The Caffeinated Penguin

musings of a crackpot hacker

On Americans and our leisure time

| February 27, 2011

I’ve been following [] because of the interesting goings-on in the middle east and north Africa, an I noticed this article on why Americans don’t travel abroad. One of the things they mention is:

“There are some differences in terms of vacation time that are hugely influential,” Byrne said. Workers in mainland Europe receive between six and eight weeks of vacation, while Americans average about 16.6 paid vacation days as of 2005, according to the Families and Work Institute. Thirty-six percent of those surveyed didn’t plan to use their full vacation.

Now, I do tend to use my full vacation, but I don’t tend to travel much. Ultimately, if I did have more vacation time, I’d tend to do such things as work on my house. Take two weeks, rip out and remodel the master bathroom. Take another two weeks, add a fireplace, etc. Given more than a few days of idleness, and I get bored – I start looking for things to do. Even more than a couple days at the same “have a look at this place” and I get bored – a couple of days at Disney, and it wears off. Even more than a couple of days at a gaming convention, and I’m ready to be done and back home. The only vacation I can recall of which this didn’t set in for quite awhile was my honeymoon with Liz – and that was likely because it was varied enough to keep me from getting bored. Each day was a new town, and a different activity – hiking and exploring one day, horseback riding another, fishing at a third.

Further, the difference between work and play for me is subtle – play is painting miniatures, reading books, working on cars or in the garden, playing with dog, or cooking food – all activities involving the doing of things. Even recreation, I’d be happy to go hunting or fishing – and since I live in a place where people from downstate come to do this, I’d just coordinate my vacation with a friend who has a boat, or buy myself some kayaks or whatnot – if you’re assuming a transatlantic flight + vacation for two, buying a couple of kayaks and getting some fishing licenses seems a bargain in comparison. For that matter, if we wanted to “get away from it all”, it’s easy enough to pitch a tent down by our creek – it’s not like you can see the house from there anyway.

I’d be curious to know how many people are like this, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it is quite a few. Perhaps the difference between Americans and mainland Europe is that a larger proportion of Americans own houses and adjacent property, so they tend to take the time to work on them.

All that said, I wouldn’t complain of a couple more weeks of vacation time. Indeed, that was one of my populist ideas to stimulate the economy. Rather than paying for people’s unemployment, etc. if you mandate something like 40 days of vacation time (double for most of us – my company gives 18 days PTO. This includes holidays, sick time, etc.), it forces companies to hire more people to take up the slack. Now, I’m not certain if this is actually a good idea, it’s just an idea.

Living with choices

| February 20, 2011

Watched a documentary called Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room. Now, even though I was alive during the Enron scandal, I was not really affected by it, as I was still in college and didn’t have much in the way of assets, so the depths to which these guys had gone was really surprising. I mean, I always knew it was like a real life Wall Street, but I didn’t realize they took it to the level of market manipulation. Electricity prices too low? Call up a powerplant and ask them nicely to have an “unscheduled maintenance” outage for a couple of hours.

Now, all that said, that wasn’t what really struck me. What struck me was:

  1. These guys were doing for real what my D&D group joked about. See, we were a bunch of scientists, engineers and math majors – with a couple of history, politics, and business guys thrown in for good measure. Together, we cooked up this interesting thought experiment where we would:
    1. Get a job at some big megacorp.
    2. Run it in to the ground, while stashing a pile of money in offshore accounts, untouchable by US authorities, all before you’re 30.
    3. Go to prison for 10-20 years
    4. Retire at 50 with all the money you stashed away.
    5. (This is, of course, the general object of Crunch.
  2. However, the real thing which hit me was the suicide of Cliff Baxter. Basically, the guy couldn’t live with what he’d done and all the scrutiny, so he shot himself in his car. The discussion on the documentary was that he had seen his life’s work destroyed and couldn’t live with it. This bit really hits home, for a couple of reasons.
    1. Firstly, it just strikes me as all his priorities are messed up. I simply don’t hang that much stake on my career. I put it in my craft, certainly, but it’s not the same. Further, my life is my home, my family, etc.
    2. Secondly, it is a reminder that you need to be able to live with yourself and the choices you make. It really doesn’t matter how “successful” you are if you end up eating your own gun. This is why I keep asking hard questions at places I’ve worked. Someone needs to ask them, and there are just too many yes-men these days.

Speculative nostalgia..

| February 20, 2011

So, I was sitting here painting tanks this afternoon, when I had an interesting thought – I fully expect to be explaining to my grandchildren what these weapons systems were, how they worked and what they did, because the sun has set on our military industrial complex.

Make no mistake, this is not a swords to plowshares feel good post. I don’t expect us to get any smarter – I expect us to run out of money.

Let me explain – if things continue the way they are, many estimates have our debt service (not the debt, just the interest payments) exceeding our national defense budget. When this happens, it will be the death of the republic as we have come to know it.

Note that this presumes that we will not seriously cut domestic social programs, (at least not until the economy recovers substantially), because this would lead to all out revolt. With the actual employment numbers (not the re-based “within a year” number.. if you don’t know what I mean, read this close to 20%, there are a lot of desperate people these days.

I expect that this will happen in one of two ways:

  • The bad way: Hawkish elements continue to dominate, and we start a war with someone. Iran? North Korea? It doesn’t matter. Civil disturbance is attributed to domestic terrorists, complete with secret police and further spending on homeland security. Fascism reigns, and the American Republic becomes the American Empire. This will continue until such time as it really can’t be sustained anymore, in which case the whole thing collapses in on itself. Bankruptcy, revolution, etc. Note that if we have a major terrorist incident before the 2012 elections, I expect that this will be the way things will go.
  • The good way: There is actually a change, and it needs to happen soon – next election, maybe the one after. Someone actually does what President Obama actually said that he would do (and didn’t), namely getting us out of these very expensive wars. Take it a step further, and start closing foreign bases – selling off equipment, etc. If we pull this back to a lot more reasonable level, we end up being able to service the debt, and actually pay it off pretty quickly, while maintaining domestic defense and social programs. In time, hopefully rather quickly, we’ll be able to return to a true peacetime economy – one we have not seen since before WWII.

