Lessons on Limits

Lessons on Limits

Some lessons on limits:

  1. Don't overfill the bag
  2. We all need brakes
  3. Not Good to be a Pigeon
  4. Even Tractors Can Get Stuck
  5. Oh Brother Where Art U
  6. Be Careful What You Swallow
  7. The Observer
  8. Watch Out For That Tree!
  9. Snakes are smart
  10. What comes up must come down
  11. Sometimes three wheels is all you need
  12. Keep both front wheels pointed in the same direction
  13. Grapes of Wrath

Big :\^) on this whole thing.

I was born and grew up in Southern California, but it was nothing like you would think. I lived in a small town called Beaumont, 30 miles east of San Bernardino and 30 miles west of Palm Springs. Beaumont had about 2,500 people, and just north of Beaumont a few miles was Cherry Valley, where my mother currently lives. Cherry Valley is even smaller population wise (human population), rural, very rural when I was young, and included cherry orchards, chicken ranches (some huge ones), some apple orchards, and lots of dry empty fields. So why am I telling you this? It's called 'background material', quit complaining. If you want to understand your limits you need to know your background.

Lesson One: Don't overfill the bag

When I was about 13 years old, Jerry, a friend of mine said I could make money at his uncle's chicken ranch up in Cherry Valley. Since money was scarce and my other choice was tossing newspapers at 5am for less than a nickel each, I jumped at the chance, in hindsight, I probably should have asked more about the job. Although Jerry's aunt did make some damn good tamales for our lunches. Anyway, the job didn't require many skills, it was filling up 40 pound bags of chicken manure. Jerry's uncle would bring a load of it from the back of his ranch with his tractor where we was aging it in the sun, and he would dump the load out front next to a stand where he would sell the bags of chicken manure. Our job was to fill the bags, and we got paid by the bag. I don't remember now how much we got paid per bag, but this would have been, oh 1966 maybe? Jerry's uncle sold the bags for 50 cents each. I remember after a long day having $20 or $25, and that was big time money then, and a lot of bags of manure. Chicken manure is very dusty, and has some other characteristics I won't go into. By the end of the day, we would look like someone had dumped a bag over us, we were so dirty, and smelled so bad, my Mom almost refused to let us in the car for the drive home.

So what was the limits lesson here?
Well, when the bag says 'limit 40 pounds', that means no more than 40 pounds. If you tried to put more in it, the bag would break, you would have to start all over again, and very likely you would have chicken manure all over you.
So sometimes when you try to do too much, you end up with a broken bag of manure, and have to start all over again. (Reminds me of working on builds and makefiles).

I suppose I also learned that even when needing a job really bad, sometimes it's important to ask what the job is, everyone should put some limits on what they will do for a buck.

Lesson Two: We all need brakes

About the age of 14, I was heavily involved in go-carts. I'd spend my entire Saturday mowing lawns, making about $35 or so then head to the hardware store for misc parts I could use on my go-cart. My brother had found me a metal frame, low to the ground, real steering, and no brakes. I decided I didn't need brakes, a decision I'd learn to regret. I would scrounge around for engines off of old reel lawn mowers (the motor shaft had to be horizontal), and then I'd take off the air filter and governor for maximum horsepower (2 1/2 if I was lucky). I started with a centrifical belt drive, and gradually moved to a chain drive. I was after speed and the thrill of 90 degree turns at full speed, of course I was lucky to hit 35 MPH going downhill, I'd usually cruise the alleys at 25-30 MPH. The town of Beaumont was relatively small, and was mostly layed out in a grid with alleys running in a North/South direction between almost all the streets. By sticking to the alleys, and only occasionally driving on the street a block or so, I could traverse the entire town if I had the gas, well, the gas and the luck. One day as I darted from one alley to the next with my engine running particularly fast that day, I happened to cross paths with a police car. Luckily he saw me and slowed down, for some reason I couldn't stop, oh yeah, I didn't need brakes. I guess that was my first encounter with the local Beaumont police, wouldn't be my last. They escorted me home and it was a while before I got to use my go-cart again.

