Sunday, February 19, 2017

Building A Gate: Setting The Posts

So about three weeks ago one of our fences in the back yard had a whole section collapse.  The landlord next door co-ordinated the replacement and the new fence looks good:

Unfortunately, our gate, which was on its last legs and attached to the previous fence, did not handle the separation with grace...

I debated whether to get a quote or to do myself - but I had a three day weekend, so let us build a gate!

First of course, is the removal of the old gate and posts:

These posts literally slid right out of the ground:

Have a little wood rot with the replacement?

The other side literally broke off at ground level:

The gate also just almost fell out of its moorings:

So now I started to place the two posts nearest to the house.  First unhappy surprise:  these posts were also concreted in place - and my posts were just a little bigger and would not fit.

This created some stress in my life. I have neither the tools to remove concrete nor the time to do so.  I tried with a crowbar and hammer but got nowhere.  Then I had an idea worthy of my friend Jambaloney: the new fence extended beyond where it had previously been so obviously they had sunk a new post  hole.  Why could I not do the same?

Progress went more quickly after that.

Placing the first two posts was fairly straightforward.  I may not know a great deal about a great many things, but I spent three months with my father-in-law The Master Sergeant putting posts in place.  A post, I can put up (I will spare you the boring details of mixing and setting the concrete):

I would show the others, but apparently I deleted them.  Suffice it to say that the process was exactly the same (although I ran out of concrete and had to go to the Big Box Parts store for more).

Next was the part to attach the fence boards to. This was a challenge (at least for me) as the screws would not directly go in.  I tried a drill bit (better, but not much so) then settled on a wood drill bit.  It made the process go faster, although changing from bit to bit chewed up some time:

My second posts had not set so I could not do much else - and besides, it was nearing the end of the day:

Depending on the progress I make, we will either have a Part II or Part II and Part III to this.  Overall tired and a bit sore, but satisfied with the progress today.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Employees and Businesses: Against Their Own Best Interest

Sometimes it feels like workers (and businesses) are fighting not for but against themselves and their best interests.

In an age where automation is becoming more and more prevalent, higher wages are demanded and less customer service is delivered. In an age where more and more consumers are concerned with a breadth of selection and pricing (e.g. Amazon) companies make their businesses into a social statement sure to offend some level of their customer base.

In other words, in an age of clear economic trends, both employees and an employers are doing everything in their power to make themselves irrelevant.

As an employee, if I want to stay employed my job is to provide better, more knowledgeable service, to increase my value to my employer and therefore to the company – not demand it as a virtue of my appearing at work. As an employer, my job is to grow my customer base, not find ways to cut it off. And certainly in either case, my job is not to get anyone to pause and think that perhaps they could make do without my services.

I am certainly not an economist and so do not know that I could describe it in economic terms. That said, what the difference seems to be is a value that I believe I provide through my work/service/product versus a value I believe I derive simply from being in the marketplace. The first is a reward for effort; the second is a reward for existence.

I can say with certainty that such persons and businesses are always caught behind the curve when the bad thing happens: when automation replaces their job; when their revenue drops off a cliff, when an upstart competitor flies past them. There is a certain (almost predictable) amount of surprise, followed by an inevitable cry of “It is not fair”.  But in these cases “fair” has very little to do with it. Consumers, be they individuals or corporations, guard their money with care and spend it grudgingly. The employee or business that wishes to be successful should be searching for reasons to convince them to spend their money, not come up with ways to remind them to hold on to it.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

A Few Words From Doctor Martin Luther

"Behold, Lord, an empty vessel that needs to be filled.  My Lord, fill it.  I am weak in the faith; strengthen thou me.  I am cold in love; warm me and make me fervent that my love may go out to my neighbor. I do not have a strong and firm faith; at times I doubt and am unable to trust thee altogether; O Lord, help me.  Strengthen my faith and trust in thee.  In thee. I have sealed the treasure of all I have.  I am poor; thou art rich and didst come to be merciful to the poor.  I am a sinner; thou art upright.  With me there is an abundance of sin; in thee is the fullness of righteousness.  Therefore, I will remain with thee of whom I can receive but to whom I cannot give.  Amen."

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

One Last Logsdon Book

Happy News for those (like me) that was deeply saddened by Gene Logsdon's passing last year:  He has one last book coming out:

I love the way Logsdon writes - a sort of happy combination of knowledge and folksy wisdom, sort of Mark Twain-ish.  The title alone suggests that this is fitting tribute to him. He always in his books sought to encourage others, especially the young, to pick up the torch of the agricultural life and carry it on.  Even beyond the grave, he still continues to speak.

How happy I am I shall get one last chance to hear his written voice and thought words.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

A Good Reminder On Evacuations

I followed with some interest this weekend the ongoing issues at the Oroville Dam in Oroville, California.  Oroville is not right where I grew up but I have been through there more than once.

