Friday, November 16, 2018

Snowflakes Down Under

Even though the seasons should be reversed on the other side of the equator, Winter has apparently come early down under and the snowflakes are not happy.

The Caldron Pool: Several Australian universities BAN sarcasm because it’s a “form of violence.”

Well, that sounds like a great idea.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Singapore: The Durian Adventure

One fun memory of Singapore is the adventure of the Durian Experience.

The Durian fruit is rather large fruit, green with a thorny spiked exterior.

Even uncut it has a rather pungent smell. Above you can see Terrance in purple deciding on which Durian in the stand behind him that we were going to try. Terrance is rather an expert when it comes to fidning the finest Durians. I use the term finest rather loosely, as we shall explain as we go on with the tale.

The Durian is so smelly that carrying a Durian fruit is banned on public transportation in Singapore:

Our Singaporean friends Terrance and Johnathan (an expat I knew from my High School and university days) after a dinner took us by a fruit stand that sold durians as we had to experience it during our visit to the Far East.

The Durian is sliced open, revealing the yellow fruit inside.

Verily the smell got worse. Yes, just like a Tauntaun, you only thought they smelt bad on the outside.

Eating durian is done while wearing disposable plastic gloves, or the stench will linger on your fingers for a long time.

Eating it was an experience.

Leah, the first of us to eat it was rather doubtful as she was poised to take a bite. Some native Singaporean strangers seted behind us enjoying their Durians watched rather intently.

Her expression upon tasting a Durian for the first time did not disappoint, and they had a good kindhearted chuckle at her reaction, as did we all.

She quickly spat it out. Abby and Tash tried it with much trepidation and found it yucky but less so than Leah had, but neither finished their serving of Durian.

I then gave it a go.

The best description I could give it is that of enjoying a smooth creamy custard while sitting in and tasting a sewer.

Can't say I'd recommend it, but I did finish my piece.

My Singaporean friend Terrance considered it a great delicacy and happily ate the parts we passed on, while my friend the expat Johnathan sadly shook his head that Terrance could like such a smelly yucky fruit.

We then ate some mangosteens which washed away the taste of the Durians.

The Mangosteens and were sweet and really, really good.

Such was the great Durian Adventure, not an experience that will soon be forgotten.

Interesting Vehicles On The Road

A nice Roush edition Mustang:

Pity the driver didn't know how to find a speed limit with it.

An SUV parked and about to be driven by a dog. Keys in ignition, motor running, window wide open, not a person in sight in or around the vehicle, just the pup.

A soon to be released model of truck that's all wrapped in modern dazzle camouflage wrap.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Book Review: Finest Hour: The Battle of Britain

As Remembrance Day / Veterans Day passes us by this year, and the veterans that fought in the wars sadly do pass on as well, its good to read some books to remind us of why and what they fought for and their experiences.

Finest Hour: The Battle of Britain is one such book that is well worth reading, full of first-person accounts of Britain's finest hour.

Well written and full of first person accounts of those who fought in and experienced the Battle of Britain, this book is a wonderful source of the narratives of those who were there at the time - men, women and children, pilots, soldiers, sailors, politicians, newspapermen and more.

Lots of interesting historical detail of the Fall of France and the lead up to the Battle of Britain. There's a very high-level account of the relationship between Churchill, Roosevelt, and Mackenzie-King and the politics and changes in the Atlantic relationship that the Battle caused.

While it gives a good strategic overview, it is not a book to comprehensively learn all about the Battle of Britain. Instead, it is a nice deep look at the experiences and stories of a few who are intimately or peripherally involved in the battle on land, sea, and in the air.

A very worthy addition to any library about World War 2.

A Sinking Feeling - Fun With Faucets

Tash had commented that the faucets in the bathroom were looking kinda past their prime.

Indeed they were, the plating had rubbed off and they didn't look particularly good, not to mention the handles were rather loose and the stoppers in the sink were less than shiny.

Her wish being my command it was time to venture into yet more home repair adventures and vocabulary enhancement.

I purchased two Moen Hamden Faucets as they looked nice and offered a neat push button stopper for the sink and got to work.

Of course space was at a premium under the sinks. Adventures began under Tash's sink.

Lying on my back I was soon cursing the prior people who had installed the sinks. Those plastic nuts securing the water lines were not just tight, it took a ridiculous amount of torque and a set of vise gripes and much verbal abuse to get them to move. The larger plastic nuts keeping the sink itself in place came off relatively easily, which would not be the case with Sink #2.

