My Life: Part Ten. Tom Swift Jr.

On returning to Ohio I started, again, at Garfield Elementary School, this time continuing 4th grade. I noted, frankly, a significant step down in academics.  I expected I would be doing “Ohio history” much as I had been doing “Virginia history” in the Virginia schools.  Nope.  And the math and science courses were…watered down compared to what I was used to.

It was also cringeworthy whenever the teacher had one of the students read from the screen (filmstrips and overhead projectors features a lot in the instructional materials).  The other students stumbling over what should be simple words was hard to bear.

There was, however, a bright spot.  The teacher had a small collection of books on a shelf that was right. next. to my desk.  I could literally reach out and grab one.  And the shelf included a number of books of the Tom Swift Jr. series written by Victor Appleton II (which name, I was to learn many years later, was a pseudonym owned by the Strathmore Syndicate with most of the books written by James Duncan Lawrence).  This, right here, is where I developed what would become a lifelong love of science fiction.  Oh, I’d read comics with a science fictional theme (Green Lantern chief among them) before this and certainly the Freeman’s “You Will Go to the Moon” was science fiction but I really didn’t think of science fiction as a particular kind of story until I got to these books.  And I was in love.

Returning to school here, the bullying that I had first experienced in 2nd grade and was on abeyance during the Virginia interlude resumed.  Part of that was, in part, my own fault.  When I started class, the teacher asked…well, there was the following exchange:

Teacher: “We have two Davids in class.  Do you prefer ‘David’ or ‘Dave’?”
Me: “Dave.”
Teacher: “Well,” (points at other student) “he also prefers ‘Dave.'”
(If you’d already made up your mind, then why are you asking me?)
Me (in anger and frustration): “Maybe you should just call me ‘Brickhead’ then, since that’s what they called me before.” (Okay, that was a bad mistake on my part.  And, yes, ‘Brickhead’ was one of the insulting names folk came up for as part of the bullying back in second and third grade.)

Well, the name stuck.  My own damn fault, but then again, it would have been something so I can’t take too much blame for it.

There are two things that came out of that into my adult life.  After about the third time I was asked “which do you prefer” and gotten a “but he prefers ‘Dave.'” I grew to despise the shortened version of my name.  To this day I go by David.  Period.  Second thing was that when I married and my then-wife kept her family name (Tsuboi), I decided then and there that variations on “Burkhead” were going to be far and away preferable to what potential bullies could do with Tsuboi.  My children were going to have my name if I had anything to say about it.  It might not be so bad for a daughter but I wouldn’t want a son growing up thinking he’s in a Johnny Cash song:

In any case, this was also probably when I first started getting hit with the real depression that would plague me most of my life.

We had a children’s book on “the body” which I devoured as I did most anything of a “sciencey” (Shut up spellcheck, that is too a word) nature.  I hung out with the few friends I had.

There were three cartoons I distinctly remember from that time.  The first was Jonny Quest.  It had long since completed its run but was still available in syndication and was, without a doubt, my all time absolute favorite cartoon.  Indeed, the first series (1964-5) is something I can still enjoy.  The second was Hot Wheels.  Again, looking at the time frame it would have finished its run but I’m pretty sure I saw it in syndication during this period.  Indeed, when Halloween rolled around, I had a costume of the main character from the show.  The third was Skyhawks.  Once more, in syndication by this point.

Skyhawks was interesting in that during one episode the lead character was trapped (forced down in a crash I believe) on a mountain and made a giant kite to glide down to safety.  We had scrap wood.  I had access to a hammer and nails.  And so I tried to make such a kite for myself.  Fortunately for everybody I never actually completed that project since I likely would have broken my fool neck.

I still had the bicycle I’d gotten in second grade and used it to ride around the neighborhood with great abandon.  One day, I was trying to learn to “pop a wheelie” as I had seen other kids doing.  I’d jerk up on the bars and get the front wheel to leave the road for an instant but that was it.  Only one day I was trying that and I took a bad spill.  I hit the pavement hard enough to break one of my upper incisors, breaking it horizontally in half.  The break itself hurt, but what really hurt was the exposed pulp cavity which made that tooth painfully sensitive to everything.  Heat.  Cold.  Contact.  Anything and pain would flare up through that tooth.   I suffered through it for some time, trying to do things like when eating, stick food into the back of my mouth so it wouldn’t touch the broken tooth or pouring beverages past, again, trying to avoid any contact with the broken tooth.  Eventually, my mother got me in to see a dentist about it.  The dentist provided two options:  a root canal or extraction.  My mother said “Go ahead and pull it.”

Well, I panicked.  Remember my previous experience with a dentist was pure misery.  The dentist eventually talked me down and…dentistry had improved.  Unlike the previous dentist he used a topical to numb before using the needle and apparently they had realized that it was better to inject slowly to give the medication time to disperse rather than quickly to “get it over with.”  So, in the end, the tooth was gone and although the others have moved forward to mostly fill the gap there’s still a small one there between those front incisors.

From time to time someone would ask to borrow my bike and I’d let them.  One day, my mother very firmly told me to stop doing that, to not let people borrow the bike.  Well, one day I forgot, and when one of the neighbor girls asked to “rent” my bike (she paid me a quarter, a whole quarter, which was a lot of money for a kid my age), I let her.  My mother and Bruce were out; I don’t know where.  When they came back I showed them the quarter and explained how I got it.

