Saturday, June 04, 2011

3275 Four tires in four months

Saturday, June 4, 2011

“Religious freedom means not only freedom to practice your religion,
but also freedom from being forced to practice someone else's.”
-- Charles Manning, letter in the Mensa Bulletin --


I save the quotes you see in green at the top of most posts because they make me think in some way. The above quote kicked off thoughts on our system of laws. Like, if I am forced to obey a law which is based on someone else's religion, then am I being forced to practice that religion? (Practice as opposed to belief.)

A simple example might be "Blue Laws", where businesses must close on Sunday. Sunday is the Christian Sabbath. If I must close my business (or am prohibited from selling certain wares) on Sunday, as opposed to Saturday, or whenever I chose, then I am being forced to observe the Christian Sabbath, regardless of whether I am Christian or not.

We have many laws based on religion as opposed to common law or agreed-upon morality.

This is not freedom of, nor freedom from. You see it as freedom only if it's your religion.


Steven King has said that his favorite stories involve ordinary people in extraordinary situations.

I agree. Me too.

I joined a movie Meetup group yesterday, and one of the organizer's questions was "What movie genres do you like best?" I found that difficult to answer, because I don't think in terms of genres. But it got me thinking about types of movies. It seems like many of the "big" movies coming out these days (those that don't involve gross-outs, anyway) revolve around extraordinary people in ordinary situations.

That doesn't interest me, because I feel no connection, and I'm not after escapism. I guess that's why I prefer the lower budget independent movies.


I spent a significant amount of time in the tire place waiting room yesterday. I had ordered two tires, but when they went to put them on, they found a bubble in a third tire, so that had to come from the warehouse. That makes four tires in four months.

On the left, the upper diagram shows an ordinary flat tire. The lower diagram is of a "run-flat" tire, like what's on Hal.

"A" is a reinforced sidewall that supports the weight of the car when the air pressure is too low to support it. The darker gray around the outside is a softer rubber. It needs to be softer for traction.

What happens, what makes the run-flat tire fragile, is that if you hit any sudden bump - a pothole, a curb, a sharp ridge in the road - because of the difference in the "give" between the two layers, the layers may (probably will) separate. That's called "side wall shear". If air gets into that space, you'll get a visible bubble on the sidewall of the tire. You can drive on it, but it will eventually go flat, and the possibility of a sudden blowout exists. Although a mechanic might not worry about it on his own car, he's not going to tell you it's safe, because if it's not, if it suddenly, unexpectedly, fully separates, it could cause a serious accident.

So. I drove Hal a lot in NY, May 2010 thru December 2011, with no problem with the tires. I brought him down to NJ, and in the past five months on NJ roads I have replaced all four tires! All due to bubbles. The damn things had about 3,000 miles on them - still had the little feathers of rubber that stick out on new tires.

After the first one, which I know was due to a deep pothole, and finding out what Hal's tires cost when bought through BMW, I have been very careful. I've avoided certain roads, and I've watched the road ahead so I can take evasive action if I see a hole or bump coming up. Hal's very very good at those quick evasive moves. He's got sports car react time. I am positive I have hit no significant potholes since that bad one. And I am 100% sure I have never hit a curb.

Surprise - a quick move, a jerk to one side as you'd do to avoid a suddenly visible pothole, can also cause side wall shear. So can taking a tight turn too fast.

You're kidding me.

I've got a sporty little sexpot, who can dance sideways, and take turns like a quarter horse, that I have to drive as if it's an old bent man with a cane?

What's the point?

I already have less enjoyment driving Hal, knowing that hitting a bump, or NOT hitting a bump, can easily cost me a small fortune. And NJ roads are mostly ridges, holes, lumps, and bumps. I've never seen such bad roads in my life, not even on the back roads of upstate NY, or in the woods and mountains of central PA.

Friday, June 03, 2011

3274 This one took a minute

... then cracked me up.


(This assumes, of course, that you're familiar with the original joke it's based on.)

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

3273 A good thing

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Infidelity isn't about whom you lie with. It's whom you lie to.
-- Frank Pittman, MD --


My potted patio tomato plant has really taken off. It's big and lush and covered with blossoms.

