YouTube Video: Why is Pride Still Important in 2019?

I know you needn’t reminding, but sometimes it helps to have our SJW arguments refreshed.

In the past, when confronted with a person who complained about how sexuality is a private thing and therefore gay parades should not exist, I have pointed out the publicity and ostentatiousness of (not only) royal weddings.

Sex is a private thing. Sexuality and sexual orientation, not so much. Not in Europe nor anywhere in the so-called “west”.

Slavic Saturday

I have planned a bit about another famous Czech artist, but I got no time, so today let’s have a bit of fun with language again.

Some Slavic languages allow for a syllable being constructed without a vowel, especially Czech and Slovak, where the “r” and “l” consonants can be syllable constructing instead of a vowel. So for example the Czech name for Giant Mountains, Krkonoše, consists of four syllables – Kr-ko-no-še.

I have met native English and German speakers who had extreme trouble with this and they instinctively inserted an “e” before the syllable constructing consonant, so instead of “srdce” (heart), they pronounced “serce”, which is a nonsense word but one eventually gets what the struggling foreigner means in a sentence, as one generally does on such occasions if one is not a deliberately obtuse asshole and actively tries to understand instead of being pedantic.

I do not remember if I tried to tease anyone except one of my colleagues at work to say one of the czech tongue twisters – “strč prst skrz krk” (stick a finger through the throat) which consists  of four monosyllabic words without a single vowel. Or the longest Czech word without vowels – “scvrnkls” (you shrunk (it)). Or the allegedly longest sentence without vowels- “Smrž pln skvrn zvlhl z mlh.” (A morel full of spots got wet in the fog). They are tonque twisters for a reason – even Czechs trip over their own tongue trying to say these fast and perhaps multiple times in succesion.

Have fun pronouncing those, I know you will try.

The Return of the Mocking Kites

I mentioned this before, and it bears repeating. These birds have a wicked sense of humor.
This time, two of them have shown up, and when I came out with the camera, one of them started to drift closer and closer and lower and lower, until it was circling right above me. But at the time it was right above me, it was so close, that its angular speed was too high for me to be able to keep track of it. So I only have a few blurry pictures from afar. As usual.

©Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

©Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

©Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

©Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

Story of two Knives

This article contains an acute case of Opinions.

Let’s talk about two chef’s knives that currently reside in our household.

The black one is some cheapo crap that we got as a “bonus” back when Reader’s Digest was a thing and my mother had a subscription.
The blade is coated in Teflon and the handle is from some cheap plastic. The shiny one was moderately expensive. It is made from one piece of stainless steel, although judging by the mass the handle is hollow (I have no clue whatsoever what the manufacturing process was).

I like the cheap one. And I regret buying the expensive one. The cheap one cuts like a lightsaber. The expensive one sticks and twists and does not go through anything with ease, cutting onions or potatoes is a penance.

As far as I can ascertain with callipers, they both have nearly identical secondary bevels – the blade near the edge is circa 0,6-0,7 mm thick and the bevels are somewhere around 1,2-1,5 mm long. That means that the grind angle is for both blades between 11°-15°. They are both sharpened the same way. But they both behave and handle very differently, even when freshly sharpened.

Let’s start with the first thing – weight and point of balance. Both have nearly identical point of balance, near the heel of the blade, right in front of the hand. I personally prefer my kitchen knives balanced at the forefinger, but I do not mind the more forward put point of balance on the black knife, for one simple reason – the knife is very light, it weighs nearly nothing. The steel one is on the other hand heavy, and in combination with the forward put point of balance, it feels more like a chopper than like a knife.  But that is a personal preference thing – I do not like chef’s knives in general that much, and I do not actually need to use them all too often. Maybe they are all supposed to be weighed like that, I have no idea.

The second difference is, however, more objective. The black knife has a massive handle with cross-section more like a rounded rectangle than an oval. And it has a big flat spot on the spine right behind the blade. It looks chunky, but it is in fact very comfortable in the hand, the handle allows for firm grip and great edge alignment. And the flat spot is there for the thumb should you need to apply more pressure. The steel knife handle is very slick, very elegant looking. It is thin towards the blade and its crosssection is at all points nice and oval. But not only does that make edge alignment slightly more difficult, it also does not allow for a very strong grip. When tackling a difficult cabbage, a big chunk of heterogeneous material, the knife tends to slip and twist in the hand (especially when wet) and it is a struggle to keep the blade on track.