My mother was vexed.  She reminded me that I had been told not to let people borrow the bike.  And, so they took the bike away from me, there to sit forlornly in the back yard.  Strangely enough, even though the bike was just sitting there, not locked or anything, it never even occurred to me to sneak clandestine rides when she and Bruce weren’t around.  One day, I saw the bike was gone.  No, my mother and Bruce didn’t get rid of it.  Someone stole it.  And no, I don’t think they would have lied abut that.  We never learned for sure what became of it but I’m pretty sure I saw it in the yard of one of the, let’s say less nice families in a nearby neighborhood.  I didn’t go close to check and confirm but, yeah, I’m pretty sure I know who took my bike.

Up above I talked about that book on “the body”?  Well, one thing it discussed was the reproductive system.  There was a picture chart showing how things worked:  spermatozoa fertilizing an egg cell, then dividing and differentiating until you had a baby.  What it most expressly did not show was how the spermatozoa got there in the first place and at that age I didn’t really know how things “worked” in that respect.  Well, some of the older neighborhood kids thought it was amusing to ask me if I knew what “sperm” was.  And, remembering the book, of course I did.  I described the process, much to the amusement of the older kids.

I continued to be a fan of Star Trek and pretty much anything “Science fictiony” I could find (now that I knew science fiction was a thing).  And I was thinking of building and designing space ships.  One of the articles in the World Book Encyclopedia was a bit on ion propulsion.  They had an experiment one could do and I thought it could be adopted for a space drive (it couldn’t; it was more the principle of an electrostatic fan).  Well, my interest in space and my determination to make it happen was yet another source of the bullying.

Thus ended fourth grade.  During the summer we moved out of the house next to Uncle Denny’s and to a rural plot out near Claysville, OH.  More on that next time.

Do they Want a Civil War? A Blast from the Past

The answer appears to be “yes”.


From 2018:

The latest round started with a restaurant throwing out the President’s Press Secretary because of who she worked for.  Okay, there prerogative.  I believe in freedom of association, including the right not to associate with people you don’t want to.  And since I actually mean it, that means I agree that it also applies to people I disagree with.  Bad business move maybe, but their prerogative.

However, then comes that idiot Maxine Waters (but who’s the more stupid?  The idiot in office, or the idiots who keep putting her there?) using this case as some rallying cry, to wit:

“If you think we’re rallying now you ain’t seen nothing yet,” Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif, told supporters at a rally in Los Angeles over the weekend. “If you see anybody from that (Trump) Cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd and you push back on them, and you tell them they’re not welcome anymore, anywhere.” A video of her remarks was posted on Twitter on Sunday.

Then, of course, there’s protests against actually enforcing our immigration laws.  We have Peter Fonda:



A third tweet from the actor, posted several minutes later, called for activists to target President Trump‘s youngest son, Barron Trump, who attends a school in nearby Montgomery County, Md., claiming (apparently for effect) that activists should “rip” him from the first lady’s arms and put in “in a cage with pedophiles.”


He deleted the second and third of those tweets but the Internet is Forever.  Like they used to say about Vegas:  What happens on the Internet, stays on the Internet.

We have protesters not just targeting government offices or even places of business, but gathering outside people’s homes.

Protesters gathered outside of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen’s home in Alexandria early Friday morning.

Demonstrators gathered to express their anger with Nielsen and the role they claim she plays in family separations.

Several people stood along the sidewalk near her home with some holding signs. One demonstrator held a sign with Nielsen’s face on it featuring the words “child snatcher.”

Fox 11 News, Green Bay, WI

If the home was of a black family and the protestors were wearing sheets, would that change your opinion of it?

The problem is, these people have convinced themselves they are “on the side of history”.  They are in good company with that.  Lenin thought he was on the side of history.  Stalin did too.  So did Mussolini and Hitler.  And let us not forget Mao.  All, or at least their ardent followers, thought they were “on the side of history.”

The problem with not only thinking history has a side but that you are on it is that it justifies anything.   When your cause is inevitable and you are supremely secure in your rightness, anything you do in that cause is right.

Some of the worst atrocities in history have been committed by people believing they were “on the side of history.”  Look at that list of names again.

In a post a few days ago, I described how I thought a future civil war would start.  There would be no equivalent to “Lexington” or “Fort Sumter” but it would rather simply start as an increase of politically motivated violence without any distinct starting event.  It would only be in retrospect that we’d look back and see that we are in a civil war and had been for some time.

It’s looking very much like we’re in the early stages of that right now.  Mostly, it’s just talk, but it’s the kind of talk people use to work themselves up to acting on it.  And so the appropriate response to this speech is more speech, speech in opposition.

Because if this keeps on it’s going to get ugly and there will be no winner except death.

Project Miata, Part 2, Valve Cover and Radiator

We left of last time with the valve cover not quite off.  I had to look into what I was missing.

I found that there were two bolts I’d missed.

One was on the back end of the valve cover on the left-hand side.  Space was very tight.  I couldn’t get in with a socket and ratchet so I had to use a box-end wrench.  12 mm (unlike the 10’s elsewhere).

