Saturday, October 25, 2014

Looks like I was right about Amazon's Fire Phone


Back in June I was dubious about the prospects for Amazon's Fire Phone.

Amazon could have chosen to be genuinely competitive on price, but instead elected to position its smart phone in line with the high end of the market.  Personally, I think that was a serious mistake.  It's just another 'gee-whiz' device in a market filled with them - or, at least, the promise of them (many don't live up to the hype).

. . .

I find this launch more puzzling than exciting.  Why did Amazon choose to go this route instead of a more consumer-friendly option?  That's not what I expected from the company, and I'm not sure they made the right decision.  I'm a pretty loyal Amazon customer, spending thousands of dollars a year there, but this is one product I won't be buying in its present form or at its present price.

There's more at the link.

It seems I was right about the market response.  The Digital Reader reports:

Amazon Chief Financial Officer Tom Szkutak disclosed on Thursday that Amazon had taken a $170 million write down in the third quarter largely related to their unsold stockpile of Fire smartphones as well as supplier commitment costs. The retailer is sitting on $83 million in unsold Fire Phone stock, which means that it is actually possible that Amazon is sitting on more unsold units than they have managed  to sell in the past 4 months.

Again, more at the link.

That writedown comprises over a third of Amazon's loss for the last quarter.  I fear the Fire Phone was an expensive miscalculation.  Now, if the company has the sense to relaunch it as something more consumer-friendly, to compete price-wise with prepaid cellphone networks (see this PC Magazine article for more information), I think it might have a winner on its hands.  However, it'll have to absorb the loss for its high-end phone product, so I'm not sure it'll want to take a second gamble in that market.  I guess we'll see . . .

Peter

Friday, October 24, 2014

Bangbangbangbangbang . . . giggle!


I had to laugh at this video of a US airstrike against a group of ISIS terrorists on a hill outside Kobani in Syria.  The militants have been fighting to take over the town for weeks, and its Kurdish inhabitants have been resisting for all they're worth.  US air strikes have been helping them.  In this case the terrorists were apparently standing in the open, looking down on the town, clearly about to charge down the hill in another assault.  Unfortunately for them, someone (whether on the ground or in the air isn't known) saw them standing there and called in an air strike from a nearby US Air Force B-1 bomber, which unloaded half a dozen JDAM's on them (probably 2,000lb. Mk 84's with guidance kits, judging by the size of the explosions). I recommend watching the result in full-screen mode - but turn your volume down a bit.

What I particularly enjoyed was the giggle from a female voice after the bombs had gone off.  Listen carefully and you'll hear it in the background.  That's a giggle that says "You're not coming down that hill to attack us any more - you've got your own problems now, haven't you?"





I've heard a similar-sounding giggle from tribeswomen in the Angolan bush when we called in an artillery strike to stop an impending attack by Angolan government forces.  It's a giggle that says "Not today you don't, Charlie!" as they watch the destruction of those who intended to kill them.  There's a certain triumphalism involved . . .

(Note, too, the black-clad figure on the hill who starts running like hell when the first bombs go off.  I reckon he left a brown trail behind him, and probably hasn't stopped running yet!)

That brought back lots of memories.

Peter

I think he's done that a few times before . . .


This cat has clearly figured out - and used more than once - a sneak entryway into a building.





I wonder how long it took for the cat to figure that out?

Peter

Happy birthday to nylons!


Seventy-five years ago today, on October 24th, 1939, the first nylon stockings went on sale.  The Telegraph reports as part of a picture essay:

Although stockings have been around for centuries - and were usually worn by men - the invention of a new synthetic material in 1935, patented by the chemical company DuPont two years later, changed the game for hosiery. According to lore, in-house scientists at DuPont had been calling the material “Duparon”, which stood for “DuPont pulls a rabbit out of nitrogen”. The company planned to market the product as “nuron” - which is “no run” backwards - but due to trademarking issues settled on “nylon”. DuPont made a conscious decision not to trademark the name in the hope that it would come to be seen as synonymous with “stockings”. When the first test sale took place at the company's Wilmington, Delaware, headquarters on 24 October 1939 -- 75 years ago today -- 4,000 pairs sold out within three hours.

