Saturday, April 3, 2010

What Gives You a Feeling of Accomplishment?

I changed the distributor cap and rotor on my truck today and it made me feel good. It made me feel good for two reasons. First, I did it. This distributor is buried up against the center firewall, in an alcove underneath wiring and plumbing. I remember the old VW beetles. I think it took about a minute to change the cap and rotor on one of those, provided none of the wires stuck. The distributor cap on my current truck is held down by tiny little TORX™ screws, in a tight, inaccessible spot. The rotor, in turn, is held down by even smaller versions of those fasteners from hell. Shiny little things that I can't see...

The second reason that R&Ring the cap and rotor made me feel good is that it confirmed my hunch about a slight miss in the engine, and a few trouble codes indicating a "random misfire" or a "cylinder 6 misfire." The logical thing to do upon receiving those, I think, would be to pull the spark plug on cylinder 6 and check it out. Logical, perhaps, but not in keeping with my truck's history. Instead, I replaced the cap and rotor, and the engine smoothed out. (I'm still going to replace the plugs, but that's another Saturday afternoon.)

I changed the truck's oil, too. Afterwards, I realized that I felt good about making the repair. I felt a sense of accomplishment. Fixing things does that for me. And I'm pretty good at it.

What gives you a feeling of accomplishment?

Friday, April 2, 2010

Four for Fridays

Howdy everyone! Hope everyone is having a Good Friday! I'm off of work.... Here's this weeks' questions...

1) What are your summer plans?

2) What would you like to do this summer?

3) Do you celebrate Easter?

4) Any Easter memories?

Enjoy your weekend!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Got My Census Letter Today

Update 2 (The blog that won't die):
Today I received another Census form in the mail, along with the letter at left. My first thought upon seeing the form is that my original response was lost in the mail. After reading the letter, however, I see that they are sending out a second census form just in case you missed the first one. And the advance letter. And the reminder postcard.

Ironically, the letter says it is important that you respond only once to the census. How many people will read the letter, and how many will just fill out the form a second time and mail it, like I almost did?

Update 1 (3/22/10):
Today I received my post-census postcard. That's right, after joking about whether they would be sending us something to tell us that they sent us something, they did it! Bureaucracy at its best. I can't wait for government run healthcare to kick in. LOL.

Btw, I filled out the census form and returned it on the day that I received it.

Original post (3/8/10):
I got the letter that the Census sends you to tell you that they are going to send you the Census. Mom got one, too. I assume that every household in the United States gets one.

I wonder what it costs to mail everyone notice that you are going to mail them something? A million dollars? Two million? Who knows? Who cares? It's only government money, and that's free, right?

April 1st

Now where are all our jokesters today? Seems that since it is April 1st, we should be hearing from SER, Drew, and Logjam enmass!

Not even a hokey jokey?

Asteroid Obama

Today the Minor Planet Center announced that Asteroid 2008VG has been renamed "Barack Obama" in honor of the U.S. President. The asteroid was discovered on November 4th, 2008, the day Obama won his historic victory, by Leo Biderman..

"I found the asteroid and once it was confirmed, I knew I wanted to name it after Obama," Biderdman said. "Subsequent observations revealed the asteroid had two moons, so I decided to name them 'Hope' and 'Change'".

"This is a great honor," Obama said on hearing the news, "And I am proposing a mission to Asteroid Obama to be launched in 2012, hopefully near election day so we can better understand this object that formed over 4 billion years ago with our Solar System."

Reaction from the Republican leadership was swift. "This is a ridiculous case of idolizing our President and giving him an excuse to waste taxpayer dollars in space that could be better wasted in my district," said John Boehner.

Don McElroy of the Texas Board of Education joined in saying, "I can save us billions of dollars by telling him the asteroid is only 6,000 years old, just like the Universe".

Bill O'Reilly demanded an asteroid be named after Ronald Reagan, "To keep the cosmos Fair and Balanced".

