Voice of Bruck News Service

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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Temporary Insanity

If I had a nickel for every time someone remarked to me that they think the whole country is going crazy… I’d have a small handful of nickels. Probably not enough for a cup of coffee, but maybe I could buy a guitar pick or two. Note, this is unsolicited conjecture – it’s not like I go around asking for this kind of thing.

Anyway, I disagree. You might be going crazy, but the whole country isn’t.

While you’re putting on the hip waders, let me say happy Veteran’s Day, and if you are a current or former service member, please accept my sincere gratitude. 

Last week’s midterm elections, wherein all US Representative and 1/3 of all Senate seats, along with many state Governorships, were voted upon in our 50 (at last count) states, the Republican Party made substantial gains. Probably the most significant was retaking the majority in the Senate, which means that, starting next year, Republicans can appoint the Senate Majority Leader and Chairpeople and majority membership of all of the committees (the committees are where the real power is, but that’s a bigger topic than I want to get into here).

The media talking heads have interpreted and analyzed the results in all sorts of ways, so I won’t add to the confusion other than to say, it happened. When a similar turnover of power occurred in 1994, nobody saw it coming, but this time it was a surprise to pretty much nobody who was paying attention. I will say this though – the American people did not all of a sudden become Republican, and there was no good reason to vote “for” them. There was no “Contract with America” or any other discernable conservative principles put forth. No, this was a repudiation of the current administration’s policies and performance. To name a few:

Iraq: we pulled out, left a power vacuum, and it was summarily filled by a more powerful and pernicious terror group than the one we previously dispatched. And they’re fighting with our old weapons.
Russia: they got Ukraine.

Iran: everything about Iran.

The Economy: the unemployment numbers are total fiction. Only the ultra-wealthy are enjoying the “recovery,” and it’s mostly with our tax dollars. Meanwhile we’re saddled with an unpayable debt to China and young people are pretty much bereft of opportunity outside of government dependence.

Obamacare: the more people learn about it, and the more it gets implemented, the less they like it.

The IRS Scandal: the use of our taxing authority to suppress political opposition, and the complete lack of accountability for it, make Zimbabwe look downright democratic.

Values Issues: most Americans oppose “same-sex marriage” and other facets of the homosexual agenda, late-term abortion, Honey Boo Boo, reality TV, etc.

These are just a few of the more public failures and signs of cultural decline; I’m sure you could add a few – Benghazi, Mexican gun-running, the various green energy scams, declining race relations, etc., etc. If this was all you saw, then I’d have to agree that the entire country’s gone crazy.

Here are two reasons why I say it’s not: (1) last Tuesday’s elections, and (2) the all-volunteer armed forces.

To me, the message of Tuesday’s elections was that, despite the relentless drumbeat of pro-administration propaganda from the news media and pop culture, we’ve managed to break the hypnotic spell. Those of us who voted for “hope and change,” well, I admire and appreciate your optimism and idealism, but I think we’ve all come to realize that it was an open mandate, and maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to put it in the hands of a neophyte with no relevant experience or discernable background, and an ambiguous national origin. Lest you read this as an anti-0bama screed, let me just say that he didn’t do all this alone; in fact he couldn’t have, while taking about four times as many vacations as us working stiffs, and playing more rounds of golf in the past six years than I’ve played in my entire life. At any rate, it’s time to sober up; the party didn’t turn out quite like we planned, the football team came and trashed the place and ran off with your girlfriend, and mom and dad are coming home in a few hours.

Meanwhile, while we’re not doing so hot on the political and diplomatic front, we do still have the strongest and best-trained armed forces in the world. This is our ace in the hole. And the encouraging thing is, it’s comprised entirely of volunteers. We haven’t had a draft since the Vietnam era, and despite the known deprivation, discomfort, and risks, we still have no shortage of qualified young adults who sign up to serve, knowing that it may even require the ultimate sacrifice. 

My old Aunt Hazel (OAH), a reliable font of non-sequiturs, once offered a pertinent observation: “It’s not the world that’s going crazy, it’s the people in it.” With that, happy Veteran’s Day and please give me a hand cleaning the place up – we don’t have much time!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Eradicate Terrorism With This One Weird Trick!

