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An Englishman in Eugene

Sunday 2 November 2014

It's Traditional...

is the worst argument I can think of for doing, or not doing, anything. Traditions come and go, but the ones that survive do so by adapting.

I'm a fan of traditional music, mostly Irish and English, but I don't believe we should only play the tunes that our great-grandfathers wrote, nor that we should play them only the way they played them (where we have recordings or manuscripts to even tell), and only on the instruments they used.

Fortunately Irish Music is a living tradition, constantly adapting and evolving, and new tunes are being written and the best are adopted into the tradition constantly.

I spent the last four years of my UK life as a Morris dancer and musician. My team were, to my mind, too fixed in their repertoire, and I'd have liked to introduce new tunes never before used for Morris, and invent new steps to go with them, to go alongside our 'traditional' repertoire. Other Morris teams did, just not mine. Morris is steeped in tradition, but was almost dead before the revival of interest in folk music and dance in the sixties and seventies in the UK.  Those youths from the seventies are now old men, and if Morris is to be still as popular in twenty years as it is now then it needs to evolve.

And so to gay marriage. Much of the argument against gay marriage is that it somehow spoils or devalues 'traditional' marriage. B***ocks. If traditional marriage can't survive the 'challenge' of same-sex couples then it doesn't deserve to survive, period.

Fortunately much of the US seem to favor my view, and now same-sex marriage is legal in 32 different states. It may take a while for the others to come around, but this has all happened since the start of 2009, so it's been a very rapid change.

Modern society should be bout inclusivity, not exclusivity. We all benefit from variety, choice, and a rich mix of cultures around us. The US is a big slow beast, but it looks like it'll eventually accept that everyone has a right to their own personal happiness as long as it isn't hurting someone else, and to find that happiness in their lives their own way.

Saturday 27 October 2012

GMT - BST - PDT - PST - EDT - EST time

We are suffering the bi-annual confusion over clock changes, complicated by having to think about multiple timezones.

This time I'm more aware of what the initials in the title stand for. GMT and BST I'm used to - Greenwich Mean Time (Winter) and British Summer Time (Summer). So PST is Pacific Summer Time, right? Wrong. It's Pacific Standard Time, versus Pacific Daylight Time, which is used in our Summer. PDT is what we're on now, and we'll change on November 4th back to PST. This is a week later than the UK, for absolutely no good reason that anyone can explain, so for a week starting tonight we have to think about a 7 hour time difference instead of 8 hours.

So if we have Pacific time here on the West Coast, New York et al are on Atlantic time, right? Wrong. They're on Eastern Daylight Time.

Anyhoo, it's nice that for about six months of the year we have an extra hour of daylight before everybody wakes up, and for the other six months it's still pitch black when everyone is blearily making their way to work or school.

Sunday 2 September 2012

2012 Armitage Park Car Show Pick

Back in July I attended a couple of car shows on the same Saturday, and that was just two of the four that were going on that day within about 30 miles of home. Rather than show you pictures of every car there (or every one I took pictures of) I'm selecting my favorite, so I can go into more detail.

At Armitage Park, a riverside park with camping and boat launch access, half way between Coburg and Eugene, I saw this very unusual car, and the owner was kind enough to let me sit in it.

1960 Imperial Crown 4-door Sedan

1960 was a transition year in the US for car makers. The enthusiasm for chrome and big fins of the late 50s was giving way to straight clean lines and practicality. Imperial was a luxury marque used by Chrysler from 1955-1975 for their luxury cars, to try to compete with Lincoln and Cadillac. I think luxury cars tend to trend behind the cheaper models because they get fewer sales and fewer remodels. If I've got my internet facts right there were less than 1600 of this model made, so it was amazing to even see one in the flesh, let alone sit in it.

While I was looking at it another enthusast was discussing a possible sale with the owner. Both were hedging their bets, but just for rarity this has to be a very valuable car, let alone the restoration work put in.

The wheel shape on the trunk lid doesn't actually house the spare wheel apparently, it's just for decoration. The Crown is bespattered with these over-decorative touches, when cheaper cars of the same year were starting to show clean stright lines everywhere. 

