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Among my earliest childhood memories is going into my grandfather’s garage/workshop/toolshed. In Germany in the 1950ies,  that was a wooden shed with a dirt floor. He had a few motorcycles with side cars stored there. There was a workbench full of tools, and tools were hung all over the walls. I remember being grossed out by all the spiderwebs everywhere. The tools all looked ancient. They were rusty and heavily used, or so they seemed to my 4-year-old eyes.

In the current edition of Popular Mechanics Magazine, on page 67, I found this unassuming article in the side bar. The Forever Hammer. Here it is, and it tells about the Estwing Rip. I will let you read the article now, since it sets the stage for the rest of my comments.

This is what makes Estwing more than a hammer. It’s a piece of expertise wrought in heat-treated steel. Use it for all it’s worth, and pass it down to the next generation of hammer swingers.

This article, benign as it is, written about something as prosaic as a hammer, touched me deeply and brought out a flood of emotions, from nostalgia, to joy, to a sense of history and belonging.

Back to my grandfather: Why do old guys hang on to their rusty tools? When we’re young, we can’t understand that. But I have become my grandfather now myself. And the article reminded me of my own set of hammers.

Yes, you guessed it, they are Estwing hammers.

One summer afternoon in 1981, literally 40 years ago just like in the article above, I went to a hardware store in Phoenix, Arizona and bought two hammers. One was a 28-ounce framing hammer, the other a mason hammer. This is what it looks like new:

My framing hammer spent years of work on my toolbelt when I was in my early twenties and built houses. It has framed a dozen houses. The mason hammer was my trusty tool to lay foundations with cinder blocks, or to build brick fireplaces. After the initial several years of heavy construction use, both hammers became relegated to the tool box in my garage, where the salty Pacific air of Southern California has put a good coat of rust on both hammers. They are now 40 years old, but solid as steel, and they could easily build another dozen houses.

I will never need another framing hammer. I have one. It’s not pretty, but like an old rock ‘n roll song that brings back the feelings of that special moment with that special girl, just looking at my old hammers brings back the hot Arizona wind in my hair, perched on a roof, pulling up trusses and toe-nailing them down on the top plates, the beginning of my adult life, the feeling of endless years ahead with no limits, and the vigor and passion that comes from building something that I know will outlast me.

I will never need another framing hammer. I have one. It’s in my garage in my tool box. It’s rusty. I understand my grandfather now.

It’s one of my most precious possessions.

I just re-read a ten-year-old post about Devin is Off.

He went into the wilderness with the California Conservation Corps famed elite Backcountry Trails Program. About midway through his stay, I hiked in and documented that trip here.

You can see how the dreadlocks had grown over the months in the bush in one of those photographs.

Devin now works full-time for the California Conservation Corps as a manager. This is the back of his business card:

Hard Work. Low Pay. Miserable Conditions and More. That’s the CCC for you.

Now, 10 years later, Devin has been chosen as one of the six Backcountry Trails Program supervisors. He will go out and do the same thing again, but this time as the leader of a team of 18 corps members. He got a coveted slot in Yosemite.

Of course, that means I get to hike into Yosemite to visit him and the team sometime this summer. He says that I’ll only be allowed to visit if I teach a weekend course as a visiting lecturer in some related subject. I am very much looking forward to that adventure.

If you want to learn more about the CCC Backcountry program, visit their website here.

Ben and Leslie Cash live somewhere in the mountains in the State of Washington, off the grid, in cabin in the woods, with their six children. They gave each of the children a made-up name so they would be unique in the world. Their names are Bodevan, Kielyr, Vespyr, Rellian, Zaja and Nai.

The children are homeschooled and unregistered. Even though they have no academic record whatsoever, the 8-year-old can recite the Bill of Rights and give an interpretation. The oldest, Bodevan, has been accepted at Harvard, Stanford and another 10 top universities. Ben is a survivalist and socialist. He teaches his children how to survive in the wild, by hunting, identifying edible plants, and growing their own food. The children have taken it all in and are remarkable each in their own way.

Leslie was a lawyer who gave up her practice to raise the children with their ideals. But she is bi-polar, and her illness starts escalating after giving birth to her first son. Even though he does not believe in modern medicine, Ben sends his wife to get treatment in a hospital near where her sister lives.

While at the hospital, Leslie commits suicide.

The family that can survive anything is almost broken by the loss of their mother. That’s when their battle with the “real world” starts.

In today’s gross-national-product-world, Captain Fantastic depicts a family that tossed it all away in favor of a simpler, yet much harder and harsher world. The elaborate idealism of facing the truth, no matter how adverse, how inconvenient, and how disturbing it might be, will work to some degree, but in the end the children all try to find their own balance and their own way. The question is, can Ben face that reality?

I needed a voltmeter to check why the dome light in my Jeep isn’t working. Is it because the light is bad, or is it because the wires going there are dead?

