Pete's random thoughts

Monday, April 09, 2007

Freddie is home!

Freddie the cat came home from the hospital today after spending 5 days there with a bad urinary tract infection. Poor little guy. We are really happy with the service from our vet. They really care there, and treat both the animals and owners with respect.

Freddie and I worked out a deal. I was willing to front the money for his vet bill in exchange for his mouse hunting services. He now owes me a LOT of mouse pelts.

In addition to mouse patrol, his other main job is to sit on my lap and help me answer email. He's pretty good at it.

The ironic thing is that the humans in this family don't go to the doctor much. The last time I was treated by a doctor (as opposed to my own folk remedy stuff) was in 2002 when I nearly lost my leg to an infection after an axe accident. By contrast, Buster the dog gets at least a check-up every year when he gets his rabies shot that is required to have a dog license.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Had a little mishap today

It was one of those afternoons. All day was a mixture of sleet, hail, snow and ice, Caleigh was up vomiting last night from a stomach bug, Louise got a huge metal splinter in her thumb, and Freddie the cat got sick enough to bring to the vet.

Of course, the trip to the vet came after I had already made one trip down to civilization and decided that it was just too icy to be out and about. We had ordered more bubble wrap from Staples and it was supposed to be delivered today. I got a call from the delivery guy, who was lost. I got him on track and a few minutes later he called back saying that he couldn't deliver because it was too icy to make it up Breakneck Hill: could I come down to the pavement and meet him?

I took my truck down, and to make it even stupider, the guy only had one box of bubble wrap for me because his van got too full when loading. My truck is 2wd and I have a fairly slick spare tire on the right rear. Nonetheless, I made it up the hill and back here safely. It just took a while, as the wheels spun the whole way.

When we determined it was time for Freddie to go in to the vets for help, I decided to take Wendy's front wheel drive Buick, thinking it would have better traction because of the weight of the engine being right over the drive wheels.

Big mistake.

It has been years since I had a front wheel drive car. Even then, it was a 4-speed. Wendy's Buick is an automatic. I had remembered how good my Plymouth was in the snow, but snow and ice are two different things! Front wheel drive cars "push" on ice, that is, they go straight even after you've turned the wheel. Automatics suck on ice, as you don't have direct control over the wheel speed like in a standard.

Whatever excuse I choose to give, I slid off of the road at a turn near the hill. I was only going 20mph, and the Buick "pushed". Fortunately, traffic is a rarity and there was a nice flat place to slide onto. No damage except to my pride.

On the way back from the vet, I had to get back up that hill. For a moment, I considered going miles out of my way to approach the our road from a flatter direction, then reasoned that if my truck could get up there, so could the Buick. It did, but not until it "pushed" off the road on a turn, stopping right at the edge of a ditch. I backed onto the road and slowly made my way home.

Come on spring!

The antique muskets are SOLD!!!

It took longer than expected, but the 5 dozen antique caplock musket that we imported from Rajasthan are SOLD. It was a mix of 3-band Enfields, 2-band Enfields, Yeomanry carbines, 1842 patterns and an assortment of funky half-stocks. All of them had rack marks and showed signs of either militia or constabulary use.

Most were in fair shape, none were shooters. One or two of them were still loaded after being in storage for a century.

It was a neat project to be involved in, but I wouldn't do it again. We'll probably never get to see so many original guns in one place again, so we took photos of all of them and compiled a data sheet on each one, recording it's rack number, any regimental markings, and any interesting features.

It was fun to have made it happen, but I'm glad it is over with. The antiques being gone frees up that much more space in the gun room for more stuff...

Transcript of 18th century court cases

I got this link from the Smithsonian Museum of History newsletter. It's a listing of court records from "the Old Bailey", the famous British "hanging court".

The home page of the database is here:

For a detailed trial of a case of piracy in 1737, click here.

Pretty cool stuff to read!

Monday, April 02, 2007

My annual rant about the gymnastics show

Caliegh, our 5-year old, takes gymnastics lessons in the next town. Wendy felt it would be good for her to develop good posture. OK, I'll buy that. I've got terrible posture from the hands-in-your-pockets leather jacket clad slouch from when I was a kid. Wendy's is just as bad. Caleigh seems to have a good time at lessons, she gets to hang out with other kids etc.

What bugs me about the whole thing is that it is not as simple and straightforward as you would think. You have to pay for lessons, but first there is a "registration fee". What is the fee for? No idea. As near as I can tell, it is just an opportunity for additional profit.

You gotta buy leotards and gymnastics shoes. OK, this I can deal with. Specialized athletics require specialized clothing.

What bugs me is the "shows". Midway through the year they have a show in the school's regular practice room. That show is intended to give the parents a little update on what the kids can do and it also seems to serve as a promotional event for the school. It is free for the parents to attend, but it there is a $5 fee for each of the kids who participate. You read that right: it costs the kids $5 each to promote the for-profit school.

That one is silly enough, but the one that really stick in my craw is the big recital at the end of the year. Much of the year is spent getting ready for the kids performances. Then you gotta buy the costume (from the school, of course) at an additional fee which, if i recall, is $50. But Caleigh happens to be in two of the acts of the recital, so she gets to buy two different costumes from the school, so that is $100. Of course, you need to get white gymnastics shoes to go with the outfit (also from the school, but I forget how much they cost).

