Saturday, January 31, 2009

A hint for your inner pyromaniac

I highly recommend Polly Clingerman's The Kitchen Companion, which is a rarity; a book about how to cook, instead of a cookbook. The difference?

Clingerman goes into the chemistry and physics of applied domestic pyromania (cooking is, after all, the creative use of fire on food, no?), and lets the reader learn how to create his own recipes. How did she arrive at the point of being able to do this? Surely she is a graduate of a prestigious cooking school like the Culinary Institute of America or the Cordon Bleu, right?

Wrong. She's a graduate of one of the toughest cooking schools in the world; being a diplomat's wife, learning to provide acceptable entertainment on a moment's notice without the plethora of choices available in American supermarkets. Her experience led to a thick volume of notes, which in turn led to the publishing of this book.

The highest praise I can offer here; prior to receiving this, I was a good cook but rarely quite understood what I was doing. Now, I'm starting to learn what magic is going on in that pan.

Job search update; resume is updated and is being sent out. Am investigating opportunities both in my current field of expertise (electrical engineering/quality/reliability) and elsewhere (financial/actuarial). Have also fixed the family toboggan, made panniers for my bike, made a kennel for my younger dog, fixed a utility trailer, and have taken a lot more time with my kids' homeschooling. I'm also getting a bit in shape. Hopefully this is an opportunity I don't squander, and thanks to those who keep me honest in searching by asking those questions.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Book Review on an oldie but goodie

Probably one of my favorite Christmas presents this year was a book I knew and loved as a child, but thought I'd lost long ago; The Boy's Book of Strength, by C. Ward Crampton. It's been out of print for decades, but you can still get a well-used copy at Amazon, or perhaps by knowing me well and being very nice. How did I get it back? My step-dad was cleaning out his basement, of course.

Given that I've been grown for decades, one might be surprised that this book still resonates with me. Even stranger, given its 1936 publishing date, one might figure the science would be out of date. Remarkably, it holds up very well.

What's so good about this book is that Dr. Crampton, then the medical consulting doctor for Boy's Life, ably cuts through the jungle of misinformation available then and now about diet, exercise, competition, and more. The first thing the reader sees is that Dr. Crampton (an overgrown boy himself) knows what really motivates young people; the urgent need to make the starting eleven, five, or nine. (being a "southerner" from NY, he misses the need to make the starting six...sorry Chad) In doing so, he puts together a remarkable book with advice that holds together well today, and really ought to be used (with small reservations) in health classes even today.

No complex dissertations about the interactions and absorption of all nutrients; he simply noted that just as a car is made of iron and rubber, a boy needs the "iron and rubber" of protein and vitamins as well as the "gasoline" of fat and carbohydrates to be healthy and strong. He even noted why whole grain breads are superior to white bread in a way that young minds (and not so young) will understand; slower, better digestion. He ably notes that if you need caffeine and sugar to keep going, you might do better to slow down and get some good rest and food. (sorry about those cokes, Mark...he gets me for my coffee, too)

In the same way, Dr. Crampton cuts through misinformation about exercise, noting that routine calisthenics and a brisk walk can do more for athletic performance than any number of other measures. He does all this with a reverence for the past and the religious traditions of his readers that is remarkable for that time of eugenics and rationalism.

In short, the book is remarkable for the moderation with which it presents basic facts of life and health to young men, and it's at least partially responsible for the good health I've enjoyed so far. It's also a basis for the physical education my family is doing for home education. Two thumbs up!

Monday, January 19, 2009

In a just world,

...Kahleefornia Attorney General Jerry Brown would be fearing not only being removed from office, but also losing his bar license, law degree, undergraduate degree, high school diploma, and kindergarten graduation certificate. Why?

He's arguing that an amendment to the California Constitution violates the California Constitution. Somebody acquaint Attorney General Moonbeam with the principle of noncontradiction, stat! And please, legislature, throw this guy out before he does any more harm. Please.

Friday, January 16, 2009

I guess we can call it a depression now....

Yup, your host got cut by his company Wednesday--not a huge surprise, given that sales were down 40% and the company's debt exceeds the market cap significantly, and apparently overall liabilities are triple market cap. (hint; now is not a good time to invest in the world's largest disk drive maker....and suppliers are even worse in terms of leverage) Thankfully, severance was generous, so our family is doing fine for now, and I'm sleeping better than I have for a long time the past couple of days. God is good.

And if you're looking for another reason to homeschool, here you go thanks to Apple-cow-ski. Apparently, the bio-diesel mandated for use by school districts for their buses turns into jelly at about ten degrees below zero, clogging fuel injectors and such. So if you'd prefer that your children NOT stand out in 25 below zero cold (up to 50 below windchill yesterday) for hours waiting for a bus, and if you'd prefer that your children NOT sit for hours on that bus when it stalls, you might want to take your children out of the government's schools.

