Thursday, January 7, 2010

On Writing

I've been writing since I was about fourteen. I'm not too sure why other than things seemed to have more permanence if I wrote them down. Each day the sun will rise and set but the day is not mine unless I make note of its passing. The writing grows from that simple root, in that while every day begins with the dawn no two days dawning are ever identical. To emphasize the obvious, I'm talking about the fact that on some days the sun is obscured by clouds or rain or being too lazy to make note of it. Or the day promises heat or the still expectancy of something about to happen. It is that expectation rather than the day itself that prompts me to write.

There are a million differences in the day. Just as no two people are alike, so too are the differences in each day. Frankly, I've a hunch most people don't see the differences. Life for them must be a tale of dull repetition. For me, it's waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Most of my writing has been of a technical nature, an effort to explain the obscure in friendlier terms. Which works well enough for things that are fixed and will not change from one person to another, such as replacing a washer in a water faucet and sending the insidious drip-dripping to hell. But try to apply those writing skills to something as obtuse as human emotion and you'll quickly learn why there are writers... and then there are writers, which begs the question: Which one are you? It's possible that you have the rare spark of genius that is the foundation of every writer that is any good at all.

Anyone capable of communicating via the written word is a writer in the broadest definition of the term. Indeed, think about it for a minute and you will see that literally everything around you, from the slogan on the side of beer truck to: 'He is my friend, faithful and just to me;' is the product of a writer although clearly now we see some are better than others.

Within a fairly narrow range, writing may be learned, so long as we restrict that definition to grammar, spelling and the like. Which means you may have that spark of genius, smoldering beneath the ashes like coals in a stove. I think everyone should brush away those ashes, to see if they can coax fire from those coals. Because if you can, you owe it to those who can't.

Everyone who has every written anything at all eventually tries their hand at real writing, such as a novel, stage play or movie script. That's when you discover it might be wise to stick to washers, fixing faucets and explaining why you must loosen the lug-nuts before jacking up the wheel.

"You should write a book!" (Heard not once but many times.) The truth is, I already have -- and several times over. But the chore isn't the writing of a book, which isn't all that difficult. The secret is in selling what you've written. For without the incentive of good, old fashioned money there isn't any reason to spend the endless hours to find the perfect word needed to convey the image of the sun sliding slowly out of sight behind Catalina.

So thank you. Knowing you've found something of worth in what I've written is warmly appreciated.


Friday, January 1, 2010


You s q u e e e z z e the trigger. It slips the sear and the hammer is driven forward by the cocked spring, which drives the flint past the frizzzen generating a shower of sparks to land in the pan holding a tiny charge of fine-grained primer-powder. The powder is ignited and flashes BACK into the barrel of the rifle, where it ignites the main charge, lightly compressed under the lead ball.

When the main charge ignites, it BURNS... it does not EXPLODE (although it happens so fast our PERCEPTION is that an explosion has taken place). When the powder burns, it raises the PRESSURE under the lead ball to tens of THOUSANDS of pounds per square inch. Not for very long, of course... too much pressure for too long will cause the mild steel barrel to fracture. But when the lead ball can MOVE, that is what happens.

Pushed by the pressure of the burning charge, the lead ball is driven from the barrel of the rifle. But since there are several groves in the barrel, the lead ball will follow the groves, which form a spiral, making one complete revolution for every three or four feet of the barrel's length.

Pushed by the pressure of the burning charge, the lead ball is driven from the barrel at velocities as high as two thousand feet per SECOND, although that is a bit higher than the norm. By actual measurement, a comepletely home-made rifle -- lock, stock & barrel -- drove a 0.454" lead ball at a muzzle velocity of 1375 (avg) feet per second.... and since the ball was rotating at the rate of ONE REVOLUTION for every forty-eight inches of travel, it means the ball was rotating at 1375 / 4 or about 345 revolutions PER SECOND... which is about 20,000 rpm. And at 20,000 rpm the spinning ball proves to be remarkably STABLE.

In effect, the lead ball has become a gyroscope that tends to remain stable, which is why the bullet flies true... we hope.


Can YOU do that? Can YOU build a rifle that will keep your family fed and protect you from those who might try to harm you? The record shows that you can. In fact, the tooling needed to fabricate such a weapon is available to virtually EVERYONE because it is based on easily understood principles. You can even manufacture your own GUNPOWDER... which is why the contraversy over 'gun control' is such a joke.