So what was the limits lesson here?
Besides alleys having a 10mph speed limit. No matter how far or how fast you go, you always need brakes. At some point you will need to stop what you are doing, if nothing else to avoid getting run over, but more often to just take a breather, everyone has their limits.

Lesson Three: Not Good to be a Pigeon

Being raised a Roman Catholic is something that only people raised Catholic can appreciate. But besides being raised that way, I was also an altar boy for many years, mowed the lawns at the church, and knew all the secret hiding places in the attic and bell tower. Father Moore, the pastor of the church when I was young was instrumental in the funding and building of this church in the late 1950's, so he was very protective of this church. It was and continues to be a beautiful, yet very traditional old-world looking Catholic Church. After this pastor left and the world started going to hell in a hand basket, it wouldn't be unusual to see the statues out on the grounds with damage from vandalism. The Joseph holding the baby Jesus statue out on the lawn was a particular target. I never understood how someone could break off the fingers of Jesus or break off his head, I mean what goes through people's minds when they do this? Anyway, when Father Moore was in charge this would never have happened. One Sunday as we walked up to the church I spied a burlap bag under a bush, as my Mon continued on into the church I pulled out the bag and looked inside. It was full of dead pigeons. Turns out Father didn't appreciate the pigeons crapping on his new church and bell tower, so he took his trusty pellet gun and took matters into his own hands. Later he apparently hired his nephew (and rumor had it, one of my older brothers) to help with his blessed hunting trip. Who knows what Father would have done to anyone vandalizing his statues!

So what's the lesson on limits? Don't crap on people's pride and joy, or you could end up in a burlap bag. Before you slam anyone's project or program, you may want to research the author's armory, everyone has their limits, even priests. Better yet, try to be constructive in your criticism.

Lesson Four: Even Tractors Can Get Stuck

Growing up in a small town and in a fairly undeveloped area has it's advantages. Our house had empty lots on both sides of us, so these empty lots became our playgrounds as we grew up. For some reason, boys like to dig, not sure why, and so did I when I was about 8 years old. In any case, we secretly borrowed my dad's small army shovels and dug a little (huge) hole in one of the lots next to us, spreading the dirt around, and keeping the hole covered with a thin sheet of plywood and layer of dirt, so it wasn't obvious there was a hole in this field. We must have been inspired by that movie 'Great Escape' or something, I can't remember why we took this digging project to the extreme. We even dug out shelves in the walls of this hole and kept all kinds of secret things that little boys like to stash, nothing illegal of course. ;\^)

Well usually, around twice a year the owner of these lots hired out a farmer to disc their fields and keep the weeds down. This particular farmer happened to be quite proud of his rather large tractor with the huge back wheels. Unfortunately, our little hole was deeper than the radius of the tractor wheels, and the farmer managed to hit the hole just right so that one wheel was up in the air, and the other was spinning in the hole, the axle had bottomed out. Bottom line was that he had to hire another farmer to pull him out of the hole. He wasn't a happy farmer and kept shouting nasty words about the idiots that dug this hole, the other farmer thought it was funny. I kept silent, watching everything, turns out I was good at that.

So what's the lesson on limits? Even big tractors have their limits, especially when little kids and small army shovels are involved.

Lesson Five: Oh Brother Where Art U

Back in my early college days I had an old beat up 1966 Dodge Dart, with a trusty slant 6 engine and automatic transmission. It was like a Timex watch, just kept on working, well, until I started to work on the brakes. And no this is not another brakes story, well kinda isn't. Anyway, as I was leaving the 91 freeway somewhere around Bellflower, California, I noticed that the brake pedal had gone to the floor, and great clouds of white smoke was coming out of the back of the car. Being the quick thinker that I was, I downshifted and grabbed for the emergency brake, and was able to slow down enough to prevent any major disaster. My poor passenger was fine too, after I removed his hands that had embedded themselves in the cheap foam pad on the dashboard. It turns out that when you change brake pads, you are supposed to clean the brake fluid cylinders and replace all those rubber thingies, I guess I assumed when the brake pads needed replacing, that's all that was needed. That's why I'm not a mechanic and I never work on my cars anymore.

