Category Archives: Odds and Ends

Wal-Mart with waterfront view

Crossing the Do-Nut Belt

On January 27, I was driving from Dallas, Texas to St. Marys, Georgia on backroads. I collected all the funny bits for my sister, as a belated birthday present.

Junk-food Mardi Gras cape
All hail the Krewe of Junk Food
The Gulf coast visitor’s center had a display of sequined Mardi Gras finery. My favorite was the one featuring hot dogs, hamburgers, and popcorn containers.

In one small town: “Not Your Mother’s Tavern”
In another: “Mom’s Bar”
In a third: “Mother Clucker’s.”

Baton Rouge has a place called “Schlitz & Giggles: Silly Name. Serious Pizza.”

I usually get a kick out of church signs. When I did a Google search, I realized many of them are not original. The fact that they come from sayingsforchurchsigns.com, rather than from God himself, takes the fun out of it.

Donuts. Did you know the US has a Do-Nut Belt? Shipley’s Do-Nuts says it’s Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas and Tennessee. As I drove, I noted dozens of hole-in-the-wall places with no pretentious hyphen in “donut”: Dee Dee Donuts, the Donut Palace, Donut King, and my personal favorite, the Texas Donut Ranch.

I didn’t succumb to either donuts or Do-Nuts.

But it was touch-and-go when I saw a roadside sign saying “Original Homemade Sausage Jalapeño Cheese Bread, one mile,” with an arrow pointing left. I will always regret not stopping.

I will never regret stopping at Ozzy’s. I got love in a takeout container.

Strangers Have the Best Candy at the Russell Stover factory
Strangers Have the Best Candy at the Russell Stover factory

Dick took my picture at the Russell Stover Factory. I know you’ll roll your eyes at this. That’s why I didn’t buy you any.

There was a big green interstate sign for Baptist Pumpkin Center. Without punctuation, I have no idea what that means. Where is the Methodist Pumpkin Center? And the Buddhist Pumpkin Center?

Next Left: Dead Man Road. Followed by a smaller sign saying “Cemetery.” Dunno who else would want to live there.

On any given day, along Interstate 10, thousands of people see the memorials to Buddy, Amanda, Ben, Brian, Wesley, and the Dobbins family. Their descansoes, or roadside memorials, feature lettering large enough to read at 75 mph.

At a slightly slower speed, I drove for five minutes past acres and acres of stored FEMA trailers. In the past decade, they have been replaced by manufactured homes, and there are many businesses that thrive on such things: “House Moving, Lifting, and Leveling.” Fueled by donuts, no doubt.

Speaking of housing, did you know you can buy a whole acre of residential beachfront property in Pascagoula for only $159,000?

Wal-Mart with waterfront view
Looking north, looking south

Just down the road is the most incredible view I’ve ever seen from a Wal-Mart.

Another pretentious sign: “Mississippi Gulf Coast: A Certified Retirement Community.” Certified by whom? Evidently, I’m not the only one to ask that question. Even the Wall Street Journal has a sense of humor about such things as ticks, chiggers and snakes.

One last comment: Even if Cretin Homes is named after the company’s owner, I’d change it.

Thanks to North Carolina

Some people get excited about five star hotels or other fancy lodgings. I’m not usually one of them. I was about half-way between Columbus, Ohio and St. Marys, Georgia, on the last leg of a 2000 mile Thanksgiving road trip. I just needed a quick stop for the night.

I got the last room in a cheap motel, just into North Carolina, in Mt. Airy. They claimed it was clean. They said it wasn’t fancy. Apologetically they mentioned that if I’d called earlier I wouldn’t have got a room on the side for long-term rentals. They told me how to connect to the internet, with two networks, one that probably wouldn’t reach, and the other which sometimes needs to be reset.

I read somewhere that more vacations are “ruined” by dirty motel rooms than anything else. Fortunately I’m tolerant. The lights were dim. A lamp shade didn’t stay on. To my nose, there was only a hint of stale smoke. The space heater wasn’t quite up to the job, with temperatures below freezing this night. The blanket was thin. I tried to connect to the internet. Half-way there, but no luck. The staff was about and tried to reboot it. It didn’t help, and I didn’t ask again. I even tried to break into their access point (EASY!) and see if I could somehow fix something. (NOPE!) While I worked on this, with a warm laptop in my lap, the room heated up a little bit. I then dressed in enough clothes to sleep peacefully in the cool room overnight.