The third difference is the real clincher – blade geometry. The black knife has hollow ground primary bevels and the blade is a mere 1 mm thick at the spine. The shiny one has flat grind and is 2,7 mm thick at the spine – nearly three times more.

That kind of thickness is suitable for a heavy-duty camping knife, but in a kitchen it is a noticeable hindrance. When cutting small things, like herbs, carrots or similar, it is not a problem, but when cutting something bigger and/or harder, like a lemon, an onion or a potato, or something stickier like a sausage or hard cheese, the blade thickness makes the cutting more difficult, because it must push the hard material more to the sides.

Each of these problems in itself would not be a big problem but together they make a chef’s knife that is truly awful to use – it is supposed to be a universal knife, but instead it is a knife that is only universally problematic.

I guess the moral of this ramble is – when it comes to knives, cheap does not always mean bad and expensive does not always mean good.


How to Sharpen a Knife

Instead of writing at lenght, I will let Walter Sorrels to explain it better than I ever could.

This (except the measuring of the angle with a tool, which I was taught to recognize by feel and eyeballing) is how I was taught to sharpen knives and it is essentialy how I do it and teach others to do it.



Mah Pollard, Mah Coppice

I am sorry for not posting yesterday. I have plenty of various pictures, but I still have a huge backlog of work around the garden as well due to the six weeks that I have spent lounging in my bed drinking tea and whatnot. And I think it will take a few more weeks to get back on track.

These last few days I had to clean up some rubble from house renovations. I used it to repair the gravel-covered area behind my house, waste disposal trucks made some grooves there that needed filling. And as for yesterday, the weather was splendid and these are the fruits of my labor.

Firewood © Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

Also, I am totally knackered today, but it is hard to take a picture of that.

I was shredding and cutting wood from coppiced and pollarded trees in my garden. I have planted these trees years ago specifically for this purpose. The pollarded trees are willows, some local variety of Salix fragilis that unfortunately does not grow as fast as I would wish to. But I also got a few willows of another species from lowlands in Pilsen, which looks a lot more promising.

Pollarded willow © Charly.

Pollarded willow © Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

For the coppice, I bought poplar hybrid Populus nigra x Populus maximowiczii Max 4. It grows well, but it would be better if I had the resources to plow the area first. As it is, it takes for the trees two-three years to really take root and unfortunately, during that time a lot of them die to water voles. Water voles are a huge problem, despite the fact that I do not live anywhere near water. One year they got into my bonsai trees and totally massacred them, destroying even some very valuable ones. And they make setting up of the coppice a real pain in the nether regions.

Coppice © Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

That is why as of now I only have only one row of really established trees and one row of two-year-old trees that should hopefully take off this year. The rest of the coppice was planted last year, but this spring we had to renew about 30% of it and unfortunately due to my illness it was not done on time and properly, so it is questionable whether it will work or not.

The wood of this particular poplar tree is not as good firewood as hardwood would be, it is very light, almost like balsa. But what it lacks in density, it really more than makes up in volume. Even so, I am also planting oaks, hazels, and maples in the coppice, they sprout all around the garden anyway and this way I get some use out of them in the future. And this year I bought 200 hornbeam seedlings and planted them around the area near the hedge. That is the south edge, thus the slower-growing hornbeam won’t be overshadowed by the super-fast-growing poplars and willows. Unfortunately, it too is a very tasty water vole snack – one of the bonsai trees that fell victim to their raid was hornbeam and nothing was left of the tree back then except a tiny pencil-like stub and a few splinters. But I already planted hornbeam for hedge a few years ago and it thrives well in this area so I hope the trees in the coppice will grow faster than the voles manage to eat them.

I have several hundred square meters of my garden for the coppice, which means that in a few years I could grow a significant portion of my firewood (I estimate it at about 30%, or 100% every 3 years) on my property. That is one little project that I could do on my own to go from burning fossil fuels to renewables.

