I came across a bit of poetry by Emerson that is apropos to the times we find ourselves in:

Each the herald is who wrote                                                                               His rank, and quartered his own coat.                                                         There is no king nor sovereign state                                                              That can fix a hero’s rate;                                                                                  Each to all is venerable,                                                                            Cap-a-pie invulnerable,                                                                                     Until he write, where all eyes rest,                                                                 Slave or master on his breast.

Body Mass Index

After losing 40 pounds over several years my BMI is now the same as it was when I was in the Army … 50 years ago.  BMI is a formula* used to classify people as underweight, normal, overweight, or obese.  These classes are used as predictors of health, originally intended as guidance for physicians.  When I was in the Army I was in the best shape of my life.  Since I now have the same BMI I should be perfectly healthy and (after 50 years of a sedentary career) should fit into the same clothes.  Of course I do not.  My waist size is still 3 or 4 inches larger and I no longer have the same muscle mass.  While reasonably accurate for mass sedentary populations, BMI treats fat just like muscle and is biased against taller, younger, and athletic people.  Many champion athletes and action movie stars rate as overweight or even obese under the BMI.

*   BMI  =  kg / m²   =  10,000 x kg / cm²  = 703 x lb / in²     Note that this formula requires access to a weight scale, more math than some people are comfortable with, and needs a correction factor depending upon the units used.  Proposed new formulas suggest a 1.3 multiplier and raising height to the 2.5 power, not the kind of thing everyone understands.  Other tweaks include things like multiplying your BMI by your serum albumin level in grams per liter.

BMI is a crock.   It is also an inferior predictor of health outcomes.  This is not news.   The main social problem is that it has evolved from guidance for physicians into a absolute mandate for the bureaucrats who run our children’s lives and is used to bully athletic school children who have more muscle and less fat than their compatriots.

A much better metric is the waist-height ratio.  Measure your waist and divide by your height.  Simple.  All you need is a tape measure.  It doesn’t matter if it’s in inches, centimeters, or old Russian vershoks.  WHtR does a far superior job of accounting for muscle versus fat.  A 2010 study that followed 11,000 subjects for up to eight years concluded that WHtR is a much better measure of the risk of heart attack, stroke or death than the more widely used body mass index.

In any case, unlike BMI, waist-height ratio sorts people into a reasonable order:

0.3359   Marilyn Monroe

0.4240   Female college swimmer

0.4280   Male college swimmer

0.4580   Bodybuilder

0.4920   Female at increased risk

0.5000   General healthy cutoff

0.5100   Risk equivalent to BMI of 25

0.5360   Males at increased risk

0.5700   Risk equivalent to BMI of 30

0.5770   Obese

0.5820   Substantial risk increase

As for me, my WHtR tells me I have a ways to go yet.


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Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence.  Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent.  Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb.  Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts.  Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.  The slogan ‘Press On’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race. — Calvin Coolidge

Single Malt Scotch

This is not so much a review as a guide to anyone just starting out with single malt Scotch.  A large liquor store may have up to 100 different single malts and in total there have been over 1500 brands which makes a newcomer feel lost.  Unlike bourbon or brandy or a particular wine like sauvignon blanc the various Scotches are completely different.  There is very little useful guidance; most review sites appear to like every kind of Scotch which doesn’t help much in choosing your first couple of bottles.  If you ask random Scotch drinkers they will recommend something like Talisker or Glenrothes or Laphroaig, which you may or may not like, but it won’t help much at the store when you look for the next bottle to try.  I’ve found that choosing at random is a bad idea.

A little quick background will help you understand some of the differences.  For millennia Scotland has been a very poor country.  Most of the Scotch distilleries today started out as illegal bootleg stills in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s with limited access to resources.  Scotch is made from malted barley like beer without the hops.  The barley is moistened to allow it to just germinate (malt) and then is dried with heat to stop the malt.  Here is the first problem; most of the trees in Scotland were cut down hundreds of years ago for firewood.  The usual solution is to dig up peat from various bogs and fens and burn it which dries the barley but also adds often strong flavors that vary by local.  The malted barley is mixed with water in vats and allowed to ferment producing ethanol.  The result is distilled multiple times.  The water comes from a local stream or lake which adds its own flavors.  Most operations were set up near streams with particularly suitable water.  The raw alcohol from the still is not drinkable and needs to be aged in wood casks as is the case for most distilled spirits.  Here is the next problem; new casks were too expensive for the Scots to afford.  The solution was to buy used Kentucky bourbon casks from America or used sherry casks from Spain.