Check out those tailfins, and the jet engine shapes round the tail lights. Wheeee! But the devil to polish I should think.

That steering wheel really isn't circular, it's not just a trick of the camera angle.  A bewildering array of buttons, with mysetrios symbols just like a modern dash.

At least I can figure out where the hood release pull is, and the radio.

This little gizmo was a popular feature, it's for parking near the curb without scratching your vehicle. I think the driver can just see it out of the window to judge his distances, or maybe he listens for the srpoing..g..g!

What a ridiculously complicated and over-engineered wing mirror. Wonderful!

Perhaps the best touch, rotating front seats for easy access. They are original specification, but I think the console drinks holder is a recent addition.

Now just imagine the smack your head would get on that dash if you had an accident, especially with no shoulder restraint. Modern cars may not have the style of the 50s cars, but at least they have a few safety features.

Tuesday 28 August 2012

The Odyssey

Now our 5 month old son Edward is 18 3/4 lbs, it's been getting to be quite a struggle to get him in and out of the backseat of our cars, so we decided it was time to trade in the Mercury station wagon and get a minivan. No need to have two big vehicles, so we're keeping the Red Mazda 3 for Beth to commute to work, or if one of us needs to make a solo trip. Wherever Eddie is, the minivan will be.

As usual, Beth took the lead role in researching both the best minivans on the market, and once we'd settled on a Honda Odyessy, what vehicles were available in the area. A 2010 Odyssey showed up in a search as being at our local Kendall Honda dealer, we called to check they had it, and went round to take a look.

They had it, but not ready for viewing, so we said we'd come back a few days later. We did the next Saturday morning, and having checked it out and played with the seating arranegments we were happy, short of a test drive.

This we arranged for the following Saturday, while we organised our finances and got the Mercury cleaned up ready to trade in. Once we had washed it twice and vacuumed the inside we stored it in the garage and Beth switched to my red Mazda for her work commute. Then on the Friday morning Beth got a call to say another party were interested in the van and were likely to buy it that day. Great. Oh well, it's not the only Odyssey on the market, so if it didn't sell we asked the car man to call us to let us know by 6pm, but if he didn't we assumed it was gone and the test drive was off.

No call, so on Friday evening we consoled ourselves that we had lost nothing except that we had a cleaner Mercury. On Saturday Beth went for a bike ride to look at the weekend's garage sales, and while she was out I received the call to say the other couple had not bought it after all. I called Beth on her cellphone, she came back and we packed Ed into the Mercury and headed off to the dealer fairly promptly.

The next three hours we spent doing a test drive, and then negotiating the deal. Beth was lead negotiator, while I kept Edward entertained. By 3pm we were the owners, and headed back home, all in need of a break.

Minivans are all very similar really, and when you see one on the road it takes a trained eye to spot the make, but every major manufacturer has one in their lineup, because they are very practical for families.

You can always spot a minivan because the doors slide, so the handles are at the front of the doors. Ours are electric, so a tug on the handle, press of a button on the dashboard, or even a button on the remote control, will slide the doors open, one button for each door.

We liked the Honda because it has good safety records, and the seating is arrangeable in many different ways. The rearmost row of 3 seats folds down with ease to form a big flat cargo area, with a 60/40 split as is popular these days, and the middle row can be removed completely if required, to make a truly van-sized space.

The van fits in our garage as you can see above, with plenty of space still either side, especially with the sliding doors. Very useful when it's pouring with rain, or even brighting with sun, and you're trying to get a baby out without waking him.

To get into the trunk when in the garage we need to have the garage door open, not a big issue because we're still checking the back clearance every time we park. There's a handy joint in the concrete floor to line up on, and so far we've been perfect every time. The tailgate is lighter than on Beth's old Mercury, and we checked the roof clearance before letting it swing right up. It's also thinner, so I don't keep bashing my bonce every time I duck in for something. I hated that on the Mercury.

