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Archive for October, 2009

On Fixing Things

I am nursing our household’s dishwasher along until we replace it as part of a kitchen renovation. The machine is eighteen years old, and is clearly limping.  Although I am not on a first name basis at the appliance parts supply house, they now look at me and say “Whirlpool, right?”  I am the only person that can get the machine to run, so all loading, unloading and operation is strictly mine.

As with a lot of mechanical things, once you’re inside and looking at the results of a mechanical engineer’s craft, you can be in for a disappointment.  What appeared to be a substantial machine loses some of its cachet when you see that a major component of the dishwasher’s door is cardboard.  Not that this is an inappropriate use of paper material, it just illustrates the perspective that you get when you look behind the scenes at any machine.

My late father was a bright guy, Ivy League educated and all that.  He was a research chemist educated at a time when scientists also built much of their own test equipment.  Alas, he was not very mechanically inclined, and his tool box reflected that fact.  I, on the other hand, am mechanically inclined, thanks in no small part to the variety of toys that my parents gave me over the years, not the least of which was an Erector set, along with a Handy Andy tool set, all those electric trains and a German toy manufactured by Gescha, their Combi-6, that was a truck body onto which six different bodies could attached.  With screws, washers and bolts of course.

Even then, in my early years, this acorn did not fall that far from the tree, but I was fortunate enough to have several employments that taught me a great deal.  These jobs were below my college education level, but they were very educational in their own right.

I am the product of private education from high school right through my Bachelor of Arts degree.  In other words, I have been trained for a touchy-feely life rather than having learned hard skills.  Yes, some of it is trivial.  For example, I can tell you that all of Gaul is divided into three parts (Caesar, J;  Commentarii de Bello Gallico; 58 BC).  But, I’m not embarrassed about this, since it is that background plus my own curiosity that brings these words every week.  And, this sort of education produces state of mind issues, it shaped my general view of life.

That said, private education does not prepare you for certain useful skills.  Notably, I had to go to public schools during the summer to learn typing and to take driver’s education.  Rightly or wrongly, private education seems to assume that you will be having someone drive you and that a secretary will be taking your words and putting them to paper.  If you are a lady, you will be writing, in hand, letters on pastel paper while reclining in your boudoir.

Of course, the typing thing worked very well for me, saving countless hours while I cranked out those college invectives that are best forgotten.  One of the classic problems with computerization of business was that so many executives were accustomed to yelling “Miss Bates, take a memo” rather than turning around at their desk, pulling the keyboard out and sending that email.  We largely seem to be over that stage, but I know that there are a few of you out there who still have their staff print things out onto paper, which you then pencil up with edits and then hand it back to them for rework.  Suit yourself.

In the same manner, it is my inclination to fix things myself unless it is beyond my skill set.  Of course, sometimes the issue is not so much skill sets as much as it is the calculation of success.  As an example, I chose to not fix the ice-maker in our refrigerator not because I couldn’t do it as much as it was easier to contact a skilled contractor and let them enjoy the unique frustrations of getting the old one out and putting the new one in.  In addition to this being a difficult job, using a contractor to do the deed gave me escape from my spouse’s criticism if the repair job failed.  In short, you have to choose what you are best at.

For example, I stay away from most plumbing issues other than plunging toilets and replacing washers.  On the other hand, most appliances are fair game, as are minor car repairs.  I’ve been doing computers since 1982, so most projects from the mundane to the major are fair territory for me.

I didn’t get there by myself.  Although much of what I know is self-taught, I had some help along the way from some key people.

Bill Thomsen

Bill is the brother that I never had, and my relationship with him goes back for decades.  We are luncheon partners and good friends.  Bill is in the cabinet business, and I do his bookkeeping (a seven hour per week kind of job).  The cabinet shop is full of nice machines and skilled people, and this has been a great source for me.  It is not so much the machines as much as the state of mind that a place like that has.  If it isn’t done properly, it doesn’t go out the door.  A pretty good philosophy to have, indeed.

George Masinda

Upon graduation from my backwater liberal arts college, I wanted to stay in town to be with the woman that I loved at that time.  With a freshly minted college degree in hand, I needed some sort of income generating activity to keep me there, and it was my good fortune to stumble upon Mr. Masinda.  George was in the carbody repair business; he had operated a shop called Knox Autobody and had, at one point, employed ten people.

