Friday, June 30, 2006

Quality control

My company's quality initiative has given me a t-shirt that doesn't fit, a polo shirt made out of fraying fabric (never yet worn), a travel mug with the handle falling off, a statistical program that uses the wrong equations at times, and is itself named on a willful misrepresentation of the normal distribution.

Draw your own conclusions.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Keeping first things first

If you go to many homeschooling conferences, you're likely to see a few cartoons by Todd Wilson. More or less, he puts to paper what every homeschooling parent thinks from time to time.

He also writes books, and my wife is reading one of them. She was struck by the example of a woman who got her children homeschooled through high school--and ended up single. She, and her husband, missed the point. The goal isn't to educate one's children at home, but rather to apply God's call to marriage and family. Raising up Rhodes Scholars doesn't mean squat if you've failed to love your spouse or teach your children about Christ.

Academic excellence is wonderful, but we ought never forget that it's simply the fruit of a life lived to serve Him and love our families. First things first.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

More energy conservation tips

Kudos to Mark, first of all, for pointing out that flourescent light bulbs can be a great way of saving electricity. Some other ways:

If your wife works, calculate how much she really takes home, and consider whether she's working to support your family, or whether she's working to support daycare centers and the government.

Consider putting in some more insulation in your attic, or when your siding needs to be replaced.

And finally, develop the habit of turning things off when not in use.

But whatever you do, don't buy a hybrid or flex fuel vehicle until you've implemented a few more basic suggestions. It just won't pay.

Monday, June 26, 2006

My first hat trick!

That is, my first three-post day. Woohoo!

The topic? Well, it seems that even lawyers have difficulty with their chosen profession from time to time--just as in engineering, medicine, teaching, or other professions. I dare suggest that we ought to consider whether a prestigious-looking degree is worth starting one's career with hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loans.

Good, and bad, ways to save energy

With gas prices hitting $3/gallon, many out there are taking rather drastic steps to reduce their energy usage--specifically buying hybrid vehicles and "flex fuel" (gasoline or ethanol) capable vehicles. Please; don't. To break even with a hybrid, one must drive about 50,000 miles per year. You'll never break even with flexible fuel--it reduces mileage, and when ethanol is competitive, it'll be a part of every gasoline mixture in the country.

Here are some more cost-effective solutions if you've got a few grand burning a hole in your pocket that you'd like to use to save energy:

1. Consider a manual transmission (savings of $500 to $1000) or diesel engine (cost of $3000 or so) in your next vehicle. A clutch saves you 5% in gas, and a diesel reduces fuel usage by 30% or so.

2. Consider replacing old appliances, especially refrigerators, freezers, and washing machines.

3. Consider driving at 55-65mph instead of 75mph or more for a 15% savings in fuel usage.

4. Consider natural gas for your next dryer or oven; the cost is similar, but less carbon will be emitted due to the low (~30%) Carnot efficiency of electric power generation.

5. Use light colors when painting and wallpapering the inside of your house--this can reduce required lighting power by up to 50%.

One can certainly calculate other easy ways of saving energy, but the primary point is certain; buying a "Prius" probably won't help nearly as much as these other steps.

The limits of classical education

Having been led to the Savior by a history teacher and a linguist while in college, I am a sucker for well written history and etamology. One thing I've noticed lately is that actual historical documents demonstrate that there is a clear limit about how far the knowledge of logic and rhetoric can carry a man.

To wit, I read last night that during the First World War, people actually claimed that they were making war on Germany because if Germany were defeated, there would be little new impetus to start wars. The uncomfortable fact that nations had fought wars for millenia before there was a nation called "Germany" somehow escaped them, as well as the fact that they were also waging war. And of course, these were university graduates trained in the classics--they didn't have an excuse for sloppy thinking like too many of us to today.

In other words, the liberal arts only help those who are willing to be helped. I hope to train my children in them, but thanks to the study of history (part of Plato's dialectic phase), I do know its limitations.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Rebuke and failure; required!