Close Encounters of the tiny kind

During lunch break walk at work, I have encountered this little fellow. He flew by and sat on the macadam right next to me – a very conspicuous bright green jewel on the grey dull road. It was really tiny – about the size of a thumbnail. And of course I did not have my camera and macro lenses on me, so you have to do with this rather poor pictures made with my phone.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

A Brief Update on the HDD Magnets

I have been mostly working on a shelf this weekend. It is very needed because there is more than enough stuff just cluttering up the house and it is getting on my nerves.

But I also had worked on my little project involving the magnets that I have salvaged from defunct HDD a few months ago.

First I took a piece of 3 mm thick, 20 mm wide galvanized mild steel and I cut off a piece big enough so I could bend it into a U-shape in such a way that the magnets can sit inside with about 2 mm free space between the magnets and the bends. then I also cut two just 3 mm bits of the same stock. When put together as seen on the picture, you get a very strong magnet that only pulls in one direction (up). Plus the way the HDD magnets are magnetized means that this magnet now has four poles N-S-N-S. Also that the magnetic field is very strong, but has a very short reach. I tried to measure the force with which it holds a piece of steel and it was about 65 Newton, which is impressive for such a small thing cobbled together from scraps.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

After this, I cut a few pieces of brass to fill the spaces as tightly as possible, and I drilled and cut an M5 thread in one arm of the U. Precision is essential here. Unfortunately, we do not get along very well and she is a mere nodding acquaintance, despite my best efforts, so everything was a bit wonky.

I have no pictures of that work because I still did not figure out exactly how my new phone works – I thought I took pictures, but apparently not.

When I had everything cut, I mixed a generous amount of quick drying epoxy and slathered it all around and glued everything together.  And after the epoxy hardened enough I have ground off (manually) excessive material and I trued and polished slightly the magnetic surface.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

So now I have this strong, one-directional magnet 50x20x10 mm. So far everything goes as planned, and I hope that the next step in this project will go similarly well.

Slavic Saturday

Today just something lighter, and a reaction to our recent visit from the Grammar and Spelling Police. I would like to touch up on spelling in slavic languages. I have already mentioned the overabundance of cases and genders, so now let’s go on to the spelling.

The one problem that slavic languages have with latin alphabet is that it just does not contain enough letters to cover all the consonants in the language, a problem that multiple people tried to solve in history.

First cases involved inventing a whole new script – the Glagolitic script by Saint Cyril and Saint Methodius, who invented the alphabet specifically so they can better preach Christianity to Slavs. It did not hold, at least not in whole – a part of this script was later used together with Greek alphabet in the creation of Cyrillic script, still in use by many Slavic nations, mainly the biggest one – Russians.

But some slavic nations have adopted latin alphabet for their writing in middle ages and during their history multiple attempts were made to solve the conundrum of not enough letters. Like using digraphs. This type of orthography is still used a lot for example in Polish, whilst modern Czech has only one digraph, ch. Because in fifteenth century came along Jan Hus and in addition to sparking religious war he also invented diacritics (allegedly, there is some dispute). By adding two simple symbols – ˇ and ´ – he solved the problem once and for all, at least for Czechs.

Since then, spelling in Czech is fairly primitive, as well as in many other Slavic languages, whether with their version of modified Latin script (sometimes made after the Czech model) or Cyrillic. Something like a “Spelling bee” is impossible in any meaningful way, because every word is spelled “as it sounds”. Literally. In Czech, children can learn to read by saying the short names of each letter in a word in succession. When done quickly enough, the word naturally emerges. Learning to write spoken word after that is fairly intuitive.

There are complications, of course. Loan words can be one, although usually Czech language either just takes a word and transliterates it into the closest approximation to its original sound achievable (manager = manažer) or does not bother with that at all and the word is just pronounced in the czech fashion, its original sound be damned (buffet =bufet – in modern Czech the “t” is not silent and the “u” is pronounced differently from the French original). Second complication, and a source of major headache to even Czechs, is that I and Y are the same sound in certain situations. So whilst nobody makes a mistake reading a word, it is fairly common to make mistakes when writing.

And punctuation is probably a mess in every language. Well, I never intended to be proof reader…

I Never Thought I am Going to be Happy About Loosing my job. Again.

