Thank you for visiting!

You are invited to read Marcus of Abderus and the Inn at the Edge of the World, the first novel in my fantasy adventure series. Visit the Edge of the World! Come for the view, stay for the adventure!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Book Report: 100 Cupboards

I have been an avid reader for most of my days. In my pre-literate days I was anxious to learn to read. In those ancient days they did not really try to teach kindergartners to read. I had to wait for the first grade. When I reached that opportune level of education I put myself diligently to the task of learning to read. Dick and Jane were my friends. I was voracious. By the end of the first grade I had already begun feasting on third grade readers.

Books. Books. More books. The Mushroom Planet books by Eleanor Cameron were early favorites. A friend and I got heavily into Freddy the Pig books. I read The Boxcar Children, The Borrowers, and ever so many more wonderful tales.

Then I discovered Science Fiction. It took time for me to grasp that warp travel through space was just a literary tool. I wondered just why we remained stuck on this one world when warp drive would let us go out there, meeting far greater adventures than this small planet afforded. My early youth preceded Star Trek by a number of years, I am afraid.

There was probably a failure of appreciation on my part. This world is full of adventures, but the romantic nature of imagination always makes the grass greener on the other side of the Galaxy. Hey, I was a kid. Asimov. Clark. Heinlein. Juvenile literature, and more. Wells. Verne. Lovecraft. Poe. A book from the library, a bag of barbecue potato chips, and my private chamber. I was a reclusive child, and I don't regret it.

I never lost my fondness for fantasy adventure. Nor for juvenile literature. That is why I was intrigued when my wife brought home 100 Cupboards, by N. D. Wilson. I am sure she was captured by the intriguing cover art. I know I was. When she finished it, I jumped at the opportunity to have a fun read. I just finished a few minutes ago.

Be forewarned, it is first in a series. If you are no longer a child, or child enough for juvenile literature, you might turn from the intriguing adventure of so many cupboards, containing magic and mystery. Otherwise, I recommend you jump right in. Open a cupboard or two. See where they might take you.

If you have young people in your life, young people who read, this could be just the gift to give. Magic doors and such seem to have a strong appeal for young people, and some people who are not so young. I know I still love the mystery of a cabinet or closet, and hope always for some magical place on the other side.

Magic. Mystery. Cupboards and other places. Oh, and baseball. Yep. Good story. Give it a try.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Apples to Oranges-

In 1973 I was sent to Germany by the United States Army. I lived there two years, in one of the largest colonies of foreign-based Americans in the world. A thing called by some a "third culture." People from one culture living in another culture, trying to maintain their old culture while living from day to day. To make the mix more interesting, I also lived among the largest population of Turkish born people in Germany. The experience was interesting, but far from a pure exposure to the German people.

I traveled a bit, though not as much as my present self sometimes would have liked. I was in a socialist country. I had the prejudices of a capitalist American, and yet what I saw was a working economy and a nation of relatively happy people. The country as a whole was tidier than the United States, but then again it was a lot smaller, and socialist. They had great public transportation. I saw no particularly poor neighborhoods. As a place to live, it seemed to be not too bad.

Recent politics in the United States has raised the specter of socialism once again. Having seen a socialist state up close, I find I cannot respond to the fear mongering. I am unable to make real comparisons. Germany is in a different part of the world from the United States. It is smaller. It has a very different history. Is socialism working there? Perhaps. They muddle through, at least. Just like most of us Americans.

Fear mongers seem to capitalize on apples to oranges comparisons. Because this apple is not like an orange, we should be afraid. If that orange can not be more like an apple, it must be cast out. Ultimately, it is presented that overcoming the fear will require compliance on our part with the fear mongers program. If we don't get on board, the apples will gain supremacy. Or, the oranges will come to dominate and apples will become powerless.

Too many fear mongers are willing to use misrepresentation to achieve their lofty purposes. Re-purposing a photo to drive an emotional response, to manipulate the audience. Things like that. Organizations with high ideals and worthy goals too often jump into the pool of deception. It is common enough that I would encourage you to doubt that shocking and gut wrenching image presented by just about any group, even one you support.

Through the course of my many years of eclectic studies, I have learned about tools of manipulation. I learned enough that a philosophy professor once recommended I become a political speech writer, a course I chose not to follow. Subtle things, such as camera angles or the choice of the very low volume background music, can have a large impact on how a presentation is received. Manipulation is everywhere.