In the morning, I took a shower. The hot water was fantastic. The shower…well…In boatyards and marinas, I normally shower in my crocs, just in case. They dry easily, and my shoes are clean when I’m done! This was my first motel shower this way. No problem, I’m used to it. A long hot shower on a cold day is one of my absolute favorite things in the world!

I hit the road looking for breakfast. The motel hadn’t even had coffee I wanted to drink. My standards are higher for food than lodging. At least a little. I avoid fast food, especially for breakfast. I figured that a Denny’s would do, if that was the best I could find at a freeway exit. An hour down the road, I saw a sign for Toast Cafe at the Davidson, North Carolina exit. The name was promising. I got a little lost, pulled over, and tried to find a decent breakfast diner with Yelp. I re-found Toast, a mile away, and drove there.

I walk in to see the Saturday morning brunch crowd filling all the tables. I was glad to be eating alone—I got a seat at the bar instead of waiting. I saw a sign for the 2013 “Best Breakfast in Charlotte” posted on a mirror.

I ordered an avocado bacon and tomato omelet, and ordered grits for my side dish, after a reassuring answer my vague question “Oh yeah, I’m in the South again. I bet you do grits right.” When the waitress asked me later about the grits, I said that they were wonderful, and mentioned my unfounded fears of the grits put in little packets by Quaker. I think I saw her shudder as she said something sympathetic about instant grits. After two cups of coffee I was plenty caffeinated already, so the staff sent me on the road with a travel cup of decaf.

In honor of Thanksgiving, I’m going to express my gratitude: To North Carolina for a night’s rest, a wonderful hot shower, and a fantastic breakfast. And to myself for low expectations!

18 degrees of freedom, Four nailed down

I’m not sure I’m counting right when I say 18 degrees of freedom. Really counting it and figuring out which ones are independent of each other would probably give me a headache. Either that or make a good problem for a college mechanical engineering class, which I’m not qualified to teach.

I’ve got an arch to build. I’ve built two legs and a curved top. I want to attach it to Flutterby so that it is properly aligned with the back of my hard dodger to support three big solar panels. I had built all three pieces by the time I left this boatyard last summer. I had started trying to figure out how to fit them together then, but left before I finished.

When I returned, I was dreading this complicated set of decisions, so I decided to make easier progress on the hard dodger, as all the complicated decisions like this were already made. having done some good work there, I’m back at it again.

The saying goes “measure twice, cut once.” If you know how long a piece you want, you only have one measurement. Double-check it and then cut it! That isn’t my problem.

I put the three parts temporarily over the cockpit, about where they will go. Then I started measuring. Two measurements doesn’t even get me started. I’ve got two plumb bobs to check if each leg is at the same angle fore-and-aft. and also inboard/outboard. I’ve got two more to check the height and position of the arch. I’ve got marks where the outside edges of the solar panels will go on both the arch and the back of the dodger. I’ve got rails balanced between the two of them so I can check both that the arch and the back of the dodger are parallel, and that the solar panel edges are at a right angle to both arches. I can check the angle of the dodger, the arch, and the connecting rails with a level. To tweak things right, I’ve got six strings tied to the legs and tugging them in various opposing directions.

Last week, I did something big. I decided to drill four holes. The day before yesterday, I actually drilled two holes in the base of each leg. Doing it took a bit of creative work with a drill press, and it was while an amazing front was blowing through, complete with a tornado warning on my phone and the lights flickering a couple times.

Yesterday I did the next step. Put everything back up together, and drilled two holes into the boat, and put in screws. Boom. Now the bottom of each leg is located in two dimensions. Four degrees of freedom nailed down. 14 to go (plus or minus a few!)

Deciding how to decide can be the toughest part.

The actual decision is easier, but can be tedious. You have been warned. If your eyes glaze over a couple sentences into the next paragraph, just give up and skip to the last paragraph!

