Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Sword of Shannara (update)

Terry Brooks' Sword of Shannara, as well as the entire Shannara  mythopoeia spanning twenty eight volumes, was high fantasy.  As such, none of the characters ever uttered either of the phrases:

  • "she doesn't want a rover's sloppy seconds" (Eretria referring to her sexual relation with Wil)
  • "not just the boys" (Eretria as she hits on Amberle, Elven princess)
Additionally, Cephelo attempts to rape Amberle (and apparently raped Eretria for years although that it not completely clear) and yet they work with him extensively.

Even most annoyingly, the Four Lands (the setting of the Shannara books) is littered with old pieces of modern civilization including swingsets and toxic waste dumps.  Although it has been some  years since I read the original books (Sword of, Elfstones of, and Wishsong of) I have no recollection of any remnants of modernity in any of the books.

Wil continues to be a total douche, the acting is sub par, there orcs wear welding goggles for some reason, but ...

I am still watching. Through episode 7.  Maybe it's because I am a huge Shannara fan, loved all most of the books, and want to see if, somehow, it gets better.

Monday, August 22, 2016

This Old Garage (1909 Renovation continues apace)

Still working on the house but decided to take a break and do the garage.  Original plan, new garage.

At $18,000 worth of materials, having not yet counted the site prep, the concrete, and the money for the guys who were going to help me, and having a budget of approximately $20,000 I abandoned the plan.

New plan.  Fix old garage.

Built sometime between 1909 (house built) and 1935 (they stopped using that particular kind of door hardware, it needs some work.  Right now it floods every time it rains, it is home to swarms of rats who harass me and eat out my substance, The main door is a sliding door that only opens enough to squeeze my Harley through, and the man door was kicked in by local drug addicts looking for stuff to pawn (they went to jail cause I am smarter than them).

First job, take out all the insulation and drywall which serves mainly to provide dark and dry housing for aforementioned rats.

Oh, wait.  It might have asbestos in it.  I had made the mistake of applying for a demolition permit back when I thought it was coming down and turns out you can't rip out drywall and insulation without having it tested for asbestos.  Stupid me, I should have kept my damn mouth shut.

Phew.  Would have enjoyed spending that $121 on something I actually wanted, but there you go.

Moving on, here's part of the problem or possibly part of the consequences of the problem.  A typical sill plate.  Any questions?

The solution, according to those who know more than I is to jack up the garage, pour a stem wall, cut out the bottom couple feet of current garage, frame in a couple feet of garage wall, lower old and sound garage onto new frame, do the happy dance.

First step, brace all the corners and the door opening.

Second step, build beams to use for supporting the garage after it's been jacked up.  (2x4s, three rows, screwed together and to the trusses).

Wednesday the digger comes and trenches out both sides of the garage to a) give us room to build forms and 2) provide somewhere for new drains.

Friday we'll jack, form, and hopefully concrete.  Next week, install frames, lower, do the happy dance.  I will probably also use some of my winnings (aka savings from not building the $30k project) to pay a professional to come in and paint the damn thing in about two hours, rather than the week or so it would take me.

Oh, want to hear the jack story?  Using Hi Lift jacks...

...thought I'd rent them.  Pretty common project, right?  Jack up a small building and repair the foundation?  One rental company in the whole county has three jacks.  I need eight.

One shop has them for sale, but only two of them and they're 48", I sort of need 60".  Another shop has them for sale but only one of them, also 48".  Third shop has three 60" and two 48".  The price is $80 each.  What the hell?  That's what I paid to rent them for two weeks.  Now I have eight jacks, (three of them rented and two of them shorter than I really wanted, but I can make do.  One corner is in good shape so we don't need to lift that corner quite as high.).  I am, however, the proud owner of five Hi Lift jacks.  Maybe I'll start a rental business with pictures about how easy it is to lift your garage.  Buy three more, rent all eight for $150 a week, I'll have my money back after five weeks of rental then it's pure profit.  Something to think about.

