Interesting weekend . . .

Weird.

Well, first off, we had a bitterly cold Canadian air mass move through the area starting Friday afternoon, which dropped the local temperatures to sub-freezing. Naturally, the extra strain caused the central heating unit to finally quit – completely.

We’re fine, though. The fireplace insert we put in last fall took over with no trouble, aside from a bit of extra bundling up to keep the setting lower.

Anyway, Sunday afternoon proved to be quite the adventure. It started just after lunch, when my wife took a bag of trash out to our dumpster. As she opened the lid, she discovered about a dozen (used? not sure) syringes in the bottom of the bin. She came running back in and told me – I went out and confirmed it, and then called the local police. They were amazed that someone would go to the trouble to put them in OUR dumpster – there are several houses around where they’d have been less likely to be seen. See, our dumpster sits direcly under that brand-new super-bright LED security light we just had installed about a week ago, making it a very visible location even in the middle of the night. Anyhow, they cheerfully removed the syringes, and said they would do some extra patrols through the neighborhood to see if they can find who put them there.

As soon as the officer left, I went to the kitchen and put a cup of coffee in the microwave to warm up. I’d just sat down at my computer to read the news when *BANG* – I heard something loud right out front that sounded sort of like a head-on collision. That turned out to be pretty close to describing what did happen. Somone’s vehicle jumped the curb just north of our driveway, and destroyed a traffic sign (on a metal pole!) which landed in the street. By the time I got out there, and I tried to respond pretty quickly, the vehicle that hit the sign was gone, but a pickup had stopped in traffic and was keeping other vehicles from hitting the sign. I had my phone in hand, and called the police again. There wasn’t much they could do about it, aside from filling out an accident report. None of the potential wittnesses waited around for the police, and all I could tell them was that I heard it happen and called right away.

*POP*

This past Saturday night, after my wife went to sleep and as I was sitting down to do some late-night gaming, I heard a loud noise. The one in the headline.

No, it wasn’t me, nor was it any part of my body. It was a spring in the back of the recliner. It’s completely broken, and no longer provides any horizontal support across the middle of the back.

Monday I checked online for furniture repair places in this area – the only one I found was in Joplin, MO. So, I called them, and found out that their BASE fee is $80/hr – and this sort of repair could run $300 – $400 USD (depending on the type of spring it needed).

I can see how, if you have a matched set of expensive furniture, this might be a price that is within reason, to save part of the set.

This recliner cost us about $15 at a garage sale. About 8 years ago. No, I did not schedule an intervention of the broken spring. Instead, after supper Monday evening, my wife and I went out to Home Depot to see what we could get. Our local store doesn’t carry livingroom furniture. So, we drove out to the store we bought my bed at 2 years ago – it keeps banker’s hours, literally. After supper that store is dark. Finally, we drove to the other end of town, to WESTCO. They were closed, too.

When we got home, we talked it over and decided to rearrange our schedule, to get Saturday freed up so we can spend the whole day shopping for a new recliner.

Still, I’m glad to know about the furniture repair center in Joplin. They had video on their website of “recent jobs” they’ve done, and they do good work. You see, we have a foundling – this antique solid-oak bookcase we found beside a trash dumpster, that some crazy fool did a bad job of covering in latex enamel paint, and I’ve been dying to get it restored . . . .

You Are A Winner…

There is a website that I go to several times a week to fill out surveys – VIP Voice.  They don’t pay you outright for the surveys, but they do give you points that you can choose to use for entering sweepstakes, or to bid on prizes in an auction style format.

Recently (and rather often) one of the prizes available was a Box Set of one season of (your choice from about 18) a TV series on DVD or Blu-Ray.  There were only 2 that I was willing to have – the complete INDIANA JONES Box set (alright – not a TV series, but still a great idea!) or BIG BANG THEORY.

Thursday, I got an email congratulating me on winning the sweepstakes.  I was offered my choice, as described above.  Some of the other TV series available were – BREAKING BAD, GAME OF THRONES, and others I can’t remember (who’s names I didn’t even recognize).  Well, as it turns out – I already have the INDIANA JONES box set on DVD, so I went with BIG BANG THEORY, season 1, on Blu-Ray.  It should arrive in about a week.

