Friday, August 11, 2017

North Korea: Good Thing/Bad Thing?

I always felt that North Korea was one of the great tragedies of the 20th Century.  The Korean people, to generalize, possess robust social capital -- a culture of talent, responsibility and ambition.  To have that rich potential suppressed, indeed brutalized, by a troglodytic autocracy is, in the vernacular, "#SAD."

The recent increase in tensions has me looking further ahead and assessing possible outcomes. Presumably the goal of the North Korean leadership is their own preservation, and thus they may engage in brinksmanship, but probably won't do anything stupid.  But what if they do something precipitous which results in the US toppling the regime?

There are multiple scenarios about how this may play out, but it ranges from a reunification of North and South, to a separate North Korea under kinder, gentler Chinese oversight.  Either way the North Koreans would be relieved of the yoke of deprivation, and almost certainly pursue economic development which will compound the existing formidable economic competition from Asia.

Is this the outcome that we in the West want?  Many constituencies in the West spend a lot of time complaining about the perniciousness of Asian competition.  Do we want to spend lives and dollars to create yet more economic competition from the Far East?

During the French and Indian War, there were arguments in the British government that driving the French out of North America would be problematic, in that the French were a threat to the American colonies, and as such kept the colonies dependent on British protection, and thus tractable and compliant.  Indeed many suggest the ouster of the French was the rootstock of the revolution.

Oppression offends democratic sensibilities. I personally am sympathetic to the plight of people living under despotic regimes.  But if we undertake to resolve that plight, our efforts may not only go unrewarded, but may produce new and unwelcome challenges.

Besides, without communist make-work jobs, these will be replaced by traffic lights -- who wants to lose these cultural icons?

Saturday, July 29, 2017


A clever puzzle gift from the Pergelator, composed of nine irregular pieces.

Analysis shows it to be composed of triangles and squares in a regular pattern:

It can be solved in myriad different ways.  I'll leave it to the mathematics geniuses to calculate how many variations.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Children's Fairyland

April 2017 -- Recently visited to Children's Fairyland, a small theme park right in the middle of downtown Oakland, on lake Merritt.  Built in 1950.  A bit small and primitive by today's standards; nonetheless, small kids like it, it's charming in it's own way, and close, and accessible, and inexpensive.

More interesting is it's history, and recognizable Disney references.  Built in 1950, it was one of the original themed amusement parks in the US.  Disney visited when developing ideas for Disneyland.  The park contains a lot of elements from earlier Disney movies like Pinocchio and Snow White, and a lot of the features in the park are motifs that would later be elaborated on a grander scale in Disneyland ... at least that's what I think, see the pictures and decide for yourself.


"Fairyland was built in 1950 by the Oakland Lake Merritt Breakfast Club, a local service club. The park was immediately recognized nationally for its unique value, and during the City Beautiful movement of the 1950s it inspired numerous towns to create their own parks. Walt Disney toured many amusement parks in 1950, including Children’s Fairyland, seeking ideas for what turned out to be Disneyland. He hired the first director of Fairyland, Dorothy Manes, to work at Disneyland as youth director, in which position she continued from the park's opening until 1972...."

"The park opened on September 2, 1950. Admission was 9 to 14 cents, depending on age. The original guides to the park were a dwarfish married couple dressed in glamorous Munchkin-style costumes. The park was reported on nationally, with numerous newsreels shot in the park. The original sets included Pinocchio's Castle, ThumbelinaThree Billy Goats Gruff, The Merry Miller, The Three Little Pigs, Willie the Whale, and several others. The entrance to the park was through the shoe illustrating the Old Woman in the Shoe. The entrance through the shoe was sized for children, so that adults had to bend over to go through."

Typical stylized structures with zany dimensions...

Snow White ... how they escaped Disney lawsuits I don't know...

Pirate ship with crow's nest...

Livery stable in the "Old West" section...
A whale that you can walk through ... to "Monstro" ride at

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Headlight Lens Restoration

Awful, crappy yellow looking headlight lenses on the 12-year old Acura.   Turns out you can't buy new lenses; the headlight assembly and lenses are an integral unit.  Aftermarket replacements start around $160 a pair for basic units, and of course you can pay as much as you want for halogen, projectors, etc.

Additionally, to replace the headlamps on this car you have to remove the bumper -- at the rate I work, this would be a several hour job.

So after some research, and several "headlight restoration" videos, I decided to try restoring the existing lenses.  Basic process is sanding, using progressively finer grits, ending with rubbing or polishing compound.

Rather than buy all the materials separately, I bought a 3M restoration kit, claiming to contain all necessary materials, for about $15.  It took about 2 hours total, from masking to final washdown.

