Aging Together

I’m not as young as I used to be, and neither is my house. Houses age faster than people years, but not quite like dog years, so my 20 year old house is like a 60-ish year old person.

A few years ago it required a roof transplant, followed by (not one, but two) HVAC—heating, ventilation and air conditioning units. I think that when they went from being furnaces and air conditioners to HVAC they got to raise the price.

Last weekend a storage shelf gave up the ghost, just as I was standing in the line of fire; I spent the rest of the weekend, bruises and all, building a shelving system you could use to hold the piano.

My confidence was building—I remembered how I used to be able to fix things. Then I disassembled an iPad, replaced the broken screen—and the batteries, as long as I was in there. When reassembled, it worked. My confidence took a great leap.

Now, normally I am not burdened with an overly strong ego, which is probably good and keeps me out of trouble. However, after two successes in a row . . . . Well, when the shower started leaking,I felt I was up to the challenge.

I Googled and YouTubed and decided that I could handle this, even though plumbing has always been my nemesis. I bought the correct parts, and even drove 20 additional miles to get a particular lubricant that was supposed to make disassembly of the shower control easy. Within 15 minutes of arriving home, proper tools, parts and lubricants at hand, the faucet assembly snapped off at the wrong end.

This was now a job for not just a plumber, but a plumbing contractor. Fortunately we found one who showed up within the hour. Everything is back to normal.

In hindsight, it makes sense. If my heart and circulatory plumbing were messed up, I’d want the right specialist, and not some amateur to operate on me.

I guess my house felt the same way.


Monarch Butterfly Cocoon, courtesy Wikipedia: User: Umbris

Monarch Butterfly Cocoon, courtesy Wikipedia: User: Umbris

It’s hard not to be fascinated by insects. I will stop to look at a walking leaf or a praying mantis; butterflies always catch my attention, as do dragon flies. Perhaps the most fascinating insects are those that pupate and undergo metamorphosis. Imagine one day being a caterpillar, spinning a cocoon, taking a long nap and then emerging as a butterfly.

I recently realized that humans have a similar process. Babies are born, demand attention, like to be held, make noise and break things. They grow, start school, but the parents’ role stays pretty much the same.

Then, one day, that cute little kid becomes a teenager.

It’s unfair to expect teenagers to spin a cocoon, since they can’t even pick up their socks, but they are able to compensate. Teenagers’ cocoon is their bedroom into which they sequester themselves for several years. It’s not quite as constant as insect larvae; you can spot teenagers—or at least the backs of teenagers—as they root around in the refrigerator or the pantry. Occasionally you’ll see the front of a teenager, immediately behind the outstretched hand with the palm up.

I’ve examined cocoons, but really don’t know what it’s like in one, but I imagine it gets progressively less sanitary over time, just like teenagers’ rooms. The biggest difference is that teenagers’ cocoons have televisions, smartphones, computers or video games. However, the long sequestration is similar among the various species.

There is another similarity. Someday I know that my teenagers will emerge from their cocoons more resplendent than even the most beautiful butterfly. Then, like the butterfly, they’ll stretch their wings and fly away.

You’re Wrong!


In our politically correct world, we may have lost our intellectual way. Sometimes it is perfectly appropriate and necessary to point out what’s wrong.

  1. Having a healthcare background, I tend to look for a solution based on a diagnosis, which in turn is based on symptoms. If a patient won’t discuss the symptoms, it is easy to assume that everything is just fine. On the other hand, the symptoms, when correlated with other observations can lead to an appropriate conclusion; the patient complaining of a headache may be suffering from a brain tumor—unless an examination of the patient discloses a three inch nail protruding from his skull. However, the presence of the nail does not make a brain tumor impossible.
  2. A careful analysis of any problem requires the inclusion of potential errors and oversights. A devil’s advocate is a useful technique in fact finding. According to the Oxford Dictionary, the devil’s advocate is “a person who expresses a contentious opinion in order to provoke debate or test the strength of the opposing arguments.” In hindsight, the questions about the rubber seals on the solid state boosters attached to the shuttle Challenger were not given sufficient consideration in the decision to launch. Far too often, we wish away certain problems or issues, with disastrous results.
  3. Often, particularly in politics, data is intentionally skewed and intended to result in an emotional response rather than an intellectual one. For example, a negative ad by a political action committee may claim that, “Candidate Bob Smith says he believes in the sanctity of life, but it is a well-known fact that he has eaten dead babies.” This statement is true, in a manner of speaking, since just this morning Smith’s breakfast included scrambled eggs.

A conclusion is best based on facts—”pesky things” according to John Adams. It’s important to include all available and relevant facts–the good, the bad and the ugly in the equation before attempting to determine the answer.

Oatmeal Boxes



I guess most people get flavored instant oatmeal in the individual, instant packets these days. That’s a bit too sweet for me, so I use the “old fashioned” kind; it takes about the same time—45 seconds to one minute in the microwave, and I can add just a smidge of brown sugar.

