Saturday, April 19, 2014

The hardest separation


Brigid, dear friend to Miss D. and myself, lost her big brother yesterday.  He'd fought cancer for many months, but the disease finally won.  She's written very movingly about him on her blog.  Go read her words for yourself - they're worth your time.

The bond between adopted siblings is sometimes a particularly close one.  I'm not adopted, but I've seen it before, and I understand it.  When one's adopted, there's sometimes a sense that one's been abandoned by those who should have loved you for yourself . . . but for some reason they didn't.  The child wonders, sometimes so deep that there are no words to describe it, whether he did something so bad that they refused to keep him, or whether she was so far from what they wanted that they decided to throw her away and try again.  The interior monologues are sometimes truly that brutal.

For that reason, the bond forged between two children who come together when adopted into a new family is sometimes extraordinarily strong and tenacious.  They look out for each other, protect each other, keep a wary eye on their adopted family until they're sure they won't be abandoned again, stand up for each other in school . . . to use a military expression from my youth, they're 'foxhole buddies'.  They've got each others' backs, no matter what.  Brigid certainly seems to have been at least that close, if not closer, to her adoptive brother.

I know how my friend's feeling tonight.  There's an emptiness in a part of her very soul, a place that was full but is now hollow.  It's a lousy place to be.  She has the warmth of others' love for her, from her husband to her father to her friends, but that's like an external blanket placed around a chilly center.  In time it'll provide warmth, but right now that warmth can't penetrate to the innermost core of her being, where a part of her from her earliest years is now raw and painful.

Say a prayer for Brigid tonight, and for her adoptive father, and for her brother's soul.  They're all in need of the comfort of this Easter season, when we celebrate rising to new life.  May her brother do so now, and may she - and all of us - follow him when the time comes.

Peter

Seeing sounds


I was interested to find this video from NPR on YouTube.  It shows how sound waves can be photographed using special techniques, so that one can literally 'see sound'.





Let's hear it for science!

Peter

Friday, April 18, 2014

Squeeee!


I'm in the process of sorting out a large number of boxes of possessions that I brought with me from Louisiana when I came to Tennessee to marry Miss D. and settle here.  I've not had to do so in the past because the house we share with a friend doesn't have space for all our stuff, so it's been stored in the garage.  However, our housemate will be getting married soon and will want his privacy, so Miss D. and I will be looking to rent somewhere else.

Regular readers will remember that back in 2008 I had a fire at my home in Louisiana, followed within a few weeks by further damage caused by Hurricane Gustav.  The upshot was that all my possessions had to be removed from my house so that it could be repaired and renovated (all courtesy of my insurance company, who were a bit taken aback to have two major damage claims submitted within a matter of a few weeks!  They paid up like gentlemen, though.)  As part of the process I boxed up a number of riflescopes and other goodies that I'd just bought, and the box was duly moved to storage along with the others.  Unfortunately I never saw it again.  I presumed it had been stolen by one of the hired help assisting with the move.

I've been planning to buy half a dozen riflescopes over the next few months to upgrade some of my long guns, and had begun to set aside money for the purpose.  Today, while emptying and moving boxes, I came across a big one that felt strangely heavy.  I opened it, and beneath a layer of papers and books I found a smaller box.  It was the one in which I'd packed those riflescopes back in 2008!  I can only assume that a mover decided to pack my stuff more efficiently than I had, and dropped the smaller box into the larger one.

However it got there, I'm delighted at my good fortune.  I now have the following brand-new scopes lined up next to my desk, ready to install:


According to the invoices in the box, I spent less than $400 in 2008 to buy them all at various sales and through special offers.  To replace them today would cost three to four times as much - I've just priced them all at Amazon.com.  Now I don't need to, because they're still new in their boxes and ready to go.

I think this evening I'm the living definition of a happy camper shooter . . .




Peter

A video feast for the eyes


There's great news for history and video buffs.  British Pathé has uploaded its entire library of historic 'moving images' to YouTube.  The Telegraph reports:

The archive of 3,500 hours of footage was digitised in 2002 thanks in part to a grant from the National Lottery, and is now freely accessible to anyone around the world for free.

The unique collection of video covers major events, famous faces, travel, sport and culture and is a wealth of information on the First and Second World Wars in particular.