Last night I went on Amazon and found this device:

Less than 18 hours after I ordered it, today, on a Sunday afternoon, I had it delivered to my door. The entire bill was $12.90. That includes tax, delivery (I’m on Prime, so I don’t pay delivery separately), and the device.

It measures not only AC and DC voltage, it measures current, resistance and temperature, it can be used to test transistors and diodes, and you can test continuity.

This device was made in China.

How on earth can somebody design a complex device like this, manufacture it, ship it all the way from China, sell it on Amazon and give Amazon a profit, ship it to me in less than 18 hours, pay tax, all on $12.90.

That to me is magic.

Now to test my dome light.

Stonewall Peak is one of the more dramatic peaks in San Diego County, and I can’t believe that I haven’t hiked it before in all these years. I have been so focused on the other prominent peaks on the west side of Highway 79 at Cuyamaca, like Middle Peak and Cuyamaca Peak, that I have missed it all these years.

We parked the car at the Paso Picacho campground, which is just a couple of miles south of Cuyamaca Lake on California Highway 79. There is a $10 day use fee to park there, but it’s well worth it, not just for supporting the park, but for the bathrooms, waterspouts, ample picnic areas and all-around safety of a patrolled campground.

[click on images to enlarge]

Here is Trisha with the Jeep. I recently bought an offroad monster so we can get to remote areas at the end of dirt roads that would otherwise not be accessible to us. But not to worry about Paso Picacho. It’s right off the highway and a Prius can do it.

Here is the view of the peak from the parking lot.

The campground’s elevation is 4,881 feet. With the peak at 5,730 feet, the climb is about 900 feet or so. Here is a map of the trail.

You can see the trailhead starts directly across the highway from the entrance. It ascends steadily over exactly 2 linear miles. It took up a leisurely hour or so to make it to the top.

Here is a view of the whole mountain from the beginning of the trail, not obscured by trees.

The entire mountain is dotted with massive oak trees that burned many seasons ago and are now all white, making for some stark and dramatic pictures. You can see the trail is mostly well developed and easy to walk.

Well, mostly: Here is a picture of me at the top of a rougher section, of which there are plenty. In the lower left you can see remnants of the last snow, which fell about a week ago, which reportedly covered the Cuyamaca area with 18 inches of powder.

The peak consists mostly of exposed granite. There are some man-made stairs to help hikers across a few more exposed areas at the very top. You can see I am hanging on to the handrails.

 

And finally we reach the peak. It was 51 degrees outside, and the wind was whipping. I put on all my layers and I needed them.

The views are amazing. I took the picture below pointing the camera almost straight down. The stonewall, after which the peak is obviously named, is almost vertical. I would have loved to try this during my rock climbing years. Down in the distance, in the upper right of the picture, is the campground from where we came, and Highway 79 is clearly visible. Some traces of the trail on which we hiked up are also there in the middle of the picture.

Looking up from the same spot, and pointing the camera level to the west, we can see the broad expanse of Cuyamaca with the peak in the middle.

From the same spot, turning north, we can see parts of the mountains of the Anza Borrego desert on the right side. The ridge in the very back, right below the large cloud in the center, is the massive Mt. San Jacinto, with 10,833 feet (3,300 meters) one of the tallest mountains in Southern California.

And when I saw it there I decided to go back there this summer. It’s been a few years.

Hiking Stonewall peak is something you can easily do, waking up on a Sunday morning in San Diego, having a leisurely breakfast with the morning paper, then driving up to the mountains, doing the round-trip hike, and be back home well before sundown. That’s one thing I love about this area: the mountains are right there!

Here is an incredibly bad chart in Bloomberg Businessweek of March 8, 2021 on page 32.

[click to enlarge]

If there were only more colors in the human-visible spectrum to distinguish between Taiwan and South Korea (both yellow in the chart) and Japan, Europe and Other (all grey in the chart) and China and U.S. (both purple in the chart).

The colors notwithstanding, can anyone make sense of this cart, like ascertain the market power of the U.S. chip manufacturers over time using this?

It is incredible to me how obtuse some charts are, even in world-class publications. Somebody spent time on making this and it didn’t down on them that they could use red, green, blue, brown, orange to supplement the colors?

Truly crappy design.

The political right in the United States is taking issue right now about Dr. Seuss’ estate pulling back six of his books. Mind you, nobody was forcing them to do this. They did this after their own initiative.

[click to enlarge]

So check out this drawing. If you don’t see the problem with this picture, and you don’t think it’s objectionable in 2021, YOU ARE THE PROBLEM.

If we have people in the United States Congress who have issues with Dr. Seuss pulling back this book, WE HAVE A PROBLEM.