I just saved $1000 J Well, not quite 1000. The estimate was $1130 & change to replace a throttle position sensor, clean out the throttle body, and replace the rear brake pads and rotors on the Jeep of the noteworthy wife of Bruck (JONWOB). The TPS and throttle cleaning would have set me back a little over $600, and the rest was for the rear brakes. We bought the TPS online for about $50 (OEM part), and the brake pads and rotors retailed for $92. I did the replacements over the weekend. So 1130 – 50 – 92 = 988 (I did not use a calculator for this, thank you very much). I guess I should also deduct the $140 diagnostic fee, which we did pay, but which would have been deducted had we voluntarily subjected ourselves to complete financial buggering at the hands of the mendacious local Chrysler dealer’s service department. So $848 would be the actual savings, which I still find pretty satisfying.

Engineering is a calling. There’s a certain way of thinking, a prism through which we interpret the world around us that is unique to engineers. You either have it or you don’t. I don’t know if you’re born with it or if it’s learned in early childhood, but by jr. high or high school, if you’re honestly wondering whether or not you’re an engineer, you ain’t one.

If this isn’t clicking for you, an informative documentaryvideo on YouTube should help you understand.

Engineering school doesn’t teach you to be an engineer. It provides rigorous classes and laboratories to refine and develop existing ones, and weeds out the misguided non-engineers in the process. And of course it provides the educational credentials necessary for the engineer to find honest employment.

My readers with whom I’m personally acquainted (which is pretty much all of you) know that I’m an engineer. My specialization is Electrical Engineering (“double E”), and most of my professional experience is in electrical and automotive applications. At this point in my career, I’m no longer “in” engineering, as I now do personnel and financial/contract management in an R&D organization. But I’m still an engineer all the way down to the marrow, as I have been since at least my early teens, which harkens back to the disco era.

So you can see why I find it sadly laughable that certified, highly-trained mechanics would want to charge me over $600 to replace an external sensor (they wanted $110 for the same part) and clean the throttle body at $130 (which it didn’t need – it was squeaky clean but I guarandamntee they wouldn’t have told me that). The rest of the figure was labor, which wasn’t separately costed out, but had to be at least a few hours of the expert Chrysler mechanics’ time. I timed myself for this part of the repair. With no experience in Chrysler engines (although they’re all basically the same, don’t tell my old Ford friends), the repair took me exactly 58 minutes. And that includes running up and down the basement stairs a few times for tools.

I share this little story to exemplify the engineering mindset, and also to brag about saving money, which is another key feature of said mindset.

There are some problems with engineering as a career. It tends to be good for younger people, but for engineers that stay in the field, careers level off at about age 40 plus or minus, and stay flat or even shrink in terms of compensation and opportunities. As the late Ann Landers (I’m pretty sure she’s been dead a while) used to say, nobody can take advantage of you without your permission. To be honest, we do own some culpability in this regard, mainly in the form of skills obsolescence, but we also get marginalized by the large companies for which most of us work. A principal form of this marginalization is the use of the term “engineer.” People who are not engineers often call themselves such, or are thusly nominated due to their job titles, which are invented by HR departments, which virtually never contain anything close to an engineer. The problem is that we engineers then get equated with salespeople, designers, repairmen, and assorted techies, and thereby experience a certain dilution of our professional status.

But we engineers know who the real engineers are. I can’t give you chapter and verse as to how, but I can tell within five minutes of meeting one. This is a genuine example of takes-one-to-know-one.

Last week the Kenyan read a primetime speech expounding to the waiting world on why we are getting back into the War on Terror. In it he clearly explained that we are going to destroy the “Islamic State” terrorists in Iraq and Syria by hunting them down and snuffing them out, but not by using any combat troops. Of course we will be deploying ground troops, but they will act in an advisory capacity to the brave and reliable local warriors. This may sound familiar to those of you who remember our early forays into Viet Nam in the Kennedy era (yours truly was still a set of unaffiliated gametes at that juncture).

One particularly curious aspect of the president’s speech (which, to be fair, was probably the first time he’d seen it, so I’m sure it was just as big of a surprise to him) was his assertion that the Islamic State terrorists are not actually Muslims. Questions flooded into my mind:

  •          Why, then, would they call themselves “Islamic?”
  •          Are other, “true” Muslims also denying IS’s Muslimhood?
  •          If they’re not Muslims, what are they then?
  •          Why does it matter whether they are Muslim or not?
  •          How does the Kenyan know one way or another?