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The other was on the right hand side.  Note there’s a bolt at the point of the “X” in this picture.  At first it looked like it might be related to the valve cover, but it isn’t.  I may need to deal with it later in the process to get the head off (or maybe not–we’ll see), but it’s not necessary to remove now.  Again, space was tight and I needed to use a 12 mm box end wrench.

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Once those two bolts were removed, the valve cover lifted right off.

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And here’s the valve cover itself.

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I set the valve cover aside and moved on to the next step, removing the radiator (to get easier access to the front of the engine).

First step in removing the radiator is draining the coolant,  There’s an opening in the under-engine splash guard, through which one can access the drain port.  A large Phillips (+) screwdriver can be used to remove the plug.

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While the coolant was draining, I was set in place to put the plug back if the catch pan started to get close to full to allow me time to empty and replace it.  Only that didn’t turn out to be necessary.  This is all I got:

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I poured the used coolant into a mostly empty coolant jug (had some water in it).  I didn’t exactly measure it, but the coolant came to quite a bit less than a gallon, probably less than half.

Note, after draining coolant, be sure to clean up any spills.  The stuff can be toxic to animals (and to humans too, but humans can…maybe…be trusted to know not to drink the stuff).

On the driver’s side, there’s this electrical connector to disconnect and one bolt to remove up at the top (as you’ll see later, the arrow indicating the bolt is not quite right).

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Passenger side is similar, although there’s a different electrical connector (again, arrow is not quite right).  Also, there’s the hose to the coolant reservoir.

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First disconnect the hose.

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Once the hose is disconnected you can remove the bolt on this side.  There are other bolts in here that you don’t need to mess with.  Just this one.

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Now the bolt on the other side:

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Now comes a more challenging part.  There’s a bolt that secures a bracket holding the AC lines to the bottom of the radiator.    It’s next to impossible to get at from the top.  You cant’ even see it in this picture way down there in the bottom.  The AC hoses and the sway bar running across there interfere with getting access with a wrench.

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The other issue is the AC hose.  You need to get access underneath to remove the clamp that secures the hose.  There’s a port in the under engine splash guard that can be used for that purpose but at this point it’s probably best to just remove that splash guard entirely.

On this car, the splash guard was severely beat up.  It had been poorly installed in the past with missing bolts so that parts hung down and dragged, causing the owner (well, me, to be honest) to cut away pieces that were most seriously dragging.

Because of the cramped conditions under the car, I couldn’t get good pictures of the removal process, but it is quite straightforward.  You go around and remove the nuts and bolts until the whole thing drops off.  They’re all 10 mm.

There was, however, one catch.  One of the nuts was rusted in place badly and in removal I ended up sheering the stud off entirely.  This is particularly bad because this particular one also secures a brace to the front left corner of the bumper cover.

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That will have to be addressed when I start putting things back together.

In the meantime we have the bottom radiator hose.  Same deal as with the top radiator hose, and removed the same way.

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Then there’s the bracket securing the AC hoses.  This proved to be a challenge.  The bolt (10 mm head) screws into a square nut that’s supposed to be “captive” in the bracket only, again with rust, an attempt to turn the bolt just turns.  The plastic arms of the bracket aren’t strong enough to resist the turning and bulge out.  I applied a pair of vice grips to squeeze them down to secure the nut. allowing me to back out the bolt.  I also had to use a four inch extension on the socket.  That just barely fit past the hoses themselves letting me set the ratchet back behind them.

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That was the theory anyway.  Once again, rust and age conspired against me.  The bracket broke.  Another repair I’m going to have to make later.

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But the good side of that was with that out of the way the radiator just lifts right out.

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And with the radiator out, I’ve now got some working room in front of the engine.

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Some More Breakthroughs on the Ice Follies.

Last week one of my instructors suggested that I needed to work the “push” with the back leg when doing forward crossovers.   This was in addition to his suggestion of a drill where I cross over and put the crossing (forward) foot down and hold for a beat or two before picking up the rear leg. (This to ensure that the skates are lined up the same way–it becomes real obvious if they aren’t.)

Well, this week, I was struggling with it. I tried to push the foot out and all I ended up doing was stumbling and tripping myself.  Needless to say, this was very frustrating.

Then it hit me.  Once you’re on that edge, the skate is pretty much locked in side to side motion.  Instead of thinking of pushing the rear leg to the outside, I needed to think of pushing my upper body to the inside of the turn.  It’s the same muscle action either way you think about it, but the different perspective “clicked” and I was able to do it.  When doing that, I generally end up setting the front (crossing) foot farther to the inside of the curve than I had been before, which is a natural result of getting that push from the rear leg.  The crossovers aren’t great and and are a long way from automatic, but I ended up picking up enough speed in the turn that I could simply glide to the other of the rink, then do it again to round the end down there.

It did require a good bit of concentration to keep it up, so I’d switch between that push the more casual “stepping around” that I’d been doing, and the “hold the crossed position”.  The real challenge is practicing the form while keeping speed down.  I don’t want to go too fast, particularly when there are a lot of other people on the rink.


Last week’s epiphany of shifting my weight as a separate step in working backward edges (step 1, pumps to get some speed on the circle, step 2, shift weight to the foot we’re going to be doing an edge on, step 3, pick up the other foot while holding the edge), has been helping much.  I’m holding the edges most of the time now for 2-3 seconds.  Not like the young lady in the videos who looks like she can hold them forever, but much better than I could do just a week ago.  The immediate goal remains backward crossovers.  I figure I need to be able to hold these backward edges for about a six count before I’m ready to attempt backward crossovers.