Yet another example of how, yes, environmentalism can injure and kill people.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A pet peeve

....of mine is when the owner of a small business refers to themself as the "president" of the business instead of the "proprietor", "partner," or "owner." While "President" sounds very impressive, reality is that the "President" only presides over that which belongs to someone else. The higher, and more accurate, titles are "proprietor," "partner," and "owner."

At the very least, if you own a small business and are loath to use the high title of "owner," please refer to yourself as "Grand Pooh Bah" or something at least a little more dignified than "President."

A bit of wisdom

If you choose to rob a sushi restaurant, you would do well to remember that they do their magic with the help of large, extremely sharp knives. Not quite as dumb as drawing a knife on the proprietor of a gun shop, but this has got to be close. Darwin award candidate? I think so.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Update on my mom

Talked with my mom last night, and things to pray for are a PET scan this Tuesday, and a subsequent meeting with the oncologist next week. Praise; a test came back negative for a condition that would have disallowed the use of a promising new anticancer drug named "Erbitux."

(Thankfully, the government's initial mistake with IMClone and subsequent persecution of Martha Stewart didn't kill off this drug altogether--though they did come close. Thankfully, Eli Lilly bought what remained and helped convince the FDA of their mistake.)

Your government at work

Evidently, in response to the rash of poisoned products coming here from (mostly) China, our government is choosing to require any product sold to children (clothing, toys) be certified to be lead-free and free of some other poisons as well.

Let it be noted, of course, that this writer is in fact opposed to putting lead and other poisons in toys, clothing, and even food. What's appalling about this move, though, is that a great portion of the law seems to be addressed to retailers, and there is no exemption for used items.

Keep in mind here that the actual problem noted was new products coming from China, not used items from anywhere. It would have made sense to tell importers (not retailers) that containers from China would be kept in the port until testing was done--and Wal-Mart and Target, primary retailers of toys that can be melted into bullets, would have (rightly) taken it on the chin.

Instead, each retailer is required to certify its products. In other words, a regulation that should have been directed at new imports (and thus Bentonville) has been diverted to draw a bead directly on small retailers and the resale industry. Wal-Mart and Target would pay the same amount on huge shipments that smaller competitors would pay on tiny lots, and the destruction of resale and small vendors would be a huge benefit for the big players.

One wonders if it would be interesting to track their political donations through the cycle of this law's writing. The CPSC has "clarified" how they will enforce this, but count on big players to "nudge" them to enforce the law as vigorously as possible.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Soak the rich!

Well, maybe not. I got to thinking this morning about how a wonderful book, The Millionaire Next Door, establishes something very profound. Specifically, those who are truly wealthy (a million dollars or more in assets beyond their home) don't get there because they inherited it, or because they engaged in flashy businesses a la Donald Trump. Nor are they those who inhabit the corner offices of large companies. For the most part, the subjects of his study were those who had learned a trade or profession, plied it well, and lived well below their means.

Their car? Not a Bimmer or Lexus, but rather a Crown Vic or F150. Their house? Closer to yours than you'd guess. Taste for caviar? Nope, they splurge on a steak once in a while. Stanley and Danko found, interestingly, that their non-millionaire research associates (often just grad students) ended up enjoying the champagne and caviar that they'd set out for the millionaires, who were just as happy with hamburgers and Budweiser. "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" it was not.

In other words, a truly rich person in this country is generally one who learns how to make one dollar do the work of two, to use an old adage. Now what does this have to do with Obama's plan to tax the rich to fund (in part) a trillion dollar "stimulus" package?

Well, it's these people--driving older sedans and living in the nice, but not opulent house down your street--who are going to be taxed to pay for this, and the recipients are going to be the guys in the opulent house who are now losing it to foreclosure. In other words, you take from those who make a dollar do the work of two, and you give it to those who make a dollar do the work of fifty cents.

Stimulus? Not exactly. Prescription for a new Depression, or at least a long lasting recession? Now you're getting warmer.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

The bright side...

...about this impressive show of manhood by the Illinois legislature is that we can reasonably sure that the members of the impeachment panel won't be having any more children, for obvious reasons. They've got clear evidence that Blagojevich was trying to sell a Senate seat, and they're "leaning towards" impeachment? Even if it's not evidence that will convict him, the very fact that he seems to have tried to sell a Senate seat ought to get him thrown out of the governor's office.

For a state as renowned for rough & tumble politicians as is Illinois, they sure seem to have a lot of nancy boys in the legislature, that's for sure.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Getting started with homeschooling

Terry notes that part of the fun of starting home education is to be concerned about whether one is reading enough, too much, or just the right amount. So I figure it might be helpful to some to list some books my family has been blessed by.

