Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Odd dilemmas

What does one do with a spare refrigerator when there is neither a garage nor a basement family room in which to park it? Back in October we arrived home from vacation to discover our refrigerator had died in our absence. Tried a couple of things and concluded it was really, truly dead. There are no refrigerator repair persons within a reasonable distance of our place, so we went for the easy option: drove to Marquette to Menard's and bought a new refrigerator.

Since then, the old refrigerator had been sitting outside while we tried to figure out what to do with it. A couple weeks ago we decided to drag it into the Camp (aka The Woman Cave; I've got all my sewing stuff set up there) so the S.O. could tinker with it in a warmish space. If it was salvageable, like if all that had gone wrong was a relay got fried, we'd order a part online. If it wasn't salvageable. . .  well, I do like to garden, and they say that as you age, raised beds are a good idea because you don't have to kneel to weed. We shoveled the snow off, dragged it in, and then let it sit for a few days so all the snow and ice could melt off and the electrical wiring could dry out. Yesterday the S.O. decided to start the diagnostic process. First step: plug it in.

Next step: do some muttering, mostly of phrases sounding suspiciously like "What the fuck?" and "Why the hell. . . ?" Bottom line: the repair work apparently consisted of letting it get snowed on for awhile and then plugging it in. Just like it mysteriously died back in October, now in late January it is working just fine. It's a mystery. Now all we have to do is figure out where to park it so it's not in my way. Maybe the S.O. would like a beer fridge out in the barn?

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Is the paradigm shifting?

Is the paradigm shifting? It's been over a month since the massacre at the Newtown elementary school, and the media is still paying attention to guns and gun control. Given that the main stream media usually have the attention span of a gnat when it comes to any one issue, it's a bit odd to see them still talking about "old news."

Even more intriguing, they seem to be playing up the number of incidents highlighting gun owners being idiots. I've noticed an unusually high number of stories describing stupid human tricks that come close to qualifying as Darwin Award nominees except no one has died. You know, gun owners shooting themselves in the hand or other body parts, gun owners reporting weapons missing and then finding the lost Glock hiding in the sofa cushions in their living room, and so on. One article mentioned an idiot who lost a loaded handgun in a movie theater. He apparently had it so poorly secured that it fell out of the holster when he shifted position in his seat. You've got to be pretty damn incompetent to manage to lose a 9 mm Beretta and not notice it's gone until the following day.

Some of these incidents have involved not just any ordinary gun owner, but gun dealers. Gun dealers are supposed to be experts, the guys who really know their stuff around weaponry. So what does it say when gun dealers start accidentally shooting themselves? It's all truly stupid stuff, all of which lends itself to a subtle undermining of the gun owners' preferred self-image, i.e., a competent, responsible modern day version of Marshall Will Kane preparing for his or her personal version of High Noon. You can talk all you want about "responsible gun owners" but when the news media keeps pointing out fools who do stuff you wouldn't think was physically possible -- how the heck can anyone shoot themselves in the hand? Who on earth holds any weapon with one hand covering the end of the barrel?! That's when the collective image of gun owners starts to slide from Marshall Matt Dillon to somewhere in the general vicinity of Festus Hagin's mule.

So what does all this imply? I'm hoping it means the political power of the gun lobby is eroding. When the public starts to mock gun owners instead of kowtowing to them, one can hope it means a paradigm is shifting.

Monday, January 21, 2013

And you thought birthers were nuts

A friend mentioned the television series "Doomsday Preppers" and I could not resist checking out the web site. Once again, I found myself being amused by the paranoid fantasies of a group of gullible loons. What is it about us Americans that makes us so prone to irrationality? Where does our enormous faith in the wonders of technology come from? And why do some folks keep falling for con men  marketing "survival gear" that's overpriced and of dubious value?

Example: the web site includes a quiz that scores you on how likely you are to survive a doomsday scenario. "How much water do you have stored?" strikes me as a reasonable question. Everyone, regardless of whether or not they're anticipating the end of the world, should have some emergency supplies in the home, especially some safe drinking water. After all, if you live in an urban area and for some reason water stops coming out of the tap, you could be screwed pretty quickly. But shouldn't you also be prepared for having to purify water? I'd be encouraging preppers to invest in a few gallons of bleach, some water purification tablets, or a backpacking water pump/filter just in case the bottles of clean water run out. After all, if an actual apocalypse happens, Coke is going to stop bottling Dasani.

