Thursday, October 30, 2014

Data: it's what's for breakfast...

Data: it's what's for breakfast...  The next time some low information numbskull tries to tell you how horrible the wars around the world are these days, and how we're all going to die – show them the graph at right.

Humans have never been this safe before.  Ever.

When you show this to someone who believes, deep in their low information heart, that the Iraq war killed more Americans than all other wars combined ... you can tell from their face that their brain is frying right in front of you.

SourceMore...

Amelia Earhart: mystery solved?

Amelia Earhart: mystery solved?  Well, not yet –
– but now there is a very credible piece of evidence that says she and Fred Noonan (her navigator) made an emergency landing on the remote Nikumaroro atoll, and perished there before anyone could rescue them.  The piece of metal at right – found on Nikumaroro – has been positively identified as being part of Earhart's plane.  Sonar studies have found an object, 600' underwater, that could be the wreckage of her plane.  Much more here.


Comet 67P, close up and personal...

Comet 67P, close up and personal...  Rosetta is getting down close to Comet 67P's surface (just 6 km!) to prepare for the launch of the Philae lander in just a couple weeks...

Antares explosion...


Antares explosion...  Doug S. passed along this Fox News story on the Antares rocket explosion.  Most of the coverage I've read has been dominated by ignorant reporters breathlessly leaping on this single failure as if it were some sort of world-class disaster, proving the inability of American industry to successfully launch rockets into space.

Orbital Sciences (the builders of Antares) chose to use refurbished Russian engines for Antares because at the time of their choice it looked like the best combination of cost, speed, and reliability.  Years of NASA mismanagement (which continues unabated) had practically destroyed anything resembling innovation or advancement in American rocket technology.  The Russians had a solid, reliable – even though old – rocket engine technology, and it was available cheaply because of the fall of the Soviet Union and the Russian desperation for hard dollars.  American companies – especially those in bed with NASA – were forecasting decades and multiple tens of billions of dollars in development costs.  Did Orbital Sciences make a bad choice?  I don't know any reason at all to believe that.

A rocket blowing up is not exactly a new phenomenon.  We've had our own share of that with American rockets, and so have the Russians, Europeans, and Chinese.  Rockets, especially the larger ones, are marvels of complex technology straining at the very edge of what's possible.  It's amazing to me that any of those rockets don't explode!  Someday we might advance rocket technology to the point where launches can be thought of as routine and safe, but today is clearly not that day.

Here's some additional coverage, some of it a bit more objective than the Fox News report: here, here, and especially here...

If you find maggot infestations extremely disgusting...

If you find maggot infestations extremely disgusting ... then your political inclinations are most likely conservative.  Or so says this study.  It also makes the claim that a tendency toward progressivism or conservatism is closely correlated with how strongly you react to something disgusting – and that both of these are primarily heritable traits.  That last bit – that political tendencies are heritable – is particularly scary, as that means demographics favor the progressives (mainly because minorities vote overwhelmingly for Democrats, and they have more children than any other voting group).

This reminds me, though, of an odd factoid I read years ago: a ranking of voting preference by profession.  Sanitation workers and septic tank cleaners were top of the list for progressives.  Hmmmm...

European language tree...

European language tree...  Beautiful!

Obama says: “Please don’t vote Democrat...”

Obama says: “Please don’t vote Democrat...” ScrappleFace...

Earth-moon system...

Earth-moon system...  As seen by the Chinese Chang'e 5 spacecraft as it zoomed around the far side of the moon.

When I was a young lad in the early '60s, I remember eagerly watching the news as it showed the grainy black-and-white photos returned by early NASA robotic missions to the moon.  We've come a long way since then, but the Chinese have progressed even more.  In the early '60s, while we were shooting for the moon, Mao was firmly in control and his crazy policies were killing millions and had the country retreating rapidly toward the Stone Age.  Now China is successfully developing and launching robotic explorers on their own, and seem on pace to rival NASA's capabilities...