DuPont’s vice president, Charles Stine, unveiled the world’s first synthetic fibre at the New York World’s Fair in 1939 in front of thousands of women. He said: “Though wholly fabricated from such common raw materials as coal, water, and air, nylon can be fashioned into filaments as strong as steel, as fine as a spider's web, yet more elastic than any of the common natural fibers." The women burst into applause in the belief that these stockings wouldn’t run, unlike the silk stockings they wore at the time.

It wasn’t until May 1940 that nylon stockings became available in stores. On sale for about $1.15 a pair - that’s about $20 in today’s money - the nylon stockings were more expensive than their silk alternatives, but were more resilient and lasted longer. Hundreds of thousands of brown nylons sold out almost immediately, and DuPont sold 64m pairs that year. DuPont sold $9m worth of nylon yarn in 1940 and $25m the following year.


When the US entered the Second World War in 1941, manufacturing of nylon stockings stopped so nylon could be used to make parachutes, ropes, tents and other materials for the war effort. Women who couldn’t get nylon stockings on the black market drew seams on the back of their legs so it would look like they were wearing stockings. Cosmetic companies also started selling “paint-on stockings”.

The return of nylon stockings to the high street in 1945, when rations were eased after the war, led to queues that ran out the doors and down the block -- leading to “nylon riots” in some places. Some 40,000 women lined up outside a store in Pittsburgh that had 13,000 stockings, while a shop in San Francisco had to stop selling stockings after it was mobbed by 10,000 people. Demand stayed so high throughout the 1940s that DuPont demanded payment in advance for all purchases, even from the most reputable of accounts.

There's more at the link, including more images.

My mother used to reminisce about what she called the 'pulling power' of nylon stockings in Britain during World War II.  She complained that any 'Yank' serviceman could have almost any woman he wanted just by announcing that he had nylons from America, so great was the demand for them.  She was married by then and didn't succumb to temptation, but she can recall drawing a line down the back of each leg to make it appear, in the dim light of a restaurant or movie theater, that she was wearing nylons.  That was apparently a common thing at the time.

Peter

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Advice to a Missouri correspondent


Yesterday I posted a query received from a reader in Missouri.  I invited you to make your own suggestions to her in Comments, and many of you did so (for which thank you very much).  Blogging buddy Zercool turned his response into a blog post of his own, which is worth reading.

Here's my advice to her.  See what you think.


1.  Don't settle for selling enough to raise $2,000:  try to double or triple that sum.  Be ruthless with yourself and your family.  Give everyone a 'personal allowance' of, say, two or three suitcases or duffel bags or other storage containers.  Everything they want to keep - clothing, toys, books, etc. - has to fit into those containers;  all the rest is to be sold.  Go through every room, keeping essential furniture and listing the rest for disposal.  Do the same in the kitchen, the garage, the workshop (yes, your husband will hate to part with his tools, but in your present situation you can't afford to be soppy and sentimental.  If it's not in regular use or essential for a critical need, it goes.)  Even the family's collection of DVD's or CD's isn't sacred.  If you watch or listen to something regularly, keep it.  If you used it only once and then dumped it in a cupboard or drawer where it's sat for the past year, sell it.  Hold a yard sale or two (perhaps in co-operation with neighbors), use Craigslist and other advertising venues, and don't get discouraged.  It'll take hard work, but it's necessary.

I think you'll be surprised how much stuff you can free up to be sold, or swapped with other families for things you really need.


