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The Misadventures of Quinxy von Besiex truths, lies, and everything in between

26Sep/121

Physiognomy & Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

I've always been a big believer in physiognomy*.  I cannot prove it scientifically, nor do I believe it would necessarily hold up to scientific scrutiny, but it has always felt true to my experience of people.  People who look nice usually seem to contain niceness.  People who look mean usually seem to contain meanness.

I have never felt let down by this intuitive assessment tool, until Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad began showing up in the news.  My physiognomic response to seeing his likeness  is to feel deeply warm feelings towards the man, somehow seeing in the contours of his face a disarming humor, charm, kindness; there's just something about his look to which I respond very strongly positively.  And yet I cognitively know that the man himself seems by all accounts to be a pretty bad man.  Whether its his alleged nuclear weapon ambitions, his arguable election tampering, his brutal crackdowns on his people, his baffling denials of things like homosexuality and the Holocaust, I find little good to say about the man.  And yet even still I see a photo of him, smiling or not, and I am still deceived into feeling something warm and fuzzy.

Thank goodness I rely more on logic than feeling when it comes to decision making...  and thank goodness I have few decisions I need to make related to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

*Physiognomy (from the Gk. physis meaning "nature" and gnomon meaning "judge" or "interpreter") is the assessment of a person's character or personality from his outer appearance, especially the face. The term physiognomy can also refer to the general appearance of a person, object or terrain, without reference to its implied characteristics. Wikipedia
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18Sep/120

Router with slow download and upload speeds? Don’t connect it through your UPS’s over-network voltage protection!

This is just a technical note for anyone who winds up with the problem I did the other day...  I bought a new wifi router the other day, hooked it up and was shocked to find my download and upload speeds were  abysmal, in the 1 Mbps range (rather than the expected 75 Mbps down and 20 Mbps up).  I spent an hour trying different firmware in the router, looking for problematic options in the router's config, and replacing cabling.  But somewhere in my sleeping hours the answer came to me...  My cable modem's network cable feeds into my UPS which then feeds into the wireless router.  The UPS provides voltage filtering, arguably useful for preventing distant lightning in my rural neighborhood from destroying more networking equipment than it otherwise might.  The idea came to me that the UPS network feature might not be gigabit rated.  My old wifi router was not a gigabit router, thus it would communicate with the cable modem at 100 Mbps, within the rating of the UPS.  But the cable modem is likely gigabit and the new wifi router is gigabit, and thus they would communicate at gigabit speeds.  And the UPS may unwittingly screw up that speed of communication by the filtering it does on the signals passing through.  I bypassed the UPS and sure enough everything now works as expected!

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24Aug/120

How You Define ‘Rare’ Depends on your Politics. The Todd Akin Mathematics.

Asked by a reporter if he supported abortion in the case of rape, Congressman Todd Akin replied with his now infamous quote:

“It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something: I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be of the rapist, and not attacking the child.”

In those few sentences Congressman Akin managed to offend in not just one but three very different ways:

  • He implies that there are legitimate and non-legitimate rapes.
  • He claims that pregnancies resulting from rape are rare.
  • He doesn't seem to emphasize punishment.

And while most of the political world was quick to shun him, with even his closest allies calling for him to drop his bid for re-election, I can't help but feel annoyed by the mindlessly reactionary responses.  I'm no friend to Republicans, I disagree with most of the claimed conservative values, but I am no more a friend to the Democrats and progressives when they seem unable to look at things rationally and instead seek refuge behind politically correct positions and chants.

I don't think most congressmen belong in congress, and I see no reason to think any differently of Congressman Akin, but that doesn't mean I find his statements worse than they are.

Let's take a look at Congressman Akin's offenses in turn.

Legitimate Rapes

Congressman Akin's statement about legitimate rapes does certainly imply there must exist illegitimate rapes.  Most of the furor surrounding this quote seems to rest on this point.  But while I understand that his statement could suggest the disgustingly archaic viewpoint that women invite, allow, or invent almost all of the sexual assault they report, it seems far more reasonable to imagine he meant only to exclude those who fit this last criteria.  A congressman could make a statement like, "If it's a legitimate robbery then this bill will force the insurance companies to pay up."  without anyone getting even remotely upset.  It acknowledges the existence of the same phenomena, false reporting of a crime.  His poorly phrased statement seems to be trying to address his response at the (majority of) cases where rape was not falsely claimed.

