Not your usual Christmas story

Local to me: a news story about a life-saving donation of a kidney.

From an unexpected source: the man was compatible with his own wife.

I first heard of this shortly before the operation, through friends and a list of weekly-prayers at church. While the blood type of the wife and husband are compatible, I highly doubt that the blood type is the reason that her kidney was compatible with his body.

Still, that is an amazing gift to give. And a very uplifting Christmas story.


Holiday non-Blues

Last week at the office, I had a few conversations about holiday season. One of them went something like this:

[Co-Worker]: "What are you doing over the holidays?"
[Self]: "Taking a few days off. Maybe doing some minor home improvement stuff."
[Co-Worker]: "Visiting with family?"
[Self]: "Yes. Brothers, sister, and parent. Planning on visiting a special Holiday event at a local museum."
[Co-Worker]: "I thought you had a girlfriend."
[Self]: "I thought so, too."
[Co-Worker]: "That's sad."
[Self]: "...somewhat."

It does feel kind of sad. The Ex-girlfriend, turned former-Ex over the summer, went back to Ex- status in early fall.

Though I feel a pang of remorse every time I hear a certain song on the radio, I don't feel a deep sadness.

Things could have ended better. And I still stumble, emotionally and mentally, over many things that I had been planning on sharing with her.

But the season isn't a season of sadness for me.


Links to data: Rapes, reported rapes, and false reports of rape.

While I spent a week or two reading heavily on the (discredited) story of gang-rape at the University of Virginia, I found several interesting links.

This post, which is a decade old, discusses a study released by an internal investigative team at the U.S. Air Force.

This study, released in 2008 in the Annals of Psychotherapy, compares the same study from the Air Force to another study done by a Police department in a small Midwestern town.

Neither study is large enough to be applied to the entire United States. However, both studies provide false-allegation rates well above 20%. One mentions a diverse array of studies with false-allegation rates from 2% to 90%.

Another link: Instapundit notes the changes in rape rates as reported to the Police, since 1975. If women were less likely to report rapes in the past, then why is the reported-rate-of-rape so much higher in the 1990s than it has been since?

A final link: according to a crime-victimization survey by the US DOJ, college-age women are less likely to be raped if they are attending college than if they are not attending college.

All of these provide evidence that the usual narrative of "rape culture" does not match the reality that exists.


Advent: a reader

A friend of the family sent this around on FaceBook.

It's a book recently published on the Season of Advent. Looks interesting, and worth acquiring.


The lighter side of history

Tam reminds me of anniversaries of crappy little wars about...crap. Or guano, as the locals called it.

It's the lighter side of history because so few people care now.

I doubt it was light to the soldiers and sailors involved.

Still seems to be light humor compared the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.



Yesterday, December 7, was the anniversary of a historic surprise-attack.

Imperial Japan had been waging war since 1937 to take territory from the nation of China, which was itself suffering from a harsh internal war. The United States was trying to embargo raw materials from reaching Japan, and the Japanese Navy was trying to take other regions in the Far East to get better access to those raw materials.

The governments of Germany and Italy had been waging war against the rest of Europe since 1939. An alliance between Germany and Russia had been in place in 1939, but had been thrown aside in 1941.

An unofficial naval war between American Navy ships and German submarines had been ongoing through most of 1940 and 1941. The American ships were going to or from England, and the German submarines were trying to stop anything arriving at England.

These separate threads of conflict, on different parts of the globe, came together in an unexpected way in December 1941.

The Imperial Japanese Navy struck a surprise attack at Pearl Harbor. While doing so, they showed how the aircraft carrier was further-reaching than a heavy battleship.

Within a few hours, the United States Congress declared war with Japan. Within a few days, the nations of Germany and Italy declared war on the United States. (Mostly due to the Tripartite Pact.) Thus, the last major nation to enter a state of war also changed two regional wars into a global war, quickly dubbed "World War II".


Non-Statistics: Police and fear of Police

I last posted about Police and death nearly a week ago.

Statistics are powerful tools, but they are cold comfort to any person who meets misfortune.

In my own life, I've almost never feared the presence of a Policeman. Several factors helped.

My parents trained me to have a healthy respect for rule-of-law and legitimate authority. A combination of family background, education, and the use I've made of education-plus-talent has led me to a comfortable lifestyle. More importantly, I remain in a social setting which turns most criminal behavior into a low-benefit/high-risk proposition.

However, I've met a few people who do fear most interactions with Police. One of these men was M. I met M. at a religious meeting. We became well-acquainted with each other for a couple of years.

During an earlier part of his life, M. had partied hard, raced motorcycles, and consumed large amounts of alcohol. (I surmise that a DUI charge may have resulted.)

Even after his come-to-Jesus moment, M. had a deep fear of Police. When I knew him best, M. didn't have a valid driver's license and was making little effort to get one.
(All evidence I saw was that the repentance and changed life was real. But I did gather that certain events in the sinful past had resulted in a revoked driver's license, and possibly a bench warrant for failure-to-appear at a trial.)

The small ways in which this fear was manifested: M. had a network of friends and family that he depended on for transportation. He helped family members install video-recording devices on their cars, in case they ever had a chat with Officer Friendly on the side of the road. A normally lively man, M. exhibited a strange quietness whenever a Police vehicle was in sight. Even though no one was doing anything to attract Police attention.

I can imagine--distantly--a lifestyle and social settings in which the Police are to be feared. It's a little frightening to imagine a social world in which neither adults nor children are sure that the legitimate authority is going to treat them nicely. Or even treat them fairly.

When this social setting has many who care more about "the fun life" than following the rules, there will be lots of opportunity for everyday folks to be on the wrong side of an encounter with the Police. And lots of opportunity for resentment, distrust, and confusion between the People and the Police.

Regardless of the skin color of those involved.*

It's a hard problem to solve.

I have some sympathy for people in that situation; even if I think that their troubles might be the result of criminal misdeeds. But I am deeply aware that people who receive Police attention have usually done something to attract that attention.

*For the record, M. carries white skin.
Wouldn't help him if he's a witness to another crime, and gives his name to the Police...who might cuff him and book him into prison under a bench-warrant.


Advent: the beginning

The season of Advent began on Sunday.

Usually, Advent begins on the Sunday closest to St. Andrew's Day. This year, St. Andrew's Day fell on Sunday.

Advent is a season of preparation for the celebration of the birth of Christ. It is a traditional Christian holiday; best-remembered in Catholic and Orthodox traditions.

In my mind, Advent was the method that my (Protestant) parents used to help the family remember the real reason for Christmas.

They would light the candles of the Advent wreath at meal-time. After the meal, they would read from an Advent devotional.

The devotional that was used the most often told a thumbnail sketch of the entire story of Biblical history, from Adam to Jesus. Each piece of the story was told in short, simple form. The early stories touched on Eden, Adam & Eve, the Fall, Noah, the Flood, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Jacob's family. They also told of certain Judges, the story of Ruth, the Kingdom of David and Solomon, the Temple, the prophets who spoke to later Kings, the Exile, and the prophets of the Exile. Finally, the stories told of Zechariah, Elizabeth, Mary, Joseph, and the preparation for Jesus' birth.

Celebration of Christmas has waxed and waned through history; people have partied heavily, attended religious ceremonies, or done large amounts of business, met with family, gave gifts, or simply avoided merry-making altogether.

Advent reminds me that Christmas is about Christ, the Anointed One.


Extra reason to give thanks

On the morning of Thanksgiving, at about 10:00, I got a phone call.

It was not a surprise: the extended family is in town. All my siblings are here, with a couple of nieces and nephews. I was expecting to need to iron out last-minute details for rides, or something, when I answered the phone.

Instead, I learned that the youngest nephew was going to the hospital.

He's only 2. Apparently, he had mis-judged the distance from the small trampoline to a nearby mattress, and landed badly on his arm. It looked like a broken bone, but no one was sure.

Three hours later, we all got confirmation that he'd broken an arm and had received a splint.

Everyone in the family is thankful that Emergency Room at the local hospital was fully staffed and able to help.



Many years ago, the first European settlers in New England celebrated a religious holiday.

