Home Improvement With Brian J.

My wife has never really liked the kitchen sink at Nogglestead.  An off-white acrylic two-bowl with just room for a bead of caulk between the edge of the sink and the back splash, she never felt it got clean.  So when our faucet began dripping constantly, I knew I had to act with the alacrity to which I respond to most household repairs and/or improvements that reach the “project” level: I acknowledged I’d replace the faucet, and I would replace the sink at the same time.  After all, one set of water connections would be disconnected anyway.

So after enough time elapsed (one cannot say alacrity without first saying alack!), I actually went to the home supply store to see what was available.  I hemmed, I hawed, I slept on it for weeks on end.  Then I decided I wanted a four-hole sink and a faucet that had two valves for the hot and cold.  Then I decided I wanted the standard cartridge type faucet after all, so we could make due with two holes.

My wife knew she wanted stainless steel, so at least I didn’t have that to Handymanlet over for two acts of the drama.

Continue reading “Home Improvement With Brian J.”

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Some Things Cannot Be Unheard

On Saturday mornings, I listen to KMOX radio on the Internet, and heard the following advertisement. I thought it was bad enough hearing it, but I see the company has its own YouTube channel and includes the radio spot along with the bouncing ball to help you sing the jingle.

Oh, my, word.

I don’t know if it was put on the Internet stream only or if KMOX is running this ad, but….


I think I’ve ruined some small part of life for you, too, now.

Also, you might get the privilege of explaining to your wife why she heard that coming from your computer.

(Thanks for the link, Tam.)

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AP Wants Stimulus

The government junkies need more and more stimulus to get their thrill. Witness:

Deep spending cuts by state and local governments pose a growing threat to the fragile economic recovery that is already grappling with high unemployment, depressed home prices and the surging cost of oil.

Lawmakers at state capitols and city halls are slashing jobs and programs, arguing that some pain now is better than a lot more later. But the cuts are coming at a price — weaker growth at the national level.

Get it? Scott Walker and Chris Christie are bringing on the double-dip!

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Watson’s Advantage: Telepathy

Watson, essentially a big fast Google search engine, beat some former Jeopardy! champions. I haven’t written much on it, but I would like to point out an advantage Watson had over the other players: Telepathy.

When a human gets a Jeopardy! answer, he or she reads it and/or hears Alex Trebek speak it. That information passes through the varied input devices and requires interpretation and consideration even before moving onto higher order data processing.

Watson received the clues via telepathy:

On “Jeopardy!” when a new clue is given, it pops up on screen visible to all. (Watson gets the text electronically at the same moment.) But contestants are not allowed to hit the buzzer until the host is finished reading the question aloud; on average, it takes the host about six or seven seconds to read the clue.

The correct text just appears in the search box and Watson clicks “Go.” Imagine the difference between reading this sentence and submitting a SQL query. One is faster than the other, yes?

Forget the buzzer time. I don’t think it’s a fair match until the computer has to optically scan or audiologically receive the question. Just like the humans.

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Book Report: Unsolved Murders & Mysteries edited by John Canning (1990)

This is another British collection of mysteries and true crime pieces. I’ve read this sort of thing before, but I’m too lazy to look in my archives to prove it to you. They’re exceptional idea books for coming up with essays for history magazines, and I have three items on my whiteboard from it.

Published in 1990, it contains a couple of things I remember from my youth: The dingo baby and KAL 007. I asked my wife about them, and she didn’t remember these news items from when we were 10. But I did. Strange, that.

The book includes the normal Jack the Ripper, Lizzie Borden, Rudolph Hess, and the Lindbergh kidnapping, but some other lesser-known stories, including the disappearance of an Australian Prime Minister who might have been a Chinese agent, the explosion of a British ship in Bombay during World War II, and whatnot.

The stories seem pretty straightforward, but the story about Korean Airlines Flight 007, shot down by the Russians, gives 100% credibility to the Russian account, and the book is pretty harsh on the American warmongers when the Maine blows up in Havana. Still, not too bad, just enough to arouse my skepticism.

But this kind of book is a starting point for research, not the definitive account.

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Book Report: The Brookline Shoot-Out: America’s Bloodiest Peace Officer Massacre by Shirley Walker Garton as told to Bradley Allen Garton (1996)

Now, this is an interesting book. It details the Young Brothers’ Massacre/Brookline Shootout that took place right down the road from where I live in the year 1932. A couple local ne’er-do-wells were wanted for shooting the marshal over in Republic (which is where our Walmart and Walgreens are). Word got around to law enforcement that they returned to their mother’s house for the holidays, and when a couple of their sisters show up in Springfield trying to sell a car with Texas plates, the sheriff of Greene County, nine other law enforcement officers, and a civilian observer rode out to the Young farmhouse. As they tried to get into the building, occupants opened fire. By the time the firing stopped, six of the officers were dead. The Young brothers escaped, only to be captured in Texas shortly thereafter.

