Thursday, October 31, 2013

Glenn Buege Chevrolet

Last night an un-named person was in a hurry to get to Powder Puff football.  They backed into a tree and creamed the liftgate glass on our minivan.

The elbow about 12" above the red tape is what impacted the liftgate glass
Physical evidence

Red and Silver "reflex" tape added.  Multiple passes of duct tape were put on tree before the reflex tape to provide an adhesion friendly surface.
Same picture with flash to mimic what it will look like (I hope) when the back-up lamps are illuminating.

Picture courtesy of Weather Underground
Mrs ERJ took the minivan to Glenn Buege, our local Chevy dealership.  They dropped her off at work.

I had several round-robin calls with Jeff the service manager and our auto insurance company.  The upshot was that Jeff could not break even on what the insurance company considered fair-and-reasonable rates.

Jeff called me back and gave me the number of a firm that would do it for LESS than the deductible.  He kept it inside, out of the weather.  The firm showed up.  They did the work inside the Buege Bodyshop.

I asked Jeff what I owed him for the use of the floor space.

"No problem.  You don't owe us anything."  Jeff said.

While we have purchased vehicles from Glenn Buege Chevy, that is not where we bought this minivan.  We bought it used on the open market.

I highly recommend Glenn Buege Chevy.  They are fine people when you are in a pickle.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Powder Puff Follow-up

Final score:  6-0 in favor of Class of 2014.

Belladonna (Class of 2015) carried the ball several times and had positive yardage.  She caught one pass.

She played fullback on offense and linebacker and nose guard on defense.

Mud on right shoulder,  sweat marks around the neck and a catchy logo.
Nobody was hurt.

Guests from Down South

A person can accomplish a great deal.  But first they have to try.

I learned that I can grow many things that "everybody" knows don't/won't grow in Michigan.

They are a joke compared to what Pawpaw can grow down in Louisiana.  But I am tickled to have them.  The native range of pecans extends as far north as the Mississippi river in Wisconsin and Iowa.  That is Northern Iowa.

Persimmon pulp would make fabulous filling for "date cookie" type confections.

Powder Puff Football

Powder Puff Football tonight!

Belladonna plays linebacker.

This is their last chance to play the Class of 2014.  When they played as Freshman/Sophomores the Fresh (Bella's class) lost by a touchdown.

The Eaton Rapids Class of 2014 is stacked with stunningly competent women athletes.  The Class of 2015 has always been in the shadow of that talent.

Belladonna has the fire in her belly to put a spanking on them.

It should be a great game to watch.  I hope nobody gets hurt.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Droscha Family Dairy

One of the tough things about farming is that it is a public business.  Everybody can see what you are doing.  Everybody feels qualified to criticize.

You can own a factory filled with 1950's vintage equipment, bearings squealing, piles of scrap everywhere.  And who is to know?  Those who know are likely to not have any standards of comparison.

That makes it difficult to innovate in agriculture except in small, safe, baby steps.

So it is notable when a family farm makes a huge jump.  That is what the Droscha Family Dairy did when they went organic.  I got a pretty good view of the transition because their operation is on the main East-West Highway in Eaton County and borders M-100, one of the main North-South roads.

Some parts of the transition went very smoothly.  The management intensive grazing looked to be plug-and-play.

Other parts had to be painful.

Everybody knows how to grow corn.  Let me rephrase that, "Everybody knows how to grow conventional (non-organic) corn."

The crux of the problem seemed to be that corn is a tropical grass.  It likes it WARM.  Treated seeds, pre-emergent herbicides and Genetically Modified seed allows the conventional farmer to plant when the soil is 50 degrees Fahrenheit at one inch of depth.  In Eaton County that is often around May 1.  The treated seed prevents most of it from rotting.  The corn slowly germinates and lolly-gags around until mid-June.  Then it grows like a house afire.

Weeds don't lolly-gag.  They outgrow the corn seedlings in the cool weather and then smother them unless they are whacked with glyphos (Roundup) or prevented from germinating (Atrizine).

The Droscha corn fields had been fertilized with cow poop and there was no shortage of weed seeds.

Some weeds, like lambsquarters and foxtail are decent forage.

Other weeds like velvetleaf is nasty, stinky and not very palatable.  Cows that turn up their noses at the dinner trough cannot make much milk.

This corn will be harvested for silage.  You can see the ear development so it should have decent energy content.

This year their corn looks GOOD!  They cracked the code.

They are also experimenting with other warm season, annual grasses that they plant very close together and then harvest as hay.

So the Droscha family has my admiration.  I admire them for having the cajones to break away from the pack and to venture into a new business.  I admire them for being brave enough to fail in the public eye.  I admire them for making aggressive countermeasures to address those failures.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Health Insurance and Food Porn (pictures added)

Happy St Jude's day.  St Jude is the patron saint of lost causes.  I believe there is a mural of him in the Detroit Lions locker room.

Health Insurance

I took Belladonna to a doctor today.

While filling out the paperwork I was stumped.  On the line for insurance it asked for Primary Insurance, Car Insurance (?) and W.C.  For the life of me, all I could think of was Water Closets.  So I wrote down 2.5

Later I learned it was an abbreviation for Workman's Comp.  I guess I qualify as Country Bumpkin of the Week.

Food Porn

Pumpkins used to be grown for food before they became ornamental accents.  Breeders took the pumpkin in a different direction once the primary market became decoration.  They got bigger, oranger, shinier.  They boosted the production by making the rind thinner and harder and by reducing the plant's investment of carbohydrates in it.  That is, they changed if from food (carbs) to the vetagable equivalent of a blow molded plastic beach ball.

There are still varieties bumping around that were selected back in the 1880s-1900.  One of those is Winter Luxury.  I grew a couple of vines this year and I have one baking in the oven now.

Photography tip:  Place a piece of white paper somewhere in the frame.  You can then use auto color correct to adjust color to neutralize ambient lighting.  Just select the center of the paper.  I usually have it far enough away from the main subject so I can crop it out.  You can see it here just to the right of the pumpkin.