2.  If there are no jobs available in your area, it's time to take stock of where you live and why.  Missouri isn't one of the 11 'death spiral states' recently identified by Forbes, but it's not doing real well either.  There are lists of states and cities where jobs are more freely available, but Missouri and its cities aren't on them.  You may have to move somewhere else - even if it means moving far away from family and friends - if your husband and children need jobs.  For example, North Dakota may have viciously cold winters, but even entry-level shelf-stackers at Walmart are presently earning in the $12-$15 per hour range because the state's so short of workers.  You may have to put up with bad weather and sub-standard housing in order to earn a living.  It's as simple as that.

This assumes, of course, that you can sell your home.  If you can't, it's an anchor holding you back rather than an asset.  If you're 'underwater' on your mortgage, this may make it difficult to sell.  I'm of two minds here.  If Missouri is one of the states whose laws make the home itself the only security for the mortgage, so that you aren't on the hook for any losses remaining after the bank forecloses and sells it, that may allow you to walk away from it.  If not, you may be liable for the remaining balance on the mortgage after foreclosure and sale - a very unhealthy position to be in.  (Either way, your credit rating will take a major hit for several years.  This isn't a step to take lightly.)  On the other hand, if you can break even or make a small profit, it might be best to sell it right away before another downturn in the housing market (which I've been predicting for some time).

Of course, moving is expensive.  That's another reason to cut down on your possessions (see point 1 above) and sell them to raise more money.  Not only will this give you cash to pay for a move and start afresh when you get to your destination, but you'll have much less stuff to take with you.  This may be the difference between success and failure.


3.  If you can't move in the short term, your family will have to look for work where you are.  This is difficult at present, I know.  With so many people unemployed in so many areas, there's immense competition for the few available jobs.  I've seen it where I live, and I know most cities have the same problem.  If you have friends or contacts who can help to open doors for you, that's one thing;  otherwise you're competing with thousands, even tens of thousands of people in your area who are trying to do the same as you.  That makes it tough to succeed.

I think it'll do your kids a world of good to realize how seriously your situation has affected the family's finances.  Encourage them to try to find part-time work like babysitting, snow-shoveling, car-washing, etc. and put the money into a 'family food fund'.  That'll help them feel that they're part of the solution.  In addition, make it clear to them that if the family has to move for employment reasons, they'll have to be willing to move too, even if that means leaving their friends and schools behind.  It'll be tough for them, but that's life.  They're old enough to cope.


4.  Economize wherever possible.  I agree with my readers that your kids should be getting their clothes only from thrift stores (e.g. Goodwill) or the cheapest stuff at Walmart;  that probably applies to you and your husband as well.  Shop for food at Aldi (the cheapest store I've found almost anywhere - and their quality's at least on a par with Walmart or other supermarkets, so you won't lose out by shopping there).  Use the Internet to get ideas for cheap food that's nutritious and tasty (try this search for starters).


5.  What to do with the money you raise.  If you raise the $2,000 you're hoping for (plus, hopefully, at least a little more, as I mentioned in point 1 above), here's how I'd use it if I were in your shoes.

(a)  A 'rainy day fund' sufficient to pay essential bills for a month.  Winter's coming;  that means electricity, fuel for heating, water, etc. are critical.  I'm assuming that $1,000 will cover those bills plus your monthly mortgage payment.  Put it aside and don't touch it!  It's there for emergencies.  (Of course, if one of you needs urgent medical treatment, that counts as an emergency too.)