In any case, it was a question on which we scored low. We've got less than 5 gallons stashed. We don't worry much about water when we've got our own well and still own a functioning hand pump. That part of the quiz also asked about food stores, like stashes of meat and flour, but totally overlooked beans. How can anyone take a survivalist show seriously that doesn't include dried beans in its lists of must-haves? Dried beans are the ultimate survival food. Properly stored, they'll stay edible for decades, unlike flour (which can go rancid and/or easily become infested with weevils) or canned goods. I've cleaned out old people's pantries where there were some older canned goods (both home and commercial) hiding in the back -- those bulging cans and lids were definitely scary.

On to another question: do you own a 4-wheel drive vehicle? Apparently if you've got a nifty SUV with 4-wheel drive, your survival chances go up. Right. Like owning a Jeep is going to help a lot when the zombie apocalypse happens, I-75 out of Atlanta is bumper to bumper stalled traffic, and all the surface streets are a snarled mess. If you live in an urban area, you need to think about surviving in that urban area because there's no way to guarantee you're going to be able to get out. Again, of course, not a problem for us. Urban preppers may fantasize about their bug out cabins out in the boonies somewhere; we already live there.

And then there was the weapons question. . . apparently, the more guns and ammo you have hoarded, the better. Bizarre. Just looking at it logically and assuming long term social chaos, complete with looters and worse, what you really need to be doing is mastering relatively silent weapons (bows, bolos, slingshots, atlatls) because the first time you fire a gun, you've both spooked the game and drawn attention to yourself. No doubt there's something very machismo in the fantasy of bravely holding off a horde of would be looters, but in a real survival situation, the lower your profile, the better. You don't want to find yourself defending your own personal Alamo; you want to be invisible.

Besides, arrows are reusable. Bullets aren't. Sooner or later the ammo will run out -- and unless reloaders have also mastered the art of making gunpowder, their complex technological crutch is going to turn into just so much scrap metal. Instead of hanging out at the firing range playing with Bushmasters, the semi-savvy survivalist is going to be at home practicing making slings and deadfalls and channeling his or her inner Robin Hood. Of course, it's a lot more fun to go the range, talk tough with your fellow preppers, and fire off a zillion rounds at human-shaped targets than it is to think seriously about the need to someday hunt very quietly for squirrels and rabbits.

We definitely flunked the weapons question.

I think Hank Williams jr is pretty much of an ass, but I do like this song -- I wonder how many of those would-be preppers even know what a trot line is?

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Remembering Charlie

Whenever I see a cartoon like this, I think about the Younger Daughter's dog Charlie. He was a lab mix and was always happiest when the weather was -- at least for humans -- not particularly nice.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The folly of one-upmanship in writing

I started reading Cold Days, a novel by Jim Butcher, last night. It's number 14 in his Harry Dresden series. I kind of like the character of Harry Dresden; I've read several other books in the series and I enjoyed The Dresden Files during its brief one-season run on Syfy a few years ago.

Unfortunately, I'm not overly impressed with the direction the series has taken. Butcher has fallen into the same rabbit hole that's sucked in a number of other authors in genre fiction. Laurell K. Hamilton, Charlaine Harris, and Janet Evanovich are the three I'm most familiar with, but I'm sure there are others. I think of it as self one-upmanship, an irrational impulse to top whatever was in the last book in a series with something that's even more shocking, unusual, terrifying, funny, or sexual. Butcher keeps introducing new totally evil and ever more powerful supernatural beings that are out to get Dresden; Hamilton has turned Anita Blake's love life into something close to an Olympic sport complete with team uniforms*; Evanovich keeps pushing the envelope on the eccentricities of her characters in an attempt to milk more cheap laughs out of her readers.

Whatever causes it -- an unwillingness to invest time or energy in doing more character development or playing too many video games where you advance from level to level -- it strikes me as evidence of a lack of some basic writing skills. An author shouldn't have to resort to cheap tricks to hold the reader's interest. Just because they're called "novels" doesn't mean an author has to try hit new levels of novelty in every work. It is possible to write novels with recurring characters who deal with variations on the same theme over and over and at the same time have the books become better and better. Most mysteries, after all, are variations on the same theme: something gets stolen or someone gets killed, and the lead character gets to figure out who did it. The mystery is what sucks you in, the various plot twists, and not one upmanship, e.g., in the last book the hero got clubbed with a baseball bat so in the next one the author's going to up the ante by having him shot.

Of course, if you're weak at coming up with a decent plot line and your characters are all rather flat, then what's left? You fall back on novelty and the equivalent of special effects, just like in a bad movie, and hope that your readers stick with you.

The readers won't, of course, but it usually takes quite a few pallet loads of remaindered books for the authors to figure that out.

[*Is Anita Blake's vagina Teflon-lined? After reading some of the sex scenes, you have to wonder how the woman can still walk, let alone go out and slay vampires.] 