Well my older brother Mike (the REAL mechanic in the family) was gracious enough to offer to drive all the way to Bellflower (some 60+ miles from Beaumont) and tow my car back to his shop for some real auto repairs. I, of course, accepted his offer, and we piled into my father's trusty Dodge Ram pickup (yes, we were a Mopar family back then) and headed out to get my car. Mike brought his buddy Scott along, and I should have suspected something at the time, but initially was glad for the help.

So we found my car without incident, got the car all hooked up with a really cheap tow-bar (probably would be an illegal one nowadays), and we were about ready to start out. But I was told I needed to ride in my Dodge Dart to make sure it was tracking properly, or so I was told. So in I went and onto the freeway. So I'm sitting in this car being towed at about 65mph down highway 91, and I look at Mike and Scott in the pickup cab and they have these rather devilish looks on their faces. They appeared to be lighting something, strange, neither of them smoked. Low and behold, they started tossing out firecrackers at me! I quickly closed the windows and the windwings (anybody out there old enough to know what a windwing is?), then turned on the wipers to try and deflect any firecrackers off the car. This must have looked rather odd to anyone seeing it. Well they were just having a heck of a time, laughing and big wide grins on their faces. I found a piece of paper and wrote 'Help! I'm being kidnapped!' on it, but everybody on the freeway just smiled at me, must have figured I deserved to be kidnapped. Then it happened, somehow one of them dropped a lit firecracker in the cab and it seemed to have lit all the rest of the firecrackers. As both of them quickly glued themselves to the doors of the pickup cab, there was a loud series of crackles and lots of white smoke coming out of the pickup cab. Well, now I was laughing my head off, until we got into Beaumont and as we pulled up to my brothers garage, the towbar fell off my car. :\^(

So what's the lesson on limits? There is no limit on idiocy.

Lesson Six: Be Careful What You Swallow

Having 3 brothers, my mother had quite a bit of laundry to deal with as we were growing up. Often there would be a large pile of dirty laundry next to the washing machine and for some strange reason, as an 8 year old I often used these large piles like a beanbag chair, relaxing in the soft pile of clothing. Now that I think about it, these were dirty clothes, yuck, what was I thinking? Maybe I wasn't as bright an 8 year old as I thought. :\^(

Anyway, one day I was relaxing on my clothes pile, laying back with my eyes closed and my mouth wide open, maybe even on the verge of sleeping. Unknown to me my younger brother was in the vicinity, and had happened to find a drapery hook, which is a small one inch "u" shaped hook where the right leg of the "u" ends in a very sharp point. It's used to hang up curtains. For some bizarre reason, my brother decided that this cute little "u" (the drapery hook) belonged in my mouth, and so he dropped it in. I'm not sure if he thought this was funny, or if he was getting even with me for something, probably getting even for something.

I was taken by surprise and swallowed it, and after a short burst of anger toward my little sibling, asked "What the H$%#$L did you put in my mouth?". Well he finally confessed, without my mother using any illegal torture, and I was off to the hospital. The XRAY showed the "u" very clearly in my stomach, on it's way through my system, and the Doctor said that the best thing to do was to wait and let it "pass" and hope that I didn't get any curtains hung in my gut (I forget the exact medical terms used). But the trick would be to know when it had actually "passed", geez, this story gets yuckier the more I think about it... :\^(

Of course, we had no metal detectors at the time that could be waved over my number twos, so you can imagine what my Mom had to do, something ONLY a mother could do. To make a long, rather disgusting story short, everything came out ok in the end, so to speak.

So what's the lesson on limits here? There is a limit to what you can swallow safely, sometimes what you swallow might get "u" in the end.

Lesson Seven: The Observer

Of the four brothers, I could have been labeled "the observer". I'm sure my mother didn't think I was a complete angel, but usually my siblings would get into more fights without me than with me. So alot of the time, I "observed".

