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Thursday, August 21, 2014

Resisting the future

The local big box store has installed a whole new section of self service check outs. I'm avoiding them like the plague. No doubt the corporate masters have dreams of eliminating more jobs and milking a few more dollars from their operations.

A restaurant chain that my lovely wife and I used to occasionally visit has taken to putting little electronic menus on all the tables. Not only do I refuse to use them, I'm no longer giving that restaurant chain my business. Those tablets are just distasteful enough to drive me to their competitors -a place with humans to take my order.

I'm such a Luddite that I don't have one of those electronic toll EZ Pass things on my windshield for road tolls. Instead I pay a human being cash money. To be honest, I probably use a toll booth about 15 times per year. I might feel differently if a toll was part of my daily commute. Then again, maybe not. When the system was first set up in my state, there were significant discounts for using the electronic passes. Now there is very little price difference.

Maybe someday there won't be a choice. Being able to interact with a live human being will be history. Of course, then there will be very little reason to do business with those companies. Humans need interaction with other humans. Take that away and there's no reason to go out at all. Might as well stay home and order everything on-line.


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Ferguson news bubble

I don't really know what's going on in Ferguson . . . and most likely you don't either.

Without even realizing it most people get their news from outlets that cater to their biases. “Reliable” news sources are those that cater to people's existing political slant. How many Liberals do you know who also tune into Conservative news outlets or the other way around? Darn few, I bet. News caters to many demographic slices: age group, income, education, region, religion -you name it, there's a news outlet with that slant. Impartial news, always fragile, is even rarer these days.

So what's the deal with Ferguson? What can be trusted? Even life video streams of the same event can give different impressions depending on what's in the frame.

I look for certain red flags. A big one is the arrest and harassment of news reporters. That's a sure sign the people in charge want to twist the narrative. I'm always a little freaked when police use military equipment and tactics. That's not the actions of a community safety service but of an invading army. Of course, with the National Guard called out, it's now definitely a military action. Violence across racial/class lines always has the potential for exploding into something larger. All the outsiders flocking to the troubled area with their axes to grind only makes things worse. These events often start out as one thing and grow into something else.

The tensions have been growing for years. I've a good friend of mine with connections to the area. For years I've been hearing about how unsafe the whole St. Louis area is. People are wary of other people, but also don't trust the police. Personal safety always seemed to be a hot topic -not a sign of a good place to be. As a person who travels a lot, I've a mental list of such places.

An astute news consumer can get close to the truth, but it takes work. It also takes pouring through reports from outlets that may make one uncomfortable. To be honest, I'm not doing the work myself. My main concerns are about what this all means. Is it the start of greater National unrest? What are the greater trends? Mainly though, what I'm going to do is give the whole area a wide berth.


Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Quick Trip to Boston

Short post today from on the road. My youngest daughter who lives in California was in Boston for half a day. My lovely wife and I went down to to meet her before she had to fly back. Pretty crazy to fly across the country for half a day, but I guess that's life in the modern world.

We are going to be home late, so I thought I do this quick post while I could.


Monday, August 18, 2014

If it still works

Early adopters are the first to try new technologies. That implies they are also the first to abandon older technologies. I'm not one of those people.

I'm the guy who owns a 5 year old cell phone that I paid $10 for. It still works. Two previous cell phones were working just fine but the cell phone tower system was upgraded so the phones no longer worked. That kinda ticked me off a little.

There's a working record player in my kitchen. My van sound system uses cassette tapes. There's even a working VCR in my living room. It cost $25 when new and we still use it. Some day hipsters will be knocking on my door trying to buy my retro electronics.

One thing I no longer have is a working 8 track player. Some technology deserves a quick death, and 8 track was one of them.

Years ago my lovely wife made me get rid of my cast iron Underwood typewriter and I still miss it. I learned to type on those old manual machines. That's why I have to keep replacing keyboards on my computers. Sometimes I forget myself and revert to the typing style needed to work those heavy iron behemoths. Plastic keyboards are not built for my heavy handed ways.

Some of my tools go back generations. There's quite a few wrenches in my collection that were originally used on steam locomotives. Those old tools were built to last.

I've nothing against new technology. After all, this is being written on a laptop computer. (no steam involved at all) However, I'm not going to abandon older tech if it still does the job.


