The Ginny-I
September 5th, 2012 | View Post

Showcasing the completed Ginny-I
The Ginny-I is the loving name that I gave to the most recent rocket I built. Caroline's family enjoys building homemade rockets, filling them with a variety of flammable powders (gunpowder, phosphorus, etc.) and setting them to launch.

I didn't build mine to blow up, but instead to fly with some level of precision. Unfortunately I didn't quite have the right engine for the job, but it did manage to fly three different times. The third time I knew it wasn't going to end well since we only had an E12-8 engine left. The '8' designates the amount of time needed for the ejection stage to occur (triggering my parachute). It crashed long before that 8 seconds was up.

Here are the videos:

If you're interested in building a rocket like this, here is a rough approximation of the costs:

  • Body - 3" diameter postage tube from Office Depot.
    About $7.00 for a pack of two.
  • Nosecone - paper mâché from Michael's trimmed to size.
    About $3.50 for one.
  • Fins - 1/4" basswood from Michael's.
    One sheet for about $3.50 - plenty for all fins.
  • Launch Lugs - plastic shell remnants of firecracker (2 were used for stability).
  • Parachute - made from aluminum-like wrapping paper with hearty rope tied to corners.
    About $1.00
  • Spray Paint - red and black spray paint for the final look.
    About $3.50 each can.
  • Engine Mount - shaped from postal tube ends.

So the rocket only cost about $18.50 to build from scratch, about $11.50 if you exclude the paint job. Far cheaper than most of the sets you'll find in the store.

Howard Ludlow Sr. Labor Day 1960
September 2nd, 2012 | View Post

The Akai GX-280D-SS Reel-to-Reel player/recorder I purchased for digitizing my grandfather's tapes.

One of the reel-to-reel tape boxes from the 50s/60s
When my grandfather died in 2005, he left behind a handful of reel-to-reel audio tapes, all of which my father kept. Of course my father also had no way of listening to these tapes (nor do most people). I purchased an old reel-to-reel machine for a few hundred dollars and went about digitizing the old reels. One of them contained a speech my grandfather had prepared for Labor Day of 1960. It was a speech to his Catholic Parish regarding the general lack of responsibility permeating between union officials and management leaders. Sadly, the topic is even more relevant today than it was 52 years ago when he spoke it.

Unfortunately for preservation sake, his recording reel must have been broken because the rate of recording speed was variably inconsistent across the entire speech. This resulted in the beginning of the tape sounding very high pitched (like a chipmunk) and gradually slowing to his normal voice. You can listen to the unedited MP3 at the bottom of this post to hear what I mean. I've spoken with many audio experts online and all seem to agree the problem must have resided with the original recording device.

In the end, and with the help of Audacity, I was painstakingly able to reconstruct my grandfather's voice to match what it should have sounded like. The last minute or so of the tape had been unaffected and thus is his actual voice; I used that as the baseline for comparison.

That all said, there may be certain sections that sound slightly "off". This is because I not only had to reconstruct the pitch, but also the speed at which the words were spoken; it was a pretty challenging project. I have a few other reels and am trying to reconstruct them in my spare time. They're VERY difficult because they contain singing (who knows of what).

His full speech is transcribed below the video.

This speech is being specially recorded.

Irene Ludlow.

Your Excellency, Right Reverend Monsignori, Reverend Fathers, ladies and gentlemen. This morning I had the pleasure of joining with you at Holy Mass as part of our celebration of Labor Day. To many people, such a religious beginning for what is simply a very popular American holiday may appear to be rather strange. They know that Peter McGuire suggested the holiday in 1882 as a demonstration of fraternity and the harbinger of a better age when labor shall be best honored and well-rewarded.

Today labor has that better age and it has been both honored and rewarded. Indeed it enjoys every right and privilege that legal procedures can provide. But we as Catholics know that while Labor Day as a legal holiday quite properly commemorates the attainment of labor's rights, that these same rights and privileges call forth equal duties and responsibilities to the rest of society.

I think that it is almost as if labor's rights and labor's responsibilities were two sides of the same coin. And unfortunately we do not have to look very far to find ample evidence that the responsibility side of the coin is too often turned under so that only the side which emphasizes labor's rights seems to be visible.

Perhaps the working man, the employer, and the union official all need to be reminded of the ethical requirement that demands just actions and morally correct decisions and not merely popular answers or victory over the opposition at any price.

What of the union leader who insists upon a course of action during a labor dispute even though he knows in his conscience that his demands are unreasonable? He will attempt to explain away his actions on the grounds that he has been elected by the membership and must not offend the union rank and file for fear of losing his office. Tell me is he a politician looking for votes, or is he truly a leader who recognizes his responsibility to set an example by acting in a reasonable and just manner?

And what of the union leader who fears to lead and who looks to someone else to take his irons out of the fire for him? He is the type of official who hesitates to rule against one of his members during a grievance hearing and who sends the dispute to arbitration. Of course he knows from the evidence already in his possession that the union cannot hope to obtain a favorable award. But the union's money can be spent, the member can be given false hope, and when the decision is finally handed down, this type of union leader is in the clear; the arbitrator is the villain who is to blame.