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Dear Madame Zoltar

Hello, my cavorting crocuses! How are you? It seems like the wind has been blowing in from Lake Michigan for most of the month of March. I think we had one warm day, when the wind shifted to the south and it was so hot and strong that the outdoors felt like a large convection oven. Then we dropped back into the 30’s. So, no matter how March came in or is going out, I, for one, am glad that it’s almost gone. A warm-up is supposed to begin today and continue for a couple more days, fueled again by those southern winds. Thank you, Mother Nature, for the wonderful warmth.

Yesterday, I received an email from the delightful Ms. Beejay. She wrote:

Dear Madame Zoltar,

For over a week, I have been trying to make kk my 'friend of the day' on Facebook. All sorts of friends and relatives have popped up as my 'friend of the day.' Almost alarmingly, Drewzepmeister has shown up he has cast a spell on this application. But, no little kk.

Now kk has let it be known that she has no reflection in the mirror.
Has Drew cast a spell on kk??? Has she left this plane for another....or are we all wacko?
Or have her eye-teeth begun to grow??? OMG!

Please see if you can undo whatever spell has been cast and return kk to her original visible state. And while you are at it, see if you can have her appear magically as my 'friend of the day!'

I will be eternally grateful.


Dear Ms. Beejay, oh my! Invisibility, reflected or otherwise, is usually not a good sign. You were right to be concerned about the celestial Ms. kk and to contact me. It often is a challenge to unravel spells cast by rival practitioners. This one appears to be a rather elementary spell, composed, perhaps, by someone just beginning to dabble in the arcane rites and arts. In any case, I have negated it forthwith and completely so that Ms. kk’s reflection will once again grace the eyes of mortal men.

As for the 'friend of the day' application on your Facebook account, Ms. Beejay, not even I can be sure of my powers when it comes to computers, the internet, and software. Junior usually handles that. He’s not around, though, so I’ll give it my best shot. Ms. kk should appear as your ‘friend of the day’ very soon, or else her face will be showing up on every electronic billboard in the nation (and overseas, if the ether is clear).

I don’t think that Mr. drewzepmeister would cast a spell on Ms. kk or your ‘friend of the day’ application without first consulting me. He is a loyal Irregular and I just can’t imagine him obtaining psychic influence outside of our family.

Then again, you never know, do you? Only I, Madame Zoltar, know! If you want to find out, send me a message:

Thank you for reading my blog this week, my dears. I love you all so much. I look forward to sharing with you each and every week.

Don’t forget that tomorrow is April Fools Day. You never know what kind of joke someone might pull. Check the tops of condiment containers and keep an eye out for banana peels. It’s only funny if it happens to someone else. Croci!

Real Pole Dancing

I cannot imagine the strength and skill which that requires.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

You Can't Patent Genes...

There are certain types of court cases that are guaranteed to get everyone's undies in a bunch...abortion, church and state, free speech cases such as flag burning come to mind. But you occasionally get these cases that has extremely far ranging consequences that gets little notice.

One such case came down today. Federal Judge Robert Sweet, in a 152 page ruling, basically said you can't patent human genes. The case involved the BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 genes that are markers for increased risk of breast cancer and were patented by Myriad Genetics. Myriad is the sole provider of the test for these genes which a lot of women understandably want to have. It was quite a cash cow for them as they made $222 million on tests that cost $32 million to perform (that's almost a 700 percent profit margin for those keeping score at home).

Patents already cover 20% of human genes. If this decision is upheld, it has the potential to allow researchers to study these genes without fear of being shut down, speed up medical advances, and drive down the costs of various genetic therapies.

What it comes down to is that genes are not inventions. Patents are designed to protect inventions. Myriad could patent a special piece of medical equipment used to perform the test...that is an invention.

This is a good decision...medical researchers have been a little gun shy at times in doing genetic research for fear of infringing on these patents that cover naturally occurring genes! The decision will free up researchers.

One thing I am pretty sure of is that Myriad had no role in "inventing" my genes!

