I am an engineer by trade, and Wife points out that I have an engineer mind.

While I spend much of my time working with complex systems, I understand that simplicity is king. Simplicity is actually quite difficult to achieve because it takes work. You start off doing what you need to do, over time things grow and it will become more complex and kinda messy. You must take the time to stop, step back, and reengineer and rearchitect things to regain that simplicity. Typically this will mean you must discard and cast off.

Antoine de Saint-Exupery said:

Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.

Tao Te Ching #48:

In the practice of the Tao,
every day something is dropped.
Less and less do you need to force things,
until finally you arrive at non-action.

Simple is not easy, but it is best.

I’ve seen a few things in the past couple days that reinforce this.

I stumbled across this blog posting on “What is good code?

Good code is simple. Even complex good code is comprised of simple building blocks. Good code hides or cuts through the complexity in the problem, to provide a simple solution – the sign of a true coding genius is that he makes hard problems look easy, and solves them in such a way that anyone can understand how it was done (after the fact). Simplicity is not really a goal in its own right, though; it’s just that by means of being simple, code is more readable, discoverable, testable, and maintainable, as well as being more likely to be robust, secure and correct! So if you keep your code simple (as simple as possible, but no simpler), it is more likely to be good code – but that is by no means sufficient in and of itself.

And all of this talk of simplicity isn’t just something for the world of engineering…. I think it applies to all things in life, and I think it’d do well to be applied to government.

Witness the mess there is in classifying sensitive information: (h/t Slashdot)

Protecting and classifying sensitive information such as social security numbers shouldn’t be that hard, but perhaps not surprisingly the US government has taken complicating that task to an art form.

It seems that designating, safeguarding, and disseminating such important information involves over 100 unique markings and at least 130 different labeling or handling routines, reflecting a disjointed, inconsistent, and unpredictable system for protecting, sharing, and disclosing sensitive information, according to the watchdogs at the Government Accountability Office.

Read the full article (it’s short) to see just how messy the problem is. This is not simplicity, this is about the furthest thing from simplicity. How does this make life easier?

Then I see this flowchart on Department of Defense acquisitions:

The Integrated Defense Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics Life Cycle Management System -- MY BRAIN HURTS!

Wow. Even the name (The Integrated Defense Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics Life Cycle Management System) is a complex beast.

I truly hope no one considers that to be a simple, streamlined process.

Have you ever noticed, any time the government talks about streamlining or improving their process, they always create some new group to do so? Nothing ever gets shut down or shed or cast off… it’s always grows.

If people are tired at how inefficient government is, at how bloated and slow it is, how complex, how confusing… why aren’t we working to truly simplify things? Why does no one believe in casting off? Why do we call them “law-makers”, as that seems to imply all they can do is make more laws instead of refining or repealing what we already have?

Why don’t we have any politicians that run on a platform of repealing, stripping down, and simplifying? Why is a discussion of “loss of government jobs” considered a bad thing? closing of government agency a bad thing?

Consider how truly simple things are better in life (or at least, consider how those ugly complex things make life difficult). Work towards the ideal.

Simple(r) Interface Design

Firearms instructor John Farnam writes about training experiences with particular pistols (with a follow-up article here). There are certain pistols that have external hammers but those pistols must be carried with the hammer decocked, such as the SIG 226, Beretta’s, H&K’s, etc.; to carry with them cocked is dangerous. What happened was experienced shooters were reholstering their cocked guns and didn’t realize it until an instructor pointed it out.

If well-trained people can forget….

IMHO, decockers add complexity. If I think about it from an engineering design standpoint, and more specifically thinking about the “user interface” to a pistol, decockers are a design feature that is more complex than it needs to be. Granted that’s part of the point, when you consider the evolution of where these guns came from, but it no longer has to be the case. When you have guns like Glocks, Smith & Wesson M&P, Springfield XD, and so on, they provide a much simpler user interface. You’ll also see that other manufacturers are moving towards similar designs. Evolution.

Read my write-up on choosing a gun for more details.

Working homeschooled kids

Oldest expressed interest in getting a job.

Hallelujah! 🙂

Since he is a minor, all sorts of child labor laws come into play. I found this summary of Texas and Federal law at the Texas Workforce Commission’s website.