Reacting in fear, especially fear generated by something someone else tells you or shows you, will lead to the greatest loss of freedom. The freedom to act out of your own thoughts and feelings, according to your own experiences in the context of your own life.

I promote the increase of individual liberty in this world, for all people. It won't make the world safer. It might just do the opposite. I don't know. Free people are free to think and feel as they choose, and act accordingly. That might not be particularly safe, but I choose the dangers of freedom over the safety of excessive control.

Granted, reasonable regulation is necessary. Choosing to support well thought out regulation is an act of personal liberty, and on the whole a good thing. However, allowing fear to drive support is not a good thing at all.

Think. Think past fear. Make sure your choices are your  choices.

Choose wisely. Choose well.

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Honor Driven Life-

"I would rather be an honorable fool than a dishonorable man of great wisdom and power." Michael R. Lockridge

Yes, I am quoting myself. That is because I turned that phrase while thinking on my topic, and it sounded good. Like a quote I might have gotten from someone wise, and honorable. Perhaps I did. I will leave that for others to judge.

Honor, like Justice and Love and Wisdom, is an Ideal. Like most ideals, Honor is difficult to define. My wife considers my sense of honor to be obscure and inconvenient, at times. I agree. However, if I honestly assess who and what I am, I realize that I am an Honor Driven Man.

Oh. Honesty. That is another ideal. There really are quite a few.

Since all of you have read Plato's Republic, and I know you all have, we can refer to that. The ideal of Justice is addressed, and generally not defined adequately. There are a lot of problems defining Ideals. Plato came up with a whole theory, founding a whole way of philosophical thinking to keep generations of philosophers from falling into real jobs and doing anything productive.

I have sought the quote I most like on the subject of Justice. A movie quote. So far I haven't found it. "Justice is the ideal. The law is what we have to live with." Something like that. It shows how ideals don't always quite touch the ground. They are beyond what we can know and understand and achieve, yet we are compelled to pursue them.

Back to Honor. Honor can be confused with pride. Now Pride can be an ideal, of sorts, or something of a vice. It has an obscurity greater than most ideals. Perhaps it is a bit of a bastard, not quite up to the standards of its more ideal siblings. I don't know. I do know that pride can compel people to strive to great heights, and also prevent people from acting wisely, compassionately and honorably.

Now my own sense of honor does not allow me to lie for my own convenience. I have lied as a matter of performing my duties in my profession in law enforcement. I did so under instruction, and in my honor-driven moral structure I am able to transfer the matter of dis-honor to those giving me the instructions. My honor binds me to serve those with whom I have a contract, an agreement. If they require a lie that does not violate the law, I can follow orders and lie. The dis-honor becomes theirs, as the ones in authority. I have rarely been asked lie, largely because I am not a very good liar. I lack the skill due to a lack of practice.

Honor, conflicting with Honesty. Freedom, an ideal that is all too often achieved and protected by violating the ideal of Peace. Plato was right about this matter, at least. Ideals are not easy to identify, and very hard to apply.

Then there are also ideals that are compromised into pseudo-ideals. They appear to be ideals, but if you examine the context they are something else entirely. Self-seeking lovers of power like these pseudo-ideals, whereby they appear to be Good and Honest and True. Self-righteous people can also often compromise ideals. They can seem Moral and Righteous, without the inconveniences ideal Morality and Righteousness would require.

My ideal seems most often to be Honor, though I must be honest and recognize that my sense of Honor is obscure and more intuitive than logical. It may simply be my particular brand of self-delusion by which I have learned to cope with the uncertainties of life. That sense of Honor drives me, no matter how poorly I can identify and define it.

For the most part, it works well enough. Hardly anybody gets hurt.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Home Maintenance-

The other day my wife and I were out doing some errands. As we approached the front door of our house my wife pointed to the bottom of the exterior wall by the door and asked, "What's that?" There was a puddle of wetness on the porch near the bottom of the wall. On the other side of the wall was the garage, and the nearest point of probable wetness was the water heater.

Dutifully, I made my way to the garage, anticipating great expenses and unpleasant hours of repairs or negotiations with those who do repairs. I was not yet worried. I don't worry well. I went to see. I found the base of the hot water heater was wet. The wall behind it was wet. I could see where water was pooling along the base of the wall and running out to where my wife had first spotted the problem.