This book is interesting because it is written by the daughter of an undercover deputy of Greene County who was not at the massacre itself but who served as part of the large group that secured the scene immediately afterward, and it’s “told to” her son. The author and the son remember her father, Roy Walker, talking about it some, and the author gives some of her family history that prompted her to write the book and then talks about the people in the shootout. She relies heavily on a contemporary source, The Young Brothers Massacre by John R. Woodside, for the actual account of the event itself, but she supplements this account with various interviews with people who remembered the event almost sixty years before (most of the interviews are from the mid to late 1980s).

She also throws in a number of photostats of newspapers, original photos, and some poetry. It’s an eclectic blend, part historical account and part story of the investigation. It’s pretty engaging, although it might help that the book is pretty short and she’s not carrying on so for 300 pages.

I’d recommend it.

As I mentioned, this did take place just down the road from me. Some accounts say the house still stands, but it’s at the outside edge of Springfield now, so it might not last for long. Strange, though, that I’ve moved from historical Old Trees to this little house and I’m suddenly abutted on all sides by history.

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A Bridge to the 19th Century

Suspected Cattle Rustler & Officer Shot in Sequoyah County:

Investigators say a Sallisaw police officer accused of rustling cattle in Sequoyah County was shot by the man who owned the cattle Monday afternoon. Police believe the shooting happened on Cherokee Avenue just before 1:00 p.m.

Officers arrested Mark Sweeney, 40, less than an hour after the alleged incident. They say Sweeney shot Officer Wendel Hughes, 35, in the chest. Hughes is accused of stealing more than 100 cattle from Sweeney.

Who needs western novels when you’ve got the news?

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I Go To The Sports Columnists For Provocative Political/Cultural Insight

A St. Louis Post-Dispatch sports columnist compares Albert Pujols to Derek Jeter. A keen insight, but is that what I remember? No, it’s the gratuitous shot at Fox News:

To all of you who have written to offer your kind (and not so kind) opinions on my opinion, let me clear a few things up. While I appreciate the fact that some of you don’t agree with my viewpoint, you are missing a critical point. I am not paid to make sure that every opinion I write aligns perfectly with yours. Neither am I paid to be fair and balanced. You want that, turn on Fox News (pause for the laugh track).

I’d write him a letter, but 1, I’m lazy, and 2, he would groove on it. It would ratify his worldview and his perception that he’s a speaker of truth-to-power.

Instead, I’ll go back to ignoring him as usual.

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Book Report: The River of Used To Be by Jim Hamilton (1994)

This is a collection of columns written by the editor of the Buffalo Reflex, a paper up in Dallas County. As such, it’s not a true memoir; instead, it’s a bit bland, driven by deadlines and the easy columns at some points.

There are some gems in it, such as his tale about cold weather camping or a couple of his imaginative tall tales regarding Christmas. Unfortunately, the really good things stand out so much from the common seasonal musings or the progress-is-destroying-what-I-remember templates.

The most poignant thing about the book is outside the text: it’s dedicated to his daughter who died her freshman year of college. The same as my freshman year of college. There’s a column about his daughters, there’s a column about her going to school, and then a column about moving out of his house where they all lived. I think it’s more striking because the book alludes to it and because she was born just two months before I was.

If you’re deeply into Ozarkania, it might be worth a browse.

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Book Report: The Executioner: Code of Honor by “Don Pendleton” (2009)

This is a 2009 (!) entry in the Executioner series. I’ve skipped quite a few since I’ve gotten away from the original Don Pendleton ones, hey? I’m actually surprised to see they’re still writing them.

In this outing, Mack Bolan joins up with a band of assassins called the Black Cross to destroy them from within. Apparently, they’ve been commissioned to take out some government types who are looking into a defense project gone bad. Good on the author of this book: he or she managed to make the ultimate bad guy a member of the government. How modern.

It’s kind of strange the time-warping going on: the first guy killed by the Black Cross is a retiree of the government and a veteran of the Gulf War. Granted, Gulf War veterans aren’t getting that old yet, but you have to remember Mack Bolan is a Vietnam veteran. One of the Black Cross is a sixty-something martial arts expert, and the book says she’s three times Bolan’s age. Uh.

Yeah. So the book again isn’t one of Pendletons. It’s not one of the worst in the series, either, from what I have seen in my limited reading. However, everyone uses a different exotic gun, which the author gives in appropriate names and numbers, but there seems to be a basic misunderstanding about them. The word clip appears throughout instead of magazine, although the correct word crops up from time to time. Other times, the book talks about big guns chambered in .223. Uh. Right.

Additionally, the characters in the book, experts all, do some strange tactical things. One throws a knife from a distance and pins a good guy to the asphalt through his thigh, while under fire, and then she decides to use the grenades. Or when Mack Bolan is fighting his grandmother (who, if he is a Vietnam veteran, is actually closer to his age than 3x), he’s wearing a gun in a holster but doesn’t want to waste the couple of precious seconds it would take to get it out. Until, of course, the martial arts expert knocks him around for a while and then it’s time to take the risk of drawing the firearm.