Skin is almost like a cantaloup.  Rind is much thicker than common pumpkins.

I will let you know how it tastes.

We also sampled Shinko Asian Pears.  So far my favorites for flavor are Chojuro, Olimpic and then Shinko.

Sunday, October 27, 2013


Kubota has a project due tomorrow.

The style guide specifies color.

We have a Brother laser printer chosen for it's cost-per-page.  It does not do "color".

Mrs ERJ commanded:  "Get color."

I got a new printer.

It was a pain in the dupa to install.  It double installed itself.  Then it hid the last step of alignment so it locked up.

Uninstall, uninstall, install.  Uninstall, install.  Cuss.  Reboot.


Cup of coffee.

Install.  Cuss some more.

Close out a bunch of pages that showed up like telemarketers gang tackling a lottery winner.

DANG!  I never saw that page before.  Cancel alignment.

Pages start spewing out.  Quickly look at print queue.  Kubota had loaded 21(!) copies of a Craigslist snowmobile into the queue of a printer we no longer had.  They were starting to print out on the new printer.  The copy ate two pages because it printed out a map.

ACK!  Kill the queue!  I only have enough color ink for about 45 pages.

I can feel myself breaking out into a rash.  Kubota chose the 1950 "Snow Bowl" between University of Michigan and Ohio State as the topic of his Weather Disaster Project.

All the photos were black and white.  Even if they were color, snow is....white.

So the color was used to print out school logos.

It hurt this MSU Spartan to spend money, to buy a color printer...just to print out their logos.

Saturday, October 26, 2013


Pain while exercising is a barking dog.  Some dogs bark to say "Hello!"  Other dogs bark to tell you they are going to bite.  The only way to learn which dog is barking is to spend enough time around them.

Choose exercises that allow you to focus on your discomfort.  Savor your discomfort.  Chose an exercise that allows you to sneak up to the edge of discomfort and to slowly lean into it. 

We have different pain thresholds.  My oldest daughter ran cross-country in high school.  At that time she did not have a lithe, long-distance runner's build (she does now).  She leaned hard into her pain threshold when competing.  It showed on her face.  Other girls were lean, whippy, willow withes who glided across the ground with no apparent effort.  To my daughter's credit, she crossed the finish line ahead of many of those beautiful runners.

It is not good to work that hard every time you exercise.  You will get hurt.  But at least once every exercise session I like to slowly lean in and pet the barking dog.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Common Core

I am 95% for it.

If you have been tracking "Common Core" it is an attempt to standardize what is taught at each grade level.

I have seen a lot of froth and energy trashing Common Core on the forums I haunt.  Here is an example.

Link to video. 

I think this lady was guilty of having her mouth run ahead of her brain.  I do it all the time.  That is one reason why I like typing.  (I am a slow typist and I am still guilty of running ahead of my brain)

Here are the actual Third Grade Common Core standards for mathematical operations.  You can look it up,  Link

Fluently multiply and divide within 100, using strategies such as the relationship between multiplication and division (e.g., knowing that 8 × 5 = 40, one knows 40 ÷ 5 = 8) or properties of operations. By the end of Grade 3, know from memory all products of two one-digit numbers.   (emphasis mine)

You have to understand that I came from an assembly line environment.  We made trucks.  Each "team" was responsible for certain tasks.  The work was standardized so it was done in a certain order because the build is layered.  You cannot install the seats before you install the carpet, for instance.

Common Core is an attempt to layer "learning" in a rational and developmentally appropriate way.  It is an attempt to fairly divvy out the content on a grade-by-grade basis, with an eye toward what most kids of a given age can wrap their minds around.


The other source of ire seems to be all the social crap that is being marketed as "Common Core".

The education industry runs on fads.  The hot buzz-words change every three years but vendors and practitioners repackage their same, tired offerings as the latest thing.

It is as disingenuous as relabeling rayon reinforced bias ply tires as polymer reinforced radial tires.  And it is done all the time.

The human capacity to deceive is infinite.  And it starts with our ability to deceive ourselves.

Overheard at a party, "I knew I was a great reading teacher but really did not know why until Whole Language came along....and then I realized that I had been doing it before everybody else!"

Local Standards are Better

Well, maybe.

If a school district has found a better, more rational order to teach then they have a moral obligation to attempt to change the Common Core. 

Choosing to be different for a minute improvement or for reasons of ego have a hidden cost.

Costs of non-Common Core

Kids transfer schools all the time.

Families shred and custody changes.

The economy stinks and people move to find work or lose their house or cannot afford their rent.

Michigan offers schools-of-choice so kids can flee crappy school systems or individual administrators, teachers or fellow students who might have a vendetta.

Common Core improves the chances that the student will have smooth transitions to new schools.  There will be fewer, smaller gaps.  There will be less repetitions.

Another advantage of Common Core is that text books will be competing on a more level playing field.  Every third grade math book will cover the same basic material.  It will be possible to identify programs that out-perform their peers.  The competitors will either have to replicate the magic or concede the business.  It will be harder to hide under performance because there will be less smoke, dust and noise to hide beneath.

Common Core will hold Educators Accountable

You have met them if you had children.  The teachers who are Mr Spontaneous, Mz Cannotchange or Dr Snickersbar

Mr Spontaneous sees a gum wrapper blowing along the ground and has the kids to a two week diorama on weather.  Then he sees a butterfly and they raise butterflies for a month....

Mz Cannotchange plants bean seeds in Dixie cups every year.  It may have nothing to do with 4th grade science but it is cheap, she already has the lesson plan written and it gives her brain a week of vacation.

Dr Snickersbar believes that each child will be a heat-seeking missile that will seek out the learning most crucial to their growth.  The dietary equivalent of this thinking is to allow children to choose their own diet.  There is a wealth of ideology that tells us that children will usually choose green beans over snickers bars because their bodies know what is good for them.

Common Core will float these bad habits into the light of day and they will change.

Local Scandal (photos)

This is a follow-up post to "Beauty is Where You Find it".