Here are the headlights before I started:

During rough sanding (300 - 600 grit):

After rough sanding -- an opaque, frosted look:

Finished -- after rubbing compound.  Not clear, still has a milky translucency.  But got rid of most of the nasty yellow oxidation, and it's a definite improvement.  Probably could have gotten them more clear with another hour of elbow grease and some polishing compound. 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Pedestrian Rights

Virtually every time I drive in the city, I see some pedestrian marching blindly out into traffic.  Their obliviousness is one of several types:

1. Distraction -- staring down at phone/tablet/device;
2. Air-headedness -- they seem to think they're at the mall, and really don't seem to realize they're about to amble into a lane of speeding multi-ton vehicles;
3. Dementia/schizophrenia/drugs -- they don't know they're on planet earth, let alone near traffic;
4. Probably the most annoying: a stubborn political insistence on "pedestrian rights."  You know they type: "I have the right to cross the street at the crosswalk, and cars have to give way to me, so I'm going to insist on that right, and not bother to exercise any caution, and won't even bother to look at oncoming traffic because that would imply I'm not secure in my own rights, so I'll just march out and (*SMASH*) AGHGHCKCK!!!!"

"....Well, the knowledge that I had the right of way makes this full-body cast so much more enjoyable."
YouTube is FULL of these.

The most grim ones comes from Russia, for some reason.

My own experience this very morning:

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Battling Hyatt

I've been a Hyatt member since the 80's. I got a free room, so back in March we went to the Andaz in Napa, a high-end Hyatt property typically like $400 a night.  
 Horrible experience; the people in the next room had a drunken fight, the cops came, etc.  I wouldn't have minded so much but the family was with me.  Fortunately daughter snoozed soundly through the whole thing, bless her heart.

Anyway the next morning I spoke to the manager, he was sympathetic and said they would comp me some points so we could try again, etc.

By mid-April I hadn't heard back so I emailed him.  Never got a response.  So I just drafted a 2-page paper letter to Hyatt, complete with cc's and attachments.  Let's see what happens now.

  • Even very expensive hotels still get scumbags and sociopaths.
  • Corporations hide their physical/snail-mail addresses, directing you to "response forms" and limiting your comments to a few dozen characters.  As it was I couldn't find an address for Hyatt Corporate Management; I had to send my letter to the Points Program in Omaha.
  • Keep records.
  • What do I expect, going to Napa, where all entertainment revolves around getting drunk?  Bad choice.

Postscript 8/12/14 -- Hyatt HQ got back to me with a gracious apology and a load of points, so thanks to them.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Greek Festival!

When I heard the radio spot for the Greek festival at the Greek church in the Oakland Hills this weekend, I immediately knew what we'd be doing on Saturday.

The Cathedral of the Ascension is a fairly impressive structure in a nice neighborhood, next to the equally imposing Mormon temple, and the posh manicured grounds of a private school.  It is high in the Oakland hills with sweeping views of the Bay.

The grounds are a complete compound.  The center of course is the cathedral, very impressive inside with a vaulted and gilded (or some sort of metallic application) dome.  Along with the church they have elaborate facilities: kitchens, dining halls, ancillary chapels, a well-equipped playground...well-organized for hosting large crowds and putting on events.

I'm happy to report an excellent time.  Much delicious food -- lambs-on-spits, gyros, souvlaki, spanakopita, pastries....the event was very well organized and managed.  In contrast with your average hippie fiasco event at Golden Gate Park, the Greeks are responsible and know what they're doing.  The food stalls were clean, well-run and the food was great.  Ample seating, tables with sun-shades.  No overflowing trash cans, no riff-raff.  Lots of cheerful respectable older guys in Sansa-belts, probably running prosperous plumbing supply houses or wholesale stone and tile shops.

It was nice to see the kids dance groups -- heartening to see kids engaged in something besides playing video games or texting.

Overall an atmosphere of prosperity, respectability, and bourgeois gemutlichkeit.  Then we descended from the hills to confront tattoos, trash, pit bulls, schizophrenics, surly fixie-riders, etc., etc. 

It was interesting to me to see such an evidently prosperous Greek-affiliated facility.  And there are several of these big Greek churches around the Bay area.  I mean, I haven't really been aware of any Greek community here of any size.  There are of course large communities of Chinese here, and Koreans, and Russians -- I even know where to find the Bay Area Afghan community -- but I don't know many Greeks, I don't know of any "Greek Town," or where to go to find all the Greek shops and restaurants.  But they are evidently here, and in numbers large enough to support these churches -- a large stealth community of well-off Hellenics, who knew?