As anyone who has employed other people can tell you, it can have its disheartening moments.  And, at some point, George fired his employees, closed his shop, built a new structure on the south edge of town and reopened his business as a sole proprietorship with one employee, himself.  His father would come out and putter around, putting finishing touches on the woodwork and such, but it became apparent that George needed a young liberal arts graduate.  I was hired; my job was sweeping up the shop and doing the stuff that George didn’t want to do.

It was a marriage made in heaven.  Along the way, I learned how to prepare a car body for paint, a skill which I use to this day in my model railroad hobby.  And, George gave me something more, a certain amused attitude toward the world and toward work.  He was a great guy.

Frank Patrick

Likewise, I fell under the sway of Frank Patrick, who gave me the skills that keeps our Whirlpool dishwasher in operation.  Frank was in the commercial washing machine business and I was his repair minion.  In addition to the skills and knowledge that he imparted, he also gave me some very basic tools that work in about 90% of repair situations.  Yes it’s nice to have a lot of tools, but at some point, most of them are not typically used.

It was this experience that also exposed me to the vagaries of industrial design.  While some machines were simply not meant to be repaired, others, such as the Wascomat washing machine from Sweden, were not only meant to be repaired, but were designed so that they could easily be repaired.  With the exception of the dump valve, which releases the water from the washing machine at the end of a cycle, everything else was on the top of the machine.  You opened up the top, stood on a small box and looked down at most of the machine’s replaceable parts.  Even the operating relays could be taken apart and the contacts replaced, rather than simply replacing the entire relay.

What Not to Do

Along the way, I learned that there were certain things that you shouldn’t do, without actually making the mistake itself.  George taught me that when reassembling things, the first thing that you do is place all of the mounting screws and get them started in their holes rather than placing the first screw and then completely tightening it.  In this way, you avoided having to go back and untighten things if one screw did not match up with its appropiate hole.

Likewise, Frank taught me that when replacing a device timer, you don’t yank off all of the various wires and then try to connect them to the new timer.  Doing it that way insures that you won’t remember which wire goes where, or you will discover that you have the wrong replacement timer.  In short, this was all information that had been learned the hard way by someone else, and skills that probably could not be taught in a classroom.

As a final aside, I discovered something very interesting about the Handy Andy tool set which my parents gave to me in the 1950’s.  Most of it is long gone, and could presumably be replaced by looking on eBay, but for reasons unknown, I managed to keep the level that came in the set.  For a lark, I used it one day to place something on a wall.  After the object was placed, I stood back to admire my work, only to note that things were clearly not level.  I drug out my nice Stabila level, discovering that the Handy Andy level wasn’t level at all.  Which serves to explain several things over the years……

I have, of course, gone on to greater things, but those experiences were invaluable to me, and the memories are sweet ones.  As they said on the television program Red Green, “If you can’t be handsome, be handy.”  Useful words, indeed.

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Being For Something

Several years ago, my spouse and I came to an interesting conclusion; many of our friends were, ahem, liberals. This, in itself, was not a tragic discovery, just one which bemused us both.  Being genteel people, we valued our friends for their friendship.  There is no compelling need to “convert” them; they are good friends, and just that.

Publicly admitting that you are a conservative is fraught with negative possibilities, and our friends know what our general political perspective is, but the subject is never brought up.  To be sure, certain other topics are never discussed either, such as someone’s bad toupee, growing waistline, religion, dietary preferences and/or abortion.  Given the long term, closely held, beliefs of all parties, there’s no reason to try and change things.  In short, we have a good time with people that we have a lot of other things in common with.

Our process of analysis about this discovery was much more interesting. We had both grown up in conservative homes, with parents who were solidly Republican; very typical of the 1950’s, when being a Republican meant something.  Nor were we from “fat cat” households.  My late father was a research chemist, working first for a petroleum company and later for the EPA.  My lovely bride’s father had been involved in several businesses, including owning and operating their own motel, which he built from scratch.  After 20 years of the motel, he was a driving license examiner and a deputy sheriff (for a Democratic sheriff).  In short, nice middle-class Republican backgrounds; but at some point, we looked at each other and mutually realized the truth.  Many of our friends are lefties.  Oh, well, let us move on.

I came to conservatism early on, after reading Buckley’s God & Man at Yale. Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged really sealed the deal.  As a train enthusiast, Atlas started off to me as a train book and now, of course, it has taken on the eerie reflection of today’s society.  My wife has never been a dyed in the wool conservative, but over the years, I have slowly wooed her over.  She remains an independent mind, but 30 years worth of experience in private enterprise has shown her some truths.  As you get older, you tend toward what was always there.