The reality is that some percentage of all reported crimes are wholly false, the alleged criminal act did not occur at all.  The heinous crime of rape is not immune to this deceit.  A few studies have been done to try to determine what percentage of rapes are false but to date there are no universally accepted statistics.  Frequently mentioned statistics seem to range anywhere from 2% to 12%.  The most common figure I've seen on sites supporting women's causes is roughly 6%.  The Violence Against Women journal included a study based on a thorough review of college rape investigations and puts the number of false allegations at 5.9%, as mentioned in this blog entry of the title False Rape Allegations Are Rare.  I've seen many quotes from people on the left saying exactly the same thing, that false claims of rape are "rare".  "Rare" is the key word here, as they are applying it to something which they agree happens roughly 6% of the time.

The phrase "illegitimate rape" should clearly never be uttered because it offends and is taken with historical context to de-legitimize those who have been raped.  But we must as honest men and women acknowledge that a small percentage of rape claims are not true, and must allow others to acknowledge this fact as well, and be able to refer to them in discussion, even when it involves charged topics like abortion.  We cannot simply shout down our adversaries for poor phraseology, those are the chief argumentation tactics of the Rush Limbaughs and the Howard Sterms.

As an aside, I was stunned when I first learned that ~6% of rape accusations were wholly false.  The figure is touted by women as a positive, as though the number was impressively low, which is likely because of the historical context of the public apparently believing that most rape allegations are false.  But I grew up assuming that 99.9% of rape allegations were true, not comprehending that anyone could or would make up such a thing, and so for me to discover that 6% were false was shocking and vastly more than I would have ever imagined.  

Pregnancies from Rapes are Rare

Congressman Akin's claim that women's bodies have some mechanism by which it can prevent unwanted fertilization of an egg is not supported by science or medicine.  While many wish to see it as an evil statement, born of a desire to blame the woman should she become pregnant, such an explanation is not required.  It may be plain but unremarkable ignorance.

What I find most infuriating about the anger at Todd Akin is that it suggests that all those condemning him know so very much better, and I am very sure most of them do not!  Those pillorying him may assume better, may have guessed better, or may just know better how to toe the politically correct party line, but very likely most of them are no more scientifically or medically informed or grounded.

Considering first exactly what he said we find rank hypocrisy coming from many of his accusers.  His claim (leaving out for a moment his incorrect explanation) is that pregnancy as a result of rape is rare.  And in that he is correct if we use the definition of "rare" that all those who are most vitriolic towards Akin are.  Various studies have strongly suggested that 5 - 8% of women who are raped become pregnant as a result.  If we consider that many advocates for women argue that false rape accusations are rare at 6% then surely we would expect them to consider pregnancy as a result of pregnancy at 5-8% to be a similarly rare occurrence.  If they did, however, this aspect of Congressman Akin's comment would not be worth mentioning.  To have useful discussions and dialogue we must be consistent in our use and interpretation of language, to make language or math political is idiocy.

But let's look at his erroneous explanation of why pregnancy from rape is rare.  Taken at its core his statement requires that women are less likely to become pregnant as a result of rape than consensual sex.  On this point he seems proven entirely wrong, studies have only suggested the opposite.  But his (and others') expectation that rape would be less likely to produce pregnancy is easily explained, logical, and almost certainly the common belief until recent studies began to show otherwise.  There are many objective reasons to suspect rape would be less likely to result in pregnancy.  I am sure most of his attackers are no better read on the available studies than he was.  As such, lets consider not his logic, which apparently depended on only one particular doctor's viewpoint, but on the overall expectation which exists to draft most people's expectations.  Included in these facts:

  • Rapists often do not ejaculate.  While exact numbers are hard to come by I saw some things which said that only 10% of the time was semen recoverable from rape victims, meaning the attacker did not ejaculate, withdrew before ejaculating, or wore a condom.
  • Rapists use condoms as often as 10-15% of the time.
  • Stress is widely believed to increase miscarriages and many have assumed stress hormones would interfere with conception, implantation, and fetal development.  Rape marks the beginning of a long and horribly stressful journey back to any sort of normal.
  • Rape is (generally) a single event, relatively short in duration, whereas consensual sex is more likely to be prolonged and repeated.

