Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Trinity

This is post #1000 and the last post of 2014.  I want this one to count.

The Trinity is a Christian "concept" that is difficult to explain to nonbelievers.  I once taught Sunday school to ninth graders.  It took a few tries before I came up with some ways that seemed to get traction with them.

Three persons, one does THAT work?

Architects render designs of houses, 3-D objects, into multiple 2-D drawings to clearly communicate their concepts to other people.

God is the infinite being.  Our minds are not capable of wrapping around "God".  God, understanding our limitations, gave us three persons the same way an architect gives buyers and builders multiple drawings.  The drawings cannot capture all of the detail of the house but they efficiently convey the essence of the building.

Houses, Part II

Most houses in North America have three entrances.

The front door typically opens into the formal living room.  It is where company enters the house.

God the Father has both masculine and feminine characteristics.
More than one young man is sure he met God the Father incarnate when coming to pick up the daughter-of-the-house for her first date.  Rules. Right and Wrong.  Unbending Consequences. 

But rules are not all negative.  If you cherish and protect the daughter-of-the-house with the same zeal that the Father does, then he will 'have your back' until the end of time.  Not a bad deal.

One of the doors typically leads into a kitchen-breakfast nook area.  This is the door that the kids go in-and-out of. It can usually be identified by a lingering odor of homemade, chocolate chip cookies.

Jesus is all about nourishing us.  Water into wine.  Breaking bread.  Sharing fishes.  Jesus is like Uncle Eugene who insists on cooking the spaghetti sauce and making the meatballs by hand.  And lest you think Uncle Eugene is a sissy, you only have to look at his hands, feet and side to realize he would take a bullet for you.  After all, he willingly took three nails and a spear.

The third door typically led down into the basement.  You will find the Holy Ghost close to this door.  He is the guy with worn leather work gloves tucked into the back pocket of his jeans and a yoyo in his belt.  The HG is the guy you call when you need to haul a dead hot water heater out of the basement or unload a couple of tons of coal.

The coolest thing about the HG is his truck.  It is a flatbed, Ford 350 with welding stuff on the back including the largest oxy-acetylene setup you can imagine.  He is the guy you call when you need broken things mended and frozen hearts melted.


It seems as if most people naturally gravitate more to one person of God than the others.  We visualize one of them as the target of our prayers far more than the others. That is not a big deal.

We are called to a banquet.  It is not critical which door we enter through.  It is only important that we come willingly and with peace in our hearts.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

What drives you?

I sent my pastor a link to an article on the web.  He sent me a return email with a few observations.

I suspect I am a bit of an enigma to him.  He is fairly new to our parish and is still sorting his way through his flock.

He straight up asked, "...what drives you?"

I admire his directness.

THE hiring interview question

"What drives you?" is the quintessential interview question.   It is open ended.  The interviewer learns much by how it is answered...or not answered.

About 65% of the interviewees will rattle off a list of the things that do not motivate them.  While that is easy for interviewee it never truly answers the question. 

Of the remaining 35%, two-thirds will be able to list some activities or incentives that motivate them but fail to tie them together with any kind of unifying theme.

About one-person-in-ten will be able to list three-to-five tasks that motivate them and then be able to use words to show how those tasks are separate manifestations of a single key that unlocks the interviewee's motivational energy.

I did not get the sense I was interviewing for a job but I did take the time to share how I perceive myself.

"What drives you?" is an outstanding question to start out the new year.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Running outside

With the exception of Wednesday, this week looks like a great week to be running outside.

Today was sunny with a high temp of 31 F.
Tomorrow is expected to have a high of 23 F.
Wednesday has an expected high of 19 F with 15 mph winds.
Thursday is back up to 28 F.
Friday is expected to hit 31 F.

I ran a trails today at McNamara/Rivers Bend/Burchfield park complex in Ingham County while the boys (Kubota and Redneck) rode mountain bikes.  I started with the usual running shoes and socks, warm-up pants, tee shirt, fleece and windbreaker and a baseball cap.  I also carried my fanny pack.  I did not carry a watch.  I am easing back into running and found that I listen to my body better when I am not wearing a wrist watch.  Crazy, eh?

I peeled off my windbreaker after about five minutes and tied the sleeves around my waist.  The fanny pack assists in keeping excess clothing that is carried this way from sliding off my waist.  I favor unlined windbreakers, shells really, as they are much handier for carrying in this fashion than fancier, lined jackets.  Unlined windbreakers were as common as houseflies when I was young but are now difficult to find.

After fifteen minutes I was sweating inside my fleece so I partially unzipped the fleece.  I think I have a clothing system that will allow me to run comfortably down to twenty degrees.


I was lamenting to Mrs ERJ that the weather rarely cooperates with my plans for running days and recovery days.

Women can be far more sensible than men.  She suggested that I run every day that was a "nice" day.  And if I was running multiple days in a row to simply slow down or ease back on the distance.

Duh!  I guess that wrist watch will stay in the drawer a while longer.

So what weather conditions make it a NOGO for running?

The very worst surface to run on.  Ice causes injuries.  Black ice is slippery.  Frozen slush turns ankles.  

I have two issues with wind:  I cannot hear traffic when road-running.  The other issue is that my usual runs involve a mix of wooded areas and open fields so the windchill varies radically and frequently.  That forces many adjustments to the layering.  At some point it because more work than fun.

Heavy rain
Rain and temps below 50 F are killers.  A light mist is fine except it messes up my glasses and decreases my ability to see.  I wear cotton undies and socks.  Everything else is synthetic and very tolerant of wetting.  This is the mid-West, after all.

Cold wet feet, slippery, dirty.  Shoes take forever to dry.  I can work around some muddy spots in the trail.  Deep muddy puddles that cause me to go bushwhacking through the briars suck.  Ironically, frozen mud is a great surface to run on.  Ice = bad.  Mud = bad.  Mud + Ice = Good.  Must be imaginary numbers in action.  Frozen mud can have a great deal of three-dimensionality.  It is can be surprisingly beautiful but is very difficult to photograph.  I expect that I will be running on frozen mud most of this week.

Unplowed snow
Unplowed or unpacked snow that is more than just a dusting is a NOGO.  Plowed and packed snow are good.  Packed snow that is polished by tires is bad (see notes on ice).  Polished snow that is sprinkled with grit is good (see notes on mud).

