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About two and a half years ago I bought an Echo Bearcat SC3305 3" chipper/shredder. It has been a great machine and is a vital part of my composting. From time to time the machine needs a certain amount of maintenance - oil changes, air filter cleaning/replacement, and blade sharpening. Sharpening the chipper blades is pretty straight forward, and there is plenty of information available online about how to get the blades out and bring them up to snuff. But, it is not at all obvious how to remove the shredder blades, let alone sharpen them.

There is one video on YouTube that tries to explain the process of removing the shredder blades on Echo Bearcat chipper/shredders. Unfortunately, the person that made that video had already done the job, and in the video he just gives a description of what the process involves, moreover, he leaves out the most confusing parts altogether. Comments that viewers added fill in a lot of the details, but, it is still less than obvious how to do this task.

After 2.5 years of heavy use, my shredder blades are, well, shredded. I purchased Echo's "Shredder Knife Kit #70973" for "all 3-inch chipper/shredders." Fortunately this kit comes with instructions. Unfortunately the kit is very expensive; I bought mine at the local shop where I originally got the shredder. The price, with taxes, was US$188.00. I have seen it online for about $30 less, but still, this is an expensive rebuild kit, and a lot of people are likely to choose to sharpen the knives rather than purchase the kit [note too that I have not found the knives for sale - only the whole kit.]

The shredder blades on my Echo Bearcat SC3305 before replacement

So, to help out anyone that may be wanting to replace or resharpen the the shredder blades on their Echo Bearcat shredder/chipper, I have produced a video showing the process.  It can be found on YouTube, here:

Please note that I am demonstrating the process for newer units. There is a different process for units with serial numbers earlier than #11010. Go figure.

Here, in PDF format, are the instructions provided with the rebuild kit Echo Bearcat Shredder Knife Kit Part #70973.

This is another very specialized post that will only be of interest to a very small number of people. However, I hope that it might help those that are interested in such things to identify this plant.

A couple years ago an attractive little ground cover showed up in my garden in Oakland, in among the Mazus reptans that I had planted. I knew that anything that shows up on its own is probably a weed, but, it was very attractive, didn’t appear to be moving very fast, and didn’t seem to throw seeds. So, I left it until I could find out what it was.

I took samples of the plant to a number of local nurseries, but no one was able to ID it. They all asked what the flower was like, but, as far as I knew I had never seen it in bloom. Well, this year I caught it flowering (the flowers are almost microscopic), and I identified the plant (though not from its inflorescence.) It is Hydrocotyle moschata, a somewhat invasive non-native from New Zealand. Here are some useful links for further info:
The following are photos of the plant, its leaves, stolons, and of the inflorescence taken using a microscope at 40x. I hope this is useful for someone.

Hydrocotyle moschata sprigs showing leaves, flowers, and stolons

Hydrocotyle moschata sprig with flower head

Hydrocotyle moschata flower under microscope at 40x

Hydrocotyle moschata flower under microscope at 40x (another view)

Not dead yet - in the hospital after heart attack

From time to time I am stunningly reminded of the privilege that I enjoy. Not only privilege, but also access to resources provided by the society that I live in - at this exact place and time. Not only am I an affluent, 
adult, white male. I was born in America and I have chosen to stay here. Some of these fortunes were bestowed upon me, while others result from my own choices. For example, while I have the resources to be able to live just about anywhere in this country, I made the choice to live in a Californian metropolis, with all that it has to offer (and all the costs and inconveniences that come with living in a highly desirable place.) In the past I have seriously considered moving to other countries, or remote, quiet, locations in the USA. But, in the end, I settled in the Bay Area. An opportunity provided by my privilege, and a choice I made for myself within my place of privilege.

Three weeks ago, at 3:00am, I was awoken by a strong burning pain in my chest. This was no heart burn. This was a heart attack - though I didn’t want to admit it. I picked up the phone and dialed 911. After a few questions, help was dispatched. I don’t really know how long they took, but I am sure that it was less than five minutes before a fire engine and ambulance were at my house. The EMTs brought in a portable EKG, checked my heart, gave me aspirin and nitroglycerine, and whisked me off to the nearest hospital with a cardiac surgery unit.