Taking just the above objective facts a reasonable person would conclude that pregnancy as a result of rape should occur much less often than from consensual un-protected intercourse.  And if we know that the average likelihood that a woman will become pregnant as a result of unprotected consensual sex is 5% then surely many reasonable people would estimate a rape would result in pregnancy at a rate one order of magnitude less than with consensual sex.

That "reasonable" guesstimate happens to be wrong, as has been established in studies, but the conclusion was not the result of stupidity.  There were, however, some key factors that were overlooked:

  • Rapists more often prey on victims during their most fertile years, so the overall rate of pregnancy from one incident of intercourse within that age range is higher than 5%, making pregnancy from rape also higher.
  • Unknown evolutionary forces might be at play giving aggressive males an advantage at fertilizing women.  This is wildly speculative, but has been offered as one possible explanation for what otherwise seems unexpected.  No studies I'm aware of support this as yet.

I don't want to discourage people from trying to understand the world in which they live using the facts available to them.  We should not call the conclusions people come to nor the people themselves "stupid" as a result of a genuine attempt to figure things out as best they can.  People are only stupid when they choose to ignore facts which might have otherwise altered their positions.

Todd Akin is no more nor less intelligent than most of his detractors, no more or better informed.  We must be able to present him with new evidence and only deem him worthy of contempt if he fails to update his view based on superior evidence.

Punishing the Rapists

When I heard the offensive quote what offended me the most was in fact the last part of the oft repeated quote.  He seems to show so little interest in the prosecution of the guilty.   "I think there should be some punishment..." sounds so anemic, as though he feels forced to grudgingly acknowledge some mild punishment is expected.  His statement is something I'd expect a disinterested father saying to a supermarket cashier after his child was caught with a pack of gum he didn't pay for.  If I were of a mind to be outraged by my interpretation of the first part of his quote then this line would absolutely be the nail in the coffin for me.  Not only does he seem to think many victims deserved what happened to them, not only does he not acknowledge the problem of further traumatizing victims and populating the planet with children born from violence, but he proves he doesn't think it's a real crime by barely conceding that any punishment is warranted.  I likely am reading way too much into this portion of his statement, but in part that's my point.  Others who found this quote offensive were apparently willing to give this part of his statement a pass, assuming he really meant something different, or at that this wasn't the worst of what he said, when for me it was.  I have yet to hear anyone even mention this part of the quote in the discussion.

Conclusion

Rape is in no way to be tolerated, and I cannot fathom how our legal system permits the freeing of those who are found guilty of heinous crimes such as rape, molestation, kidnapping, murder, etc.  In my view, society should be forever protected from people who have demonstrated certain criminal tendencies.  Having felt the intense violation and fear that comes from being a victim of far lesser crimes, I can only begin to dimly imagine the horror one might feel as a result of this sort of sexual assault.  I do not support Todd Akin or anyone espousing archaic views about women, sexuality, gender, etc.  I just want to ensure that all of us can communicate about these topics, can freely discuss them without the ignorant, knee-jerk politics or political correctness that only entrenches people further in their ignorance.  Only through that openness is there any hope for them or for us.

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17Aug/121

How much would you pay to be 1% less likely to die in the next month?

I was presented with a very curious dilemma this past weekend: Was I willing to pay $10,000 in order to eliminate a 1% chance that I might die in the next month?

The situation was this... I awoke Sunday morning to find a bat flying circles around my bed. I opened the window and with a little encouragement the bat flew out.  A few hours later I read that according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) anyone sleeping in a bedroom where a bat is found should receive the rabies post-exposure prophylaxis (RPEP) if the bat is not submitted for testing.  Bats have a documented history of transmitting rabies to people as they slept.  (Had I known this before releasing the bat I would have had a separate moral dilemma, would I be willing to pay $10,000 to avoid causing the death of a bat.)

Rabies is 99.99999999% fatal if not treated long before symptoms occur; treatment is 100% effective. Rabies post-exposure prophylaxis (RPEP) is very expensive, treatment fees (from web-based patient reports) range from $5,000 - $15,000, depending on location, hospital, availability of vaccine, etc. Insurance will likely only cover a portion of my treatment, and as my girlfriend has no insurance I'll be on the hook for the full price of her treatment. I had roughly 72 treatment-effectiveness-limited hours to decide what action, if any, I would take. What would you do?

I find it a fascinating situation to be in, a fascinating problem to wrestle with, because unlike many of the more nebulous philosophical questions relating to morality,  ethics, the nature of existence, etc. this is so elegantly, cruelly simply.