The use of peat, coal, or other fuel for process heat, the type and handling of the Barley, the water source, the details of the stills, the second fill casks used for aging, and even the conditions in the cask house affect the taste of the final product.

By Scottish law Scotch must be aged in the cask for at least 3 years.  As a practical matter commercial Scotch is almost always 8 or more years old.  The “age” refers to the time spent in the wood casks.  Once bottled, the Scotch stops aging.  The older Scotches are not just batches that were left longer in the casks.  They are individual barrels that were identified by the Master of Malt or equivalent at an early stage as especially promising and held for a longer aging cycle.  There may only be a few casks a year good enough to benefit from aging for 18 or 25 years.  A 40 or 50 year old Macallan candidate cask may only be identified once in a decade or so.  The price has nothing to do with taking up space in the warehouse and everything to do with a very limited supply of a great whisky.

The most distinctive discriminant of Scotch flavors is the taste described as smokey, peaty, medicine, or iodine produced by phenols from the peat and possibly sea air.  This taste ranges from very strong in Scotches like Laphroaig to nonexistent in Auchentoshan and Glengoyne which don’t use peat in their process.

By the way, bourbon is whiskey, Scotch is whisky.  Many single malt brands peak in terms of interesting flavor in the 15 to 18 year range.  Younger malts are a little rough and older Scotches seem to pick up more flavors from the cask than from the original process.  For instance I like Macallan 18 ($300) better than Macallan 25 ($1700) and the Macallan 15 ($140) is perfectly nice.  On the other hand while Glenfarclas 17 ($85) is good, Glenfarclas 25 ($160) is wonderful.  Scotch snob warning:  While the Scots usually put a little water in their Scotch, the custom elsewhere is to drink it neat and at room temperature.  If you drink it with ice or even in a chilled glass the cold ruins the taste you paid for.  The Scots also use single malts for cocktails.  It makes me shudder but I suppose that’s what they have.  If you want a Rusty Nail, a Rob Roy, or a Godfather use a blend like Chivas, Johnnie Walker, or Dewar’s and don’t waste your single malt investment.

Like wines in France, Scotland has several Scotch regions with their own typical character.  Unlike French regions where all the white Bordeaux from the Entre-Deux-Mers region is similar, Scotches from each region can vary widely.

Islay is an island west of the mainland and home to Ardbeg, Lagavulin, Laphroaig, Bowmore, and Bruichladdich (bruke-laddee) most of which are strongly peated.  Laphroaig prides itself as “The most richly flavored of all Scotch whiskys” and is very smoky.   Talisker is another highly peated Scotch from the Isle of Skye that reportedly gets its character from the sea environment.

Campbeltown is on the Kintyre peninsula near Islay which once had 30 distilleries.  It is now known for brands like Springbank, Hazelburn, and Glen Scotia.  These are somewhat smoky but less distracting than the Islay malts.

The lowland malts like Auchentoshan are very mild.  It features the tallest stills of any distillery which may account for the smoothness.  Glengoyne 18 is very flavorful in an interesting fruitly way and one of my favorites.  It prides itself as being unhurried since 1833, and “the patience we take over the slowest distillation in Scotland”.  (It’s also the closest distillery to my ancestral home.)