Today I went back and re-measured a couple things. Discovered that two measurements didn’t agree with each other. The two rails that should be parallel weren’t perpendicular to the same thing. Scratched my head a bit. Re-measured and found out that the marks where I was locating the outside rails were not the same distance apart on the arch that they were on the dodger. Oops. Fixed that. Noticed that my beam is twisted a bit, with one corner up about a half inch compared to the other. Found that I could clamp it flat without too much effort, and figured I’d do that when I glued it all together. Noticed that while the wheel is vertical, and that the stainless pipe on the front of the binnacle is NOT vertical. Now i know which one to look at when I’m checking the legs.

And I decided that I don’t care if the legs are exactly vertical or not. My masts aren’t at the same angle either, and the boat doesn’t float upside down from that. I still need to set that angle, and I’ve decided I’ll do it based on where it puts the front of the solar panels with respect to the front of the dodger instead. It matters more to me, and it is easier to measure. Double-win!

Another decision. In the morning I’ll re-check a bunch of measurements, and drill two more holes and put in two more screws. I’ll have the fore-and-aft angle of both legs set. Two more degrees of freedom nailed down. I’m chipping away at it. Pretty soon I’ll be epoxying the whole thing together!

Seeking the joy of Facebook

Confession time: I have a dysfunctional love-hate relationship with Facebook.

Today I’m living alone in a boatyard outside of a small town in Georgia. I don’t plan to be here much longer, which is good because I don’t have any close friends here. I am more isolated than I want to be.

Enter, Facebook. Most of my friends are on Facebook. Some of you lurk. Mostly that is what I have done. Some of you share your greatest joys, like your marriage, or moving in to start a new, joyful relationship. Some of you share your sorrows, like the loss of a pet, or your frustrations like that amazingly bad date. Some of you share lighter parts of your life, like a picture of your cat, or your amazing Halloween costume.

And even when I’m not getting that, you share all sorts of interesting things too. If it wasn’t for Facebook, I might have missed the cute catchy song and video “All about that bass (no treble)” I’m certain that if it wasn’t for Facebook, I would have missed the even cuter Star Wars parody of it “All about that base (no rebels)

Facebook gives me a chance to reach out and have a genuine connection with you, my friends and family. Even when I’m thousands of miles away, which I am today. I LOVE this!

More often I don’t. Remember “All about that base?” I look at what someone is up too…and wistfully think how I’d like to be closer. Then I distract myself by following one of you to George Takai’s page… Or that thoughtful article about current events… Or I see a shared link that looks like misinformation and take go trip over to Snopes or Google to fact check, and try to put my finger over that leak in the dike as if it will make a difference… Or get irked by the click-bait teaser links that Upworthy.com is famous for…even when I really like what they are saying.

The next thing I know, two hours have gone by. I’m still on Facebook. And I haven’t had a genuine experience with anyone. I just checked out for two hours, and cannot get those hours back. Facebook as a business model based on making me spend those hours. Facebook has spent millions on research and coding to keep me engaged. They don’t care whether I feel good or bad after I’ve spent those hours, as long as I come back.

This is my Facebook news feed dilemma. I know I’m not alone. Every week or two one of my friends announce some sort of Facebook hiatus, temporary, indefinite, or permanent. I said something about this topic to a friend on the phone. There was no need to explain it. She totally knew. Months ago, another friend chose not to put FB on her phone, only using it on her computer. (I haven’t asked if she is still resisting!)

I resisted using Facebook on my phone too. By the time I got the app, Facebook had done something interesting: Split the mobile app into two different ones: Facebook (for browsing) and Messenger (for chatting).

That inspired a plan for me!

  • Embrace Facebook Messenger. I’ll try to have it open when I’ve got my phone on to receive texts or calls. I welcome all of my Facebook friends to say “Hi” anytime.
  • Limit my use of the Facebook app. It is just a new view into my news feed complete with the same old problems.
  • Share more small parts of my life on Facebook. If it is worth writing for more than five minutes, it is worth writing on my blog instead. (like this) Then share it on Facebook.

If you are struggling with your own relationship with Facebook, or are one of my few remaining friends and family that only read this on my blog, and and aren’t on Facebook, don’t let me drag you into Facebook’s tenacious embrace. Please email, call, or text me directly!