You can't know if you were infected, but you can estimate the likelihood that you were infected. You will absolutely die if you were infected and do not get treatment, but you will not suffer any ill effects if you were infected and get treatment. If it cost $1 almost everyone would get treated (in my situation), but it cost $100,000 almost no one would get treated (in my situation).  Somewhere between $1 and $100,000, somewhere between a 0% chance of infection and a 100% chance of infection exists the divide between getting treated and not getting treated.

I spent the first 24 hours after exposure trying to find where this line of demarcation lay.

Estimating the likelihood of infection was critical.   If it were large the decision would be easy.  I found that various studies put the rate of rabies infection in bat populations at anything from less than 1% to 6%. Bats observed in their natural environment seem to have a lower than 1% rabies infection rate, while bats which have encountered humans, been captured, and sent in for testing have a rate as high as 6%.  Periodic public rabies panics which caused more people to test more bats found inside their homes suggests that the real infected rate related to human-bat encounters is more like 3%. Thus, it seems reasonable to assume my bat had no more than a 3% chance of being rabid.  But of course to become infected I would have needed some contact with the bat.  Surely the likelihood that it bit or scratched me as I slept was low, as my prevailing theory was that I woke up as a result of hearing it somehow wiggle its way through the screen window and then flap against the blinds.  In the end I arbitrarily estimated that there was no more than a 33% chance that I had contact with the bat.  Combining these I estimated my risk as certainly no higher than 1%.

And so it is I spent the evening and the next morning pondering whether I would spend $10,000 to save myself a 1% chance of semi-immediate (and by all accounts agonizing) death.  I was leaning strongly towards not seeking treatment, not wanting the financial devastation over what surely was a small likelihood of grievous harm.

My girlfriend was not so resigned as I to accepting the risk, and as a result I ended up spending more than an hour trying to pin the billing department of the local hospital down to an actual price range for the treatment.

The local hospital's cost for treatment ended up being lower than the average I'd seen online and was roughly $5,100.  That amount broke down to $2,500 for the Human Rabies Immune Globulin (HRIG) drug, $1,800 for four separate Imovax/Rabavert vaccines, and $800 for the administration of those medications across four visits.  With the estimated costs half of what I'd been expecting, and with the anxiety my girlfriend would continue feeling indefinitely had we not sought treatment, getting treated now made sense.

We were treated, and I am enjoying my new found nearly complete immunity to rabies.  I have been volunteering myself and this new super power to friends or family, hoping they may be having a problem with a rabid  or otherwise suspicious animal; thus far I have sadly found no one who needs my help...

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27Jul/120

The Odd Similitude of Christian & Atheist Grief

Considering that Christians and Atheists have wildly different beliefs about what happens when we die I've always been deeply perplexed that both grieve quantitatively and qualitatively similarly.  The Christian suffering loss believes that he or she will be ultimately re-united with their dear departed in Heaven (barring any grave infractions that might lead to Hell) in a way that will replicate to a significant degree the relationships here on this Earthly plane; your mother in heaven will still be your mother and will recognize you as her son.  The Atheist generally believes that there is no afterlife, that the unique qualities of the dead person are permanently are irrevocably lost.  As such I would have imagined that Christian and Atheist grief would be quite dissimilar.  How could they not be?  To the Christian death is a misty, "Until we meet again."  While for the Atheist death is a bruta and unyielding, "Goodbye forever and ever."  And yet in my own observations of grief (and personal experience of grief) there seems little difference in people's experience of death.  Everyone (barring rare exceptions) finds the loss of a loved one to be miserably and inconsolably intolerable.  And so I can't help but wonder how this is possible?  How can the belief in an afterlife reunion not spare a person a significant portion of their grief?

These are the best possibilities I've been able to come up with to explain the lack of qualitative and quantitative difference...