It reminded me of a rather one-sided conversation I once had with an outspoken Hindu co-worker about Christian denominations, in which he delineated those he considers to be true worshipers of God. Turns out it’s Roman Catholics; put a mark in the Pope’s win column. While I take a broader view of Christendom, I found it rather unusual that a polytheist would even hold an opinion on such matters.

Christianity is another example, although somewhat less distinct, of takes-one-to-know-one. Actually a cleaner statement would be takes-one-to-know-who-isn’t-one. You may have observed that it’s only Christians who make the case that abortion clinic bombers are acting outside of the faith, and likewise the whackos from Kansas who protest at military funerals. Non-Christians in the secular media and pop culture are all too happy to lump us all together with the killers and lunatics.

Hence my double-take at Hussein’s observation that IS terrorists are not actually Muslims.

The rotor and brake pad replacement was a little more involved. The calipers and pads came off easily enough, but the rotors were really stuck on, which is not altogether unusual after 100,000 miles. On the passenger side I had to apply penetrating oil and let it sit overnight, after which the rotor reluctantly released its grip. On the driver side I had to resort to a clever innovation I learned on the almighty internet: forcing it off with spacers and bolts threaded through the caliper housing. At this writing, the JONWOB is back on the road and I’m $848 less poor.

Another key component of the engineering mindset is something that occupies a zone about halfway between confidence and arrogance: we believe that we can do anything. And for the most part we’re right. Nothing magic of course, but the basic idea is, if something can be done, fixed, or figured out, the engineer is your best person for providing the solution.

So of course I’m wondering, with the hundreds or thousands of “non-combat” advisors that the Golfer-in-Chief is sending to the Middle East, is there a single engineer in the bunch? Now the US Army has whole brigades of fine soldiers who are called engineers based on their MOS (specialization), and I’m sure some of them will be going to the land of kibbie and falafel. But that’s apples and oranges. I’m talking about rambling wrecks from Georgia Tech, or beaver ring-wearing MIT grads, or gearheads like myself who bleed maize and blue. If there are any of those, will they get a chance to help fix things? Has the First Vacationer ever even met an actual engineer? I’m not saying we could turn back millennia of history. I’m just saying it couldn’t hurt to give us a shot at it.

Meanwhile I’ve got to figure out what to do with the $848 that’s burning a hole in my pocket.

Saturday, March 01, 2014

How to Tie a Tie: A Non-Requiem Requiem

Leave the top button of your collar unbuttoned for now. Wrap the tie around the back of your neck, inside the collar, with the seam inward. Adjust it so that that the wide end hangs about 6” below your beltline (I’m assuming that if you’re going to wear a tie, you’re also wearing pants).

The Father of Bruck (FOB) passed away on September 13, 2013, after a protracted battle with cancer, at age 77. I could say he put up a good fight, but what else is he going to do? At any rate, it seemed like he spent more time contending with the insurance and medical establishment than with the disease. I believe the doctors did all they could, probably adding a couple years to his life, but in the end the disease prevailed.

I’ve had a pretty good life, and I attribute this in no small part to the FOB’s guidance, example, support, and encouragement. I am blessed to have had him as a father, and (just about) all who knew him would agree that he had a positive influence on them. If you measure wealth, as he did, by the number of friends you have, the standing-room-only crowd at his funeral attested that he lived and died a truly rich man.

Cross the wide end over the narrow end, and then wrap it around the narrow end from behind. Then from the front, pass the wide end through the V created by crossing the wide and narrow ends. This is one half of the knot. BTW, what we’re learning here is the knot known as the “Double Windsor.” I don’t know how to tie any other types of tie knots, so you won’t be learning about them here.

VOBNS readers are familiar with the FOB’s sailing exploits on Lake Superior, but for reference, here’s a link to some previous dispatches you may wish to review:

By themselves, these would produce a substantially incomplete biography. But they do serve as a metaphor for his true orientation, which is an attitude of utter fearlessness coupled with an indomitable desire to get the best out of everything in life. He applied this to all of his various spheres of influence: family, church, professional life, social circles, and community involvement. And that, I believe, is his true legacy – he was a guy that you didn’t just make an acquaintance with. If you knew him, he had a profound influence on you, and quite possibly vice-versa. Either that or you never met him.