I thought of her as a soulless object when I first saw her. All I could see was a naked hard-body. (October 16)
The artists at 814 North East Street continued to develop their inner Dali.

She gained a head as I got to know her better.  But old habits die hard and she continued to pose nude in public (October 22)

Close up of head and crown

Finally, the neighbors noticed and shared expressions of shock and outrage.  (October 23)
According to Ace R. Saccarum, a neighbor who lives just south of the girl, they were shocked and outraged to learn that somebody was peddling ash in their neighborhood.  "$40 a face cord is only forty cents a piece....that will disrupt the economy."
Conflict was averted when the girl's eyes were opened and she covered up.  (October 24)

Pink-out Day at School

Today is "Pink-out Day" at the local school.

I am proud to say that both kids got into the spirit of the day.  Neither kid pulled the "I'm too cool." card.

It helped that one can find camo and Duck Dynasty clothing in pink.

Pink hat.

Pink sunglasses.

Pink Real Tree tee shirt.

Hot Pink socks.

Pink cape (air mattress).

And that was Kubota!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Wardrobe Upgrades


The day time highs are consistently below fifty degrees Fahrenheit.  That is often coupled with a stiff breeze.  Consequently I have had to upgrade my wardrobe for running.

Windbreaker pants on top.  Gray microfleece on left, windbreaker on right

I was not able to find my windbreaker pants so I had to buy a new pair.  That set me back about $20.   One thing that baffles me is the proliferation of "soft" porous sweatpants type windbreakers.  To each their own.  The tightly woven material works for me.

I also added a quarter zip polyester microfleece.  It was $5 on clearance at a big-box store about four years ago.  I like quarter zip pull overs because they are almost immune to broken zippers, popped buttons and other common wear-and-tear.

My final addition is a single layer, tightly woven windbreaker jacket.

One constraint that a runner has in layering up clothes is dealing with take-offs.  Both the microfleece and the windbreaker have long sleeves and the material is thin enough (and so is my waist ;-) ) that I can knot them around my mid-section on the run.  I can also un-knot them on the run.

Black Walnuts

Heads up for the squeamish.  It is black walnut season and my fingernails are gross. 

Twenty Seven Years Ago Today

Twenty seven years ago today I proposed to the wise and beautiful Mrs ERJ-to-be.

I prepared dinner.  I had the last rose of the season in a vase on the table (I think it was a Fragrant Cloud tearose).  After eating she asked if I had plans for the rest of the evening.

Now, I am the kind of guy who likes to plan ahead and prepare for contingencies.  So I suggested that we might, maybe go someplace that sold rings.  The picture in my head was to sort of feel her out to see what kind of rings she liked and maybe get her ring size.

WELL! I was quickly informed that I had the order wrong.  Never one to let a "wrong" fester, I corrected the problem.


I started a new medication Saturday.  It makes me drowsy, dizzy and crampy.  Other than that it seems to be doing a great job.  One upside is that I am not eating much.  I expect to lose some serious weight by next weigh-in.

I share this as an apology for the shorter posts I have been making.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Body Language

You can pick up a lot based on posture, how people move and how people hold themselves relative to others.  In fact, dogs seem to be much more attuned to posture and gait than to face and expressions.

These two girls were almost skipping.  They were clearly with the old man and projected an aura of contentment.

Starting across M-99.  Girls carrying large soft drinks.
Yup, they are together.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Garrett Marshall, Phone Home

I continue to be amazed at how intricately precise the coming-and-goings are in this small town.  I see the same people at the gym and am getting to know a little bit about them.
Robert Heinlein once wrote, "All girls are 16 years old at heart, and all men are 10."  

One of the huge bonuses of being over fifty is that I can flirt.  The young, pretty girls don't take me seriously.  I am old enough not to take myself too seriously.  And the older, pretty girls mostly enjoy the attention.

One of my favorite 16 year olds has about 64 years of practice at the position.  I see her a couple of times a week while she is doing physical therapy and is working on mobility and balance.

She did not look her usual, peppy self this afternoon and I asked her how she was doing.

She replied, "About as well as can be expected."  But did not sound all that well.

A couple of questions revealed that her grandson is going to college in Houghton, Michigan and has not been seen or heard in over seven days.  She is worried.  Her daughter is worried.  They just want to know he is safe.

Houghton, Michigan is WAY up north

So Garrett, do us all a favor and phone home.  Just let them know you are OK.  If that is too hard, then text a mutual acquaintance and put your family's hearts at ease.  Let them know if you have three hots, a roof and a cot.

Three Man Tents

Kubota had a plan.  He and his buddy were going to camp out this past weekend.

The plan morphed from "Out yonder, under the Norway Spruce." to "In the back yard....after we watch a couple of scary movies."  They even set up the tent and put the sleeping bags in it.

"No problem, boys.  But if either of you comes in before sun-up, I am taking your buddy home.

The buddy decided to not stay the night.

Then it rained.

Then I saw they left the flap open and had pitched it so the opening was to the southwest.

Disaster was averted because the wind was not very strong while it was raining and the tent is a Coleman Sundome tent (10' by 10').  Coleman Sundome tents have flies that project farther out from the tent than most other tents.  The bags were a little damp but not soaked.

Two more days of rain followed. 

This morning we had a brief window of sun coupled with brisk winds.  The tent was dry enough to take down and store.

I figured out the that reason they are called three man tents is because that is how many men are required to stuff them back into the undersized bag they are stored in.

Either three men, or one woman who wears skinny jeans.

Unfortunately, the beautiful Mrs ERJ was at work.  I did the best I could.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Korean Cuisine

I ran into a Korean gentleman in town the other week.  He agreed to take some Asian pears and Daikon radish off my hands.

Bag of Chojuro and bag of Olimpic pears.  Radishes in front. 
I hope the radish makes good kimchi.  I have about 200 more pounds if he wants them.  These are a Japanese strain of radish.  The Korean strains tends to be shorter and fatter.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Cooper Institute Physical Fitness Norms

I used to work with a gentleman named Mark.  Mark was approximately 50 years old.