It turns out that regardless of being white, male, and affluent, I live in a place and a time where, at 3:00am, emergency medical technicians will come to my home and save my life. There was no question of whether I could pay for treatment. No question of who I am - not race, creed, religion, nor nationality. No question of whether or not I deserve to live. In America we have created this structure, and it works. God bless everyone involved. If I lived in less affluent country, or a less affluent community in the US, would I still be alive? Even if I lived in California, but way out in a cabin in the woods, would they have gotten to me in time? I really have no idea.

At the hospital, more tests were done, then I was wheeled into an operating theater where a team of surgeons removed blockages from two arteries and installed two stents. At one point while they were prepping me, I made a joke. The attendant didn’t laugh. I said, “oh, come on, that was a least a little funny.” He replied, “fifteen minutes ago I was asleep. Please just let me do my work to help you.” So again, here I am in a society, in a culture, at a certain moment in time, where unbeknownst to me there are highly skilled surgeons and medical technicians ready to awaken at a moment’s notice and save my life. Or your life. Or the life of anyone that shows up at the hospital. Wow.

Let’s not take this for granted! This is major. With all the talk of the Affordable Care Act, repealing it, retaining it, replacing it, updating it, and so on, let us not forget: If you live in America and have a heart attack (or stroke, or car accident, or poisoning…) there is someone who will try to save your life. But only because we all, as a society, care enough to pay for this. In many places, the hospitals are too small, or understaffed, and people die. Let’s not forget what we might be giving away if we don’t care for these institutions.

Did they treat me better because I am an affluent, white male? Did I get better care or a better room? I don't know, though I suspect not. Earlier this week I received a bill from the hospital. I called my insurance company to find out what was going to be covered. They told me that they hadn’t been billed by the hospital yet. So, I called the hospital. It turns out that they never got my insurance information from me. The ambulance picked me up. The hospital admitted me. The surgeons operated on me. The intensive care unit cared for me. Meanwhile, at no time did anyone even ask if I could pay. Or if I was a citizen. Or anything. That’s pretty remarkable.

Nonetheless, I am privileged. Hospitals are lousy places to get well. Really. There is non-stop noise, and endless injections and blood tests. IV’s need to be added and removed. All sorts of poking, prodding, and testing is done round the clock. If you want to get out of bed, you have to push a button to call for an RN or a “care giver” to help you. Maybe they come when you call, maybe they don’t. If you get out of bed without a nurse to help, alarms go off. As an adult, white, American male, I used my sense of entitlement to justify pushing all the buttons to get someone to come help me when I needed to get out of bed. I imagine that someone who felt less entitled might have meekly pushed one button and waited. Finally, when I could no longer tolerate the understaffed care, I used my money to hire my own private care-giver/attendant. Hopefully this not only helped me, but also reduced the load on the hospital staff, allowing those who couldn’t afford a private nurse to get more attention. At least, that is my rationalization.

When I couldn’t stand the hospital any longer, and convinced myself that I was declining, not improving there, I used my position of entitlement and self-authority to check myself out of the hospital “against medical advice.” All the while I wondered if someone with less privilege would have felt that this was even an option. I was also able to hire round-the-clock care to stay with me at my home – definitely not something that everyone can afford.

So, I find myself vividly reminded of my privileged place in society, and I am also made newly aware of the services that we have collectively decided to offer to anyone that needs help. This is a remarkable society we have created, and its institutions should be cared for as they care for us. Regardless of privilege.

As a final thought – when thinking about the Affordable Care Act, what may follow it, and how we provide health care in America, let us not forget about this astonishing safety net that we have created – a safety net that is indifferent to race, creed, age, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, and even ability to pay. This is a magnificent treasure. Losing it would imperil us all.





Happy New Year!

Do you trust Facebook to keep all of your data - all of you photos, chats, posts? What happens if there is a cyber attack on Facebook that wipes it all out.  Will you be OK with that?  Maybe its time to download a copy of your Facebook data.

Its easy to do.  Just click the down arrow on Facebook's tool bar and choose Settings.

That will take you to your Account Settings. At the bottom of the General Account Settings, click the link to "Download a copy of your Facebook data."

It will ask you to confirm your password, and then it will put together a Zip file of your data that you can download.  Easy peasy.

