Friday, May 27, 2005

Well Drilling & The Caliber Question

Jim (don't know the last name--he goes to church with me, so it is strictly first name) the well driller started today. I went out to see how it was going, and as I walked towards the drilling rig, I wasn't sure that it was even going, until I saw diesel exhaust. The rig, once fully erected, stands out.

The second truck carries 1200 gallons of water (used to lubricate the drilling bit as it cuts through rock) and a collection of drill extensions and casing. The drill extensions screw into each other, allowing the drill bit to keep going down. The casings go into the hole to prevent the rock from collapsing in, once the drill is removed. Jim tells me some rock is strong enough that it doesn't require casing, but this sandstone does. I am not surprised--it crumbles very easily.

Air pumped to the bottom of the hole forces the mixture of drilling foam, water, and pulverized rock to the surface, where it comes out looking like bad chocolate pudding.

I asked Jim when he knew that he had reached water. Apparently instead of coming out thick, it gets very runny, because the water in the formation overwhelms the small amount of water he is putting down the hole.

When I arrived, he was at 67 feet, of which the first 33 feet were this beautiful organic-rich soil with some basalt rocks (apparently from up the hill), and the rest was sandstone (although it is just wet sand when it comes out). While I was there, he added another drilling extension, and went another six to ten feet down. I am expecting water at about 120 feet, based on the experiences of others in similar formations nearby.

Here's Jim's assistant, also a licensed well driller, with their miracle child, Pearl--born after sixteen years of trying for children, with all the medical assistance possible, and then giving up. Jim gave a powerful testimony in church a few months back to the importance of trusting God when the desires of your heart aren't being met.

My wife and I returned in the evening, having not heard from him--and we found that the bad chocolate pudding mound was a lot larger and runnier. There were now bags of bentonite (used for sealing around the bore hole at the surface to prevent surface water contamination). The winch was no longer on the drill extension side of the support truck, but on the casing side--and it seemed as though a number of the casings were now missing. I think this means that he hit water within an hour or two of my leaving. I haven't heard from Jim, but I expect to know tomorrow.

We climbed the hill to look at the neighboring property--and met our neighbors with the airstrip at the top of the hill. They confirmed that there are predators (other than mosquitoes) in the area. They were chased across a barbed wire fence "over there" by a black bear, and they have seen a cougar drinking at the pond about 300 feet from our property line. Foxes and badgers abound. We look forward to seeing them. We mean them no harm, but we aren't insufferably dense bunny-huggers, so...

What are considered reliable handgun cartridges for short range defensive use on black bear and cougar? The Smith & Wesson in .44 Magnum would certainly be sufficient, but it is a bit clumsy for my wife to carry when hiking. Is .45 ACP JHP sufficient for black bear, or would FMJ be required for sufficient penetration to hit vital organs for an immediate cessation of hostilities?

What about cougar? I know that these are thin skinned animals, and smaller than the two-legged predators that we usually worry about, but unlike a criminal, who is likely to be deterred from continuing an attack by fear of bleeding to death, a cougar may not. Is there a reliable stopping choice in a handgun caliber?

UPDATE: I spoke to Jim this morning. At 127 feet they hit water. He thinks it is only about five gallons per minute--adequate, but he believes that going a little deeper might get us a higher flow rate.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

The House Project: I Think We Have Finalized The Floor Plan

It has transformed into a four bedroom, three bath house with a four car garage (two wide, two deep, so really two cars and a lot of storage). It turns out that while we do need some pit run to make a road base for part of our driveway--we won't have to buy any. The rock dredged up while grading the house platform is exactly what we need. This knocks several thousand dollars off the driveway.
You Can't Take It With You...

But you can leave it for someone else to enjoy:
THOMPSON FALLS - The distance between Thompson Falls High School and the sun is about 93 million miles.

But it sure seems a lot closer now that Rusty Kincade's astronomy class has their hands on an 11-inch Celestron telescope installed inside an all-weather observatory on campus.

With the new telescope, students can see, photograph and record on videotape close-ups of the sun, moon, stars, planets, constellations and, on Tuesday at least, an open ridge 4,000 feet high in the Bitterroot Mountains about six miles across the Clark Fork Valley.


The telescope was pointing at the ridgetop Tuesday for demonstration purposes only, because there wasn't much to see in the daytime sky on a partly cloudy day.