I tracked the water upward, and found it originating at a point near the junction of the copper flex hose and the acronym plastic pipe taking the hot water into the house. I could not find the actual leak. The water was coming out as a fine mist, and only became visible where it gathered on the wood structure of the garage. I looked, and looked. I stuck my finger (carefully) into the invisible flow. It became wet. Yep, a leak.

Using my iPhone I took a photo of the point of the leak and some of the related hardware. I then emailed my Dad. He has a lot of experience in doing the repair thing. I have much less. We communicated by email and phone. I was considering taking my photo to the big box store nearby. He advised me to go to Grover Electric and Plumbing Supply. I followed his advice. I am glad I did.

The people at Grover are knowledgeable. Not just the older male fellows working the back. The young ladies working the counter up front were also advising customers, and assisting in an energetic and beneficial manner. The fellow at the central counter helped me with similar energy and knowledge. He said he really liked the way people can bring in photos and videos on their phones. It helps him know what the problem is, and what to do about it.

Regarding that, I would advise taking both a video and several still photos. Gather as much visual information as you can to show the people at a shop such as Grover. Get images of the problem, and related components. Good advice will come from good information.

The man at Grover took me to where the parts were, selected the parts, and even assembled some of the stuff. He made sure I had all I would need to do the job right, and safely.

Armed with that advice and a bag of stuff, I went home. I called my Dad again, and he agreed to come over. I probably didn't need any help. The job was straight-forward, and the instructions at Grover had been clear. However, I really wanted to enjoy doing the job with my Dad, and the extra hands were helpful. We got it done in short order, and had a pretty good time doing it.

We were both introduced to a new product, which proved to make the job a whole lot easier. It was necessary to cut off a section of the acronym plastic pipe and replace it. That replacement would require some kind of joint. The man at Grover recommended and supplied a SharkBite joiner. You just put in two inserts, slide the PEX line in one end, and the PEX line to be joined in the other. Make sure they are seated. That's it. Tight joint. No leak. No obstruction of the water flow due to a reduced inner diameter, because the diameter remains virtually the same.

Now, I value the box stores for volume pricing and all. For the most part, I have had good advice from people in such stores. However, not all employees there have the kind of knowledge I found at Grover. The volume at the box stores assures better pricing, but few employees can attain the level of knowledge I found in a specialty shop. Based on the number of contractors running in and out of Grover, that specialize expertise is valued in the construction industry in Southern Oregon.

I can't pretend to know a whole lot about the economics and philosophy surrounding the advance of the big box stores and the demise of local businesses. Grover is a chain store, though not as big as some of the international chains. Could a more local shop have provided the same service? I don't know. Would I have better served the community by calling a plumber? Perhaps. I just know that I got the job done, and am satisfied by the results.

Now I just need to get the image of a fuzzy blue guy doing plumbing out of my head...

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Woodworking and other adventures-

Our recent move has had many ups and downs. One recent up has been getting a little shop area together. Previous homes have not allowed for shop space, and for expanding my limited knowledge of woodworking. Additionally, my work took so much time that I really did not have the resources in time and money to do much. That is now changing.

Here is a shop tour. Here is a bit more. As I said, I am just beginning. Mostly hand tools and a few simple power tools. For a number of months the garage housed a lot of boxed items from the move. Those have been sorted, unpacked or shifted to a dedicated garage storage area. Eventually I excavated the shop bench that came with the garage, and only in the last few weeks have I been able to begin making it a work space.

If you have watched any of the many woodworking shows on television, you know what a real shop looks like. Even the most humble of these shops causes tool envy. "Now we need a mortise joint. Step on over to the mortising machine and I will show you how it is done." Then on to this machine, and that machine, all housed in a thousand square foot out-building.

These fabulous shops and their related programs can be inspiring and informative. I have learned a lot from such shows, and encourage anyone interested in woodworking to study such resources. These same shops and programs can be a bit daunting. So many expensive tools. So much skill, accumulated over many collective years.

I have had to compel myself to begin, even lacking a basic table saw. If I continue to wait on tools, I will never begin. So, today I began working up some wood to practice hand crafted dovetail joints. To do so I needed to get some wood worked down to blanks of uniform size. Lacking much in the way of tools, I studied what I did have. Here are two photos of what I came up with.

