A Costco-Walmart Adventure

A couple of days ago I received a call from a friend. She needed to go shopping for groceries. Being a Lion whose motto is We Serve, I jumped at the opportunity. Most sane people would have found a simpler service project, but not me. I had to drive 45 minutes to get to the starting point of this adventure. The friend is a caretaker, and her latest job is taking care of Norma a 101 year old lady without any family. She relies completely on the people she hires to do her favors.

Traffic was light at 2:00 in the afternoon, and I got to the house in forty minutes not forty-five. My friend was waiting for me at the door, and we were ready to go. I asked her if she had a key to the house to get in, She waved the key at me, “good” I said. “Did the lady give you money to shop with?” She dug into her purse and pulled out two blue cards one debit, and the other a credit. “Good,” I said again. “My lady wants me to go to Costco,” said my friend. “Did she give you her membership card?” Again, digging in her purse, she whipped out a Costco card. “Great,” I said, “let’s get going.”

Neither of us had a clue as to where the Costco was. Thank God for cell phones. We both found the address for the nearest one and I pumped the location into the GPS. We were off for an adventure.

I joined a Costco back in the nineteen-eighties when an agent came to our company to sell memberships. I bit on the bait and joined. The store was immense, but not convenient. Prices on things were good, but I don’t buy a TV every week or month. I was more interested in food. The Costco hook is packaging. The prices are good, but one must buy a package. For a can of tuna at a low price I might have to buy a package of twelve cans. My membership ran out and I never rejoined, but I did join Sam’s Club which was much closer to my home.

We started shopping in the meat department. My friend loves chicken wings and drum sticks. She picked up two discreet packages and went home with 32 drum sticks and 48 wings. Thankfully, four drum sticks were packaged in one plastic unit, but there were eight units to a package. The price was low, but who will eat that many drumsticks before the last one goes bad in the freezer? I figure it’ll be June, 2021 before they run out of drumsticks. We spent a lot of time looking for stuff and passing most bargains. My friend told me that the last caretaker was asked to leave. “Why,” I asked? “Norma told me that her last caretaker spent over $400 at Costco. I took a quick count of what was in our basket. “Do you realize we have over $130 dollars worth of groceries in the basket right now, and we have a lot of shopping left to do?” She thought about it for a second and said, “lets check out and go to Walmart.”

At the register I pushed the debit card into the reader and got a message “enter your PIN.” What? Do you have the PIN?”

“What is a PIN?” she asked me. The second card was the same. I reached for my wallet and pushed my American Express card into the reader. “We don’t accept American Express,” said the clerk.

“Oh shit, you mean to tell me the largest retailer in the world does not accept the number one card in the world?”

“Sorry sir.” I pulled out my emergency VISA and paid.

We managed to find a Walmart about five miles away and finished the shopping minus two items, Italian bread, and Biscotti. The total between the two stores was $320. At least we didn’t spend $400.

We spent an hour in Costco, and another hour in Walmart before we began to find our way back. It was dark, and thankfully I had the GPS to guide me. It was about six p.m. when we parked in the drive. My friend said she would go in first, check her client, and then open the garage door so we could unload quickly.

Two minutes later my friend reappeared, “can you help me?”

“What is wrong?”

“I can’t open the door.” I took the key from her and tried it on the two locks. It worked fine on the dead bolt, but it didn’t move on the regular lock. “We need two separate keys to open this door,” I said. “Now what?”

My friend began ringing the door bell. “Norma can wheel herself over and open the lock for us.” After several minutes and a lot of ringing, we peered through the side-light window and saw Norma slouched in her wheel chair and vigorously pointing toward the left. My friend went to the side yard only to learn that the gate was locked. She went to the opposite side and found the same. “Maybe Norma was pointing at the neighbor,” I said. We quickly went to the next house and rang the bell, and told the neighbor our story. It turns out the neighbor didn’t have a key either. The neighbor lady said “I’ll call the police.”