There was one particular "observation" that I remembered when I was about 12 or so, although I'm sure my siblings would correct me on some of the details. My younger brother was very upset at my older brother, very upset, I forget what the issue was, but it was pretty standard for them to be at odds. Except what my younger brother did on this particular day. He decided that taking a ball peen hammer to my older brother's car was the answer. He walked around the car and every few feet he'd make a little dent in the fender or door, etc. You get the idea. So my normally cool and collected older brother blew his top, and grabbed a rake and went after my little brother. Around and around the yard they went, there was screaming and dodging, and even some really choice nasty words flying around. Of course being an observer, I wasn't supposed to interfere, or that seemed to be my attitude as I recall (maybe I could have worked at the UN?). But finally I reached up over my head, from the porch swing I was sitting at, and knocked on the dining room window. "Hey, Mom! You might want to come out here." Mom came out and saved the day, and the entertainment came to an end.

So what's the limit lesson on this one? The observer has a responsibility of reporting disasters, even entertaining ones. There is a limit to what should be observed and ignored.

Lesson Eight: Watch Out For That Tree!

It was the 1970's, and a group of us decided that we should go on a long bike ride. But remember it was the 1970's, and our definition of a bike ride was loading up a pickup truck with bikes and beer, driving to the top of a really steep hill and riding "down" the hill as fast as we could, with someone driving the pickup behind us. Well, somehow, I'm not sure how, we ended up riding bikes all over California this way, even down into Kings Canyon National Park, and our final our last ride was in Napa Valley on a road called Trinity Road (yes it was a long bike ride). These were not your lightweight bikes of today, in fact we didn't want the lightweight ones because at that time, they weren't very safe going down mountain roads at speeds up to 45mph, small rocks could be the end of your bike ride. So we preferred the heavy Schwinn Continental bikes, that were very heavy (50-60 pounds), but the safest bike for what we were doing, not great for going up hill, but fantastic for going down hills really fast.

So here we are on Trinity Road, a very steep road with hairpin turns, and I happened to be the current designated driver. I pull over and expected to see 4 bikes head down the hill and the yellow bike left behind because the brakes on the yellow bike were toast. I looked in the back of the pickup and there was a blue bike, humm, that can't be good. So I head down the hill in the pickup but couldn't really keep up with the bikes as they disappeared around the first bend. After the first hairpin turn I meet up with 3 of the bikes, and Tim (who was on the yellow bike) is missing. Turning around we all go back looking for Tim and can't find him, now we were worried, then we heard a faint mumbling down the side of the road and we found Tim, he was spitting out teeth and the yellow bike looked like a pretzel. We raced him to the hospital in nearby Santa Rosa (burning up the brakes in my Dad's pickup in the process), and Tim spent the next few days getting his broken jaw (broken in 4 places) wired shut and his teeth fixed. Turns out he couldn't make the hairpin turn in the yellow bike, had too much momemtum to lay the bike down, went off the road, and just happened to merge his face with a large oak branch.

So what is the lesson on limits? Ok ok, besides the no limits on stupidity. Sometimes your limitations come from the tools you have chosen, make sure you have good tools before taking on dangerous, perhaps insane, tasks.

Lesson Nine: Snakes are smart

Back when the old VW bugs were all the rage (yes, this was a long time ago) I had a friend whose name was Pete (not his real name). I'm not sure where he got that name, but he was a very energetic friend of mine who had a nice 1963 VW Bug.

So a bunch of the gang was sitting around drinking beer in the front yard when a small golpher snake crawled up the tire of Pete's VW and somehow disappeared inside the body of the VW. Of course all of us were laughing except Pete. Apparently Pete didn't like snakes, and he started to take drastic actions to get the snake out of his VW Bug. Within a few minutes a large part of the car was dismantled, nothing that couldn't be put back together, but we all thought it was a bit extreme. Soon he had a pair of tin snips, and he was cutting into the body of his VW so that he could reach in and grab this snake. Well as soon as he would start to grab it, it would slither off into another part of the VW. Well, to make a long story short, the end result was a severely trashed VW Bug and a very frustrated Pete, who still wanted that snake out of his VW. As we handed Pete a fresh beer and sat down to give Pete our support, the snake dropped out of the VW and crawled away.

Now you might not think Pete was very smart, but sometimes everyone gets so hung on on making something happen, that they don't realize the damage they are doing.

Sometimes you need to limit the extremes you go thorough to force something to happen. Sometimes they just happen when they are ready to happen.