This is a Stanley miter box. It is a plastic unit which included a back saw. I have never before used a plastic miter box, but this one is designed well. The backbone on the back saw comes to rest on the top of the miter box when the cut is completed, so the obvious concern over cutting up the plastic is not an issue. Also, the unit came with two plastic cam clamps. Those black things there in the picture. They work surprisingly well for holding the work in place.

To set the stop for the pieces being cut I clamped a board the same thickness as the bottom of the miter box to the bench. The clamp is a basic F clamp running through a hole in the bench. On top of this bottom board is a block set as a stop for the cut piece. This set-up, though rather rudimentary, allowed me to cut out some blanks with which to work.

As a guide to hand cutting dovetail joints I referred to some YouTube videos. Here is a good one. There are others. Indeed, YouTube is a treasure trove of educational videos for just about anything. Since I lack a coping or fret saw, I shall have to wait a few days until I can get to the store. No need for a special trip, especially at the present cost of fuel. Next time I go somewhere will be soon enough.

Crafting tools and jigs is a big part of wood-crafting. Here is a jig made to do box joints. Obviously, the engineering and craftsmanship of tool-making is a big part of woodworking as a hobby. Matthias even made his own gears for the jig. Another aspect of the hobby is designing or re-creating unique pieces, unavailable from other sources. Often it is just the satisfaction of working with wood and tools and your hands.

Indeed, crafting furniture is not a real money saving proposition. With low-cost imports and the abundance of mass-produced components in box stores, making your own furniture is actually a costly venture. Just as the sport fisherman does not go fishing to save on the cost of fish, the woodworker is working for the satisfaction of the doing.

Some craftsmen move in the opposite direction from the elaborate power shop, and master the use of hand tools and ancient techniques for doing their work. Craftsmen have often done wonderful work with only a limited number of tools, many of which they had to design and make for themselves. Participating in that tradition has its own satisfaction.

Mastering the tools you have is far better than dreaming about tools you do not have. You learn more, and get a great deal more done. Sometimes I have to remind myself of this fact, kick myself in the butt, and get to work. Whether writing, knitting, gardening or working with such things as wood, nothing gets done until you get to the doing.

Just do it. ;-)

Monday, April 30, 2012

Frugal, or Cheap?

One of my friends and former co-workers once observed that a piece of coal shoved up my nether-regions would shortly be returned as a diamond. It was a coarse observation presented in more common vernacular to point out that I am frugal. Perhaps even cheap.

The observation was correct no matter what term one would choose. I strive to be frugal. It is a value I learned from my parents, and one I value as a value. Frugality seems good to me, and I am content following such a course. Unfortunately, I can also sometimes be cheap. Not always, but way too often. Cheap is the less honorable and dignified sibling of frugality. Not the better company to keep.

As an illustration, I shall bring my wife (unwillingly) into the blog. We were in the market for some new cookware. I looked around and found a set of cookware of admirable quality for an even more admirable price. Just under two hundred dollars. A good price, since this stuff would last a long time. Good metal. No high maintenance inner surfaces to worry about. A nice variety of pots, pans and covers. They had a good structure and form. Practical. Dishwasher safe.

My wife did not want to spend two hundred dollars. I quite understood, but argued for the investment. She shopped a bit more, and found a hundred dollar set on sale for half of that. Using a coupon or some other combination of discounts, she got it for less than twenty bucks. Now that was frugal.

Unfortunately, it was also cheap, at least by comparison. The set we bought has a high-maintenance non-stick coating. The pots and pans have serviceable structure and form, but are not nearly as versatile as the set I wanted. The metal is a light aluminum, not my favorite for cooking. The variety of pot shapes was not quite as good. They are not dishwasher safe, as the dishwasher may cause the outer surface to discolor.

Who was right? Well, I don't see it as an issue of 'right.' The lesser expenditure allowed us to keep some of our money, and the cookware is working out fine. Since a lot of my cooking is simply high aspirations, good intentions and little action, perhaps the lesser investment was the wiser. Frugal? Yes. Cheap? Probably.

I will never be a label shopper. I shall not be a slave to fashion. Those practices tend to part me from too much of my money just for bragging rights and to please people whose pleasure I don't particularly care about. Still, a label can sometimes point to good value. Something that wears well over a goodly span of time.