It took about five minutes for a cop to arrive. He listened to our story and said he would be back. He went to his patrol car to get his lock pick. By the time he came back, a fire truck arrived with three firemen. They went straight for the door with a tool that looked like a battering ram. “Oh great, now we will get in, but we’ll have a door that doesn’t close again.” Lady Luck was with us because within two minutes they had the door open and they rushed in to see if Norma was okay. My friend followed them. I stayed outside with the cop who insisted on seeing identification and asked for more information. “This happens a lot,” he said.

“Yeah, well it has never happened to me,” I said. I realized later that he meant this happens a lot at this house. My friend came out to ask me in, and the cop asked if he could go in to check on Norma too. “Of course,” she said. The cop and Norma were acquainted with each other and spoke for a few minutes. After he left we lifted Norma back into her wheel chair. I was right she had slid down while trying to come to the door and was inches from sliding onto the floor.

Finally, I unloaded the groceries into the garage. As we were going in and out Norma kept warning us not to let her cat out. On about the second trip, I looked up and saw the cat at the edge of the garage door looking out. My friend looked up and saw her too. Immediately she ran toward the house to scare the cat back into the house. That is all I would have needed to make the night complete, a missing cat. Thankfully, the cat skedaddled back into the house and we shut the door behind her.

I wished my friend good luck and left. I got home by 8:00 p.m. The first thing I did after relieving myself was to pour a generous shot of whiskey over ice to reward a successful service call.

Believe it or not!

GOD’S Accuracy

GOD’S ACCURACY 

 When GOD solves our problems, we have faith in HIS abilities. When GOD doesn’t solve our problems, HE has faith in our abilities. 

One may observe God’s accuracy in the hatching of eggs. . . . 
those of the canary in 14 days;
those of the barnyard hen in 21 days;
eggs of ducks and geese in 28 days;
those of the mallard in 35 days;
the eggs of the parrot and the ostrich hatch in 42 days. (Notice, they are all divisible by seven, the number of days in a week!) 

 See God’s wisdom in the making of an elephant. . . . 
The four legs of this great beast all bend forward in the same direction. No other quadruped is so made.
God planned that this animal would have a huge body – too large to live on two legs. For this reason He gave
it four fulcrums so that it can rise from the ground easily. The horse rises from the ground on its two front legs first.
A cow rises from the ground with its two hind legs first.  How wise the Lord is in all His works of creation!  Each watermelon has an even number of stripes on the rind.  Each orange has an even number of segments. 
Each ear of corn has an even number of rows. 
Each stalk of wheat has an even number of grains. Every bunch of bananas has on its lowest row an even number of bananas, and each row decreases by one, so that one row has an even number and the next row an odd number. 

 Amazing! There’s more…  The waves of the sea roll in on shore twenty-six to the minute in all kinds of weather.  All grains are found in even numbers on the stalks.  God has caused the flowers to blossom at certain specified times during the day. Linnaeus, the great botanist, once said that if he had a conservatory containing the right kind of soil, moisture, and temperature, he could tell the time of day or night by the flowers that were open and those that were closed.  The lives of each of us may be ordered by the Lord in a beautiful way for His glory, if we will only entrust Him with our lives. If we try to regulate our own lives, we will have only mess and failure.  Only God, who made our brains and hearts, can successfully guide them to a profitable end.  

When you carry the Bible, Satan has a headache; when you open it, he collapses.  When he sees you reading it, he loses his strength, and when you stand on the Word of God, Satan can’t hurt you! And did you also know…  …that when you are about to forward this email to others, the devil will probably try to discourage you, but do it anyway. Life without God is like an unsharpened pencil – it has no point.

 I pray God bless you in ways you never even dreamed. I didn’t think twice about forwarding this one – and I hope you don’t, either. Pass on the blessings!!