Mark is a physical fitness fanatic.  He served in the mid-East twice in the last decade or so.

I once asked him how many push-ups he could do.

He said, "90."

I told him that he was way "off chart" for his age group.

Part of DA Form 705

He replied that he does not pay much attention to charts or age groups.  He said that he had been in several "situations" and nobody had ever stopped the action to ask him how old he was.

That is a healthy attitude.

Sunday Weigh-in

Not where I want to be, but much better than gaining one pound a week.


I once had a boss named Gary.  Gary was a vacuum cleaner around donuts and any other kind of sweet.

His doctor diagnosed him as diabetic and told him some things had to change.  I think he would have preferred to die young and happy but his wife got a vote.  He started eating rabbit food and exercising.

Gary enlisted the aid of some of the work people closest to him.  Most of these guy were tool makers and die makers...guys who think best with their hands.  They religiously went to the gym where they lifted, hit the tread mill, the eliptical and so on.

Just as religiously they would cut an inch off the end of Gary's belt every three weeks and punch a new hole while he was in the shower.  Gary had to buy two new belts before he figured it out.

Boy, was he pissed!  Pissed as his waist size "grew".  Pissed when he found out what his buddies had been doing.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Beeman Sportsman RS2

I decided that I needed a better pellet gun than my Crossman 2100.  The Crossman is OK, but it is loud to pump up, the trigger is as smooth as dragging a chunk of cordwood across a freshly chisel-plowed field.

Amazon has the Beeman RS2 on sale for about $100 delivered to my door step.  It was four-of-five star rated.

Trigger time

My goal was to get some inexpensive, casual trigger time.

These newer pellet guns are not toys.  They have enough penetration to kill a person as one yahoo in Ovid, Michigan demonstrated.  Link*.  The upside is that those .177 pellets slow down very quickly.  My property line is 400 yards down-range.  That is nothing to a 40 grain .22LR but a mighty long hike for an 8 grain .177 pellet.

Shooting this gun has been a humbling experience.

"Springer" air guns tend to be "hold sensitive".  When you shoot a modern firearm the mass of the moving parts (firing pin and possibly hammer) is small and the lock time is fast.  When you shoot a springer the mass of the moving parts is large and the lock time is slow.  The preferred solution is to hold the gun in exactly the same way each time and to hold it as loosely as possible! 

That "loosely" part is not advice I had ever heard before.  Typically, one is advised to hold firearms firmly but not in a death grip.  The point with high powered firearms is to roll with the recoil rather than let the stock build up velocity before slamming into your shoulder.

The trigger is very long and is not "two stage", which is what the "2" in RS2 signifies.  Pull weight is adjustable, which I just did.

I will post a picture of some groups once I get this gun figured out.  One of the articles I found suggests that an airgun requires between one and four thousand shots to break in.  My thoughts are that it might take me that long to start shooting it well.  The upside is that one thousand pellets costs less than Friday night pizza.

* The story is that both gentlemen may have been enjoying undocumented, recreational substances.  The shooter shot the dead man in the back, through a tee-shirt.  The pellet interrupted the hydraulic integrity of the dead man's aorta.  The dead man had no external bleeding.

The shooter called 9-1-1 but neglected to mention that he had just shot his friend for funsies.  EMTs assumed an adverse reaction to the undocumented, recreational substances.

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Cost of Running an Empire

One of the sad legacies of both the Roman and the British Empires is the inter-racial and iter-religious strife they left behind.

It is no secret that one can manipulate very large objects if they are balanced on a principle axis.  Many pictures of rocks here.  It is the same with an empire.

The game plan

One way to control a sub-continent with a very small contingent of men is to harvest the sinews of war from the subdued lands and peoples.

  • The Sikh policed the Muslims.
  • The Muslim policed the Hindus.
  • The Hindus policed the Sikh.

Any pre-existing animosities were carefully fanned, like ropes being tensioned to support a tower, to bring the masses into balance.

The over-lords never feared that the police would be too gentle, never feared that the troops would look out over the mob and see their uncle Dilip, or Achmed, or Sandeep, never feared that the troops would ever hesitate to pull the trigger or butt-stroke a protestor.


The technology brought into play by the Romans and the British was solid, but never two quantum leaps ahead of the local technology.  One man cannot rule ten-thousand without the buy-in of some of the ruled.

The magazine of a SMLE .303 holds 10 rounds.  One might be able to use the bayonet and butt to subdue another 20.  But then the carrier would be buried.

The coin of the buy-in was fear.  It was the absolute certainty in the mob that the carrier of the weapon would harvest his 30 before being overwhelmed.  There was NO chance that the carrier would willingly surrender his weapon, all bullets fully intact, over to the mob.

The Cost

The cost of the strategy, as elegant as it was from one perspective, was the animus  deeply embedded in the cultures of the subjugated peoples.

The Muslim may not have cared for the Hindu before the conquest.  Afterward they held a deep and enthusiastic loathing based on memories of Achmed being bayonetted in the streets.  These are the peoples who savor and cultivated 400 year old feuds in the Balkans.

The Hindu hate the Sikh and Muslim.  The Hindu have the cultural cajones to starve to death rather than eat the animal that will plow their rice paddies when the monsoon returns.  They have the strength of culture to maintain that taboo through one hundred good years, through 4 generations...until the next drought comes.  It is likely that their hate, loathing and anger can also survive as many generations unabated.

Sikh hate the Muslim and Hindu.

The etc. minorities ended up roadkill.

The American Empire

It begs the question:  Why are the forces in power actively choosing to embrace this trajectory?

Are we being "groomed" to devolve from a Republic to a subjugated people?

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Limits to Central Planning, Paralysis

This essay is based on a couple of conversations I had with Mark Nissen many years ago.

All errors are mine and Mark cannot be held responsible for any of my errors.


Imagine the purchasing department for a huge organization.  It buys huge quantities of toilet paper, paint, socks, electrical wall name it.