The backward crossover is a move I want so bad I can taste it.  It’s a move so graceful that even big ugly guys look good doing it.  It’s almost like magic.

Annual Tribute to Sophie Lancaster

As someone who is goth(ish) I run into people who have all sorts of strange ideas about goths.  I’m a big ugly guy so most of that doesn’t get directed at me.  Others, however, are accused of being “dangerous” and “juvenile delinquents” or otherwise criminal because of a lifestyle we have adopted as fitting our “inner selves.” The truth is we’re more often abused than abusers (in my case “big ugly guy” shields me from much of that) and even when it doesn’t rise to the level of physical abuse we see the fear, the hatred, and the locked doors.  There’s this delightful “Hornbach” advertisement that illustrates it to a somewhat exaggerated effect but which makes the point (while showing the young lady has an absolutely great dad):

The case of Sophie Lancaster is not just a cute advertisement.  It is a real-life tragedy.  Today is the 12th “anniversary” of the death of her death at the hands of a group of violent thugs.


Sophie was a “Goth” girl in Lancashire England.  While walking home on August 11, Sophie and her boyfriend Robert Maltby were attacked by a group of youths.  The only apparent motive for the attack was that Robert and Sophie were attired in Goth fashion.

They started by attacking Robert.  When he was knocked unconscious Sophie tried to protect him by cradling him in her arms.  The mob continued their assault, now focused on Sophie.  According to witnesses, members of the mob would run over and kick Sophie in the head and jump up and down on her head.  So severe were the couple’s injuries that emergency services arriving on the scene were unable to immediately determine which was male and which was female.

At least one of the attackers actually bragged about the attack as if he’d done something noble, saying to friends, “There’s two moshers nearly dead up Bacup park – you wanna see them – they’re a right mess”

Sophie and Robert were taken to the hospital, both in comas.  Robert gradually improved with some memory loss of the attack and events leading up to it.  This is not uncommon for traumatic injuries that involve unconsciousness.

Sophie, however, was not so fortunate.  It was eventually determined that so severe was her brain injury that she would never recover.  Her family agreed to cease life support on August 24, 2007 and the life of Sophie Lancaster passed from this world to whatever, if anything, may wait beyond.

Five youths involved in the attack were eventually arrested.  It is not known how many others might have been involved.  The five were first charged with “grievous bodily harm” but following Sophie’s death the charges were upgraded.  Of the five, two were convicted of murder and the other three had the murder charge withdrawn on a guilty plea of “grievous bodily harm”.  The five received sentences (after appeals) ranging from four years and four months to life imprisonment with a minimum (I presume, not being familiar with the British legal system, this means before eligible for parole) of fifteen years and six months.

Sophie, of course, is dead forever.  There is no appeal on her result.

The Hated Middle.

A friend of mine posted the following Ayn Rand quote:

Ayn Rand

Okay, the text in that is two small to read easily so, here:

“The man who refuses to judge, who neither agrees nor disagrees, who declares that there are no absolutes and believes that he escapes responsibility, is the man responsible for all the blood that is now spilled in the world. Reality is an absolute, existence is an absolute, a speck of dust is an absolute and so is a human life. Whether you live or die is an absolute. Whether you have a piece of bread or not, is an absolute. Whether you eat your bread or see it vanish into a looter’s stomach, is an absolute.

There are two sides to every issue: one side is right and the other is wrong, but the middle is always evil. The man who is wrong still retains some respect for truth, if only by accepting the responsibility of choice. But the man in the middle is the knave who blanks out the truth in order to pretend that no choice or values exist, who is willing to sit out the course of any battle, willing to cash in on the blood of the innocent or to crawl on his belly to the guilty, who dispenses justice by condemning both the robber and the robbed to jail, who solves conflicts by ordering the thinker and the fool to meet each other halfway. In any compromise between food and poison, it is only death that can win. In any compromise between good and evil, it is only evil that can profit. In that transfusion of blood which drains the good to feed the evil, the compromise is the transmitting rubber tube.” – Ayn Rand

I have to dispute with Ms. Rand here.  there are a number of things where she, errs.

First is that she ignores the possibility that a person might just not have enough information to have an informed opinion on some proposition.  Much evil in the world has happened because well-intentioned people “took a side” on something of which they have little information, that sounded “reasonable” even “intuitive” and yet was flat out wrong.

There is another, and more fundamental, flaw.

Where Ms. Rand goes astray up there (in addition to not recognizing that “I don’t know enough to have a meaningful opinion on that topic” as a valid position) is the implicit categorical “either this or that”.

Things in the real world are rarely that simple.

Consider the case of clean water. Pretty much everyone would agree that clean water is a good thing to have and that contaminated/polluted water is bad. But…how much and how clean? That is the question. The categorical position tends toward “all” and “absolutely” but…well, we live in a world of scarce resources that have alternative uses. The resources spent to reduce, say, lead contamination from a few parts per billion (safe for drinking water per EPA standards) to a few parts per trillion are resource that are no longer available for producing other good things we would like to have.