-R. S. Hoover

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Flied Lice

I learned to make fried rice when I was stationed in Japan. It generally comes out pretty good. Unfortunately, I've never seen a recipe that's exactly the same, although most are similar.

Old Rice is Best.

You want about two cups of COLD, cooked rice. Not sticky but properly cooked. I just wait for it to accumulate. When I have a couple of cups, I go ahead and use it in fried rice... then start accumulating rice for the next batch. (Does that make sense? Mebbe not. When cooking rice you generally cook a cup or two at a time but it's rare for you to EAT everything that you cook; there's usually a bit left over. So you save it. Then comes the day when you want to fix something to eat and see that you've accumulated a couple of cups of rice. So instead of cooking MORE rice you simply use the rice you have to make Fried Rice.)

You GOTTA have Green Onions.

Big flower pot. Buy some seeds or onion sets. Poke them into some sand or soil, keep it growing on a window sill or whatever. (If you've got the room, you can also grow your peas & carrots. Think SMALL. You're feeding yourself... and maybe one other. It's almost impossible to NOT find enough room to keep a few things growing. And a lot of things you don't even have to plant! Seriously! Buy a bag of Navy beans... those little white jobbies. Pour some in a jar. Add water. Let them soak for a while then put them under your sink. Rinse them out every day or two until they sprout. Then EAT THE DAMN THINGS! Call them a salad if you want. Or stir them into your Flied Lice... or simmer with a thin-slice of beef. (The thinner you slice it, the better.)

Snow peas... or whatever. About a cupful; mebbe less. If snow peas, you get to eat the pods as well as the peas. But experiment. If you've got a carrot, try chunking it up; mebbe some celery. Not too much. But not too too much. If you add carrot, remember that it will take LONGER to cook than anything else, so start it earlier.


Bacon works. Ditto for ham. In fact, ditto for damn near ANYTHING although pork is traditional. (Sausage is interesting.) No pork? Then think FISH, SHRIMP or CHICKEN.

(EDIT: We're not all the same. Thank God. Some of us eat pork but a lot of us don't. Take that sort of thing into account when cooking or inviting someone to share a meal... or a car-pool. It's not about Being Right or Being Wrong, it's about Being Human. We are different for a lot of different reasons and your job is to pay attention to the DIFFERENCES rather than the REASONS. If you've got a ship-mate who has different view of things dietary, respect them. The important part is accepting the differences rather than trying to change things. So there's your pard, working alongside in the same hangar. Except he goes around the corner four or five times a day to pray and you don't. Don't keep waving a cool one in his face -- he probably feels the same way about beer as he does about pork.)

The meat USUALLY takes the longest cooking time. Respect it. Low heat. You are RENDERING the meat. If it is too dry you'll have to add about one tablespoonful of oil.

You'll be cooking in a wok or fairly deep skillet. With the meat cooked, put it aside, increase the heat and stir-fry the vegetables. This should take only a minute or two -- big flame, LOTS of stirring. You know it's done when squeezing a pea causes it to pop out of its skin.

Okay, dump the veggies with the meat and add the RICE to the skillet. Not too much heat but lots of stirring; you're getting the rice HOT... but without causing the rice to turn into little plastic bits. So stir. And mebbe give it a sprinkle of water, if things look too dry.


Two little brown ones, whisked up with some water. Or mebber one great big white one; same deal; whisk it up. Don't do anything with them right now EXCEPT to whisk them up; I'll tell you when to add them.

Now start putting everything BACK INTO THE PAN. Meat. Stir it in. ADD THE GREEN ONIONS (FINELY DICED). And the veggies. Stir & fold; everything is GETTING HOT. You can begin adding a little SOY SAUCE. The rice will have a characteristic CRACKLING sound. (No, NOT like that... kinda like steam or sizzling veggies.)

Got the EGGS? Okay, pour them all over the rice! Keep stirring. Briskly. You're just about done; you want everything to be FINISHED AT THE SAME TIME.

The egg holds things together... along with the bits of meat & veggies and rice and soy sauce...

It starts to SMELL like Fried Rice (which is what it is). Now you can fine-tune things to your particular taste, perhaps by adding more meat or more onion... or less. Or whatever! You are FEEDING YOURSELF. It isn't a contest, it is preparing something that TASTES GOOD and is good for you!


Fried Rice can be kept for a couple of days, assuming you don't let it lay about open. First, you divide it with whoever you're sharing. If there is anything left over you can decide if it's worth the trouble to save it. Packed in a plastic box, you can take it to work as a brown-bag type of lunch (nuke it for a minute).