Anyway, jacked up one corner, just to get it level (refer to Picture 2 to notice the sagging off to the right since the sills there were completely rotted out and pretty much gone, leaving a nice large hole for water and rats.  I suspect that the downpipe there was also just funneling water from the roof right through the hole since there are no drains to speak of at this point.)  A good six inches of space just to get it leveled out.  Combination of rotted wood and sunken slab I guess.

Building the sub-frames tomorrow to have them ready to go, trenching Wednesday, jacking up on Friday to build forms and pour concrete, so stay tuned for the next installment.

Oh, probably going to pour a graded slab overtop the current slab after everything else is done, just to get a smoother surface and maybe a little drainage in the right direction.  I know, overpouring concrete, bad idea, but better than what's there and cheaper than busting up the whole thing and pouring a new slab.

See you next time.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

I'm on a mother#$/^&*() bike

Rode twenty miles round trip to have breakfast with my sister a few weeks ago.  Lots of hills in California, it was a good ride and a lot of fun.

Wanted to see if I could ride to work.  It's about twenty miles but all flat.  Rode down this morning (I say down because it's south and as everyone knows, south is down) and it wasn't bad.  Took almost an hour and a half but OK, I guess I could get up early once a week or so.

The fun really started when I went to ride home.  I'd worked for about three hours so thought I might have my energy back.  Energy, however, wasn't the problem.  By the time I'd ridden about halfway home my thighs hurt so badly I could barely peddle.  I stopped for a coffee but it didn't really help.  Got home and my quads hurt just standing.  Took a hot shower and a couple Advil and I feel OK but I'm not sure if I'll be able to walk in the morning.  Maybe take a bus home, or maybe I just need to do some more ten to fifteen mile rides to get in better riding shape.

By the way, Batavus Monte Carlo  from the seventies.  I bought it used in 1984 when I went to college.  Just rebuilt it.

Defining the debate

It occurs to me that one of the reasons that I am not good at debate is that I don't think particularly quickly.  I am often at a bit of a loss when someone makes what seems to be a reasonable argument but I know it is flawed, I just can't think quickly enough to figure out the problem.  Part of the solution may be to determine in advance the most effective responses to various arguments.  One issue that I have seen is allowing the opposition to define the terms of the debate.

Example. "You can't be free if you are struggling to survive.  You are trapped in a situation that doesn't allow you to be free, therefore the government must provide you with a certain standard of living so that you can do what you want to do".

The problem here is a actually one of definition.  The opposition has defined freedom to mean "the ability to do anything you want" and if we a accept their definition then their argument is reasonable.  If we redefine freedom as the ability to make your own choices even if you must live with the consequences then the argument starts to fall apart.  If you are struggling to get by then you have the freedom to do the extra to change your situation.  When the government steps in they must, by definition, take from others to provide that help,  reducing the freedom of those others to advance their own situations.

Taking a bit of time to ponder the definitions that our opponents are using might be the difference between winning and losing the debate.  I refer you back to the phrase "assault weapon" which is meaningless but has become a part of the language and is now enshrined in law.

The Sword of Shannara

Watching on Netflix.  I don't remember Wil Ohmsford being such a tool or Allanon being so annoying.   Meanwhile none of the four main characters seem to be able to act at all so there's that.  I will probably watch a  couple more episodes before I pass final judgement as I'm only on episode 2.  Maybe it will get better.  Maybe the actors learn to act.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Washington state Superintendent of Public Instruction

With ballots being due by the end of next week, a few notes on the qualifications of some of the candidates, to help you make your choice.  At the end I'll tell you the kinds of things that I am looking for with a bit more detail.

Chris Reykdal used the words "designed by people of privilege" when referring to our education system.  In my mind this automatically disqualifies him from anything, up to and including handing me my fries at McDonalds.

Prouty and Fleming both oppose charter schools.  Disqualifying.  A more open and free market in education may be the only way that we can actually improve education by allowing parents to have the ability to move their children to better schools.  Add to this the fact that the people of Washington voted to have them, these candidates are out of touch with what people want.