The Lieutenants by WEB Griffin

I ate too much last night.  It felt like I had swallowed a medicine ball.

One of the Christmas traditions from Mrs ERJ's side of the family is to make ham loaves.  She contends that ham loaves were a holiday staple in the deep south (DeQuincy, La) at the turn of the last century.

In the absence of artificial refrigeration, hams were preserved with salt, dehydration and smoke.  Country hams in-the-day were not soft, pink, succulent lumps of meat.  They were hunks of pork jerky that needed prolonged and multiple soakings to rehydrate and desalinate them to the point of edibility.

The holiday season marked a time when fresh pork was available and the need to rotate inventory strongly encouraged the usage of any hams from the year before.  Ham loaves fit the bill.  Grind up the reconstituted ham with enough fresh pork to make it stick together.  Spice with brown sugar, mustard and "secret family ingredients". 

Sugar, salt, fat, protein baked crispy.  These were potato chips before Frito-Lay incorporated.

Mrs ERJ quickly tired of hearing me moan-and-groan and flop like a beached whale (an extremely apt metaphor).  She suggested that I pick up a book to distract myself.

The Lieutenants by W.E.B. Griffin

One of the finest books ever written is the book The Lieutenants by W.E.B. Griffin

I like the richness of the characters and how the author meticulously interweaves their lives.

Picture from HERE

I like the life-lessons, that bad fortune often visits good people.  And that things will get better if one survives, stays honorable and keeps swimming in the best possible direction.

It has beautiful women, handsome men, romance, a little bit of whoopie, battles, luck (both good and bad) and fabulous wealth.

It has frumpy women, flawed men, betrayal, death and defecation, poverty the vicissitudes of war.

It speaks to the tension between administrators (who dominate during times of peace) and warrior-leaders (who must dominate during times of conflict). 

The economics of writing

One seldom stumbles across books like this due to the modern economics of writing.  The rich, interlocking characterizations take much time to plot.  It takes even more time to craft those characters using written words in a way that will project clear images into the reader's mind.

The Lieutenants is really three books that are layered together.  That is three times the number of words and ten times the complexity.  It is a compelling read.

I feel much better today.  Thank-you for asking.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Pensions Part II

Pensions Part I

It is fair to ask "How did the public pensions get into such bad shape?"

It was very simple.  Legislators chose to fund more immediate projects and consistently deferred funding pensions until some unspecified time in the future.

Life cycle costs

Mature people comprehend the concept of "life cycle costs."  One might look at purchasing a $26K  vehicle.  It may look like the budget can benchpress the monthly payment.  But then the adult will look at sales tax, insurance costs, registration costs, fuel and maintenance costs.  Only after investigating all of these less obvious costs will the prospective buyer have a grip on the actual sticker price he/she should be shopping.

This concept shows up in many other places.  I may have the hots for a new handgun.  Do I have room in the gun safe?  Is there room on my reloading bench?  Do I need to purchase different brass, powder, projectiles?   Will I be able to afford the time I will need to invest in practicing with that pistol so it is a seamless extension of my body such that I can operate it at an instinctive level.

At the governmental level

One of the banes of the British Nationalized medicine is private sector donations.  This is counterintuitive.  But consider a philanthropic foundation raising money for a new CAT scan or MRI machine.  People are partially motivated to donate because they believe there will be a tangible, durable monument to their generosity.

Owning and operating a piece of high-tech medical equipment creates many financial obligations on the downstream side of the purchase.  Staff must be hired.  Floor space dedicated.  Maintenance and consumables purchased.  Utilities paid for.  In a zero-sum environment those resources must be robbed from other missions.

The same thing happens on the statehouse floor.  Pension funding is robbed to pay for social missions that are more salient to the legislator's constituents.  The growth of those social missions inevitably result in more future demand on the pension....more social workers, more prison guards, more highway workers, more educators, more maintenance workers, more administrators.

Law makers are fooling themselves if they think it will be easier to fix pension funding in the future.  Their actions today (and in years past) guarantee that it will only get harder.

The Millionaire Next Door

Stanley and Danko, authors of The Millionaire Next Door devote a chapter to ensuring that one's wealth does not negatively impact future generations of one's family.  It is surprisingly easy to poison your legacy and end up with children and grandchildren languishing on "economic out-patient care".

They emphatically state that the worst thing a parent can do is to give (or loan) a child funds for a down payment in a neighborhood they could otherwise not afford.  If they cannot afford to save up a down payment, then they cannot afford to live in the neighborhood.  They will be that surfer who missed the crest of the wave and is frantically paddling to slowly slip behind.

So it is with funding more social programs by starving pension funding.  It is the first hit of crack cocaine.


That which cannot be sustained will not be sustained.

According the to the Daily Caller, Congress passed a law that provides a legal basis for cutting the pension benefits of workers who have already retired.

Under the law, “plans that estimate they won’t have enough money to pay 100 percent of benefits within 15 or 20 years can cut benefits,” but not for retirees who are 80 or older, or those who are on disability. Cuts would also be phased in gradually, so retirees between the ages of 75 and 79 would face smaller cuts than those under 75.

About five percent of the US population is over 80 years of age.  Half of that five percent will die within five years.  So any plans that "grandfather" people over 80 are of limited scope and rapidly extinguish due to mortality.

“Participants would have to be given the right to vote on cuts before the benefit reductions could be implemented,” claims the website Business Insurance, but “the U.S. Treasury Department could override the vote” if the plan in question is deemed “systemically important” to the health of the PBGC.

The article is guilty of a head-fake.  It implies that the legislation will primarily impact those pensions associated with mining, construction trades and some manufacturing sectors.

 Many public pension plans are seriously underfunded.

The Illinois state pension plan is only 39% funded.
Kentucky's is 44% funded.
Connecticut's is 49% funded.
Half of the states are below 70% funded.
Various municipal and "teacher" pensions are in equal or worse shape.

The tides effect all boats

Two factors make "catch-up" plans a losing proposition.

The Baby Boomers worked jobs that typically had defined benefits pensions. Those pension plan administrators were able to enforce savings because the workers never saw the money.  It was skimmed before it came close to payroll.  Much of those monies were invested in the stock market.   This resulted in a multi-decade rising tide for the stock market.