Students did get a view of the sun through a special filter. It looked like a bright orange ball, a little smaller than you'd expect, because the halo rays were filtered out.

"We saw solar flares last week," said Casey Zander, 17, one of 18 astronomy students in Kincade's class. Sun spots were also visible recently, she said. All viewing of the sun is through the darkened lens, which filters out the sun's rays because they are harmful to vision.

The $25,000 telescope-observatory system already has been a boon for recruiting astronomy students, Kincade said. It was installed behind the gym a month or so ago on a concrete pad where a big satellite dish once stood.

"We have 27 students signed up for the Astronomy I class next year, and we are scheduling an Astronomy II class for the first time. Eight have signed up" for the advanced class, he said.

The telescope, observatory and associated electronic equipment belonged to a Thousand Oaks, Calif., man, Robert Alan Ziegler, whose sister lives in Thompson Falls and knows Kincade.

Diagnosed with cancer, Ziegler wanted to view the night sky in all its glory before he died. To that end, he purchased one of the best systems available for amateur astronomers, the 11-inch Celestron NexStar GPS.

He died in December, and his sister, Jean Polequaptewa of Thompson Falls, the executor of his estate, decided to donate the observatory to Thompson Falls High School in her brother's memory.

"I knew that this would provide you with a terrific tool with which to inspire kids," she wrote Kincade from California, where she is visiting while she settles the estate. "Out of all the pain, sorrow and frustration I've experienced, giving this to Thompson Falls High School brings me an immense amount of joy. I know Bob would have thought it a great idea also."

Kincade said the telescope is state-of-the-art, and far beyond the means of most high school astronomy programs. (Previously, he used an 8-inch Celestron, with no observatory.)

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

The House Project: Beyond Dreams

I mentioned earlier today that I managed to drive all the way to the house site on my rather steep property because the excavators now have a driveway roughed in. Here are some pictures.

My friend Jim the well driller managed to get his drilling rig almost all the way up the hill to my property line before the mud won.

Big boy toys: a Caterpillar D7 that hauled the well drilling rig out of the mud, and cut a nice little spot where we are going to drill for water.

Yes, this is the West. There's my general contractor, Scott Fenwick, headed off on his environmentally friendly all terrain vehicle to get some wire cutters.

Here they have started excavating the pad for the house. You can see the mixture of basalt rock and clay.

And looking north towards Horseshoe Bend. This is about where the kitchen will be--but it will have more of a view than this, being up a bit higher.

The floor plans that we keep altering--probably until they start putting in the floor joists.

Looking down the driveway from about 2/3 of the way up to the house:

Wildflowers. Lots of wildflowers.

The orange-yellow daisy looking flowers are called Arrowleaf Balsamroot. Another flower that I've shown you in the past is called the Foothills Death Camas, for what it does to cattle that eat its pods.
Recovering Rapidly

I'll have pictures from the house building project later today. I was able to drive the Corvette up the just roughed in driveway to the house site. (The vehicle ahead of me--a Caterpillar D7--was very impressed!)

Friday, May 20, 2005

Foucault Test

If you are an historian or other academic, you may think that a "Foucault test" is one where you are asked to make sense of an incomprehensible block of deconstructionist text. But actually, there is another Foucault--one who came up with something useful.

Big Bertha, the 17.5" reflector I bought a while back (very cheap) has never performed as well at high magnification as it should. I've done enough experimentation now that I believe the problem is either a defective primary mirror, or the diagonal mirror is too large.

What makes a telescope mirror defective, and what is a Foucault test? You may recall (but more likely, you don't) that somewhere along the way, proponents of the New Math showed you a cone, slice about four different ways. My recollection of this was from fourth or fifth grade. I could not for the life of me see why I should care about the difference between a circle (cutting the cone parallel to the base), an ellipse (cutting the cone at a bit of angle), a parabola (cutting the cone parallel to the slope), or an hyperbola (cutting the cone at a sharper angle than the slope).

Here's a picture, to refresh your memory:

Associated with every figure sliced from the screaming flesh of the cone are two foci. The two foci are on top of each other for a circle, and some distance apart for an ellipse. Here's how you use those foci to draw an ellipse:

It turns out that all planetary orbits are ellipses.

The parabola has two foci also--one real close, the other at infinity. The hyperbolas far focus is beyond infinity (which makes only a little less sense than saying it is at infinity).