Jones is endorsed by The Stranger.  Nuff said.

Runte has a PhD in Environmental History which should exclude him from consideration, but his positions seem sound.

Blair.  I like his ideas.  I doubt he can get elected.  He will be opposed by the major players.  I suspect that his proposals are too radical to be implemented by the Legislature or supported by the majority of people in the state.

Higgins sounds good but his website is short on specific policy proposals.  It's also a bit concerning to me that he has jumped around a lot and has very little real educational experience (I don't count being a substitute teacher as real experience.  You don't have to deal with lesson planning, establishing classroom norms, grading, evaluations, bureaucracy, etc)

Maksirisombat is a straight up leftist who is opposed to parents having choices in education.  He doesn't have a web page but I was able to find his King County Democrats questionnaire.

Spring hits the buzzwords on his website.  What exactly does "fully fund" mean?  The court said it but they've never defined it.  Free college, lower property taxes, reduce class sizes, increase the graduation rate?  Buzzwords with little meaning and many problems.  What we really need is some new ideas, not rehashing of the things that haven't worked.

Takeaways: Blair and Runte seem to be the best possible choices given the limited amount of information available, Runte is probably more electable and has ideas that will more readily translate into actual programs and accomplishments within the system that we appear to be stuck with.

So what do I think of all the various proposals?

Charter schools: If parents have choice education will get better.  Parents are most qualified to decide what best suits their children.  I support a complete voucher system where each parent gets a voucher and chooses a school.  Charter schools is at least a step in the direction of more choice.

Fully funding education: Given that no one is willing to actually define this, if I were in the Legislature I'd do what they are doing, which is tell the State Supremes to push off.  All we ever hear about is that our schools don't get enough money, but there is plenty of research out there that suggests that funding and achievement don't necessarily go hand in hand when it comes to education.

College for all: Bullshit.  I can make you a list of a hundred students right now that have no business going to college.  They aren't suited for it academically, they aren't interested in it careerwise.  What we really need is to scale back the push for college for everyone and make more opportunities available for trade school and apprenticeship programs.  There's nothing wrong with being a plumber or a mechanic.  I am a highly qualified Harley mechanic in addition to being a teacher and someone who has that aptitude should pursue it and be provided with the opportunity in our education system.

Increase the graduation rate:  Sounds good but what does this mean?  I could increase the graduation rate tomorrow by eliminating the hard classes and lowering the standards.  This is the story of our state testing.  The WASL was really hard, the HSPE was less difficult, the EOC was pretty easy.  Each time we changed tests the passing rates went up.  Were we teaching them better?  Nope.  How about instead we have an alternative track for students who aren't academically inclined?  Get rid of advanced algebra and replace it with trade math for students who want to go in that direction.  Get rid of advanced literature classes and replace them with tech classes for those students.  Teach the students who aren't academic civics, reading, writing, basic math and give them a taste of the trades so that they can make an educated decision (no pun intended).

What else?  I don't know.  There is more but I think that covers the basics.  Hope it helped.

PS I'm not running so don't ask.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

There is nothing new under the sun

During the third and fourth centuries the Roman armies, whose legions were primarily composed of Roman citizens with auxiliary troops from subject areas within the Empire, began hiring mercenaries from outside the Empire to fill their legions.  Many of these came from the Germanic tribes.  I remember reading Gibbons' The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire when I was in high school and I seem to remember that the citizens, enjoying the prosperity of Empire, didn't want to join the legions (twenty five year term of service), so started paying mercenaries take their places instead.

In an interesting turn of events, the German parliament (Bundeswehr) has recently been considering recruiting foreigners to fill it's army ranks.

As Marcus Aurelius once said "almost all of the transactions in the time of Vespasian differed little from those of the present day" or to quote a more modern version from Ecclesiastes "there is nothing new under the sun".

I wonder if the results will be the same.  In 410 AD Rome was sacked by the Visigoths, a milestone in the decline and fall of the Empire.  We don't sack cities anymore but what might be the modern equivalent?