(b)  Invest up to $500 in building up reserve food supplies.  Readers have made helpful suggestions in that regard.  Personally, I'd put $100 into tinned vegetables;  that'll buy you up to 150 cans at Aldi of things like corn, beans (several varieties), carrots, peas, diced tomatoes, etc.  Get two dozen cans of each of (say) five or six staples and put them in your pantry.  (If you have a bit more to spare, buy tins of tuna as well - they're about 75c apiece at Aldi, and a couple of cans of tuna is good solid protein to add to a meal.)  Invest another $100 in dry foods that will keep;  rice, pasta, beans, etc.  Another $100 goes to bulk foods that you'll use over time;  sugar, salt, herbs and spices, cooking oil, flour, etc.  Buy only what you already use, and the essentials rather than a wide variety of stuff.  A fourth $100 goes to bulk purchases of toilet paper, paper towels, plastic bags (Ziploc-type bags for food storage [quart and gallon sizes], garbage bags, etc.).  A fifth $100 goes towards cleaning materials;  dish-washing soap, hand and bath soap, shampoo, feminine hygiene essentials, laundry detergent, bleach, floor cleaning materials, etc.  This $500 total expenditure will give you enough stocks for two to three months if they're used carefully.  That's your reserve.  As you take items from the reserve, add them to your regular shopping list and replace them, putting the newest stuff in the rear and using the oldest stuff first.  This means that if you should lose your job, you'll at least have food to eat and be able to keep yourselves and your home clean for a few months.

(c)  Spend a couple of hundred on making sure everyone's got adequate warm clothing for the coming winter.  It's likely to be a cold one.  If you turn down the thermostat on your furnace, you can save a lot of money that way;  but you'll have to have something warm to wear if you're to be comfortable.  Hit thrift stores like Goodwill to look for jackets;  buy the cheap fleecy throws that places like Walmart sell for less than $5;  perhaps replace older, worn comforters with heavier ones, again from thrift stores or supermarkets rather than more expensive specialty stores.  Don't throw the old ones away;  layer them (two old, thin comforters on a bed can be as warm as a new, thick one).  You might even sew the edges of an old comforter together to make a sort of sleeping-bag, into which your kids can climb and pull blankets over themselves.  We used to do that with old blankets and quilts in Africa.  It was a cheap way to stay warm compared to the cost of new stuff.

(d)  Home security:  this is important, particularly if crime is getting worse in your area, but first things first.  You've got to eat and stay warm.  After that, if you've got a few hundred dollars left over, my suggestion is to look for a used pump-action shotgun (available from many pawnbrokers or gun stores for well under $200).  Get one with a shorter barrel if possible to make it easier to maneuver indoors.  If you don't know much about them, ask friends who do, or read up about them online.  (I don't think you'll go far wrong with a Remington 870 or Mossberg 500 or a derivative of those models).  Plan on buying a couple of hundred rounds of cheap birdshot to familiarize the whole family with its operation, plus a couple of boxes of buckshot for defensive use - Walmart will probably have ammo cheaper than most places, or look in sporting goods stores like Academy Sports, Bass Pro, Gander Mountain, etc.  Your total expenditure, including gun, ammo, a cleaning kit, etc., shouldn't have to exceed $300, and you might be able to keep it below $250 if you're lucky.  I'd love to recommend a handgun, too, but a good one will cost too much for your budget right now, and it's much harder to learn to use a handgun effectively than a shotgun.  We've got to be realistic here.

(e)  Celebrate!  You'll probably have a little left over after the purchases I outlined above.  I strongly suggest using some of it to have a low-key family celebration.  After all, you're alive, you're well, and you have enough to eat.  There are many people who aren't so fortunate.  Invest a little in some 'comfort food' and sodas, rent a video and have a family evening together.  I also highly recommend donating a little to help those less fortunate than yourselves.  The Salvation Army's always a good place to start.  If you find you can't sell some of your excess goods, donate them to the Sallies as well.  They'll send them to their thrift stores.  "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you":  in other words, if you hope to receive help from others when you need it, help others in your turn.


Those are my ideas.  Thanks to all my readers who contributed other suggestions.  I've already e-mailed my correspondent and advised her to read what everyone had to say, then make up her own mind.  Ultimately, it's her responsibility.

Peter

This made me laugh out loud


Shamelessly stolen borrowed from The Lonely Libertarian:




I swear the dragon figurehead on the boat has a disapproving expression on its face . . .