What does any of this have to do with telescopes and Foucault?

It turns out that the ideal telescope mirror is a parabola: one focus is up close--about where you put your eye. The other focus is at infinity. A parabola takes the image at infinity (and for practical purposes, all astronomical objects are at infinity) and focuses all the light and image where you put your eye.

Making parabolic mirrors isn't easy. You normally start by grinding a telescope mirror spherical, and then altering its shape with some rather empirical methods, into a parabola. I've done this before, long, long ago, when I made a telescope mirror. It isn't easy--and until the middle of the nineteenth century, no one really knew how to tell when a mirror had reached the perfection of a parabola. Just to make life really miserable for telescope makers, to make a really good telescope mirror, you have to make that parabola so accurately that it is accurate within 1/4 wavelength of light. Yes, you read that correctly. This means that the surface of the mirror has to be within tolerances of millionths of an inch.

Until Jean Foucault (who also invented the gyroscope, Foucault pendulum, and proved that light moved more slowly in water than in air) came up with the Foucault test, figuring out whether a mirror was a proper parabola was largely experimental. You took the telescope outside, aimed at a star, and then tried to see if it would focus correctly or not. If it was fuzzy--if you couldn't get a crisp focus--it probably wasn't a parabola.

The Foucault test is capable of measuring those millionths of an inch difference between a spherical mirror, and a parabolic mirror--and doing it with surprisingly simple mechanisms. Here's a detailed description of it. The essence of it, however, is that different parts of a parabolic mirror--different "zones"--will come to slightly different focal points than a spherical mirror. For a light source at the focal point, the spherical mirror will bring all the light back to the same point. The parabolic mirror will bring the light from different rings on the mirror to slightly different points--and a few millionths of an inch turn into fractions of inch of difference on the focal points.

Anyway, I used to have a Foucault tester. I don't know. I am going to try and find someone locally who has one that I can use on Big Bertha's mirror.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

China & Taiwan (Humor)

I really can't call the People's Republic "Red" China anymore. It isn't really Communist, but closer to Fascism, with a weird mix of totalitarian politics, private and state capitalism, and not even a pretense of laissez faire. But people would look at you funny if you started calling it Black China.

Anyway, I'm re-reading Professor Anders Henriksson's Non Campus Mentis: World History According to College Students. There's a review of it by me here. The short version is that it is a collection of sentences out of college papers and exams that construct a history of the world that leaves you breathless with laughter.

Sometimes the humor is because of a particularly tragic spelling error (the kind that reminds you that many college students learn English now by listening, not reading): "The five European grade powers were England, France, Germany, Russia, and Australia-Mongolia." "Literature ran wild. Writers expressed themselves with cymbals." "There was a change in social morays." "The Civil Rights movement in the USA turned around the corner with Martin Luther Junior's famous 'If I Had a Hammer' speech. Martian Luther King's four steps to direct action included self purification, when you allow yourself to be eaten to a pulp."

Other tragicomic moments are the result of scrambled collections of facts--but scrambled across many centuries, rather as if Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989) actually took place. (This is one of my favorite movies, by the way.) "Friedrich Nietzsche was a German movie producer who wrote Triumph of the Will and Superman." "The history of the Jewish people begins with Abraham, Issac, and their twelve children. Judyism was the first monolithic religion. It had one big God named 'Yahoo.' Old Testament profits include Moses, Amy, and Confucius, who believed in Fidel Piety." "Admiral Dewey sank the Spanish Armada in Vanilla Bay."

A number of the amusing moments, however, suggest that contrary to the popular perception of wild college students, a number have been sublimating desires into their writing. "German unity was acheaved by William I coupling with Bismark. After several hurtful convulsions he culminated to power as the first Geyser of Germany." And the sentence on topic for the headline: "Manifest Destiny is China yarning to embrace Thai Won as a kind of imperialist foreplay." Well, yes, rather like the Rough Wooing of Scotland by England.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

The House Project

Well, it is beginning to look like site-built, not modular. Site-built is $79 per square foot--or about $158,000 for a 2000 square foot home. The equivalent modular home would be about $135,000--cheaper, but I suspect that the site-built home will look better at resale, simply because a modular home still doesn't look quite like a site-built home--although the better ones are close. The site development costs are about the same either way.