To make the other half of the Double Windsor, move the wide end over the knot to the other side, then wrap it around back, then through the V so it’s hanging straight down in front. You’re almost there!

The Bible doesn’t give what I would consider comprehensive information on exactly what happens to the soul after you die. There is of course the clear indication that those who reject God and live selfish lives will start suffering some kind of torment right away, while those who have faith in Him and live accordingly will be comforted. Clearly the FOB falls into the latter category, but other than that, who knows? I never was comfortable with mourners, or those who are attempting to comfort mourners, saying things like, “I bet he’s up there looking down at us right now and smiling.” I like to think that, unbound from the earthly shackles of space and time, he’s probably watching something a little more interesting like the Battle of Hastings or old Red Wings games with Gordie Howe and the Production Line.

To complete the knot, pass the wide end through the horizontal loop that you just created and pull it all the way through. You may wish to tighten it up a bit by holding the knot and pulling down gently on the wide end, and tugging on other parts of the tie as necessary to make it look like something Donald Trump wouldn’t fire you for. Now you can button your top button and snug the knot up to your neck while holding the narrow end down. If you’ve done everything right, the tip of the tie should be just touching your belt buckle. If not, take it apart and start over.

The FOB taught me how to tie a tie, several times in fact. I finally got it down after a few years of dressing for success in my various engineering positions. The things he taught me are of course innumerable, and if you’ve made it this far into today’s dispatch, I’m sure I’d lose you if I attempted to produce such a list. But aside from such things as tying a tie, changing a faucet washer, and how to strike up conversations with total strangers, I like to think I’ve inherited at least some of his fearlessness, zeal for life, and love of people. Before he died, but more so after, in various situations I have found myself thinking, that’s how Dad would have done it, or, that’s what Dad would have thought. I believe that for those whose lives he touched, and who also feel this way, through us he lives on.

Anyone want to buy a sailboat?

Friday, February 07, 2014

A Fine Week of Tropical Indulgence

Sean Connery must be a very good cook.

Either that or he has a pretty good cook.

Either that or he has no taste in food whatsoever and doesn’t care what it costs. The latter postulate is almost certainly true; one of the first things I learned upon entering New Providence Island, the main island of the Bahamas, is that Sean Connery lives there. “There” is a relative term, as where he apparently lives is a mansion on an isolated island accessible only by boat, and who cares, the closest we dweeblings will ever get to it is trying to find it on Google maps. But hey, you’ve got to live somewhere, and I can think of worse places.

Mrs. Bruck and I were the guests of timeshare owners Handy Andy (not his real name) and the ineffable Mrs. Pink (not her real name) last week at Paradise Island in the Bahamas. Paradise Island is at the north edge of New Providence, and is occupied mainly by the famed “Atlantis” resort (famed if you read in-flight magazines or watch daytime cable TV anyway). Here one can go down a waterslide (the most fun you can have wearing one article of clothing) and then drift through a “lazy river” under and beside aquaria containing sharks and other tasty predators. BTW, for those of you keeping score at home, the Bahamas are now part of the sovereign territory of Bruck, and in particular, the part of Paradise Island where the lazy river runs has been formally claimed, along with the beach adjacent to Atlantis and several otherwise pristine coves.

What is the most you have ever paid for a hamburger? Double that is about what you’d pay for one in Paradise Island or Nassau. On the plus side, they are made from actual meat, and the fries are cooked in real tallow. And the fish, for which you’d also part with about double your normal expenditure, is not too bad, but I seriously doubt that it’s fresh and/or locally caught as they claim. So that’s the deal with food. It’s really expensive there. And the service is pretty lackadaisical, which is the family-friendly way of putting it. And they always add 15% for gratuity, which is strategic, putting the onus on the hapless customer to change it, which I assume they never do. Hence my speculation on Sean Connery’s culinary dilemma. I assume that a man of his means has higher standards than mine, and mine haven’t even been approached. As a happy consequence, we had our best meals in the villa, home-cooked by the incomparable and longsuffering Mrs. Bruck and her partner in crime Mrs. Pink.