The dollar amount of nearly every purchase is over one million dollars.  Further, imagine that the organization's process is to have 4 signatures on all purchase requests over one million dollars.  Each signature represented a level in the org chart.
  • A grunt would prepare the purchase request. 
  • A first level supervisor would review and approve if acceptable
  • A second level supervisor would provide oversight, review both the purchase request and the performance of the first level supervisor
  • Ditto for third level supervisor
  • Ditto for the fourth level supervisor who had +$1M approval authority

The problem was that the purchasing department could not buy items fast enough.  You think you have stress when you run out of your kid's favorite cereal, try running out of toilet paper on a cruise ship in the middle of the Indian Ocean.

The initial analysis of the issue quickly homed in on the number of signatures required.  Think of each supervisor as a filter.  If each filter bounces 30% of the purchase requests, then the process efficiency is 0.7*0.7*0.7*0.7 or approximately 25%.  Each time the grunt launches a request into the approval system, there is only a 25% chance that it will get through without it being bounced back.

Worse yet, the bounced paperwork stacked up in the grunt's in-basket.  The stack grew larger.  Each piece of paperwork grew more stale.  And as the paperwork grew stale the number of details that might need refreshing also grew.

Organizational resistance

The organization reviewed the assessment and initially rejected it.

A few of the grunts and first level supervisors thought it had the look, feel, smell and taste of the truth.  So they quietly started collecting data.  They quickly determined that the situation was worse than originally assumed.  Most "approvers" auto-calibrated to a 50% approval rating.  That meant that only one purchase request in sixteen made it out the end of the pipe-line and was let for bid.

The auto-calibration at 50% should not be a surprise.  Tversky, Kahneman and others demonstrated that humans are reasonably well calibrated at 50%.  Get much off top-dead-center and our human brain (a computer with very limited digital processing capability) starts to transmit highly erroneous conclusions.

Posed another way:  An approver is expendable if they approve everything.  They justify their existence by bouncing proposals.  That is how they "add value".  They prevent risky actions by vetoing them.  Showing too high of an approval rate and you might get repurposed into a job with more stress and more job content.

The solution

The solution, in this case, was to define certain (most) types of buys as commodities.  Toilet paper and paint are low risk buys as long as they conform to established commercial standards.  Guard rails were put in place where large price jumps or no-bids might trigger higher level oversight.

Motivation (sidebar)

The most popular reprint in the history of Harvard Business Review was written by Frederick Herzburg (in 1969) and it involved motivation.  One of Herzburg's examples involves a department that answered customer complaint letters.  Clerks wrote the responses and supervisors edited them with their red pens.

Productivity was very low.

The solution, according to Herzburg, was to make the clerk's responsible for their own quality.  The (a) supervisor might audit the clerk's quality on a random basis.  The thinking was that a clerk who was incapable of writing an acceptable letter would be moved out of that department.

Productivity and moral soared.

Allocative Efficiency

Allocative Efficiency is one of the hallmarks of Capitalism.

Allocative Inefficiency is one of the hallmarks of centralized systems.

There are countless stories of collective farms in the U.S.S.R. that had oil filters but no engine oil for their tractors.  Other farms, 60km away might have oil but no oil filters.  Another farm might lack air filters but have plenty of oil and oil filters.

Planting season in northern climes like the USSR is short and there is little time to waste.

The tragedy is that the miss-shipments could have been easily remedied.  All it would take is a small truck, 20 gallons of fuel and "a market".

"A Market" is a venue where information regarding relative needs and surplusses can be hashed out.

Central Planning abhors markets because it threatens their existence.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Limits to Central Planning, Fear

This may appear convoluted and very back-door.  I beg your patience to let me develop a point.

W. Edward Deming

W. Edward Deming is likely the one person most responsible for the modern Quality movement.

His agenda was a 14 point plan.  Point number eight is:
"Drive out fear"
Poor quality is waste.  Poor quality squanders vast amounts of resources.  Poor quality misallocates man-hours, raw materials, tool wear, absorbs resources for intervention and remediation....resources that can never be fully recovered.

A quality control system is really an information flow system.  Deviations from standard are identified, whether in the product or in the process.  Actions are taken based on that information.

Filtering or 'conditioning' the data almost always involves the destruction of some information that is embedded in that data.

Fear results in extreme filtering of data.  Waste, suffering, even death follow.

History is more eloquent than I will ever be.


Lysenkoism (Russian: Лысе́нковщина), or Lysenko-Michurinism was the centralized political control exercised over genetics and agriculture by Trofim Lysenko and his followers. Lysenko was the director of the Soviet Union's Lenin All-Union Academy of Agricultural Sciences. Lysenkoism began in the late 1920s and formally ended in 1964.
Lysenkoism was built on theories of the heritability of acquired characteristics that Lysenko named "Michurinism".[1] These theories depart from accepted evolutionary theory and Mendelian inheritance.
Lysenkoism is used metaphorically to describe the manipulation or distortion of the scientific process as a way to reach a predetermined conclusion as dictated by an ideological bias, often related to social or political objectives.
Many of Lysenkoism's opponents, such as his former mentor Nikolai Ivanovich Vavilov, were imprisoned or even executed...

Great Chinese Famine

 ...As local officials in the countryside competed to over-report the levels of production that their communes had achieved in response to the new economic organisation, local peasants were left with a vastly decreased surplus in order to meet their quotas, and then no surplus at all. When they eventually failed to produce enough crops even to meet the quotas to feed the cities, peasant farmers were unfairly accused of hoarding, profiteering and other counter-revolutionary activities by Chinese Communist Party officials, who cited the massively inflated production estimates of the local party leaders as evidence.
Local party leaders, for their part, conspired to cover up shortfalls and reassign blame in order to protect their own lives and positions. In one famous example, Mao Zedong was scheduled to tour a local agricultural commune in Shaanxi province during the heart of the famine in order to assess the conditions for himself; in preparation for his visit, local party officials ordered hundreds of starving peasants to carefully uproot and transplant hundreds of thousands of grain stalks by hand from nearby farms into one "model field", which was then shown to Mao as proof that the crops had not failed. In a similar manner to the massive Soviet-created famine in Ukraine (the Holodomor), doctors were prohibited from listing "starvation" as a cause of death on death certificates. This kind of deception was far from uncommon; a famous propaganda picture from the famine shows Chinese children from Shandong province ostensibly standing atop a field of wheat, so densely grown that it could apparently support their weight. In reality, they were standing on a bench concealed beneath the plants, and the "field" was again entirely composed of individually transplanted stalks.