Either way, things will change quite a bit in the next 10 years. Don’t believe me? If I’d have told you 10 years ago that you’d have to take off your shoes to get on an airplane, would you have believed me?

Lazy weekend…

| February 20, 2011

Well, my version of lazy anyway.

Slept in both days, and am fighting bad glasses. I’m waiting for the new ones to come in from the lab – according to the optometrist, aside from the LensCrafters crappy knockoff transitions coating delaminating, when I had them make me another set to replace my broken ones, it looks like they flipped the left and right prescriptions. My new optometrist had some interesting noises to make while reviewing my notes as he was checking my eyes – not unlike what I say when looking at other people’s goofy code. As a result, I’m now having bad headaches when I use my far lenses. My computer glasses are fine, and the bifocals are fine, so as long as I do detail work for most of the day, I’m good. So, I can work on the computer, paint minis, etc.

  • We took down the Christmas tree and decorations. This might sound late, but it’s not – we typically wait until after Valentine’s day to de-Christmasify things.
  • Painted some tanks.
  • Bottled the spiced winter ale – it’s a little late, but there’s still a little bit of winter left.
  • Played with Diesel dog.
  • Painted more tanks.
  • Watched some movies
  • Cleaned up a bit
  • Ate up the leftovers in the fridge
  • Read some books

Lizzy has been doing similar things, and is working on her Sewing Cabinet. She and her dad have been working in a corner of her mom’s bonsai workshop, and I think the current plan is to try and finish it in the next couple of weeks so that it can be moved back to our house and he can put in the floor in the workshop.


| February 20, 2011

Watched Rampage. It was okay. I expected a modern, post-9/11, post-Obama version of Falling Down. In the end, despite both the above IMDB synopsis and the Netflix summary, it really wasn’t. It was more of that as a distraction covering a bank heist.

Now, the big thing that gets me about this movie was the cops – this guy is running around with some variety of plate body armor – they look to be overlapping plates of something metallic or ceramic, but they were thin – maybe 3/16″ at most. Even assuming he could obtain such items (like he obtained his submachineguns). Doing a quick look, a .223 or .308 (reasonably common for police to carry as a car gun) will defeat most of the armors listed – even without AP rounds (which I wouldn’t expect the police to have).

That, and there’s always the head shot…

Taurus PT145 and Mags

| February 18, 2011

So, I have (to test):

  • 1 factory mag
  • 1 pro-mag replacement mag
  • 1 factory mag, modified by me, with a replacement spring (for a Para P14, suggested here ). I’ve also lowered the front of the mag by cutting off some of the metal and then sanding it smooth.

We’ll see if any of those work. The easiest case (for me) is if the pro-mag works – I buy 3 more and I’m good.

If the factory mag w/ replacement works, I need to buy a couple more of those (more expensive than the pro-mags), then buy more springs, then mod them all the same way.

If none of them work, then I will take to polishing the feed ramp, and other such feeding reliability improvements.

I also need to find a replacement mainspring setup. Having to order them from Taurus is crap.

Templecon 2011

| February 16, 2011

So, Liz and I attended Templecon two weeks ago. It was a mixed bag.

Full details behind the cut.. (more…)

Isn’t it funny…

| February 16, 2011

.. that as I look at world politics, more and more I miss the good old days where the Soviet Union was going to nuke us all. At least they were predictable, and it was (more or less) going to all shake out as a stand-up fight between nation states. Everything else was a brush conflict which wouldn’t touch our shores.


| February 14, 2011

Doing a little more research, I found this petition by the guy in charge of LASIK at the FDA from 1996-2000. There is also this statement from a German company who is saying that they have a device which does a really good job mapping the surface of the eye – and LASIK eyes look pretty bad.

At this point, I don’t really know what to do – the benefits of not having to wear glasses anymore are very compelling, but the potential complications (dislodged flaps, loss of contrast in low light, loss of night vision, etc.) are pretty serious. There is also data which suggests that the risks are understated (which is unsurprising).

Basically, since this is an elective surgery, and it seems like everyone has a vested interest in one side or the other, the safest way in the absence of a clear path is to do nothing, get glasses, and wait and see. In the worst case, I’ve had to suffer with glasses for N more years, and have spent $N*500 dollars on glasses (on average). In the best case, I’ve avoided being blind, and won’t be one of those guys whom the lawyers on late night TV are trying to get to call them.


  • Therac-25
  • Asbestos
  • Thalidomide

Laser vision correction

| February 13, 2011

I need new primary glasses, as LensCrafters is crap and the fake transitions coating is delaminating, and they’re scratched to hell. I also need new safety glasses, because the old ones are several years old and he prescriptions are off. This is going to be in the $600 ballpark.

And then I’ll likely spend that much next year or the year after.

As such, I’m thinking of laser vision correction. At current prices, we’re talking approx $2500 for the surgery.. and the possibility of not needing glasses for the next 10-20 years, and then possibly only readers as I turn into a genuine old man (rather than just a crotchety one). So, this totally passes the return on investment calculation (especially since current time investment is only a couple days off work – one for surgery, one for recovery) and a couple hour exams pre and post op.

Anyone have any personal or one-step removed (immediate friends and family to whom you have directly spoken) anecdotes they’d like to convey? Also, when it was done is important – information from 10 years ago is quite a bit different than today.

Thanks in advance.