Use your EYE to measure, as modified by your sense of smell and taste. Fried Rice takes only a few minutes to prepare so DON'T make a major production out of it.

I tend to view fried rice as a means of getting rid of left-overs. But that doesn't mean you can't start from scratch and build a meal around it. For example, you may prefer to have your fried rice with shrimp or even chunks of chicken; something to add a bit more horsepower to what would otherwise be rather plain fare. (Do you like frog's legs? I do! VERY good with fried rice.)

I like to add a lump of Chinese mustard to the plate, dobbing it up as an accent... or just to clear my sinuses :-) Some prefer to go all-vegetarian, serving the fried rice with fish, deep-fried egg-rolls or whatever.

One of the best compliments to fried rice -- in my opinion -- is crispy spare-ribs. This is definitely NOT a means of ridding yourself of left-overs but of preparing a real meal.

-31 December 2009

PS -- I'll try to add some snap-shots. But don't wait for them to appear; go ahead and give yourself a treat.

(EDIT. I think most American's call them 'chop-sticks.' I call them 'hashi' because that's what I was taught. Hashi are a couple of wooden sticks that you use to shovel food from it's container into your mouth. You hold the container right up against your mouth then get busy with your hashi shoveling the groceries down the hatch.

What you DRINK with your lunch is usually green tea. Or water. You don't use knives or forks but you MAY use a spoon if we're talking soup. Feeding yourself means getting the food INSIDE of you without making a mess. If you use hashi, it's pretty hard to make a mess. [Sip, slurp, shovel, shovel, shovel...] You don't need knives because you cut everything to bite-size during preparation.

The interesting thing about 'chop-sticks' is that you probably have some near you, no matter where you are. And if you don't, pick up some scrap spruce and MAKE a set. )

Monday, October 12, 2009

HVX MODS; How To Do It To it

Long, long ago, in a garage far, far away, a gaggle of VW mechanics gathered around a 1700 engine, which Volkswagen had brought out to replace the 1600. We were anxious to tear one down and see how you could improve on perfection. Actually, we were a kind of cheering section, giving the usual hi-fives and 'We're Numba Won!' as the autopsy progressed.

Right off the bat we got a winner when we pulled the valve covers to get at the rocker arms because the rocker-arm shafts were grooved for lubrication channels. That means a mod some of us had been running for nearly ten years had now been blessed with the Holy Crescent Wrench of acceptance in all factory-built VW engines (ie, this was in the early 1970's). Then came a minor scuffle over the thermostat; missing as they usually are on so many Volkswagen engines, with some of our band of experts admitting they'd never even seen one.

In the HVX MODS you need to cut eight rather accurate grooves in the existing rocker-arm shaft and things were heating up between the How-Toz who were automotive machinists with twenty years of grease under their fingernails and the Street People, which included the Shade Tree experts, arguing first, that the 1600 and earlier engines didn't need them because they'd run just fine until now, and the Do-It-Right Group which included some pretty good wrenches who had followed the HVX logic but were arguing how to cut the required groove. Those who were machinists were holding out for a shaped carbide cutting tool, whereas the Lo Buck Warriors with a teenie-weanie 7x10" lathe and a bench-top drill-press were insisting an angle-head grider with a 1/16" blade did the job just fine.

As usual, tasks ultimately descend to the abilities of the craftsman rather than the tools, with several examples of guys who built race-winning engines with a very modest inventory of tools. With jobs such as this the task often breaks down on how to hold the work... or how to hold the tools. In the photos you can see the rocker-arm shaft held in the three-jaw chuck of the lathe whilst the angle-head grinder is attached to the cross-feed by humungous rubber bands. Which is pretty smart. The grinder's speed is marginally controllable through the use of a 15A motor speed controller. This gives the machinist the ability to find a cutting speed that produces a clean, even cut without having the grinder try to climb the bar. The rubber bands provides the necessary amount of flex between the lathe and the grinder as each is brought up to speed, at which point the cross-feed is used to feed the tool -- the 3" dia. carbide disk spinning as fast as 18,000 rpm -- into the work, producing a groove of the required shape, depth and width. (Click on the picture). The builder, Mike Sample, has built a Double Eagle and has now turned his obvious talents to making himself an engine. Or rather, engines. Unsatisfied with the first, which I judged to be of about Porsche quality, he has turned his hand to a second which I'm guessing will be equal to something with entwined R's on the cowling.