That trend is now going into reverse.  The Baby Boomers are retiring and the pension funds are tipping into a liquidation mode.  More sellers and fewer buyers means equity prices will go in the toilet.

The second factor is that few younger workers have the luxury of a defined benefit retirement plan.  For a thousand different reasons these younger workers are not directing money into the stock markets.  Again, fewer buyers.

Actuarial accountants formerly used 80% funding as a bellwether of pension health.  There are reasons why this number is way too accommodating.  One of the underlying assumptions was that there would be a steady stream of younger workers coming into the bottom of the plan thereby providing a continuous flow of money while "things were sorted out".  Those younger workers are now being diverted into defined contribution plans. 

Social Security

It is human nature to use previous efforts as a template for the next challenge.  A fisherman builds his next boat the same way as the last one...if he did not drown.

Who can doubt that this legislation will be the template for any Social Security reforms we might see in the future.  In fact, they tipped their hand by including provisions for "disability". 


I think planning ahead and preparing is a good thing.  I think the proposed changes will be painful for many people but they will not be as cataclysmic as walking out to the mailbox and getting no check.  And that is exactly the prospect that many people would face if Congress sits on its hands.

Part of me feels vindicated.  Mrs ERJ and I saved and lived well within our footprint.  Many of our coworkers took out home equity loans to purchase time-shares and finance cruises and such.  They slept well knowing that their futures were secured by the unshakable fiscal strength of governmental units and the well-starched backbones of elected officials.  What could go wrong?

Pensions, Part II

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Aches and pains

Kubota and I got a jump on our New Year's resolution.  We went to the local health club, paid our $5 (each) and worked out for an hour.

Kubota did a round of weight lifting and then a half hour on the treadmill.  There may be hope for the boy yet.  He was able to hear my suggestion that he throttle the speed and incline to hit a target heart rate.  He pushed back a little bit when I suggested it but I snuck a peek and the monitor read 165 beats per minute.

Mostly, I ran on the treadmill.  I have been getting out sporadically and running on the local dirt roads.  It still surprises me how much difference running surface makes.   I am nursing aches and pains this afternoon.

In other news

Mrs ERJ paid $1.57/gallon for gasoline.  One of the local grocery stores has a promotion where shoppers earn discounts at a local gas station.  More money spent on groceries translates into larger discounts on gasoline.

The discounts stack.  So Mrs ERJ's van was nearly empty and she had several promotions.  From a monetary standpoint, it makes good sense to do it that way.  From a peace-of-mind standpoint I hate letting the gas tank drop below half full.


Like many families we pad the Christmas gift count by wrapping "necessary" clothing like socks and undies and putting them under the tree.

I have noted a trend in women's undies.  They keep getting smaller and the price tag gets larger.  I do some of the laundry and I have seen shoe laces that were more substantial than some of the "eye patches" that I wash.

I told Belladonna that I was going to buy her some respectable undies.

Pettipants.  Who knew?  I wonder if they are available in Kevlar.
Belladonna has been swatting me every time I get close to her.  She knows that I am trying to figure out what size to get her.

Do you reckon that might be contributing to my aches and pains?

Friday, December 26, 2014

Coffee Cake

And just like "that" I felt ancient.

Fast Fault Recovery

One of my children made a math error.  They cooked and ate more than their "fair share" of the cinnamon rolls Mrs ERJ had staged for Christmas morning.

Seeking to avoid Armageddon, I quickly whipped up a coffee cake.

In my youth

In my youth a shared cup of coffee was a celebration and a ceremony.  Not quite geisha girls serving tea...but close.  Victories were savored.  Losses were mourned.  Stories were told.  Intelligence was shared.

Coffee cake was a broad shouldered dessert.  Rarely "excellent" but always better than adequate.  Anybody with Bisquick, sugar, butter, and cinnamon could turn out a serviceable coffee cake in twenty minutes.  It was in our DNA.


Now coffee is a metabolic and economic necessity.  Ceremony?  No way.  Just put it in my IV.


I asked Belladonna if she had tried any of my coffee cake.

"Nope." she said.

I cut a sliver, put it on a plate and carried it over to her.  She took a bite and a strange expression came over her face.

"It doesn't taste like coffee!?!?"

And just like "that" I felt ancient.  How could she have made it to 17 without my ever having made her coffee cake?

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Meds failure

One advantage of retaining a high degree of privacy is that I can write more freely about "sensitive" issues.  This short essay will be about one of those sensitive issues.

One of the members of the ERJ household is highly medicated.  Those medicines extract a price in terms of side effects.  Consequently, we are in a continuous dance of attempting to titer the dosages down while supporting and fine-tuning the non-med issues that either stress or improve the condition.

Holidays are particularly difficult time and I screwed up royally.

Titering down

Several of the meds are administered multiple times of day.  We found that some dosage times were more critical for performance than others.  All doses contributed to the side effects.  It was a no-brainer to dial down the dosages that were less efficacious as they minimally impacted performance.  The downside is that the dosage schedule is highly asymmetric.  That asymmetry makes it impossible to look at the dose as it sits in the bottom of the cup and discern whether errors were made.

Another contributing factor is that one must titer down in baby steps.  The steps become smaller and the validation period longer when one is close enough to the brink to hear the pebbles echoing as they bounce downward into the abyss.  We administer two of the meds in the smallest size available.  Titering down with these requires a pill splitter.

Titering down is a game for patient people.  We are continuously skating the raggedy edge.  Each move is small and validated for a long period of time.  Just as one warm, sunny day in March does not make it summer, a week or two of satisfactory performance does not validate a lower dose.

Stresses matter

I do not like holidays.  They stress us in too many ways.  Holidays take us out of the routines that armor us.  We eat strange foods.  We eat too much.  We rub elbows with people who often times exasperate us.  Our sleep schedules go whack.  Aunt Matilda insists that we try her new punch recipe (admittedly delicious beyond description).

The person coordinating the "titering down" must make some strategic decisions during the holidays.  Bump the meds up until the turbulence of the holidays are behind us?  Stay the course and see how solidly the supporting measures bear up?