Speaking of arbitration, it should be noted that this particular form of dispute settlement has increased tremendously in popularity in New Jersey in recent years. In all fairness, I believe it should be recognized that this increase in the arbitration caseload shows that our labor leaders are constantly striving to improve their service to the union membership and this is a fine example of responsible leadership on their part.

However there are some irresponsible aspects of this which also need a few minutes of our attention.

Our nation's largest railroad system was brought to a halt last week even though two separate arbitrators had made settlement proposals. Now I do not propose to question the merits of the union's position in the strike, but you cannot very well have a binding type of collective bargaining action like arbitration which can be ignored at will.

Nor is management altogether innocent of wrongdoing when arbitration abuses are discussed. How many companies throw almost every grievance into arbitration in order to weaken the union's treasuries? For many industrial relations managers, the word responsibility exists only in the dictionary and the social implications of their jobs are never allowed to overshadow the legal status given to them by their corporations. They may control the job destinies of thousands of their fellow men, but they never forget the source of their paychecks.

And when there are sweetheart contracts or other illegal relationships with dishonest unions, the public is often lead to believe that only labor is at fault and we are asked to conveniently forget that there are two sides to that coin also. That the dishonest union leader cannot succeed without his management counterpart.

All of this talk of responsibility reminds me of the article written several years ago by one of our American Bishops on what he called the "Philosophy of Excuse". The author's contention was that far too many Americans occupy their time trying to think up suitable reasons for not doing what they are supposed to, instead of carrying out their duties in accordance with their vocations in life. Unfortunately I believe that this "Philosophy of Excuse" permeates far too large a segment of those who are engaged with labor-management relations.

The working man who justifies his support of dishonest labor leaders on the grounds that they take pretty good care of him at contract time. The management man who always opposes anything asked by the union because he feels that that is the role that he is supposed to play. The union official who asks the impossible at a bargaining session because he believes that his members will appreciate his show of strength. All are guilty of adhering to the "Philosophy of Excuse" instead of acting in a proper and responsible manner.

In our own state we have the unique situation whereby the AFL and CIO have been unable to join forces as on the national level. Questions of dues, leadership, jurisdiction, all enter into the arguments against the proposed merger. Good reasons I am sure, but isn't there at least some of that excuse philosophy also present?

Many of you are leaders within the labor movement and you may feel that I have been too harsh in my remarks this morning. On the other hand, management representatives may accuse me of emphasizing a labor position too much. In this connection, I am reminded of the story told of the management official who had had a very bad day in dealing with his union at a bargaining session. Everything had gone in favor of the union and he had received quite a pushing around from labor's representatives.

To make matters worse, on the way home from his unsuccessful negotiations with the union, our management man was hit by a car and was taken to a hospital to be treated. Even then he had problems because the operating room was occupied at the time by a woman patient and the injured management official had to wait in the hall outside.

Being angry and in pain and as our union friends would say, acting like a true management man, our management friend began to demand some treatment. He told the nurse to get the woman patient out of the operating room so that he could be treated for his injuries.

"But I'm sorry sir," said the nurse, "But we cannot get the woman out of there. You see, she is in labor."

"In labor!" screamed the management man. "All day I've gotten that kind of argument and now even at the hospital. That's the trouble today. It's everything for labor, and nothing for management."

Well, as we celebrate this Labor Day of 1960, we do not believe that it is everything for either labor or management. As Catholics, we recognize the rights of both sides and we are happy to pay tribute to those who have struggled to improve the fraternity of labor that was spoken of by Peter McGuire seventy-eight years ago. But also as Catholics, we recognize the other size of that coin. The side devoted to responsibility and we urge the representatives of both labor and management to have led the fight for economic success in America to battle with equal vigor along the ethical path to true social justice.

Thank you for the privilege of speaking to you on this beautiful Labor Day morning.

And thank you doll, my toothless little friend.

Full speech audio (unedited): 1960-09-04_HowardLudlow_LaborDay_Unedited.mp3 (11.0mb)
Full speech audio (edited): 1960-09-04_HowardLudlow_LaborDay_Edited.mp3 (9.1mb)

The Wire
August 17th, 2012 | View Post

The Wire
Final Season Box
After years of having this show on my list, I finally started and quickly completed "The Wire". Needless to say, the show definitely lives up to the hype that it's been given by the world. The characters are fantastic and the story is deep. But there's also an element to the show rather atypical to most writing styles of today. "The Wire" does an amazing job at telling a balanced view of society up and down the socioeconomic ladder.

At first it seems the show is simply about homicide detectives trying to bust up dangerous drug rings (for murdering people). But this is only at first glance. It doesn't take long before the viewer is completely immersed in so many facets of real-life that it becomes impossible to take one side or another. Everything that happens is well justified; it's just a matter of perspective. There's no one stereotype applied to any of the characters because just like real-life, they all have their own unique perspective, views, and talents to offer the world (or at least the story in this case).