We finished one box of oatmeal today, and I looked at the empty box. I felt just a little sorry for the current generation of juvenile oatmeal eaters. They have no idea what they’re missing.

In my grandfather’s and father’s time an oatmeal box was perfect for winding a coil when making your own radio. Such radios were often assembled on a piece of wood with the components screwed to the board; when the wooden breadboard split, this was an ideal base. To this day we refer to experimenting with a circuit on a temporary base as “bread boarding.”

When I was a child, for the preschooler, oatmeal boxes made great drums—and were much quieter than pots and pans. Later, when dioramas were a fact of life for students, oatmeal boxes were perfect for towers of a castle, a grain silo, the body of a steam locomotive, or one of the stages of the rocket used to launch Apollo and Gemini astronauts.

Today it’s just an empty box.

The Name Game

I bought an RCA portable television a few years ago. RCA (the Radio Corporation of America) was once a powerful name in electronics, with RCA Victor tied to the Victrola (early mechanical record players). Their logo featured Nipper the dog listening to the Victrola horn for “The sound of his master’s voice.” RCA went on to form the National Broadcast Corporation (NBC) which was later split into the Red and Blue networks; the blue network ultimately became ABC (The American Broadcast Corporation).

In 1986, RCA was purchased by General Electric (“We squeeze life from good things”) and the RCA brand name is now used by Sony, Technicolor, Audiovox, and TCL Corporation (whoever they are). Have your lawyer call their lawyer, do lunch, and you can probably use it too—for a fee.

In any case, this brand name RCA television, which I had purchased to use primarily in case of power outages, needed a battery replacement. With my electronics background, I figured no problem—just unplug the existing battery pack and order a replacement lithium polymer battery.

Whoa! Not so fast, there.

This particular RCA product was manufactured by Intertek (a company every bit as well-known as TCL), so contacting RCA resulted in, “Sorry, we didn’t make that product.”

Intertek, apparently trying to emulate the “big boys” said, “Sorry, no battery available,” after all it was at least five years old.

There was a time when a name meant something, whether a family name or a company name. The House of Windsor. Angus Beef. Beefeater’s Gin. Rolls Royce. Luke Skywalker. Darth Vader. Imagine Harry Potter without Ollivander’s Wands or Bertie Bott’s Every-Flavor Beans.

Today names are just a commodity to be bought, sold, rented, or loaned as the market dictates.

So, thousands of electronic devices, full of hazardous materials (as well as recyclables, such as gold) end up in landfills because you can’t buy a replacement battery. Why? Because the name brand company neither manufactured nor stands behind the product; they merely accepted a fee to allow their name to be emblazoned on it.

It just might be something to think about when deciding whether to buy the name-brand item or the generic.

Getting the Bird

Am I a bird person?  More than some, but not as much as others; there are some birds in my neighborhood with 3 white stripes across the wings whose name I still haven’t figured out. On the other hand, Alex (my parrot) and I are on a first name basis. I call her “Alex” and for some reason she calls me “Daddy.” (I think my wife put her up to that.)

We have various birds in this area that have adapted to the environment, one example being herons. They have long legs and long necks, so they can stand in the water and grab creatures smaller than themselves and eat them. I blame Darwin, and then I blame PETA for not correcting this particular practice.


Notice the heron in its natural habitat, shopping for clams, oysters, frogs, or other seafood delicacies.

But when they fly, they fold their necks. Excuse, me, they fold their necks? How weird is that? Giraffes, don’t fold their necks. Ostriches don’t, either. With snakes, you’re never sure what’s neck, belly, tail or whatever, so we won’t even consider them.

Courtesy Kristine Quandee

Courtesy Kristine Quandee

If my best friend told me, “Here, let me show you how I fold my neck,” I’d be weirded out. The next time his name came up on my phone’s caller ID, I just might let it ring and go to voicemail.

This neck-folding thing that herons do makes them weird.

On the other hand, there are mornings when I’m running late; if I could just fold my neck rather than shave, I just might try it.


Is this a game or is this real? Wargames

Is this a game or is this real?

Psst! Over here! Under the desk!

Yeah, it’s me.

With all the hackers, worms, Trojans, spam, and who knows what, I have to protect myself.

I’ve got the latest virus protection and firewall. I never click on hyperlinks. I’m suspicious of every e-mail, CNN, Fox News, and talk show.

But, still, every time I turn around, I’m told to change my password. Most of the time it’s because I changed my password the last time around and forgot to write it down. Of course, you’re not supposed to write passwords down, but then I have more passwords that Greece owes Euros.

Honest—I have passwords that are just to protect my passwords. Which I am going to change as soon as I finish this blog.

So, from now on, I guess I should write everything on parchment with a quill pen and have it hand delivered for security’s sake.

Which makes blogging very, very difficult.