In our current arrangement we've taken out the central console in the second row of seats (it forms a middle seat when wanted) and moved the right side seat across towards the middle to take our 5 month old son Edwards' baby seat. Very soon we'll be putting a bigger baby seat in there for him, as he's getting almost too big for the current one, and that will last until he's 3-4 years old, converting from rear-facing to forward facing at a certain age/size. It's easy to nip between the two front seats and into the second row, so if Ed needs attention the passenger can attend to him without leaving the vehicle.

My parents always managed with an estate car (station wagon), once their family of three boys and two parents got too big to fit the tiny Singer Chamoir that I remember from my very early childhood. Of course minivans didn't exist in their modern form until the Renault Espace came out in 1984.

Our first staion wagon was a Renault 12 estate. The Renault I remember mostly for having black plastic seats, practical for wiping spills but prone to soaking up the sun's rays and burning the backs of your legs if you were foolish enough to be wearing shorts on a hot day.

After the Renault coughed its last we had a Peugeot 305 estate, bought brand new from a local dealer with about 16 miles on the clock. It was the first of its particular specification in the country, and someone had put the fuses in wrong with the result that the central door locking worked once to unlock all the doors, then failed until we figured out the problem and got the correct fuse in place. The Peugeot had cloth seats thank goodness, though by then my legs were long enough to avoid the searing pain of hot plastic against tender thigh.

Eventually the Peugeot got too old to continue maintaining and my parents invested in a Mercedes, not sure of the model, a reflection of the greater disposable income they had now they were not supporting three greedy and growing boys. Mercedes are built to last, and they are still driving this one.

So a MiniVan never entered my consciousness until I was in the USA, but here every fourth family seems to have one, unless they have an enormous SUV or pickup truck, and often as well as a second vehicle (which is often an SUV or huge pickup truck). The minivan usually becomes mom's workhorse, while dad has something to get him to work and back. In our nuclear family the roles have been reversed.

We feel we've done well to get a 2010, because searlier models lacked the auxiliary input vital to have an mp3 player connected to your stereo. It's one of those elephants in the room that car dealers don't like to talk about, but vehicles with cassette players (such as our 2002 Mercury Sable) can play mp3s using a casette adaptor, not pretty (you have a wire hanging out of the casette deck) but cheap (around $10 for the cassette adaptor).

By 2007 some manufacturers were putting auxiliary inputs on their car stereos (such as in my 2007 Mazda 3), but not all were so forward thinking. If your vehicle has a CD/radio but no auxiliary jack you're stuck, because there is no adaptor that will fit in a CD player to play mp3s. On long journeys you're stuck with CDs or a variety of poor radio stations always detuning as you move out of their range, so you better burn some CDs for entertainment. In fact our van has a CD stacker in the dash, so we can pre-load six cds as well as having our iPods, but to be honest unless we buy CDs while travelling I can't see myself using that.

One of our friends has a rented 2011 Odyessy, having previously had a 2006, and they report that the vision and a few other things are actually worse in the redesign. The 2006-2010 is thus more desiresable to us, in good condition, than a 2011.

We were pleased that our van did NOT have build in DVD players or a navigation system. It's easy enough to get after-market DVD players if your kids nag you enough, but we'd rather have our family chatting, playing Highway Bingo, or reading quietly, than have back seat passengers locked into their own little fantasy world. Build in navigation system are a pain if they go wrong, and as we already have our own Garmin GPS systems we don't need to pay for another one.

Friday 15 June 2012

Lexus vs Ford

Lexus is a luxury car maker. They are currently running a series of ads with the byline:

If you want these features as standard...   the features being things like central locking, leather seats, windscreen wipers etc.

Now most car companies offer a basic stripped-down model, with options to upgrade and prices attached for each upgrade. A basic 2012 Ford Focus Sedan starts at $16,500, add $1,00 for 16" wheels (instead of 15") and keyless entry, another $1,095 for automatic transmission (most Americans like this), and so forth. What you end up with is a range of vehicles, all called the Ford Focus, but with prices anything between $16,500  and $25,000 (a guesstimate). Most people don't want the most basic model, but it's there if you don't want all the knobs and whistles.

