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.