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?