Election fraud?

Election fraud?  A few days ago I posted about reports of voting machines in Illinois registering votes for Democrats when the voter tried to select Republican candidates.  The election officials called that a “calibration error” and said it was limited to a single machine.  Since then, many more cases have been reported, in Maryland as well as Illinois.  Both states are notorious for their past history of election fraud.  For some reason, that made me suspicious :)

Now there's video (from Moline, Illinois) of this “calibration error” in action.  You decide: fraud or calibration error?

Wow...


Wow...  It's impossible for a white male like me to accurately imagine what it's like to be a minority in a predominantly white country, but I've tried hard.  It's helped that over the years I've had good friends who are non-white, and who would talk with me openly.  Despite my best attempts to understand, one thing that has always puzzled me is why minorities overwhelmingly vote Democratic – the observable track record of the Democrats in America's large cities is abysmal, especially with respect to minorities.  Mind you, I'm not at all sure the Republicans would have done any better, but for decades now they've had almost no chance to even try administering our big cities.  While we've had the occasional Republican mayor (e.g., Rudy Giuliani in New York, Pete Wilson in San Diego), and the occasional Republican city council member, by and large America's largest cities have been controlled and run by Democrats.  The biggest reason for this is that minorities (especially blacks and Hispanics) vote for Democrats in percentages routinely exceeding 80%.  Why?

The speakers in the video at right are leaders in the black community, well-known and well-respected.  I speculate that the scales have (finally!) fallen from their eyes because of Obama's overt failure to deliver – despite his being black himself.  Whether I'm right about that is irrelevant, though.  I'm hoping that their disillusionment is the beginning of a trend – not to have minority voters vote Republican, but rather to have them think about who they're voting for, rather than voting reflexively for any one party...

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

On diamond drill bits...

On diamond drill bits...  Well, technically they're hole saws, but I'm using them as if they're drill bits.  One of the characteristics of these diamond bits is that they wear out pretty quickly on hard substances (like the porcelain tiles in our bathroom).  I've been getting 8 - 10 holes from each drill bit, and they're about $15 each – so it's costing me over 50 cents in tooling for each hole.  That's not something a homeowner generally has to worry about with drill bits :)

I got to wondering exactly how these bits were made, and what they look like close up, so I stuck a used one under the microscope.  This one still has some life in it.  In the left hand photo (about 15x) you can see the composite of metal and diamond chips that make up the working surface.  The white “frosting” is dried porcelain tile powder from the last time I used it.  When drilling, I keep the bit wet, so the ground off porcelain forms a kind of slurry or mud that sticks to the drill bit, then dries very hard.  The diamond chips are transparent, and pale yellow or green in color.  I have no idea what kind of metal they're embedded in.  The right hand photo is centered at the same spot, but I zoomed it to 60x; in it you have a clearer view of just those chips.

I couldn't see any of this with just my eyeball.  With my fingernail I can readily feel that the surface is rough, but to my eye it just looks like a matte-finished metal surface.  It's very different when magnified!


Progress report...

Progress report...  The barn builders haven't been here this week, darn it.  They're off on another job down in Ogden.  I'm not sure when they're coming back, but hopefully tomorrow.  Sheathing the interior and putting siding on the exterior are the next steps.  Also installing the electrical service and the heating boiler, along with toilet, sinks, etc.

The roofers skipped a couple days because the head demolisher was sick.  They were back today and demolished another quarter or so of our home's old roof; they're just over half done with that now.

I've been busy as heck, installing ceiling fans, fixing electrical problems, and (most recently) installing blinds.  Prior to this morning, the only privacy in our bedroom was provided by the thick foliage on the trees and shrubs outside.  In the past week, basically all the leaves of deciduous trees fell off.  Not wanting to frighten all the local young women, I thought it would be a good idea to get those blinds up.  As of this afternoon, we've got blinds on all the bedroom windows, plus the bathroom window.  The latter was a real pain to put up, as I had to drill four holes through the porcelain tiles lining the window casing, and I had to drill them up, as the blinds mounted on the top.  My arms hurt :)  But I got it done...