If I win again, I’ll get the next season – and so on after that until I have the whole series.  *grin*

IQ can be changed…

Let’s play a game, and through it I’ll prove what I mean.

What is this thing we call “IQ”?  It is the capacity to learn new material.

What governs the ability to learn?   Understanding.

What governs understanding?  Vocabulary.

Logically, if you consistently work to build a strong, flexible vocabulary, and make it a habit to ALWAYS look up words you see used in your reading materials that look weird, strange, or unfamiliar – look them up in a proper dictionary (after all, that is the authority on what words mean) – then you will have a strong capacity to understand what you read and learn new material.

The stronger your vocabulary, the higher your IQ.  It actually is a cause-effect relationship (as near as I can tell).

I am a case study in this.  When I was a child, still in primary school, I was not a genius.  Average would be more appropriate.  The town I grew up in was the very definition of “small town” – if you mapped out a 100 square mile plot with that town at the exact heart – your square on the map would encompass the homes of about 800 people.  Well, 800 at the time I lived there.  Almost every lesson was brought around to it’s application to farming, in some way or another.  At least, that was how it seemed to me.

Problem was, I knew even then that I was not going to grow up to own a farm or ranch.  I was the smallest, and physically most frail, kid in my class.  Even the smallest girl was bigger and stronger than me.  If I had any hope of finding a place in the world, I was going to have to leave that town.  Until I left, I spent great amounts of time reading.  I read everything I could lay my hands on in the school library, then went to our town library and read everything there – then went back to the school library and showed them the (definitely NOT age appropriate) materials I was reading from the town library and persuaded them that I could handle reading things above my grade level.  By the time I started Junior High (grade 7) I had read everything in town and had library cards for libraries in 3 other towns.

My imagination, combined with a few VERY strict teachers who forced the entire class to use a dictionary every time one student didn’t know the meaning of a word in the textbook, led me to a wonderful insight on the world.  Everything was interconnected.  Farming and ranching were just one end of a large chain of consumerism.  The birth ward at the hospital, the local grocery store, and the funeral home were all connected.  So were the fire department staff, the ambulance staff, the police, and the military.  Humanity perhaps has the veneer of intelligence, but as a whole it functions as a small part of the global eco system.

When I started to take my initial strides out into that eco system, I found that my insight served me very well.  My first job training school in the US Army was helicopter repair – and because I could see the entire system in my head and map out how things fit together and what they gave to the whole, I found it easy to learn how to fix a malfunctioning ‘chopper.  The challenge was learning to use the tools.

The bone tumor in my left leg derailed that.  You can’t remove, repair, or install malfunctioning rotor units with a physical limitation of “no pushing, pulling, or lifting over 30 pounds”.  When I told the captain of my training unit that I wanted to stay in the service if possible, he arranged something that was supposed to be less physical.

I was sent to school to work in the secretarial pool.  All that paperwork – you had to learn what form to use for what.

And I got another insight.  This wasn’t just paperwork.  It was the internal communication that made it possible for the organism to survive.  Orders, requisitions, transfers, inventories – it all kept the Army functioning.  Unfortunately, new regulations (another form!) on the qualifications for that job disqualified me before I completed school.  I couldn’t carry a 30 pound manual typewriter AND a full field pack on my back at the same time.  Once again, I was offered a discharge, and asked to stay.

This time I was sent to school to train as a field medic – where I had another powerful insight.  The systems of the helicopters, the paperwork of the military – those were like the systems of a LIVING BODY.  If things don’t flow when they should, or move where they should, disease and decay take over.  Communication (nerve signals) rules every human body.  In the same way that a PFC in the Pentagon can receive orders from a General, type them up, and forward them to a unit in Europe with the expectation that the unit will understand and follow the order, our brains direct all that goes on within our bodies.  Well, that was how I saw it then.

The point is – vocabulary made it possible for me to learn those different types of work.  I was good at my jobs, too.  As a medic, working a dispensary in a field artillery unit in Europe, one of the cases I saw was a man who had been written off by everyone.  He was called a malingerer.  He was on sick call every morning, and nobody wanted anything to do with him.  I asked a specific question, ordered some non-standard (but legitimate) tests – and in 1981 caught one of the US Army’s first documented cases of HIV.  Well, I didn’t know what to call it – I just ordered the right tests and the right referral to get it diagnosed correctly.  The point was – he had nothing to gain from torpedoing his career, because he wasn’t getting discharged for coughing.