Scrolling through the archives reveals everything from the tragic: Emily Davison throwing herself under the King's horse, the Hindenburg disaster and the Hiroshima bombing, to the downright unusual, such as Southampton University's 1962 attempt to launch a flying bicycle.

Founded in Paris in 1896, Pathé launched in Britain 14 years later. It single-handedly invented the modern television news format but ceased recording in 1970. After that it was sold several times, at one point to EMI, but launched as an independent archive in 2009. Two years later it opened a YouTube channel and has today announced the final step in digitising and uploading its entire collection to Google's video sharing platform.

There's more at the link.

I clicked over to British Pathé's YouTube channel, and was amazed by the variety of clips they offer.  Here are three, in no particular order of importance.  First, suffragette Emily Davison throws herself beneath the hooves of the King's horse in 1913 (she died of her injuries four days later).





Next, the world's first helicopters - described by Pathé as "The Good, The Bad and The Sheer Dangerous!"





Last but by no means least, the sinking and explosion of the battleship HMS Barham in 1941 after being torpedoed by a German submarine in the Mediterranean.





There are many more videos at the link.  I can see I'm going to spend hours going through them.

Peter

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Reorganizing the gun safe


I've been hard at work on a lot of domestic tasks that have been neglected for too long.  One of them was to reorganize my gun safe.

Handguns are always a problem to store in such a way that they don't knock into each other or rest precariously on top of each other, to fall out and get damaged if you so much as look at them crossways.  I've used two primary storage methods for them.  The first is Acorn holsters attached with Velcro to the inside of my gun safe door.  (All images courtesy of Amazon.com.)




These hold lighter handguns, typically polymer-framed pistols or lightweight (i.e. alloy-framed) revolvers.  I prefer to mount the holsters on a sheet of felt-type material hanging from the top of the safe door, because I found their Velcro tabs pulled fuzz off the door lining without that extra protection.

My second storage method was, until yesterday, a Liberty Safes wood rack holding 8 handguns, storing them pointing vertically upwards.




The difficulty with this gun rack is that, if you have rifles and shotguns with long barrels in your gun safe, it forces you to move the top shelf upward to accommodate them.  This means that there's less vertical space above the top shelf to store longer-barreled handguns in such a rack.  I found I could store 4" barreled revolvers and pistols with no problem, and some 5" models as well, but anything longer than that didn't fit.

I've accordingly swapped it for a Versatile Rack system.  It stores handguns lying on their backs, taking up much less vertical space.  They make them for anything from one to ten handguns, and even offer a kit to stack one rack on top of another if space permits.  Their VR10 rack is shown below;  as its name suggests, it holds up to 10 handguns.  This will fit across the top shelf of most medium to large gun safes.




Finally, I picked up some handgun hangers, which I attached to the top shelf of my gun safe.  The gun barrel slides over the lower prong, suspending the gun beneath the shelf.




I've put shorter rifles and shotguns on one side of the gun safe, so that handguns supported by these hangers don't interfere with them, and vice versa.

My gun safe is now much better organized, and I no longer have to stack handguns in boxes or pistol rugs on top of each other in every odd nook and cranny.  If you've had the same problem and/or want to make the most of the space available in your gun safe, I recommend this combination of solutions.

Peter

A smokescreen as home security device?


I'm sure many readers have heard about smoke generators used as anti-theft devices in some stores.  Here are a couple of video clips to illustrate the concept.  First, a demonstration of a device in England.





Next, an actual armed robbery in South Africa, foiled by the smoke generator.





Of course, both videos were provided by suppliers of these devices, so there may be failures that they prefer not to publicize.

I've had a couple of people ask me whether I thought it was a good idea to install something like this in one's home, to drive burglars or home invaders out without their being able to steal anything.  I'm not sure it is.  If there's a need to evacuate the home (for example, if a fire starts, or the intruders begin shooting wildly) the smoke might prevent one finding one's own way out of the danger zone.  However, if you know your home well, you can probably navigate around the corridors and to the front or back door by touch if necessary.  Intruders presumably won't have that same level of knowledge, so you might be able to get away from them.  (On the other hand, if they're fumbling around blindly and you walk into them, who knows what might happen?)

What say you, readers?  Good idea, or a complicating factor?