The last ceiling fan I just finished yesterday morning.  It was far more challenging than I had expected, mainly because someone (presumably the previous owner) had seriously botched the installation of the one I was replacing.  The old ceiling fan was mounted to a blue plastic junction box, which in turn was held in place by two nails into a joist – not even close to being strong enough to hold up the fan.  The previous owner “solved” this problem by putting six large sheet metal screws into the sheet rock on the ceiling.  Ack!  That fan was right over their bed, too – totally unacceptable.  So I had to get rid of all the old bad installation, patch the screw holes, repaint that part of the ceiling, install a new metal junction box (working in a 5" diameter hole!), and only then could I install the new fan.  I was very glad to finish that one, I don't mind saying!

One nice thing about the old ceiling fans: all four of them have new homes.  One of our neighbors lives in an older house, and they're always looking for ways to upgrade.  They took the three nicest fans to replace two not-so-nice ones they have now, plus add one to their workshop.  The fourth old fan has a much more interesting future ahead of it: one of this blog's readers (“eg”) inquired about getting just the motor from it – to make it into a potter's wheel!  That particular fan had a kind of cheesy looking fake brass exterior, and I was just going to toss it.  How great that someone can use the one part that looks good on it!

Why dogs kick when you scratch their belly...

Why dogs kick when you scratch their belly...  The things I never new before!

A great intro to calculus...

A great intro to calculus ... by someone who taught himself through online materials.  It's a perspective I appreciate :)

24 things they should have taught me in school...

24 things they should have taught me in school...  The GIF at right shows how camouflage paint is applied to a helmet.  All 24 here...

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Scientists and floating point math...

Scientists and floating point math...  An article I read this morning makes a valiant attempt to demystify floating point math for scientists.  I'm not sure it succeeds :)  Reading it reminded me of an experience I had back in the early '80s.

A San Diego company had themselves a real problem.  They'd contracted with an independent consulting engineer (very common back then for anything involving microcomputers) to develop a TTY modem that ran on a single chip microcomputer.  This was to be part of a device to allow deaf people to use telephones.  Telephone companies had recently been mandated to provide such devices for deaf customers, and this company was trying to win the bid to supply the local telephone company with thousands of them.

The problem was that the engineer they hired had quit in a huff, and claimed to have accidentally destroyed the source code for the firmware on the chip.  All the company had was a single mostly-working chip, from which the object code could be read.  They wanted someone to reverse-engineer the code, deliver the reconstructed source code, and (ideally) to fix the problems.

I took that contract, but only on an hourly rate basis, as I had no idea what I was going to find.  The company didn't like that much, but they also had no alternatives.

The firmware had originally been written in assembly language, as most performant things were back then.  That was a mixed blessing.  It was easy to get the source code back without useful symbol names – but quite challenging to actually understand the code and assign useful symbol names.  I spent several weeks totally immersed in that code.

A big part of the code turned out to be a floating point package, one that the previous engineer had apparently written himself.  I had just written one of these a few years prior (as part of Tarbell Basic), and I'd also written one while in the Navy, so I had some familiarity with how to do this.  This particular package had some trigonometric functions in it that were used by the modem software – and those trig functions were written in a way that caused cumulative errors of exactly the kind described in the linked article.

So I went back to the company who hired me and told them that I'd found a significant problem, and it was one that could be fixed.  Naturally, they wanted to know what the problem was.  While explaining it to the engineering team, I discovered that the source of the trig function algorithm was a scientist who worked for the company: he had handed that algorithm to the former programmer, who implemented it as asked.  So the source of the problem wasn't the programmer, but rather this scientist (a physics guy who knew about digital signal processing).  Next thing I know, I'm lecturing this scientist on the details of how floating point worked, and he really, really didn't want to hear it :)  In the end, the only way I could convince him was by constructing simple test cases and showing him the results.