Here's a shot of Mike's 'dirty' work surface - a section of marble counter-top. Next comes the grooving of the rockers and confirmation of their ability to flow oil through the Ford/Subie type adjusters. These swivel-foot adjusters date from the early 1960's when they were introduced by Ford of Germany. Additional pictures and some early HVX drawings will show how the lubricating oil wends its way from the oil pump, up the push rods, through the rocker arms and out of the adjustable rockers where it pools in the tops of the valve-spring retainers, to be thrown off, carrying with it a considerable quantity of heat whilest at the same time, reducing the wear of the rocker-arm shims. Off-road racers and hot-rodders have been using these mods since the mid-1960's but it came as a considerable surprise to find that many builders of Flying Volkswagens appeared to have never heard of them.


PS -- Some folks didn't like the look of the pix, worried that abrasives were getting into the lathe's guts & gearing. Personally, I've found that showing people what you set-up REALLY looks like generates more mail, asking if I've cut holes in a quilt and installed it over the tools.

Basic rule with abrasives is to catch them before they can get to surfaces that can be damaged by them. The usual method is to lay-out shop-towels, overlapping, giving each layer a spray of kerosene (then) or WD40 (now) . By the time you get done, the shop has vanished from your How-To pix, leaving you with pix that look like you've set-up atop your bed. While these pix may not display reality, they have the advantage of showing the newbie how the parts are mounted in the tool and what tool(s) you are using.

Nowadays, with the ready availability of tempered aluminum and small lathes that are accurate and affordable, it's as though our shops have shrunk. Covering it up with shop towels gives an even worse impression, in my opinion. - rsh

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Have you seen this? Smaller than even the smallest of the lap-tops, it's usually referred to as a notebook computer. This is the 'Aspire One' and it's made by Acer. This particular model costs about $400, thanks to its larger hard drive -- 141 GB -- and a high capacity battery. The usual price is about a hundred dollars less. It has an Ethernet port -- the one that looks like a big telephone jack -- three USB ports, an SD port for memory sticks and an outlet for a high-density video monitor. Plug in a DVD drive, an auxiliary keyboard and a flat-screen display, it will make a fair-to-middlen' desk-top. Wireless is built-in, as is a high definition camera, making it a handy-sized package for people who may need to do some computing on the go.

The Aspire One weighs two pounds fourteen ounces with the battery pack accounting for about twelve ounces of that. Acer does not provide a carrying case but there are a number of them available from the size of a back-packs to a simple envelope made of wet-suit material costing about ten bucks. Compared to a regular lap-top such as the eight and a half pound HP Pavilion shown below, the Aspire One is a dwarf.

The little Acer allows me to convert otherwise wasted time into something useful, thanks to DeltaCAD and AbiWord. I've already told you about DeltaCAD so allow me to introduce you to AbiWord, a free word processor that actually works. The Acer comes with some Microsoft software but it turns out to be teaser-ware, since it turns itself off unless you cough up some dough at some future date. Having no faith at all in Billy and his merry band of hapless programmers, even before I bought the Acer I started looking for something to use instead of the Microsoft software. Seriously, for writing I'm still running Word Perfect on my other computers. I was willing (and able) to pay for decent software but almost everything I tried appeared to have been written by children or failed to pass my quest for practicality. Which made AbiWord a delightful surprise. Not only is it well written, it's free, with no strings attached... so far.

Having cancer means spending a lot of time in doctor's offices. Not only does that mean a lot of time traveling too and fro, once you've arrived (always fifteen minutes early, as requested) you'll find that physicians have a bit of trouble reading a clock. I've never been an especially patient person and find I'm even less so now that I've been diagnosed with cancer. I find it rather ironic that the people who are trying to prolong my life appear unconcerned with chopping great chunks out of it.



Pull up the other comments you will see that Joseph and others have already caught my spelling error. Truth is, it's a sprawly kind of house, the Acer was in the bedroom and I wasn't. 'nuff said.

I received several private messages. I assume they took the trouble because they wanted it to be private so let's keep it that way. But on the whole, most of the private posts were about prices, present or about to become public which had me scratching my head because I'd already bought the thing. Ditto for some pricing info on chip, SD sticks and so forth. Couple of hacks . But the really BIG SURPRISE was in not receiving any. Usually, you buy something with a CPU inside you can count on several messages about how to make it do tricks. This time was nada. I'll let you figure out what that means.