Another Iridium Flare

And after all the excitement of Venus and Mercury, I went out to see if I could capture an Iridium flare. The center line was about 5 miles from where I live so I drove out there (might not seem like much, but it makes a was over six times brighter than it would have been where I lived).

Iridium flares are very bright reflections of the Sun off an Iridium communications satellite. They can be seen during the day they are so bright. You can find local predictions when they will be visible form your location at Heavens Above. Satellites were EVERYWHERE tonight. I got one accidentally in one of my test shots beforehand and saw another one that I mistook for the Iridium satellite at first. Eventually, I honed in on the right one, zoomed in, and took the shot.

I zoomed in a little more this time. You can see stars in the background and how much brighter the flare is than the stars. This is a 20 second exposure so you can see how far the satellite moves in that time and how its brightness changes. Please, click the image to get a larger version!

So go out and see some Iridium flares!

Reprinted with permission from the Half-Astrophysicist Blog.

It's Pwanet Season!

The next week or so is a great time to see planets as four of the five naked eye planets are easily visible to the naked eye. Mars is high in the sky as evening falls and Saturn is rising in the east. The real action is going on the in western sky right after sunset as Mercury and Venus are having a close encounter.

Mercury is normally pretty hard to see as it never gets very far from the Sun. Near the spring equinox, however, the ecliptic rises very steeply with respect to the horizon allowing Mercury to climb a little higher in the sky than usual. This time of year is the best to see Mercury...and we have Venus handy to help point the way.

Mercury is to the lower right of Venus now and will get closer to Venus until April 3/4th. Mercury will then start pulling away and get dimmer rapidly. You can find a chart at Sky and Telecope's web site. But why look at a chart when I can show you. Here is what they looked like tonight from Tucson (as usual, click to embiggen).

I used my zoom lens to get a closer look.

So go out and take a look...this is a good chance to see an elusive planet.

Reprinted with permission from the Half-Astrophysicist Blog.

Keep It or Toss It?

Your Ultimate Shelf Life Guide - Save Money, Eat Better, Help The Environment

Still Tasty

Okay, SER, LizardMom and Drew...joke time

This is supposedly a true story from a few Doctors:

"At the beginning of my shift, I placed a stethoscope on an elderly and slight deaf female patient's anterior chest wall. "Big breaths," I instructed.

Yes, they used to be." replied the patient"


"While acquainting myself with a new elderly patient, I asked, 'How long have you been bedridden?'
After a look of complete confusion, she answered....'Why not for about twenty years...when my husband was alive.'

Okay those are my two for guys can take it from here.

This is Old but still will make you laugh..

These great questions and answers are from the days when ' Hollywood Squares' game show responses were spontaneous, not scripted, as they are now. Peter Marshall was the host asking the questions, of course..

Q.. Paul, what is a good reason for pounding meat?
A. Paul Lynde: Loneliness!
(The audience laughed so long and so hard it took up almost 15 minutes of the show!)

Q.Do female frogs croak?
A. Paul Lynde: If you hold their little heads underwater long enough.

Q.If you're going to make a parachute jump, at least how high should you be
A. Charley Weaver: Three days of steady drinking should do it.

Q.True or False, a pea can last as long as 5,000 years.
A. George Gobel: Boy, it sure seems that way sometimes.

Q.You've been having trouble going to sleep. Are you probably a man or a woman?
A. Don Knotts: That's what's been keeping me awake.

Q.According to Cosmopolitan, if you meet a stranger at a party and youthink that he is attractive, is it okay to come out and ask him if he's married?
A... Rose Marie: No wait until morning.

Q.Which of your five senses tends to diminish as you get older?
A. Charley Weaver: My sense of decency..

Q.In Hawaiian, does it take more than three words to say 'I Love You'?
A. Vincent Price: No, you can say it with a pineapple and a twenty..

Q.What are 'Do It,' 'I Can Help,' and 'I Can't Get Enough'?
A. George Gobel: I don't know, but it's coming from the next apartment.