And in the back of our minds looms the questions:  What happens if the patient gets sick and vomits out some or all of the meds?  What happens if the patient's friends tell them it is a matter of having a strong will and meds are for weaklings?  What happens when the meds do not act as if they were the potency labeled.  These are all good reasons to have some stress-tests.

I screwed up

We have a meds tray that we fill up every week.  It gets the standard "drop" plus any additional meds.  In the past additional meds included ibuprofen for sprains and headaches, antibiotics for ear and sinus infections, expectorants and decongestants for sinus issues.  The minimum weekly med drop is 112 pills.

The dosage for one of the most critical meds is 1-and-a-half-tablets in the morning and half-a-tablet in the evening med drop.  Sadly, this critical med also has the most undesirable side effects.  Splitting tablets is a pain.  They rarely split exactly in half.

My screw-up was that I got the half-tablet right but I missed the one-and-a-half part.  That is, I shorted the patient about 35% of the dose that carried them through the majority of their waking hours.  This is a change we will probably work our way up to....but not during a holiday and not before all of the other supporting measures have been fully demonstrated.

Things went OK for two days.  The third day, not so OK.

It was a train wreck but it was not our worst-ever train wreck. It was probably ranked number five or six if we bothered to rate them.

We discovered the error after Mrs ERJ and I discussed the possibility of bumping up some of the critical meds to get us through the holiday season.  While fortifying the meds tray, Mrs ERJ noticed a conspicuous absence of half tablets in the morning med drop.


We are walking about on tippy-toe feet.  I am 95% sure this crisis is behind us.

We (I) am much humbler about my ability to avoid errors.  Mrs ERJ will perform a secondary check when I fill the caddy and I will do the same for her when she does.  It will most likely be a parity check where we simply count the number of discrete pill-like objects in the caddy on a drop-by-drop basis.

Other Systemic Fragility

The patient's condition is not something that can be effectively treated with apple cider vinegar, lavender aroma therapy and Pachelbel's Canon.  Consequently I am continuously scanning the horizon for threats to the supply line.

I experienced a rare stone-wall when I googled "country of origin med-name".  The FDA actively suppresses country-of-origin information for pharmaceuticals.   I pay attention to geopolitical instabilities.  Part of that attention is due to the expectation that I might be able to pre-fill critical meds when political tensions might impact material flows.


Look who showed up

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Too many laws

The hoses on the generator were replaced and it was validated with a leak-free half hour test run.

Temperatures peaked in the fifties last night and we have steady rain.  There is no risk of icing.

Temperatures are expected to drop and the winds to pick up in the evening.  We plan to attend Christmas Eve Mass and then we plan to cozy down for the duration.

Sports Officiating

The Eaton Rapids women's varsity basketball team picked up a nice win yesterday.  Belladonna is basking today.

The basketball officiating has been "lumpy" all season.  I talked to one of the coaches.  He told me that new rules had been implemented.  A defending player can only drape a hand on the ball handler.  Any other incidental contact is a foul.

The officials will often call all incidental contact at the start of the game.  The game becomes exciting and the officials slip back into old habits.  They forget to call it for a while.  The contact escalates until it becomes blatant and then the officials start seeing it again.  They will call it for a while and then forget.  Lather, rinse, repeat.

The team that can sense the changing moods of the refs on a minute-by-minute basis has a huge advantage.

Eaton Rapids came out and played 9 minutes of Rugby before the refs started calling everything.  By that time, the other team was buried. 

The refs called two fouls a minute against Eaton Rapids for the next five minutes.  Eaton Rapids was not playing "thug" basketball...they were playing 2013 basketball.  Eaton Rapids recalibrated and made it to the half.

The second half started out with three minutes of both teams sprinting up and down the court, popping off a miss from long distance with the other team getting the rebound.  I think both teams got the same message in the locker room at half: "Stop fouling!"  The girls were gassed.  I think one of the girls must have fouled after three minutes of sprinting so everybody could get a break during the free throws.

There was one more short period during the second half when the Rugby team showed up and could play full-contact basketball.  But after that, the refs were calling "mercy" fouls against Eaton Rapids.  That kind of things happens when you are winning 40-to-19 and pulling away.

Behaviors when "bullet proof"

The team that can sense the changing moods of the refs on a minute-by-minute basis has a huge advantage.

In some cases, like prevailing speeds on roads, the mood is easy to discern.

In other cases, it is very difficult.  We have too many laws.  No single law enforcement officer can know them all.  There are not enough prisons to hold all of us who inadvertently violate local, state and federal laws.

I have had three conversations with law officers in the past few weeks on this topic.  Paraphrasing their comments:  There is only one law.  The officer must  be able to identified "Who was injured?"

In the a case of some laws like drunk driving, the law is proactive.  It seeks to prevent injury by addressing foreseeable hazard.  The specific "Who?" cannot be identified but the population that holds "Who" can be identified. 

That is one reason why laws against spitting on the sidewalk might not be enforced at some times, but enforced after conditions change, like when a case of Ebola is diagnosed nearby or during peak flu season.

The unfortunate thing about too many laws is that enables the politicization of law enforcement.  The LE Agency must choose which laws to enforce or not enforce.  That which is political can be bought and sold.

We see this in the pointed non-enforcement of marijuana laws in many jurisdictions.  On another plane, we see it in the non-prosecution of TBTF banksters for RICO violations.

The politicization of law enforcement is a grievous injury to the social contract and that bothers me.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Generator test run

The December test run of the generator showed a significant fuel line leak.

Diagnosis involved disassembling the air filter housing so I could look things over.

It was the fuel line on the high pressure side of the fuel pump.  It is a formed piece to snake around all of the obstacles.

Barbed nipple on the fuel pump is on the right side of the photo.  It is behind the carburetor approximately at the end of the arrow on the right side of the photo.

It attaches to the white, barbed nipple that feeds into the carburetor on the left side of the photo.  It is close to the exhaust muffler.  The additional heat certainly did not do the hose any good.  This end of the hose was cracked circumferentially at the end of the nipple.

I will be making a trip to the auto parts store later today.  Mrs ERJ, God bless her, suggested that I buy enough fuel line to replace all of the rubber.  One failed rubber part is a precursor.  If you don't replace all the "like" rubber parts it is guaranteed that you will soon be cursing.

You will roux the day....