There was a happy ending to all this, though.  Once I convinced the scientist of the errors consequent to his algorithm, he was willing to listen to some alternatives.  One of them was a well-known approach that avoided the cumulative error problem and also was many, many times faster than his algorithm: a simple polynomial approximation.  I didn't invent this; I got it from a book written in the '50s by someone with the appropriate degree.  Even the scientist was happy with this one!


Geek: fast inverse square root hack...

Geek: fast inverse square root hack...  This has long been one of my all-time favorite hacks, mainly because it looks so incredibly unlikely at first blush (a magic constant of 0x5f3759df? really?), but then turns out to have a solid reason why it works.  I've read explanations before, but none so clear as this one – and I love the generalization of it to other powers besides 0.5...

A habit of ignorance...

A habit of ignorance...  Way back in 1972, I had recently enlisted in the U.S. Navy and was attending a series of schools at the Mare Island Naval Base near Vallejo, California.  The first training I underwent was for basic computer repair, and that training started with a dose of digital logic.  One of the first things we were told was that if we flunked out of this school – as about a third of the attendees would – we would be reassigned to another school on the same base: the PBR (river patrol boat) school.  These were plywood boats, lightly armed, that patrolled Vietnamese rivers – and their crews had the highest casualty rates of all the armed forces fighting in Vietnam.  That concentrated my mind wonderfully, to steal a turn of phrase from Mark Twain.

One consequence is that I paid serious attention to the classroom work, even when it didn't appeal to me – something I had never done before.  I also started observing the students that did well and those who did not, the better to guide myself.  There was an “Aha!” moment for me one day that I can still remember vividly.  The instructor posed a problem on a blackboard (with chalk!) and asked who had an idea how to attack it.  The couple of high-performing students I was observing looked puzzled and kept their hands down.  Nearly everyone else raised their hand – and not a one of them had any clue how to tackle the problem posed.  The “Aha!” was that the best students were the ones most comfortable with being ignorant.  How interesting!

That started me on what became a lifelong (and by now, pretty much reflexive) habit: to frankly acknowledge my own ignorance, both to myself and to others.  I don't always succeed at this, as my friends will attest :)  I'm better at doing so on technical subjects than on others.  I've learned that recognizing my own ignorance is a prerequisite to motivating myself to address that ignorance.  In other words, a key step in acquiring new technical knowledge is to recognize that I need that knowledge.  That might seem like a little thing, but it's played a very large role in my career.  There are an infinite number of interesting technical subjects that I'm ignorant of, and therefore no end of things for me learn.  I've never been comfortable when not learning; in fact, any situation that doesn't require me to learn something new is one that I find boring.  I've also learned that admitting ignorance does not lower the degree of respect that others have for my technical ability – in fact, it may do the opposite.  Because people know that I will readily admit to not knowing something, they tend to believe (not necessarily with justification :) that if I am not claiming ignorance, I must have some idea what I'm talking about.

Because of this context, I found this article quite interesting...

Farmhouse and scenery...

Farmhouse and scenery ... in Tuscany...


“Maybe the Vietnamese should send us some advisers.”

“Maybe the Vietnamese should send us some advisers.”  That line, from a column by Glenn Reynolds (aka “Instapundit”) certainly caught my eye.  I'm old enough to remember when Kennedy sent American military advisers to Vietnam, and I was in the U.S. Navy, taking South Vietnamese refugees on board our ship after the fall of Saigon.  That line has an emotional context for me.

So what's Mr. Reynolds talking about?  He's riffing on a study showing that just 70% of Americans believe people are generally better off under capitalism, with its attendant inequalities – but 95% of Vietnamese believe that.  Maybe we should take on some Vietnamese advisers!

The column makes some interesting points, and is well worth the read...

Monday, October 27, 2014

Screwdriver wear...