It's possible that the most significant elements of grief are associated not with what we imagine happens to a person after death but with the impact their removal has from our current and expected life.  A person suddenly being removed from our world will force painful adjustments in our life, in our thinking, in our ability to cope, in our expression of love, in our expectations, etc.  While these elements and experiences do absolutely make up the bulk of our spontaneous experiences of sorrow and misery which last for days, months, and years, I still think it doesn't explain the situation fully because the severity of the experience seems ultimately tied to our perception of the other person's state.  For example, if I knew that my close cousin was forever gone from my life, having set off with others in a one-way light-speed rocket ship ride to the star system Trixolopy, I would feel vastly more comfortable with my loss than if I knew him to be dead.  The mere knowledge that he is alive staves off the bulk of my grief.  I would still wistfully think of him when I passed by his house on my way to work, I'd still instinctively look for him when I headed over to the baseball field, I'd still feel a twinge of emptiness as I put away my cell phone after reaching for it to tell him something, but I wouldn't be devastated in the same way I would if he was known (or expected) to be dead.  Thus the impact of death can't simply be tied to individual alterations made in my life by a person's absence.  And this would seem inadequate then to explain Christian versus Atheist mourning, since I would liken their belief about the present state of the loved one to be so radically and comfortingly different.

Another possibility is that the parity in grief experience is created by variation of two factors: Christian grief being reduced by their belief in Heaven while Atheist grief is reduced by their inability to fully recognize the value and therefore loss of human life.  Christians often use arguments which suggest that Atheists are incapable of are are limited in their ability to appreciate or understand the world because of their refusal to accept its God-given value, without which (from many a Christian's perspective) nothing has value.  I reject this option because it's just silly and simplistic.  It is too convenient to imagine two things are adjusted and both rendered equal by two wholly different mechanisms, and I reject the idea that God solves the value problem (at the very least because of the who created God argument).

It's also possible that the grief of Christians and Atheists exceed what the biology of the human brain can support.  It may be that we cannot see qualitative or quantitative differences in the grief of people with wildly different belief systems because even though they may quite significantly both experiences of grief so far exceed or biology's ability to express grief that they appear similar.  I liken it to the clipping which occurs when you try to record a very loud sound with a microphone and recording equipment that's not up to the task; the sound of an atom bomb and the sound of a conventional bomb would be recorded identically even though the actual events are vastly different.  I like this theory because it is elegantly simple and makes a certain sort of intuitive sense to me, but I'm not sure if it's part of the solution.

And ultimately I come back to my earliest suspicion, the one I first thought over as a teen, that Christians may not believe in Heaven in the same absolute way that they might believe in a place like Bismarck, SD.  Christians might feel okay with a loved one being prolongedly incommunicado in Bismarck, SD because they feel entirely secure in the concept of a geographically placed American city located within our plane of spacial and temporal existence.  Heaven might make them nervous and feel too wishy-washy and abstract, even if they entirely believe (in a theoretical sense) in its existence.  Of course it's also possible they suspect Heaven may not be real, in the same way a child might suspect Santa Claus isn't real years before being willing to call him out; I reject this because I am willing to accept that Christians believe as they say they believe and are not engaged in this piece of self-deception.

Ultimately I'm not sure which of these explanations is sufficient to explain the observation, perhaps other explanations are still required.  I suppose the reason I come back to this question so often is because I wish someone had a meaningful and lasting solution for grief, a means to rid ourselves of what becomes for most a bane of their own existence.  The longer we live the more grief we are made to experience, how nice it would be to recognize loss without being wholly undone by it.

^ Quinxy

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21Jul/121

The Journey of the M820



I picked up my 1971 AMC M820 Expansible Van from Mt. Vernon, IL this past week.  It turned out to be quite the little naive odyssey.

The outbound journey went relatively uneventfully, got a one-way rental to drive myself, Francine, and Osita (the dog) from Pennsylvania to Illinois.  After a thirteen hour drive spread across two days we met the seller, Wade, got to test drive the vehicle, bought it, and retired to the hotel to contemplate our next move.

Luxury It Ain't

Three major obstacles became immediately clear when I saw the vehicle and got to drive it.  The first problem was that the vehicle's cab was tiny.  There was arguably room enough for three lean soldiers with little to no gear and little to no leg room.  But two average folks and a dog would not fit easily.  The second problem was that the engine was deafeningly loud, the Army having made no effort to provide a quiet cabin.  The third and most serious was that Illinois happened to be in the middle of a record breaking heat wave and daily temperatures were reaching 107 degrees Fahrenheit.  An un-air-conditioned cab combined with a heat radiating engine and transmission was a recipe for disaster.  The fact that my dog is super fluffy and inappropriately keeps her winter coat on until September didn't help.  I knew I had to solve all three issues before we could start for home.

Where Does a Dog Fit?

