More Cheapness in Design

November 17, 2015

leafIt is eight in the morning; a light rain is falling driven by gusty winds. From my second floor office window I am watching a man wearing ear protectors blast a dozen or so soggy leaves across a driveway with a shoulder mounted leaf blower. They don’t cooperate and so he is constantly circling to the left and right. The noise is appalling.

As I have done every fall I ponder the idiocy of this ridiculous apparatus. For the umpteenth time I reflect that with a large broom and a rake the work he is charged to complete would be over in less than half the time and with only the reassuring swish and scrape of the bristles to bruise our ears. No air pollution either from a poorly designed gas motor. And again it defies logic to understand that a motor that is less than a few percent of the size powering my car can be allowed to make orders of magnitude more noise. Have the makers not heard of mufflers? And don’t give me that baloney about it making the machine less efficient. You don’t seem to worry much about fuel efficiency in the vehicle you drove up in, and perhaps worry even less about the hearing and lungs of the users. Nope folks, it’s just plain old design laziness and its lifelong friend cheapness at play. Spun with clever marketing and a desire to be seen as modern and efficient the leaf blower looks like being around for a while.

Unless…I propose a contest between two teams. Two fields covered in maple leaves. One dry the other wet. Each field is divided down the middle. One side for each team. Their task is to gather all of the leaves at one end of the two fields, and bag them for compost. One team has rakes and the others has blowers. You know, even if the the blower team is good and finishes close the to the rakers or even beats them I still believe the rakes are better for us all.

You disagree? Let me hear why…

It must have been in 2014 that I wrote a poem about the frustration of commuting in bad weather to a job you hate leaving a house where a relationship is going through some stress. I have read it at a few open mikes. I called it a A Day or Freeway Blues.

One evening my friend Barbara Bridge was talking about not having an idea for a song needed to satisfy her songwriting class homework. I gave her three poems including Freeway Blues. A week later she came back with a song you can listen to at this LINK

It knocked me over. I had never heard my words expressed in a different medium than the original.

And it happened again. Another singer songwriter friend, Suzan Lundy, heard my poem, ‘Take Me Down To The ocean’ at a reading and asked permission to write a song around it. Once again I was blown over by the result. I like to think of it as a song for veterans. Listen at this LINK.

It is not surprising that this man, the present Pope, should get so much attention in his US visit when the institution he leads has for so very very long denied so much. The contrast is stark. Thousands of other sages and leaders have sent out the same or similar message he voiced this week, and been ignored or murdered, much the same as a certain young Jew in a previous millennium. It raises the question of who are going to be this Pope’s disciples and will they be more successful than those who dared it before. There have been reformist Popes before and the edifice of the Catholic Church; catholic? what a misnomer that is; lurched back into its old paranoid dogma in less than a few decades following their departure.

Humanity as ever, led by religions of many styles and hues, seems determined to maintain its bad reputation.

Stephen Hawking has commented there is no evidence that intelligent life will survive on this planet or anywhere. That statement leaves all of us in the position of being quixotic figures if we make any attempts to change things for the better. Indeed what is better?

What has made human life more tolerable in the last century has been the efforts and successes of science. Clean water, vaccines, reliable food supply, to name a few. A church that denied access to condoms to combat AIDS in Africa, and simultaneously condemns the use of both contraception and abortion, has an astonishingly weak moral platform from which to speak on almost any subject, even as many of its servants are trying very hard to do good things which we can all salute.

Yes one acknowledges that scientific truths can be terrifyingly destructive when used badly. There is no lack of examples. Many of which involve the ‘unholy’ combination of scientific knowledge and religious fanaticism. In America TV, Radio and the Internet have not hampered the snake oil Christian co called churches that fleece its members remotely. Scientists, apart from a few stage struck performers, seem more concerned with the truth, the discoverable truth, than the many religions that want to peddle their brands of what they call variously, the truth, the way, the path etc. as revealed to a select few and, of course, you will be lucky to ever be as exalted.

Alongside science, art, music and theater also makes life more tolerable. All of which science made more accessible to millions, when religion sought to limit its access.

My dream is for science and religion to be reconciled worldwide.

Good luck to this Pope from a an atheist, may be he can make my dream at least begin.