They had set out to begin a new life on the far side of the Atlantic Ocean from their homeland. They had suffered terribly in the voyage, and during the first hard winter in Plymouth, Massachusetts. That first year, they had attempted to run their farm communally, and had a very poor harvest.

The following year, the leaders of the community let each family farm their own land, and give each family the profit from their land.

(The colony had depended on investors for startup money. The charter gave the investors the profits from excess grain sent back across the Atlantic. The original communal farm had been an attempt to collectively grow grain for that purpose. Except that they'd barely grown enough for starvation rations for themselves, that first year.)

This second year, the colony found a plentiful harvest.

They had also had, during those two years, good relations with the local Natives. So when the men of Plymouth had their celebration, they inviting the local Native to join.

The feast had wild turkey, venison, sea-food, beans, cranberries, pumpkin, as well as corn and grain. It also featured much conviviality.

The day was also a religious celebration: the men gave thanks to God, and rejoiced in the abundance of their harvest and in Divine generosity.

This mixture--the fruit of harvest, a ritual of thanks to God, and a gathering with family and friends--is the American holiday known as Thanksgiving.


Statistics: death at the hands of Police

The entire nation seems obsessed about a single death in Missouri this past summer.

Somehow, the death of a single man of a minority race at the hands of a Police officer of a majority race has turned into an excuse for a violent mob to break windows, take things, and blame Other People for problems that are likely caused by a complex mix of social forces. (This mix of social forces includes, but is not limited to, attitudes like 'I have a problem with Society, and I can express that problem by destroying/stealing property that belongs to others.')

In all of this, I stopped to think about the general subject of death-at-the-hands-of-Police-officers, as compared to violent death in general.

That's cold

Not just the weather over the past week.

The earliest sighting of ice on the Great Lakes in the past 40 years of record-keeping.

Not sure what that portends about the weather. But I was hoping for a milder winter, after the combination of snow and cold last year.


A day at the range

On Saturday, I spent some time at the pistol range.

It was somewhat relaxing. Though partway through, I noticed that my hands shook slightly as I took aim. Not tension or worry: it's a kind of physical exertion that I don't do very often.

I set the target at 21 feet. Then I began shooting. I tried to hit a pace that wasn't too fast, but didn't dawdle: fire, breathe, aim; fire, breathe, aim.

Even with that, I felt like I was rushing. I had a scattering of shots to the lower-right on my target.

Something like 40% of my shots (even with slightly-shaky hands) ended up within the 10-ring on on the target. Another 30% or so were inside the 9-ring.

This feels low to me. Not dangerously low: all of the 70% would be considered good shots in a self-defense situation. (Assuming the assailant stood still long enough for me to shoot more than once...)

A distance of 21 feet is dangerously close in one regard. However, it is a challenging range to shoot a pistol at. Most of the other people at the range were working at 15 feet or less.

One man, a much more patient shooter than I, taped a playing-card to his target at a distance of 15 feet. Then he tried to shoot out the "Ace of hearts". One carefully-aimed shot at a time.

I took away two lessons. One: I need more time practicing hold-and-pull-trigger on my carry pistol. Two: I need to aim carefully. Speed can be accomplished after accuracy.


Opening Day

This past weekend was Opening Day.

That is, the first day of deer hunting in Michigan. (I know, first day of firearms-deer season. Bow hunters have been hunting since the beginning of October.)

I didn't go this year.

I've gone many years. Only once did I draw and fire on a deer. Missed that time (with a compound-bow). Mostly because I didn't read the distance correctly.

This year, I spent some time practicing my marksmanship. (Both bow and rifle.) But I didn't go hunting.

I guess I like marksmanship more than hunting.


Missed it...

Armistice Day, now known as Veterans Day, is past.

The Armistice took place in 1918, at the 11th hour of the morning on the 11th day of November. It was an end to the fighting of the Great War.

As Tam mentioned a year ago:, it is hard to grasp how many young men marched to death on a daily basis during the Great War. A mix of old tactics and new technology contributed to a four-year-long war with little military progress. The count of soldiers killed or wounded runs into the millions for Great Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and Austria-Hungary. It runs into the hundreds of thousands for most other countries listed.

The horror of that industrial-scale bloodletting is hard to grasp. While it is now beyond the edge of living memory, the marks it has left on Europe are long and deep.

The Armistice was an end to the deadly struggle, and the beginning of a new global order.

While Veterans day is supposed to be about the living, it is also a reminder of the scars that the Great War left on the world.


On this day in history...

Actually, yesterday.

The Berlin Wall was opened on the 9th of November, 1989.

That summer, a large number of people left East Germany via Hungary. Later, they went through Czeckoslovakia. Demonstrations and a Peaceful Revolution culminated in the government of East Germany deciding to allow refugees to cross the border freely.

A combination of events--TV broadcasts of the announcement, poor communication between leadership of the German Democratic Republic and the soldiers at the gates, a crowd of people wanting to leave, and no one willing to issue orders to kill protesters at the Wall--led to the guards at the gate letting people through.

The Wall was opened that November. It was not torn down for some time after.

It was the beginning of the end of the Warsaw Pact. And it was the foreshadowing of the fall of Communism in the Soviet Union.



I recently thought a lot about cars, repair, and diagnosis.

On a more prosaic front, I didn't ride my motorcycle as often this year as I did last year.

Last year, my four-wheeled vehicle was a Jeep. She had many nice features (height in traffic, towing power, ground clearance). However, I rarely had need of those features.

This year is my first full year of driving a Subaru sedan with a manual transmission. It's much more fun to drive.

Not just the manual transmission: the all-wheel-drive, the steering, and acceleration profile are all more enjoyable.

Of course, weather this past summer may not have been as friendly to riding as in years previous. And I spend less time thinking about the cost of fuel. (For the motorcycle, I spent between $0.10 and $0.11 per mile. In my Subaru, I've been paying nearly $0.15 per mile. The Jeep cost me above $0.20 per mile last year.)

Next year, I may ride more--or less--as opportunity arises. I may even purchase a motorcycle that is less than three decades old.

However, I think I'll keep the Subaru for some time.


Death with dignity?

Jane the Actuary asks, "what is death with dignity?", and "what is dignity?"

For some reason, I am reminded of the poem "The Last Hero", by G.K. Chesterton.

The poem is in four stanzas. They describe powerful enemies, a ruined castle, a kidnapped bride, a final battle, and death.

The last two stanzas are especially striking.
The wind blew out from Bergen to the dawning of the day,
They ride and run with fifty spears to break and bar my way,
I shall not die alone, alone, but kin to all the powers,
As merry as the ancient sun and fighting like the flowers.
How white their steel, how bright their eyes! I love each laughing knave,
Cry high and bid him welcome to the banquet of the brave.
Yea, I will bless them as they bend and love them where they lie,
When on their skulls the sword I swing falls shattering from the sky.
The hour when death is like a light and blood is like a rose, --
You never loved your friends, my friends, as I shall love my foes. 
Know you what earth shall lose to-night, what rich uncounted loans,
What heavy gold of tales untold you bury with my bones?
My loves in deep dim meadows, my ships that rode at ease,
Ruffling the purple plumage of strange and secret seas.
To see this fair earth as it is to me alone was given,
The blow that breaks my brow to-night shall break the dome of heaven.
The skies I saw, the trees I saw after no eyes shall see,
To-night I die the death of God; the stars shall die with me;
One sound shall sunder all the spears and break the trumpet's breath:
You never laughed in all your life as I shall laugh in death.
It feels like a tale from a distant past. The main character is a man accustomed to war and violence; he is on his final battlefield.

The man's choices had something to do with his death. But his choices were not alone; they intertwined with the choices of other men. The path that resulted doesn't look like a death with dignity: angering powerful foes, losing a castle (and whatever army he led), outnumbered in his last struggle, and death at the hands of his enemies.

Yet the story seems magnificent. The man is defiant, not despondent.

The discussion of death-with-dignity seems to hinge on the assumption that dignity can be found in the time and manner of death. And that personal autonomy is incredibly valuable.

I find this to be odd. Isn't dignity to be found in the life that precedes death, rather than in the ability to choose time and manner of death?

How much autonomy do I have, if the decisions of many others (living and dead) affect the situation I live in?