The highland malts are separated into Speysides just south of Moray Firth and the rest of the highlands.  Speysides are very drinkable mostly with limited peat.  Some of the most recognizable brands are Glenlivet, Glenfiddich (-dik), Longmorn, and Macallan.  The Glenfiddich 18 is very smooth while retaining some character.  The Glenlivet verges on bland and since most chain restaurants just carry Glenlivet and Glenfiddich , I always pick the Glenfiddich for the better finish.  Recently Glenlivet moved to perk up their offerings by coming out with a 15 year French Oak Reserve aged in NEW French oak barrels.  This makes a big difference and produces a really rich fruity flavor.  Others have copied this like Balvenie and Glen Garioch (geery) with less successful results.  Macallan has been rightly described as the Roll-Royce of Scotches.  Their products are consistently good with rich flavors, low smoke, and the traditional long finish.  While I usually drink the 15, they have started coming out with annual limited edition versions and the most recent, number 4, is perhaps the best Macallan I’ve tasted yet.  Macallan only uses the first 16% of the ethanol that distills off the barley mash in their whisky.  Distilling for too long produces higher alcohols and other impurities.  Macallan is willing to waste more mash than some for a superior product and is able to charge more to cover the cost.  Longmorn is a good pick but hard to find.  The Scotches I like have a nice aroma and Aberlour A’bunadh has one of the nicest and most intense.  It is bottled at cask strength, 120 proof, and is intended to be mixed 4 parts Scotch to 1 part distilled water to bring it down to 86 proof for drinking.  Don’t cheat here: the distilled water makes a big difference.  It doesn’t work right with bottled drinking water.  The Glenrothes 15 is good but smoky enough to take some getting used to.  A note here is that the way you are feeling, how tired you are, or what you’ve been eating has a surprising effect on how a given Scotch tastes on a given day.  The complexity of some like Glenrothes is more sensitive to this than some others.

Glenfarclas is one of the few privately owned family distilleries in Scotland.  It is currently being operated by the 6th descendant of the original owner.  He is selling Scotch that his grandfather distilled and is distilling Scotch that his grandchildren will be selling.  He takes very great care with what he leaves to them.  The Glenfarclas 17 is tasty; but as I mentioned before, the 25 is wonderful and at $160 it is far more accessible for drinking purposes than the 25 year old Macallan at $1700.

There are over 40 Speyside distilleries that overshadow the 30 or so other highland products but some of the latter are very interesting.  Oban on the Firth of Lorn in the west highlands is good but fairly smoky.  Scapa and Highland Park are only about 5 miles apart on the Orkney Islands north of the Scottish mainland but are completely different.  Scapa is a very smooth Scotch similar to some lowlands brands while Highland Park is more like the heavily peated Islay Scotches.  Macduff which produces Deveron is the easternmost operating distillery in the highlands.  The Deveron 18 is excellent with a nice finish and is not too smoky.  Dalwhinne is the highest distillery in Scotland  —  if nothing else their stills boil at the lowest temperature of any in Scotland.  Their whisky is very smooth even if slightly smoky and is known as “the gentle spirit”.

My current favorite is Glen Morangie 18 (rhymes with orangy).  It has a very nice rich fruity flavor, good finish, and is very smooth.  When I started on single malts, Glen Morangie prided itself as being a small local operation with their whisky “Handcrafted by the 16 men of Tain” for decades.  Tain is a village on the south side of Dornoch Firth about 25 miles north of Inverness.  In the past 30 years Glen Morangie has justifiably become very popular and grown accordingly.  While they still keep the original small distillery running, they have become a major producer and their bottles now say “Perfected by the 16 men of Tain”.  The end product is as good as ever.

Here is a Wikimedia map of the distilleries in Scotland.

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If you use Tinactin as a preventative, per the label directions, spray it into the ends of your toes as part of your normal daily application.  If the front corners of your toes are sometimes tender, this will help.  Even though the directions state that the product is not effective on nails, that refers to back under the nails.  It is effective at the edges.

It is best to use the plain Powder Spray (with the grey background) as it is less messy than the Liquid Spray  (with the blue background).  Avoid the Deodorant Powder Spray (with the green background) as the regular Powder Spray works just as well as a deodorant and unlike the regular Powder Spray, the Deodorant Powder spray contains corn starch which is sticky and leaves white marks on clothes, carpets, and shoes.  Speaking of shoes,  Tinactin regular Powder Spray can be sprayed directly into athletic or other shoes before putting them away.  This works to kill shoe odors better than anything else I’ve tried.  Apparently Tinactin also kills the fungi responsible for shoe odor.  Trying this with Deodorant Powder Spray doesn’t work any better and leaves a persistent white residue.