Or consider water contaminated by something like e.coli.  How did it get contaminated with e.coli?  Well, because the deer and bears in that forest upstream don’t just do it in the woods, they do it in the stream (and what they do in the woods drains into the streams).  How much resources are you going to spend on sanitation for wildlife because you want absolutely clean water?

Or “acidification” of the water.  While it was popular for a while to blame that on acid rain, it turns out that the runoff from forests and meadows tends to be somewhat acidic.  The runoff from ash (from forest or brush fires) tends toward the alkaline and neutralizes the acid.  Vigorous fighting of forest and brush fires means more acid, less alkaline runoff, leading to a net acidification of the water.  “Clean water” (as in “less acid” in this case) and “Unburned forests” are good things we want that are in direct conflict.  Pick one.  Having more of one means having less of the other.  The question is how much of one at the cost of how much of the other, a tradeoff.  It can’t be solved categorically, but we can incrementally trade a little bit more of one at the cost of a little bit less of the other until we find a best balance.

We live in a world not of categorical “all of this” or “all of that” but of incremental tradeoffs. And since not everybody is going to agree in where that tradeoff should be made, we even need to tradeoff on the tradeoffs. In such a situation you will find that many, indeed most, people will not be entirely at one end or the other. And any given individual will see some folk who are not as much “this way” as they are without necessarily being “on the other side.”

And. That’s. Okay.

Different people value different things differently. That’s the core of economics in general and free market economics in particular. (Economics, as readers of this blog will have noted, being a particular hobby-horse of mine.)

One of the great causes of strife in the world today is the binary thinking, that anyone not fully on “my side” is, therefore, “other.” Whether it’s someone on the far left calling anyone not as left as they are a “Fascist” (never mind how they completely butcher the meaning of the term “Fascist” in doing so) or someone on the Right calling anyone not agreeing with them a “Commie”, or a Libertarian (big-L) with their blanket accusation that anyone who suggests there might actually be a valid role for the coercive power of government, within limits, a “Statist”, it leads to lots of heat with very little light.
And it all comes from categorical thinking, it must be “this” or “that”, either totally black or blinding white.

And that’s the objection I have to the Rand quote above.

A Rage over Masks.

A friend of mine’s tearing rage over masks continues. And he has more than a little justice to his rage.  Wearing masks causes him significant health problems and others in his family have also experienced significant (trust me on this although I’m not going to go into detail here–not my story to tell) hardship because of the “wear a mask” mandates.  So far, I’m with it.  Really.  However, he then declares that anyone who cooperates with these mask orders either believes that they actually help and is thus “an idiot” or knows better but bows to authority anyway, which he declares makes them “a pussy.”  Now, readers of my blog should know by now what I think of the routine wearing of masks, nevertheless I wear one to avoid the aggravation of dealing with some store security guard or being kicked out of one of the only venues I go to for getting out of the house for some decent exercise (see my various “Ice Follies” posts for that.)

My protest is a little more low-key.  I wear a mask, but it’s a costume piece (picture at the top of this (and if you like it, you can buy it here) that makes no pretension of any medical value.  Nobody has questioned it.  Ever.  Thus demonstrating that the whole thing is theater.

So, to him, I guess, I’m a “pussy” because I can’t deal with the aggravation of fighting the mask edicts with anything other than words and the low key “type of mask” at the moment. Too many things on my plate and not enough spoons (to stretch a metaphor). This has, however, given me food for thought.

My friend is also something of a firebrand on the liberty front…makes me look like a moderate (and, again, readers of this blog should be able to calibrate that).  One of the things he has talked about is the idea of an armed revolt to overthrow a government that has strayed, and continues to stray farther from the ideals of liberty set forth in the Constitution and restore actual liberty to the US.

The thing is, if there ever is a “pro freedom” armed revolt in this country I do not think the person who sets it off will be one of the firebrands like my friend. Those kind of folk have their place as do (so I believe) folk like me who engage in more reasoned (or so I tell myself) argument. Firing the opening shots that sets off a revolution is generally not that role. It’s too easy for the “establishment” to paint someone like my friend (or me) as a nutjob who of course went violent.

No, if such an armed revolt starts it will be because some quiet, ordinary individual gets pushed too far. And a lot of other quiet, ordinary guys will find themselves in sympathy with him, triggering a preference cascade and suddenly a whole bunch of people are up in arms.

Only when the ordinary folk who just want to live their lives in peace find themselves pushed beyond patience and driven to say “enough”, would folk like my friend, or me, possibly find ourselves as commanders or leaders in the events quickly following the cascade. (Well, almost certainly not me because much too “small fish” and not any kind of “expert” in the necessary areas–I recognize my own lack of qualifications.)

Before then, the role of the outspoken–again folk like my friend and me–is to try to set ideas in folks minds, laying the groundwork for that eventual preference cascade. As Samuel Adams once said, “It does not take a majority to prevail, only a tireless minority eager to set brushfires of freedom in men’s minds.” He missed, I think, that by doing so you create a majority…but that comes later. It’s that “setting brushfires of freedom” where the public outcry is most valuable at the moment.

For setting those brushfires, I try to present reasoned arguments.  My friend’s approach is bombast. He’s usually got considerable in the way of facts and reason on his side, but his method of presenting those is bombast.

As much as I find the “bombast” approach grating, I have to admit that it has its place. Some people whose eyes glass over when you try reason will respond to bombast. It’s a tool, not an end in itself.