I can choose things that increase (or decrease) the risks of medical trouble. Similarly, I can choose things that can increase (or decrease) the odds that other people might attempt to harm me.

But I can not insulate myself from outside forces. The chances of life are too varied; the world is too wide for that.


Car Diagnosis: it won't start

After an online discussion elsewhere late last week, I felt a need to visit a the subject of car repair.

Or diagnosis.

Some time ago, a distant relative posted a question on FaceBook. The question was something like, "My car won't start. Any advice before I call to have it towed to the shop?"

This question ought to be easy to answer.

There are three very big domains that the problem could be in. And "the car won't start" could mean any of these.
  1. Turn the key, and nothing happens
  2. Turn the key, and hear the starter motor turn the engine over...but the engine doesn't 'catch' and start running on its own
  3. Turn the key, and the engine starts running, but dies almost immediately.
Each of these point to the problem, but don't give definite answers.
(I'm assuming, while going through this list, that you have a choice between doing something yourself, a friend whose done some car repair, or a tow-truck trip to a repair shop.)
  1. Problem: key turned to "START", but no response from starter motor.
    1. Can you test the headlights?
      Turn the key to "RUN", but not to "START".
      Find the switch for headlights, and try to turn them on.
      1. If the lights are dim, or not visible at all, then the problem is likely a low battery
        You might be able to start the car by the method of jump-starting.
        To do this, you need jumper cables and another vehicle. 
      2. A helpful guide for diagnosis, and attempting a jumpstart, is here.
        However, if you can't confidently identify the "+" and "-" terminals on both batteries, it's not a good idea to guess.
    2. If the lights are bright, the problem is likely the starter motor.
      1. Fixing a starter motor typically involves un-bolting it from the underside of the engine, and putting a new one in.
      2. If you don't feel confident in finding the motor, or successfully un-bolting it, you might be able to find someone to help you.
        Or call a tow truck to have the vehicle delivered to a repair shop.
  2. Problem: key turned to "START", engine turns over but doesn't catch.
    1. It could be that the ignition system isn't delivering a spark where it is needed, when it is needed.
      Do you feel confident you can identify a spark plug and its associated wire?
      If not, find someone who can help you...or you'll have to find a repair shop that can handle it.
      1. Assuming you have identified one of the spark plugs, and own (or are willing to spend money on) a spark-tester:
        Unplug the wire from the spark plug, plug the wire into the tester, and use the tester to discover if if you have spark. 
      2. Assuming you have the confidence and tools to un-screw the spark plug from the engine:
        Unplug the wire, un-screw the spark plug, and put the plug back into the wire.
        Hold the wire-boot, such that the side of the spark plug is touching the engine-block.
        Have someone else try to start the engine.
        1. If you see a spark jumping across the gap when the engine turns, then the ignition system is delivering a spark when appropriate.
          You should probably go to 2.B. below.
        2. If you don't see a spark, then you need to fix something in the ignition.
          You could end up replacing spark plugs, wires, ignition control modules, distributor caps, crank-position sensors...
          Or you could end up asking a talented friend, or a repair shop, to check/replace these things for you.
    2. It could be that the fuel system is not delivering fuel to the engine.
      1. If you had the spark plug out while testing in 2.A.ii, you ought to be able to tell whether any gasoline was delivered to the engine. You should be able to smell gasoline inside the cylinder.
      2. Another test: most modern cars use a fuel pump. This pump turns on automatically when the ignition goes from "OFF" to "RUN". 
        1. If you can hear a slight hum from the rear of the car after turning the ignition from "OFF" to "RUN", then the fuel pump is probably providing fuel.
          You might have a leaky fuel line, or a blockage somewhere between the fuel pump and the point where fuel is injected into the engine.
          This is probably something to take to a repair shop. 
        2. If you cannot hear the hum of the fuel pump starting...then you probably also want to take the vehicle to a repair shop.
          Replacing a fuel pump usually involves removing a fuel tank and opening it up. Easier than replacing all the fuel lines between the tank and the engine. 
    3. It could be that the engine has fuel and spark, but no air providing oxygen.
      This is somewhat rare. 
      1. Many modern engines have an airflow sensor that is used to control fuel injection and ignition.
        Replacement parts can be purchased. In a pinch, it might be possible to clean the sensor.
        There is little risk in getting help from a knowledgeable friend in this. There is little risk in taking this to a repair shop, but you'll end up paying a somewhat-high hourly rate for replacing a part that is easy to replace.
      2. If the problem is a dirty air filter, it is possible to attempt to start the engine without the filter.
        However, it is very foolish to run the engine for more than a few seconds without the air filter. The filter is designed to keep dirt and grit out of the engine. If too much dirt or grit gets into the interior of the engine, it can lead to scratches on important surfaces (like cylinder walls) inside the engine. These surfaces are supposed to be smooth. Scratches can introduce all kinds of expensive-to-repair problems.
        Happily, air filters are usually easy to replace, even for automotive-repair novices.
        They are also usually very affordable, and usually on-the-shelf at the car-parts store. Make sure you get the correct filter. 
      3. Very few cars use carburetors these days. If your car does use one, it probably needs to be cleaned.
        If you're deciding between a knowledgeable friend and a repair shop, this one is a toss-up. Either method is good.
      4. If the car uses some sort of fuel-injector to mix fuel and air, then you likely need to diagnose/replace the part.
        In this one, a knowledgeable friend can help, but a repair shop might be better.
  3. Problem: the starter motor turns the engine, and the engine sputters and dies.
    This falls into the same diagnostic pattern as Problem 2...Spark, Fuel, Air.
    Except this time, you have enough to get the engine running for a moment, but not enough to keep it running.
    1. If you are able to test spark-plugs, test each of the spark plugs on the engine.
      It's generally a good idea to pull out only one plug and wire out at a time. The pattern for connecting wires to plugs may not be intuitive, easy-to-remember, or obvious. If you unplug them all, and plug them back in the wrong order, you're worse off than when you started.
      1. Once you figure out which spark plug(s) are not firing, you probably have a very simple repair. Usually, it is specific wires or specific plug(s) that are bad and need to be replaced. 
      2. However, as long as you're replacing some plugs (or wires), it might be good to replace them all.
      This kind of work is easy to do yourself, if you have the ability (and tools) to pull a spark plug. However, not all combinations of spark-plugs-and-wires will be available at the car-parts store.
      A talented friend or a repair shop can do this repair also.
    2. If the problem is with lack of fuel, then either 
      1. The fuel pump can't supply enough pressure, because the pump is wearing out.
      2. The fuel pump can't supply enough pressure, because a leak in the fuel-line between pump and engine
      3. The fuel pump can't supply enough pressure because a fuel line is partially clogged.
        All three of these generate the same advice as 2.B. above. You'll probably want to take the problem to a repair shop.
      4. It's also possible that a fuel injector has failed, or is clogged.
        If clogged: depending on how serious the clog is, and how soon the engine dies, you might be able to fix this with a fuel-injector-cleaner, purchased as the car-parts store.
        However, if the injector has failed, it needs to be replaced. This is probably best done at a repair shop.
    3. If the problem is with air-supply, then either
      1. An air sensor is malfunctioning. (same advice as in 2.C.i above)
      2. The air filter is clogged, and needs to be replaced. (same advice as in 2.C.ii. above)
      3. If a carburetor is present, it may have a partial clog that needs to be cleaned out. (same advice as in 2.C.iii above)
      4. Otherwise, an injector may need to be cleaned/replaced. (same advice as in 2.C.iv above.)
Most car-won't-start problems can be diagnosed with this process. However, some don't quite fit in that list.

I have, in my car-ownership career, met a problem that looked like a bad starter motor (1.B.) Except when I took out the starter motor and took it to the car-parts store for a test, the starter motor worked fine.

After several hours of study and puzzlement, I figured out that the electrical relays that were supposed to trigger the starter motor weren't working. The relay replacement was cheap and easy, once I knew what the problem was.


Two kinds of motorcycle riders

There's a saying among people who ride motorcycles.

Roughly, there are two sets of riders. Set 1 contains riders who have fallen off their motorcycle while riding. Set 2 contains those who have not fallen off their motorcycle...yet.