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Spilled Tea

I like Japanese food.  When you ask for hot tea at most of the Japanese restaurants I go to they bring you a cup and a small cast iron teapot with a flat top on the spout.

For a long time, no matter how careful I was, after pouring the first cup there was always a puddle of tea on the table.   Being still more careful made it worse.  I couldn’t even tell where the tea was coming from.  I’ve never been particularly graceful but how hard can it be?  Tip the pot and the tea pours into the cup.

I eventually figured out what was going on.  As the cup filled up I was tilting the pot back gradually, reducing the flow in anticipation of a full cup.  At some point the velocity and inertia of the flowing tea was too small to overcome molecular attraction for the spout and since bottom of the spout ran downhill, the tea ran along the underside of the spout and ran off at the bottom of the pot.  My view was blocked by the teapot so I couldn’t see it happen.

To an engineer this was obviously a design flaw.  The fix was to shape the end of the spout so that tea will always pour out away from the pot and not down the outside of the spout.

Yet many teapot spouts, western and eastern, behave like the first illustration.   Since the time of the Greeks and Romans better spout designs  have appeared on pitchers, beakers,  amphoras and ewers.  Note that on the following pitcher, while the spout does not turn down at rest, it will point down whenever liquid is being poured.

While the flat top teapot spout is bad engineering,  people are good at compensating.  I never noticed until later watching British TV shows on Amazon.  A tea service seems to appear in at least one scene of every British mystery  or police procedural.  British actresses, who have been pouring tea very precisely since they were little girls, automatically snap their wrist back slightly to abruptly cut off the flow as the cup fills, avoiding a spill.

In summary, either (1) this is a major world-wide design flaw requiring mass recalls and government action at the highest levels or (2) since there already is a perfectly good work-around, if you’re not a klutz, it may fall squarely in the Irrelevant Tech category.

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Draining Garden Hoses

If you drain garden hoses in the fall or between jobs and have a portable air compressor you may find this adapter a big time saver.  It is assembled out of a few dollars worth of parts from the hardware store:  a ball type hose valve, an air hose adapter, an appropriate thread adapter, and thread tape.

With the valve off, attach the adapter to your air compressor.   Run the compressor to shut-off, unplug it, and carry it to your hose.  Remove the hose nozzle and secure the hose end as it may thrash around.  Disconnect the hose from the water source and attach it to the adapter.  Crack the valve open slightly to start the water flowing.  Moderate the valve to get a typical flow.  When the hose starts to sputter, briefly open the valve fully to blow the last of the water out.

This will empty reeled hose as well as coiled or loose.  A 3 gallon tank will clear a 50 foot hose in one shot.  A 6 gallon tank is sufficient for a 100 foot hose or a couple of 50 foot hoses.

Pruning Loppers

This post addresses pruning loppers that are two or three feet long but also applies somewhat to one hand pruners and pole pruners.

The basic rule for using a lopper is: NEVER twist the lopper.  If the lopper does not cleanly cut all the way through a branch and sticks, rotate it back and forth around the branch in the plane of the cut to get it unstuck.  It is tempting to give it a little twist to snap off the branch or pry it out — resist that temptation.  If not you will often chip the cutting blade and ruin it.  The cutting blade of a lopper is very narrow and very hard in order to make it cut easily.  It is immensely strong in the direction of the cut but quite brittle against side loads, which is what makes twisting or prying so risky.

There are three basic types of loppers.  The first is the anvil style that pinches the branch with a sharp cutter against an anvil jaw with a brass or polymer insert to keep from dulling the cutter.  The cutter and anvil are usually straight.  The main problem is that if you try to cut a green branch of even moderate size it tends to squirt out of the jaws.  These also often take a greater amount of effort than other designs.

The second type is a “Bird’s Head” bypass lopper.  In these, the curved cutting blade “bypasses” the fixed blade like a pair of scissors.  This usually results in lower cutting effort for a given design.  But, the curve of the cutting blade matches the curve of the fixed blade. As a result green branches tend to squirt out of this style too.