Ove (Rolf Lassgård) is 59 years old and lives alone in a housing development somewhere in Sweden. He loses his job by a forced retirement program. His wife passed away from cancer six months before. He grieves badly and visits her grave every day. He has no relatives or children. He is the self-appointed master of the condominium association of his little community, even when he was ousted a few years before and his friend Rune was made president instead. He does not care about the official roles, and he rules with an iron fist. Daily rounds include checking for garage doors being locked, gates remaining closed. Driving of any type in the community is forbidden, and leaving a bicycle out is a serious infraction. He is a true curmudgeon and the essence of a grumpy old man.

Parvaneh and her family are refugees from somewhere in the Middle East. She has two children, one of them already school-age, and is pregnant with her next. Her husband is not quite handy with driving, cars, and anything mechanical. Ove has them in his sights immediately. They are very different from the Swedish bourgeoise society, and Ove does not like “different.”

Ove is ready to die and he attempts suicide, only to be interrupted by Parvaneh and her family. An unlikely friendship develops, and gradually he gets drawn back into a semblance of purpose.

This is a Swedish film with English subtitles, but it’s easy to follow along. The Swedish village, the gloomy weather, the way the communities are arranged, elicited eerie memories of my childhood in Germany. Things looked just like it. I also could not help but notice that Ove is 59 years old and I thought of him as an old man. Then I realized that I am five years older than Ove and it was a bit frightening. Please, let me not be like Ove.

A Man Called Ove is a well-crafted film about an ordinary man’s life from childhood to retirement. The film starts at the current time, and frequent flashbacks tell the story of how he became the Ove he is today. It’s a comedy of sorts, but it’s full of life’s truths and realities, and it’s an ode to the human spirit, to friendship, to kindness and to the circle of life.

Juana (Diana Elizabeth Torres) is a Hispanic girl in Oakland, California. She is a young single mother of a school-age girl, and she lives and works with her father. They work incredibly hard, both in several different jobs, just to make ends meet. She wakes up her daughter at 4:00am and gets her ready to school before she goes and prepares fruit for the fruit cart she runs. Her daughter sleeps in the car until she gets dropped off at school. Thugs with guns on the streets rob her of the few dollars she earned and beat her. In her other jobs she cleans offices (and toilets), washes cars, and she has lots of experience as a cook in Mexican restaurants.

When see sees no way out, she notices a help-wanted sign outside an upscale sushi restaurant. She applies for an entry-level kitchen position and gets it. Culture shock engulfs her and her daughter and father when it becomes obvious that Japanese cuisine is completely alien to them. But Juana works hard, learns fast, and quickly becomes noticed in the restaurant by the lead sushi chef. When she aspires to become a chef, she hits several glass ceilings at once. She is a woman. She is not Japanese or at least Asian. She is not authentic.

East-Side Sushi is a predictable story where the heroine lifts herself and her family up against all odds. What I found most rewarding in watching this movie was the depiction of the life of Hispanics in Californian society. We see them as vendors at street corners. We see them in the parks. We see them working in the fields and yards, we see them working in restaurants and in childcare. They are everywhere. They work incredibly hard. They are diligent. This movie gives us a glimpse behind the scenes of what we see in public, and I may think differently next time I see a street vendor selling fruit cups.

In 1968, at the height of the Vietnam war, there is turmoil all over the world. The American military in in Vietnam, in search of morale boosters for the men, is looking for performance acts to tour the country and play music for the troops.

In Australia, Aboriginals had just secured the right to vote. We in America are focused on American injustice through the centuries, particularly in the genocidal crimes against Native Americans, and then, of course, on slavery and racial injustice that reaches into today. But most of us do not know or realize the suppression, humiliation and subjugation other indigenous peoples have suffered and are still suffering. And that brings us to the injustices against the Australian Aboriginals, one of the oldest cultures in the world.

The Sapphires introduces us to an Aboriginal Family in Australia in modern times – well, in 1968. “Coloreds” are not taken seriously. But there are four sisters, Cynthia, Gail, Julie and Kay, who love to sing, and through a coincidence, are discovered by Dave, a hapless musician and talent scout. He takes them under his somewhat less than impressive wing and signs them up to travel to Vietnam to sing for the American soldiers.

While it was not obvious to the girls what they were getting into, a trip to the bush in Vietnam was nothing like a normal music tour. Events take on their own life when bullets fly and bombs hit all around you without warning.

This movie is based on a true story. It celebrates the human spirit, family bonds, and music, and it portrays the lives of modern Aboriginals in Australia.