Up until this past week, I was in Set 2.

On Friday, while beginning a broad curve entering the parking lot at work, I saw what looked like an obstacle in that broad, sweeping path. I quickly tried to cut the curve much tighter...and felt the motorcycle fall over underneath me, while I landed on my chest and skidded to a stop.

A moment later, I stood up and dusted myself off.

My protective gear for that ride (helmet, jacket, gloves) kept me from serious harm. Though my knee somehow got skinned (without my pants tearing). And my chin felt bruised from the way it impacted the inside of my helmet.

Though I got a little ribbing from the guys in the office...

The motorcycle is a little worse for the wear. She's missing the big plexi-glass fairing that used to be on front, and missing one of the mirrors on the handlebar.

All told, I'm happy to have survived the event. Though I'd be a little happier if I could have done so without landing face-first on the pavement.


Fun with statistics

Yesterday, I got a little involved in the comment-thread of this article by Megan McArdle.

At one point, another commenter posted something about the number of workplace deaths in the United States. Something like "4628 workers were killed on the job in 2012." *

This number might be valid, or might not.

However, I immediately noticed something odd. I remember that a much-higher number of people die in vehicle-related accidents on a yearly basis.

So, basically, I asked this question: since ~35000 Americans die in automobile collisions per year, is it more dangerous to drive to a job, or to be on the job? **

* This statement is a comment about a number, not an argument. But it was offered as if it was an argument.
I think I'm seeing these unspoken assertions:
1. A large number of people died on-the-job in the United States
2. Workers need some form of protection from this
3. Unions are both necessary and sufficient for this protection

This chain of reasoning has several holes.

About point 1: The data provided is only for the year 2012. No data was provided about how this number related to Unions, or to State/Federal regulations about workplace safety. No data was provided about how this number has changed as the level of Unionization has changed over the past three or four decades. No data was provided about how this number has changed relative to man-hours-of-employment over the past few decades.

Point 2 is hard to quibble with, but proposals coming from Point 2 depend heavily on the data that went into Point 1.

About Point 3: this also depends on data. There are many ways to reduce workplace fatalities in the U.S., and the Unions and U.S. Dept. of Labor have been trying to do that for many decades. Perhaps some data about these efforts, and how these efforts interact with business efficiency, corporate practice, and the change of Union membership in the United States, should be brought into the discussion.

** My source on this is the Fatal Injury Statistics website, which is provided by the U.S. Dept. of Health Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
The numbers are between 35000 and 36000 per year for most years since 2009.
Oddly, the number dropped from ~45000 per year in 2007 to ~35000 per year in 2008.
The per-capita rate had shrunk in most years from the 1980s to 2007, but the static value had remained near ~45000/year during most of those year. But there was a big drop in 2008, and it has remained since then.


Vehicle death

Another blogger had to get rid of a vehicle recently.

In his case, he had a Jeep which developed engine trouble...of the kind that rapidly turned into too-expensive-to-be-worth-fixing.

He ran into one of the long-term-ownership problems in the automotive world. Almost all vehicles are now made to have near-zero maintenance trouble. For something like 8 to 10 years.

But most vehicles have design problems that will begin making ownership expensive. Sometimes these problems are foreseeable, sometimes not. Sometimes they arrive shortly after year number 8. Sometimes they wait until 12+ years.

Sometimes they are avoidable. My current vehicle, a Subaru, suffers from potentially-catastrophic failures to the timing belt. These tend to come somewhere between 100000-miles and 110000-miles. However, the belt can be replaced before this becomes a problem.

Other times, these problems are not avoidable. An earlier car I owned (early-90s Taurus) had transmission trouble. This model of car, though extremely popular, regularly suffered transmission failure at ~80000 miles.

Robb's Jeep had a different category of problem, but one with similar results. The engine failed, and in a way similar to most other Jeeps of that model-and-age combination. Thus, most junk yards have such vehicles, but few have replacement engines handy. (Robb noticed that the salvage yard had 10 such Jeeps, 8 of them with the same engine failure. And two engines that did not have such a failure, but required expensive rebuilds anyway.)

And in his case (as with my old Taurus), the cost of repair is more than the resale value of a good, working vehicle of that type.

One of the frustrations of buying used cars is that such things can creep up on the unwary buyer. Yet one of the frustrations of buying a car new is that after you keep it for a decade, you want it for another five years...and problems like this can also sneak up on you.

Like Robb said, it's a First World problem.


Going, going...gone.

Sold a vehicle this week.

The old Jeep had sat for months. One relative had told me they wanted it...then they backed out. Another expressed interest, then they also backed out.

In the meantime, the vehicle had become a little cranky. I didn't establish a habit of running it one day a week. So when I tried to start it, I seemed to find trouble 50% of the time.

Finally got it back into predictably-running condition, and put it on Craig's List. But taking it for test drives reminded me of the parts I enjoyed about the Jeep.

But I was also reminded that I don't like keeping a vehicle I'm not going to use. And I wanted to switch to a stick-shift.

So when the one potential buyer came to look at the Jeep, I was happy to get an offer from them.

I was also happy that they paid cash, rather than cutting a check. We signed the title, shook hands, and they drove away.

Now that the Jeep is gone, I miss her. But I don't miss the cost of filling it with fuel.

And I enjoy a car that gives all-wheel drive and direct control of the shifting.



I feel as if I spent the last week in a deep, dark hole. (Blog-post wise.)

At the office, I discovered that somehow a large amount of merde had been fed into the ventilateur. (Pardon my French.) The result has been long nights, long waits for code to compile, tests of software, comparisons of day-by-day builds, careful combing of log-files, and endless worries about whether our customer will accept the upcoming release.

The bad thing about this is that the customer expects hardware-plus-software to arrive at their factory in final form...near the end of September. And we're working on the Bug-Fix releases, which (theoretically) should have already had most problems ironed out.

Except not all the problems have been ironed out, as we're discovering. And the remaining problems are hard-to-diagnose. Which makes life really hard on everyone in the team.



Riding a motorcycle gave me a slightly different view the weather and local climate.

I have to pay much more attention to rain forecasts. Because a two-wheeled machine can have traction and stability problems on wet pavement. And because the motorcycle has no roof.

Temperatures also have a different meaning when I'm rolling at 45 miles per hour. (Or 65 mph...) A day that goes from 60° F to 80° F means that I need the windbreaker jacket for the morning ride, and the vented jacket for the evening ride. However, a day that goes from 70° F to 90° F doesn't change the ride as much.

On many nights, I can feel the change in humidity when I descend into a river valley. Sometimes it's warm and moist; sometimes it's cool and clammy.

Last night, the temperature dropped from upper-70s to lower-60s. Which means that today, I may drive my car instead of ride my motorcycle.

This summer has been cool, which has decreased my desire to ride as much as possible. But I also have a car that is better than the car I had last year. So maybe I enjoy driving a little more, also.


Computer Problems

I've done quite a bit of computer repair in my time. I'm not a professional computer repairman. (There's more money in writing programs than in repairing hardware.)

Most of that has been software repair. Uninstall bad programs, upgrade programs, pull backup copies of pictures/documents, fix OS installs, clean out registries, etc.

Other things have been hardware upgrades. New displays, new network cards, additional hard-disk drives, replacement/upgrade of optical drives, etc.

Very few times have I needed to replace broken hardware.

Once, the broken hardware was a light bulb. A miniature fluorescent bulb that provided a backlight to an LCD display on a laptop. That fix was challenging, mainly because the laptop in question was not easy to disassemble.

My most recent repair on my own machine was a replacement of a faulty Hard Disc Drive. That drive had begun making strange noises during read/write access. And I sometimes got errors when I executed commands like "svn status" on the subversion repository stored on that drive.

Some time ago, I helped my parents recover a Hard Disc that was failing slowly. It wasn't making funny  noises. It was simply not saving important data in one location. This failure convinced the Windows bootloader that the drive didn't contain a valid filesystem.*

This hardware failure wasn't drive-destroying...but there was no way to restore the copy of NTFS on that drive and keep all the old files. And my parents wanted to extract all the Documents and locally-stored email that had been on that drive.