A quote I’ve used is that “in order for you to insult me, I would first have to value your opinion.” Unfortunately, it seems that a friend, and someone who’s opinion I generally do value (and, thus, someone actually able to insult me), considers me a “pussy” because I don’t follow his particular approach for dealing with the mask nonsense.

I guess I’ll just have to live with it.

Just a Bad Weekend with the Ice Follies.

This week seemed to be a bit…difficult in the skating department.  I’m sure part of the problem was that I couldn’t sleep Friday night.  I mean, not at all.  Ended up pulling an all-nighter as sleep just would not come.  Don’t know why.  Also, Saturday, when I went to the afternoon public skate session, something felt “off” in my right ankle.  No pain, just a sense of weakness.

I decided to take it easy but to continue skating.

The rink was a little busier than it had been, which is a good thing since that means they’re making money and are more likely to stay open.  I set up the phone at one end of the rink to record my “basic skating”.  Forward stroking into one foot glides and forward crossovers at the ends of the rink.  I also included a bit of using the circle in the middle of the rink to practice forward crossovers in the other direction.  Was a bit shakier than usual on this.

One thing I notice here is that I am a bit more bent over at the waist than I should be.  Going to have to work on that.

Later, I did a bit of work on the circle.  Backward pumps in both directions, then backward edges, outside and inside, again in both directions, and finishing with forward crossovers in the clockwise direction.  These last ones are weaker than in the counterclockwise direction simply before the general “flow of traffic” in the rink is counterclockwise and so I get a lot more practice with it.  I also tried, as usual to do my two foot turn with each change of direction.  Backward to forward, I am told, is noticeably harder than forward to backward.

That was actually painful to watch.  On the one hand I was getting a bit better with my backward pumps, getting my foot out farther and getting more momentum which helps with holding the edges.  On the other, my balance was just off.  Part of that, I think, was whatever was off in my ankle and part of it was just “having a bad day”.

I called off the session after about 35 minutes, not wanting to strain too hard and didn’t attend the later session.

On Sunday, I went in for public skate.  Ankle felt better, so that was good.  And I had been able to sleep Saturday night which was better.  Nevertheless, the results were much like the above.  Again, I called it at about 35 minutes and sat on the benches to rest and wait for class to start.

Classes at this rink are divided into two groups.  The first group, containing the young kids and the Basic 1-3 classes is at 3:15 to 3:45.  The second group is the higher classes and all the adults.  One end of the rink is marked off with cones and when one group is on the ice the other can use that maked off area for some extra practice.  I spent the time in there working on a couple of fundamentals:  stopping, both snowplows and t-stops, and backward one foot glides.  More work in the latter was recommended to me in an online forum on the grounds that it would help me with the backward edges.

This work made it very clear that I was less stable on my right foot than on my left.  So while the ankle felt better, there was still something off.

My instructors are great.  I explained that I was having some issues this week and would like to take it a bit easy and so we did.  In class, one of the things my instructor had me do, toward the end of class, was to try was when I cross, instead of immediately bringing the back leg around, just hold that crossed two foot glide for a bit.  This would ensure that I had both skates lined up the same way and would help me be more stable and fluid when skating.  So, I tried it and it seemed to help.  Will do more in the future.

Another thing we did was those two foot turns.  Part of my problem is that I don’t have the “torsional flexibility” in my upper body to make it work well. On a standing two foot turn I can do it if I give my upper body a bit of dynamic twist and turn just as I hit the limit of body twist.  I do much the same thing on the circle but that I’m going around the circle tends to disguise the motion a bit.  In class with the standing turns, my instructor said to not worry about getting the skates all the way around.  Just get the motion down so the hips legs and feet are turning while the arms stay still.  After the standing two foot turns, we tried it on the circle.  The other two students (at a somewhat lower level) were on one.  I was on another and since I had it to myself I would just go round and round trying front to back then back to front over and over again, then, after a while, reverse and go the other direction, front to back and back to front.

I seem to have made some progress on the two foot turns and, coming in what was a generally bad weekend, I’ll take that as a win.

And that was my weekend at the ice follies.

Project Miata. Part One Starting to Dig into the Engine. (Warning: Graphics intensive)

So, a few months ago I was in a minor accident with my Ford Explorer.  Nobody was hurt but insurance totaled out the Explorer.  Well it was 15 years old and it doesn’t take much for insurance to say “not worth it.” So that left me without a daily driver.  I had my Miata in the garage but it had been parked for a very long time.  The tires were shot.  The battery was D. E. A. D.

So, first step was to replace the battery and the tires.  While I had a rental (courtesy of insurance) I took the wheels to the tire shop and got a new set of tires mounted.  Ran to Batteries Plus and got a new battery.  Got them home, installed them on the Miata and…great, it runs.

Apparently, however, a seal or something had deteriorated during its long period parked because a couple weeks later, while driving to work, the engine dies and I’m just coasting down the Interstate.  I shift to neutral to avoid slowing down to fast (like right in the middle of the road) and pull over to the side.  While I’m doing that  I manage a glance at the instruments and…oh, engine temperature is pegged high.

This does not look good.  Long story short, it wasn’t.  Engine was toast.  I had great insurance, including roadside assistance to get the car to a shop (Yay) and they check and no compression on three of the cylinders and just a hair on one of them.  Yep.  Engine is toast.