Siege of Leningrad

  • July 17: Food rationing begins in Leningrad and suburbs.
  • July 19–23: First attack on Leningrad by Army Group North is stopped 100 km south of the city.
  • October: Food shortages cause serious starvation of civilians. Civilian deaths exceed hundreds of thousands by the end of the Autumn.
The reason food rationing started before the actual battle is because the city manager turned away train loads of supplies even after the siege was clearly imminent.  He was fearful that Stalin would accuse him of mismanagement and have him executed.  Consequently, civilians were dying of starvation before winter set in.

 1.2 million civilians perished in the city. After the war, The Soviet government reported about 670,000 registered deaths from 1941 to January 1944, explained as resulting mostly from starvation, stress and exposure. Some independent studies suggest a much higher death toll of between 700,000 and 1.5 million, with most estimates putting civilian losses at around 1.1 to 1.3 million.
Civilians in the city suffered from extreme starvation, especially in the winter of 1941–1942. For example, from November 1941 to February 1942 the only food available to the citizen was 125 grams of bread, of which 50–60% consisted of sawdust and other inedible admixtures, and distributed through ration cards. For about two weeks at the beginning of January 1942, even this food was available only for workers and military personnel. In conditions of extreme temperatures (down to −30 °C (−22 °F)) and city transport being out of service, even a distance of a few kilometers to a food distributing kiosk created an insurmountable obstacle for many citizens. In January–February 1942, about 700–1,000[citation needed] citizens died every day, most of them from hunger. People often died on the streets, and citizens soon became accustomed to the sight of death.
Reports of cannibalism appeared in the winter of 1941–1942, after all birds, rats, and pets had been eaten by survivors.[52] Hungry gangs attacked and ate people.[53] Leningrad police even formed a special unit to combat cannibalism.

Beauty is Everywhere...if you look for it

Seen while running.  Some of the locals channeling their inner Picasso or Dali.  Sound track below.

Some Limits to Central Planning

This may end up being a series of blog posts.

Central Planning has some dismal failures in its history.  It is instructive to examine the roots of those failures.

The Project Management Triangle

The Project Management Triangle is a conceptual tool used to teach students dual concepts
  • There is no free lunch
  • You do have some freedom to make trade-offs.

The three corners of the triangle are Cost, Timing and Deliverables.

Simply stated, you can save some Cost if you take more Time or if you water down the Deliverables.

You can do things faster if you are allowed to burn more money (Cost) or water down the Deliverables.

You can absorb a change to the Deliverables at the expense of increased Cost and/or increased Time.

The Project Management Pyramid


In the real world the student learns that the triangle is not flat.  Rather, there is a third dimension that co-joins the other three corners.


Risk is difficult to visualize and difficult to quantify.  Risk is a fart in an elevator.  You might get away with it.  The door might open and you leave before the stench reaches nose level.  It might be small enough that it is not noticed or the other passengers might be too distracted or too insensitive to notice.  Key Point:  If enough people fart in the elevator it will get noticed.


You might be under pressure to reduce cost without impacting timing and deliverables.

You do some homework and find a supplier who wants to "buy the business."  Often, he is a new supplier who has no experience in the business and is trying to break into it.  Therefore, you are buying a huge learning curve and a price that is based on guesses and speculation.

Sometimes, the supplier has over-extended fixed cost base and is just trying to keep a factory or division running a little bit longer.  In that case you are farming out work to dead-men-walking and equipment that is being run into the ground.

Both of these scenarios can nuke your Timing and Deliverables (and even your Cost).

But you can make it work on paper.

You improved Cost, a hard metric, at the cost of Risk, a soft metric.


Ownership is one of the factors that mitigate against willy-nilly flight to risk.

You might accept generic triple antibiotic instead of Neosporin (a brand named product) to dress a cut on your arm.  But you will not knowingly accept ear wax or brown grease because it is your arm.

The Central Planner lives in an office.  The ointment is not being applied to his arm.  His quality of life is dictated by the Planner above him.  Look good and life is good.  Look bad and you make your boss look bad....well, you don't want to think about that.

Risk Limit to Central Planning

One major shortcoming of Central Planning is the loss of risk mitigation due to lack of ownership.

Returning to our elevator:
The low level Central Planner may ride the same elevator we do, but he is wearing a gas mask.
The mid level Central Planner wears a Self Contained Breathing Apparatus. 
The high level Central Planner has a private elevator.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Spousal Work Frustration

One of the unavoidable stresses that occurs when one partner retires and the other continues to work is that the working spouse more fully savors the bitter agony of work frustrations.

Mrs ERJ's boss told her to hand in her computer for up-grades.  It came back with the wrong power cord.

This is a peak work load time for her.  It was faster to do work-arounds than to try and find the tech guy and get the right cord.

She is scheduled for some Special High-Intensity Training on Friday.  She borrowed co-workers cord and finally lit up her computer two weeks after it came back.

Except it was not her old computer.  It was a computer with an operating system.  Period.

Mrs ERJ chased down the boss at lunch and told her, "I have a problem."

The boss loaded four basic programs on the computer, and condescendingly said, "I don't want to overwhelm you."


My wife is not the moron who vaporized all the programs that were installed and/or mixed up the computers.

My wife is not the optimist who supplied the wrong power cord and failed to stock any replacements.

To a retired guy, a software problem is when your socks don't match.  Which, I hasten to add,  is currently very fashionable.

She did not think it was very funny. 

Seeds and Disappointments

I had high ambition regarding planting seeds this year.