There was only one place Osita would fit and that was on the floor board.   I put down a furniture moving pad and a dog bed to cushion the harsh metal floor and cover up sharp edges.  The difficulty was that she is a large dog and her body took up all the room of the passenger's floor as well as all the room in the middle floor.  Her upper body was wedged between the transmission's stick shift and the high-low transfer case shifter.  She had to keep her head up and out of the way whenever I needed to shift gears, which involved quite a lot of work on Francine's part.

Osita was a real trooper.  She would instantly find her place whenever I had to lift her back in, and she didn't move around at all once she settled.  I think it was all the practice in the motorcycle sidecar that touch her such patience for us humans.

Francine was an amazingly good sport for having to put up with very limited leg room and the constant need to keep Osita out of the way.

Silencing the Deafening Roar

For us humans the solution to the engine noise was easy.  We wore ear plugs.  Protecting Osita's hearing proved a little more challenging, and in retrospect I'm not sure how much good it did.

I bought Francine and Osita two pairs of the best headphones Lowe's had to sell.  Francine could wear hers without modification, but Osita's pair required some changes.  I removed the adjustable metal band at the top and replaced it with two straps which could be tightened or loosened with Velcro.  I also added a chin strap whose length could also be adjusted.  The system worked, but only sort of.  My primary concern was that her ears are vastly bigger than ours, and while I could (barely) fit her folded up ear into the headphone ear cup I couldn't imagine that it was pleasant, and I couldn't be sure that the seal was all that effective in terms of loudness protection.  I abandoned this solution in the end after a few short trials on the road.  They came off too easily and I was just too afraid it would hurt her ear cartilage if left on too long.  The only fallback I had available was to use human foam earplugs.  I did some Googling and saw people specifically recommending against their use, since human earplugs are smaller than what dogs would need.  Without any alternatives I decided to give it a try anyway, but instead of using just one per ear I would use two together in each.  This approach seemed to work and would stay put.  To what degree it eliminated the sound I can't be absolutely sure.  I know when I use a pair they can be finicky; they may seem to be in right and yet need adjustment to block out all the noise.   I felt somewhat comfortable, hopefully not foolishly, that her hearing would be protected because I had just a few days earlier read a passage in a book, How Dogs Think?, that mentioned  dogs having a biological mechanism by which they can protect their hearing from loud noises (environmental ones that they can expect, versus isolated and unexpected ones like gun shots).  If the ear plugs didn't do enough presumably her biology would.

Cooling the Air

Finding a solution for the 107 (and higher) degree heat was the big problem.  On the route down I'd tried to improve upon our rental car's poor A/C by buying a few bags of ice and putting some inside zip lock bags distributed in the passenger compartment and some in disposable aluminum pans on the floor board.  That did nothing to cool the interior.  I knew that the complete lack of space in the cab made it impossible to improve upon this crude method by simply adding more ice.  Instead I decided to do the only thing I could think of, create a rudimentary air conditioning system that was powered by ice, with the ice located outside the cab.  And that's what I built.

The key components of an air-conditioner related to the design I was going to employ were a refrigerated liquid, some cold coils that would transfer the cab's heat into the refrigerated liquid, an electric fan to accelerate that heat transfer, a pump to facilitate the circulation of the refrigerated liquid, an insulated container to hold said liquid, and hoses to carry the liquid to and fro.  I went to the local Pep Boys auto supply store and bought a third-party automatic transmission oil cooler to use as my cold coils, an electronic radiator fan to use as my fan, and fuel line to use as my hose.  At the local Walmart I found the bilge pump and large insulated cooler I needed.  And a quick trip to Radio Shack got me the switches and wires I'd use to allow me to turn everything on and off at will.

Retreating into the hotel room and out of the heat's insanity I assembled all the parts.  At this point I really wasn't sure how efficient the system would be, just how well it could remove heat from the cab, assuming a sufficient quantity of ice.  Once I'd installed everything in the vehicle and got a chance to test the system I was very pleased to discover that the system was very efficient at removing heat (that is, blowing cold air).  Even so, I wasn't sure if it would be cold enough, the hottest part of the day had already passed.  Remembering something from my high school earth science class I went back to Walmart to buy four big boxes of rock salt, which I knew would dramatically lower the freezing point of water and thereby drop temperature of the ice/water even further.  I brought along a big bag of tools for this trip and in it my infrared thermometer (it's a useful tool for motorcycle carburetor tuning).  I found that adding the rock salt dropped the temperature of the ice/water slush from about 32 degrees to about 3 degrees, which significantly improved the cooling in the cab.