Here’s one part that I’m not sure about:

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) a child 14 or 15 years of age may not work during school hours…

We homeschool. In Texas, the legal status of homeschool is a private school. So, what does “school hours” mean? My guess is the normal hours of operation for the public school system in the district in which we reside (I sent an email to HSLDA). But why must it be this way? One of the benefits of homeschooling is flexible scheduling. It allows us to better organize our family life. It can give an employer a work resource at a time when they might need the help (e.g. lunch rush), instead of only getting a glut of teenager help from 3-7 PM every day. Furthermore, that glut limits the number of teenage employees that can be had as there’s only so much work and wages to go around at that time of day.

I understand the intent of child labor laws, including the history of how they came about. The intentions are good. It is evident the laws are constructed around traditional notions of institutionalized schooling. Given the dramatic rise of homeschooling in the past some years, it makes sense to revise and modernize our laws to improve how homeschooling is legally regarded (e.g. HoNDA).

Updated: Well, maybe this will work out, at least here in Texas.

HSLDA sent me a summary of Texas child labor laws.

Q: Can a child work during public school hours?

A: Texas has no prohibition against a child working during public school hours.

I requested clarification regarding how Federal law would work in here. Since the Federal law does not specify what “during school hours” means, Texas law trumps in this case.

So it seems if Oldest was to be hired, he could work the lunch rush. So long as of course things didn’t conflict with his schooling, which we wouldn’t allow anyway.

Nevertheless, I could see employers not wanting to hire in such a situation. First, they may be unaware of the laws. In that case, best I can say is for Oldest to walk into the job application process prepared with paperwork showing the laws and legal take on things, because I’m sure an employer would contact the TWC but they may also be unaware. Second, an employer may just want to avoid the potential appearance of the situation. To see a child working mid-day will be strange to a lot of people, which could prompt phone calls to CPS or TWC, and an employer may just not want to deal with the hassle…. or it could count against Oldest in some way.

We’ll see how it all plays out.

DVD Review – ShivWorks’ Fighting Handgun, Volume 1

ShivWorks has produced 4 DVD’s. Previously I reviewed the Practical Unarmed Combat DVD. Now I’d like to review the Fighting Handgun Volume 1 DVD (note: as of this writing there is only the 1 volume; hopefully volume 2 will come someday). Note that I have no connection to SouthNarc or ShivWorks… I’m just some guy that happened to buy the DVD out of my own personal interest.

Production quality is good. Menus available to skip around. Sections are titled so it’s easy to navigate. About 1 hour and 40 minutes of content. Skills are progressive and repeated. That is, a topic is introduced then broken down into component parts. Each component part is discussed and explained (a lot of “why” in addition to “how”). The component skill is then demonstrated, often from various camera angles (both SouthNarc turning different directions and repeating the skill and use of multiple cameras to get different angles including close-ups), and repeated numerous times. The next component is introduced and the sequence repeated. At the end, all the components are put together and the sequence repeated. Next skill is introduced, and this skill builds upon the prior skill. All things are progressive, well organized, well presented.

The DVD starts out covering the combative handgun drawstroke. Many of you may be familiar with the 4-count drawstroke, so this may seem like a waste of time for you. It is not. First, I’ve seen the drawstroke performed in slightly different ways by many people. Understanding how SouthNarc does his 4-count drawstroke is important as a foundation for the other skills he lays out (all later skills on the DVD build upon former skills). Furthermore, there are subtle details and differences in how he does his drawstroke that I found improve the drawstroke over what I had originally learned. For instance, flagging the grip thumb during parts 1 and 2 of the draw, the importance of drawing/indexing high in part 2 and not dropping the shoulder in part 3 to allow faster acquisition of the sights as you go from 3 to 4. It’s subtle refinements, but they make quite a difference. These little details come into play as the DVD’s skills are introduced and build upon each other.

After covering the drawstroke, SouthNarc moves to the gun range to demonstrate live fire from the #2 position. This is an important step towards using your gun in an extreme close quarters (ECQ) fight. Note that practicing this in a live fire situation is dangerous and risky. SouthNarc presents a series of progressive drills to help practice the skill in a safe manner (so long as you have access to a gun range where you can practice this; if not, dry fire is better than nothing).

With basic gunhandling covered, SouthNarc then adds in some hand skills. One thing I did not like about his horizontal elbow was indexing your thumb at your tracheal notch. I did not like having my thumb hanging out, and especially pressed into my trachea. If my elbow/arm got pushed back into me (very likely, given how the horizontal elbow is used), my thumb goes right into my trachea. That does not appeal to me. However, the technique can be modified to avoid that and otherwise the technique is fine. The hand skills start with fences and there’s some discussion about the F.U.T. (fouled/fucked-up tangle — think clinch only more chaotic, like a non-sporting fight could be) and how to deal with that empty-hand so that you can transition to your handgun. Some discussion of dealing with ground-based combatives are presented as well. But even as he talks about fighting on the ground, the concepts presented earlier in the DVD are ultimately what you’re using.