Overall, the palm-top has proven to be well worth the price. No sense in me telling you why it's useful... sorta like trying to sell computers in the '70's. If the customer doesn't already have an application that needs to be computerized then you can't sell them one to do their taxes or whatever... computers define their own applications, not the other way around. Mostly, I like it; it has proved handier than I thought.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Good Salad


1/2 head of Iceberg lettuce
2ea Medium tomatoes
1 'ring' from a Bermuda onion
1/4lb smoked salmon
1 heaping tablespoon Mayonnaise
1 Bud of Garlic

Peel the bud of garlic, smash it with the flat of your knife and rub the crushed garlic bud all over the bowl in which the salad will be mixed.

You want it crispy. The best way to ensure that is to punch out the stem, rinse the head with clean, cold water, then bag it and leave it in the refrigerator overnight. When you take it out of the reefer it will nice and cold. Poke your thumbs into the hole where the stem used to be, tear the head of lettuce in two then tear one of the halves into bite-sized chunks and toss them into one of those centrifugal spinner jobbies and pump it up & down for about a minute. This will fling off most of the water. Toss it into the bowl. If lettuce is not available you may use a couple of six-inch cucumbers, well chilled then peeled and diced.

To me, a medium tomato is about 2-1/2 inches in diameter. Stand the tomato stem-side down and quarter it. Slide it apart so as to leave two halves and slice them three times so as to leave four chunks. Do this for both tomatoes, tossing the chunks into the salad bowl.

You may use green onions here if you wish. Indeed, depending on the season and your location, green onion may be all that is available. In either case, dice the onion so as to produce chunks no larger than the chunks of tomato and toss them into the bowl.

Shred the salmon with a fork. If salmon isn't available almost any other smoked fish will do: Smoked Tuna, Albacore, etc. If you are at or near a seaport you are bound to find someone selling smoked fish. Try a chunk of whatever is available. When you find something you like, use it in your salad. If you are out in the boondocks, try a can of smoked sardines or mackerel.

When available, you may substitute avocado for the fish.

Add 1 large tablespoonful of Mayonnaise then season to taste using the juice of two small limes or half of a lemon. Be wary of adding salt if you've used smoked fish, which is often already salted.

Serve with cold beer and crackers or bread. In the photo you can see a dish of wholewheat bagel that I've toasted to make it crunchy then sliced into four pieces.

The salad is meant to comprise the whole meal but it may also be served with steak, barbecued ribs, roast chicken and so forth.


Saturday, August 8, 2009

Traditional Sized

I am a ham radio operator, the holder of a General License although I have retained my original Novice license. I did that so as not to intimidate the youngsters who attended my classes in Morse Code and basic electronics.

Many were drawn to ham radio because it allowed them to maintain communications with their home or office... assuming there was another licensed ham radio operator on the other end. But ham radio was also of benefit during the Voyager's around the world flight in 1987, when a group of us monitored the progress of the flight.

I still use ham radio to monitor the location of my 1965 VW bus. Should I ever go missing in the desert -- or should the bus be stolen -- its location can be determined to within 50 meters or so through a combination of ham radio and GPS.

In the delightful novels of Alexander McCall Smith, author of 'The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency' and more than thirty others, Mma Ramotswe, the Botswana detective describes herself as a lady of 'traditional' size. By comparison, the 'traditional size' of the station of the typical ham radio operator would fill six to eight feet of shelf space, which makes it rather difficult to grasp the size of the present-day 'communications station,' which fits in my ear.

Actually, the ear-piece is just the microphone and head-phones. The transciever is my cell phone, which fits in my pocket. Anyone having the number of my cell phone may contact me any time I am 'on line.' Which isn't very often.

Of course, the modern-day system of cell phones depends upon the existing system of land-lines to work. That is, our cell phones connect to a local receiver-computer which locates the station you are calling. It then uses the land-lines to send your message to a transmitter/receiver nearest to the station you are trying to contact, which then connects you to that station. The key point here is that your cell phone depends upon the existence of the traditional web of wires or cables. Should there be a disaster that damages those land-lines, your cell-phone will not work, whereas the traditional ham radio station will continue to work since it does not depend on land-lines.

Today I am measuring valve springs for four heads. I'll be working in the shop where I can't hear the ring of a telephone. So I'm wearing my cell phone in my ear. The ear-piece talks to the cell phone in my pocket. About the size of a pack of king-size cigarettes, this has become the 'traditional size' for personal communications