Sunday, August 17, 2014

Shopping the Internet place

Living way out in the woods, yet being able to buy things on-line, is a modern miracle. From the comfort of one's home it's possible to order any number of products. Lately I've caught myself not even thinking of where the stuff I order comes from. It's like “The Internet” is all one place, as if Cyberspace has a physical address. It's surprising how easy it is to forget that when everything comes to my mailbox or from the UPS truck.

Once in a while there's something that jars me into realizing how far some of these things come. Recently I ordered a manual coffee grinder. It should be good on the boat as its grinder parts are ceramic instead of iron that would rust. The package arrived from Amazon in good shape. When I opened it up, most of the manual was in Japanese. The English portion read like a poor Google translation. (maybe that's what it was)

Then there's the company that I buy epoxy from. I used to be surprised at how fast they could fill my orders. It wasn't until I'd ordered from them a few times when I realized the company is located in my state. No wonder shipping time was so short.

That's the thing about the Internet. On-line, it doesn't much matter where a company is located. International shipping is still cheap enough that products can compete with locally produced items.

I shop local when I can. This time of the year most of food budget is spent locally. Local companies get my business even if they are few dollars more. However, living in a rural area limits choices. On-line shopping has made the whole world easier than shopping local.

Of course, anything that upsets International shipping: war, higher fuel costs, or trade disputes, could suddenly make local shopping the only option. Should that happen, only locally produced items would be available,and there are fewer and fewer of them. Even things that are produced locally are made with parts shipped from all over the world.

Shopping “The Internet” is a modern marvel, but we forget how fragile it really is.


Saturday, August 16, 2014

Thoreau was right

Simplify simplify simplify. Maybe just one “simplify” would have been enough.

The recent hassles with my van has reinforced my suspicion that some things have gotten too complicated. Many have lamented the fact that our vehicles have gotten too sophisticated for the home mechanic. That's true enough, but the old cars weren't always that great either. Fiddling with points and dealing with constant flat tires was no picnic. Some things have improved. If only they would improved the bad things and kept the rest simple.

Overall there's just so much more stuff that can go wrong. Air conditioning, emission controls, ABS brakes, cruise controls, and so on and so on. On the other hand, I'm not a fan of horses either. I think those who can get by with a bicycle are smarter than the rest of us.

Homes have also gotten too complicated. When I see a “totally wired home” I cringe a bit. They've automated and electrified things best lest simple. Remember when if you wanted fresh air you just opened a window? Simplicity itself. I like heating and cooking with wood. No electricity or specialty fuels needed. If it's seasoned wood and and fits though the stove door, it's good to go.

One of my long term goals is to spend at least half the year living on a sailboat. Of course it won't be one of those million dollar marvels that dominate boat shows these days. Just read the blog of anyone living on such a boat. They are forever fixing diesel engines, repairing electric winches, fixing water makers, servicing generators, and sorting out electronic issues. That's not even touching on the complicated sailing systems. Then they are forever waiting for parts or searching for good mechanics for everything from their refrigeration to radars.

At what point did these modern conveniences become necessities? Are any of them as good as dancing by the light of a campfire on a beach, with a bottle of wine in one hand and a lovely lady in the other? I've made my choice.


Friday, August 15, 2014

Burning gravy

Do petroleum companies still advertise the quality of their fuel products? I don't watch TV so I don't know if they do or not. Those old commercials occurred to me as I was fueling up the veggie van. The grease it's been burning lately is the consistency of cold gravy. The fuel jugs have to sit in the sun for a while before the grease can be poured into the fuel tank. Sometimes the plastic jugs have to be squeezed to get the waste veggie to flow out fast enough.

The van starts on diesel. The engine coolant runs though a copper coil in the veggie tank. There's a second coil wrapped around the veggie fuel filter. Before long the grease gets hot and looks like it did when it was in the fryers. At that point a switch is thrown and the van burns grease.

For a few years my waste veggie source, a popular restaurant, had switched to canola oil. While I'm not sure about health claims for the oil, it makes a more convenient fuel. Canola stays liquid at much lower temperatures than the soybean oil the restaurant currently uses. That was great when my veggie vehicle was a pickup truck as the jugs rode in the unheated truck bed. Now that we have a van the veggie rides inside a heated compartment and soybean oil isn't a problem.

Since the van came back from the garage it's been all over the place. Yesterday my lovely wife and I took a ride over to the lumber yard. 12 foot long lumber fits right inside the van -very handy when the weather is nasty. That heavy thick veggie oil burned just fine on our 100 mile round trip and that's what really matters.