Lesson Ten: What comes up must come down

I never had access to gunpowder when I was a kid, probably a good thing, my Dad didn't have many real guns, probably another good thing. But we managed without. Matches were cheap and we had lots of tools and empty pellet gun CO2 canisters. The CO2 canisters were about 3 inches long and about an inch or less in diameter and we decided they looked like rockets. And they looked even more like rockets after we stuck little wings on them and created little launch pads. We figured we would stuff them full of match heads for fuel and set them off in the empty field next door. Our first mistake was using kitchen 'strike anywhere' matches, cutting off the heads of these matches wasn't a problem, but stuffing them into the CO2 rockets tended to trigger the 'strike anywhere' properties of the kitchen matches. We didn't burn anything, but not for lack of trying. So we had to stick with book matches which were much safer, well, relatively speaking anyway.

So we managed to get the basic of our CO2 match head rocketry down and we set out for the empty field next door. There was our own house on one side, and a nice new tract home on the other side. We got the rocket setup, setup the fuse (a trail of match heads to the base of the CO2 rocket), lit the fuse, and ran back home to watch it from behind the fence. POOF. The rocket took off, probably got 150 feet or so into the air, then came down a bit off course. THUD. A few shingles on the new tract home next door rattled and our rocket landed on the neighbors roof. Our eyes got big and I'm sure we had big huge silly smiles on our faces. All we could think about was finding another CO2 container and riding our bikes to the store for more matches. We had no concern for a smoldering rocket on the neighbors roof, or any possible hole in their roof. We wanted more rockets and rocket fuel. Turns out nothing bad happened, but it could have.

So I know this is getting old, but what is the lesson on limits here? Sometimes you can get tunnel vision on something and completely ignore everyone and everything around you, missing out that what you are doing may not be a good thing to do. Kids do this all the time, well I did anyway. Sometimes limiting your focus to just what you want to do isn't ideal in a world where other people have to live. Make sure you listen to other opinions, like "Quit shooting rockets at my house you stupid #$\^&$ kids!"

Lesson Eleven: Sometimes three wheels is all you need

I'm not exactly sure when this incident happened, but we were all probably 17 or 18 years old. Pete (remember him from Lesson Nine?) wanted to drive out to Whitewater Canyon for a hike (this did happen before Lesson Nine). Whitewater Canyon was a desolate little canyon between Cabazon and Palm Springs. So four of us crammed ourselves into his VW bug and headed down interstate 10.

A few miles down the freeway just past Cabazon, the VW made a funny sound and we noticed a wheel rolling down the freeway, a VW wheel, a rather familiar looking VW wheel, OUR VW WHEEL!. Pete yells at us to all lean to the left because he didn't want to ruin his brake drum. So we all did the best we could to put our weight on the left side of the VW as Pete managed to get us pulled over to the side. Well, we managed to get to the side of the road, and as I recall we even recovered his wandering wheel. We took a lug nut off each of the other wheels and attached the spare and drove home, very slowly. Apparently this wasn't the first time this had happened to Pete, and over time he had learned the tricks to driving on three wheels with his VW. Of course I'm sure this only applies to the front wheels of a VW, anyone that knows about older VW bugs will recall how light the front of these cars are, so I doubt you could drive a VW without a rear wheel. And by no means am I suggesting anyone try this, even now it kind of gives me the creeps thinking about what could have happened.

Sometimes you may find that your resources (wheels) are limited, sometimes you can manage with fewer resources, but you would be crazy to take on projects with severely limited resources. In rare cases the spare may be optional, but make sure you have the basics (4 wheels).

Lesson Twelve: Keep both front wheels pointed in the same direction

One of the many cars I owned was a 1969 English Ford Cortina Wagon. It was a great car to own during the gas crunch of the mid 70's because it got 30mpg, but it was a horrible car to repair because parts were hard to find. The English Fords seemed to have lots of problems with their electrical systems, and I remember spending long hours at the junk yards pulling out generators and misc electrical parts from wrecked English Fords to replace ones in my own car. Of course it didn't help that the previous owner of the car had abused it so that the front bumper was bent and the the front struts were shot, and it had a habit of continuing to bounce after driving through dips in the road. For some reason I couldn't afford to buy new struts, since they were lower priority than "Beer" at the time. So the bounce of the car just became a characteristic of the car and everyone got used to it.