By coincidence, we both went to the same small college in the Midwest United States.  Although we both have an affection for the place, I have in recent years become disaffected with the school’s left wing perspective, God & Man at a Small Liberal Arts College, if you will.  I blogged about this disaffection, earlier.  What pushed me off the dime to write about this disaffection was when John Ashcroft visited campus.

Our college had a long and wonderful history of progressive thought.  Consider this painting of a major event at this school:

Free Debate of Ideas

Free Debate of Ideas

Now, fast forward to 2008, to this same college:

John Ashcroft, Domestic Terrorist?

John Ashcroft, Domestic Terrorist?

The Free Exchange of Ideas

The Free Exchange of Ideas

I am sure that this is not the stated policy of the College, but the sign was posted on a College building and was not taken down during the event.  Where once the student body and faculty of the College was For something, now it is Against.

To me, one of the core assets of conservatism is being for something and being allowed to be for something without restraint.  It is something that I enjoy with all of our friends, but it is painfully obvious that I would not be happy at our old college in this day and time.  In keeping with my conservative philosophy, our little backwater college is entitled to be whatever it wants to be, but I also know that if I was there now as a student, I would not be able to be what I want to be.

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In recent weeks, the Federal Trade Commission has posted Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising , which includes guidelines for blogs.

To wit: “…..essentially saying that bloggers must explicitly disclose if they are being compensated by a manufacturer, advertiser, or service provider when they review an item. The penalty for not complying could be up to $11,000 per violation with the possibility of injunctions to boot….”

As a conservative, I believe that we are a nation of laws, and in an effort to comply with these regulations, I am making this statement.

The materials posted on the Brookhaven Bear Report are original material composed and edited by myself, and are not posted at the direction of any manufacturer, advertiser or service provider.

In the interest of full disclosure, I do have a financial relationship with several different governments, namely the United States Federal government, the States of Georgia, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, along with several different counties in those states.  Namely, I proffer funding to those entities and they spend those receipts on things over which I have little if any control.

Those entities are not directly responsible for any statements on my part, but they have certainly been a rich source of writing material for me.  As of this posting, I have not received any payments from these entities except in cases of accounting errors or over payments on my part.

I do not anticipate being commissioned to write favorable articles about these entities in the future, but, as an entrepreneur, I am always willing to entertain such proposals.  If, at such time, I do so, you will likely be the first to know.  Or at least to suspect such a proposal.

Have a nice day.

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I have a long standing affection for the north Georgia mountains.  It is an incredibly beautiful place where I have fished for trout, camped and hiked for decades.  My wife and I do volunteer work at Vogel State Park, which is near Blairsville.  The influx of retirees moving into the area has changed things some, and technology has changed things too, but all in all, it is still a wonderful place.

By western standards, the north Georgia mountains are just little bumps on the map.  The tallest place in the state of Georgia is Brasstown Bald, 4,784 feet above sea level.  The city of Denver, Colorado is, by turn, over 5,000 feet above sea level.  As you head into the Rockies, the landscape is dotted by dozens of Fourteeners, mountain peaks taller than 14,000 feet.  So, north Georgia pales in comparison, but I don’t care.

To be sure, there are some irritations, as there are in any place.  Perhaps the most interesting irritation is the roads which climb up one side of the mountain, crest the mountain (or hill, depending upon your perspective) at a “Gap”, then twist and turn back down the other side.  Your irritation is another person’s attraction.  As with every mountain road, you have fast traffic and you have slow traffic.  The fast traffic is usually comprised of those in sports cars and locals in more prosaic vehicles.  The Porsches were meant to drive that way, but it is still just a bit odd to see old sedans flying up the mountains with a local at the helm, often with one arm resting on the car’s window sill.

The slow traffic is pretty much what you would expect, trucks, recreational vehicles, bicyclists training for their next event and non-locals who are not accustomed to mountain driving.  The trucks are involved in local commerce, reefers, containers and logging trucks, all clambering up the hills in the lowest gears, four-way flashers blinking all the way.  On the down slope, their Jacobs Engine Brakes fill the valleys with the noise of engine compression working against momentum.  The RV’s slog along as what they are, your living room and bedroom on wheels, a vehicle really meant to be sitting in some camp ground, somewhere, with its occupants sitting in lawn chairs and drinking wine as they watch their kids cavort.  Everything works pretty well, considering.