You will roux the day you teach your children to make biscuits and gravy

It ain't down home cooking if it is not white, black, brown or gray.

The kids rolled away from the table.  Three cups of generic, house-brand baking mix for the biscuits.  I showed them how to make a volcano in the center to eyeball the proportions.  Milk.  Mix as gently as kissing a baby's face.  Bake at 350 F for about 12 minutes.

Fried up a half pound of sausage, all crumbly and brown.  Black pepper.  A roux with four heaping teaspoons of all purpose flour and extra vegetable oil.  Add milk until it looks right.  Bring to a boil while scraping with a spatula.

I also fried up some cornmeal mush.  You would think that between two African American kids and a kid of Native American decent that at least one of them would have been all over that.  My paternal grandmother once told me that nobody who likes cornmeal mush will ever starve in America.

I had one taker.  Belladonna tried a bite dipped in pancake syrup.  It is a start.

$2 worth of sausage.  About $0.70 of flour.  $0.25 of cornmeal.  So I fed the kids hot breakfast for a buck a kid.  As a bonus they learned how to make biscuits and gravy.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Developmental Psychology

The foundation of Developmental Psychology was formulated by a Swiss psychologist named Jean Piaget.

Children develop cognitive (thinking) skills in a certain order, and very roughly, at approximately the same ages.  For example, concepts like addition are typically learned before subtraction.  Further, addition and subtraction are learned before multiplication and division.   Multiplication and division are learned before fractions....and so on.

A master storyteller

One reason that Paiget is recognized as the father of Developmental Psychology is because he left behind a collection of personal stories that he told in a compelling manner.

One of his stories regarded the inherent unreliability of eye witnesses.  He had vivid memories of his nanny fending off a mugger/kidnapper in a park.  Paiget could describe the mugger in graphic detail, down to the color and swoop of his mustache.

Decades later, when the nanny retired, she admitted that there had been no mugger.  Rather, she had a tryst with a man-friend in the park and things got, well, a little bit physical.  Her uniform had been torn during the passion and she needed a story that would not get her fired.

She told little Jean that she had fearlessly fended an evil man who had intentions of purloining the young lad from her care.  Little Jean attached the dasterdly act to some man he had seem, one who appeared sinister and disreputable in his four year old eyes.

Not-so-little Jean was stunned.  He had very clear memories of seeing his fearless nanny ferociously fight off the heinous villain.  What is notable about Jean Paiget is that he did not dig a deep hole and bury the story.  He reported it as a psychological phenomena that might be worthy of study.

We now know that phantom memories are common.

Hold that in buffer...waiting....waiting...waiting

One of his studies involved attempts to identify the age that children develop the abstract reasoning ability. He chose the ability to see and replicate patterns...a precursor to word recognition.  He showed  simple patterns of sticks like long-short-long-short... or the child and then asked the child to replicate it.

To eliminate spurious variables he tracked the same bunch of subjects and tested them every six months or so.  One test period they were not able to do it.  The next test period he was slightly delayed, came into the test area and saw the children playing with the sticks.  They were replicating the patterns he had shown them six months before.  Six months is a huge percentage of a 3 1/2 year old child's life.

This was a stunning find.  The kids had been walking around with mental pictures of these patterns of sticks in their heads.  And then the last few neurons clicked into place and they could do it...without a refresher session.

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

There is a powerful temptation to overestimate the potential of "buffer".

The native programming language of our brains is emotional, analog, spacial-sensory.  Being able to re-find seasonal food sources via memory maps and recognizing edible species via "patterns" kept our species alive for many millennia of prehistory.  The patterns of sticks are spacial and our brains are hardwired to accept that kind of information.

Digital/abstract/statistical is an alien operating system floating on top of our native operating system.  As an alien system the information is volatile because the packet of information do not easily wedge our brain's cubby-holes.  We can remember this stuff but it is energy intensive.  We must keep accessing the information to refresh it.

That is why one cannot teach the chain rule of differential calculus or indicial notation  in third grade and expect it to "click into place" in college.  The volatility factor means that information will have burned off as the child has no need to ever use that digital/abstract/statistical information.


The human brain has the ability to re-wire.  My kids are amazed at my ability to remember strings of seven digit numbers.  They think it is unworldy.  We used to call strings of seven digit numbers "phone numbers".  My kids call them contacts and have no need to remember them.  I bet that most kids cannot even recall their mother's cell number.

Even with neural rewiring there is still an energy requirement for maintenance.  It is simply lower than before rewiring.

Handgunning, down-town style

A few observations from the mugging simulations.

Gangstra style

Picture from HERE

I did not hold the handgun gangstra style.  The only situation where this stance has an advantage is during drive-by shootings on cold winter days when you just cannot get the power windows of your 1978 Aspen down more than 2 inches.


Many manufactures make Jam-bo-matics.  Jennings-Bryco, Jiminez, and Lorcin are some of the choicer offerings.

Down-town, the preferred style of guns are Jam-bo-matics.  The primary advantage of a Jam-bo-matic is the initial purchase price.  You are doing good when your gun only costs twice as much as a box of ammo.

I was firing a single action, .357 Magnum because that is what I had available.  A single action handgun is a poor choice for mugging.  They are long, heavy and slow to reload.  The last point is academic since Jam-bo-matics experience a failure-to-something before requiring a reload.  I suspect there is a market for "loosies".  After all, who needs a full magazine when it will jam before can shoot it that many times.

Body position

I know we were only play acting, but all of the actors chose strong-side, single hand grip, arm fully extended, aiming at head.

The underlying thinking was that the mugger wants to be as far from Mark as possible in case Mark knows any funky Kung-fu moves.  But the mugger want the gun as close to Mark as possible for the intimidation effect (plus lack of confidence in ability to hit the target).

The mugger points the gun at Mark's face....The whole point of using a gun during a mugging is to scare the crap out of Mark and create compliance. A secondary advantage of having Mark staring at that gun is that Mark is not observing the mugger or flanker.  That means the gun needs to be in his face.  All three of volunteers who contributed to the simulation ended up holding the muzzle of the handgun about a foot from Mark's face.

If the mugger is right handed and holding it gangstra style, palm down, recoil will shift his aim toward the buildings.