Well to get on with the story, one day a good friend and I decided to drive into Kings Canyon National Park for a short camping trip. The drive involved a winding one-way road into the bottom of the canyon. So needless to say we had a great time speeding down the road occasionally looking down into the deep and beautiful canyon. I remember thinking that the English might have created crappy electrical systems, but the handling of this car on curves was much nicer than most American built cars I had owned, at that time anyway, we had fun racing down this 50 mile stretch of road.

As we reached the bottom of the canyon and turned down a dirt road into the campground, the car came to a sudden dragging stop as if I had driven into quicksand or ran over a bear or something. My passenger got out of the car to see what I had hit and stood in front of my car scratching his head, then pointed right and left. Frustrated at not understanding him, I got out of the car to look myself, and low and behold, my right front wheel was turned all the way to the right, and my left front wheel was pointed all the way to the left! At first all I could think about was that drive down the canyon, and wondering how we managed to make it.

I managed to get under the car enough to see what had happened, apparently the left tie rod had come off the primary steering rod. I managed to push it back on enough to get to a campground spot, and on further inspection it appeared that the front end damage that I thought was just struts was more than that. Apparently everytime the car bounced, it was rubbing a piece of metal against the nut holding the left tie rod on, eventually the pin that protected this nut from coming off got sheared off, and then each bounce was turning the nut a quarter turn until it came completely off and landed on a metal ledge next to the car frame. At that point all it took was a good bump in the road to pop the tie rod off. I managed to secure the nut back on, found a piece of wire to replace the lost pin, and the next day we drove home very carefully. I sold the car the following week.

Sometimes I wonder if it's not just cats that have multiple lives. I'm not sure how many lives humans have, but ever since that day, I've wondered how many I've got left, I know there has to be a limit. So make sure your front wheels are pointed in the same direction, your progress will certainly be limited if they aren't.

Lesson Thirteen: Grapes of Wrath

After graduating from High School what does a young man want to do? ROAD TRIP! So my long time High School buddy tossed a few sleeping bags and army cots in the trunk of my souped up 1963 Plymouth Valiant and we headed up Highway 395 to Reno, San Francisco, and Big Sur, the California Loop Road Trip. We sleep in Rest Areas or just about anywhere, even on the side of the road in Big Sur. Yes, that was a long time ago, 1971. Now this 1963 Valiant was a bit unusual, my brother had put in a built 273 V-8 with a racing cam, Edlebrock Highrise manifold, 4barrel 850 Holley, bright orange headers (we had to cut out part of the wheel wells to make room in the engine compartment), and an automatic B&M Racing Transmission. Not much to look at, but it was fast, as long as you were going straight.

So we were driving up 395 south of Bishop, and we were eating grapes, why grapes, I don't know, I don't recall being any kind of health nut back then. Better than potato chips, but then I'd have no story if it was potato chips. Anyway, the grapes must not have been very good, because at some point my passenger started tossing the grapes over the top of the car and trying to have them land on the windshields of the cars going the opposite direction. At 70mph that's potentially a 140mph grape. I know I know, what a stupid and dangerous thing to do, what can I say? We were 18. To anyone that got hit by a 140mph grape in 1971 on Highway 395 south of Bishop, I apologize. Anyway, my buddy's aim wasn't very good, but the last successful hit was on a small sports car, and this driver was not happy with us at all. He turned around and came after us, 1971 road rage I guess, who can blame him. Well luckily we were on a straight section of road so I hit the gas and made Bishop in double time. We lost him of course, luckily it wasn't a Porsche. We decided that the grape toss was a bad idea from then on.

So if you decide to take risks, have an escape plan, otherwise if you get caught, your options will be limited, and you could encounter the Grapes of Wrath. Better yet, limit yourself to just eating the grapes.

To be continued


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Various blogs on JDK development procedures, including building, build infrastructure, testing, and source maintenance.


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