You might have noticed that over the last two years I was getting more and more dissatisfied with my job. Or, more precisely, with my employer.

Twelve years ago I landed a job at a USA corporation owned factory that had all the right components – interesting job where I could learn new things all the time, both manually and intellectually challenging so I could show off my wide skill set, and well paid, extremely so for my humble standards. After a few years however the shine got a bit worn off, as I was constantly struggling with the mindset that was prevalent on key management positions and I was always outspoken about my disagreements with anyone, no matter how higher in  the hierarchy they were above me. Despite this (or maybe because of it?), I got enough respect and clout at all levels in the company that when it came to a serious clash between me and a complete nincompoop of a mid-ranking manager, where unkind words were said on record, the manager was sacked and not me.

All this instilled in me a deep loathing of managers and especialy those who have MBA. To me, MBA managers are the embodiment of Dunning-Krueger effect – they have no discernible skills, but they think they can dictate actual experienced experts how they should do their job. Not every manager is like this of course, but enough of them that it is noticeable.

Then the whole company was acquired by another international giant, this time a german one. For a short while it looked like things will get better, that the flaws/positives ratio will shift a bit for the better regarding how workers are treated. It did not last – our division was chipped off of the big block and sold off again. And unfortunately again to a USA owned company.

From the start I was fearing that things will go back to the bad old ways, and they did. More than that, it quickly became apparent that things will get a lot worse before they get better – if they get better. And these suspicions were proven true when previous years – in direct contradiction to what we were told after the acquisition I might add – a massive round of layoffs has started. First people were “merely” encouraged to go and they got adequate or even generous severance packages if they decided to do so. Then started the push to slash personnel even more, and people got terminated. Still with severance packages, because this is EU and not USAistan, but loss of job is still a loss of job, even when you get handed several month’s worth money.

When I started, I was first part of and then the head of a three-person team. The clash with the idiotic manager was because the team was taken from me and I was forced to do all the work alone, which was only possible in an Excel sheet, not in an actual real world. I got one team member reinstated and some duties were given to another team. It was still not ideal, but it was workable and under the then german owner it seemed like it might improve again in the future. However this last round of layoffs took also my last subordinate for good and it meant that I would, again, have to do everything by myself.

I am not willing to risk a full blown burn-out.

So I decided to quit. Had I been a mediocre or worse worker, I would have gotten a decent severance package and I could leave the company straight away. But being good has some drawbacks. The company did not want me to quit, and I was told I won’t get anything if I do so. I had some quite intense (but polite and respectful) exchanges with both my supervisor and my HR manager and an agreement was made, due to be signed on Monday. I cannot  of course disclose the details (and if you by some coincidence know or think you know any of the obscured details, do not disclose them in the comments, it would get you banned and the comment deleted), but I can say that I will stay at the company until November and do my best to impart some key components of my extensive experience on my successors. In exchange for that I won’t be completely stiffed. I would prefer to go straightaway, but this is the financially more savvy option.

I could only go into the negotiations as I did because I predicted the situation and I was already preparing for this option for the last year, saving money so I feel more secure and can actually afford to say “I quit anyway” and mean it. I still get less than I would if the company fired me (partially because I still underestimated the strength of my hand, but for that I only have myself to blame), but a lot more than I would if I had one-sidedly quit. I do not recommend to anyone to try what I have done, however, I have also seen people to overplay their hand in these things.

My next plan – and it will affect the blog, hopefully in a good way – is to not seek another job. I feel pretty confident that I would find one, but I am so mentally tired from corporate culture that I need a looong rest to get my bearings back. So the plan is to make knives for a year and see where that goes. I will wake up just as if I were to go to a job, work 8-10 hours daily at knives, and when I build a bit of stock I will try if people will buy them. If it works, great. If it does not, the worst that can happen is that after a year (or perhaps a bit more, depending on how quickly the money dries up) of doing something I like doing I will be forced to sell the knives for just the price of the raw materials and seek employment again.