Peter

California's drought bites harder


I came across this video clip today.  It's a sobering reflection on what the drought in California is doing to the 'little people', those below the radar of the major news media, and the way their lives are being disrupted.  Highly recommended viewing, preferably in full-screen mode.





(If you have problems viewing the video, you'll find the original here.)

Makes you think, doesn't it?  What happens if the entire farming sector in California goes under?  That's more than 10% of US agricultural output, and the source of the majority of our fresh fruits and vegetables . . .

Peter

Best airline safety video EVAR!


Air New Zealand has produced a number of Tolkien-themed safety videos, advertisements, and even paint schemes for their planes, based on Peter Jackson's two trilogies.  (You'll find them on the airline's YouTube channel.)  Now they've come up with another Hobbit-themed safety video to mark the forthcoming release of the third and final film in the trilogy of that name.  I recommend watching it in full-screen mode.





Full marks for creativity!

Peter

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

A blind darts team???


From England comes this news.

CORNWALL'S first blind darts team is preparing for its inaugural game at a Grampound pub – for charity.

. . .

Mr Pryor, 68, said: "While we were down the pub the other day, Joe, the landlord, mentioned that Rotary had organised for pubs to take part in a Fast Darts competition.

"He asked if we wanted to put in a blind darts team. After three pints I am up for anything and we said yes."

The team will be aided by a piece of string attached to the bull's eye which they will use with one hand as a tactile means to establish their aim.

. . .

Mr Pryor, a social worker, added: "No one has been injured yet, although there has been quite a bit of damage to the door and around the board ... However, on the night people might want to stand back a little bit as I don't think we get any points for hitting the spectators."

. . .

Landlord Joe Fryer said it will be about having fun and raising money, although the door to the room where the competition takes place will be closed "just in case" a dart strays off course.

There's more at the link . . . and here's the team.





I'd want to watch that match from behind a dart-proof plexiglass screen, thank you very much!




Peter

The ultimate Ponzi scheme behind the Fed's monetary policy


David Stockman and Michael Snyder, both of whom we've met in these pages several times before, uncover the real problem with our present low interest rates and the catastrophe that would ensue if they were allowed to rise.  They also show why present and future levels of US government expenditure are completely irrational and cannot continue.

When discussing the national debt, most people tend to only focus on the amount that it increases each 12 months.  And as I wrote about recently, the U.S. national debt has increased by more than a trillion dollars in fiscal year 2014.

But that does not count the huge amounts of U.S. Treasury securities that the federal government must redeem each year.  When these debt instruments hit their maturity date, the U.S. government must pay them off.  This is done by borrowing more money to pay off the previous debts.  In fiscal year 2013, redemptions of U.S. Treasury securities totaled $7,546,726,000,000 and new debt totaling $8,323,949,000,000 was issued.  The final numbers for fiscal year 2014 are likely to be significantly higher than that.

So why does so much government debt come due each year?

Well, in recent years government officials figured out that they could save a lot of money on interest payments by borrowing over shorter time frames.  For example, it costs the government far more to borrow money for 10 years than it does for 1 year.  So a strategy was hatched to borrow money for very short periods of time and to keep “rolling it over” again and again and again.

This strategy has indeed saved the federal government hundreds of billions of dollars in interest payments, but it has also created a situation where the federal government must borrow about 8 trillion dollars a year just to keep up with the game.

. . .

The only way that this game can continue is if the U.S. government can continue to borrow gigantic piles of money at ridiculously low interest rates.

And our current standard of living greatly depends on the continuation of this game.

If something comes along and rattles this Ponzi scheme, life in America could change radically almost overnight.