When I was in primary school, my IQ was probably (though not tested at that time) around 124.  Not stupid, by any means, but not gifted either.  By the time I left the US Army in 1982, my IQ was 132 – at that time it was considered “genius” by some.  Ten years later, with more study, more words defined to where I could comfortably use them correctly, my IQ had climbed to 149.  We’re not talking about the cheap internet websites, either.

Sorry about the silence . . .

I know it’s been about a week since the last time I posted anything here. I’ve tried to tell myself that I was doing something earthshatteringly important – research on the stereotype of online gamers and if it’s accurate – but that is only part right. I was doing the research, but mostly I was just playing mindless games to give myself some time to adjust to this new world where I’ve continued to live after Leonard Nimoy’s passing. I’m still not back to 100%, but it’s coming. The odd part is, given my unique perspective on life-death-soul, you’d think it wouldn’t have hit me so hard. It shouldn’t have.

Mr. Spock Rocks . . .

It isn’t any surprise that Mr. Spock was an influence in my life, just look at the URL for my blog. I was barely 6 years old when Leonard Nimoy first went on TV with the flat hair cut and pointed ears. The fact that my dad liked the show made it an early influence in my view of being a geek or a nerd. There was always Mr. Spock to look to.

Mr. Spock didn’t fit in with his childhood peers, either. Being only half-Vulcan in a society that rigidly viewed all other races and cultures as inferior, he found it necessary to step out of the boundaries of his society to blaze his own trail. Even in the marriage his parents arranged for him, his betrothed rejected him both because of his mixed heritage and the high degree of notoriety he held. The only place he ever felt completely free to be himself was on the Enterprise.

Except for the fact that I never have found my “Enterprise”, I can fully relate. My mother was such a staunch Democrat that she even at one point was the Committee Chairperson for her county. My dad, on the other hand, is a devout Republican who is the current NRA Election Volunteer Coordinator for SE Kansas. You can’t be more opposite. Both think that their views are the only ones that are right – and the only thing they agree on is that I’m somehow wrong for rejecting Christianity.

Mr. Spock always seemed to have an answer for everything – but often his answer was “We don’t have enough data to support that conclusion.” In other words, “I don’t know.” He was honest, always did everything he could, and was brilliant. With an IQ of 149, I didn’t fit in with my peers either – and my parent’s civil war was even more well known in our small Kansas town than it was within our home – so my peers already had reason to set me apart.

I spent a lot of my childhood reading books in the backyard – alone. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to make friends – it was that I didn’t want the pain of trying to make a new friend and ending up being their punching bag after a week or two. I was reading Agatha Christie in 3rd & 4th grade; Conan-Doyle in 4th grade; Asimov & Clarke by 5th grade. There were many other authors along the way – I went through at least 100 novels every summer.

Reading wasn’t the only area I had advanced abilities in, either. In 2nd grade, while the class was working to understand 2 column addition and subtraction, my father was taking a college math class. He had a classmate he got together with once a week to do homework and study with, and due to lack of babysitting he took me and my brothers along. We were expected to play with his classmate’s kids in a bedroom while they studied at the kitchen table. One night I overheard the most fascinating conversation – about an alternate system of measurements and how to convert from our system to it. It was the Metric System. The next day in school, I asked my teacher about the things I had learned by listening to that conversation. I went up to the board and wrote out what I remembered. It took exactly 2 minutes to realize I knew more about the Metric System at that point than she did. She was the first teacher to tag my report card with the phrase, “Not performing up to potential” – but not the last. Lebo never had a class after that which challenged me – except to find ways to cope with boredom. While I never excelled at any one musical instrument, I learned to play 12 different ones – reading music – before the end of my Sophomore year of high school.

There I was – barely 16 – and I’d already done more than many adults do if they live to be 80. I had a bright future – or so we thought until I applied for admission to my equivalent of the Vulcan Science Academy.