I hope to have another 35 good years left in me.  I can still plant fruit and nut seeds and have a reasonable expectation of seeing them bear fruit or nuts.

The plans for plums were a bust.  I tasted countless wild plums and the local talent pool is pretty darned shallow.

I had two hazelnut bushes all staked out.  One is a wild hazelnut.  The other is in Mr Roger Miller's orchard.  Roger had over 165 hazelnut bushes and the blight leveled all but six or seven of them.  Sadly, the blue jays and squirrels were more on the ball than I was.  Both bushes were picked clean.

I also had grand plans to plant some blackberry seeds.  I have some bushes of Illini Hardy (thorny) blackberry planted next to some bushes of Triple Crown (thornless).  Illini Hardy has a thornless parent so there are pretty good odds that any crosses between the two will be thornless.  Alas, I ate the blackberries and never put some aside for planting.

I was successful in planting apples and pears.  Time will tell how many seedlings I get out of the venture.

One surprise success was air-layering mulberries.  I have a few trees of Illinois Everbearing Mulberry.  IEM is the gold standard for mulberries.  It produces large numbers of BIG, good tasting mulberries over a long season.  It is not perfect, but it is the best I have.

The winning protocol was to scrape the bark down to wood on opposite sides of the new growth. The wounded area ended up being about two inches long.  I did that in mid-June when the shoots were between a quarter inch and three-eights inch diameter.  Soak some cotton balls in 4000 ppm Indole Butyric Acid (aka, IBA, not to be confused with IPA, India Pale Ale) and drench the scraped surfaces.  Put a handful of damp potting soil in an eight inch square of aluminum foil and wrap around the wound.  Tie off the downhill side of the doobie with some twine to keep it from spilling out.

Mother tree.  Topped out due to power line.  Note that lower branches hang downward like weeping willow.

Note that aluminum foil burrito is tied at the bottom.  Enough moisture seems to run down the stem to keep the potting soil least moist enough

This is one of the better ones

Pictures will be uploaded sometime in the near future.

Academic Papers

I am looking for an electronic copy of the following academic paper:
Bazerman, M.H. and Neale, M.A. (1983), Heuristics in negotiation: Limitations to effective dispute resolution

As a working guy, I had access to many journals and academic papers through the company I worked for.  I no longer have that and I miss it.

My hope is that somebody in my vast reader audience can point me in the right direction.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Limits to Charity

Unless you were living under a rock, you know that the EBT (food stamp) card system had a glitch this week.  A huge amount of energy was expended by the people who were not able to pay for their groceries.  Claims of genocide and racism were bandied about.

This seems to be a good time to take a look at what might be the limits to charity.

My reading of the Bible suggests that those limits are a day-by-day thing.

The Old Testament is pretty clear that the receiver of the charity is NOT supposed to take more than his immediate need.  The New Testament suggests that it is permissible for the receiver to have enough to make it until sunset.

This makes sense in an economy where spoilage is a concern and where much of the economy was "day labor".  One's fortune could easily pivot on a day's events.

New Testament

Give us today our daily bread;  Matt 6:11
Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil.  Matt 6:34

Old Testament, responsibilities of the receiver

When you go through your neighbor’s vineyard, you may eat as many grapes as you wish, until you are satisfied, but do not put them in your basket.
When you go through your neighbor’s grainfield, you may pluck some of the ears with your hand, but do not put a sickle to your neighbor’s grain.  Deut 23:25-26

Old Testament, responsibilities of the giver

(As a land-owner) When you knock down the fruit of your olive trees, you shall not go over the branches a second time; let what remains be for the alien, the orphan and the widow.

When you pick your grapes, you shall not go over the vineyard a second time; let what remains be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow.  Deut 24:20-21

I see wisdom in holding people's feet to the fire.  There are no guarantees regarding tomorrow.  I see that people become stuck in adolescence when they know their needs will always be met with no reciprocal obligation on their part.

And as a parting thought, the Bible has something to say about infrastructure.

When you are at war with a city and have to lay siege to it for a long time before you capture it, you shall not destroy its trees by putting an ax to them. You may eat of them, but you must not cut them down. Are the trees of the field human beings, that they should be included in your siege?
However, those trees which you know are not fruit trees you may destroy. You may cut them down to build siegeworks against the city that is waging war with you, until it falls.  Deut 20:19-20
That is, even in the passion of battle, do not destroy the foundations of production that will take years, decades, even centuries to regenerate.

Can the parallel culture and economy of Multigenerational Welfare be anything other than the destruction of the modern economy's foundation?

Return to Sender

From the internet

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The World of "Is"

I was just helping Belladonna with her Physics homework.

At one point, she lamented the need to keep denominator and numerators straight.  She ended up with a speed of light Something*e-09.

I told her it mattered.  I showed her the utility of using algebra to manipulate the symbols and holding off on calculating as the final step.  It is much easier to find your boo-boos because numbers are anonymous.

Belladonna said, "It should not matter."

That is when I shared a hoary bit of Dadly wisdom:

Crazy people live in the world of 'Should'.  

Sane people live in the world of 'Is'.

I told her I would write it down for future reference.

Grumpy People

We seem to have a bad case of the Grumpies today.

Likely it is because we are all tired.

Like many families, we recover on the weekend.  We have "down time", we do laundry and other necessary chores.

We had house guests for the last two weekends.  The wear shows.  It goes past the wear-bars.  You can see the steel belts.

It is the little stuff in life that grinds us down.

Mrs ERJ purchased some fancy, frozen sausage sandwiches for Sunday breakfast.  They did not make it to Sunday.

Mrs ERJ's boss provided Mrs ERJ a ream of stickers to print on.  The boss did not bother to tell her where the template for those stickers was, so Mrs ERJ needlessly burned up hours of time figuring out how to format to the stickers.

Belladonna went to a birthday party for one of her friends' mom last night.


We are snapping at each other for dumb stuff.

Mrs ERJ bought smaller burrito wraps for breakfast burritos than I usually do.  We had a heartfelt discussion about it.