I will never be a political or philosophical shopper. I once had a philosophy professor who admitted that she shopped with unbalanced diligence to obtain a tooth powder that was not advertised in any way, and payed far too much for that 'freedom' from media manipulation. Some avoid a particular store, or another, because they are off-shore or use slave labor or indirectly kill baby Panda bears and innocent whales. I will go for the best price for the best quality, period.

Why so unconscionable in my shopping? Because it is a bit much to expect for me to weigh the issues and sift the facts from the feces just to buy toilet paper or a new pair of shoes. Because frugality is my dominant philosophical position. Because, in the end, I am cheap.

Anyone want to buy a fresh diamond?

Friday, April 20, 2012

Success is NOT accidental-

I think a lot about things like dreams and aspirations and strange concepts such as "success." How do we  discover dreams? What aspirations are worthy of pursuit? What defines success?

Sometimes our dreams go undiscovered. They are undiscovered due to not knowing how to find them. They are undiscovered because we don't seek them due to the influences of others or our own critical selves. Sometimes they frighten us, and we avoid them. Sometimes we just never think about dreams, and don't even look.

I recently watched a video, kind of a documentary. As a kid I fell in love with magic, the performing art. Like most kids, I learned a few tricks. Unlike most adults, I have kept it up, a bit. I have recently dusted off my magic stuff and practiced a bit. It is fun, and I might just find a way to make a few bucks with this in my retirement.

In the documentary you will see a number of teenage people aspiring to be the best in their age group. These kids are good. Really good. The documentary is valuable in documenting their aspirations and the effort it takes to be really good at anything. Yep. These kids sacrificed their time, focused on their art, and they practiced. They practiced a lot.

The art of magic is a fringe art. It is geeky and awkward, even among other performing arts. These are ubergeeks, these young people. Their devotion is amazing, especially to someone like myself who never really aspired to be the best at anything. I never acquired the passion and the focus. I have achieved successes in my life, but I never went for the gold like these kids.

I relate to this documentary because magic was one of my interests in my youth, and has been an interest through most of my life. I have some idea just how much these young artists had to work to get where they did. Teenagers. Not a group noted for their dreams and aspirations bearing such fruit. Only one among the competitors becomes the best in the world, but they are all huge winners. Not sitting around in a pool of teenage angst for them. Aspiration and achievement, even if they don't all grab the brass ring.

Watching something like this always leaves me with mixed feelings. Why wasn't I like that? Well, I just wasn't. We all have a lot of variables that comprise who we were when we were born, and a lot more variables come into play over time. The star performer, the most successful politician, the richest rich guy all catch the attention of the public, but there are a multitude of lesser successes which are achieved every day. Those little successes are the ones that really push us all forward as a people.

Think about something like, say, a documentary about a group of teenagers who aspire to be the best teen magician in the world. How many people would it take to make that documentary? Lots. Not as many as a block-buster movie, but a lot. Videographers, audio recorders. Lighting people. Writers. Administrators. Legal people. Somebody to pack and ship stuff. Lots of people. People with dreams and aspirations. People who have their own forms of success. People who, together, create a corporate success.

Success is not accidental. Oh, the final form of any one person's success might have accidental elements in it, but success itself is not accidental. Thought, study, planning and practice all go into success. Hours and hours. Most of the young people in the video practiced five hours every day. Every day. That, just to make the top fifteen young magicians in the world. Failure at that level is still quite a success.

Sometimes success is better defined in retrospect. For example, my career in corrections. I became a correctional officer as a consequence of having a family to care for and no real direction as to how to do that. I did not have a real plan, just the desire for a job that met the needs. The corrections thing became something to aspire to in order to provide for my family. It was never more than a job to me.

In the course of performing this difficult task I learned a lot about myself, and discovered I had the necessary skills to manage inmates successfully. I was not particularly adept at the office politics, and I have to imagine that there are plenty of people I worked for who would only consider me marginally successful. However, feedback from inmates and my fellow officers confirmed that I did the job well. I was a success.

In my youth I never aspired to be the best teen magician in the world. Striving for such a thing would not have occurred to me. Yet it occurred to at least a few young people. It occurred to someone else to document their aspirations, efforts and successes. As a consequence, I got to enjoy being informed, entertained, and inspired.

Find your dreams, and follow them. Aspire. Strive and loose. Strive and win. Value your successes, especially the ones you see only when you look back. Value the successes of others, too. We all need an audience, or a cheering section, or someone to help us get back up.

Success is not accidental.