If you can get around those sorts of suspensions of gaffes, as I could in this book because its pacing is brisk enough, you can enjoy this book for what it is: an adult comic book in prose. Why, the back pages even still have a form you can fill out to subscribe and get 6 new novels of this caliber (.223) every two months. Man, strangely, I was tempted. At one point in my youth, being in Gold Eagle’s stable of writers and cranking out one or two books like this every month would have been a dream job for me.

The worst thing about the book: In the end pages, again, a teaser for another book in another Gold Eagle line, Rogue Angel: The Spirit Banner:

The archeological find of the century… or a con?
When a long-sought-after map to Genghis Khan’s tomb is located, not everyone is convinced it’s authentic–archeologist Annja Creed among them. Despite her skepticism, Annja suddenly finds herself pulled along an increasingly complex trail of clues, each more remote than the last. Soon it appears that the only tomb Annja may find is her own!

Dammit! Last year when I was reading the magazine article and book on Genghis Khan, I wanted to write a book about the search for Genghis Khan’s missing spirit banner.

Those cursed fellows at Gold Eagle are like an infinite number of monkeys with an infinite number of typewriters with an infinite number of history books. Any quick thriller plot you can think of, they have published already.

At any rate, this was the last of the Executioner novels on my to-read shelves. Until I got my birthday present, which my four-year-old called “Gun Books” after returning from birthday present shopping with Mommy: 47 Executioner paperbacks from early in the series. I hope you like the reviews as much as I like the books, because the future will hold many more of them. Also, I don’t need six new ones every two months now.

Books mentioned in this review:

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A Good Metric

Iraq wants the US to pay for damage to Baghdad:

Iraq’s capital wants the United States to apologize and pay $1 billion for the damage done to the city not by bombs but by blast walls and Humvees since the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.

The city’s government issued its demands in a statement on Wednesday that said Baghdad’s infrastructure and aesthetics have been seriously damaged by the American military.

Harvey zooms in on this piece:

Baghdad’s neighborhoods have been sealed off by miles of concrete blast walls, transforming the city into a tangled maze that contributes to massive traffic jams. Despite a sharp reduction in overall violence in recent years only 5 percent of the walls have been removed, officials said.

Harvey sez:

Baghdad’s biggest problem isn’t secret police, torture rooms, mass graves, or a brutal dictator with a bad moustache, it’s traffic jams.

I think that means we won.

I say: Almost.

We won’t truly have won until Baghdad has built enough bike paths, banned indoor smoking, and issued enough personal diversity statements. And maybe graduated enough comic book historians.

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Do Wisconsin State Legislators Have To Vote In The Capitol?

In Wisconsin (and near Wisconsin, as the case may be), the Democrats in the State Senate have fled the state to prevent a quorum in a vote they would lose (some about it here). They’ve holed up in a hotel called the Clock Tower Resort in Rockford, Illinois (just over the border from Beloit). I mean, really, who thought that would be a good idea? Am I the first to come up with Wisconsin Democrats Climb Clock Tower?

My question is this: Does the legislature have any way to vote outside the capital? Can the Senate choose to hold its votes elsewhere in case of emergency or other circumstances? Can the Wisconsin Senate go to Illinois?

Because I think a bus full of Republicans chasing a bus full of Democrats down I-39 into Bloomington would be riveting television. I’d tune in.

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Book Report: Goldfinger by Ian Fleming (1959)

It’s been a while since I’ve seen the film, but compared with reading the book, I have to remember the movie as being paced better. Maybe it wasn’t; it was, after all, a movie of the sixties.

James Bond comes into contact with Auric Goldfinger, a wealthy Brit with a lust for gold, in America, where he foils a little card game con Goldfinger ran. In Britain, Bond is tasked with finding out what Goldfinger is up to. Actually, the Bank of England suspects he’s draining the country of its gold reserve, but they can’t prove it. Bond plays a round of golf with Goldfinger and then follows him to Switzerland, gets kidnapped, and added to the plot to rob Fort Knox.

The movie’s plot differs significantly, particularly in the last plot point (the Fort Knox operation) and in pacing. The first third of the book deals with the American trip, the second with the golf game (I’ve only shot 9 holes of golf in my life, and the details of the golf game in this book go on that long–Fleming was into golf, and he shared his knowledge), and the third with the assault on Fort Knox and the denoument after that fails.

Sadly, I think the movie is better.

Also, something struck me when they were talking about Oddjob, and it wasn’t a deadly bowler: that esoteric martial art that made him so exotic and so lethal? Karate. In 1959, it made killing machines. In 2011, I’m taking my four-year-old to karate classes.

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Doubtless, He Holds An Advanced Degree

I was reading this meaningless press release about the Marvel Universe and its latest goings on and encountered this job title:

Comic book historian Alan Kistler agreed: “Spider-Man is a scientist with a different perspective than Mr. Fantastic, and he specializes in different fields, so it could be very interesting to see how his own expertise rounds out this new Future Foundation. And from another angle, it could be interesting to see how Spidey feels about essentially replacing a person he considered a friend and what kind of pressure this will place on him.”

So do you think comic book historians have a deep grounding in Western Civilization or world history or does their specific training come in lieu of it?

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