Screwdriver wear...  While installing the last replacement ceiling fan today, I noticed that the Phillips screwdriver no longer felt as crisply “tight” in the screws as it used to.  I couldn't see anything different about it upon visually inspecting it, so I stuck it under the microscope.  At 60x, it's very clear what's happened: some of the metal has been deformed, squished out of shape. 

This particular screwdriver is a high-quality (German) Wiha, made with very hard, tough steel – one of the best you can buy.  I got it about 18 months ago, and it's been used a lot – first with my FJ Cruiser modification project, and now for the past six months during remodeling our new home.  I suspect this sort of wear is inevitable when you are frequently applying great force onto a small metal face...

UPS brought me a present today!

UPS brought me a present today!  A beautifully made embroidered Gadsden flag, the famous yellow flag with the coiled serpent and the motto “Don’t Tread on Me” (listen up, Obamanation!).  I lofted it right underneath Old Glory just as fast as I could get it out of its package.  Just as I raised it, the wind picked up and unfurled both flags – almost as if the wind was trying to help.

The construction of this particular flag is impressive.  First, it's actually two flags stitched together back-to-back, so that the flag looks correct from both sides.  Second, each blob of black or white for the serpent, and the green grass the serpent sits on, is actually a piece of cloth cut out in the right shape, then stitched into place with an embroidered border – it looks practically indestructible.  Finally, the letters are entirely embroidered.  For the price ($25 including shipping) it's an amazing bargain.  I'd be willing to bet that the entire construction of the flag is automated: a computer-controlled laser to cut the cloth pieces, an industrial robot to place them on the yellow background, and a computer-controlled sewing machine to do the rest.  I can't imagine how else they could sell a product this nicely made for that price...

“...a government with vast and arbitrary power to punish people who have done no wrong.”

“...a government with vast and arbitrary power to punish people who have done no wrong.”  The last part of the last sentence of Megan McArdle's excellent piece on some of the many the ways our government is abusing us.  You shouldn't miss it. 

Really, you shouldn't miss anything Ms. McArdle writes, because the worst of it is better than almost anything else you'll read on economics, politics, policy, and cooking...

Alleged letter to columnist Clarence Page of the Chicago Tribune...

Alleged letter to columnist Clarence Page of the Chicago Tribune...  I've no idea if this is authentic, but I don't care :)
Dear Mr. Page...

I always love your articles and I generally agree with them. I would suggest, as in an email I received, they change the name to the "Foreskins" to better represent their community, paying tribute to the dick heads in Congress.

I agree with our Native American population. I am highly insulted by the racially charged name of the Washington Redskins. One might argue that to name a professional football team after Native Americans would exalt them as fine warriors, but nay, nay. We must be careful not to offend, and in the spirit of political correctness and courtesy, we must move forward.

Let's ditch the Kansas City Chiefs, the Atlanta Braves and the Cleveland Indians. If your shorts are in a wad because of the reference the name Redskins makes to skin color, then we need to get rid of the Cleveland Browns.

The Carolina Panthers obviously were named to keep the memory of militant Blacks from the 60's alive. Gone. It's offensive to us white folk.

The New York Yankees offend the Southern population. Do you see a team named for the Confederacy? No! There is no room for any reference to that tragic war that cost this country so many young men's lives.

I am also offended by the blatant references to the Catholic religion among our sports team names. Totally inappropriate to have the New Orleans Saints, the Los Angeles Angels or the San Diego Padres.

Then there are the team names that glorify criminals who raped and pillaged. We are talking about the horrible Oakland Raiders, the Minnesota Vikings, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Pittsburgh Pirates!

Now, let us address those teams that clearly send the wrong message to our children. The San Diego Chargers promote irresponsible fighting or even spending habits. Wrong message to our children.

The New York Giants and the San Francisco Giants promote obesity, a growing childhood epidemic. Wrong message to our children.