But Bruck, how could you possible doubt the authenticity of the local fish that landed on your plate at various eateries? Because (1) my brief experience led me to question the veracity of anything I heard in the Republic of Bahamas, and (2) I seriously doubt that any Bahamian is capable of something as industrious as catching a fish, putting it on ice, and selling it to a restaurant. Don’t get me wrong; I have nothing against the Bahamian people; it’s their country, their culture; they can do with it whatever they wish. I just don’t expect any of them to send a man to Mars, cure cancer, or derive the unified field theory. 

The second thing we learned in New Providence is that “the Chinese” are building a $3.5B resort outside of Nassau, the capital city (note, the Bahamian dollar is tied to the American dollar and either one is legal tender). The Chinese also imported 7000 workers to build it, which of course caused big question marks to appear above the heads of your faithful editor and his chillin wife – why not use local labor? Certainly among the 350K population of the Bahamas, 70% of whom live in Nassau, they could find workers, and certainly the Bahamas government required it as a condition of building, like any other rational local government would, right? Well, let’s just say that after spending a week there, the use of exclusively Chinese labor made perfect sense.

Tourism is, of course, the major industry, and the local population does seem to be very well attuned to both promoting and exploiting it. To a person, every Bahamian we encountered was friendly and helpful to the extent possible (although they batted about .600 on accuracy of directions, even the resort staff), and tried to sell us something or served as a self-appointed tour guide. We figure there must be some sort of unified curriculum for hustlers, as they all had pretty much the same shtick – demographic statistics (population 350K +/- 50K, living on 29 or 30 or 23 of the 700 or 7000 total islands in the republic), Sean Connery lives there, Nicholas Cage owns that house over there, followed by numerous puns on his movie titles, and the consumption of conch fritters, the local delicacy which is also probably imported from China, will empower you with a series of hammer handles lasting up to 8 hours. Okay, what they actually said was that you’ll be like Lionel Richie, “all night long” with a twinkle in their eye. Every one of them said that. And no, I did not test the aphrodisiac effects of said fritters; I’m severely allergic to shellfish, so let’s just say if I were to conduct that experiment, I’d be lucky to survive the night, much less spend it in passionate embrace. Nonetheless I’m skeptical – you’d probably be just as likely to get Lionel Richie’s singing voice as his purported bedroom stamina.

As much fun as it is, I don’t want to come off here as negative and cynical. Expensive food and singularly unambitious populace aside, I can see why the Bahamas are so popular for vacationing. The beaches, water, and natural beauty are even nicer than their depiction in the travel brochures. The resort was very nice and my only complaint with it is that it was so large that I kept getting lost. We had a wonderful time and I would recommend it to anybody.

One unique highlight of the trip was the Graycliff Hotel. It’s a little oasis of “old world” in the middle of Nassau. The grounds boasted picturesque gardens, paths, pools, ponds, and statues. It would be a little expensive to stay there, or eat there, but they didn’t seem to mind us hanging out and exploring. Mrs. Bruck and Mrs. Pink enjoyed Graycliff’s “world-famous” chocolate and coffee while Handy Andy and your faithful editor toured their cigar factory and took in a session of cigar-rolling lessons.

Here’s proof that I’m not making this up. It was fortunate that Handy Andy speaks bilingual, because it really came in “handy” in conversing with Maria, the Cuban torcedora who taught me everything I know about rolling cigars. Maria was cold war vintage, so she probably spoke Russian, but English was Greek to her, and my Spanish is only a small step above Taco Bell menu.

BTW, Handy Andy plied his photographic skills throughout the trip. He gets credit for all photos in this dispatch except the ones that were obviously cobbed from elsewhere on the web.

A handmade cigar generally consists of three main components – the filler (self-explanatory), the binder, which holds the filler together and gives the cigar its shape, and the wrapper, which is the outer layer that makes it look good and imparts some flavor. Maria asked how strong I wanted to make our cigars, so I said, “strong, what the heck?” (I never half-do anything.) She said okay, while giving me the same look that I’ve seen in the eyes of Thai restaurant waitresses when I ask for my curry extra spicy.