Bad Design Barbecue Grill

September 18, 2015

Everything has a price and good product functionality is one of those things. Nobody should expect perfection from anything. But one can expect a minimum. This is not the case with a certain spherical type of barbecue grill.

Imagine you were going to design a barbecue grill, what are the minimum features and functions you would include? How about these?

  1. Easy ash disposal
  2. Insulated lid handle
  3. Insulated vent handle.
  4. Insulated body handle
  5. Lid with a hinge
  6. Wheel s that are large enough to roll

And here are a few features I would add for the premium model.

  1. Hangers for utensils
  2. Variable height grill
  3. Electric lighter

You won’t find any of these on a certain well-known brand of barbecue grills. I have one (it was a gift) and let me escort you through a typical experience you may have with it.

I keep my unit in the corner of my patio. You will have to move it to the middle, but the wheels are too small and it will not roll smoothly. Not helped by the short handle on the bowl which allows no leverage for stability and the awkward leg with no wheels which stubs easily on the patio. On a few occasions it has actually tipped over. Not the ash removal method I enjoy. Next…Remove the lid to recharge with fresh charcoal. I say remove instead of lift because with this model one has to actually remove the lid and lay it down somewhere. A nuisance when it is cold, dangerous when it is hot. It does have a short hook somewhere inside the lip but it is too short and dammed hard to find when you are concentrating on cooking.

Let’s say you forgot to empty the ash pan from the last cookout.

Bending down under the curve of the bowl making sure you don’t bang your head on it you will now have to loosen three separate uncooperative small metal clips and then carefully inch the flimsy ash filled pan out from between the legs of the unit. Unless you are particularly dexterous you will inevitably spill some of the ash. If you are like me with moderate gifts you will spill more and from time to time drop the whole thing on the patio. And then of course, assuming you have now disposed of the ash, or swept it off somewhere, you must wrestle the dish back between the legs and re-position the thin painfully awkward clips to hold it more or less horizontally.

So now you have the unit in the middle of the patio with the lid off and the ash pan empty. Time to recharge with fresh charcoal. But alas when you glance into the bowl you see that even though you emptied the ash pan you forgot to ‘riddle’ the ash and fragments of charcoal still resting in the bottom of the bowl. To do this you must once again lean over and find the uninsulated metal combination vent and riddling lever. This lever must be wiggled back and forth so as to move three thin aluminum blades across the bottom of the bowl and with an amazing inefficiency push the ash and bits over three vent holes in the bottom of the bowl where they will then fall onto the flimsy ash pan or your patio if you forgot to put it back. As you move the lever back and forth you cannot see the inside of the bowl because you are bent over with your head once again banging the bowl and so it is impossible to know if you are actually moving the blades across the holes or just back and forth over the metal and pushing ash to and fro. You cannot see this lever easily from above. It takes quite a few to and fros of the lever to get any amount of ash to fall through the holes.  And by the way the uninsulated lever can get rather hot after a grilling, so wear a glove. Not only that but if your unit is old the lever axle may have become rusted and hard to move so that when you do finally get it free you move the whole unit and risk tipping it over again.

Now you can charge the unit, but not until you have removed the grill itself from the bowl. It rests on small shelves projecting for the sides of the bowl. It has no hook whereby you could hang it on the side of the bowl while you fill the grate and so it too must rest on the ground.

“How’s your back so far?”

Now you can really drop in as many charcoal briquettes as you wish. Finally, action! Squirt on the lighter fluid, drop the match and let her rip! Oops! Make sure you have opened the holes in the bottom of the bowl to let air flow in using the almost invisible lever. Did you bang your head again?

Ten or fifteen minutes pass and we have a nice pile of glowing coals on the grate. Now you can replace the grill and let the fire burn off the crud from last week’s ‘debacle de cuisine al fresco’.

Time to bring out whatever it is you are going to attempt to cook. Let’s say it is steak. Are you going to grill it or barbecue? Grill? OK, you need to add more coals because the fire is really too far down to grill anything but seafood. So take off the grill… oops! ouch!  Remember your glove! And place it on the patio. Warn the kids not to touch it. Folks with wooden decks need to have somewhere else to rest this piece of steel at several hundred degrees centigrade unless they would like a facsimile of the grill burnt into the deck. Remember there is no hanger for the grill.