The current estimates that I am getting come to about $14,000 for the driveway--although about $8000 is for what they call "pit run," a type of large rock used as the road base on which the gravel goes. It turns out that the driveway will be going up a basalt spine that is probably superior to pit run for that purpose--I can't even get two inches down on this stuff before hitting what seems to be bedrock. It is likely that we will need either no pit run, or only a few hundred dollars worth for a couple of sections.

Excavations for the foundation come to about $3600. Concrete foundation, garage floor, patios, and a walkway around the house: about $10,000.

The well is being estimated at $10,000 (including water storage tank, pump, etc.), but this may turn out to be high, since I think we are going to get water at about 120 feet, not 200 feet.

The first septic tank estimate came in at $5,500, but the contractor thinks that he can use a different system and bring it down to $4,000.

Idaho Power is estimating $4,000 to run power to the house, and the trench to carry the power line is going to cost somewhere below $1,600 to excavate. (He is estimating 800 feet, but as I measure it, the distance from pole to house is closer to 600 feet.)

The house itself is still the biggest part of the cost. I had ambitions for something a bit more modern, but it turns out that hiring an architect would run about $10,000 to $15,000 to turn my drawings and ideas into blueprints. I am not so foolish as to think that a contractor should start from my design and start building.

Instead, we are talking the design of a nearby house that my wife rather likes (built by the same contractor), and expanding a couple of walls out to enlarge bedrooms two and three to a size where one makes sense as an office, and the other is big enough for my son--who may live there for a few minutes, a few months, or a couple of years--hard to say right now.

It still won't be a four bedroom house, but I am reluctant to get too large of a house payment on this. Right now I am employed, and probably next year as well. Two years from now, I would not be surprised to see my job being done in Shanghai, at higher net cost, and lower efficiency. It is therefore wise not to get too reliant on a software engineer's paycheck in an era where such jobs are largely disappearing from the United States.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Won't You Be My Neighbor?

I know that some of my readers look up to me, but here's a chance to do so in the literal sense. The lot to the north of mine overlooking Horseshoe Bend is going on the market. I don't have all the details yet from the owner, but he let me know that he will be listing it soon.

It is smaller than my parcel, and it doesn't have quite the view that I do--but it isn't a bad view, and of course, it has the same wonderful night skies. You can see his property in this picture, center and closer than the log cabin, but beyond that fence line:

He has a travel trailer parked there at the moment, in preparation for building that never happened. (A long story, not all of which I know.)

He has a well in, and according to the well drilling log, a pretty good one. He's asking $130,000 for it. I'll put up more details about the property when he responds to my email. If you are interested, contact me, and I'll put you in touch with the owner.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Flowers & Soil

I'm seeing a very interesting and I guess not terribly surprising correlation between the underlying geology of my property, and the types of wildflowers that grow on it.

There's a pale yellow flower that seems to dominate on the lowest parts of the property, near the road:

There is a seasonal stream that flows along the property just south of us--coming out of a spring in the sandstone. The stream itself seems to have eroded all the standstone away, leaving only basalt, and these intense purple flowers:

On the parts of my parcel that, according to the geologic map and some excavations that I have had done, should be Payette Formation (Quarternary sandstone and siltstone layers), these white flowers appear in profusion:

Here's a more detailed picture of one of these flowers:

Here's the soil I extracted from what seems to be a standstone section:

It is pretty decent soil, with lots of organic material in it. By comparison, up on the basalt spine, I can't even get two inches of soil with a shovel--basalt, basalt, and more basalt. I suspect that either because of the shallowness of the soil, or the chemistry of the decay products, on the basalt spine of the property--and according to the geological maps, what should be basalt on the adjoining properties--we have these quite intensely orange-yellow flowers:

Over where I think the odds of a successful well are highest--partly based on geology, and partly based on the proximity of a successful well on my neighbor's parcel to the north, we are back to this wonderful black soil, which goes deeper than I was prepared to excavate with a shovel on a beautiful Saturday morning:

Looking up the slope from there you see a lot of shrubbery (try to say like the Knights of Nicht in Monty Python and the Holy Grail), suggesting that water (although perhaps not terribly deep water) is available:

Up on the basalt spine, and extending up the hill (towards the house with its own airstrip) you can see more of the orange-yellow flowers that seem to like basalt so much:

Saturday, May 14, 2005


I've received a lot more emails about than I expected--and it appears that many of my readers have misunderstood my complaints. It is, of course, simply impossible that I have not articulated my irritation properly. :-)

Why am I not running out and buying a lathe right now? It is not because my time is too valuable. I actually have a bit of spare time at the moment. I am not interested in investing upwards of $700 for a quality piece of machinery, only to discover that what I think is a medium sized market for the telescope mount accessory that I am building is really a very, very tiny market. If the market turns out to be as big as I think, I'll run out and buy a lathe.