The third type is a bypass lopper with a cutting blade shape that is more squared off than that of the fixed blade.  This captures the branch to be cut, eliminating any possibility of it squirting out.  As a bypass lopper it cuts easily and the captured branch is held in an optimum position for the cut.  Several manufacturers make these.  The Fiskars PowerGear® and Power-Lever® families are good examples of the type.

A major consideration is replacement parts.  The part that generally wears out, even with the best of care, is the cutting blade and a worn or chipped cutter is an exercise in frustration.  If your lopper has replacements available they will be much cheaper than buying a new lopper.  Some manufacturers sell repair parts on their web sites.  As an example, a search for “lopper parts” on the Fiskars web site returns various cutter blades for current and past loppers.  (It also lists a number of lower cost loppers that are still in production.)  Drilling down into likely pictures and descriptions yields model numbers and reference dimensions so you can be sure you are ordering the right part.  A replacement cutter is $8 for a $46 lopper and $4 for a $25 lopper, much better than a whole new lopper from the hardware store.  Buy a couple while you’re at it.

Old-school combs

A long time ago, when consumer products were made in America, the original ACE combs were ubiquitous.  Men and boys carried them.  Every barber shop had an ACE comb sales display.  James Dean famously used one to comb his hair in Rebel Without a Cause.  President John F. Kennedy owned at least one.  ACE combs were successful because they were quality products, typical for that age.  They were made from a tough, strong, flexible hard rubber with thick end guard tines to protect the teeth.  The rough mold parting line around the back and edges was carefully ground off smooth to eliminate the sharp edge.  Even the tips of the teeth were smoothed off so as to not damage hair. They could be dropped without damage and tended to last for years.  As cheaper imitators appeared, ACE started stamping their products as “Genuine ACE Hard Rubber”.

During the adverse conditions of the 1980’s, one of their competitors bought ACE and that was the end of the original ACE comb.  Since the competitor now owned the ACE trademarks, they had legal right to stamp “Genuine ACE Hard Rubber” on their existing combs made out of a more brittle material with thinner guards and an exposed sharp mold line including along the tips of the teeth.  These combs broke if you dropped them on their ends but that just meant the customer would buy another.

Many people didn’t notice, but if you cared, it was annoying.   If you do care, here are a couple of sources for hand-made, high quality combs, with saw cut teeth to eliminate mold edges between teeth, and polished all over so they have no sharp edges anywhere.  They are tough and long lasting.

Speert imports a wide range of private label high quality hand-made Swiss combs for men and women, in pocket, purse, and styling versions.  The Speert site also offers a very wide selection of different styles, sizes, and diopters of inexpensive reading glasses.

For seriously old-school, Kent has been making the “world’s finest brushes” and combs for over 240 years … since 1777.  They produce a range of men’s and women’s hand-made, saw cut, polished combs.  You can hear the difference as their combs glide through your hair.  The given link is for Great Britain and while they have importers, the home web site is worth visiting.  It has a web store and PayPal does the pound/dollar conversion seamlessly.

These are elegant combs for a very reasonable price.

Garden hose

Don’t buy garden hoses with aluminum fittings — generally silver colored instead of brass.  These fittings will corrode and seize to your hose nozzles, sprinklers, and faucets.  They then have to be cut off and generally ruin the mating part.  Existing hoses can be salvaged by cutting off the aluminum fittings and installing brass fittings available from any hardware store.

Also, try to avoid aluminum in electrical fittings and switches.  The aluminum eventually forms a surface oxide layer that causes open and/or intermittent circuits and, in some cases, fires.  Years ago there was a brief effort to use aluminum wire in residential wiring before the fire hazard was recognized.  It is hard to avoid aluminum in cheap lamp sockets but the effort will be worth it.  As a couple of personal examples: our son kept fighting an intermittent ceiling light — replacing bulbs, switch, and breaker — until I swapped out the old aluminum lamp socket.  At another time, my garage door manual button stopped working — the remotes worked fine.  This was eventually traced to the use by the manufacturer of an aluminum washer under a terminal riveted to a circuit board.  There was no visible corrosion, just an invisible oxide layer that formed under the rivet head.  A bit of solder bridging over the washer from the terminal to the board cured the problem.

Aluminum is great for cookware and airplanes.  Not so much for water fittings or electrical connections.