Q.As you grow older, do you tend to gesture more or less with your hands while talking?
A. Rose Marie: You ask me one more growing old question Peter, and I'll give you a gesture you'll never forget.

Q.Paul, why do Hell's Angels wear leather?
A. Paul Lynde: Because chiffon wrinkles too easily.

Q.Charley, you've just decided to grow strawberries. Are you going to get any during the first year?
A.. Charley Weaver: Of course not, I'm too busy growing strawberries.

Q.In bowling, what's a perfect score?
A. Rose Marie: Ralph, the pin boy.

Q.It is considered in bad taste to discuss two subjects at nudist camps. One is politics, what is the other?
A. Paul Lynde: Tape measures..

Q.During a tornado, are you safer in the bedroom or in the closet?
A. Rose Marie: Unfortunately Peter, I'm always safe in the bedroom.

Q.Can boys join the Camp Fire Girls?
A. Marty Allen: Only after lights out.

Q.When you pat a dog on its head he will wag his tail. What will a goose do?
A. Paul Lynde: Make him bark?

Q.If you were pregnant for two years, what would you give birth to?
A. Paul Lynde: Whatever it is, it would never be afraid of the dark..

Q.According to Ann Landers, is there anything wrong with getting into the habit of kissing a lot of people?
A. Charley Weaver: It got me out of the army.
Q.It is the most abused and neglected part of your body, what is it?
A. Paul Lynde: Mine may be abused, but it certainly isn't neglected.

Q.Back in the old days, when Great Grandpa put horseradish on his head, what was he trying to do?
A. George Gobel: Get it in his mouth.

Q.Who stays pregnant for a longer period of time, your wife or your elephant?
A. Paul Lynde: Who told you about my elephant?

Q.When a couple have a baby, who is responsible for its sex?
A. Charley Weaver: I'll lend him the car, the rest is up to him

Q.Jackie Gleason recently revealed that he firmly believes in them and has actually seen them on at least two occasions. What are they?
A. Charley Weaver: His feet.

Q.According to Ann Landers, what are two things you should never do in bed?
A. Paul Lynde: Point and laugh


Each cube is a teaspoonful.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Mayo Clinic atrium piano, charming older couple...

"Fran & Marlo Cowan (married 62 years) playing impromptu recital together in the atrium of the Mayo Clinic. He turned 90 in February. The song is Old Grey Bonnet -- September 24, 2008"

They've been married longer than I've been alive.

Their return to the Mayo Clinic, February 24, 2010, is here:

The End of NUMMI

This week's episode of This American Life was an interesting peek inside the auto industry. It focused on the New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. (NUMMI) plant in Freemont, California. The plant is closing this week and is a fascinating tale of the last 25 years of the auto industry

They show starts out talking about the Freemont plant's history as the worst U.S. car plant. The tales of what went on there are astounding examples of the worst parts of Union workers and atrocious management. I don't want to spoil surprises...give it a listen.

The plant was shut down in 1982 and reopened a couple of years later with the same workers as a joint venture with GM and Toyota. It became the best U.S. plant very quickly, highest productivity, least number of defects. GM wanted to learn how to match Toyota's quality. Toyota was feeling the heat from Congress in the early 80's as import quotas were being discussed and wanted to learn to build cars in the U.S. to dodge thee potential quotas. Seemed like a good match.

GM's goal was to take what they learned and export it to other plants. Well, this is where things fell apart. Unions and management sabotaged the efforts repeatedly and the top brass at GM bumbled all along the process.

You can listen to this fascinating hour for free on their website.

My father was in the auto industry while I was growing up...he was a plant manager at a parts supplier (didn't work directly for the Big Three). He won a contract from GM for oil pumps in the 1980s and set up the assembly line. For a while, most GM oil pumps came from this small town in Iowa.

He was the head of management at a non-union plant. He was a Demming disciple (the total quality management guy). I was probably the only person at my high school that knew some of the principles of TQM because of him! TQM heavily influenced Japanese industry much more so than the U.S. at the time.