On October 8, 2016, after the release of the now infamous Access Hollywood tape, the makers of tic tac ® breath mints tweeted, “Tic Tac respects all women. We find the recent statements and behavior completely inappropriate and unacceptable.” But, now that it turns out that tic tac USA backed the wrong horse, they're going to need a major new advertising campaign to appease their customers.

Here's my pitch for a tic tac Freshmints make-over:

tic tac freshmints ® - for when you just can't wait to grab her pussy.

Keep plenty of tic tacs ® in your purse. If you’re going to be sexually assaulted, 
make sure his breath is minty fresh.

tic tac ® keeps your mouth pussy-grabbing sweet.

Of course, tic tac isn't the only breath mint that needs to learn to appeal to a new audience:

Altoids® - Curiously strong mints for the sophisticated pussy grabber.

Tic tacs are fine for grabbing a pussy, but for anal violation, gentlemen prefer Altoids®. (tm)

The United States of America was a grand experiment, but it is coming to an end. That’s OK. No empire lasts forever. Nearly two hundred and fifty years is a pretty good run. But over those 250 years the landmass and population have grown to be unmanageable. Let’s face it, the kids are all grown up, we’ve developed different interests, and we just don’t love each other anymore. We have irreconcilable differences. It’s time for an amicable divorce. There is no shame in that.

We tried secession once before. Ending slavery in the South was a laudable goal. Keeping the union together? Maybe not. So, before things get completely out of hand as they did in the 1860’s, let’s be adult about this and agree to go our separate ways.

The lines of the six new countries are pretty obvious:
  • Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland become New America.
  • The Confederate States of Dixie comprise Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Oklahoma.
  • Then we have Centeram – Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Missouri, and Kansas.
  • Heading westward we get to the states of Westeram: New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, and the Dakotas.
  • Pacifica simply contains California, Oregon, and Washington. Easy.
  • Last, but not least, is, of course, Texas.
I suggest that Alaska and Hawaii, as well as Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, and the other assorted territories, each have their own referendums as to which of the above six new countries they would like to join. Or they want to be independent nations. Alternatively, they may choose to form their own union, or join other existing countries – for example, it would certainly make sense for Alaska to become part of Canada, and all the south pacific island nations might unite - together with the former US islands - to create a single country that will sink into the sea together. And lets not kid ourselves, Hawaiians hate “mainlanders”, so if they want to go, let ‘em go.

In the 2016 election season, Hillary Rodham Clinton’s slogan was, “Stronger Together.” With all due respect, I don’t think that’s true. We hate each other. Our language is full of derogatory terms for the "others" that aren't "us" – hicks, city slickers, northern intellectual elites, carpet baggers, hoi polloi, and so on… We are not one great nation standing together – and we never have been. The US constitution reflects the lack of trust between the original 13 colonies. As America has grown, this has become ever worse – distrust has become disgust.

Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign showed quite clearly that racial, religious, ethnic, and regional hatred never went away – it was just considered inappropriate to show it in public. We are, in fact, weaker together; frustrated, angered, and slowed down by fear and resentment of “other” Americans. There are some fights that are worth fighting, and others that just grind the participants down.

Fortunately, we’ve already sorted ourselves into discrete regions. Let’s just go ahead and recognize that on the map. Granted, there will be some cost, inconvenience, and confusion involved. Maps will need to be reprinted, along with signs, documents, and so on. Each new country will need a capital, currency, a postal service, army, police, and a judicial system. Each will also need to write its own constitution, or use the obsolete US constitution. Each will need to decide what political system to adopt – a President and Congress, a parliamentary system, or something else – and what portion of the laws of the old USA they want to retain. Treaties will need to be renegotiated, and the UN will need to add more seats.

There will be some interesting questions to consider, such as, is a person a citizen of the region/country where they were born, or of the region/country where they resided at the time of the division. There will need to be agreements in place to allow people to remain where they are, even if they are no longer citizens of that nation. Finally, the new countries will have to allow free trade and open borders for at least the first decade or so.

But these are all details. The USSR broke up into more than a dozen countries. It was painful, no doubt, but they were weaker together. So too with what was once Yugoslavia. While the death toll doesn’t begin to compare to the civil war there, Americans are killing each other over our differences. Let’s learn from those that came before us and break up into the set of nations that will make us happy.