Not a great percentage shot if Mark takes off.  If the mugger is holding the gun gangstra style then the recoil will really screw up his aim after the first shot.

Gun shots: Part IV

"Gimmee all your money!"
The victim, Mark Curby, picked a bad part of town to walk through.  In this business, it is very important to pick models with a great set of legs.  Microphone is in left pocket of shooter's hoody
Test shot six.  "Mark Curby" centered in front of garage.  First major echo 10ms from first pressure rise.
First six milliseconds shows several peaks that saturate mike.  Very busy chart.
All of those clipped waves look like square waves.  Square corners produce lots of bogus, high frequency content when mapped into the frequency domain.

From Wikipedia

Also from Wikipedia
Looking at the high frequency content of the signal may  be the most robust way of identifying signals that saturated the mike's response.  "Robust" in this context means being able to identify a gunshot (saturation) without first "blueprinting" the mike's performance characteristics.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Christmas Parties

The ERJ side of the family had our Christmas Party.

The Patriarch and Matriarch (my mom and dad) were there.

Seven-of-eight children made it.  The eighth child had a kid with the flu and decided that sharing was not the best option.

Eleven grandchildren showed up with half of them bringing a significant-other.

One great-grandchild made it.

By the time one counted "extras", there were about forty people there.

Gift Exchanges

We stopped the gift exchange about 5 years ago.  Most of the grand kids had graduated from high school and most of the no longer believed in Santa.

Now, we take the money we would have blown on cheap, plastic junk and throw it into a punch bowl.  Then, somebody picks a charity, or several charities, to receive the loot.

The "planning" side of the family decided that it would be fairest if the choice of charity rotated between generations.  This year was the siblings.  Next year will be the in-laws.  Then it will be back to my mom and dad.

The power of a vivid narrative

Getting agreement between seven strong-willed people can be a problem.  One of my brothers came into the pow-wow selling his favorite charity.  He found a local charity on the west side of Lansing.  The other six of us gave him the gift of agreeing.

As near as I can figure this out, they are a childless couple in the mid-forties who decided it would be fun to walk through local stores and hand out $100 bills.  They wrote multiple vignettes on Facebook about poor folks breaking down into tears.

My brother had their phone number.  He called them.  They came over, drank Pinot Noir and regaled us with tales of the difficulties of giving away money.  Store security followed them around because the couple was not buying or pushing a cart.  They were looking at people rather than merchandise.

I had a hard time listening to them.  They came from a different universe.  I don't think they work in the private sector.  They both felt a need to repeatedly make the point that there are actually people out there who don't have jobs and are struggling (Duh!) and that to some people, $100 is a lot of money (Double-Duh!)

I cannot fathom an audience where it is necessary to make those points. Repeatedly.  As if it were news or a revelation.  I guess it is just the human condition.  Our perception of reality is primarily based on the five work cubicles that touch ours.  We extrapolate from there.

One thing about having kids is that, through their friends, it exposes you to a much wider swath of the human experience. 

Logistical difficulties

One of the logistical difficulties involved writing checks.  Who were we supposed to make the check out to?  That was before my brother called them up and had them come over.

The other disadvantage is that they are not a registered charity.  Donations cannot be written off.

In spite of the difficulties there was over $300 in the punch bowl.  They are going to have to hustle to give it away.  They are flying to Florida Christmas Eve and won't be back until after New Years Day.

The Upside

The upside is that Mrs ERJ made it back from the emergency room.  She had sprained her wrist and now sports a lace-up splint.  It had taken four hours because of broken bones, bruises and sprains from the ice storm + flu and a Noro-like virus that is sweeping through town.  Word on the street is that several school districts "up North" have closed due to attendance issues.

It was great to see family again.  It was particularly heartening to see some of the less socially ept nephews with girl-friends.

The food was good.

I had two adult beverages.

The TV was wide screen and football was playing.

The one great-grandchild is a cute guy.  We need more of them.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Oh boy, here we go again (weather).

The last day of school was called on account of ice.  That is somewhat better than last year when the last two days of school were called due to weather conditions.  I drove into town at 10:00AM yesterday and the road was slippery enough that vehicles were sliding off the crown of the road when the drivers touched their brakes.

While running some errands, Mrs ERJ took a spill.  She has a black eye, twisted eyeglasses frame and a very swollen and sore wrist.  She went to the Emergency Room about four hours ago to have her wrist looked at.  This does not bode well.

Picture from Accuweather

Both Accuweather and MLive predict inclement weather for Christmas Eve and Christmas day.

Time to run an inventory and make a shopping trip.  I know for a fact that we need more dog food and an extra ten gallons of gas will keep us comfortable for a long time if we run the generator in sprints of about a half hour to run the pump, furnace and sump pump with 4 hour shut-down intervals.

Sound of gunshots, Part III: Forensics

During the height of the French Revolution a Priest, a Lawyer and an Engineer were in line to be executed.

The priest was placed on the guillotine.  The blade came down and stopped an eyelash from the priest's Adam's apple.  The priest praised God's will and demanded to be set free.  The executioner complied.

Next, the lawyer was placed on the guillotine.  The blade came down and stopped an eyelash from the lawyers flaccid neck.  The lawyer quoted law stating that the State cannot execute a man twice.  He demanded that he be released.  The executioner complied.

Finally, the engineer was placed beneath the blade.  The blade came down and stopped within a thumb's breadth of his neck.  The engineer looked over at the executioner and said.....

"I think I see your problem."

As a conservative

As a conservative I have reservations about pointing out what appears to be technically feasible out of concern that I will be giving the heavy hand of Big-Brother "ideas".  But from what I have seen, Big-Brother is miles ahead of anything I will ever think of.  Therefore I am more inclined to share information than to withhold it.

Consider a few random observations:
  • Virtually every person in the demographic most likely to commit gun violence carries a smartphone.
  • If they did not have a smartphone, the government supplied them with one.
  • Their smartphones are always on.
  • Smartphones are regularly updated with software.
  • Smartphones have microphones.
  • Smartphones have GPS.
  • Smartphones can talk to each other.
  • Smartphones can be programmed to be the ultimate "flight recorder".
 Mathematically, the location of a gun-when-fired can be determined by the time:date stamps and GPS coordinates of three, nearby smartphones.  More smartphones can be used to more precisely locate the origin of the "BOOM", but three is almost always good enough.