Everything was very nearly a marvelous success, though it didn't take long for several mostly fatal flaws to emerge.  Thus, I'm not sure I can recommend this system to others facing similar circumstances.

This system runs through ice very, very quickly.  The air conditioning effect of my system would only last for about 45 to 60 minutes, after which the four to five bags of ice would be reduced to warm cabin temperature brine.  And as it doesn't make sense to break a 13 hour trip into 45 minute ice refilling segments we only had cool air for the first hour of every three or so.   Not to mention that the rate of ice consumption meant the system cost $5-8 an hour to operate, which is just pricey enough to make you think twice.  Worse luck, the fundamental resource without which the entire system wouldn't work (ice!) was magically unavailable at all the highway stops in West Virginia; WV was recovering from a serious storm that knocked out power to tens of thousands of residents who had bought up all the ice to save their refrigerated groceries.  And the final problem was that an automatic transmission oil cooler was not designed to be used as a cold coil for an air conditioner.  The honeycomb lattice of aluminum that does the heat transfer, through which air passes and becomes cold, seemed exactly the wrong size to rid itself of condensation that would form.  Cooling hot oil would create no condensation, but cooling hot air does.  My cooling system was so efficient that within mere seconds all the honeycomb elements of the oil cooler would be plugged up with water causing making the fan to send much of its uncooled air spilling out wherever it could escape the blocked holes.  To keep things working I had to keep running my hand across the face of the cooler to break the surface tension of the water so that it could all run off and allow the fan to work again.  This had to be done every minute or so.  I tried using some fabric to wick away the water from the honeycomb and re-evaporate it, but that didn't work.  And I planned to try introducing a light solution of soap to  the radiator surface to see if that might be enough to let it shed its own water, but I never quite got around to it before we got home.

Journey's End

I think the truck survived the trip better than the humans (and the dog).

On the first day of our return journey we only made it an hour before the ice ran out and the oppressive heat was just too much.  We paused for a few hours in the shade of a tree off the interstate.  Once the afternoon had set in and the ice was refilled we made it only another hour or so before a violent storm came upon us and we took shelter in the lobby of a hotel.  And when the storm lingered we called it a day.  At that rate I began to fear it would be 3-5 days before we'd make it home.

The next day became an unexpectedly long one, and we ended up completing the remaining 640 miles without stopping to sleep.  It was not our choice, however. We had planned to stop four hours away from home, but not only was West Virginia out of ice (because of the aforementioned storm), every hotel was full up. We called more than twenty, all the ones that took dogs and a few that didn't.  In the end we were left with no option but to drive until we reached home.

While I can't claim to be an expert at driving five ton trucks, but the fact that I didn't hit anything, and had no problems surely says something.  I was actually amazed at how well it drove, aside from the miserable uphill speed.  I wasn't able to do more than 30 mph on many of the hills coming back.  Going only 30 mph when other vehicles are doing 75 mph is certainly not an ideal situation, but the advantage of driving through the night was that the bulk of the hills we encountered were climbed when few others were on the road.  The top speed of the vehicle on level ground is only about 57 or so, which meant that in the entire 720 mile trip I don't think I passed a single vehicle.

In the end the toll on man and dog was high.  The stress from the drive left us humans bickering through out the next couple of days, and Osita ended up with a vet trip to treat vomiting and mild dehydration.

But all of us restored, my focus will now be on turning the M820 into a mobile gentleman's study (and my office).

^ Quinxy

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20Jul/121

The Loss of Friends

Friends are no easy things to make, at least for me.  I like most everyone and most everyone likes me, but rarely do I feel the desire to convert acquaintanceship into a lingering, profound connection.  And even more rarely is that desire reciprocated.  Often even when a friendship forms it collapses in its early days, a casualty of my failing to do or say the many subtle things that keep friendships alive.  Fortunately some very few and precious friendships do survive a while, but even those too often fail or more often fade.

I wish it were not so, and so hard, so solitary a life (in the friendship sense), but perhaps it is simply my way of things; a lifetime of years and social experiment has proved no other outcome is available.

To those whose friendship I had, and lost, I will always mourn the overcoming silence and my role in all (whether through neglect, abuse, or ignorance); I will miss you to the bitter end.