Then I was able to remove the faucet and on to the drain pipe and the fun really began.

Taking the trap apart led to a rather terrible stench and the trap was literally so full of hair you could have made a shoulder length braid with it. Yep, that's the sink the kids style their hair by. That explained the slow drain problem with that sink all right. Stench aside, the trap removal wasn't bad. But getting the drain pipe off, not so much. It did not want to leave. Sadly I couldn't find my large adjustable wrench and no wrench I had was large enough to fit that shinny large nut holding the pipe in place that you see in the picture to the right side.

Off to Lowe's, and now I own a pipe wrench and a nice large set of vise grips.

With those tools in hand and torque and magic words applied, the drain pipe came loose. Then the fun of getting the top of the drain separated from the drain pipe so it could be removed was also a battle of wits and torque.

Then I installed the new drain pipe, reattached the trap, connected the water lines and mirabile dictu, all worked on the first try. Only one trip to Lowe's was required and it was a success.

Then on to Sink #2. Since I had just installed a sink it should be easy right?

The install wasn't the problem, it was the uninstall that caused lots of issues.

Yes, the water supply nuts were on tighter than hell. But they came off with proper technique learned on Sink #1.

One of the two large plastic nuts securing the faucet came off easily. The other one not so much. It stuck, hard. Nothing would move it, Vise grips just ripped the plastic tabs off, grabbing it full on and it still wouldn't turn. It had been cross-threaded on the install and did not want to move. At all. Curses followed.

I thought of sawing it off as both it and the threads it was attached to were plastic, but there was no room to get a saw under the sink and the threads on top of the sink that were visible were metal so no go there.

Unwilling to declare defeat, and with much vocabulary, I gave it yet another mighty twist with the vise grips and while the large nut stayed firmly attached to the plastic, the plastic threaded pipe came loose from the metal threaded pipe it was attached to above, and the faucet was free at last. That took some effort to say the least.

After that the rest of it worked pretty well and the drain pipe was removed easily and the install was completed without any problems. The Moen installation instructions were actually quite decent and the simple tool they included for tightening the mounting screw for the faucet is worth its weight in gold.

They look a lot nicer now, both sinks drain easily, and the push button drains work like a charm.

About three hours spent in total including the trip to Lowe's and all was done.

Well, If the women don't find you handsome, they should at least find you handy.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

100 Years After The End Of The First World War

Today is the centennial of the end of a cataclysm that changed Europe and the world forever.

The First World War was both avoidable and an unimaginable tragedy for all the participants, and its effects are still being felt today.

The war took 19 million lives and caused 23 million casualties, and its ending set the stage for the Second World War, and for the Cold War after it.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

John McCrae November 30, 1872 – January 28, 1918.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

It’s Only A Model

Abby as part of her first year of High School has joined quite a few clubs.

Today was her first Model UN caucus, held at Brighton High School. Quite a number of high schools we’re participating and a bout 500 students from around southeastern Michigan took part.

She got a rising star award for her first time out and rising to participate in the 30 member group caucus she was in while representing Thailand.

She had fun, met lots of nice people and had a long if tiring day by the end of it and learned a lot about parliamentary procedure.

It turns out this model UN wasn’t a fully accurate representation of the real thing: today not only was there no corruption, and neither the USA nor Israel were blamed for all the world’s problems.

Thursday, November 08, 2018

The Simple Joys Of Being A White Belt Again

After 10 years doing Shorin-Ryu Karate it was time for a change.

Mainly due to some dojo politics and some highly inflated egos that were making going to the dojo less than enjoyable, I became rather tired of it and it was definitely time to do something else. While struggling while trying to learn a technique is one thing, struggling and being frustrated due to personalities and others' oversized egos is quite another. Since the personalities in question outrank me and were not going to change, and switching to another dojo in the same system would not have removed the personality issue for numerous reasons, especially that one of the personalities sits on the organization's testing board, so it was time to move along. No need to go into the details but when things get to the point that you're actively disliking the idea of going to the dojo due to other people's actions, it is time to move on.