And there are the motorcycles.  At this point, it is very important to make a distinction.  There are the road bikes, the big Hondas and Harleys driven by those who are out for an enjoyable weekend drive, seeing the beauty of the north Georgia mountains in all their glory.  Their drivers are business types, local television station weather reporters; they are genteel and respect other drivers on the road.  They are a caring, close group.  And, then there are the other motorcyclists.

As Saturday morning breaks, the hills are filled with the shrill whine of finely tuned machinery being operated at its maximum limits.  The gentle twittering of birds is replaced with the angry buzzing sounds of motorcycles racing up and down the hills at maximum speed.  Unwilling or unable to confine their “sport” to race tracks, the north Georgia mountains become an unofficial raceway for motorcycle drivers intent upon racing.  They race up and down the roads, weaving in and out of slower traffic, tailgating and generally terrifying those who are not experienced with mountain driving.

When the subject comes up with the local police and emergency medical technicians, these professionals fall into a grim silence.  Simply put, there is little that they can do about these motorcycle drivers who are going well above the posted speed limits.  Even a 350 cc Honda motorcycle enjoys a better than average chance of escaping from local police trying to catch them in a standard police issue Crown Victoria, complete with the cop-engine, cop-transmission and cop-suspension.  Further, a high speed pursuit of a motorcycle on the mountain roads merely insures some sort of disaster, perhaps to an innocent party.

So, on weekends, the police presence on the north Georgia mountain roads is largely limited to a paperwork role; when they come upon the inevitable motorcycle accident, their job is to summon the EMT’s or the Coroner and complete the necessary forms listing time of accident, location and such.  The police do not relish this part of the job.  Likewise, the EMT’s are put at risk when they have to retrieve an injured motorcycle driver who has left the roadway at high speed and impaled themselves in a nearby tree.  It is a problem to which there is no practical solution.

Things are exacerbated by the fact that many of these high speed motorcyclists are often doing so without the benefit of motorcycle insurance.  Because of the costs of the motorcycle itself, the necessary driving attire and fuel, more than a few of these drivers dispense with insurance.  One clue is that many of these bikes do not have license plates; gaining a license tag requires proof of insurance.

I tell you this by way of background for something we saw a few weeks ago as we drove back from Vogel State Park.  The Park is on U. S. Highways 129 and 19, and it is a major north / south thoroughfare for all sorts of traffic, including motorcycles.  As we passed over Neel’s Gap and began our downward descent to Turner’s Corners, we came upon the inevitable motorcycle accident.  It doesn’t take much, just a momentary distraction or a bit of debris on the roadway and the motorcycle which is driving at, perhaps, 20 miles per hour, plows into the nearby mountain, which is travelling at 0 miles per hour.  Absent the protection of an automobile carbody, the human body takes the impact.

I kept my eyes on the road, while my wife took in the accident scene.  The bike in question had left the roadway and landed in a ditch.  Several other motorcyclists were assisting the accident victim, so we continued on.  As we went further downhill, a local police unit passed us going uphill.  Finally we got to Turner’s Corners, where the country opens up into wide valleys and rolling hills.  As we continued on to Atlanta, I saw a single motorcyclist approaching from the rear.  Under normal circumstances, this motorcycle would have blown by us like we were standing still, but he hung back.  His left leg was extended outward from the bike, not a normal position.

We pulled into Cleveland, Georgia and stopped at the traffic light on the town square.  The motorcyclist pulled up behind us and got off his bike.  He hobbled around to the other side of his bike and began pulling on something.  It was at this point that I realized that this was the same motorcyclist who had collided with an outcropping of Blood Mountain just a few minutes earlier.  He hobbled back to the other side of the bike, got back on and when the light turned green, he continued behind us at a discreet distance.

As we left town, I slowed down in a passing zone to let him pass.  Eventually, 45 mph proved too slow for the motorcycle driver and he passed up and the extent of his problem became more apparent.  In addition to the damage to the motorcycle, the driver was holding his right forearm with his left hand as he used his right hand to control the bike.

We can only speculate as to why he was driving himself back to civilization, but my guess is that he either did not have insurance at all, or did not want to risk a claim.  Presumably, when he got back home, his motorcycle accident would mysteriously transform into a fall from a ladder, and it might even blossom into a worker’s compensation case, with his employer picking up the tab for the motorcycle accident.

Say whatever you will about those who race around the north Georgia mountains cheating death on powerful motorcycles.  When things are fine, you ride with a group of like minded individuals, but when there’s a problem, you ride alone.

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