The two potted sweet pepper plants, however, haven't done as well. There was no change in size for three weeks. Then, about three days ago, I checked it more carefully, and found it covered with cheek-by-jowl aphids. They weren't there the day before.

About the same time I noticed some kind of tiny bee-like insect hovering and darting around almost all my flowers - the pansies in particular. They move like bees. A bee with a very pointy behind. It looked dangerous, bite or sting, and was showing far too much interest in the flowers on the porch.

I wasn't able to get out to find something that would kill aphids without poisoning the peppers or the soil until yesterday. I found a spray that is all plant oils, like peppermint, rosemary thyme, and clove, and not much else (EcoSmart). The directions said to wait until the cool of evening to spray.

So last evening I went to spray the peppers, and was amazed! In one day they'd almost doubled in size and had a healthy knot of infant leaves. And no aphids! None. Two days before they had been covered with them. Now there were none.

Very strange.

Later, out of curiosity, I got out my bug book and looked up the tiny bee-darting thingy.

It's called a snipe fly (family Rhagionidae), and they are predators, and their favorite snack is aphids.


That's where the aphids went.

In this photo, scarfed from the internet, it's obvious it's some kind of fly, not bee, just by the shape of the head and eyes - but they are so tiny you don't notice that. One easy to notice characteristic is that if one lands near you, and you move to touch it, it will hop and sidle away rather than take off.

So if you see any tiny (less than 1/3 inch) bee-looking things with long pointy behinds in your garden, don't hurt them. They might LOOK like they could bite or sting, but they don't.

Send them my way.

3272 Frustration

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

One can be spiritual without being religious.
One can be religious without being spiritual.
They are two different things, with a casual, not causal, relationship.
-- Silk --


It is now June. My plan was to be out of the old house by now, and to be started on the repairs to be made before I can sell it as something more than a "fixer-upper". Ha!

First there was the miserable winter that grounded me, then this kidney thing that has floored me.

I'm very frustrated.

I called the doctor's assistant yesterday, as ordered, to set up the blasting of the stone ("ESWL", google it) which I thought was supposed to happen on "Friday or Monday". I foolishly assumed that was this coming Friday or Monday. Of course not.

I actually swore at the assistant when I was told that the machine travels around among hospitals, and won't be here until June 17th. And the doctor does procedures only on Friday and Monday, because otherwise he's seeing patients in his office. So it won't happen until the 17th.

I am extremely upset. As I said to Daughter, maybe the Fates are trying to teach me something.

Daughter wants me to give up and find another urologist. But given that three CT scans and three X-ray sets haven't clarified exactly what my physical arrangement is in there, I'm afraid another doctor would simply want to start his (they're all "he" on my network list) exploration all over again, so I'm not sure that would make any difference.

Monday, May 30, 2011

3271 nookindle

Monday, May 30, 2011

"Silence is one of the hardest arguments to refute."
-- Josh Billings --


For a little while now I've wanted to buy one o' them newfangled e-reader thingies. Nook or Kindle, Kindle or Nook? I knew nothing about them, didn't know which was better, each have their adherents, and besides, they're always coming up with "improvements" and next generations, and maybe I should wait until the dust settles a bit. And the cost is significant. If I make the wrong choice and end up disliking it, I'd feel worse.

Well, last week, before getting the news of Hal's tires, back when I was feeling flush, I came across a deal I couldn't resist. Two different websites were having competing one-day sales of reconditioned e-readers, the most recent model (there are new models coming out now), one the Barnes & Noble Nook and the other the Amazon Kindle, each for about 1/4 the list price. I could get both for 1/2 the price of either one new.

It's been my experience that reconditioned is generally as good as new, pretty much the same rate of problems, especially since a large portion of "reconditioned" had nothing more wrong with them than buyer's remorse, so how could I not?

The Kindle arrived Thursday, and the Nook on Friday.


The Nook's instruction book is easier to read, understand, navigate, and apply. The Kindle's instructions are less well organized, it's difficult to skip over functions you know you won't use, there are just too many options and functions, and too many esoteric terms that I'm sure the writers understood well, but are Greek to us neophytes. Nook's technical writers win.

On the other hand, to do all the things *I* want to do with it, with the Kindle everything is pretty much intuitive. The way the onscreen menus work, I don't need more than one pass through the basic instructions. With the Nook, I often stare at the blank screen thinking, "Now how do I get to xxxx?", and I have to go to the instructions. Kindle's usability people win.