The show is not a typical dichotomy of good versus bad. Rather, it's a well-told story about the human condition and how a handful of misunderstood social problems are essentially destroying the United States (and likely other parts of the world). In my own opinion, this destruction is mostly because the topics are so misunderstood. I like to think the show brings some clarity to them to the viewer.

Regardless, it's a wonderful show and I would highly recommend it.

On the scale of my favorite television dramas, I'd have to rank it behind Breaking Bad, Battlestar Galactica, and probably Game of Thrones (pending the next three seasons). But it definitely deserves to be seated in the top 5 best shows I've seen.

Replacing the Thermostat
July 29th, 2012 | View Post

After finally getting the bus up and running, it seems that there is a small problem cooling it down. For one thing, the radiator fan isn't coming on. Because the bus is so old, it's difficult to determine if there is just some old oil burning off the engine block or if the engine is overheating slightly.

A friend of mine suggested that the problem might be as simple as a faulty thermostat. It took me a little bit of work (and my trusty Haynes manual), but I was able to get the coolant manifold opened up, clean everything out, and replace the thermostat.

I also went ahead and bought an analog temperature gauge for the radiator so I can see just how hot the coolant is running once it's fired up. Once I get that piece in place, I'll fire it back up and see if everything starts working normally. Otherwise it's back to the proverbial drawing board.

The open engine block after removing the manifold. You can see a little bit of the neon-green coolant still sitting atop it.

The old temperature gauge on the left versus the new one on the right.

Installing the new thermostat and a new gasket. Installing the gasket was actually one of the tougher parts because I had to carefully clean and dry the block without getting all of the dirt into the open engine block (before the thermostat was set into place).

The coolant manifold back in place and tightly locked down over the gasket.

Finally, the whole system back in place.

American Healthcare: A Moderate Approach
July 1st, 2012 | View Post

I have decided to release a chapter of my book in the wake of the recent Supreme Court healthcare decision.

The particular chapter I am releasing is titled "American Healthcare: A Moderate Approach". It is a thorough examination of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, or what is often referred to as Obamacare. Like the rest of the book, the chapter does not attempt to take aim at either side of the political aisle, but rather scrutinizes the entire American political machine. This is not limited to Congress, but the American populous as well. It illustrates how federally mandated insurance lines the pockets of multinational insurance and pharmaceutical companies while driving up medical costs for the average American consumer. It explains how politicians have conflated the meanings of healthcare and health insurance, using the claim of one to profit from the other. The chapter also proposes numerous solutions that could be implemented to actually improve the state of healthcare without increasing the scope and power of the federal government.

Download the entire chapter:

Read each section online:

The chapter is 31 pages long and approximately 12,000 words. Each section of the chapter can be read directly on my blog using the links above. Alternatively, the entire chapter can be downloaded in PDF form.

If you know of anybody interested in publishing this type of literature, please have them contact me through my website.

American Healthcare - Part I: Introduction
July 1st, 2012 | View Post

As technology continues advancing medical sciences beyond the scope of our imagination, humanity’s ability to heal is constantly surpassing what science fiction makes us believe possible. Despite these continued advances, citizens of the United States have witnessed a continual depreciation in the most basic of healthcare services, meanwhile watching the costs of those services continue to skyrocket. From a political point of view, neither side of the coin has showed any particular willingness to compromise, nor has either side made any visible attempt to think beyond traditional partisan boxes. On the one hand, Democrats seem all too willing to empower both the government and multinational conglomerates with impractical and anti-consumerist solutions. While on the other hand, Republicans do not even seem able or willing to acknowledge that the healthcare system is severely flawed.

If we indulge cynicism, it does appear the one success both parties have had is finding yet another outlet in which to further polarize a steadily misinformed, and politically divided nation. With these divisions driving the country towards civil unrest, one might wonder if it is even possible to steer the country back towards some type of realistic and agreeable middle ground. That is to suggest, is it possible for Americans to control their government, the underlying basis of the entire American democracy, while still ensuring that the medical needs of an ever-growing population are properly met?

I believe the answer to this question is most definitely yes, but not without a very legitimate, voluntary, and rationally based commitment from individuals of both sides. Much like the topics that have already been addressed throughout this text, people will need to understand that there is a balance point within the system that we must strive for as a collective society. It is simply unrealistic to think that any country can provide the bleeding edge of technology to every person, all of the time, and without cost; it is simply not economically possible. But conversely, it is nothing short of malignity to believe we cannot, or should not, implement practical solutions that ensure the basic health and well-being of all Americans without creating financial hardships for anyone, whether they are rich or poor.

Proverbial wisdom suggests that sometimes one must take a single step back in order to take two steps forward. Given how far the country has moved in both directions away from center, it stands to reason that we would need to take a very large step backwards in order to correct our problems. But if both liberals and conservatives would be willing to embrace that parable and champion sensible legislative adjustments rather than merely dictating their own far-leaning partisan ideologies, I believe Americans could enjoy the most functional and efficient healthcare system in the world.

continued in "Part II: The Healthcare Divide"

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