So I (with some trepidation) began searching for "file system recovery" tools online.

I rapidly discovered that if I could produce an image of the data on that HDD, I could pull all sorts of stuff from it. Including the files that my parents wanted. And deleted files, fragments of deleted files, data stored in the swap file, data stored in the Recycle Bin, etc.**

Among these files/deleted-files/fragments-of-files were lots of emails.

The entire process took me about 12 hours. However, these hours were spread across evenings of several weeks.

This is one reason why, when I read stories like this, I am not surprised. There are several different ways for an HDD to fail. Unless the failure involves destruction of the disc platters inside the HDD metal box, then most of the data can usually be restored/recovered.

If the IT team at the IRS didn't maintain central backups of internal emails, they should still have been able to recover most of those emails from a faulty HDD.

* The deep technical details: one of the data-storage sectors on the disc had gone bad. It could be read from, but all write operations would fail.
This copy of Windows was installed on an NTFS partition. Usually, NTFS can recover from this kind of failure. When the problem is detected during a write, Windows/NTFS can re-send the data to the drive with instructions to save it elsewhere. In many cases, this can happen without Windows telling the user!
However, this particular bad sector involved one of three redundant copies of the Master File Table. Windows and NTFS kept on trying to fix the bad MFT without moving it. The write operation would fail. Windows would check the attempted fix, discover the that the fix didn't succeed, and halt the Startup process. Then the user would see a message about a Startup failure, with a recommendation to try again.
Trying again produced the same result.

** Another aside: at one time, I worked for a company that performed contract work for DARPA, the Advanced Research agency of the US Dept. of Defense.
Several employees at the company had to get Security Clearance, and the company had to follow US DoD procedures for handling Classified data.
The US DoD-approved process for clearing Classified data from an Hard Disc Drive involves a custom program that will attempt to overwrite every bit of every byte of every sector on the HDD. Then the progam repeats this process four more times.
This knowledge came in handy. It also clarified for me that a determined attacker (or IT support person who wishes to comply with legal requirements for data retention) can extract most old data from a Hard Disc. Unless the disc is (a) put through the above process for cleaning out old data, or (b) mechanically disassembled and the components physically destroyed.


Camping Trip

This past weekend was swallowed up by a camping trip.

The church that I am a part of had organized the camping trip.

Good times, even if I didn't do as much out-doors stuff as I originally hoped to.

I hung around at campfire with my friends, had a few pleasant conversations during afternoon and evening. Awoke to a cold morning with mist hovering over the lake. Saw some sandhill cranes flying and simming on the lake. Watched some camp-site volleyball, rode a bicycle around. Did some cooking over a campfire.

At the culmination of the trip, we had an outdoor church service and a baptism ceremony in the lake.

The weekend was good, and restful.

I'm happy.


Correlation may not be Causation

...but correlation may be standing the corner, flirtatiously winking. And saying sweetly, 'yes, it does look like I caused that.'

Donald Sensing has linked to an article and chart titled Marriage Makes Us Stronger.

The chart shows that the kind of people who marry tend to be the kind of people who do better at many things in life.

However, it doesn't show that marriage is the cause. It only shows that the two effects travel together. (Heck, a successful middle-class life might be the cause of stable marriage...or both might be caused by outside factors.)

Still, if the conclusion is that Government policies which discourage marriage may be bad things...then I can agree. For other reasons.


Computer Hardware replacement

After earlier excitement (and trouble) with a failing hard disk, I ordered a replacement.

The replacement arrived. So I plugged it in, and began copying data onto it.

Five hours later, the first backup copy was in place. As was the first copy of the new SVN repository.

Though now that I think of it, maybe I do want to use GIT instead of SVN...


Statistics: gunshot victims

Referenced by Clayton Cramer (and Dave Hardy), a news story about the kind of people who usually show up in hospitals as gunshot-wound victims:

People hospitalized with a firearm injury are 30 times more likely to return to the hospital with another firearm injury than people hospitalized for other reasons. And they’re 11 times more likely to die from gun violence within the next five years, according to a study commissioned by the Seattle City Council....
It is hypothetically possible that gunshot wounds cause these effects.

It is also possible that gunshot wounds and the other results are all linked to an underlying cause that hasn't been stated.

I suspect that this second possibility is much closer to the truth.


Computer Hardware failures

I lost a lot of data that I had intended to keep.

Confound and blast that infernal computing device! (And the User who deleted a file that he wanted to keep...wait a minute, that is myself.)

To explain, from the beginning:

I've been kind of paranoid about keeping backups of important files. This was made much easier when I discovered that Linux made this fairly easy. As long as I had a place to keep backup files, I could create a cron-job and a script that would generate backup copies.

And the "place to keep backup files" was, usually, a second (or third) hard-disk on my main machine.

Much later, when I decided I wanted to use an older computer as a print-server, it also took on the role of backup-server. Thus, the backup script used the local extra-hard-disk for backups, and copied the backups out to an external machine.

Even later, I discovered the fun and joy of version-management software. This is a custom database for data files. Usually, tools like SubVersion or Git are used by software teams to manage and document the history of changes to software projects.

But I realized that SubVersion could also track a bunch of document files. (Like the spreadsheet I use to manage my finances, or electronic copies of receipts for online purchases, or the other files cluttering the local "Documents" folder on my "/home" partition.)

While I was doing this, I also learned about and purchased a portable, external Hard Disk. So I configured the external drive as the local Backup-plus-home-of-SubVersion repository. And I tweaked a couple of scripts on the aforementioned cron jobs to handle things.

Except I got lazy, and mangled one of the path names. And one script, intended to create a backup "dump" of the history of the SubVersion repository, never worked properly.

Thus, when I began hearing odd noises from the external backup drive, I investigated.

I discovered that the backup "dump" of the SubVersion repository wasn't useful. And I discovered that the partially-failed drive left the SubVersion repository in a state that could not be updated, modified, or fixed.

So I manually pulled the dump. Which was successful at bringing out 90-something-percent of repository history.

And then I tested rebuilding the SubVersion repository from the dump. It appeared to succeed, so I deleted the dump, and attempted to re-create it.

Which was the wrong order of operations...I should have attempted to create another dump file from the restored repository before I deleted a known-mostly-good dump. Because the restored repository failed much earlier in the dump process.

And by deleting the older dump file, I lost most of the history that I had intended to keep.

My backups are still in good order, but I lost a lot of history.

One other thought: if I had used Git instead of SubVersion, the local file system would contain the entire history, as would the repository on the remote drive. Maybe I should switch to Git....


Independence Day

On this day in 1776, a bold and brash document was published in North America.

That document was sent across the ocean to King George III of Great Britain, who was still under the impression that the English-speaking people of North America were subject to Crown and Parliament of Great Britain.

Settling that question took many long years.

That document is, of itself, a pretty powerful statement. And it is a reminder of what had to be risked and suffered to bring about a new nation.

I pray that in another two centuries, the United States is still a place of freedom. And that we find a way to export a culture of freedom to other parts of the world that want it.


Comment of the day

Seen elsewhere, in the middle of a raucous comment thread about the Hobby Lobby case.

1) So, after years of pleading with corporate managers to follow their conscience instead of  [being] amoral greedheads, the left now insists that you have to check your conscience at the door to enjoy the privileges of incorporation. There's no pleasing some people.
2) Gee, it's too bad Bart Stupak's vote was necessary to pass the ACA. If only the contraception mandate had been statutory, instead of an HHS regulation...perhaps some Congressional amendments to the legislation are in order? Heh, heh.
3) The HHS directive has very little to do with the maintenance of public health and everything to do with expressing political dominance. "Is it true, O Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego, do not ye serve my Affordable Care Act, nor worship the golden mandates which I have set up? Now if ye be ready that at what time ye hear the sound of the doctors, bioethicists, bureaucrats, insurance commissioners and pharmaceutical executives, and all kinds of technocrats, ye fall down and worship the mandate which I have made; well: but if ye worship not, ye shall be cast the same hour into the midst of the IRS; and who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands?"
A better discussion of the legal nature of that case is available here (and here, with more commentary here), but I found the comparison to the book of Daniel too on-point to pass up.

History (belated)

A few days back was the Century anniversary of a big event.