In the United States today, we have a heavily socialized system that hands out checks to nearly half the population.  In fact, 49 percent of all Americans live in a home that gets direct monetary benefits from the federal government each month according to the U.S. Census Bureau.  And it is hard to believe, but Americans received more than 2 trillion dollars in benefits from the federal government last year alone.  At this point, the primary function of the federal government is taking money from some people and giving it to others.  In fact, more than 70 percent of all federal spending goes to “dependence-creating programs”, and the government runs approximately 80 different “means-tested welfare programs” right now.  But the big problem is that the government is giving out far more money than it is taking in, so it has to borrow the difference.  As long as we can continue to borrow at super low interest rates, the status quo can continue.

But a Ponzi scheme like this can only last for so long.

It has been said that when the checks stop coming in, chaos will begin in the streets of America.

. . .

As the Baby Boomers continue to retire, the amount of money that the federal government is handing out each year is projected to absolutely skyrocket.  Just consider the following numbers…

  • Back in 1965, only one out of every 50 Americans was on Medicaid.  Today, more than 70 million Americans are on Medicaid, and it is being projected that Obamacare will add 16 million more Americans to the Medicaid rolls.
  • When Medicare was first established, we were told that it would cost about $12 billion a year by the time 1990 rolled around.  Instead, the federal government ended up spending $110 billion on the program in 1990, and the federal government spent approximately $600 billion on the program in 2013.
  • It is being projected that the number of Americans on Medicare will grow from 50.7 million in 2012 to 73.2 million in 2025.
  • At this point, Medicare is facing unfunded liabilities of more than 38 trillion dollars over the next 75 years.  That comes to approximately $328,404 for every single household in the United States.
  • In 1945, there were 42 workers for every retiree receiving Social Security benefits.  Today, that number has fallen to 2.5 workers, and if you eliminate all government workers, that leaves only 1.6 private sector workers for every retiree receiving Social Security benefits.
  • ight now, there are approximately 63 million Americans collecting Social Security benefits.  By 2035, that number is projected to soar to an astounding 91 million.
  • Overall, the Social Security system is facing a 134 trillion dollar shortfall over the next 75 years.
  • The U.S. government is facing a total of 222 trillion dollars in unfunded liabilities during the years ahead.  Social Security and Medicare make up the bulk of that.

There's more at the link.  Go read the whole thing.  It's worth it.

Peter

How would you prepare under these circumstances?


Thanks to everyone who responded to my question (yesterday) about battery-operated chainsaws.  Lots of good information was provided, and my correspondent is currently considering her options.

That brings me to another question from a reader.  It looks very much as if the world economy is on the brink of a precipice right now.  Consider just a few headlines from the past week:

  • CNN:  Opinion: Brace yourselves for another financial crash
  • Simon Black:  Forget about Ebola – here’s why US banks (and your savings) are now EXTREMELY vulnerable
  • David Stockman:  Kudos To Herr Weidmann For Uttering Three Truths In One Speech
  • Michael Snyder:  19 Very Surprising Facts About The Messed Up State Of The U.S. Economy
  • Casey Research:  The Many Roads to Currency Ruination

I've been writing about these and similar problems for years, as have many other people.  I hope most of us have taken what steps we can afford to prepare ourselves for another financial and economic crisis, which I believe is as certain as the dawn.

Now a reader e-mails to ask for advice.  I've condensed her query as follows:

I'm stuck with an unemployed partner and teenage kids who can't earn their own living.  We haven't been able to afford reserve supplies for an emergency, yet it's clear that even harder times are on the way.  I want to build up reserves for my family to help cope with them, so I'm selling a bunch of our stuff at garage sales and through Craigslist.  By mid-November I hope to have $2,000 to spend.  What's the best way for me to use that money?

A bit of background:  she lives with her husband and two kids, a boy of 15 and a girl of 17, in a small suburban home in a Missouri city.  The local crime situation wasn't bad until recently, but it's getting worse as economic hard times bite deeper.  The family owns one older car free and clear - they sold a second, newer vehicle when they couldn't afford the monthly payments.  The mortgage on their home runs about $650 per month, which isn't too bad if both of them are earning, but for the past year her husband hasn't been able to find work.  Her income isn't enough to cover all the bills.