Here is the list of books that I have read twice or more, as far as I can recall. I started reviewing every book I have read in 2007. For those listed here, read after that, I have included a link to the review and my rating. The ones without links are books I read even the second time decades ago and I do not have a fresh enough memory of them to enable me to write a review. I’d have to read them again first. But there are so many books, so little time…

 

Le Petit Prince – by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (in French, German and English)

The Stand – by Stephen King (4 stars)

An American Tragedy – by Theodore Dreiser

Fathers and Sons – by Ivan Turgenev

Anna Karenina – by Leo Tolstoy

Sons and Lovers – by D. H. Lawrence (3 stars)

Treasure Box – by Orson Scott Card (2.5 stars)

Vox – by Nicholson Baker

Time Pressure – by Spider Robinson (3 stars)

Illusions – by Richard Bach

Jonathan Livingston Seagull – by Richard Bach

The Old Man and the Sea – Ernest Hemingway

Catcher in the Rye – J. D. Salinger (4 stars)

King Rat – James Clavell (4 stars)

Orphans of the Sky – by Robert A. Heinlein

Forever War – by Joe Haldeman (3 stars)

Uncle Tom’s Cabin – by Harriet Beecher Stowe (4 stars)

Mankind has discovered the secret to “faster than light travel” or more specifically, teleportation. It is possible for humans to enter a small machine and be transported to distant worlds instantaneously. The technology is called the Levant-Meyer Translation or LMT for short. It consumes an enormous amount of power. In addition, the travelers only stay out a certain amount of time, before they are pulled back to point of origin. This is called the slingshot effect. The machine can calculate how long and how far the travelers will go.

Using this method, there is a special Agency of Extraterrestrial Development that recruits and trains “Tamers,” young people of superior intelligence, technical and military skills, to first visit other worlds, explore them, and then possibly start colonizing them. Jacque Lefavre is such a tamer.

During his first trip they discover a nonsentient alien animal that, when touched, allows reading of other people’s minds. They call them mindbridges or bridges for short. Using those bridges, the humans also encounter the first sentient alien race, called the L’vrai. They are ancient, star-traveling, and apparently extremely hostile to humans. They do not use the LMT technology, but they have star travel at relativistic speed, and humanity discovers that they are encroaching closer to the human home world, currently hanging around Sirius, just 8.6 light years away.

Earth has to move fast to prepare for this threat.

Mindbridge is an entertaining science fiction story, but not in the class of other Haldeman’s books. My favorite was The Accidental Time Traveler, which I read and reviewed over 10 years ago and gave 4 stars. Of course, Haldeman’s most famous book is The Forever War, which I actually read twice. I liked the concepts of Mindbridge, but some of the implementation and plot content seemed awkward and contrived to me.

Five years ago I read and reviewed the book Endurance by Alfred Lansing. It’s a documentary about Ernest Shackleton, the English explorer who, in 1914, wanted to be the first to cross Antarctica on foot, whose ship Endurance was eventually crushed by the ice, leaving the entire crew stranded on the ice in the Antarctic winter.

Shackleton’s Captain tells the same story, through the eyes of Captain Frank Worsley, who signed up to Shackleton’s expedition to sail the ship. As it turned out, his navigation skills and seamanship was what eventually saved the crew.

The book was graphic and captivating. The movie is a documentary with dramatization, sprinkled with actual film footage and still photographs of the voyage. After watching the film, I must say that while the visual story is strong and powerful, I got more out of it having read the book and being familiar with all the details, which can never be shown in a movie.

I highly recommend both.

Bella and Hector are a reclusive couple who live at a remote farm in the mountains of New Zealand at the end of a dirt road. Bella is a cheery, upbeat person in whose world nobody can do wrong. Hector is a curmudgeon who almost never speaks. He just growls and frowns, and occasionally goes out to hunt a wild boar in the jungle.

Ricky is a foster boy in care of the government child services in the city. His child services officer and a policeman bring him to live with Bella and Hector. Ricky wants nothing to do with them at first, but quickly gets into the rhythm of country life and enjoys the simple routines and respect he gets from them.

When Bella passes away unexpectedly, Ricky and Hector, an impossible pair, have to make things work. Hector does not want to release Ricky back to child services and to an orphanage, and the two flee into the woods.

Soon they are the object of a national manhunt.

I got a kick out of the woods and mountains of New Zealand. I know that Lord of the Rings was filmed there. The woods are entirely different, both in fauna and flora, from what I am used to here in the west of the United States. We have great mountains, wild woods, but they look and feel very different here. New Zealand has no dangerous predators, except wild boars, and after watching a wild boar charge in this movie, I think I’ll deal with a mountain lion instead anytime – well maybe.

The Hunt for the Wilderpeople does not even try to be realistic. It’s a comedy, and it’s hilarious to watch. Ricky, played expertly by Julian Dennison, is a crack-up character, and eventually becomes a mini-Hector. Once I realized it would be a quirky movie, I enjoyed it immensely. I gave it an extra star just for the fact that the movie does not take itself very seriously.

Just sit back and enjoy. You won’t regret it. And while you’re there, enjoy cool New Zealand with its Wilderpeople.

 

 

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