That event was the most world-changing instance of use of a firearm since the dawn of the age of mass-produced firearms.

Gavril Princip fired two shots at Archduke Ferdinand of Austria on the 28th day of June, 1914. Princip took advantage of a chance opportunity, after playing the role of observer in a failed assassination attempt (by bomb) earlier that day.

Ferdinand died shortly afterwards. Princip's cause (more independence for Serbia) was not helped by this assassination. A declaration of war ensued. A chain of allied nations mobilized their armies, rattles sabers, and discovered that they couldn't honorably back down from warfare. Especially if their ally had already declared war on a mutual opponent. This chain of mobilizations led to warfare among the richest, most powerful nations of the world.

The powers of Europe that fought each other had colonies and navies around the world. The Great War was also dubbed The World War. (One possible theater of war did not develop. Mexico was encouraged by Germany to open war against the U.S., in a manner that would have made the world-wide nature of the war more obvious. Mexico declined, but the message was decoded and seen by the American public. This message, plus the unrestricted submarine warfare of the German navy, led to U.S. entry into the War.)

Most of the international politics of the 20th Century (and early 21st Century) can be traced to the reshaping of maps, empires, and governments that occurred during and after the Great War.

The dissolution of the former Ottoman Turkish Empire, the genocide of Armenians in Turkey, the rise of Communism in Eastern Europe, the troubles in Germany that gave rise to the Third Reich, the replay of the European War, the Imperial ambitions of Japan, the de-colonization of Africa and the Middle East, the re-alignment of world power to include the United States as a major player, the rise of militant Islam in Middle East...most of these trace back to something that was done during the Great War or in the treaties that followed it.

It is likely that the chain of alliances and military mobilization might have been triggered by another event that decade, had Princip not taken the shots he did.

But the details of the how and the why are lost in the dreams of alternate history.

And I wonder how long the current world order will last, and when (or whether) a single event will trigger a similar cascade.

UPDATE: found a series of maps and diagrams that help explain the entire chain of events.


Charity work

Over the weekend, I did a little bit of charity work.

The recipient of this work is a single mother, who hasn't said much about her ex-husband. She's a good friend of one religious ministry that I'm involved in.

And her house looks like a dump. (Likely because of the family lack of resources when her ex wasn't an ex...and maybe due to the path of decisions he made when attempting to remodel the house.)

Now, the exterior of the house looks somewhat better. And my upper arms are sore. Because I spent several hours climbing ladders, holding up vinyl siding, and hammering it in.

Progress was slow; we had to move our ladders/scaffolding for nearly every piece of siding. We also had a slim pool of workers able to climb the ladder and use a hammer.

The family still needs lots of help. One of the other members of the volunteer-charity team spent a little bit of money helping the family purchase a set of plastic drawers that could fill in for dressers for the kids.

It's kind of sad: I suspect that the family could have spent a little more money on their house upgrades if they hadn't splurged on the flat-screen.

However, flat-screens are cheap (relative to home construction). And the extended family I met appear to be the kind of people who would rather do home construction themselves than pay out for it. Which in this case resulted in a house that is 90% "work in progress". Apparently, funds (or time) were insufficient to the needs of the project.

I'm glad I was able to help. And I have lots of pity for the poor family.


Weekend Reading: Promise, Covenant, and seal of Covenant

Returning to old religious documents this weekend, I find myself in the story of Abram.

The tale of Genesis spent a lot of time in the deep past, with characters that are almost archetypes. The first man, the first woman, their sons, the first sacrifice of worship, the first bloodshed, etc. Later, the tale moved on to another archetype, the lone-survivor of the first great cataclysm.

(A few other 'firsts' are scattered through these stories...first great city, first metalworker, first boast of vengeance, first man to drink too much alcohol...)

Then things narrow down, and focus on Abram. He received a special promise from the Creator of all mankind.

However, that first promise to Abram was only a beginning.

Abram is interacting with God, in a way that only a few other people in the story have interacted so far. And childless Abram asks God what will happen to the Promise, once Abram's chief steward inherits the estate. God responds with a promise that he will have children.

And then God orders something interesting. Abram is instructed to set up a special ritual. Animals are slain, their bodies cut in half, and the dismembered corpses laid out.*

Abram spends all day protecting the animals from buzzards. Then night falls. And Abram falls into a deep sleep, and somehow receives a prophecy that his descendants will spend many centuries as slaves in a foreign land before coming back to take the land of Caanan.

Then God brings an apparition that passes between the animals, and swears a powerful oath to give land to Abram's descendants.

This is more than protection. In fact, it's transacted something like an oath of mutual support between powerful men. Except that it's a one-sided oath. Abram is not encouraged to walk the pathway-of-oath himself.

It's a big moment.

But it also underscores the vast difference between Creator and Created. God, the Creator, makes a huge promise of help, support, and future success.

The biggest thing that Abram does is believe--put his trust in--the words spoken by his Creator. The narrator tells us that this is "credited to [Abram] as righteousness."

This difference has been in the background of the story from its beginning, but is first clearly stated here. God can give many things to man, but man can give little to God except trust.

* This was apparently a form of ritual between powerful kings of that time. Two powerful men would kill some animals, cut the bodies in half, and walk the path in between. They would swear an oath, with the implicit promise that oath-breakers would suffer the fate of the dismembered animals.


Vehicle Fun

Driving a car that was mis-firing made me really sensitive to engine RPM and the car performance.

It also increased stress.

Driving a car that runs well is so much fun... Almost as much fun as riding a motorcycle.


Specialist Knowledge: car repair shops

Ann Althouse is talking about a local (to-her) attempt to build housing for homeless people.

The charitable organization that is running this attempt is running into troubles related to re-building property that used to be an auto-repair shop.

Which brings up all sorts of specialized knowledge about the auto-repair world. (Caveat: I don't work in such a shop. I work for a company that sells electronic modules to automotive manufacturers. I also spent one summer as a mechanic's assistant in a City-owned vehicle repair shop, a little more than a decade ago. And I have lots of acquaintances who are shade-tree mechanics, or who have owned/run a car-repair shop in the past.)

Because the task of rehabbing an auto-repair shop requires some knowledge about what is done on the grounds, and what kinds of contaminants are most likely to be found there.

How many other repair businesses have to deal with so many EPA regulations?

Auto repair facilities have to handle ethylene glycol, motor oil, transmission fluid, sulfuric acid, lead, glycol ether-based hydraulic fluids, and refrigerants. The facility often has to meet City and State regulations for storage/disposal tanks, and also follow the EPA regulations for the same.

Anyone who wishes to purchase an old auto-repair shop and re-use the building or grounds should investigate these things. But first, they have to acquire knowledge about what is commonly done in such situations.

The charitable organization is a regional organization that is part of the national Occupy movement. However educated they were, they apparently didn't recognize a situation in which specialist knowledge is required.

Which is kind of sad.


Car trouble, redux

The car trouble (and the associated ride-the-motorcycle-in-good-weather, hitch-rides-in-bad-weather) must be getting to me. It's low-level stress, but it is still stress.

I had a dream in which I discovered I'd somehow driven off in someone else's car, an everything was broken.

Anyway, Manifold-Air-Pressure sensor doesn't fix the engine misfire. Neither does cleaning the Idle Air Control Valve.

It's possible (remotely) that the problem is somewhere in the ignition system. Since the ignition coil pack, spark plug, and spark plug harness are all less than a month old, I doubt it. (Unless I set the spark-gap wrong, or somehow cracked a plug such that it never fires...)

I'm spending an evening on this problem again, and scrounging around for a secondary vehicle...

UPDATE: after a chat on the phone with a car mechanic (a relative of a friend from church...and 'the car guy' who is considered a good source by people who do lots of their own car work), I hit on a different pathway towards the problem.

The cylinder misfires were on the same coil in the Ignition Coil Pack. The problem could be ignition.

I pulled the spark plugs that were misfiring. One plug was fouled in a way that looked it was not firing.

I looked again at the Ignition Coil that had been replaced with the spark plugs and wires. Either the problem was in there, or the problem was in the timing signals reaching the Coil. I decided to test the wires providing the timing signals, and then test the Coil itself by switching back to the old Coil. The first test fixed nothing (but I was just moving the wires, looking for a weak connection). The second test fixed the problem.