Peter

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Why our economy is as screwed as our politics


I know this article from CNS News has been highlighted on the Drudge Report today, and mentioned on a number of blogs, but I think it's worth mentioning it here too.  It demonstrates, clearly, concisely and in irrefutable arithmetical fact, precisely why our economy - and our politics - are neck-deep in the dwang.  What's more, they're going to stay there until our feckless politicians stop making promises they can't afford to keep, and start living within the nation's means.  I don't foresee that happening with any of the current crop in Washington.

Here are a couple of key quotes from the article.

86M Full-Time Private-Sector Workers Sustain 148M Benefit Takers

. . .

The 86,429,000 Americans who worked full-time, year-round in the private sector, included 77,392,000 employed as wage and salary workers for private-sector enterprises and 9,037,000 who worked for themselves. (There were also approximately 52,000 who worked full-time, year-round without pay in a family enterprise.)

At first glance, 86,429,000 might seem like a healthy population of full-time private-sector workers. But then you need to look at what they are up against.

The Census Bureau also estimates the size of the benefit-receiving population.

. . .

There were 108,592,000 people in the fourth quarter of 2011 who lived in a household that included people on "one or more means-tested program."

Those 108,592,000 outnumbered the 86,429,000 full-time private-sector workers who inhabited the United States in 2012 by almost 1.3 to 1.

. . .

There were 49,901,000 people receiving Social Security in the fourth quarter of 2011, and 46,440,000 receiving Medicare. There were also 5,098,000 getting unemployment compensation.

And there were also, 3,178,000 veterans receiving benefits and 34,000 veterans getting educational assistance.

All told, including both the welfare recipients and the non-welfare beneficiaries, there were 151,014,000 who "received benefits from one or more programs" in the fourth quarter of 2011. Subtract the 3,212,000 veterans, who served their country in the most profound way possible, and that leaves 147,802,000 non-veteran benefit takers.

The 147,802,000 non-veteran benefit takers outnumbered the 86,429,000 full-time private sector workers 1.7 to 1.

How much more can the 86,429,000 endure?

As more baby boomers retire, and as Obamacare comes fully online — with its expanded Medicaid rolls and federally subsidized health insurance for anyone earning less than 400 percent of the poverty level — the number of takers will inevitably expand. And the number of full-time private-sector workers might also contract.

Eventually, there will be too few carrying too many, and America will break.

There's more at the link.  You really should read the whole thing.

Those of us who understand reality had better be preparing now for what will happen when it bites us all in the ass - because it will.  Mathematics is an exact, precise science.  The figures cited above are mathematical reality.  So is their inevitable consequence, no matter how much our politicians might like to ignore reality and pretend it'll never happen.

Peter

More fallout from the Nevada standoff


I'd like to recommend two articles to your attention.  Both have been spreading around the blogosphere today.

The first is a long, but very thought-provoking post over at Taxicab Depressions.  It's titled 'The Pig Trap', and uses that analogy to describe what the unelected bureaucracy running the federal government appears to be trying to do to us.  I'm not sure whether or not I fully agree with the author's perspective, but I certainly agree with parts of it.  Highly recommended reading.

Second, National Review Online has an acerbic take on the response of the US government to the Bundy standoff.  Money quote:

One can be a supporter of the rule of law and still recoil in anger and disgust from the militarized display of force by the federal government toward Clive Bundy ... The appalling contempt this government has shown toward its citizens and the rule of law is the context in which the Bundy-BLM confrontation is playing out. It’s a context that further diminishes, rather than enhances, Americans’ respect for the rule of law.

More and more I'm getting the impression that the Bundy standoff may prove to have been a turning point in the way Americans relate to their government.  I certainly hope so.

Peter

Doofus Of The Day #763


This one's courtesy of Autoblog.  The video is self-explanatory.





If that's how they tried to get it out, would anyone care to speculate how they got it in there in the first place?




Peter

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The 'last wishes' of a venerable VW vehicle


I'm sure many of my readers have driven (or been driven in) a VW Kombi, or Microbus, or van, or whatever it was called in their country.  (In South Africa it was first called the Kombi, then the Microbus for the variant with the updated body.)  I drove both types for thousands of miles up and down the country, ferrying people and supplies here and there.

The Kombi came onto the market as a derivation of the legendary VW Beetle, and was launched in 1950.  It's been manufactured in Brazil since 1957, and that country was also the last to make it.  The production line shut down at the end of last year after producing a final 600 vehicles in a special 'Final Edition', shown below.