It is not because learning to use such a tool is beneath me. I am actually fascinated by machine tools. If I were fabuluously rich, I would have a lathe and a vertical mill in my garage. I like working with tools. But I also know that there is a learning curve associated with any skill, and I have seen just enough of machining to recognize that it is a substantial skill--it involves both significant book learning, and significant hands on experience.

My frustration is that I have now had two different machinists agree to build parts at prices that were either very reasonable, or tolerable. One just disappeared on me, and another essentially decided that he was too busy.

I understand that setting up tooling for some types of machining is substantially time consuming. I've built some tooling for manufacturing one set of parts from Delrin--fortunately, parts that I can make with a miter saw and a drill press. In this case, there isn't really any tooling. The steps required to make these parts are:

1. Turn a 2.375" plastic rod down to 2.355". Depending on the accuracy of the lathe, and the length of the rod, this can be a problem, but you can also start by cutting the rod into 4" lengths, and turn each 4" length. Because the two ends are going to be cut off in step 2, you can hold the stock in place with a Forstner bit or a screw.

2. Make two 30 degree angle cuts with a saw. A miter saw works for this--the only hard part is getting the rod to not rotate while cutting. (This is not a machining operation; no precision requirements.)

3. Make a 3/8"-16 x 1" deep tapped hole in the face of one end. There is no requirement for even hundredths of inch accuracy on centering the hole. Because you have cut both ends in step 2, you can put this in a drill press clamp, drill the hole, and then use an electric drill with a 3/8"-16 tap in it.

The only part of this operation that is beyond my ability is step 1. If I could buy 3.355" and 3.460" diameter rod, I wouldn't be looking for a machinist. Unfortunately, almost all extruded rods are made only to nominal diameters. If you buy plastic rod that is listed as 3.375", it may be as much as 0.1" oversize. You pay for precision--and in some sizes, you can't even pay fo precision--you just can't get that size.

Fortunately, I have a co-worker who has a lathe and a mill. He is taking the fairly sweet layoff incentive package that our employer is offering, and he figures that he can put his equipment to work doing something interesting, and perhaps it will turn into a steady income for both of us.

UPDATE: It occurs to me that 2.355" is also 59.814 mm. It is possible that some precisely 60mm plastic rod could be sanded down to fit. But I am not having much luck finding 60mm Delrin, UHMW, or similar plastics. The other size that I need--2.460"--is not any even size in metric.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Another Gay Hate Crime

Whoops! Actually another hoax:
A 17-year-old top female wrestler at a local high school faked a series of gay-bashing incidents that prompted a police investigation, authorities said.

The rash of gay-bashing incidents at Tamalpais High School, dating to November, was the work of a student who claimed she was the victim of hate crimes, said police Capt. James Wickham.

The teen, who was not identified by police, admitted that she was the perpetrator of the incidents, which included defacing her own car, authorities said.
(Thanks to Michelle Malkin for the link.)

I remember a few years ago seeing the claim that the San Francisco Bay Area had a much higher rate of hate crimes against homosexuals than many other parts of the country. My first thought was, "Well, there are a lot more homosexuals in the Bay Area per capita than most other parts of the U.S." Then I thought, "Well, the Bay Area has a pretty high crime rate--it shouldn't be surprising that hate crimes are happening at a higher rate, too." But now I wonder, based on how many of anti-homosexual hate crimes turn out to be hoaxes, if the high rate of these incidents in the Bay Area is because there are a lot of homosexuals prepared to claim that they were victims of such crimes.
The House Project

I will be blogging a list of links to various vendors of prefab houses as well as some interesting house designs in the next few days.

In the meantime, I met with Idaho Power and the contractor for a site-built house today, at the property. The estimate is about $3500 to run power, plus about $500 to dig a four feet deep trench for the power line. (Idaho Power then drops a conduit into the trench for the power line.)