PSA-201229-Some Levity Quotes

“There are a number of mechanical devices which increase sexual arousal, particularly in women. Chief among these is the Mercedes-Benz.”  Lynn Lavner 

“It isn’t premarital sex if you have no intention of getting married.”  George  Burns 

“Women might be able to fake orgasms, but men can fake a whole relationship.” Sharon  Stone  

“Hockey is a sport for white men. Basketball is a sport for black men. Golf is a sport for white men dressed like black pimps.” Tiger Woods  

“My mother never saw the irony in calling me a son-of-a-bitch.”  Jack Nicholson 

“Clinton lied. A man might forget where he parks or where he lives, but he never forgets oral sex, no matter how bad it is.”   Barbara Bush (Former US First Lady)     

“Ah, yes, divorce, from the Latin word meaning to rip out a man’s genitals through his wallet.” Robin Williams  

“There’s a new medical crisis. Doctors are reporting that many men are having allergic reactions to latex condoms. They say they cause severe swelling. So what’s the problem?” Dustin Hoffman  

“There’s very little advice in men’s magazines, because men think, ‘I know what I’m doing. Just show me somebody naked.” Jerry Seinfeld  

“See, the problem is that God gives men a brain and a penis and only enough blood to run one at a time.” Robin Williams  

“It’s been so long since I’ve had sex, I’ve forgotten who ties up whom.” Joan Rivers 

“Sex is one of the most wholesome, beautiful and natural experiences money can buy. “ Steve Martin  

“Bigamy is having one wife too many. Monogamy is the same.” Oscar Wilde

Manual vs Automated

Last week I read a short article about a forensic investigation on a voting machine used in one of the battleground states. There was one word in the piece that disturbed me to the point of losing sleep, i.e. algorithm. Somehow the word algorithm flies in the face of the performance of a voting machine. I’m sure there is a very good reason for using algorithms in such a device, but I sure as hell can’t understand it.

As an engineer who dealt with designing machines most of his life my design would have had a very simple function, count and add. I am sure the two words are redundant since counting is a form of adding. So let’s just say I would have designed the voting machine to do one thing, count. Of course there would be multiple counters inside, one for each candidate being voted for. If I wanted to doll it up and charge more money for my design I would have added a total count summary for each candidate, and a simple feature to compare the votes of competing candidates with a highlight on the candidate with the most votes. End of design. Not a single algorithm is needed or used. I suppose to determine the winners an algorithm could be used.

What is an algorithm? A set of instructions. Here is an excerpt from an article explaining algorithms

” An algorithm, for the non-programmers among us, is a set of instructions that take an input, A, and provide an output, B, that changes the data involved in some way. Algorithms have a wide variety of applications. In math, they can help calculate functions from points in a data set, among much more advanced things. Aside from their use in programming itself, they play major roles in things like file compression and data encryption.. Still confused, I am too, so let me explain it another way like graphically.

Notice that all the questions in the boxes have two possible responses, yes or no. Each response takes you to another branch with a new question, and the same possible responses, yes or no. This goes on until the question is answered or until one gets bored and walks away from the conversation. Facebook and Twitter use very complicated algorithms to screen your activity on their websites.

If you are still confused, then ask yourself if your Local Congressman has the brains to figure it out? If he can, he is probably configuring the algorithm to win the election without getting any votes at all.

What confuses me is why anyone would want to ask questions internally in a voting machine when the original question is answered very simply as yes or no. In fact, in voting you only answer yes to the candidate you select, and ignore the one you don’t want. Your vote then goes to a tally counter to keep count. At the end the counters display the number of votes each candidate received and after that it is a matter of comparing the number of votes to decide the winner. That comparison can be handled by an algorithm. So I guess I would have to use an algorithm in my design. Any other form of algorithm used has to make assumptions which are input by the machine owner. These assumptions may be used to cheat like hell and to steal elections. There has been a lot of conjecture on the part of some politicians that these machines are responsible for electing Hugo Chavez and Nicolás Maduro, his successor, into office in Venezuela.

In my opinion there is no place for algorithms in a voting machine. We have too many elected officials in place to handle the counting process. How simple would it be to have them read and record the counters in any machine that counts votes?