Nook has a touchscreen keyboard, which is ok, except that it wants SKIN ONLY. You can't use a pencil eraser, or fingernail, or anything but skin. My fingernails are long. The squares for each letter are tiny. Using the side of any finger spills over to adjoining tiny letter squares. I finally resorted to folding my index finger and using the point of the knuckle, which hurts, and one out of four letters it spills over anyway. Not cool, Nook.

The Kindle has a permanent button keyboard. The key buttons are tiny, but at least I can press them with my fingernails, which is how I usually type. I think Nook's thinking is that most people won't use the keyboard that often, so why waste space on one.

Kindle wins usability of keyboard.


The Nook has a touch screen at the bottom where all the menus appear. That's similar I guess to a smart phone.

The Kindle has buttons instead. There are Home, Menu, and Back buttons, and a little toggle thingy that acts like a mouse and cursor. That's similar in operation to a browser and a mouse on a computer.

I guess which one prefers depends on one's familiarity, but I vastly prefer the Kindle arrangement.

Turning pages:

You can use Next and Previous buttons on the sides of both to turn pages in your book. One thing that's annoying about the Nook is that there are those little locator "pegs", tiny stick-up dots, on the page turn buttons. With the Kindle, the buttons are smooth, and you can locate them by the softer feel of them. I guess I'm like the princess and the pea. Those Nook locator dots HURT!

You can also turn pages on the Nook by swiping across the touchscreen at the bottom, but only when there's no menu displayed there, and it doesn't always work on the first swipe.

Kindle wins, even if it is "old" technology. Fancy isn't always better.

Downloading books:

They're both pretty much the same. You need an account on the (B&N/Amazon) bookstore website, register your device, provide a credit card, and you're ready to go. Both devices use wifi, and it's fast. I mean really fast. A 600-page book arrives in like a second or two. (Howcome I'm not getting that speed on my laptop?)

I was at first a little concerned because I have no wifi here. How will that work? Heh. Silly Silk. Apparently they use cell phone towers. It just works, period. And it's completely and totally free for books downloaded from the stores. On both devices people can send files (documents, photos) to your device's email address (, for example), and that does cost, charged to your bookstore account credit card.

Both stores have the usual library of books. I haven't explored what's available on B&N yet, but I discovered a slew of free classics on Amazon. Free! No charge at all. I've already downloaded 37 books - some Twain, Poe, Austen, Flaubert, Eliot, Christie, Wilde, and so on.

I've also purchased one book from each store, and that was pretty easy.

So, assuming B&N has some free books too, they're pretty equal there.

[Flash! Later edit - I went looking for free books on B&N. There are a bunch, but they are all in other languages, or things like "The history of the village of Rothugh", by the committee to promote Rothugh, ya' know? The same classics that are free at Amazon are about $1.99 at B&N. However, keep in mind that I haven't checked out the transcription quality of the free Amazon stuff yet.

The B&N website is a bit awkward to navigate. Like, there's a few "free books" links, but one gets you a 1500+ list of untranslated titles that you can't sort and have to scroll through 100 at a time, a second gets a list of books in English, at least, but they're all cheap bodice-rippers or sound rather dirty, and a third gets books selling for $7-8 (Free?), and another gets what they call "samples" - which appears to be an excerpt.

So, so far, the Kindle is ahead here, too, in website usability and really free books worth having.]


You can't read either of them in the dark, but you can't read paper books in the dark, either, so that doesn't bother me.

I've read both in the glider on the front porch in full sun, with no great difficulty. No glare.

Both allow you to change the print size and font. I'm fine with the defaults.


There is one problem, and I consider it a big problem. We know I like bargains. I'm used to buying hardcovers in the remainder bins in bookstores, and at yard sales, and at library sales of donated books, or getting them free from friends who have read them and are passing them on.

Other than the free classics, there will be no bargains in e-books. (They do both have a "lend" function, but you can lend a particular book only once, and for a limited time.) You have to pay their price, and I doubt there will be any "stock reduction" sales. No need.

On the other hand, the writers will do better. They get paid full contractual price for (almost) every reader.