There were a couple of attempts to form a union but they were always voted down. He said at the time it was his goal to treat the workers well enough that they didn't need a union.

Fast forward 20 years. He left that plant in 1987. I was back for my 20th high school reunion in 2006. The company that owned the plant went bankrupt, that facility was sold to another company and is still in operation. I was talking to a few locals that I didn't know who asked if I was back for the reunion. I said yes and told them who I was. One of the men said he worked at the plant when my father managed it and that is was a great place to work. Not only that, he remembered a couple of things specifically.

He remembered my father doing magic tricks at employee meetings. He said he always felt like he understood the company, how it was doing in terms of profitability and that the workers were treated well. One year they had record profits and my father ordered a proof set of coins from the U.S. mint for every worker to commemorate they year. He said he still had those coins.

So what lessons do I take from all this? I am feeling glib so here goes: The need for Unions varies inversely with the commitment of corporate leaders to treat their workers fairly, provide a good work environment and provide fair wages and benefits.

Send Your Name to Mars

This time courtesy of the Mars Science Laboratory, also known as Curiosity. NASA has done this with lots of missions and my name is at a majority of the planets or on its way now (no missions to Uranus and Neptune have been launched since NASA started doing this...I think Galileo was launched before they did this so Jupiter might be on my to get to list as well). If you haven't been to Mars yet, send your name (and print out a nifty certificate saying you are on board). MSL will launch in the fall of 2011.

The MSL will be the largest rover landed on another planet and will search for signs of potential past life on Mars (less likely is finding current life, but that's partly due to the suite of instruments on board). It will be able to drive much farther and faster than the current generation of rovers due to the fact that it uses a nuclear power source rather than solar power.

The rover is so large that they developed a new landing technique. I am not going to spoil it, just post the it! It is cool!

Reprinted with permission from the Half-Astrophysicist Blog.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Sunday Morning Grin

An 80-year-old Italian goes to the doctor for a check-up.

The doctor is amazed at what good shape the guy is in and asks, 'how do you stay in such great physical condition?'

I'm Italian and I am a golfer,' says the old guy, 'and that's why I'm in such good shape. I'm up well before daylight and out golfing up and down the fairways. I have a glass of vino, and all is well.'

'Well' says the doctor, 'I'm sure that helps, but there's got to be more to it. How old was your Father when he died?'

'Who said my Father's dead?'

The doctor is amazed. 'You mean you're 80 years old and your Father's still alive. How old is he?'

'He's 100 years old,' says the Old Italian golfer.. 'In fact he golfed with me this morning, and then we went to the topless beach for a walk and had a little vino and that's why he's still alive. He's Italian and he's a golfer, too..'

'Well,' the doctor says, 'that's great, but I'm sure there's more to it than that. How about your Father's Father? How old was he when he died?'

'Who said my Nono's dead?'

Stunned, the doctor asks, 'you mean you're 80 years old and your Grandfather' s still living! Incredible, how old is he?'

'He's 118 years old,' says the Old Italian golfer.

The doctor is getting frustrated at this point, 'So, I guess he went golfing with you this morning too?'

'No, Nono couldn't go this morning because he's getting married today.'

At this point the doctor is close to losing it. 'Getting married!! Why would a 118 year-old guy want to get married?'

'Who said he wanted to?

"The most dangerous drug isn't meow meow. It isn't even alcohol ..."

"In its purest form, a newspaper consists of a collection of facts which, in controlled circumstances, can actively improve knowledge. Unfortunately, facts are expensive, so to save costs and drive up sales, unscrupulous dealers often 'cut' the basic contents with cheaper material, such as wild opinion, bullshit, empty hysteria, reheated press releases, advertorial padding and photographs of Lady Gaga with her bum hanging out. The hapless user has little or no concept of the toxicity of the end product: they digest the contents in good faith, only to pay the price later when they find themselves raging incoherently in pubs, or – increasingly – on internet messageboards."

-- Charlie Brooker

That sounds spot-on to me.