I learn something new every day on this project. The power lines in our area are 12.5 kV. They run a 12.5 kV line to within 150 feet of the house (ideally, 100 feet of the house), and then put a stepdown transformer there. This takes it down to house current.

The Idaho Power guy wasn't too happy (surprise, surprise) at my suggestion that we use a photovoltaic unit to power the well pump. It turns out that the cost of running the line over from the house to the well pump is trivial, but I still like the idea of using photovoltaics for this.

1. I'm not dependent on the grid to get water up to the water tank--and water is about as critical of a utility as you can have. You can live a few days without electricity, for whatever reason, but a few days without a shower or bath gets really disgusting.

2. The downside of photovoltaics is reduced power in winter time. But the greatest need for water is during summer, not winter. I expect that my well will produce at least 10 gallons per minute. (The neighbor's well, about 80 feet away, produces 35 gallons per minute.) If I can pump that water up the hill to my water tank for just three hours a day, at 10 gallons per minute, I will average 180 gallons a day into the tank. That's more than enough in winter.

3. It is a low-cost experiment to find out actual solar electricity production in my location.

The contractor is still sharpening his pencil--the driveway is still looking pretty expensive--like $20,000, but we are going to look real hard at whether we really need to put the large rock layer known as "pit run" on the entire driveway. (The gravel goes on top of the pit run.) Since much of the driveway is across very thinly soiled basalt, we may be able to get by with just a scrape and then dropping gravel.

The county's original septic tank request involved what was apparently an extraordinary amount of leach field, because of the poor soil. The contractor knows of some techniques that he believes can meet the county's sanitary requirements without quite so much leach field.

So far, we are looking at about $40,000 of improvements before we get to the house--perhaps this can be cut down to $30,000 to $35,000.

Friday, May 6, 2005

Discomfort in the Shower

Professor Volokh argues that the problem of segregating soldiers by sexual orientation, as well as by sex, is not a sufficient argument for excluding homosexuals from the military:
These are soldiers -- people who might have to get shot at by others, and who will otherwise be put in many very psychologically difficult positions. Even those who aren't in combat positions may have to deal with considerable difficulties and traumas. They're supposed to be, and I wager are, pretty tough.

It somehow doesn't seem to me too much of a burden to deal with the possibility (a possibility that is surely always present, even if the military tries very hard to find and kick out every homosexuality) that someone is lusting after them in the shower. These are not fragile flowers we're talking about here; if they can handle drill sergeants, I'd hope they can handle this. And I don't quite see why we should organize our military policy -- including by kicking out lesbian soldiers who, as I mentioned below, may on average contribute more to military effectiveness than straight women soldiers -- around some soldiers' feeling bothered by the risk of getting checked out in the shower or the barracks.
I think this shows that Professor Volokh doesn't understand the level of discomfort that most Americans have about the same sex lusting after them in the shower. I find it distasteful to have another guy trying to pick up on me in the frozen foods section. (This was in the San Francisco Bay Area--it made me a lot more understanding of how uncomfortable women get when a strange guy tries to pick up on them in an inappropriate place.) I suspect had I been in a locker room, I would have found it even more disturbing. And guess what? Compared to a lot of guys, I'm pretty calm about this sort of thing. I've talked to women who had similar discomfort with using locker rooms in the Bay Area, because of excessive staring by lesbians.

So what happens if the military allows homosexuals to join up? I don't expect every straight person to refuse to join--but I would expect that at least some significant fraction will decide that along with all the other hardships of military life, they aren't interested in being in a situation like that. Remember that much of our military is very, very traditional in their moral values. I don't know exactly what the percentage would be refusing to join or stay, but considering that homosexuals are perhaps 4% of men, and less than 2% of women, I do not find it at all hard to believe that the net result would be a reduction in total force.

A few years back, the Wall Street Journal carried a very powerful essay by a guy who had been in the Navy just after World War II--at a time when there was not yet any legal prohibition on homosexuality in the military. He described a ship that he was on where by either coincidence or by connivance, all the chief petty officers were homosexual--and sexual harassment of straight sailors was constant. The CPOs had successfully short-circuited all attempts to go over their heads to the captain, and it required a near riot to bring the matter to the captain's attention. We already have a bit of a problem with sexual harassment and fraternization violations involving women in the military, and it is hard to believe that this problem would not be substantially worse with homosexual men in the service.