Friday, January 11, 2013

Kelvinator redux

Back in May I mentioned bidding a fond farewell to our ancient Kelvinator. Turned out it wasn't totally gone. This was in the mail today:
What did I find when I opened the box, you ask?
This stash of CFLs is a thank you to us from a consortium of public power companies in Michigan -- various REAs and a couple of municipal power companies -- because we decided to jettison our energy hog antique refrigerator. The S.O. and I looked at that stash of CFLs, thought about just how infrequently we've had to change the ones we already own, and had the same thought: we now have a lifetime supply of lightbulbs. The S.O. is such a cheap bastard so frugal he made the switch to CFLs years ago. About the only incandescent left in our house is the one in the refrigerator.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Level playing fields

One thing that's always intrigued me is the way any change in the overall business climate always results in a handful of business owners howling like wounded banshees about the devastating effect those changes will have on their specific companies. We hear the howls every time a suggestion is made to raise the minimum wage, alter the legal hours minors can work, or limit the tasks certain classes of workers can do. At the moment, we're still hearing the howls about the evil, evil effects of the Affordable Care Act. You'd think that after the shit storm that erupted over John Schnatter's pronouncements about the ACA forcing him to lay off workers that business owners would have learned to keep their mouths shut. You'd be wrong. The latest idiot is some fool in Omaha who owns a few Wendy's franchises. He apparently hasn't figured out that bloviating about cutting your workers' hours to avoid paying for health insurance isn't a real smart move.

Leaving aside for now the issues of the negative publicity he's generating, i.e., he's openly saying he'd rather have his employees' illnesses go untreated than make sure they could afford to see a doctor occasionally (does Wendy's have a secret sauce? And just how much snot goes into it?), just think about the ego involved. The man thinks the world revolves around his business, that his handful of fast food outlets is absolutely unique in the costs he's encountering as part of doing business. His expenses are going up so how is he expected to compete with the other purveyors of grease and soggy french fries? It doesn't seem to have occurred to him or to John Schnatter or any of the other asshats whining about the costs resulting from the Affordable Care Act that every other business owner in the U.S. is facing those same cost increases. The playing field is level. Their competition is going to be experiencing the same situation; everyone's costs are going up by the same amount and they all risk similar penalties for noncompliance.

If only one hamburger outlet had to raise the prices on its cheeseburgers by a dime to compensate for an increased business expense, the business might have a reason to whine. It would be harder to compete if only one business was getting hit. But when all of them are? Maybe the cumulative effect will be that customers buy a few less burgers over a year's time, but the price increase isn't going to be what determines which specific burgers they buy -- it's going to be the overall image of the company that makes the difference. Everyone's been subjected to the same change in the cost of doing business; no one's been advantaged or disadvantaged relative to the competition.

In short, while there maybe some minor differences in the products being sold (e.g., Wendy's has its mystery meat chili, Runza has runzas, McDonald's has the filet-o-fish), for most people fast food is fast food. Not a whole lot of thought goes into deciding between one quick lunch and another. I think the S.O. and I are pretty typical in the way we pick a place to eat when we're in a hurry: convenient location comes first on the list and what's actually on the menu is a secondary consideration. Unless, of course, the CEO for that particular company has managed to demonstrate some first-class asshat behavior, in which case it doesn't matter if it's the only fast food outlet in the county, we won't eat there.

Just how stupid does a CEO have to be to go out and deliberately generate negative publicity for his business? And just how do these idiots get to be CEOs in the first place? The stupid, it burns.

Monday, January 7, 2013


Do you ever bother with dream analysis? I have acquaintances who read deep meanings into every dream they experience. They keep dream journals and reach for a pen as soon as they're awake. I'm always quietly amazed they can remember anything. When I dream, I usually just remember flashes of weirdness. Like this morning. I woke up feeling like I'd just shot a scene from Them!, although I didn't have a conscious memory of having seen any giant, fire-breathing ants. Very strange. This was one of those mornings where I kind of wished I could remember more. Were the S.O. and I somehow shrunk down to the size of ants, or did we encounter ants that had mutated to the size of Shetland ponies? What sort of deep meaning, if any, should I read into it? Or was this simply a reminder to add ant traps to the shopping list?

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Is there any other type?

Have supermarkets started peddling potatoes grown in vats? Is there some new secret process for producing spuds that doesn't involve dirt?

And what unnatural oil might be like? WD-40 maybe? Or maybe 10W30?

I'm also mystified as to why any company feels like it has to include advertising on the bag the product is in. I'm pretty sure that anyone who's pulled a bag of chips off the shelf has already decided those chips are going in the shopping cart.