I have some ideas of my own, which I'll address tomorrow;  but I thought I'd throw open my reader's question to the rest of my audience.  If you were in her shoes, and had made almost no emergency preparations, and could raise $2,000 for the purpose, how would you spend it?  Please let us know your suggestions (concisely, of course - point form is fine) in Comments, and we'll see what the range of replies covers. 

Peter

A windy day at the airport


The remains of Hurricane Gonzalo made landfall in Britain two days ago, producing vicious crosswinds and nasty weather at Manchester airport yesterday morning.  This video clip shows aircraft from puddle-jumper commuters (ATR 72's and Dash 8's) to intercontinental widebodies (777's) and everything in between struggling to get down in the difficult conditions. I recommend watching it in full-screen mode for the best effect.





Glad I wasn't flying there yesterday . . .

Peter

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Well, she asked for it, didn't she?


Last week I suggested that Houston pastors should deliver their sermons directly (and verbally and on television) to the Mayor and City Council of Houston, in response to the Mayor's demand (and subpoena) that they hand them over (in clear violation of the First Amendment to the US Constitution).

Mike Huckabee went one better.  He suggested that pastors all across America send their sermons to the Mayor (because "obviously she could use a few"), and asked the viewers of his TV program to send her Bibles as well.  The call's been taken up by others, with interesting results.

Fresh off the stunning attack on religious liberty down in Houston ... there is now an effort underway by pastors across America to VOLUNTARILY send Bibles and their sermons to the mayor of Houston.

Mike Huckabee called for it and so has influential Christian author Eric Metaxas. Metaxas tells The Brody File, "Never in our history has religious freedom been so brazenly defied. A bold red line has been crossed. The Houston mayor's inexcusable demand to see the sermons of pastors is an outrageous and shocking affront to all Americans and to liberty itself. If the American church does not rise up and stand against this, there is no American church."

. . .

Sources [say] that pastors from Canada, Australia and Germany are also sending the Houston mayor Bibles and sermons. There are also big events planned around what happened in Houston. On November 2nd, The Family Research council is hosting a huge simulcast event in Houston at a big church.

There's more at the link.

This looks set fair to become an energizing get-out-the-vote issue all across the nation for Americans with strong religious beliefs . . . doubtless to the dismay of those not holding such beliefs.  I suspect the latter are presently cursing Houston's Mayor for daring to touch the subject at all.

Here's some reading that Mayor Annise Parker might find useful.

(And yes, even though I'm a retired pastor rather than in active ministry, I'll be sending a printout of a few sermons and a Bible to Her [dis]Honor!  I invite all clergy among my readers to do the same.  Let's enjoy the schadenfreude while we may . . . )




Peter

Are battery-powered chainsaws worth the money?


I've written here and there about chainsaws, and found them useful during the cleanup after hurricanes in Louisiana, where I lived for more than a decade.  However, these have all been gas-fueled models, big, powerful - and noisy.  Regular "homeowner" models have never been able to handle entire fallen tree trunks, either.  They've coped with smaller trees and de-limbing larger ones, but the big stuff has always had to await the arrival of professionals with really big, powerful saws to get through the trunks and thick branches.

I've had a query from one of my correspondents asking about the utility of smaller, lighter battery-powered chainsaws.  She's partly disabled, like me, and I came into contact with her through my efforts to teach disabled people how to shoot in order to defend themselves if necessary.  She says she can't handle a big, heavy chainsaw, but that the smaller, lighter battery-powered models are manageable.  However, she doesn't know if they're worth buying to cut firewood or clean up smaller limbs after a storm.