One of the key realities in product quality is failure. In general, one cannot develop a better, more reliable product without causing a certain number of failures in that and other products. At the very least, until one induces some failures, one does not know what the limitations of a certain device might be.

In the same way, I would suggest that we don't grow fully until we fail, and the person who informs us of our failure (or that of our group) is not our enemy, but very often our best friend. He may be right, or wrong, in the absolute facts, but he can hardly lie about how he perceives something.

"Contrarians" out there, I'm listening.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

So you want to serve the church...

Tonight, my church is selecting deacons to carry out the day to day "secular" business of the church--serving the widows and orphans, preparing the church budget, providing some oversight over some ministries, and so on. It brings to mind many thoughts.

I consider those who want to wield the authority, and I'm sad. Sad because these people (often "evangelical feminists," sometimes just carnal believers or nonbelievers) are missing the whole point of the Cross, which is Christ serving us by dying for us. Thankfully this is not an issue at my church, as far as I can tell.

I also consider the fact that the deacons I know are generally not those who have successfully climbed corporate or political ladders. Sometimes it's probably an issue of how much time they have available, but I cannot help thinking that the relative absence of business or political leaders in the diaconate must also result from many of them not developing the Biblical character of leadership.

Obviously, that's not the "nicest" thing I've ever said, but sometimes one must go where the data direct, no?

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

More on carry permit class

One of the most striking things about the carry permit class I took was its de-emphasis on what we were all most interested in; the guns, of course. Rather, it was primarily a tutorial on how to avoid it, and the only test given (besides marksmanship at the end) was the four conditions required in Minnesota law for legal use of lethal force--including, but not limited to, firearm use.

1. One must be a reluctant participant.

2. One must have immediate reason to fear death or great bodily harm.

3. No lesser force will end the attack.

4. One must retreat if practical.

Not a bad set of rules, really, even if one is unarmed. Or especially if one is unarmed.

Monday, June 19, 2006

The carry permit holder's most important tool

...may ironically be the cell phone. No kidding. Class last weekend repeatedly made the point that anyone who has the misfortune of needing to use lethal force to defend himself needs to call the police and his lawyer to make sure he doesn't end up on the wrong end of the law.

The reasons are twofold. First of all, people get nervous after a confrontation, and it's wise to have a lawyer help you answer questions. Second, and more ominously, the police are allowed to lie during interrogation.

I don't know how often suspects are lied to, but this bothers me. Yes, use vigorous interrogation methods to get information, but lying? As a fellow human being to "the blue," I cringe for them when I hear that some are encouraged to lie. It's just not healthy. As a possible juror, I'm also going to keep this in mind when I hear the testimony of a police officer. If you'll lie to get evidence, you're probably willing to lie about the evidence in court, too.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Epidemic, pandemic, or just bad decisions?

I think I may have come a long way since I teased a friend who was studying etamology by claiming that she was learning about bugs (entomology). Now I'm probably more dependent on Latin & Greek words than she....

The topic that comes to mind today is the modern habit of describing things as "epidemics" or "pandemics." When any disease or behavior gets to the point of killing or maiming a large number of people (gang warfare, AIDS, etc..), it is inevitable that it will be first described as an epidemic or pandemic. But is this true?

Etamologically, both words mean about the same thing. "Epidemic" comes from "epi demos," or "on the people." "Pandemic" comes from "pan demos," or "all the people." Applied to medicine, it historically refers to outbreaks of communicable diseases which are easily transmitted and, well, affect all the people in a given area. Historic examples are smallpox, polio, the bubonic plague, and influenza. Pandemic, of course, refers to an especially bad epidemic.

Thankfully, apart from avian flu, most of us don't worry about these diseases anymore. So we start to apply these words to our problems today. Hey, it's recycling, right? What could be wrong with it?

