing-the-steel-pad-backer-into-the-rotor chatter.  So new pads and rotors in hand, I set out on Saturday to get this done.

 Did I mention that Saturday was the hottest day of the year that far?

 Normally, this would be a five or six hour job for me (I’m not the fastest turner of wrenches) but as always, there were complications.  My chief problem was that every bolt on every caliper was seized.  Every.  Damned.  Bolt.  How do I define seized, you ask?  Easy.  If after torching and soaking with penetrating oil and the impact wrench turned up to 130 PSI and all of my 350 pounds standing and jumping on a breaker bar with a 6-foot steel pipe extension on it, ½” 20 TPI 1 ¼” long bolt won’t budge, that is what I call seized.  At least one like that on each caliper.  And one of the wheel lugs, just for good measure.  After cutting two bolts off with the angle grinder and drilling out the shafts, at the end of the day, I had two wheels done, and a small pile of broken sockets and ratchets.  Go me.  Go me straight on to continue this on Sunday.

 Did I mention that Sunday was even hotter than Saturday?

 The last two wheels went faster than the first, even through the front passenger caliper didn’t want to compress fully.  More on this shortly.  I got everything back together and Vesta and I went on a little test drive to bed the brakes.  Or I should say, we tried to go for a little test drive.  After about 2 miles, when the little lady in the Accord pulled up next to us at a stop light and yelled out “your wheel is smoking, and it smells funny,” I turned around and sulked home.  Being after 9:00 PM on a Sunday, I knew I’d have to wait until the next day to finally get that seized caliper fixed.

 The next day being Memorial Day.  And hot.  And Stormy.  Did I mention that I can’t do any of this in my garage because there’s only a dirt floor in there?

 So apparently the parts stores are clairvoyant, or I got exceedingly lucky, because not only did I find a parts store that was open, but they had my caliper in stock.  More money into this project, but at least I can get my $20 core charge back on the old part…  I also swung by Sears to swap out my two freshly non-ratcheting ratchets for new ones.  They are suckers with that Gaurantee Forever thing.  Oh well, back to work.

 Did you know that when a caliper is seized closed, that no matter how much anti-seize you used on the bolts, it ain’t coming off?  I didn’t, but I do now.  I had to dust off one of my favorite Tools of Mass Destruction, Mjöllnir.  (Yes, we tend to name things.  Keeps our lives…  colorful.)  So after wailing on this caliper for a half hour with a three pound hammer, I gave up and retrieved Mr. Authoritay, Mjöllnir’s BIG eight pound brother.  And with that, the offending caliper finally broke free.  Hooked up the new caliper, put the pads and rotor back and bled the brakes.  Finally done, wasn’t that fun?.  Did I mention it was storming off and on through all this?  Yeah, that fun.

 So what did we learn from all this?  If I’d have had this done by a professional mechanic, I’d be looking at the neighborhood of a cool grand, easily.  The girl at the parts counter said more like $1200, and that was before the caliper.  My cost for parts was about $300, which would have been a lot less except for that caliper.  So I guess I’m ahead, even if I did lose the entire weekend and have to replace a few tools in the process.

 So how did you spend your weekend?