Yeah, I know that fun stuff costs money. My buckle shoes cost me $100, but that was in 1997. That means they cost me $10 per year of use so far, and they show no signs of quitting yet - good investment. Caleigh is five. These shoes will fit her this summer, then never again - bad investment. Her costumes will only be used for this one show, but at least she gets to wear them to practice in, but should a leotard for a 5-year old cost $50?

OK, the complaints I have listed up to now are mostly me being a cheap Yankee and wanting to get the best deal I can on clothes for my daughter that will only be worn for a year at best. The one that I see as the ultimate grab for parent's wallets is the recital itself.

Tickets cost $14 each. In addition to Wendy and I, Caleigh's grandparents are coming too. That means four tickets. So in addition to paying for weekly lessons all year to the school, we also need to pay for the school to show off to us.

When you go to a PTA meeting or a parent-teacher conference, is there a cover charge? When a school has an open house, do you need to buy tickets? No. In my not-so-humble opinion, the recital at the end of a very expensive year should be a thank you from the school to the parents who pay the owners salaries all year.

$14 a ticket in an insult. On top of that, they "sell" you a program, and since they don't allow you to film the recital, offer you a chance to buy a so-called professionally produced DVD of the show for "only" an additional $40. No photos or videotaping allowed by the parents. Perhaps the school is doing their best to combat pirated copies of bootleg video of FIVE YEAR OLDS DOING SOMERSAULTS!!!! Or perhaps they just see one more opportunity to pull at parent's emotions and get them to buy a DVD for $40 that cost maybe $1 to produce. (very, very amateur production)

I have worked hard to build my business, and done so honestly. I do my best to keep prices as low as possible and throw in as many freebies as I can because I strive to be an asset to my community. When a new shooter lives in the area, I always offer them the chance to come here and learn whatever they can from casting shot, shooting the musket, to properly cleaning it afterwards. It is just the "right thing" to do. It really bugs me when I see another business do just the opposite. This school claims to exist for the promotion of gymnastics and dance, but from where I sit it is all about the promotion of the owner's pocketbook.

When I expressed shock at the tickets to see preschoolers do tumbles costing $14 on top of what we've already paid into this, the lady at the school told me that it has to be that expensive because they need to rent the opera house, pay for the cleaning crew, the guy to run the lights and the duty police officer. It would cost them in excess of $5000 for the weekend. Big deal. Does $5k sound like a lot? Perhaps it does. But let's do a little math here:

4 shows with 800 tickets to each (each kid's family goes to this, there are seldom any empty seats) is 3200 tickets. At $14 per seat, that is $44,800. Knowing that each kid gets a free seat, and assuming that each kid brings Mom and Dad, siblings, grandparents etc, let's reduce that by 20% to cover the free tickets to the little dancers and gymnasts themselves. That comes to $35,840. Given the $5k expenses number I was quoted at the school, that leaves upwards of $30,000 net profit for the owners of the school. In addition, it perpetuates the "need" for younger siblings to attend the school and take part in the recital in the future, just like their older siblings did.

Yes, I know it is capitalism at it's finest, bit there is just no honor in charging us $14 each to watch our 5 year old do flips. It really baffles me that this is somehow OK with all of the parents. When I dare to mention it out loud, other parents agree with me that it is wrong of the school to charge us for the recital. But the younger parents who went to the school themselves chime in with the party line of "the recital is an expensive production, it just barely breaks even". Sorry, do the math. $30k profit in three days is hardly what I'd call "breaking even".

Nobody dares to speak up. It's like a kind of a cult. Nobody wants to make waves. Stupid, sheep-like soccer moms! As consumers, we hold the power here by being able to not buy into this, to simply not buy tickets to the stupid show. But we will, because it is expected of us. It makes me sick. I've tried my best to stay out of the brand-driven consumerism of the 21st century, but once you have a little girl, all bets are off. Everyone is after you: there is the gymnastics school, there is anything ever done by Disney corp, anything with "princesses" on it. Caleigh rarely gets to watch TV, but can quote you a dozen or more corporate jingles. At least I can claim the small honor of publicly stating that it is stupid of us to be led around like this.

The owner of the school has a muzzleloader that needs work. I think I should offer to do the job, charge him $100 per hour shop rates (instead of our usual $25) and tell him he is now on our "muzzleloader team". I will then sell him a new spring for his Hawken at 200% markup over retail and require him to buy his round balls from us, then charge him a fee for trying it out once it is fixed. Maybe there can be a drop-off fee, and a pick-up fee. Need an owner's manual? Sure, just $5. Maybe to save the pick-up fee, he'd prefer to have us ship it. That would work just as well, we could bill him for shipping, charge another $20 for the box, a $10 bubble wrap fee, and a surcharge for taping it shut. Man, I am in the wrong business, I should be teaching preschoolers to do somersaults!

In the middle of writing this rant, I took a phone call from a guy who has a musket purchased from a competitor. He needs help with the lock. I told him to send it to me and I'd take care of it. Why? Because it is the right thing to do.