Well, for starters, most of the "epidemics" today aren't epidemics, and using the wrong word inevitably leads to the wrong response. Why? Well, a true epidemic has no clear root causes apart from the pathogen, and hence true epidemics are treated with quarantines, mass vaccinations, and other measures directed at the population at large, as the word's etamology would indicate.

But what if the "epidemic" is not actually epi demos? What if it's actually behaviors practiced only by a significant minority?

In that case, of course, we'll quickly find that we're wasting a lot of time and effort "treating" a nonexistent condition in the majority. For example, AIDS prevention has wasted billions of dollars warning heterosexuals of small dangers while downplaying the huge dangers of AIDS to homosexuals and drug users--killing tens of thousands annually. Anti-violence campaigns have used the epidemic approach to disarm the law-abiding (the victims), making the world safe for gangsters. Ouch.

The fact of the matter is that most of the diseases that plague us today--heart disease, diabetes, cancer, STDs--are widespread, but not epidemics or pandemics. Using the wrong word tends inevitably to lead to the wrong solutions.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

If you don't read Mallard Fillmore,

you should.

I don't believe I've seen a better commentary on modern parenting, sad to say.

Update on goals; my weight is "out of control" in a statistical sort of way. Fortunately, this means that it's going off the bottom of the control chart (losing), not the top.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

What to carry

David asked about what kind of weapon is best as a "carry" pistol, and the answer deserves more than a short comment.

My first counsel; fire a few before buying, and the best way to do that is by making friends with gun afficionados (you'll find one anywhere in the USA) and asking them about what they like. Getting one to open up is like asking a newly engaged girl about her left hand--the trouble is getting them to stop talking. Even if it costs you a bit to rent pistols from a range, this is far cheaper than buying the wrong gun.

The next recommendation is to think safety first, just like you would with any other machine. Can you consistently deliver a bullet to its intended target with a particular firearm without getting yourself or others you love hurt? Also, if you should--God forbid--need to shoot a dangerous person or animal, will it stop them?

I personally favor semi-autos over revolvers because of this. You can keep a magazine in a semi-auto without a bullet in the chamber, and most pre-teen children won't be able to hurt anyone. They simply cannot pull the slide back. Semi-autos also have less recoil, generally speaking, than revolvers, due to the slide/spring action. You can fire a bigger caliber with a semi-auto than with a revolver without flinching. Revolvers are often cheaper, but one must be somewhat more careful with them.

I also tend to favor larger calibers (e.g. .45) over smaller ones. The .45 ACP (and 1911) was developed, after all, after a large number of Marine officers were killed by "dead" Filipinos--the .32 caliber Navy just didn't have stopping power. Most accounts I've seen favor the .45 ACP, .40, 10mm, and .357 mag over rounds such as the .38 special and 9mm for this reason.

But keep in mind that you'd rather be missed by a .45ACP or .454 Casull than hit by a .22 LR--and your family would much rather have you hit your target with the smaller round than have a larger round go errant and hit them!

And yes, I like 1911s. They have an extremely light trigger pull, helping accuracy, and a thumb safety, so little hands literally cannot fire the gun--they cannot get a finger on the trigger with the thumb safety depressed. On the other hand, even Kimbers are slightly more likely to jam than Glocks. If you can't keep anything clean as you work, go with the Glock.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Surreal but true....

The New York Times has a couple of interesting ones today. First, death row prisoners apparently have gained standing to sue because lethal injection is too painful, and would violate the 8th Amendment. OK, we'll bring back hanging and shooting squads, two methods that the Founders used and felt were neither cruel nor unusual. Not quite sure the prisoners will like it, but have it your way....

Next, archeologists apparently believe that since the ruins of ancient Edom haven't all been uncovered, that society didn't exist, but that the discovery of a large copper smelter gives a hope that it did. Obviously, if you don't find large cities, you know that area couldn't possibly field an army capable of attacking Israel.