I had been listening to the issue as background noise - there seems to be so much going on now - when suddenly the words "Emergency Evacuation" came out. That always gets one's attention - especially since it was tied to an Emergency Spillway failure within an hour of the evacuation order.

(Yes, I know, there is not a specific link.  Interweb "Oroville Dam" and you will get all you need).

It did get me thinking - again - about our own situation (not that we are in any danger of flooding:  we are on the uphill side of our Urban Area of Choice and if we have flooding, there are larger problems).  In other words, if we had to leave in short order, could we?  What would we take?  Would we know to take it? And where would we go?

So on the brighter side, we actually do in fact have something which may or may not resemble a bag to take with us in case of emergency.  I have gotten a little careless about fuel levels in cars - blame the fact our commute is much less than it used to be and I now have my "routine" of how much I use in a week and when I fill up (about three quarters of a tank and on Tuesday evenings, thank you very much).  

We are fortunate in our case that we live relatively close to the intersection of multiple freeways including a large Interstate - and, we live on the right side of town for the most likely disaster (flooding, in our case).  But where would we go in the event of such a need?  That is a little more concerning.  At best with a full tank I can make it to the next major urban area, about a 3 hour drive.  But that assumes an empty freeway and no traffic (neither of which would be true).  And even then, where would we go once we got there?

I do not have answers for everything - which bothers me as it should - but if nothing else this has been a useful reminder that bad things sometimes do happen - and to be ready for them.

Monday, February 13, 2017

A Letter To Snarkhorn


J. Snarkhorn
Under Assistant, Research Unit


It is with an intense relish that I have recently read your article "The Growth of The Physicality of Hell" for the publishing in this quarter's "Aspects of Damnation".  Your article, brought to my attention by the your supervisor Over Assistant Clawbeak (who unfortunately failed to present the article prior to getting my attention, thus ensuring his unfortunate unmaking) brings to light some interesting trends that, while I have also observed them first (as you were wise to note in your introduction), have been lost to the greater under-audience.

You are correct to start with that fool Alighieri's "representation" of Hell.  His vision of the Divine Underworld, its levels and suffering for sins, its inhabitants and their appearance (In some cases it seems almost as if he had been slipped confidential information, does it not?) ensured almost 700 years of a wasteland of progress in disbelief of the physical realities of Hell.  His picture of the demons and devils as all powerful in the Divine Darkness and that of the powerlessness of the human scum they torture riveted in the minds of thousands through the years the finality of Hell and the pointless existence of those exiled there by their disbelief:  stripped of the power of causality and the physicality of their form - Damned Amphibians! - they had nothing to do but endlessly suffer for their "sins" against the Enemy.

You are also correct to breeze over the next several hundred years.  Indeed, the disbelief in Hell (Ah, but how much we believe in them!) contributed to our advance on other fronts but scarcely denied Hell of its power:  that which does not exist cannot have the power to harm anyway.  What we needed was a belief in Hell but without the power of it.  The human scum are always so much easier to lull into inaction when something exists but not seen as a source of alarm.

Thanks be to Our Dark Master for the latter Twentieth Century.

The two biggest developments you point to, the arising of the thing called "Role Playing Games" and its attached development, the "Video Game" did endless "good" (How it burns to write that word!) to our cause.  In the "Role Playing Game", Hell simply became another place to visit amongst many.  One could attend to any number of the "666 levels" as if one was going on a vacation  (666 levels.  They are not even inventive.).  And the inhabitants of these levels, more importantly, were simply cast as additional beings living in a universe that were not all powerful and eternal but rather the infernal equivalent of grocers and craftsman, trying to to make their way in a place that was different only in location, not in substantive nature (Yes, I am aware these were cast as "evil", as if the amphibians knew what true Evil was).  It was if they were putting together a travel brochure, encouraging tourism.

Think on it, my young Snarkhorn:  within a short period of time (by eternal standards) we observed Hell going from being disbelieved in/ignored or an actual reality to someplace that existed, but was of no more power than the "real world" (Such a useful term, that.  How cleverly our propaganda department has captured it).  And then the spinoffs:  fantasy books written about characters going to Hell and returning (I should hope, by the by, you have not put into your other works that blasphemy of The Harrowing.  That is the sort of trite garbage that condemned your previous superior) or that delightful series "Heroes in Hell", where there is a chance that the damned can escape (How that always brings a tear of infernal joy to my eye.  Escape. As if.).