The sound trace of a gun shot is sufficiently unique that it can be mathematically identified with a high degree of reliability.

Smartphones can be programmed to log their location whenever they "hear" a gunshot.  This information, conceivably, could be harvested with a warrant and without the knowledge of the smartphone carriers.

Any person carrying a smartphone that records a rapid succession of crisp, high-intensity echoes is either the shooter, the victim or an accessory.

Anatomy of a mugging

"Mark" wearing pink and walking into the light.  Accessory is wearing blue and is flanking him.  By Accessory's position, he has "marked" him as the target.  85% of population is right-handed, so strong-side is toward buildings.  Ambusher is wearing blue and is hiding in shadows.

Ambusher leaves shadow and gets light behind him.  Flanker boxes in Mark.  Ambusher intrudes on Mark's space bubble and irrationally berates Mark for some imagined insult.

A left-handed person has a possibility of pulling CW and crabbing aft and away.  Right-hander must expose weapon more (cannot shield with body) and can get pushed into buildings pinning weapon.  Mugger at bad-breath distance.  I may be wrong on this, regarding advantage of right-vs-left.  You can be sure professional muggers have it figured out.

Mark is likely to be shot if he resists.

So what kind of sound trace might be captured?

The shooter will have the original "Boom" one or two milliseconds after bullet leaves the end of the barrel.

Two-to-six milliseconds later (depending upon the distance between the shooter and victim) his phone will experience the echo off the victim and impact of bullet.  The frequencies associated with odd-quarter multiples ( 1/4, 3/4, 5/4, 7/4...) of the distance between the shooter and victim will quickly attenuate.  The even-quarter multiples (2/4. 6/4, 8/4...) will attenuate much more slowly.

Approximately eight milliseconds later his phone will experience a sharp. full-spectrum, prolonged echo off the sidewalk (four milliseconds down, four milliseconds back up.).  If there is an accessory, a smaller, muddy echo will show up nine or ten milliseconds after bullet leaves barrel.

In the scenario drawn, a full-spectrum echo will show up at 20 milliseconds from the trash gondola.

Most buildings are not as "clean" as shown in the sketch.  They have inset windows and doors.  The 90 degree angles of the sills and sides are optimum for reflecting noise (higher frequency content) right back to the point of origin.

Depending upon how deeply the windows and doors are inset and width of architectural features, the higher frequency content (maybe +4000Hz) will echo back in waves.

In most circumstances, a running acoustical record in the 50 milliseconds following a near-gunshot event (mike saturation) would provide enough circumstantial evidence to identify most or all of the people-of-interest.

These predictions will be tested and reported in a future post.  However, I will be using a grain-bag mounted on a stepladder, my garage and a woodpile instead of an authentic urban environment as a test bed.

Is it possible?

Sure it is possible.  We had hardware and software that could hear a Russian picking his nose 400 meters below sea level.  And that was back in 1969.

And, to the best of my limited technical capabilities, I see no technological barrier that would prevent this kind of system's implementation on the streets of American when it becomes politically advantageous to do so.

Forewarned is forearmed.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Sound of Gunshots, continued

Sub-essay on the nature of hearing

The human ear is a marvel with regard to the range of sound that it can sense.  A parent can hear the sleepy whisper of a child, the buzz of a fly or the chirp of a cricket (about 40dB).  That same parent can detect the change in the pitch of a chainsaw or enjoy Tchaichovski's 1812 Overture (about 110dB).

In terms of power, that is a difference of 10^7, or ten million.

The downside of this huge range is that the human ear is very insensitive to modest changes in sound power.  You could put ten people with healthy hearing in a room and play them two snippets of music.  One snippet of music would have twice the power of the other.  Half the people would vow that the two snippets were of equal loudness.  (Key point:  Loudness is different than Power).  The tester will not get overwhelming agreement that one snippet is louder than the other until the louder piece has four times as much power as the other.

Aside: The poor mapping between power and apparent loudness is why it is mandatory to have good instrumentation.  You cannot rely on your ears.  They are incapable of discriminating with the precision required to incrementally improve systems.

Mapping that requirement into dB tells us that we need a minimum of a 6dB reduction for back-to-back comparisons.  A minimum of a 10dB reduction (90% power reduction) is prudent for a session-to-session comparison.

Twenty dB reduction was chosen for the purpose of this "paper" study.  Assumptions are made for ease of computations.  One of those assumptions is typically 100% performance.  Another reason for choosing 20dB reduction is that there is little point in going through much effort if the customers...the neighbors, for instance...can barely tell the difference.

To provide a frame of reference for my readers who shoot, an honest 20dB reduction would reduce the noise levels heard by a neighbor at 50 yards to a level similar to what a neighbor currently hears at a quarter mile of distance.  When explaining it to your neighbor it is technically accurate to say that a 20dB reduction is the same as if you had picked up your shooting bench and moved it so it was ten times further away from your neighbor than before.


An earlier essay suggested the possibility of positioning a "doghouse" on the shooting bench.  The doghouse would have openings in both the front and the back of the house.  The shooter would sight through the doghouse with the muzzle of the gun positioned inside, near the middle of the house. A true example of a "shotgun" floor plan.

By the time you make the standard assumptions and do all of the mathematical pushups, it boils down to a relationship between the size of the openings and the distance between the openings.  Smaller holes are better.  More distance is better.

I chose two hole sizes for a first attempt.

One "model" really looks like a doghouse.  It would be made of dimension lumber and would be lined with fiberglass insulation with the unfaced surface exposed.  I chose a common hole size for both ends of 6" tall by 3.5" wide (150mm tall by 90mm wide).  My hope is that I would be able to align the holes with the target (and chronograph 8-) ) and not shoot up the box or bang my gun too often.

The other model uses 4" diameter holes on both ends.  If this model goes to physical evaluation it will be a length of corrugated, plastic drain-tile.  The corrugations will act somewhat like anti-resonance panels and abate the sound.  I may roll up some coarse, fiberglass furnace filters to line the inside of the drain tile to get broader acoustic attenuation.

So far, the length of drain tile, aka sewer pipe, is the winner in the efficiency department.
The value of "paper" studies is not that they predict performance with absolute accuracy.  Rather, it is that they give 1 Thess 5:21 guys like me a productive starting point.