Now, the manufacturer’s manual suggests you can easily add more coals through the gaps in the grill next to the handles. Go ahead try that. The new coals will sit stubbornly at the edge of the others and refuse to join their brethren. Sure you can poke them into the center with something fireproof. Remember to use your glove!

O.K. The new coals are burning nicely and you can put the grill back in the bowl, but first you need to spread them out evenly, before you once more replace the grill. Remember your glove! Did I mention that there are two handles on the grill but of course they are too small, uninsulated and very hot.

Now…the big moment. You place the steaks on the grill, grasp your beverage, and assume a manly pose. Sadly the fire seems to have dwindled somewhat and your steaks do not sizzle. Aha! The vent holes under the bowl are not completely open! Bend down trying not to bang your head and move the lever one way or the other hoping that you are actually opening the aperture and not closing it. Have a guest guide you and yes, remember to use your glove!

“How’s your back so far?”

Wonderful! Your steaks are now sizzling nicely and you can re-assume your manly pose and make knowledgeable statements about cooking meat in the open. Minutes later depending on your guest’s desire for rare or incinerated protein you have proven that you can master the beast.

But wait…a guest has bought some marinated protein that requires not grilling but barbecuing. No problem. Once again remove the grill, with glove, to a safe place, and move the still burning coals into two colonies opposite each other on the grate, as the manufactures manual suggests.

This would be a good time to add a few more briquettes. Now replace the grill, and the so far unused lid! The idea here is to create an outdoor oven a.k.a. barbecue. On my model there is no thermometer to tell me what the temperature in the sphere has reached and so you would have to have another beverage until you trust it has got to an acceptable heat.

You give it half a beverage of time and lift the lid, remembering to use your glove, and, horrors! The coals are almost extinguished. Right…You forgot to open the small wheel of vents on the lid which would allow a steady stream of refreshing air to feed you coals. OK easy fix.  You replace the lid and adjust the lid vents to full open. You actually remember again to use your glove just in case the wretched thing is hot. Never fear it will be later.

Time for another beverage? Of course! And “How’s your back so far?”

Now the whole assembly is hot enough for your guest to place their protein on the grill and you carefully lift and replace the lid. But…ouch! The lid is now also damn hot and the dinky little handle is not well insulated and equally cauterizing.

Your reputation as chef is not yet so damaged and you make jokes about your days as a waiter in New York City where first and second degree burns were considered to be part of the ‘shtick de cuisine’.

After another close to frozen beverage everyone suddenly recalls the ‘barbecue’ and you now automatically don your glove to lift the lid and hopefully find the almost invisible hook to safely hang the now radiant hemisphere of steel without burning yourself, anyone or anything else.

Luckily your guest’s protein improved by its time in the sphere and the event resumes an even course.  It might even be pleasant.

But on the patio is now a slowly cooling sphere of metal containing a lot of ash needing disposal and moving back into the far corner of the patio. A poorly designed and dangerous piece of equipment that somehow seems to have entranced Americans as a useful and efficient item when the truth is quite the reverse.

I know we can do better, the Chinese can make it cheaply and our backs and heads will thank us.


For those of you who are anxiously following my Voice Over career here is a LINK to my web-site totally dedicated to all things Voice Over. There you will find existing and new demo tracks as they are recorded, and a dedicated email address for audition requests.

Feeling Pastel

Feeling Pastel


My lovely partner and wife has just released her new single ‘If I Had Loved You More’ on CDBaby at this LINK

This blog site will remain as my writing voice, so don’t go away; if you are reading.

Some time ago, it was actually Sept 14th 1996, I was in a writers workshop with word rain given as the free write topic. I dashed this piece of almost without thinking. 


One thing I can tell you about rain is that it falls indiscriminately on all. Or should I prefer perhaps confine myself to telling you something that could be more significant about it? For instance; since the human body is mostly water we have a physical connection with any large amount, body, collection, accretion of water. Again, but speaking purely physically, perhaps you may know the laws of gravity? Two bodies attract each other in proportion to their mass and their distance apart.
Consider this; a human, an average human contains, shall we be generous, one hundred pounds of water. Any cloud we may see out of the window contains many thousands of tons of water floating at some distance. If the laws are true is it any wonder we are looking skyward to our aerial brothers and sisters? (Clouds with genders?) And if they are our physical doppelgängers in an airborne medium small wonder we are always prating on about the weather. Who has not felt a tingling sensation when one of those big blue black bullies of cumulonimbus lurches over the horizon and creeps with aqueous menace toward you?