Our journey into homeschooling was prompted by Douglas Wilson's Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning. Built on Dorothy Sayers' "The Lost Tools of Learning," it describes really the first half of classical education, the Trivium, and why it's important. (Sayers' talk can be obtained for free, just google it) That led to books such as Wise & Bauer's The Well Trained Mind and the Bluedorn family's Teaching the Trivium. If you've guessed that I consider it crucial for students to learn their Latin & Logic, you guessed right. I do hope that in the future, homeschooling authors give a little bit more time to the "Quadrivium" of arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music. The movement is currently a little "Tri-heavy," methinks.

Also of interest are the works of Charlotte Mason. While Miss Mason gave more credence to Darwin and modern psychology than I do, she wonderfully elucidates the reasons why institutional schools so often fail to educate children, centering on the reality that they are not simply "young skulls full of mush" to be filled.

Can one read too little? Yes, I think that many who simply try to establish a standard school at home fall into this trap. They often order a different curriculum every year, unaware that by changing educational styles, they're confusing their kids. Can one read too much? If you're understanding what you're reading, you probably won't fall into this trap. Starting with a few good books like those listed above will tend to give a parent a "garbage detector" that will result in putting down useless books after reading only the introduction. You'll be ready to have fun with your children as you lead them in the joy that is learning instead.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Gaza troubles

Take a close look at this: specifically this quote:

The return fire set off multiple explosions that killed 34 and injured dozens more, according to Palestinian medics.

In other words, the return fire ignited munitions that were being stored at an elementary school, and the medics were not afraid to admit that "their" side was doing so. In other words, they know that nobody in the media or the diplomatic community would call them on it. Worse yet; the school is owned and operated by the U.N., which also apparently did nothing to prevent this.

Need more reasons to stop funding the United Nations and evict this terrorist organization from Turtle Bay? I don't. Civilized people do not use schools for storing ammunition or otherwise waging war.

This is, by the way, at least the second U.N. sponsored school used for this purpose, and apparently at least one mosque has been used for this purpose as well--Anti-Strib links a video that shows explosions continuing for at least a minute.

Again, it might do a world of good if U.S. diplomats reminded the world that civilized people do not put women and children in harm's way for this purpose.

Update: it turns out that these schools have been used for shelling Israel for over a year. Israel submitted a protest to the United Nations that far back when they realized what was going on. Time to de-fund the United Nations? You bet.

Oh for crying out loud

The only bright side to the recent Minnesota Senate debacle is that if you're tired of hearing about how good our schools are and how smart our kids are, you can answer with three words:

"Senator Al Franken."

Yes, there is a difference between scoring well on the SAT or ACT and being educated, and the fact that a guy whose major career accomplishment is book length personal attacks got more than 5% of the vote illustrates this very clearly.

Another way to respond:

"Governor Ventura."

Yet another way to respond: point out that the mainstream media haven't clued in to the fact that there is something wrong when precincts report more votes than ballots cast. There is a massive, massive difference between being able to do the arithmetic and algebra on the SAT, and being educated to the point where you should be allowed to vote.

Monday, January 05, 2009

A question I had, answered

When I watched debacles at Enron, Tyco, and now with Tom Petters and Bernie Madoff, I wonder how a team of conscientious accountants could have simply watched as the key players made off with billions from (more or less) innocent investors.

Well, courtesy of the Mises Institute, I learn that there were at least two people who did in fact speak up to the SEC....allegations that the SEC failed to follow up on, apparently.

Closer to home, I talked with a friend whose company was shut down by the bank after millions in venture capital disappeared in a matter of weeks. Accounting staff at the bank shut them down as a result.

So it's probably not true to say that private accountants are completely neglectful in warning of business irregularities. The SEC, on the other hand, appears to be more worried about Martha Stewart than real securities fraudsters.

Environmentally sound transit?

Take a look at this; apparently U.S. steel executives are endorsing large (r) subsidies for transit in an "economic stimulus" plan planned by President-elect Obama. Now let's think about this a minute. Apparently, these executives believe that more light rail will be more beneficial to their industry than money in the hands of consumers to buy, say a new car.

Now let's think this through. A typical light rail carriage weighs about 50 tons, and rolls on track that weighs in at about 132 lbs/yard. Moreover, it takes a little more iron and steel to build bridges, reinforced concrete, and so on for light rail than it does to build a road. So I think that the executives are right; taking my next car payment to build light rail will be a good, rent-sought deal for them.

But for the environment? Well, the raw materials for steel are coal, limestone, and iron ore, as well as a number of other metals (nickel, chromium, molybdenum, etc..) used for alloying. So even apart from the coal they burn to run the light rail, it's not exactly a good deal for the environment by any stretch of the imagination.