Too expensive to fix with the resources I had available at the time, at least not quickly, so I end up replacing the car (2009 Kia Spectra with 5 speed manual which I think is going to be another project, but that’s for another day).  Later I have the Miata towed home (the shop recommended a tow company, Ward’s Towing, and they give me the “shop rate” so it’s only $80 to get the car back home even though it’s all the way across town).

Now, thanks to the time I spent with “Uncle Denny” (see the “My Life” posts, particularly part 8 and the forthcoming Part 10) I have considerable confidence that I can do the work to repair the engine.  It just will take time.

And, so I’ve started.  First step was to start tearing into the car to find out just how extensive the damage is.  If it’s just a blown cylinder head gasket, that’s one thing.  If it’s scored cylinder walls, that’s a whole other, and more extensive, matter.  I’ll be working on this bit by bit over time and plan to chronicle the endeavor here.

I got the car up on jackstands.  I figure I’ll have to be under it as well as working from the top so might as well get ready for that now.  Then I opened up the hood and started the process of tearing into the engine.  This first batch involves removing things that I can readily access and know need to come out so as to uncover other parts as I get to them.  I also disconnected the battery.  Remember that in a Miata, the battery is in the trunk.

This series will be a fairly complete record of what I do, mistakes and false trails and all.  Also note that I don’t always have the correct name for things ready to hand as I am doing this so I’ll make up a description.  If anything is unclear, let me know and I’ll try to clarify.

Here’s what I start with under the hood.  The first thing I see to remove is the air tube that runs across the front of the engine from the air filter to the intake manifold.

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There’s a hose that connects the air tube to something deeper in the engine compartment.  It’s held in place by a clamp.  There’s a special tool for removing these clamps but I didn’t have one.   Vice grips worked well enough for this:

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Once the clamp is loosened, prying from above and pulling and wiggling from below gets it removed.

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This hose cuts across the front of the valve cover and is just force fit onto a barb connection.

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Once again, prying and pulling gets it removed.

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With the extra hoses removed, we can now start working on the main air tube.  This claim is kept tight by a screw, use a philips screwdriver to loosen it.

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Once the clamp is loosened, you can pull the tube free at this end.

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Same kind of clamp at the other end.

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Once you free the other end and pull it loose, the whole thing just lifts out.  Here it is set in front of the radiator.

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Next piece that looks to be in the way is the upper radiator hose.

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Same type of clamps as those previous hoses.  A bit bigger so I had to use a larger pair of vice grips to loosen them.

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And once again some prying, some pulling, managed to get it free.

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The other end is a bit more difficult because the grip points on the clamp were on the underside and thus, harder to reach.  Still, I got the vice grip on there.

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And it came free.  This end was a bit more difficult.  I won’t say that there was some swearing involved in getting it off, but there was some swearing involved in getting it off.

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Next is the thermostat housing.  It’s not really in the way at this point, but since I think it’s going to have to come off eventually for the work I need to do, now is as good a time as any to remove it.  It’s held in place by a bolt on top and a nut underneath.  Both require a 12 mm driver.

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Housing comes off nicely, along with the thermostat itself.  I screwed the bolt and nut loosely back into place just to keep from losing track of them.  Notice that I’ve also stuck the upper radiator hose onto the radiator, twisted upward and out of the way.  This, likewise, was to keep from losing track of it.  Note those two hoses coming from the bottom of the thermostat receptical.  I decided to disconnect them because, again, they were going to have to be disconnected eventually and now is as good a time as any.

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Same kind of clamp arrangement as before.

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They come loose without any trouble.

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Next step is the valuve cover.  I found eight bolts that need to be removed.  There are two at the front that hold clips that secure a hose that we disconnected from the air tube up above.  They look like they might need to be removed, but they do not.  They are very short and don’t extend through the valve cover into the cylinder head.  With the hose disconnected, you can ignore them.

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Disconnect the PCV valve.  I found that it comes loose with a gentle pull.

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Next pull the spark plug wires and set them aside.  Normally, at this point I’d remove the spark plugs too but I decided to leave them, both to save me the trouble of digging up the proper spark plug socket and to also keep the spark plug holes plugged to avoid anything falling into the cylinder while I’m working on this stuff.

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Next, remove the bolts that hold down the valve cover.  These require a 10 mm socket.  Yes, the infamous always disappearing 10 mm socket.  I had a problem when I first started in that I thought the head had been stripped.  Turned out the problem was that the socket was cheap junk and had split so it couldn’t properly grip the bolt.  Fortunately, I had another.

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Decided to remove the spark plug wires entirely and set them aside, just get them completely out of the way.

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And the valve cover still would not come off.  Something was hanging up at the back.  I thought maybe it was the wiring tethering it into place so I disconnected these two plugs.

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That wasn’t it.  I stopped at that point to look online (or if I can find my fershlunger manual; it’s around here someplace) to see what I missed.

That’s where I pick up next time on Project Miata.

My Life, Part Nine: Interlude Back to Virginia

Either towards the end of Third Grade or early during the summer, my parents, my sister, and I moved to the house next to Uncle Denny’s.  That house, too, still seems to be there:


The house, as you can see, is long and skinny.  While I have no idea what internal remodeling might have been done in the years since we lived there, the lower level was divided into a living room up front and a kitchen/dining area in the back.  The upper floor was divided into two bedrooms, the master bedroom in the back and a second up front.