^ Quinxy

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11Jul/120

The Sick, Sad World of Hazing

The sad case of Robert Champion, Florida A & M University drum major who died after a hazing incident, continues to baffle me.  By all accounts I've read, the "normal" hazing procedure which new members of the FAMU band received included:

[Pledges] attempting to run from the front door of the bus to the back of the bus, down the center aisle, while initiated members of the Bus C posse position themselves in between seat rows, launching punches, slaps, kicks, hitting with objects, yelling, or assaults and batteries otherwise upon the 'pledge' as he or she runs down the aisle of the bus.  Should the 'pledge' fall to the bus floor from the blows sustained to his or her body, the 'pledge' may be stomped and is then dragged back to the front of the bus, and must begin the ritual again.

And:

[T]he "Hot Seat," in which a pillowcase or other object limiting the flow of oxygen was placed over a victim's head. He is then asked questions by a hazer. "If or when the victim answers a question correctly, the object is briefly lifted to allow a brief flow of oxygen to the victim, and then quickly pulled back down over the victim's head as another question is asked," the complaint says. "Should the victim fail to correctly answer the question, the object is not removed and the victim is prevented from inhaling fresh air, before the next question is asked. During this time, the victim is punched, slapped, kicked, or hit otherwise by members of the 'Bus C' posse."

Robert Champion died as a result of these and other hazing rituals, having been literally beaten to death.

And what forced me to read and re-read articles on his death when it first came to light was my inability to accept that what the news was saying could possibly have happened the way it was described.  How could and why would this man's friends, acquaintances, mentors, official and quasi-official supervisors, and even possible strangers to him (alumni, etc.) assault him?  Horrendous acts by themselves aren't surprising, history is replete with them, but what was relatively new to me was barbarous acts committed for the supposed purpose of cementing friendship and camaraderie.  This inhumanity of man upon his fellow man makes other monstrous historical acts almost seem "logical" by comparison.  Who could hit, stomp on, or suffocate a friend?  What sort of sick, sadistic qualities must lie in these souls that could allow them to participate in these sorts of rituals?  What sort of sick, sadistic qualities must lie in Robert Champion that would cause him to willingly, knowingly subject himself to this treatment?  The sad and shocking truth surely is that most of us must have those sick, sadistic qualities of abuser and abused, because I'm not so naive as to think that any of these individuals is a special breed of monster or freak.  The environment surely allowed the latent sickness to manifest itself more fully, but surely it was present in some form before, during, and even after.

I still struggle to comprehend how easily men will commit such acts and subject themselves to such acts.  It is as though history has taught us nothing.

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29Jun/120

The Mysterious ‘Troubles’ of Northern Ireland

The other day a significant thing happened, the Queen of England shook hands with Northern Ireland's ex-IRA chief, during one of the Queen's gratuitous diamond jubilee events. It provided me a moment to reflect on just how little I understand about the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Despite a fair bit of reading and an ability to regurgitate the basic positions and facts of both sides, what lingers in me is confusion over just what the fighting really accomplished, from inception to resolution. It feels to this ignorant and uninvolved soul like the end to hostility was more a product of collective ennui than radically reformed positions. Northern Ireland got some new autonomy, clarifications, and assurances, but the fundamental and critical question of whether or not Northern Ireland was to break off from the UK and become part of Ireland remained wholly unsettled; this issue was left for future generations to sort out. That the people of Northern Ireland should decide their fate seems inescapably logical and would have seemed inevitable, whether by this bombing-forced peace settlement or some less passionate changes in the political landscape decades from now. And if the fate of Norther Ireland is unresolved in the present in both scenarios, then was this recent conflict and its recent resolution necessary? What really was profoundly new or novel in this achieved peace?

Either way I am happy of the outcome, that normal life has returned to Northern Ireland, and that its people feel better about their lot.

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28Jun/121

Nightmares Bleeding into Day

My last half year's unwaking hours have been a playground for the damned.  Many's the time I have awoken more tired than when I lay down, wrested from one plane of gutwrenching anguish into another.  A dozen times my suffering screams have grown loud enough to break their barriers and come aloud into this grim world of really is.

Least comforting is that these Devil's dreams have not been filled with unspeakable monsters or half-twisted fates but with elements of a new mundane, the scary world of aging, raging, loving, and loss.  My nights have become my days, translated not transmuted.

How I miss my better days, my better years, my sounder slumber; the night was once a friend, a sanctuary space (where nothing real could touch me).

^ Quinxy

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