The Cincinnati Reds promote downers/barbiturates. Wrong message to our children.

The Milwaukee Brewers. Well that goes without saying. Wrong message to our children.

So, there you go. We need to support any legislation that comes out to rectify this travesty, because the government will likely become involved with this issue, as they should. Just the kind of thing the do-nothing Congress loves.

As a diehard Oregon State fan, my wife and I, with all of this in mind, suggest it might also make some sense to change the name of the Oregon State women's athletic teams to something other than "the Beavers."

Karma...

Karma...  Bwa-ha-ha-ha!


Spider's web...

Spider's web ... fills a hole in a leaf...


Dyson's answer to Roomba...


Dyson's answer to Roomba...  Dyson's vacuum cleaners are awesome – we've owned two so far, and nothing else we've tried even comes close.  Not long ago, they announced that they'll soon have a competitor to Roomba, the robotic vacuum cleaner.  Only – because it's Dyson – it will, like, actually work.  I've no idea what they're going to sell for, but given the technology involved I suspect it will be at a considerable premium over Roomba.  With three floors in our house, we'd have to have three of the things, unless Dyson also figured out a way for it to climb up and down stairs.  Needing three would probably put it out of our price range.  But I can still admire the technology...

ER doc: what scares me even more than Ebola...

ER doc: what scares me even more than Ebola...  Good piece, in LinkedIn, of all places...

The American Iron Dome?

The American Iron Dome?  But instead of rockets, this one (HEL MD) uses lasers.  Well, it is 2014, isn't it?

Hypothetical American vs. actual Canadian...

Hypothetical American vs. actual Canadian...  Try to imagine this scenario: the U.S. Congress is left unguarded by any armed men (unthinkable, actually, because pissed off Americans would almost certainly eliminate some Congress-critters in short order).  A lone and heavily armed Islamic terrorist attacks, shooting wildly.  The Senators and Representatives lock themselves into chambers.  What would happen next? 

In my imagination, Pelosi would start up a non-stop screeching, demanding help in the form of a helicopter ride out.  Harry Reid would hide under a chair.  McConnell would be a puddle of protoplasm in a corner, wobbling like Jello.  Boehner would be crying in another corner.  A few – Cruz and Ryan come to mind – might actually try to put up some kind of defense as the terrorist approaches.  Overall, though, the security cameras would show us a pathetic scene.  Any other outcome seems ... not credible.

Contrast that with what actually happened in Ottawa last week, when a heavily armed Islamic terrorist actually attacked their Parliament.  With no other weapons at hand, MPs (the rough equivalent of our Senators and Representatives) fashioned spears from flagstaffs, and positioned themselves at the doorway to the chambers, ready to impale the terrorist if he tried to enter.  They had no need, though, because their Sergeant-at-Arms shot him dead with his sidearm.

Canadians: showing more American spirit than Americans...

“This is delusional thinking.”

“This is delusional thinking.”  Aly Salem is an Egyptian writer based in New York, and a Muslim.  He understands how the delusional progressive narrative about Islam – exemplified by Obama's speeches on the subject – is hurting America and its ability to fight the scourge of radicalized Islamic fundamentalists.  It's the sort of writing and thinking that we hear far too little about, though I know (from my own experience) that it's by far the most prevalent thinking in the American Muslim community...

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Blustery crosswinds...

Blustery crosswinds...  A plane landing in strong crosswinds at Madeira's airport.  This looks worse that it actually is – we just aren't used to seeing such violent maneuvering near the ground.  When you have blustery crosswinds there's often no other way to get the aircraft safely on the ground.  Note how high the plane is until just moments before landing – that height means potential energy available for maneuvering, which this pilot made good use of.  Via Idaho mogul-of-everything, friend, former colleague, and reader Doug S...

Yet another...

Yet another ... good source of information about Git...

Holy crap!