Weird. It is remotely possible that I quoted model year 2003 instead of 2002 to the sales-clerk while purchasing the Ignition Coil. Is the difference enough to cause trouble? Or does one of the pins on the new coil have a size variance that can cause trouble once the engine warms up?


Funny comments: motorcycles

In posting about Harley-Davidson's demo of an electric motorcycle, Jay G said that the idea was a bad one. A machine without the distinctive Harley sound, and that would be hard-pressed to travel 100 miles without a two-hour stop to recharge?

Maybe it should be called a Buell, I said.

(Jokingly. Buell's weren't bad machines. The company was trying to compete with Yamaha/Honda/Suzuki/Kawasaki sport-bikes; the products never really stood out in the market.)

Jay replied with, I'm partial to "Buell 2: Electric Boogaloo"...

Gotta say, he has the better of that exchange.


Car Trouble

Sometime on the way home from the Indy NRA Annual Meet, my car's "Check Engine" light flagged on.

It didn't run badly, so I decided to check it when I arrived home.

The light remained on, and unchecked, until the weekend when the vehicle started running very badly. The engine behaved like it was misfiring on at least one cylinder. When I got the Diagnostic Trouble Codes scanned, they were "P0301: Misfire on Cyl. 1" and "P0420: Catalytic Converter Not Operating Efficiently".

There are lots of things that can cause the second code on my Subaru, but the combination of the two looked like an electrical problem in the ignition. The spark wasn't always happening when needed, so the system was feeding unburnt fuel into the exhaust. This unburnt fuel generated readings consistent with Catalytic Converter trouble.

So I replaced the spark plugs, spark-plug-wires, and ignition-coil. The engine ran fine; until a month later.

This time, the misfire(s) hurt engine performance even more. The new trouble codes read "P0303/P0304: Misfire on Cyl.3/4" and "P0171: Lean fuel/air mix".

Same problem, but different cause. The diagnosis was either a weak fuel pump, a failing sensor in the controls for fuel injection, failing fuel injectors on the cylinders, or a vacuum leak.

One factor pointing towards sensor-trouble is that the engine starts fine, but runs rough after 30 seconds or so. If the problem were injectors or fuel pump, this behavior would not be seen. However, the way that the Engine Control Unit handles engine warm-up would lead to this behavior, if one (or more) sensor were bad.

There may still be a vacuum leak somewhere in the system. However, testing (by spraying starter-fluid onto the hoses in question while the engine was running) failed to produce any sign of that.

Another test was for engine behavior after unplugging the front O2 sensor. This also didn't fix the problem, but narrowed the focus down to the MAP sensor. (Most Subarus have an MAF sensor in the air-filter passage. The model I own uses an MAP sensor on the intake manifold...which is harder to clean, but cheaper to replace.)

Now a replacement MAP sensor is on its way. Hopefully, it will fix the problem.



Clayton Cramer asks Is it really a war if one side pretends it isn't?

He's a better historian than I, so I won't dispute whether the war in question is a half-century old, or a millennium and a half old. (Even if the war in question was quiescient for centuries, the most recent phase didn't take off until sometime after the dissolution of outside Imperial powers in the Middle East. Does that mean that lack of Western European Imperialism is a bad thing?)

However, I am reminded of a quote from a novel.
    'It needs but one foe to breed a war, not two, Master Warden...And those who have no swords can still die upon them. Would you have the folk of Gondor gather herbs only, when the Dark Lord gathers armies?'  
-- Eowyn, in Return of the King
Eowyn is a woman who had gone to battle (secretly) with the men of her land, and suffered a grievous wound while struggling with an evil being. After recovery in the Houses of Healing, she discusses the need for both armies and healers. The Warden of the House of Healing had lamented that battle had brought so many wounded into his care.

Eowyn warns him that a nation that does not keep an army can still suffer in war.


Father's Day

It's kind of hard to top this observation about Father's Day.

To all the Dads of this world, congratulations and thanks.


Predatory Lending

In a comment thread attached to a post by Megan McArdle, I learned a little about predatory lending.

Usually, when I see the words "predatory lending", I expect to be lectured about evil lenders who offered option-ARMs to homebuyers who couldn't afford things once the rate adjusted. Or lenders who offered no-documentation loans.

This seems to ignore the buyer, who was asking for more mortgage than they could afford. If the buyer didn't know the difference between a conventional and an ARM, they had to be ignoring the documents they signed. If the buyer could only keep a home by expecting appreciation and a refinance, then the buyer probably knew that the payment scheme currently in place would not stay that way for long.

In that case, both the lender and the buyer are at fault. (Though if the lender has nothing to lose by making and re-selling a bad loan, then why do we expect the lender to protect other people from accepting loans they can't repay? If he has no skin in the game, why does anyone expect him to act as if he does have skin int he game?)

On the other hand, lenders who lend to college students might be predatory. For comparison, look at this situation:
I saw a similarly shady racket in the military.
...car dealerships and loan companies would conspire to get young servicemen into waaay more car than they could afford, using the Government as their loan enforcer by garnishing paychecks and assisting in the repossession actions when the seviceman inevitably fell behind on payments.
Let's see...A University which accepts students into any course, regardless of the employment market for graduates of that course. The University gets the money when the course is registered, not when the student completes the work. The University gets the money whether or not the student finishes their degree-plan. And the University encourages students to register for classes and apply for loans.

And the University, if it is a typical American University, raises costs at double the rate of inflation.

That seems like predatory lending to me.

And I return to the question: how much skin does the lender have in the game? Is there any chance of loss due to bankruptcy?

How much skin does the University have in the game? How much is lost when a student leaves the school with debt and no diploma? How much is lost when a graduate is unable to make his monthly payment, and unable to find employment that can meet the cost of his loan?

Whether or not the lenders and sellers are predatory, I think that they should have some skin in the game. So that the number of pathways by which the University profits while the student is screwed would be decreased.


Genetically Modified Organism

I've run into a handful of people who are worried about food produced from Genetically Modified Organisms.

I've always heard stories of the geneticists yanking wildly-foreign genes and splicing them into food, and been instructed in the horrors thereof.

I haven't heard any of them explaining whether or not it would be a good idea to pull genes that produce vitamins in corn, and attempt to splice them into the genetic code of rice.

Speaking of genetically modified food...how much genetic modification by selective breeding has gone into meat-chickens? How much has gone into dairy cattle or beef cattle?

What about fruit? (Most apples were produced by pollination. Once a desirable apple type is found, branches from that tree are cut and grafted into other trees. Thus, the Granny Smith or HoneyCrisp are each sourced from a single tree, in genetic terms.)

What about grains? Oats, corn, wheat, and rice have all been modified by farmers over long spans of historic time.

Separating dangerous modifications from harmless or useful modifications is much more important than sloganeering about "evil GMO food."



Saw this story a little while ago.

An Air Force pilot helps land an airplane after its pilot suffered a medical emergency.

It's definitely among the rare things that happen on airplanes. But it looks like a good example of what can happen when a person with appropriate skills can step up to handle an emergency job.

I sometimes joke with myself that any motorcycle ride I can walk away from was a good ride. That is definitely more true of airplane flights than of motorcycles...

This was a good flight, by that definition.


Weekend Reading: Promise

After the idyllic beginning, the harsh coming-of-age, the tale of worship, sacrifice, and murder, and the gigantic reset...

We see a little housekeeping in the story world. Lots of family trees, a list of nations, a few names of people are mentioned in passing. Then there's a story that attempts an explanation for a legendary tower, and the diversity of languages.

God is given credit for a sudden explosion of different languages. Implicit in the story is a desire to not let humanity become too proud of their own accomplishments.

However, there is no direct interaction between Creator and Created in that story.

The next such interaction comes when the narrative moves to Abram. Abram is a nomadic herder of sheep, and reputedly a man of great wealth.

Abram and his father had started to travel from the region of their home. Sometime after Abram's father passes away, he receives a promise from God. A great promise, a promise of many descendants and world-wide influence, and Divine blessing. The blessing would fall on Abram, but would somehow flow out to all the world.