It’s the gravity of our common medium. Our very substances are the same. The core of our permanence on earth is shared with clouds.

Next week; why I can’t swim and other watery mysteries.

And perhaps next week I will actually write about swimming and mysteries.

Voice Over, My Demo

August 6, 2015

It has taken me a while but finally I have recorded a professional VO Demo. Coached by Lesley Bailey and recorded and edited by Marc Rose at FuseAudio. I love it. Listen at this LINK Let me know your impression and then book me for your next promotion, documentary, e-learning project, etc.

Shuttling in my car between the two small vegetable gardens I tend and weep over I caught the middle of a radio show (This American Life, or Radio Lab) on Oregon Public Radio. It was an African American woman telling the story of a school in Missouri that lost its accreditation and its largely black students could choose to stay or be bussed to another district thirty miles away. Part of the broadcast was a recording of a public meeting held by the parents of the receiving school (largely white). The rhetoric was thick, objections were unanimous; and when one parent rose to say that their vociferous objection to the program “was not about race” you suddenly knew it was. I remarked to myself that the recording quality was pretty good for the sixties when the woman talking gave the date of the meeting as some time in 2013. It just brought home how little progress we have made since ERA.


Nikki Giovanni

Last week I was also listening to OPB where someone was interviewing Nikki Giovanni, a writer and poet of whom I had never heard. I was so intrigued by her style and manner I went, of course, to Powell’s Books and sought her out. For $3 I bought a used copy of The Prosaic Soul of Nikki Giovanni. It is a collection of her prose work, including ‘Racism 101’. Yes despite her Mediterranean sounding name Nikki is African American, and her writing jolts me into a world of Black writers and activists barely known to me.

I have confessed to and written of my learned racism before, and my desire to be rid of it. Listening and reading I am left with the residual frustration that I don’t know what to do, and I really believe I am not alone.

We Are All Racist

July 3, 2015

President Barack Obama gave a highly charged eulogy for Clementa Pinckney, who was one of nine people shot by a white supremacist in Charleston. He called out our racism directly.

But there is only so much even a President can do. Ultimately it is up to each and every one of us to admit that we are racist and set out to change. Most white Americans are racist by indifference. Indifference that is fed by media. We live in our white bubble which is strongly maintained. It is up to us individually to make those incremental steps in our own behavior which will add up to genuine progress. Add some local leadership for leverage and change could be faster. There are other causes that did this. Who would of thought gay marriage would be a right as recently as fifteen years ago? I hope I am not underestimating the scope of the change that is needed but we do have to start somewhere.

So I will start by confessing as I have already done before elsewhere that I am racist and I will continue to be racist for some time. It is my learned response. I was taught it at an early age, and constant reminders from radio, TV and movies reinforced it over time. It is very hard to deprogram; but not impossible. I am your average white male racist. I don’t wave a confederate flag, I don’t attend KKK meetings, I am not a member of any racist organization, I don’t read white supremacy news sheets, I don’t do any number of direct racist actions. But my indifference is high, and it feeds the total corrosive indifference of the country. My indifference together with that of millions of others forms the atmosphere where other more virulent and repulsive actors operate.  So I am a racist. Not perhaps by intention, but by default, by habit. I am determined to change.

Removing the confederate flag from a state building however laudable is not the massive (and I really mean massive) enema needed in the American psyche to bring everyone to the same place. A place known as true equality. Don’t expect the republican party to take this on (that’s laughable) and the democratic party will only sort of sidle up to a mild laxative. Nope, it takes the people to decide that racism is always evil, always.

And yes I confess, I have been racist, and will probably continue to be racist, but I acknowledge it as a learned behavioral defect that I am trying to correct. I believe it can be done. We can all help each other to our own personal cleansing enema. And if humor can help..let the jokes begin…

…and listen to The Terry & Sterry Show on XRayFM this Thursday at Noon for more commentary. Streaming at and broadcast at 107.1 and 91.1 FM.  Terry D. Kester and I use humor to deal with the serious subjects and vice versa.


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