This is not the first time I am doing this. Straight after university I was working in USA for a short while and with the exchange rate at that time I could subsequently afford to be one year unemployed and live off of the savings. I used that time and money for purchasing a good PC and learning myself the skills needed to build and maintain one, as well as the skill set needed for work with Excel, Word, Powerpoint, Photoshop etc. all that new fangled stuff that I did not learn at school but thought – correctly – will be important in the future.  This has helped me to land my first job, in which I have spent five years and I left it for similar reasons (and under similar conditions, funnily enough) as the current one. I felt quite happy leaving that job, despite not having a new one yet. And I feel similarly happy now as I did then. I hope it works out well for me again.


Bonsaist’s Nightmare

My trees, or more precisely what is left of them after the disastrous spring of 2018, have started to grow rather merrily this year a few weeks ago. This picture was taken on April 28. and normally this sight would be a source of delight for me after a drab and colourless winter. This year it was a nightmare to behold.

As you can see, the trees are piled up under the benches and not on them – that is because this is how they were stacked for the winter, out of the wind, huddled up and askew, so water does not freeze in the pots in such a way that would break them apart. I had trouble to replant my trees for a few years by now, because I just could not get vacation time off at work, but that would not have been a problem this year. This year I was sick for six weeks non stop, and nature does not kindly wait until one heals. That meant that works did not continue at snail’s pace and on weekends only, as it was in the last years – they stopped completely.

However replanting bonsai trees, finished or even half-finished like most of these is a must. The roots fill up the whole container during vegetation season and eat up all the nutrients. The substrate gets compacted and does not take water particularly well anymore. There are species that can do without replanting for a year or two, but not more, and there are also species that simply must be replanted every year, no exceptions. The roots must be cut back and for some trees the time window at which this can be done can be very narrow and if the roots overgrow for too much and too long, they cannot be cut at all without significant risk to the tree’s health and life. When the tree starts to grow, it generally means that safe time to cut the roots is rapidly nearing its end – and in the picture above, all trees have started to grow.

Luckily the weather cooled down a bit again when I finally got time and was fit enough to work, so the trees slowed down their frantic spring growth again. Nevertheless I had to hurry up, a lot.

First thing that I have done to save time was to buy pre-made substrate this year and plant all trees in it. It is more expensive, and the pre-made substrate has some downsides (but to be fair some upsides too), but I just could not manage to mix my own substrate this year and still replant all the trees.

Second thing that I have done was to completely reorganize the glass house where my pomegranates grow – see the picture to the right. Those had to be replanted too. They are not in pots yet, but the roots must be cut as well, otherwise they would grow too long, thick and deep and the plant could not be put safely into the pot when the time comes. But pomegranates were grown very significantly already, and the only way to increase their chances to survive was to cut about 3/4 of their crowns (coincidentally, in the background you can see one of my three fig trees – it has sprouted nice sticks and I had to cut it back for place reasons – you might remember last year I feared it died due to late frost).

When the glass house was reorganized, I could take the trees that are in pots now in there and work on re-potting and neither rain nor snow could stop me. But, I hate to say it, I had to cut corners and I have done a rather sloppy job with many trees. Just like with the pomegranates, I had to cut crowns a bit more than I would normally do, so aesthetics went out of the window for the moment, important was to secure survival.

The same treatments have got all the trees that are not in pots but freely in a flowerbed, which is done either to rejuvenate damaged trees, or to allow for quicker and stronger growth in general for trees that are at the beginning of their journey to becoming a bonsai, like having their roots slowly reduced etc.

When I finally finished, I got a bit of luck this year – the weather got cold, but not freezing cold, for the next two weeks. We had even a bit of late snow.

That is not something that would make me happy, normally, but it did this time. It meant the trees grew slower, they needed less water and the constant drizzle and rain meant that unlike last year, they were not in danger of getting over-dried and overheated at just the wrong moment. So far, so good, by last inspection yesterday evening there were no signs of impeding disaster. I hope that when the weather gets warmer again (according to forecast this weekend), that they all resume their growth  without problems. Lets hope.

Would some of you be interested in short series “Bonsai for Beginners”? I have been thinking about writing up something for people who might want to have a few bonsai trees or perhaps just one without making it a big-scale hobby – like what species to choose from and how to care for them, some generic advice etc. Let me know in the comments.