I look forward to being a proud citizen of the nation of Pacifica.

November 4, 2016 - Washington DC

In a startling development, FBI director James Comey has sent another letter to members of Congress informing them of a further expansion of the investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's handling of emails.

The full text of director Comey's letter follows.


U.S. Department of Justice Federal Bureau of Investigation
Washington, D. C. 20535

November 4, 2016

Honorable Richard M. Burr
Select Committee on intelligence

Honorable Charles E. Grassley
Committee on the Judiciary

Honorable Richard Shelby Chainnan
Committee on Appropriations
Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies

Honorable Ron Johnson
Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs

Honorable Devin Nunes
Pennanent Select Committee on Intelligence

Honorable Robert Goodlatte
Committee on the Judiciary

Honorable John Culberson
Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies

Honorable Jason Chaffetz
Committee on Oversight and Government Reform

Dear Messrs Chairmen:

As noted in my letter of October 28, 2016, in previous congressional testimony, l referred to the fact that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had completed its investigation of former Secretary Clinton's personal email server. I am again writing to supplement my previous testimony.

In connection with a set of unrelated cases, the FBI has learned that every computer ever built may contain emails that could be pertinent to the investigation of former Secretary Clinton. I have therefore directed FBI agents to take appropriate investigative steps designed to allow investigators to examine every email ever sent to determine whether they contain classified information, as well as to assess their importance to our investigation. 

The FBI cannot yet assess whether or not there may be an email on some computer somewhere on earth that is significant, so I cannot predict how long it will take us to complete this additional work. To expedite this process we will begin by examining emails sent to or received by Bill Cosby. I believe it is important to update your Committees about our efforts in light of my previous letter.

Sincerely yours,
James B. Comey

Honorable Dianne Feinstein
Vice Chairman
Select Committee on Intelligence
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

Honorable Patrick J. Leahy
Ranking Member
Committee on the Judiciary
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

Honorable Barbara Mikulski
Ranking Member
Committee on Appropriations
Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

Honorable Thomas R. Carper
Ranking Member
Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

Honorable Adam B. Schiff
Ranking Member
Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

Honorable John Coyers, Jr.
Ranking Member
Committee on the Judiciary
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

Honorable Michael Honda
Ranking Member
Committee on Appropriations
Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

Honorable Elijah E. Cummings
Ranking Member
Committee on Oversight and Government Reform
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515




Will changes to air traffic control improve US aviation safety?

One of the goals of the FAA’s NextGen “Next Generation” Air Traffic Control System is increased aerospace safety. This is something we should all be able get behind. Isn’t it? The safer they can make flying, the better. Right? Right? Um, maybe. Before jumping to conclusions, let’s take a look at how NextGen addresses enhancing safety.

When most of us think of the dangers of air travel, we are pretty much worrying about not crashing, or being hijacked or abducted by terrorists. Changing air traffic routing has nothing to do with terrorists or other hijackers, but there is no doubt that not crashing is one of my personal priorities when travelling for pleasure or business. What causes airplanes to crash? There are a handful of factors involving equipment failure, human error, and mother nature (e.g. weather, clouds, lighting, birds, pterodactyls).

How can NextGen stop planes from crashing? NextGen only addresses air traffic control, so it has nothing to do with equipment failures, weather, or flying dinosaurs. While the FAA works tirelessly to help protect us from mistakes made by ground crew, as well as pilots that may be poorly trained, overworked, psychologically unstable, or otherwise unqualified, NextGen wont help with any of that either. By changing flight patters, the FAA claims that NextGen will reduce hazards that arise from congested air space, crossing flight paths, and air traffic controller errors. This is important because it will help to stop the scourge of mid-air collisions that are plaguing our skies. Wait. Huh? The scourge of mid-air collisions that are plaguing our skies? What scourge of mid-air collisions that are plaguing our skies?

Aviation Disasters

From the fiery end of the Hindenburg to the attacks of 9/11, there have been disasters throughout the history of aviation. Some will recall Valujet flight 592, which crashed near Miami after a fire erupted in the cargo hold. The disappearance of Malaysia Airlines MH370 may never be solved. Air France flight 447 cost the lives of 228 people; the unexplained explosion of TWA flight 800 will long be remembered. The "Bermuda Triangle" seems to have claimed many an airplane. Celebrities including Amelia Erhard to Buddy Holly, Patsy Cline, Otis Redding, and many others have died in airplanes.