So if the Lexus comes with everything as standard at $25,000, and the Ford with everything added is $25,000, how is the Lexus better than the Ford?

I guess it has to be because when you see a Lexus you know the owner paid $25,000 for it, but if you see the Ford it might be the bare bones $16,500 version, i.e. they're cheapskates.

So it comes down to snobbery.

By the way, most new cars aren't paid for outright but paid in installments, so that Lexus driver is just paying a bigger monthly installment for his shinier car.

Embarrassment, Stupidity, Irritation

Three forms of comedy that don't amuse me.

Irritation: The Big Bang Theory. The central character is an annoyance to all his friends and the audience. Not funny.

Stupidity. Dumb & Dumber. Just doesn't amuse me.

Embarrassment. The Office. Worse, that one camne to the US from the UK, and I didn't like the UK version either.

While I'm on it, badly dubbed canned laughter is a form of irritation. The episode of The Big Bang Theory which I had the misfortune to watch half of last night had the worst canned laughter since Blackadder Goes Forth.

Sunday 6 May 2012


Since I've been in the US I've mostly avoided KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken), because the one or two times I ate it upset my stomach. A shame, because I used to enjoy an occasional KFC in London. We think they use Canola oil here, which is banned in Europe, and that I react badly to it.

Notwithstanding which, we went along to KFC yesterday because Beth was having a craving too, and damn the consequences, that's the spirit. They now do grilled chicken (KGC) as an alternative, so we got a 10 piece bucket with half grilled and half crispy pieces, plus two sides (mash and gravy and cobettes), and the usual "biscuits". I was suprised how expensive it was at around $25, but we got three meals each out of it so maybe that wasn't so bad. A couple of the pieces were so small that we thought at first that they had just been dropped into the bucket by mistake, but apparently they counted towards out ten pieces.

As it turned out there were no consequences, at least no obvious and immediate ones, so maybe my stomach is getting attuned to what Americans have been eating (willingly or unwittingly) for decades. What neither of us touched were the sachets of "Honey Sauce" and "Colonel's Buttery Spread" that had been hoiked into our bag without our knowledge or request. The honey sauce had an ingredient list, the first three ingredients being high fructose corn syrup, regular corn syrup, and sugar, with actual honey coming in a disappointing fourth and comprising only 7% of the total mix. It did just beat fructose into fifth place, which is presumably added for those with a sweet tooth. You may be wondering why "Honey Sauce" can't just be pure honey, which is quite sweet enough to make your eyes bulge. So am I.

So much for the honey sauce; I wasn't sure what I was supposed to put it on anyway. The "Buttery Spread" (artificially flavored)  didn't even have an ingredient list, which surprised us both, but you can bet that butter isn't a main ingredient.

The grilled chicken wasn't bad, quite toothsome, but  it wasn't giving quite the same feel of pumping cholesterol and fats straight into my arterey walls. Next time it'll be all deep fried and crispy.

The sachets we consigned to landfill, and future archeologists can try to figure out why anyone would eat this stuff.

Wednesday 2 May 2012

Remaking our Beds

When we moved from London to a rented apartment in Eugene the only items furniture we kept were some pine bunk beds, mostly because they were very expensive, and partly because they were self-assembly so we could reduce them to their component parts and get them in a small shipping container. In fact we have three pine beds, two as bunks and one raised bed, the latter designed for use in smaller rooms so you have space underneath for a chair or desk, or just for storage. The beds had been up and in use in London for a couple of years, and very sturdy and useful they had proved to be.

The beds duly arrived with the rest of our shipped items (on several pallets) on a drizzly day in February 2010. From our arrival in early December 2009 until that date we'd been sleeping first on reclining armchairs (nice for a doze, not so great for a solid 8 hours every night), and then on newly purchased mattresses on the floor. We were very excited to have proper beds again, but upon reassembly we discovered to our chagrin that the American mattresses were 3-4" wider than the European beds, and 3-4" shorter too. We made do, letting the mattresses hang over the edges of the beds, and putting up with the slight list this imparted. In fact Beth very generously let me have the close-fitting thin foam mattress that came with one of the beds, so with that underneath my American mattress I did not suffer the reverse camber effect.