The “strong” cigar’s filler consisted of two ligero leaves, one seco, and one volado. Ligeros are the upper leaves of the tobacco plant which get the most sun, and have the most flavor and vitamin N. Seco leaves are from the middle of the plant and receive a moderate amount of sun, and volado leaves are near the bottom. They are purportedly blended in to provide smoothness and evenness of burn. There is a technique to “bunching” them together which I won’t try to describe here (YouTube does a far better job), but which is critical for proper draw and burning. It’s more of an art than a science, which means that you’ll never get it right but people from faraway, exotic places were born knowing how.

The next step is the binder, which is a tough but flexible leaf that the torcedor winds around the filler bundle diagonally and is glued at one end. At this point, the professional deviates from sunburned, first world tourist (SBFWT): real torcedors would clip the shaggy end and press the cigar in a mold for a prescribed amount of time, turning once or twice, to achieve that perfect shape. SBFWTs go straight to the wrapper phase, the cigar looking a bit like a dog dropping with an eighties haircut.

We then applied the wrapper, following an identical process to binding, but with the additional complexity of making a cap. The cap is just what it sounds like – it covers the end that you don’t light. Maria didn’t even bother showing me how to cut and apply the cap, which she fashioned by intricately cutting the end of the wrapper leaf and gluing it on in such a way as to indicate that she had probably made about 10,000 more cigars than her SBFWT friend. Here are the resulting products of an afternoon well-spent:

You may be wondering, are they smokeable? Surprisingly, yes. I tried one that evening on the balcony. The burn and draw were near perfect and the flavor was not bad although it was a little too fresh; the others will benefit from a few months’ convalescence in the humidor. As far as strength goes, let’s just say the diuretic effect of nicotine was evident immediately and in abundance. I think if I used all ligero filler, I would be shopping for some new intestines.

Our villa was in the “Harborside” section of Atlantis, which abuts the marina that docks the most fantastic yachts we’d ever seen. If we’re the “one percent,” then their owners must have been the one percent of the one percent. Check out Gallant Lady:

Length: 168’, Beam: 33’, maximum draft: 7’. Handy Andy did a little research and discovered that the Gallant Lady is actually for sale. It could be yours for the paltry sum of $42.M US or Bahamian dollars. I bet they’d knock a few bucks off the price if you paid cash.

Nassau is a popular stop for cruise ships as well. The Carnival Pride parked there for a spell, along with many others during our stay.
These ships are quite impressive in their own right, as in how do you get a 12-story building to float? And not tip over? Anyway, we spent one afternoon on Junkanoo Beach, which is in Nassau, and is the closest beach to where the cruise ships dock. While not the prettiest of the Bahamas beaches, it was probably the most fun, as it afforded us the opportunity to meet a number of very friendly drunks from said ships. Have you ever wondered where “reality TV” types go when they’re not on camera? Well, we think we know where some of them go – cruise ships and Junkanoo beach. The intrepid photojournalist Handy Andy captured some of them in their native element, but we won’t be sharing the pics here. In fact, he deleted them before attempting to cross any international borders. Nonetheless, the cruisers were quite friendly and outgoing, even with us boring, overdressed, middle-aged non-drunks.

American cigar smokers always take the opportunity to score Cuban cigars when traveling abroad, since they are forbidden fruit in the US, due to the fact that Fidel Castro is a communist and is not dead yet. So all the tourist stores sell Cubans, or rather sell what they claim to be Cubans. Of course a well-informed cigar smoker knows that you can’t get three of them for $20; in fact you’re lucky to get a single one for that price, and a petite one at that. Knowing they were fakes, I bought a few, since it wasn’t too bad a retail price for non-Cubans, thinking hey, how bad can they be? Answer: bad. I choked one down but pitched the other two, a real indictment from an inveterate cheapskate like me. I did make a point of asking the cashier if they were real, and of course she said yes. There’s a certain primal satisfaction in forcing a woman in a foreign country to lie to you. Try it sometime; you’ll know what I mean.

To sum it all up, I would say our first tropical island vacation was a resounding success, and I’d definitely go again. If you are inspired to go there yourself, I recommend bringing an open mind and as much of your own food as possible, and do please let me know if the conch fritters work. Cue Lionel Richie and fade…