Which is why, of course, the Sioux never were able to field forces capable, say, of annihilating Custer. Never happened, of course, since they had no forges or large cities. This also explains why the Mongols never threatened to overrun Europe, and the Huns never threatened the Vatican, and Israel never conquered Canaan. No nation living in tents ever was capable of bothering its neighbors.

Methinks the logic of these archeologists needs a little bit of work.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Saturday night fun!

Someone out there might wonder what the father of four little girls does on a Saturday night. In my household, he field stripped and cleaned his wife's 1911 while daughters #2 and #3 watched and helped intently. After cleaning, he verified (with dry fire cartridges) that Wilson magazines feed far better than the Kimber models. Hopefully things will work well this coming Saturday when the Bubba parents go to carry permit class.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Another reason...

....that I love living in Minnesota is that we have goofy stuff like the "Runaway Bride 5K" in Fergus Falls. The ladies start first, and the men try to catch them starting five minutes later. Wrist bands tell singles whether the person they just caught up with is single or married. Who knows, maybe somebody will find the love of their lives there.

Crazier things have happened, like falling in love while putting up sheetrock.

A slightly different perspective on the estate tax

Is that it's not Constitutional. Look at it closely. It's not levied on income, but rather wealth. It's a direct tax.

Hence, it is a direct tax prohibited by Article 1 of the Constitution, and the 16th Amendment (which authorizes only income taxes) has no bearing on it.

I'll be sitting here with the crickets chirping while I wait for the Senate or courts to figure this out, but it's pretty clear to me. There is no Constitutional authorization for this particular form of class warfare.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

The NY Times gets it right!

...on the best types of skillets for the kitchen; cast iron, with or without enamel coatings. In your hardware store for $10, made in Tennessee. Carbon steel also gets high marks, and the low scores go to high-priced Calphalon and All-Clad offerings.

Seems that my grandmother (or great-grandmother) knew what she was doing when she bought the Wagner skillets I still use today. Available now in your local antique or second-hand store. Well, not mine, but you get the picture.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Pining for the good old days?

In one of my technical journals, I read an article that detailed many, if not most, of the behaviors familiar to any reader of Dilbert. You know, the ways that those with authority can make their subordinates at work (or elsewhere) miserable. Shout your talking points louder, personal attacks, etc..

The original publication year; 1953. If we desire to pine for the good old days as examples of a time where good argumentation skills existed, we'd better look further back than 1953. Put differently, there probably never was a golden age of discourse.

But why not now? Show His grace by being gracious.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Wasn't "grace" supposed to be "gracious?"

One of the saddest things to see is how many Christian "leaders" spend a lot of time tearing each other down. Not just disagreeing, mind you, but tearing people down with invective. No, I'm not (usually) referring to the "Anglo-Saxon" kind of invective we learned on the school bus, but rather describing different viewpoints as "pathetic." That, or the bitterest forms of sarcasm are used upon a real or imagined theological opponent.

I have no problem with one person rejecting or refuting another's view point, but too often a line is crossed. Some examples:

Read some KJV-only advocates about those who use modern translations--or some modern translation advocates about those who use the KJV. Or hymn singers, psalm singers, or modern chorus singers. Or witness mockery between covenant and dispensational theologians, or between camps of the same theological tradition. It's positively brutal out there sometimes.

Now all of these issues are important, and deserve to be debated. Every once in a while, we even need to debate an issue regarding salvation.

But that said, it seems we all too often forget that the end result of grace ought to be, well, graciousness. Have so many of us truly forgotten the lesson learned by the man who owed ten thousand talents? Sometimes it seems that we have.

Those who have forgotten this are, by the way, the "other kinists" I referred to in an earlier post. It's not based on race or ethnicity, but it's every bit as intractable a problem.

And so I wonder if we Protestants are truly split that deeply on theological lines, or whether we're simply holding a grudge from when we were slighted by someone else. I think that more often than we like to admit, we're holding a grudge.

So let's be gracious. Let's show the same kindness to others that Christ showed to us.