To be continued.....

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Special Snowflakes

You knew the idea would spread.  The world is connected by social media.  The average college student has, probably, 624 friends on Facebook.  Ideas this "cool" spread like wildfire.

Many bloggers have been documenting the spread of the special snowflakes.  Pawpaw wrote this essay.  Shekel wrote this one and this one.

Children: Leave the room.  It is time for adults to talk

If a student wants to skip their finals because they were protesting or simply too emotionally impacted by events in Ferguson or NYC, they I say "Let them." with a few minor qualifiers.

The student should be required to sign a "Hold Harmless" contract with the University or Law School.  Considering the potential damage a law suite can cause to the prestige of a University, each contract should specify $1,000,000 should the student choose to break the contract and sue the University in the event they cannot pass the Bar, get into Med school or whatever.

Still, knowing how the courts work, the University must further armor themselves with vivid documentation that shows they exercised due diligence.  An interview with the student should be video recorded.  The student should be asked questions like:
  • Do you understand the effect that incomplete knowledge in this class is likely to have on the classes that list this class as a prerequisite?
  • Do you understand that incomplete knowledge in this class will reduce your chances of passing the Bar, or CPA, or LSAT, MCAT, GRE, GMAT?
  • Do you understand the time value of money?  That is, do you realize the financial effects of delaying your working career by six months?
If the student willingly signs the Hold Harmless contract and allows the Due Diligence Information Interview to be video recorded, then they should be issued a Credit: No Grade for that class.  The circumstances behind the Credit: No Grade should be recorded on the transcripts so potential employers can make an informed predictions regarding the fit between the candidate and the firm's work culture.

The student gets what they say they want.

In return, potential employers get documentation regarding the candidate's priorities and work-ethic.

What does the sound of a gunshot LOOK like?

I downloaded a free copy of Raven Lite sound analysis software from Cornell University.  I plugged in my Samson C01U USB studio condenser microphone into my laptop.  I placed the microphone on the platform of the swing set which is very close to the elevation of my ears.  I had to place the mike in an old boot because the weather is misty.

I fired a .308 Winchester from a picnic table approximately 15 yards from the mike.  The mike was to my left.  Approximately 18 yards to my right was a barn. (Note added later:  The barn was not immediately to my right but also a wee bit downrange.  This note prompted by a sharp-eyed reader, Mr Oldnfo)  Between me and the target, and slightly to the right, was a dense arborvitae bush.

Both full power and subsonic (8 grains Unique and 170 grain cast bullet) loads were evaluated.  I am still playing with the software so this will be pretty crude.

KU time trace

Full power load.  Initial "BOOM" at 30.825 seconds.  Reflected "boom" at 30.87 and 30.93, presumably from arborvitae and barn respectively.  The human ear would not be able to differentiate between these three peaks.  They would all blur together as one, rolling "BOOooooommmm".  Peak KU is 25.
Subsonic load.  Vertical scale changed to highlight similarities in trace with three separate peaks.  Peak KU is 6.  If memory serves, that is a 20dB difference, or 10^2 difference in power.
Based on the similarities in shape, my current belief is that "gunshot" noise is dominated by muzzle blast and much less effected by the projectile's sonic boom.

Spectral traces

Full power load.  Frequency content between zero and 10kHz (region of most human hearing acuity).  Time scale compressed to take highest energy region of first sound peak.  Trace notable for its broad band of frequency content.
Subsonic load.  Trace is notable in that there is a bit of a valley in the 4000Hz to 7000Hz range with heaviest content between 1000Hz and 2400Hz.

For comparison, this is a four second snippet of Dido, a female vocalist notable for a strong midrange (2KHz-to-4KHz) and breathy topnotes (7KHz-to-12KHz.


Why is spectral content important?

Spectral content is important for two reasons.  One reason is that humans do not hear all frequencies equally.  Most humans have two acuity peaks,  the most acute hearing is at about 3000 Hz and a smaller peak is at 1000Hz.

Image from HERE.  These are equal-loudness lines, so traces are inverted.  That is, what I am calling peaks show up as valleys.

The other reason it is important is to design efficient sound attenuation structures.

If you can remember only two thing....a quarter wavelength for 1200Hz will be three inches or 75mm and wavelength gets small as frequency gets large.  Everything else can be easily ratioed out.  The length of a quarter wavelength for 2400Hz is half that of 1200Hz, 3600Hz is 1/3, 4800Hz is 1/4, 600Hz is 2X and so on.

The table below lists frequencies and their quarter wavelength at normal temperatures.

Frequency (Hz)  Inches mm
800 4.1 103
1000 3.2 83
1500 2.2 55
2000 1.6 41
3000 1.1 28
4000 0.8 21
5000 0.6 17
6000 0.5 14
7000 0.5 12
8000 0.4 10

The designer obtains maximum sound attenuation by placing the sound absorbing (or anti-resonance) materials one quarter wavelength out from hard, reflective surfaces.

For example, supposed you worked in a daycare and wanted to hang banners to knock down the shrill screaming.  Further, suppose you decided to target that 3000Hz hearing acuity peak mentioned earlier.    Optimum attenuation will occur when the banners are mounted so there is a one inch (25mm) air gap behind them.  Knowing that, the designer might choose to hang them from 2" (50mm) diameter curtain rods made from PVC pipe.

Anti-resonance materials include materials like wood lattice, horticultural shade cloth or even snow fence.  The key points are to have close to 50% open area and a hard, reflective backing an appropriate distance (that quarter wavelength I keep talking about) behind them.

Anti-resonance materials to have spikier attenuation characteristics (bigger openings = spikier performance) than fabrics but they are much more economical to apply to overhead surfaces like the roofs of shooting ranges.  If mounted to standard 2X4s, the panels will nominally be 3.5" (about 90mm) from the bottom of the ceiling.  Good enough to eat up much of the 1000Hz content of the smaller acuity peak.

Too ambitious?

How about making an open ended "dog house" and lining the insides with acoustical absorbing materials?  Not something you would carry squirrel hunting but it is something that is easily within the scope of a backyard shooting range.

And now, a commercial message:

This work was sponsored, in part, by

To Be Continued.....