The second development was that great advancement in mindless and actionless entertainment, the "Video Game" and especially that extraordinary game "Doom".  You might not have been assigned to your current division and so not have seen it but I remember it well, having been recently assigned to the newly created Visual Electronic Arts Department.  In this game, the main character - a Space Marine, as I recall - found himself confronting the denizens of Hell with modern weapons on a space station and in some cases, actually in "Hell" itself.  How delightful!  Suddenly all things of the Underworld were physical, and could be defeated with the simple application of ammunition and grenades.  Humans were all powerful, the inhabitants of Hell merely fodder to be mowed down (Ironically, they never seemed to address where these slain "Demons" went.  Apparently we are as prone to disappearance as the scum upon our "death").

Thus, within one long generation we have created a circumstance where so many of the amphibians want to believe in the spiritual but believe in Hell as just another location on the map - and for most of them, not somewhere they themselves are headed towards.  And even if they are, their popular culture and their entertainment tells them that there always a chance they can duck out or fight their way out (Thankfully the negotiation tactic of the mid-nineteenth and early twentieth century seems to have gone into abeyance - as if that worked any better!) as "we" are nothing but cannon fodder, task masters set there more as place holders and security guards ready to be gunned down and our bodies jumped over in the glorious break for freedom.

How delicious it all is.

I have had the pleasure of speaking with some of the newly arrived inhabitants of this generation when they make their Downgoing.  They are always "so surprised" that things are so different from they led themselves to believe and "feel like" they simply ended up in the wrong line (Ah, emotions.  The great internally created narcotic fog of the Amphibians' souls.).  In some cases, the Tormentors are happy to let them engage in some of the role playing that sought so strongly in their previous lives.  The look on their faces when their opponents will not die and the exit they can almost touch - that magic hoop or mirror or door that will let them into the "real world" (Ah, that word again!) suddenly disappears and they are plunged into the Eternal Flame - I am compelled to tell you, dear Snarkhorn, that it is almost a magical moment.  Such moments almost - almost - make up for the general darkness and pain that has been foisted upon us by our Enemy.

In closing, we here in the Infernal Publishing Unit are always looking for bright young minds to join us - as a fellow soldier in our war or in other ways, as your unfortunate supervisor Clawbeak discovered.  Rest assured our eye is on you - constantly.

M. Hookgrinder
Executive Vice President
Infernal Publishing Department

Friday, February 10, 2017

Seeds Of Our Own Destruction

"Every civilization carries the seeds of its own destruction, and the same cycle shows in them all. The Republic is born, flourishes, decays into plutocracy, and is captured by the shoemaker whom the mercenaries and millionaires make into a king. The people invent their oppressors, and the oppressors serve the function for which they are invented." - Mark Twain

"If history teaches us anything, it is simply this:  every revolution carries within it the seeds of its own destruction. And empires that rise, will one day fall." - Princess Irulan, Dune (Mini-series)

I have come to wonder if the seeds of our own destruction lie within this thing called the Interweb.

We - at least in the United States - have always been a people of technology.  Within two years of the founding of the country, the cotton gin was patented by Eli Whitney - and before him, the polymath genius that was Benjamin Franklin brought us the Franklin Stove, bifocals, and the lightning rod .  We believe in technology, believe in the benefits of technology, and indirectly believe in the Utopian aspects of technology.

But we are the point that technology has given us the Interweb.  And suddenly, it seems, technology has threatened our own civilization.  Why?  Because we have apparently created a potential "bullet train" to civil war.

Ignore the ongoing rise of automation (which, for the record, is coming like it or not.  We are literally on the cusp of changes that are going to directly impact the concept and practice of work for millions of people throughout the world - with, I am willing to bet, not so good outcomes for the most of them.  Study the Luddites of 1811-1816 for more details).  Ignore the millions of way technology is making us more efficient at waging war and killing each other.  I am specifically speaking of the ability of the Interweb to completely divide us.

I heard of a poll from Reuters three days ago in which of ~6000 people polled, 16% had ended relationships because of the recent election.  Think of that - about 1 in 6 people were no longer talking to someone, family or friends, because of something they ultimately had little control over.  Yes, I know that the election was not solely run on the Interweb - but lots of words about it were put there.

And as I have ranted and raved, social media is doing us little favors in this arena.  We now have the ability to drop "opinion bombs" wherever and whenever we like with no context, no discussion, no thought of how it will be received.  In fact, I am increasingly convinced for a larger and larger portion of the population, they are doing intentionally to create as much ill will as they possibly can.

Technology now makes it possible to create lasting divisions more quickly and more deeply lasting than ever before.  The problem is that we are only in the opening stages of this: at some point (historical pendulum and all) these same folks taking a certain amount of pleasure in sowing discord will suddenly start crying out for unity and the ever-elusive "end" to such talk.  Only when we get there, I fear they will find that the casual words cast forth almost unthinkingly have become barriers which can no longer be climbed.

Technology is not the thing in and of itself that will destroy us.  It is, however, the vehicle that we have created that will allow us to do it.  Frankenstein's monster will have returned; how many will recognize him for that simple creature cobbled together with our own hands so long ago?