Machine voting is only one complication in the voting system. COVID-19 caused our brainy Congressional leaders to invent a new scheme for voting. They seemed to have a problem with people coming in to vote under the age old polling place system. Too many people will be in one place and spreading the virus they said. It is much better to vote by mail. If I had to choose voting by mail, I would take voting on a reliable certified algorithm free voting machine over the current vote by mail system. My reason for choosing the machine over the current manual mail system will be the source of separate post.

Broken Promise

Back in 2011 I made a promise that I couldn’t keep. My daughter-in-law asked me to make her an intarsia hummingbird. Like always, I dove into the project only to learn that I was not skilled enough to make a hummingbird out of wood. Hummingbirds are tiny. This month I searched the internet for the smallest bird on the planet, only to find out that the Ruby Throat hummingbird is not the smallest. There is a species that is found only in Cuba called the Bee Hummingbird. It is almost half the size of a ruby throated humming bird. Nature just raised the bar on me.

Over the years, I have acquired more skill in Intarsia, and some better equipment too. I decided to give the bird a try. I began by finding the old pattern I had from 2011. The bird on the pattern is huge I thought. Not a realistic hummingbird but one that would be relatively easy to cut. I searched for more patterns only to learn that most intarsia artists make the birds large, almost like I am looking at the bird through a microscope.

I never found a pattern that I liked so I set out to make my own. Google images has pictures galore of humming birds and I found one that was in the correct pose for my piece. I matched the bird against a hibiscus flower which is one of its favorites to feed from. I made a pattern for the flower, a single bloom, and another for the bird, in scale or as close as I could eyeball the true size.

One problem I had with the bird pattern was to get a good photo of the wings. When a humming bird hovers and stands still his wings are beating at 200 strokes per second. Yep you read that right it is 200 hundred strokes per second not minute, they are a blur. For someone like me who is trying to copy the bird in wood that means I have to find some really slo-motion pictures to get an idea of what they look like while beating. I finally decided I can make the wings look like whatever, and no one can challenge me because no one will ever be able to see these wings standing still. That took some pressure off of my mind so I could proceed.

The next challenge was in trying to make something that tiny in two dimensions but looking like it is in three dimensions. I started out that way but changed my mind when I could not see the beauty of the bird in clunky two dimensional wood. I had to make the bird in three dimensions. the next challenge was to determine how to position the bird so it looked real against a flower. When a Hummer hovers up to the flower to suck the nectar out of its stamen he is virtually motionless and not touching the flower in any visible way. I could not see how to put the two forms together in a way that the final product would be believably real. The only way out was to make a flower, and a separate hummingbird and to design a way to make the bird seem like it was hovering in mid-air just microns away from the flower stamen. I won’t divulge my secret, but I made it look real.

When I finally began this work I was coming off a piece titled “Three Roses” which wore me down. The pieces were very tiny and delicate and there were too many of them. I thought the humming bird would be a vacation piece. My initial estimate was two to three weeks. I jumped into the pattern and made it quickly, then selected the woods and began cutting. In about a week I had the flower and the bird cut from the woods. I set it aside for what reason I do not recall, but it sat from May until November, and then I took it up again. And I spent three more weeks finishing the bird and flower.
As in all art work the frame is important in order to showcase the center piece. I decided on a rectangular frame with an elliptical opening for the art. I am an amateur wood worker even after seventy years of practicing. The damn frame almost broke me. The simplest of all cuts became a nightmare, the 45 degree corners. For the life of me I could not get the 45 degree cuts to match when put together. I think I was at 44. 85 degrees and not 45.00 degrees. The end result was a frame that had large openings between sides. I started with an 18 x 14 size frame and before I finished it was down to 17 x 13. I had to continue to trim the pieces until I could get the corners to match perfectly. Since I only make one or to frames a year I will never be able to afford the precision equipment I need to make forty-five degree cuts perfect. The result is in the photos below. I’m still deciding whether my daughter-in-law will get the work.

Enough talking it is time to unveil the masterpiece. “Hummer Breakfast”

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