I like the bigger wraps because I have bigger hands and I hate taking lots of time making sure each burrito has a reasonably even mix of sausage pieces, eggs, cheese (and chopped pepper and onion for the adult ones).

She likes the smaller ones because she feels bad about throwing away food and she is a light eater and typically adds an apple and maybe a bagel to the burrito for her breakfast.

Her suggested solution was to chop everything more finely.

I ended up leaving out the sausage and chopped veggies so they are just eggs and cheese.  Mrs ERJ ended up assembling the micro-burritos.

We both had reasons for our preferences and ended up in a good place. 

What a dumb thing to get energized about.....the size of burrito wraps.

But that is the kind of weekend it has been.


Saturday, October 12, 2013

River Rats

What a difference a few months makes.

Our first river run was a near disaster.  Too long.  Too hot.  Too buggy.  Too little fun.

We made our second run today, October 12.  Temperature of about 75 F.  Almost no bugs.  Kubota had his friend Will.  They both agreed to wear hats.

From behind the Quality Dairy in Eaton Rapids to Bunker Road boat launch.  That is about 2.5 miles by surface road.

We enjoyed tail winds and strong current the entire way.  It took us about 100 minutes.

Nobody crapped out in the Petrieville rapids.

Fall color was good for the river.

Most of the trees along the river are Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum) which has feeble fall color at best.  We have had such a bright, sunshiny fall that even the Silver Maple is putting on a show.


Kubota and two of his buddies are going to their first coed bonfire.  The house is pungent with the odors of Polo (tangerine) and Axe (middle school locker room).  Mrs ERJ will find and shake hands with the parents before she drives off.  She will pick them up about 90 minutes after it gets dark.  That is long enough.

Diversions like kayaking tend to improve in the telling.  Kubota may end up liking this experience after he has a little time to reflect....and brag.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Light Bulbs, Batteries, Zippers and Toilet Seats

Much of the first few months of retirement involved beating back the forces of chaos, entropy and decay.

A new, $5 cell phone battery is better than getting locked into another two years of cell phone service.

6500K compact florescent lights beat back depression and save a few $ in utility costs.

Parka zippers, two-for-five dollars from Amazon or a new $65 work coat?  No contest.

Like a shot of grease in every zerk, a small investment of time and effort can forestall large cash outlays.  

MM111 apples (some pictures added)

Today was  a day with many pieces.

As noted in an earlier post, I red-tagged many trees in my Dad's orchard for removal or grafting over to more desirable varieties.  One of those trees is a rootstock, MM111 that was allowed to size up and fruit.

At one time in my career I worked in a manufacturing plant in Flint, Michigan.  The supervisor of "Final Processes" was an old Greek guy.  He once told me that there are two kinds of horses:  Show horses and work horses.  And since it was crystal clear that I would never be a show horse, I had damn well better be a hard worker.

MM111 is a work horse.

Dry soil-damp soil, fertile soil-infertile soil, sand-clay, windy site-sheltered site....MM111 is a rootstock that does not care.  It makes apples.  It makes many apples.  It makes good sized apples that ripen well.

I wanted to fruit out an MM111 because I was curious about the fruit quality.  MM111 is three-quarters Northern Spy, an apple that contributed genes to many fine dessert and baking apples.

Two banana boxes of MM111 fruit.  There are two pawpaws in the box on the right.

So how is the fruit?

Well, it would be OK if it were the ONLY apple you could fruit.  Otherwise, it is deeply flawed.

It sized up OK (average diameter of two and a half inches).  Good aromatics.  Very tart.  I cannot tell if that is due to very low sugar or whether it is just an apple with very high acidity.  The apple also appears to spoil very quickly.

Note added Oct 19:  Soluble solids (mostly sugar) measured at 16.6% in one study. So it is high acidity/high sugar.

So I picked two banana boxes of fruit this morning and will plant them into the great 2014 experimental seedling plot.  Potential pollen parents include Liberty, Prima, Malus robusta, Melrose and Jonafree.  The worst thing that can happen is that I end up with a couple hundred seedling rootstock to graft over.  The best thing that can happen is that I find the next great apple rootstock that produces good fruit even if the scion variety fails.

Tool sale

I stopped at a tool sale on the way out to Dad's orchard.  I did not buy anything.

They also had a large motor/welder/generator set.


I went to a swim meet yesterday and sat beside two Montessori Kindergarten teachers.  "Why, yes, we would love to have some Pawpaws to share with our class."

A quick call to Roger Miller (517-663-8031) revealed that he still had over a hundred pounds still on his trees.  A quick trip out to his farm.  He declined payment (he is a very generous man).

The report I got back from the Montessori teachers is that all the kids were amazed and enchanted by the seeds (?!?), 80% of the kids loved the smell and 10% were dazzled by the taste.  They further reported that the soft texture and greenish-yellow skin color was a turn-off for most kids.  To the best of my knowledge they did not scientifically investigate the sound they make.  SPLAT!


Belladonna and one of her guy buddies wanted to study math during lunch time.  She asked me to cater in pizza.  I did.


I picked up a Mauser that had a rear aperture sight installed.  The open sight could not be lowered enough to fully clear the line of sight so I took it to Paul's Gun Shop to have the rear open sight removed.  For some reason the rear sight would not pop out after I removed the roll pin.  A range report will show up on this blog sometime in the near future.

Incidentally, there is a very fine gun store for sale in Charlotte, Michigan;  Paul's Gun Shop.  His inventory currently includes Brownings, Winchesters, Savages, Glocks, Springfields, Rugers and Colt 1911s.  He also has a goodly smattering of used firearms.  Call 517-543-3046 if you are interested.

Physical fitness

I picked up my gym buddy and we did our 40 minutes.  I ran the four mile in-town loop after dropping him off.

I dropped over two blocks to check on Urban Air.  I had been hearing rumors of wild sax in the streets and needed to check it out.

The rumors were correct


I picked up Kubota after school and we took a quick trip to Laingsburg to pick up one of his buddies.  It sucks when friends move.  Kubota's friend will spend the weekend with us as long as both he and Kubota behave.

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