To commemorate 63 years of production of the Kombi, Volkswagen produced this nostalgic advertisement guaranteed to appeal to old-timers like me.  YMMV, of course.





Clever, cute and nostalgic.  What's not to like?

Peter

"When Los Angeles was a rustic village"


That's the title of a photo essay in the Telegraph, featuring images dating back to the 19th century.  Here are a couple of them to whet your appetite.



Visitors to Santa Monica Beach in the 1880's



San Fernando Valley in the 1890's


Looks a bit different today, doesn't it?  There are many more images at the link.  Interesting viewing for history buffs.

Peter

Special price on "Take The Star Road" - two days only!


If any of my readers haven't tried my novels yet, and would like to, I'm currently running a promotion through Amazon's Kindle Countdown Deals.  My first novel, 'Take The Star Road', is on special at 99c for the next couple of days.  The deal ends on Thursday evening.




I've publicized the promotion through BookBub and other services, and so far it's going very well.  I've sold almost 1,500 copies since it kicked off on Sunday evening.  Of course, because the price is heavily discounted I make much less money per book sold, but that's OK - I hope to gain a large number of readers who otherwise wouldn't have tried it at all, and who will (I hope) go on to enjoy my other books.

Finally, an appeal:  if you've read any of my books and have not yet left a review on Amazon.com, please, please do so!  It helps prospective readers decide whether they'd like to try it, and it helps me when it comes to arranging promotional deals like this - one factor that organizers take into account is the number and quality of reviews a book has attracted.

Thanks very much to everyone who's already bought one or more of my books.  You're a blessing.

Peter

Too cute for words!


Here's an utterly charming video, compiled from numerous clips, of youngsters recognizing their fathers as they come home from work.  It's irresistibly cute!





I know kids are an enormous amount of work, but this is one of the compensations.

Peter

Why I'm happy to pay taxes this year


Sounds odd, doesn't it?  Why should anybody be happy to pay taxes?

For me the story goes back to 2004, when I suffered a crippling injury at work.  Two surgeries later it became clear that I'd be permanently partially disabled, and I had to accept medical retirement.  A neurosurgeon told me bluntly that due to issues with pain, physical endurance, etc., I'd never again be able to work at a 'normal' 9-to-5 job, so I'd simply have to accept living on a disability pension.

My immediate reaction was, "To hell with that!"  My parents raised me to believe that a man looks after himself and his family;  pays his own way;  and relies on the assistance of others only when there's no alternative, and even then for as short a time as possible until he can stand on his own two feet again.  I was hampered, of course, by the fact that few employers would hire someone who couldn't do a full day's work for a full day's pay.  This grew even worse after the current recession hit in 2008;  with so many able-bodied workers desperate for a job, partially-abled folks like me weren't even considered most of the time.  Nevertheless, I had a plan.

In 1984, when I was 24 years old, my first book was published.  It dealt with prayer and wasn't commercial in orientation, but it proved (to me, at any rate) that I could write in a way that was interesting to others.  Several articles in professional journals had preceded it, and more followed until South Africa's civil unrest got in the way of further writing activities.  Therefore, after hearing that skeptical neurosurgeon in 2005 (and biting my lip to hold back a rude retort), I made up my mind to work hard at learning the craft of fiction writing and to try to make a living that way.  After all, my physical limitations wouldn't stop me writing whenever and wherever I could.

When pain woke me (as it often did, and still does) in the small hours of the morning, instead of taking another painkiller, I went to my study and wrote.  The pain wasn't fun, but it spurred me to harder work.  I found I could do a surprising amount while the rest of the world was asleep, even if I had to catch up on my rest during the day.  I wrote almost two dozen partial and complete novels over the next eight years, totaling a couple of million words.  None of them were very good:  but I learned from each failure, and worked harder, and the results got better and better.  (I wrote about the process at greater length last year.)

The publication of my first novels last year was the culmination of almost a decade of hard work.  I'm not earning a full living from them yet, but I made enough in 2013 for Uncle Sam to want a chunk of it.  I was happy to pay it.  It's concrete evidence to me that I'm contributing once more to the upkeep of the society in which I live, instead of just being a burden on it.  I'm once again a producer rather than a parasite.  That makes me all sorts of happy.  If I continue to work hard, and you continue to enjoy what I write, I hope to be fully self-supporting within another year or two.  I'm looking forward to the day when I can cancel further payments on my disability pension.

It's a good feeling.

Peter