UPDATE: Stupid me! I don't how I overlooked this! The primary function of the U.S. military is to promote equal rights and help homosexuals feel good about themselves! The defense of the nation is a secondary mission.

UPDATE 2: To Professor Volokh's credit, he points out that Montgomery County Schools are engaged in an unconstitutional and factually inaccurate propaganda campaign in favor of homosexuality.

UPDATE 3: A reader sent me the full text of the Wall Street Journal article in question. I didn't have all the details quite right, but close enough:
Gays in the Military? A Cautionary Tale

By Kevin M. McCrane, Wall Street Journal, Dec 2, 1992. Page A10

Bill Clinton's desire to lift the ban on homosexuals in the military brings to mind a troubling incident from my own military experience more than a generation ago.

When I turned 18 late in 1945 I discovered that I had missed the war but not the draft. After five weeks of boot camp, I was shipped to San Francisco's Treasure Island, the Navy base where new recruits waited to receive their orders.

It was dark and raw as only San Francisco can be in January when five of us
mustered on a pier to await a ship's boat from the USS Warrick. The new recruits were told the Warrick was an Attack Cargo Auxiliary, which sounded promising. We soon discovered this was a fancy name for a cargo carrier. Even so, we were excited at the prospect of shipping out. Lugging our bags, we arrived on board late at night. We unhooked our berths from their vertical positions and settled down to sleep.

The awakening was sudden, panic-filled. A hand was caressing my leg, running up the inside of my thigh. A dim figure ducked away as I lashed out, kicking, swinging a fist and striking air. There was no more sleep that night.

Our voyage began the next day, our destination Honolulu. But the excitement was gone, at least for me. At the end of a long day riding the sea's rolling swells, I took a 12-inch box-end wrench from the engine room and retreated to my berth. Hanging on to the wrench under my pillow, I slept.

My sense of unease did not go away even when the seasickness passed. On the fourth day at sea I visited the ship's post office. The second-class petty officer manning the tiny cubicle greeted me warmly. Grinning broadly, he stepped back from the counter, dropped his dungarees, fondled himself and made an obscene invitation. I walked away.

Whom do you tell? I chose a third-class petty officer on my watch. He laughed at what I told him. "You're on a French cruiser, kid." He told me to watch out.

It was in the open now, a subject for discussion among the new recruits. Each of us had been accosted, patted, propositioned. Though we were in different divisions, we flocked together for meals, averting our eyes when one of "them" leered in our direction.

There were five such aggressive homosexuals that we knew of on board this ship with almost 250 men. They were all petty officers. Their actions were enough to poison the atmosphere on the Warrick. Meals, showers, attendance at the movies, decisions about where you went on the ship alone—all became part of a worried calculation of risk.

After two weeks at sea, I received the whispered news that the smallest and most vulnerable of our "team" had been sodomized in the paint locker. When I looked at the bearer of this news, I saw that there were tears in his eyes. "Why are they doing this to us?" he asked.

It was a good question. The comments of some petty officers suggested that the rapid discharge of so many veterans at the end of the war had brought with it a slackening of discipline. On board the Warrick this disciplinary neglect had loosened the restraints on homosexual behavior—the threat of discharge was the surest of these—and created an atmosphere where exhibitionism and lewd action were commonplace.

All homosexuals aren't rapists. But in this closed male society, with its enforced communal living, unchecked homosexual appetites wrought havoc. The atmosphere on the USS Warrick in January of 1946 does have a present-day parallel—the atmosphere of fear that rules in today's prisons.

Is there a lesson here for Mr. Clinton? I think so. The U.S. Navy certainly won't turn into a collection of horror ships like the Warrick if he succeeds in ending the ban on homosexuals in the military. But my experience does suggest that military officials are right to worry that "good order and discipline of the services will be impaired" if the ban is lifted.

A postscript: When the Warrick reached Pearl Harbor in that long-ago winter, a new executive officer reported aboard. On the sixth day in port the PA system blared a summons "for all those personnel being transferred to assemble at the quarterdeck."

I joined the rush topside to see who was going ashore. The ship's rail was lined with crewmen cheering as five petty officers debarked into a P-boat.

I went below decks and ran back up. When the P-boat cleared the side, I dropped my box-end wrench into the blue waters of Pearl Harbor.