Both devices are pretty much the same in any area I haven't mentioned. The Nook is a tad smaller in height and width, but it's thicker. Weight is about the same, as is screen size. Battery charges pretty quickly in both, and seems to last a satisfyingly long time.

Right now I prefer the Kindle. I find it more comfortable to use - with my long nails, tender thumb pads, and preference for buttons over touchpads.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

3270 My watermelon exploded!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

“[Marriage is] about being together some of the time and apart some of the time.
About entering and leaving together.
About being free to follow your own tastes
yet always conscious that there is a seat saved for you beside the other.”
-- Terry Bisson, The Edge of the Universe -


...well, I think it would have exploded if it had gotten warm.

I love watermelon. A few days ago I bought a very small round one, and put it on the kitchen counter. It was uncut, the refrigerator is too small, and you see them sitting in bins in the grocery store for a few days, right? So it never occurred to me to put it in the refrigerator.

It was ok this morning. This evening I glanced over and noticed that it looked ... deflated. It was flat on the bottom, sinking into the counter exactly like a leaking soccer ball.

I touched it, and it was empty-squishy-feeling. I scooped it up and ran for the sink, just in time for it to literally fall apart in my hands.

What you see in the photo is what happened when it landed in the sink. I didn't scrape it out or anything. There was a little "meat" in it, but not enough to so much as block the drain. It was mostly water.

I'd read a story about Chinese farmers who were losing their watermelon crops - that the melons were exploding in the fields because they'd had a very wet spring and the melons contained a higher ratio of water to fiber, and when they got warm they blew apart.


Friday morning very early I drove 1.5 hours to Harriman, NY, to get Hal inspected. He's one year old this month. I'm not ready to change the registrations yet because Suzy is still in NY and that just makes things too complicated.

He passed inspection, but I got a severe shock. Both driver's side tires have bubbles in their sidewalls. Probably from potholes. PLUS both driver's side wheels are bent. They'll need to be replaced.

Hal's tires are $417 EACH! I have no idea how much the wheels cost. Note - the guy didn't say "rims", he said "wheels".

The tires are not dangerous, but they'll eventually go flat, and they can't be repaired. They're so expensive because they're "drive flat" tires. Once the sensor says it's flat, I can drive something like 50 miles - at a lower speed - then it needs to be fixed or replaced. Well, that's the dealer's definition of "drive flat", anyway. Given that this makes three bubbled tires in four months, I think it means "drive them and they go flat". And honest, since the big pothole that blew the first one, I've been very careful NOT to hit potholes, even to avoiding the north section of route 35, and the back entrance to the post office.

Sigh. I was just beginning to get control of the finances, too.


The worst part of that diagnosis was that Fred was sitting outside with a flat tire, passenger side rear (another valve stem shot, that's the fifth of Hal's five tires in the past five months), and a holiday weekend is coming, and Daughter and Hercules are away until Monday, and now I hear Hal could go flat any minute, which would leave me stranded.

Neighbor George helped me put the spare on Fred this afternoon. (Well, he actually did it all.) The big problem with Fred is that his floor and rear axle are dropped 10 inches for wheelchair access, so an ordinary jack won't fit under him, and NO jack will fit under when a tire is completely flat. George had a compressor and pumped up the flat enough to get a special jack in there, and got it done.

George is 72 or 73, not in the best of health, and it was 88 degrees and sunny. He was bright red and sweating up a storm, lying on hot blacktop poking around under Fred, but he wouldn't be deterred. I was very worried.


Yesterday and today I did some yard work (in bits and pieces. I stopped every time I saw a trace of blood in the urine. Since I piddle about every 20 minutes (I've GOT to get this stent out!) it was easy to keep track of.)

Today my (new, replacement) gardenia bloomed. I took this picture before the blossom was completely open. There are two other swelling buds, but, if it goes like every other gardenia I've ever tried to keep, that simply means it will die next week.


3269 Aaaaargh!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

“Bad news stops you for a while, then you move on. Hope is paralyzing.”
-- A line on “Criminal Minds“, 09/09/09 episode --


This is today's Dilbert. It struck a chord with me, and not in a good way. That guy on the right, Asok, I think? That was me in The Company. I got so sick and tired of other people getting awards for things I did.