I did a bit of research, and found this Popular Mechanics article comparing half a dozen models.  It speaks highly of the Stihl MSA 160 C-BQ, as does Gizmodo's review.  The Stihl's an expensive choice, particularly if you get an extra battery or two, but I guess that's what you pay for that level of performance (at least at present).  There's also the MSA 200 C-BQ model, with a standard 14" bar, which is listed by Stihl under "Farm and Ranch Saws" rather than "Homeowner Saws" like the 160.  The latter is listed as taking a 10"-14" bar, but appears to be usually sold with a 12" option, so the 200 is probably designed for slightly tougher, harder jobs.  Here's a composite picture of both models, taken from Stihl's Web site.




I'd like to ask whether any of my readers have tried an electric chainsaw, particularly one of the Stihl models mentioned above.  If so, how well did it perform?  Was it worth the money?  In particular, was it easier to use than a heavier, more unwieldy gas-fueled chainsaw?  Do you think a partly disabled person, with limited physical strength and mobility, would be able to use it more easily than a standard model?  For emergency use (e.g. post-storm cleanup), if the power's out, I'm thinking that a generator could recharge a battery-powered saw with no trouble at all (their lithium-ion batteries recharge in an hour or so), and probably use less gas overall than a gas-powered chainsaw would need (since the generator would be powering other things at the same time).  That might make a saw like that, with a spare battery, a very serviceable option, but only if it does the job it's supposed to do.

Please let us know your thoughts in Comments.  Thanks.

Peter

"Magnet ass" - electrical version


I think the term "magnet ass" dates back to World War II, when airmen whose planes were frequently hit or shot down by the enemy were labeled as such (here's one example).  There's a modern variation on the theme, too.

Wirecutter put up a blog post about someone who was hit by lightning three times - and after his death, his gravestone was hit by lightning as well.  He might be considered a "magnet ass" for lightning, I suppose.  However, that pales into insignificance behind the man who was struck no less than seven times - and possibly an eighth, but because he couldn't prove beyond doubt that it happened, he didn't claim it.  Wikipedia reports:

Roy Cleveland Sullivan (February 7, 1912 – September 28, 1983) was a United States park ranger in Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. Between 1942 and 1977, Sullivan was hit by lightning on seven different occasions and survived all of them. For this reason, he gained a nickname "Human Lightning Conductor" or "Human Lightning Rod". Sullivan is recognized by Guinness World Records as the person struck by lightning more recorded times than any other human being.

. . .

He was avoided by people later in life because of their fear of being hit by lightning, and this saddened him. He once recalled "For instance, I was walking with the Chief Ranger one day when lightning struck way off (in the distance). The Chief said, 'I'll see you later'."

. . .

All seven strikes were documented by the superintendent of Shenandoah National Park, R. Taylor Hoskins, and were verified by doctors. Sullivan himself recalled that the first time he was struck by lightning was not in 1942 but much earlier. When he was a child, he was helping his father to cut wheat in a field, when a thunderbolt struck the blade of his scythe without injuring him. But because he could not prove the fact later, he never claimed it.

Sullivan's wife was also struck once, when a storm suddenly arrived as she was out hanging clothes in their back yard. Her husband was helping her at the time, but escaped unharmed.

There's more at the link, including details of the seven strikes Sullivan survived.

Y'know, by about the third or fourth strike I'd have considered changing locations - or my religion!




Peter

Sad news for sax lovers


Raphael Ravenscroft, the well-known saxophone player and session musician, has died.  He recorded for many of the top groups and performers in the world, including Pink Floyd, Marvin Gaye, Mike Oldfield, Robert Plant and Bonnie Tyler, but is probably best known for his alto sax riff in Gerry Rafferty's 1978 song 'Baker Street', which became a hit around the world.





There's a persistent 'urban legend' that Rafferty originally intended the riff to be sung or played on guitar (as it was towards the end of the song).  Ravenscroft was apparently in the studio to record another piece, and is said to have suggested he play the riff on alto saxophone.  Whatever the truth, the result became music history and led to a surge in the popularity, use and sales of the saxophone (as well as vaulting Ravenscroft himself to prominence).

Peter