Wednesday, May 4, 2005

Water, Geology, & My 11+ Acres

I've reached the point where I am getting estimates for roads, well, septic tank, foundations, and perhaps even a site-built house--because of the length of the driveway, the modular home may turn out to be very close to the cost of something built on-site.

It turns out that the geology of my area is very, very well researched, because the old state highway 15, built in 1946, was, almost from the beginning, doing that old Paul Simon song, "Slip Slidin' Away." One report is John J. Peebles, Engineering Geology of the Cartwright Canyon Quadrangle (1962). This includes not only a detailed discussion of why water causes some of the rock to slide and rotate (to the great consternation of the highway on top of it), but also a detailed map showing the nature of the bedrock under the subdivision that includes my eleven acres.

It turns out that those of my neighbors who have hit water were the ones who were on something called the Payette Formation, a Quaternary sandstone/siltstone layer. Most hit water at about 3650 to 3700 foot elevation. I'll add a picture this evening taken a short distance from my lot where a road cut exposes these layers very nicely--and at the exact same elevation as one of the septic tank exploratory holes on my lot.

Here's the road cut showing the standstone:

Those who have gone down hundreds of feet and hit either nothing, or short-lived water flows, are in Tertiary period basalt. (Quaternary period is later than Tertiary.) Basalt is pretty resistant to erosion, and when it decays, it turns into montmorillionite, a clay that absorbs water readily--and then becomes an effective block to water passing through. The Payette Formation is later, and layered on top of the Tertiary basalt in our area.

The Payette Formation, like most sandstone/siltstone formations, erodes easily. It turns out that my parcel has two massive basalt blocks--which is why I have the wonderful view. In between the two basalt blocks, running north-south, is a Payette Formation layer--and my neighbor to the north has a well that is about 80 feet north of the property line, along that layer.

On the north and south sides of my lot, where the hill slopes, appears to be Payette Formation.

On the south side the county inspector dug a couple of exploratory pits for septic tank evaluation (what is commonly called a "perc test"). When I look carefully at the lower pit, which is within four feet elevation of the road cut mentioned above, I see what seems to be identical sandstone layers. The perc test calls this "shale," but shale is metamorphosed sandstone. This stuff is so crumbly that it barely qualifies as rock, much less metamorphosed sandstone.

This gives me some confidence that a well here would hit water at about 160 feet, perhaps less.

The other pit, higher up the hillside, seems to be montmorillionite clay--a basalt decay production. This is consistent with the basalt block that shows up on the 1962 map.

Fortunately, I have been able to test out my theories of where to find water in the subdivision with someone else's money. A house that we looked at--and decided against--was eventually bought. The new owner believed that he had a working well. When they turned on the pump--nothing came out. The well had gone dry.

A friend from church, Jim, is a well driller, and had been hired to dig a new well. I found out about this, and explained to him and the new owner that the house was in the middle of the basalt block that forms the lower half of my lot--and why he was unlikely to get water in the place where the old well had been, or where Jim was drilling the new well. A little investigation found yet a third well hole on the site, also dry, and for the same apparent reason--this basalt was an effective barrier to water flow coming down the mountain.

Anyway, I made a couple of suggestions on places where they were more likely to find water. One was too steep for Jim's well drilling rig (but it had a spring, so there was water there), but the other was feasible. Sure enough, at about 160 feet down (or about 3680 feet elevation), they hit a very solid flow of good water.

I am looking at the question of a driveway. The original estimate from the modular home contractor was for a $23,600 driveway, based partly on my original plan to be at the very top of the lot (higher than I need for the view, and too close to the property line, I think), and I suspect some goldplating--the ultimate driveway.

However, the other contractor, for a site-built home, used to own this lot, and points out that an existing path up the basalt spine is quite stable, and in many places, you can see that basalt. It might need to be smoothed a bit, but it doesn't look like it needs layers of rock and gravel to be an adequate all weather road.

If we go with a site-built home, it will be three stories, each recessed back to fit the shape of the hill. The bottom story is the garage, with stairs into the first floor, and then stairs up to the second floor. The road will also go up the side of the hill so that we can move furniture in through doors on the first and second floors. (We'll have a deck all the way around both floors.)

Some of the local flora:

View down the hill. The red car is my Corvette.

View to the north, of the Payette River Valley, and the town of Horseshoe Bend, from about where the living room will be: