Survivor; Windows; Childhood hobbies (legal and not)

Well I spent the majority of yesterday at work. Once I got home the new computer was doing the usual things like updating windows and Norton, which has always seemed a bit odd to me, but I guess they were current when they put the computer together six months ago, patches will always be necessary straight out of the box, or so I tell myself.

I also downloaded and installed a few of the things that I simply must have. Including core files to run a couple of games and some ad removal software and the such. Then, just for fun, I decided to try to download the new GuildWars thing that is supposed to have a free demo in a week or so. I must say that I am quite impressed with the transfer speed. Keep in mind that everything about my system is exactly the same, only the tower has changed, but the downloads over a 56k modem seem notably faster. Could it be that I simply had antiquated drivers for the modem on my old machine, possibly. Could it be that more ram and a faster processor make it faster, possibly. Could it be that I was expecting it to be faster, and as such think that it was faster even if it wasn’t, likely.

I am still not quite sure if I like Windows XP or not. It seems to work just fine, in fact it seems to load a lot faster than 98 ever did, and I have not been getting random ‘blue screens of death’ yet. The thing that I find annoying is that they have changed everything around. Moved the buttons away from where they used to be, eliminated the little tray icons for quick launch, just a bunch of little things like that which just annoy me. I was able to find the way to set the appearance to “windows classic”, but opted to just leave it be, I think I should give it a week or so to see if I can get used to it. And get used to it I will, it is not like I am going to return the computer and live in a cave somewhere using windows 98 unwilling to upgrade regardless of how much better the technology has gotten.

On a side note, even as I type this I just got another ‘Urgent warning’ about a security flaw in the Microsoft Virtual Machine that must be patched. I am downloading it, but I tell you that I am going to disable all of the antivirus and system protection on this thing when I hook up to play a game of Diablo. There are three separate things running on the machine, the windows update, Norton and something called ‘BigFix’, bigfix is the one that is continually telling me about all of the patches even though I have seen nothing about security issues on Whether or not all of the patches are necessary is something that I will likely never know. I am sure that in a month or so I will have given up on using all of the ‘live update’ type crap and just go back to just downloading the fixes myself once every couple of weeks.

While I am bitching about Microsoft and related products, I just must mention that I really think the Windows OS has been on a steady decline since the release of Windows 3.1. I do remember that it was a bit of a pain to have to go into DOS and use memmaker to free up enough system memory to play some games, but compare that to the problems that I have had with Windows 98 and it would seem like a cake walk. With 3.1 you had to kind of know what you were doing to make pretty much anything work, which seems bad on the surface, but with later releases trying to do it all for you it simply paved the way to a multitude of ‘blue screens of death’ when the computer is forced to make a decision and decides wrong. Amusing thing with windows 98 that happened at work a couple of months ago. I had installed a new modem (used actually) and when it detected the modem it was looking for the drivers. It could not find them in the windows directory, I didn’t have any disks to install them, so it decided it was going to connect to the internet to try to download the driver for the modem. Then it gave me an error about not being able to connect because I didn’t have the correct modem drivers. I mean really, would any human ever try to do that? It would be like being stuck in the middle of nowhere and trying to get electricity by plugging an extension cord into itself, it just doesn’t make a damn bit of sense, but the computer gave it a go..

The previous portion of this was written yesterday after Mother’s day dinner and prior to the seson finale of Survivor. I completely forgot to upload it, so I am just going to piggy back onto it today.

I would love to go into a long winded rant about the Survivor All Stars, but I am sure that you can find that type of thing all over the internet at this point, and I don’t really care enough about the outcome to do it. One thing that I do think bears mentioning was in regards to a question that one of the jurors asked of Rob and Amber, the question about what they were going to do with the money.

Now everyone knows that Rob lied to and stepped on everyone to try to win the game. The fact that he claimed that he was going to use the money to set up a scholarship fund was so much bull shit. Did he really expect anyone to believe that? Not just Rob, but anyone who signs up for Survivor is out to win the million dollars. When they win the million I bet the first thing they do is buy a fancy car, then likely a house. Maybe after they have blown 80 percent of it on creature comforts, maybe then they will feel a bit guilty about it all and donate some of their old clothes to goodwill. They certainly did not go into the game thinking that they were going to sacrifice their time, struggle to survive in horrible conditions just so that they could donate the money to a good cause. If there are people out there that actually would do that they are just insane.

A final thought about this season’s Survivor. I wonder if Rob would have been so gung-ho about proposing to Amber if he had really thought that he had a good chance of winning. I know that the votes were actually cast months before, but he was able to watch the show just like the rest of us prior to the finale, makes me wonder if he thought he may not be getting the check, or at the very least hedging his bets. I guess I am a bit to cynical since I actually believe that is a real possibility. Or maybe I read to much in the way Rob was portrayed in the editing of the episodes, I am sure for all the bad that he did he probably was also unselfish and helpful also…I hope… Pointless to speculate, but when they show up in some scandal rag after a horrible break-up I won’t be the least bit surprised.

• Something that I saw in the news today interests me a bit. I just read it in the quick notes on some website, not sure where I saw it, that is not really important anyway. The quick note just said that the US is failing to follow suit with the rest of the western world by slowing or requiring permits to purchase ammonium nitrate. I suppose that it should be a bit surprising with the current administration’s ‘Stop Terror Now’ facade. This is the very substance that is used in many terrorist bombs, it is cheap, readily available and you don’t even have to show an ID to buy it. I wasn’t really sure how destructive the stuff was until I googled up some news about it. I didn’t know that this was what was used in the Oklahoma city bombing, I thought that it was just the kind of thing that the terrorists in the middle east use. Who knew.

I bring this up only because of yet another childhood obsession of mine. Pipe bombs. Yes, I built pipe bombs. Not the type that you see on the tv news that were filled with shrapnel and killed and mutilated, no I just did it to hear the boom and see some faux destruction. Without going into any detail about how to actually make them (if you want that there are a lot of sites out there that will tell you, just not mine) I will just give a brief mention of what a few friends and myself did with them.

There is a bit of a digression before I get to that, be warned

First, I remember exactly where I got the idea to try to build one. I was a model rocket entusiast when I was young and always had marveled at the way the little engines would roar to life and send my creation skyward. It was quite an enjoyable hobby, but in the pacific northwest the rocket retrieval ratio was pretty low. Even when I launched them in a five-acre open field the wind would often pull them off into the forest never to be seen again. That was a bit depressing after having spent so much time building and painting a rocket (not to mention the out of pocket cost, which was a lot for an unemployed teenager), just to watch it go up once. I never really lost my enthusiasm for that hobby, but it was put into the background when a new friend introduced me to Radio Controlled Airplanes.

My friend trained me in the basics of flight with a powered glider. He would fly it while it was under power to get it as high as possible, once the engine cut he would let me fly it down, with him handling the actual landing the first dozen or so times. I clearly remember my first landing, as I was getting very low to the ground at far too steep an angle. I tried to pull the nose up and pulled it way too far. The plane stalled and came down from about twenty feet, tail-first, and snapped the fuselage in two. Not the best landing I could have done by far. After repeated failures and mending I was able to land the thing pretty well as long as I had no cross wind. Before long he was letting me fly some of his planes after he had done the take-off, only taking the control away from me if I did something very foolish or if it was time to land (many of them having to land while still in powered flight due to weight issues). He thought I was ready to fly solo, but requested that I buy my own kit and build my own plane so that he would not have any monetary reason to net let me learn by trial and error. (I haven’t thought about him for years, but he was a damn good trainer and friend. I wonder what became of him).

The very first airplane that I built was a Fokker Eindecker. It took me several months to build it, due to inexperience, but came out looking every bit as good as the one in the previous link, only mine was red and my kit didn’t have ailerons. Once the plane was complete, my friend gifted me an old radio, receiver and servos to install in it. That plane was my pride and joy. I had at least a couple of dozen pictures of it even before it ever flew, which I knew it must eventually. I had never actually been at the controls during the take-off (which was a hand-launch in the case of this plane), and decided to let my friend have the honors of the first flight. In retrospect I think mostly I wanted someone a lot better at the sport than me to try it out and make sure that I hadn’t totally fucked up with the installation of the elevator, rudder or some other thing that would just make it impossible to fly, at the time I said I wanted him to have the honor since he had introduced me to the hobby and gifted me the radio -well over a hundred dollar value in the late eighties-.

The plane flew beautifully. I was staring on in amazement as he executed loops and rolls with it. He even did a drop from high altitude followed by a nearly vertical ascent. After about six minutes the engine died and he brought the plane in to land, it touched down so softly it was like a marshmallow landing on a cloud. My little plane was the most beautiful thing that I had ever seen, so quick, so manueverable. I was ready to give it a go myself.

–There is an intricacy to the hand launch that is hard to describe. One person must run with the plane above their head until such a speed is reached that, with luck, the plane will be able to ascend under its own power. Variables like any wind (especially cross-wind), angle of release, the speed of the runner, the height of the release, hell there are tons of variables that I can’t remember since it has been so long since I have flown, can mean instant disaster.–

My friend was going to be doing the hand launching while I was guiding the plane. This was my very first attempt at doing that so I was a bit apprehensive. He ran for a bit and let go. The plane immediately began to dive hard to the left, holding hard to the right while trying to first level, then pull up, I managed to get the plane airborn. It was at that point that I looked down at the radio to see that I had somehow moved the trim for the rudder all the way to the left prior to the hand launch. In my estimate, I was lucky that I was flying at all after that little oversight. Yet, flying I was. No tricks, just mostly a circle around the field. When the engine died I lined up a nice straight course to land in the soft grass. Only inches above the ground I was still holding the wings perfectly level, the landing gear touched down and the rest of the plane followed, but not in a good way. The landing gear was basically the pivot point to swing the cowl into the ground. Luckily I only broke off the tail and it was a quick fix.

It was a couple of days later before we went out to fly my little plane again. Confident in my ability to correct for the variables, I asked him to launch it for me. This time the launch went perfectly. There was no descent, no turning, just a perfect launch. Then as the plane went over the tiny valley created by the two small hills we use for hand launching, a cross-wind caught the wing and sent it almost vertical. without ailerons I was trying to use the rudder and elevator to level the plane as it was heading, at full power, towards both the ground and the trunk of the only tree in the field. The plane was going hard left and down, so I instictively pulled hard right and pushed up, in the panic forgetting that when you push up the plane goes down. There was a marvelous display of balsa and radio equipment exploding on the ground when it hit. I must say that I would not have thought that a fall, even at full power, from only ten or twelve feet could have so completely destroyed my creation. I suppose it is no wonder that they don’t use balsa wood to create commercial airliners.

Back to the bombs.

So having given up on a couple of hobbies along the way (the radio receiver was destroyed in my crash), I decided to find something more destructive to occupy my time. I still had some of the so called ‘solar ignitors’ from the days when I was launching model rockets, as well as the launch box. The launch box is just a button that has a wire running to the pad so you don’t have to light the engine with a match. My dad had a lot of gun powder, since he reloaded his own bullets. I had a lot of free time and some wide open space. What do you think would happen.

I had played with the gunpowder before. I liked to draw designs on the pavement with it, then once you light it there will be a brief fire and the design will stay on the road for a while. Now, though, I was in posession of gun powder and a remote ignition device. I began to wonder what would have happened if the model rocket was not able to expel the energy by forcing itself into the air. I realized quickly that a bomb would be the result. But how powerful would it be? There was a broken wind chime in our old shed. It had a bunch of little pipes on it. Each pipe had two holes drilled in it very near the top end (where the wire that suspended it went through).

My usual target was the wood pile in the back yard. I would put the bomb at the bottom of it and hit the button just to see how much of the wood got thrown how far. As time went by I had to improvise the conatiners, and each time the wood pile was destroyed I had to rebuild it before dad got home. The culmination of my destructive wood pile fetish came when I created the largest (by far) pipe bomb that I ever had and set it off in the wood pile some thirty feet away. One piece, roughly four pounds, hit me square in the back and it hurt like hell. It took me (and a couple of nameless friends 😉 ) several hours to get the wood pile back into a form that even resemled a wood pile. Even after that my dad questioned why a lot of the wood was charred.. We never let on, but I think that he knew what was going on.

After that I never tried to construct another pipe bomb. I am pretty sure that neither of the other two ever did either, as they are both also happily married now and I really think the curiousity about bombs/destruction goes away for most of us after the teen years. I don’t own any guns, or any gun powder for that matter, and happily lock those little experiences away in my mind as things I would rather not have done (now that I am an adult and can look objectively at the risk/reward of what I was doing. Something that you never think of while you are in your teens).

Speaking from the point of view of an adult, I think that it should be much more difficult for anyone to acquire components that can make explosives. I consider myself pretty lucky that I didn’t kill myself or someone else while I was farting around with gun powder as a kid. Now imagine that someone wants to use it to kill/maim, knowing the consequences of their actions. There should be laws in place (in the western world) to keep things like that from happening.

While I was using actual gun powder for my little bombs, imagine the kid on the farm that realizes that fertilizer is the ultimate bomb. Shouldn’t anything that is potentially lethal have slightly better safeguards than, “Well, he didn’t look like a terrorist.”

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