The music teacher from Lebo High School (way back then – he isn’t there any more) had worked out a full-ride scholarship for me to study music at Emporia State University. It was a very big deal. Except for one problem – or actually two. The math teacher I worked with at Emporia High School (where I actually graduated) had worked out a full-ride scholarship for me in the Mathematics Department at Emporia State University, and the Creative Writing teacher at EHS had also worked out a full-ride scholarship for me at ESU. When I talked to the admissions office about my application, they were thrilled that I would consider ESU (to be honest, Julliard and MIT weren’t options because my family couldn’t afford them). I just needed to declare my major before we could get me enrolled.

How does a 16 year old kid who’s never had a friendly peer group decide what his entire life’s future would be? I took a page out of Mr. Spock’s book – turn your back on the Vulcan Science Academy and join Star Fleet. Or, in the real world, I walked away from Emporia State University and joined the US Army.

Thank you, Mr. Nimoy. You’ve done more for me than you will ever know.

Blogging Milestones

Reflecting on the fact that recently we celebrated Thanksgiving here in the USA, I wanted to give thanks for some things that blow my mind on a daily basis.

1.  My blog has been read at least once by someone in each of 37 different countries.

2.  My blog has been read over 50 times by someone in every G8 nation.

3.  My blog has been read over 1,400 times by people in the USA alone.

4.  As of yesterday, I now have 102 “followers” – people who have asked to be notified by email whenever I post a new blog.

5.  I have had one single day when over 40 people read at least one of my posts.

No, this isn’t bragging – it’s utter amazement.  I’ve been blogging since 2004.  I still have my first account – on LiveJournal – and it has less page views in 10 years than this blog has in the last 6 months!  I’ve also done Hi5, Myspace, Blogger, and perhaps a couple of others.  I’ve never seen this kind of response.  Even more amazing is that I do almost nothing to promote.

Thank you to everyone who reads what I post.  It means a lot to me that you consider my hobby worthy of your time.  You’re the best!

One thing I truly hate

If there is anything I hate about living where we do, it is the difficulty the weather forecasters have at giving an accurate forecast.  It’s not just one forecaster – this has been a problem in this area as long as I’ve known this area exists.  For example – early this evening I started feeling the familiar neck/back pain that indicates bad weather is coming, so I checked the forecast.  It said we had a 40% chance of showers “late in the evening” – on the hourly breakdown it scheduled the showers to start around midnight.  Tomorrow was supposed to be 20%, with 100% tomorrow evening.  It is now just after midnight, so I checked the forecast for an update.

They have decreased the immediate chance to 20%, and pushed the entire main event back to tomorrow evening.  In the between time, it is a near certainty that my back/neck will continue to tell me bad weather is coming, and as the time gets closer, my hip will get in on the act as well.

I can’t prove it, but I think the problem is a combination of factors.  One thing is that most of the storms we get here form over the Rocky Mountains, and head east from there, traveling with the help of the Jet Stream.  The other is some quirk of geography that causes the storms to stall just west of where we live, or sometimes to split and go around us while missing us.  It doesn’t help me a bit, but that is the best explanation I can come up with so far.

Recent soap batch . . .

Just an update on the recent batch of bar soap I made.  The bars are now out of the molds – and turned out to be the best batch I’ve made yet.  The new molds work wonderfully.

As I said before, this batch has no special fats or scents, it’s just old-fashioned lye-and-lard soap.  The yield was 29 bars that are roughly equal size.  I have to set some aside for our own use, but I can make 20 of them available for sale to anyone who is interested.  I’ll sell them for $6 each and I’ll cover the postage.  They will make excellent gifts – especially if you have someone close to you with dye or perfume allergies!

Leave a message in the comments if you want any, and I’ll work out the payment arrangements with you.

How to damage a coffee pot . . .

Yep, it’s one of those days.

I woke up at 4am (0400 for non-USA people), needing to go to the bathroom. Expecting to get up at about 5am anyhow, I turned on the furnace to pre-heat the house (it was off overnight), and stumbled into the kitchen with my eyes half-open to turn on the coffee pot. I thought there was still one or two cups of coffee in it, and this would have the coffee nice and warm when I got up later.

Then I went back to bed. At 7am, my wife shakes me and says she’s getting ready to leave for work. Oh, by the way, did I know that the coffee pot was empty when I turned it on? The whole kitchen now smells like burned coffee. Fortunately, it didn’t actually break the pot.