The beds came with us to Sweetwater with our next move, disassembled, and we reassembled one in the guest room, using the foam mattress to keep the bed level. We could house one guest in reasonable comfort, but this was never intended to be a permanent solution.

Fast forward to 2012, and now with a baby boy added to the Milner clan we wanted to get these beds sorted out. Not that baby Edward was going to sleep on one for a while, but so we could put up more than one guest and not make them seasick.

I made the best decision of my life when I married Beth, because among her other talents and interests she is a woodworker, and spent much of her own coin over the last two years outfitting a woodworking shop in our detached garage. The upshot of this is that she had the tools and skills to remake the beds parts necessary to widen the European bedframes to fit US mattresses.

After much measuring and remeasuring I went along to our local Jerry's timber yard in Beth's station wagon, and purchased the wood necessary to remake our beds. We needed 14 end pieces, and 45 slats. The beds are pine, but I discovered that Jerry's don't do pine. Fir is wannabe pine, so I bought four 14' lengths of 2"x6" kiln dried fir for the end pieces, and had them cut to 3'6" lengths, providing 16 pieces to work with. For the slats I got eight 12' lengths of thinner fir, not sure of the exact dimensions, but enough for 46 slats.

Here's one of the beds, with the US mattress hanging over the edge, and an untouched piece of 2"x6" fir showing what Beth had to work with. We had a few inches to spare on each piece, as planned. You can see the two pieces in the endframe that need to be replaced.

On the left, the original endpiece, with the blank next to it ready for working. To the right of that a single slat, with the unworked replacement next to it. This will be cut lengthwise to produce two slates.

And so to the workshop. The first step is using the joiner to ensure the edges are and one side are square to each other. Note use of safety goggles, ear protection, and the dust collector.

Next is the planer, to square up the fourth side. For reasons I still don't quite fully grasp, the joiner can only do three of the four sides. The planer is also cutting to the right dimensions.

The router puts a curved profile on the edges, to reduce the chances of splinters. This machine was new to Beth (though the stand was purchased secondhand at a garage sale), so our neighbor Robert kindly came over to show Beth how to set it up and use it safely. The three pieces of wood at the bottom are just there to dry, they're not part of the machine or the process.

Cutting to length on the table saw. I should mention that none of the machines were on, these photos were just posed to show how they are used.

Starting the drill holes with a jig. The jig is a bit of scrap wood that Beth made the right holes in (using the drill press you can see in the corner) to act as a template. Center it on the end of the piece, clamp, and Bob's your uncle.

Having stated the holes, they are drilled to the corerct depth with the jig removed. The bit of blue tape on the drill bit denotes the necessary depth.

The reassembled bed with new ends. The slats have to dry more before being cut or they will likely twist in time, but we set this up to check the mattress fit; you will see that the mattress is actually on the carpet for now. If we wanted it really tight we could take another half inch off, but it's easier to get sheets on and off if there's a finger width all round.

You may notice that the end of the bed overlaps the cupboard door behind it by a few inches. Those are the inches by which a US bed is shorter. We could cut a bit off the long sides and redrill all the holes to make it fit, and we might yet, but it's not really necessary. The cupboard door was already removed when we moved in, and when we put it back it we found it so wide that it's unwieldy in a small room, so it's tucked away under the stairs in Beth's wood shop. Eventually we'll probably have this bed up on its longer legs to make space underneath.

The end pieces fit, but have not yet been sanded or varnished. The slats we will measure to fit when the wood is dry enough, and they only take an hour on hands and knees to screw into place.

That's it so far. If we wanted to have a fourth twin bed, Beth has the skills, the tools, and a template to work from to create one from scratch. I doubt we'll be going into the furniture trade anytime soon, but it's nice to know we can do running repairs.