But air traffic controllers (ATC) did not direct the airplanes that struck the World Trade Center towers on 9/11. The one thing we know about MH370 is that it was out of contact with ATC when it disappeared, and it was definitely not in US airspace. Actions by controllers could not have saved any of the airplanes brought down by fire or explosion. The region of the Bermuda Triangle is not controlled by the FAA, and if the planes lost there had been in contact with ATC, their disappearance might not be such a mystery. Celebrities killed in airplane crashes virtually always died in private planes, not commercial flights under ATC guidance.

The history of mid-air collisions in the US

In the middle of the 20th century there were a series of mid-air collisions in the US that prompted the Federal Aviation Act of 1958. This act created the Federal Aviation Agency (later renamed the Federal Aviation Administration) whose primary responsibility was air traffic safety. The FAA has done a great job. According to Wikipedia, since the founding of the FAA in August 1958, there have been just 14 mid-air collisions (exclusive of military aircraft which fall outside the purview of the FAA.) Of course, each of these was a tragedy. But most of them were not commercial flights controlled by ATC.

One incident involved a collision of a commercial flight with a military plane. The two most recent collisions in US airspace involved news helicopters colliding in one case, and a private plane hitting a tour helicopter in the other. None of these would have been avoided if  NextGen had been implemented at the time.

Of the remaining 11 mid-air tragedies, 8 involved private planes striking commercial jets. It has been suggested that NextGen actually increases the hazard of collisions between commercial and private flights (aka “general aviation”.) The reason is that on takeoff and landing, commercial flights are now flying at lower altitudes, closer to the airspace where private planes fly. Whether or not this is true, NextGen does not address general aviation, so there is no reason to believe that it would decrease collisions between private planes, private planes and commercial airliners, or helicopter accidents. Even if NextGen did make it safer for commercial and private aircraft to share the same airspace, there have been no such collisions since 1990 – twenty-six years of safe flying in our skies.

The remaining three mid-air collisions happened in the 1960's, killing a total of 220 people. The first, the “Park Slope Plane Crash” of 1960, was the result of a combination of equipment failure, failed communications, and human error. The 1965 “Carmel Collision” could indeed have been avoided by better air traffic control. Thankfully, in that incident, of 112 people onboard there were only 4 fatalities, due to the efforts of the pilots of the two planes. Lastly, a mid-air collision in 1967 could probably have been avoided through better air traffic control. Would improvements by the FAA have saved these lives? Quite possibly. But keep in mind that these incidents occurred almost 50 years ago.

A virtually perfect record

There are over 31 million commercial flights over the USA each year, yet there have only been three incidents involving collisions of two commercial flights since the FAA was established, and none in almost 50 years. Over 600 million people fly in our skies each year. Of the billions of people that have traveled by air since the founding of the FAA 57 years ago, just 220 of them died in accidents that might be attributed to air traffic control. I don’t want to sound crass to people whose lives were touched by these events, but, statistically speaking, commercial air travel has been almost 100% safe from the kind of crashes that NextGen claims to address.

The FAA proposes that NextGen will improve safety. But how can it? How do you improve on an almost perfect record? There is no scourge of mid-air collisions that needs to be addressed. Travelling by plane is incredibly safe. Even if we include private planes, helicopters, military aircraft, and crashes that didn’t involve air traffic control, it is not dangerous to fly. When considering the number of flights, miles flown, billions of passengers carried, and tons of cargo delivered, air travel is astonishingly safe.

Safety is a red herring

NextGen may well have benefits in terms of efficiency, fuel savings, convenience, time saving, and increases in capacity. It is well worth considering how significant these improvements may be, and the trade-offs for people in the air and on the ground. However, the FAA’s claim that NextGen somehow improves on the near-perfect record of American air traffic control is specious. When debating the merits of NextGen, we should be concerned about not harming the extraordinary safety of air travel we all currently enjoy. Claims of increased safety should be left out of the argument.

As always, I look forward to reading your thoughts.