From such an auspicious beginning, the narrative goes on to...travels, an altar built to God in a few places. Intra-family and extra-family disputes. A regional war. After the war, Abram meets another king (uninvolved in the war), and takes part in a religious ritual led by that king**.

The common thread in all of this: God protects Abram. Sometimes, Abram lied to protect himself. Sometimes he was an ordinary man, doing ordinary things. Sometimes, he was exceptionally generous; after helping in a battle he forswears any of the plunder that he could have claimed.

It's a beginning. Maybe not the most auspicious of beginnings. But a beginning of something that might turn out to be very big...


* Abram is later on named as "Abram the Hebrew". This may be a reference to Eber, listed partway through the genealogy between Shem and Abram.

** Melchi-zedek, whose name means 'king of Righteousness'. He is also called a priest of "God Most High"...both Melchi-zedek and the Hebrew phrase translated "God Most High" don't show up very many times in Scripture.
There's an assumption that God had dealings with this man, even though he is only tangential to the narrative involving Abram.
Melchi-zedek himself is odd in another way. He is the first person in this narrative for whom we do not have an ancestry listed. He was respected in some fashion by many of the kings in the surrounding area.


History and racism

SF storyteller (and former Quality Engineer) Thomas Flynn takes a look at the Sterling-Silver dispute.

After setting the stage of the story, he notes that
The whole affair is an indicator of how far we must stretch today to find outrageous racist conduct. ("You call that racism? Why, sonny, when I was your age...")  Those of us who passed through the fire in the 1960s remember on clear days public behaviors that make Donald Sterling's worst utterances seem like compliments. Nowadays, someone who donates heavily enough to the NAACP to earn two lifetime achievement awards can become a racist with a few emotionally-chosen outbursts.
The difference between the National Guard marching to protect the NAACP in Milwaukee and Mr. Sterling speaking derisively in private about his mistress's public companions is very broad.

Strangely, I also learned that before Sterling made his intemperate remarks in private, he had been on track to receive his second Lifetime Achievement Award from a regional chapter of the NAACP. Mostly because of his record of donations.*

The history of racism in the United States is dark.** It also included many times when the advanced, scientific opinion of educated men was that some races were inferior to others.

The nation has worked very hard at eradicated racism, and this is evidence that most of the racist attitudes have no place in public.

* It is easy to slip between "donated to the regional branch of the NAACP" and "donated to the NAACP". This second wording might imply a donation to the over-arching National organization.
Clarifying that detail might have cluttered the story overly, and the distinction makes little difference. Though I suspect that the Treasurers of the regional and national organizations would be very interested in clarifying those details, if asked.

** Historical pedantry: most nations have a history of racial discord with some neighboring race, or minority race inside their borders. The U.S. is not unique in that department. We did not quite lead the way in removing African slavery from the Western Hemisphere: Brazil may have done that earlier than the United States. And Great Britain is responsible for decreasing the trade across the Atlantic.
But the United States went to great lengths to end African slavery. A century later, the United States went to great lengths to stamp out racism against Africans as an official government policy.


Quick answer

Did anyone read this abstracts and think about it? (Clayton Cramer asks...)

Probably not.

Cramer noticed that the study of suicide generated lower values for both firearms and hanging...and attempted to draw a conclusion with respect to the availability of firearms.

I notice some other things:

  • ~600 suicides against 14.9 million student years is an incredibly small rate. 
  • The abstract states that the suicide rate is lower for college students than for the general population. Which might explain why suicide-by-firearm and suicide-by-hanging were both lower than for the general population.
  • And the study quotes the years 2004-2005 and 2008-2009. (I guess no one attended the schools in question during 2006 and 2007?)
It's easier to ignore a year or two than to explain anomalous data, or data that goes against the trend. And if this study generates any headlines, the journalist will likely not quote the years studied or omitted.


Comments left elsewhere

After reading a post about the City government of Detroit begging for money, I felt compelled to comment.

Now it seems that I should have posted it here instead.

I grew up in the 'burbs of Detroit. It seems odd, how driving across 8 Mile results in such a drastic change of scenery.

Anyway: the City of Detroit had something like 2 million residents in the 1950s.

Most of those 139 square miles were full of neighborhoods and houses. (The pattern looked suburban. lots of single-family residences laid on in blocks which subdivided the big square-mile sections...)

The City population started declining in the late 60s. By 1990, it was roughly 1 million. Now, it is barely 750,000.

The population of the Metro Area stopped growing sometime in the 90s, I think.

Back to the past...there was a time in the 1920s when the suburban townships regularly voted to become part of the City. One of the relics of this process: the suburb of Hamtramck didn't do this, so it is now entirely surrounded by Detroit. 

The suburbs that joined the City could get better water/sewer service, and more Police presence, etc. Which seemed good, in the 20s. 

Nowadays, a State politician will occasionally ask if these sections can be removed from Detroit, and turned into separate townships or cities. 

But it won't improve the political prospects of any Detroit politicians to push for that, and the State doesn't have an easy-to-implement process for a large city to split into smaller cities...

Anyway, Detroit's finances and lack-of-population are a mess. And the easiest fix seems to be to demand money from State and Feds.

Since Detroit used to be one of wealthier industrial cities of the nation, they think that they can still swing lots of influence Nationally.

But if that were so, the City wouldn't be begging for money, would it?


Learned a new word

Something of a rarity: I came across a word today that I was not familiar with.

At this post, I saw the word "celerity". Which I couldn't recognize, and wasn't able to figure out fully from context.

It is an old word (borrowed from French) for 'rapid/swift'.

How long will it be before I meet another new word?

Birthdays (past and present)

The weekend before last was my birthday.

(I didn't post at the time, because a combination of work schedule and tiredness left me unwilling to post much of anything.)

The birthday itself involved one fun evening at a restaurant with a ex-girlfriend, and another evening of festivities, cake, and presents with family and friends.

In between, I saw a weekend of extra time at the office. (Did I mention work? Things were very bad that week...) This was definitely a departure from the norm.

Things smoothed out at the office, and the dinner with the ex-girlfriend may have turned into something else. It might be possible, sometime next month, to remove the "ex-" factor in that relationship.

Hopefully, the "ex-" factor won't come back to haunt her. Or me. But at the moment, all I know is that things are looking good.

Perhaps the best birthday present was the completion of the panic-week at work. Which made it much easier for me to take Memorial Day weekend off on a fishing trip.

Fishing is a combination of frustration, waiting, patience, hope, and (intermittent) reward. When combined with pleasant weather and good companions on the lake, it is a special treat. Last year, I only went fishing on Memorial Day weekend. This year, I may go once or twice more.


Memorial Day

Memorial Day is set aside, in the United States, in memory of men who died while on active military duty.

Amid all the fishing, partying, cooking, and camaraderie of the day, it is best to remember that this holiday began as a day for decorating the graves of soldiers.



Car Safety: Lightning-Strikes

Saw this news story, linked through Instapundit.

It's a very scary story. A lightning-strike on a car destroys the cars electronics (or maybe melts something in the lock mechanism) to the point where it is impossible for the person inside to open the door and leave the car.

And there is a fire burning under the hood.

A nearby policeman (and at least one other onlooker) helped the trapped woman out. They began by breaking a window.

I suspect it is standard practice for first-responders to break windows, or bring heavy-duty cutting tools to help remove the roof, if it is impossible to otherwise extricate a person from a car-collision.*

It's actually fairly rare for a car-collision to result in an explosion, though a collision that results in leaking gasoline can make fires/explosions a potential danger.

However, this is in the realm of almost-never-happens rarity. But the Police officer still used the break-the-window method for extracting the woman who was in danger.

Insty mentions his preferred emergency tools for such situations. Even though events like this are rare, the ResQMe or LifeHammer tools would be useful for enabling emergency exits from cars. The needs for such emergency exits can be many and varied; tools of that type appear to fit most of those needs.

Perhaps I should buy one or two of these tools, myself.

* Many people may not be aware of this detail: most windows on the car (except for the windshield) are typically made of tempered safety glass. This is a kind of glass that is hard to shatter, but when broken tends to break into lots of small pieces that don't have sharp edges.