Shorin Ryu is mainly a striking art, along with some rather effective throws and joint locks at higher levels of instruction, and it can be very effective in defending from an attack quickly. But, Shorin Ryu's ground game is mainly an instruction to get up as soon as possible, typically by controlling via a lock or disentangling from an opponent and rolling away and to your feet as quickly as possible. This however can be rather difficult if someone knows what they're doing on the ground.

Gracie Jiu Jitsu is rather enlightening in that regard. They know how to handle themselves on the ground, prefer to have the fight go to the ground and then dominate the fight from the ground, and it is rather eye-opening when you're first exposed to it.

The intro lesson began as a one-on-one session with the head instructor as the class did practice from prior lessons. So it started with a brief discussion about Jiu Jitsu and my past experience and then with me on my back and the instructor showing a mount position. I could not shake him off or get out of it, period, as in not a bit, as in all sorts of stuck. This was rather eye opening. He then taught me a rather simple technique and it worked quite nicely to remove him from the mount position. The lesson got even better from there and at the end of the intro lesson I signed up. The wife and kids are also doing the Women Empowered course taught there and are also enjoying it and getting quite good at it, and its been a very positive experience for them as well, and the instructors really know what they're doing.

As an upside, the Gracie Jiu Jitsu center I'm training at is closer to home than the Karate dojos which makes getting there easier.

Even better, everyone there, from the instructors to the practitioners are very nice, as most of the more serious martial arts do tend to select for nice people.

On an even greater upside, the center really is very low ego, the method of instruction is very consistent and follows the curriculum very well, the instructors enjoy teaching not to show how great they are but to help you improve and learn the technique - it is a refreshing difference. The instruction methodology is also relentlessly positive in focus, not negative. Its not "You're doing it wrong." it's "Don't worry about it no one masters this the first time, here's how you can do it better."

Forty hours worth of classes in and I'm still enjoying myself and its nice to be a white belt again. No need to chase after a belt, no egos getting in the way, just enjoying really learning the fundamental techniques and trying to get them down, the belts are not the point, they merely mark your progress as you continue down the path. It's a heckuva good workout as well, and it certainly closes a gap in my martial arts training. I am going to stick with it and see where the journey goes.

If you're doing something and its not working out for you, especially when it is not due to you but due to drag from others, a change to a new environment can do you some good.

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Mid-term Election Mood And Mitigation

So Michigan went very blue this midterm. The Democrats had turnout, and to spare, and scooped the Governor, AG's office, and Secretary of State. Somewhat predictable as such shifts tend to occur after a couple terms of the previous party in power.

Part of what drove this turnout was the stoner vote on Proposal 1 to legalize marijuana, which passed. The other part was a heavy anti-Trump outrage drummed up by the Dems and media (but I repeat myself). Combine that with the passing of Proposal 2 which has the Secretary of State create an "independent" committee to redraw voting districts and its gerrymander-for-the-Democrats-and-how time here in Michigan.

Add the passing of Proposal 3 which made checks on election fraud significantly weaker, and creates opportunities for election fraud to be significantly stronger, and the numbers needed to beat the margin of fraud just increased most significantly.

Expect higher taxes in Michigan, which is now a given under Whitmer. Expect no forward momentum on firearms rights and some anti-firearms pressure coming from the governor's office.

Michigan also went very blue at the national level. John James missed defeating Stabenow by a relatively narrow margin, which is a shame as he'd have been a fine Senator versus Stabenow the reliable stalwart Democrat ideologue. Michigan Republican contenders for the House were also trounced. Michigan did get hit with a blue wave after all at the excutive, but the House and Senate at the state level remain in Republican hands, but nationally, not so much.

On the national level Rob over at SlowFacts has a pretty insightful piece as to why the house was lost - the House fialed to act in any way to fire up the base. nO push for the Wall, no repeal of Obamacare, no advancing firearms rights at the Federal level. Nada, zip, zilch. Kinda let the enthusiasm wane amidst the hesitations of the never-Trumpers. While losing seats is almost a given historically for the President's part in mid-term elections, it could have been avoided with the right approach which wasn't done, nor even tried.

Maybe Ryan can clean up his act and pass National reciprocity and the hearing protection act in the lame duck session before the turnover to Pelosi, but I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for it.

On the upside, the Republican majority in the Senate increased, which is certainly good for judicial confirmations and holding the line on spending and tax increases.

Here's to looking forward to Pelosi clowning it up in the House for the next two years, and the almost certain gridlock in both the State of Michigan and Nationally until 2020.