My mother and Bruce had the room in the back.  My sister and I shared the one up front.  I don’t have a lot of memories of this house and living here.  I had a friend up the street.  His family had dogs, a German Shepherd and a Bulldog.  Both kept chained up outside (in and of itself something I abhor).  I had a few other friends around the neighborhood.

One day, my mother came home and told my sister and I to get packed up.  We were leaving.  Looking back at how narrow the time frame after her trip to the hospital could have happened to how early this must have happened I suspect she had found out about Bruce’s “fling” and decided to leave him.

I was ecstatic at the idea of leaving Bruce.  At the time I had little knowledge of just what a monster had proven to be and would continue to prove to be–and I certainly didn’t know his role in my mother collapsing and going to the hospital–but I do know that I utterly loathed (even without having that word for it back then) that man.  In the course of packing up I gave a bunch of my toys, that I would not be able to take with me, to some of my neighborhood friends.

We loaded up the car and headed out.

We drove through to my Aunt Pauline and Uncle George’s house in Chesapeake, VA.  They were actually a Great Aunt and Uncle.  Pauline was, I think, the sister of my maternal Grandmother.  They were fairly well off, living in a nice house in a nice suburban neighborhood.

And, so, once again I had to make new friends.  There weren’t many kids my age in that neighborhood.  A girl about a year older than me (I think; I’m guessing here) a couple of houses down and across the street.  I think she may have been my first crush but, well, I don’t have many clear memories of that time.

While we were staying with Pauline and George I started fourth grade.  The school in which Pauline and George’s house resided was a nice one for the time.  And a strange thing.  For the first time since 1st grade I wasn’t being bullied in school.  I remember a couple of things from this period.  One was that in 4th Grade Virginia schools of that time introduced Virginia History.  And partway into that one of the things we had to do was memorize Patrick Henry’s famous “give me liberty or give me death” speech.

One of my classmates would intone the famous final line and I asked him “which will you have, then, liberty or death?” He said “I’ll take death.” So I “made a gun” with my finger and thumb and “bang.” He said “I’m Superman and can’t die.” Then he collapsed forward onto his desk, playing dead.

Well, to a ten year old this was hilarious.

Not long after I started school my mother found a job and a place of our own in Portsmouth.  While we were welcome enough at Pauline and George’s (as Robert Frost put it, “Home is where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in, something you somehow haven’t to deserve”) still, it was better to not be a burden on them if we could avoid it.

The place we lived was a small second-floor walk-up.  Two bedrooms.  Living room and kitchen/dining area in the middle.  One bedroom in the “front (street-facing) and the other in the rear (small yard and alley).  There was a big pecan tree in that small yard.

For a while my mother would take me and my sister each morning to the bus stop where we caught the school bus.  However, some time later we were unable to continue at that school.  I think, again looking back, that the school learned that we no longer lived in the district and insisted we transfer to the correct school for where we were living.

The new school was a lot less “nice” than the one at Pauline and George’s.  The building was much ratier and more run down.  Less shiny new equipment.  Still, it covered the same material and the kids were much the same.

We were…really poor during this time.  My mother was somehow able to pick up a few comic books for me from time to time.  It was during this period that I decided I wanted to be a superhero.  I really wanted to be a superhero.  So I had the clever idea that, hey, vitamins help build strong bodies right?  So if I take lots and lots of vitamins I can get super strong to be a superhero.  So I convinced my mother to buy vitamins for us (Flintstone’s Chewables, to be exact) and I chomped down a dozen or so.

No super powers, of course.

Oh, well.  That idea of “how to be a super hero” was a perennial idea in my head through much of my childhood and even into young adulthood.  Even today I’ll still find myself occasionally wistfully thinking “I wonder if there’s some way…” Oh, well.  Life, as they say, goes on.

That pecan tree came into fruit and was the source of endless snacking.  I learned how to crack open the shells without a nutcracker (or hammer or anything like that).  Take two pecans in your hand and squeeze them together.  One of them will crack open and you can peel it and eat the nut meat inside.  Repeat.

It started approaching Christmas time.  We couldn’t afford much in the way of decorations.  We didn’t have a tree.  I had seen the shiny aluminum trees and tried, using straightened out coat hangers and cut up pieces of aluminum foil to make one.  It…did not go well.  Christmas eve, my sister and I went to bed, wondering what Santa would bring us.  I ended up waking in the wee hours and came out to find a big pile of toys on and around the coffee table.  One of the items was one of those “football playing” games–where you place men on a metal table set up like a football field and a motor causes the tabletop to vibrate moving the men around the field.  That was a pretty nice toy back in the day.

Santa had made it.

I don’t know how she did it, but I will say this for my mother:  she always managed to give us a good Christmas.  We had our Christmas feast.  It may have been chicken rather than turkey–I don’t really remember–but it was good and the most important ingredient was there:  love.  We may not have had much in the way of money and goods but we loved each other.

Not long after that mother was apparently convinced to return to Bruce in Ohio.  I don’t know what went on behind the scenes there but one day we were packed up again and headed back to Ohio.  Thus ended probably the last truly happy period of my childhood.

More next time.