Holy crap!  This made me wonder about where one might acquire a miniature turbine jet engine like that?  And what would it cost?  Turns out they're made in Grants Pass, Oregon (not that far from where I live!), and they cost between $2,000 and $5,500.  You can buy them over the Internet.  The biggest one delivers 52 pounds of thrust with a 5 pound engine weight, while drinking 1.5 pounds per minute of fuel (full throttle).

A serious RC enthusiast could afford to buy an actual turbine jet engine, delivering crazy levels of performance, as you can see in that video.  Some nutcase with technical ability (or access to it) could make a formidable drone with one of these. 

We live in amazing times...

Open source stenography!

Open source stenography!  Way back in the distant past, in 1981 (before most of my readers were born), I worked for a funny little company named Xscribe.  It was a great job for me, my first real job in a technology company, and it was a terrific learning experience on many levels – learning both how things should be done, and how they should not be done :)

The company's products were automation tools for court stenographers, and at the time they were revolutionary.  Most stenographers still worked with old-fashioned mechanical machines and did their editing and typing of transcripts by hand, on a typewriter or primitive dedicated word processor.  With Xscribe's products, their familiar stenographic machine was connected directly to a computer, they could create codes on the fly (an enormous time-saver), they edited on a CRT, and the printed the final transcript directly to a computer printer – near-magical levels of automation by the day's standards.

Xscribe made the classic mistake of insisting on closed, proprietary, and grossly non-standard hardware.  They were killed off by the advent of PC-based competition.  I lost track of the industry after that.  But this morning I came across the video above, by one of the founders of a free, open source stenographic software package called Plover – and references to open source stenographic input hardware as well.  The stenographers were tired of being plundered by overpriced vendors, and they're fighting back.  I've no idea what their success will be, but I'm fascinated that open source solutions are attacking niche markets like this.  It makes sense, though, because the market is too small for large economies of scale, too small to attract lots of competitors (which would drive the prices down), yet big enough that a collaborative effort might just work.  I suspect there are quite a few markets like that...

Oh, Canada...

Oh, Canada...  Rex Murphy is someone I watch or read at every opportunity.  Here he comments on the recent shootings in Ottawa...

Wisconsin's shame...

Wisconsin's shame...  George Will on the scandal of Wisconsin's weird “John Doe” process being used against Scott Walker.  It's the best thing I've read on the subject...

A source of satisfaction...

A source of satisfaction...  A good part of yesterday I spent replacing two old ceiling fans in our house.  The house contained four ceiling fans all together, all different.  Like many things in the house when we bought it, we suspect the former owner (who owns a residential construction company) took leftovers from various jobs for his home.  There's nothing wrong, really, with the four fans all being different – but not one of them was of a style that we liked.  So we determined to replace them, and decided to get four identical ones in a style we liked.

So where's the satisfaction in that?  It's this: we have the great good fortune to possess the financial wherewithal, in our retirement, to be able get the best quality ceiling fan we can find.  I did the research, and found a make and model that had great reviews online, was documented as being made with top-notch materials and parts, and matched our taste in its style.  The price was roughly double what the old fans likely cost.

The quality difference was driven home to me as I disassembled the old ceiling fans – perfectly serviceable, but visibly not as well made, presumably not as durable, and observably noisier and less stable (they vibrated and had some motor whine, especially at high fan speeds).  The new ceiling fans are made of heavier materials, have rubber noise and vibration dampening throughout, and were perfectly balanced without any adjustment at all.  The fit and finish are perfect.  Even at the highest speed setting, there's no vibration and no motor noise with the new fans – just the quiet rush of the air being moved.

It's such a little thing, really ... but I have lived most of my life in financial circumstances that did not allow me to make such choices.  Virtually every purchase we ever made was compromised by the price we could afford to pay, and usually it was quality that was compromised.  It's very satisfying to me that now we need not make any such compromise for most of the ordinary things we need, because we can afford to buy the quality we really want.  There's another factor at work here, too: the more experience one has, the more one appreciates fine quality...