One thing I like about SouthNarc (and all the trainers that I tend to prefer) is how he strives for true simplicity. He works to come up with as few moves as possible, but moves that work in many situations. The less you have to remember, the better. The less (quantity) you have to practice, the more you can practice and get very good at those few things (quality). Everything SouthNarc presents is aimed towards true simplicity.

Furthermore, while SouthNarc demonstrates specific skills, it’s evident what’s more important is addressing concepts. That yes, there might be some specific way to do something and he’ll show you his way, but more important is the underlying concept and how you work to apply that in dynamic combat. You can see SouthNarc’s Filipino martial arts background showing through here.

The DVD isn’t perfect. A lot of the shots have the microphone and/or mic boom in the shot, but that’s not really a big deal (they were dealing with a lot of wind on the gun range and it would blow the mic into the shot). Sometimes SouthNarc rambles a bit or talks to the camera in ways that don’t matter (e.g. you could have not said that, or it could have been edited out to keep focus). But these are all minor issues that in no way detract from the quality concepts and material that SouthNarc presents in this DVD.

While DVD’s are good ways to get information, nothing beats formal instruction with a good teacher. If you cannot receive instruction from SouthNarc himself, some of the skills covered in this DVD I’ve experienced before in KR Training’s Defensive Pistol class. It’s slightly different material, slightly different presentation, but still good stuff.

I think ShivWorks’ Fighting Handgun Volume 1 is a solid DVD, good introduction to the concepts. It’s not for beginner fighters/shooters, but it does provide a good foundation to the skills that SouthNarc teaches. I do hope he comes out with a Volume 2 someday.

The quest for simple beer

I love a good beer.

My first exposure to beer was Dad drinking Budweiser. “Dad, can I try a sip?” “Sure.” “Bleck, eww, that’s gross!!” But yet somehow that sowed the seed. When it comes to beer, wine, or liquor, my preference is beer. Used to be a heavier drinker (college and all that), but now I really don’t care to get drunk. I just enjoy a good beer now and again, like any beverage (find me a good lemonade and I’m really happy). I try to pair my beer with the meal I’m eating, and many times I don’t finish the beer because it’s not that important to me… we don’t always finish the glass of water or soda or tea with our meals, so why should there be any pressure to finish the beer? It’s just a beverage, the alcohol just happens to be there (tho I of course mind it because it will affect you). I’m not a drinker, I just like the taste of good beer.

I recall back in college (or maybe it was high school?) when Sam Adams came out, and drinking it was the first foray into “hoity-toity” beer (no more “Beast” here!). From there, you try other “fancy” things, eventually discovering Guinness and then life is never the same. I certainly love going to brew pubs, micro brewerys, discovering odd beers, adoring all things Belgian styled, preference for ales. I know what it is to be a beer snob. I can appreciate that these days beer lovers have more choices than ever before.

But that’s also part of the problem.

Yesterday I went to Spec’s. What a fantastic place to go as the selection is unmatched. But at the same time, it’s also overwhelming. You can spend hours there just looking at all that’s available, trying to figure out what you’d like to try, talking with the employees to get their opinions, maybe taste tests, maybe you can take home a pack of various singles to try them out. It’s actually quite the adventure.

On the same token, it also demonstrates that things are getting kinda silly. Everyone is on a quest to make some serious sort of beer. There’s gazillions of IPA’s out there, wheat beers, fruit beers, heck… I just discovered a “barley wine style ale” (very strong, very bitter, but good). Then trying to go for some sort of special line that’s even more special than their normal special beers, hand-crafted in small batches, blah blah blah. There’s just so much available, but it’s all trying to be more complex than the next guy, more trendy than the other micro-brewery.

What happened to simple beer?

I’m not talking Beast (piss-water is still piss-water). I’d still like the beer to taste good and have some meaning in the mouth. But can we put away the beer snobbery and try to make something simple? On a hot Texas afternoon, I just don’t find IPA’s to be refreshing… they can be very delicious, but it’s not just something I want to knock back when I’m hot and tired, or just standing around the BBQ pit with my buds while the brisket smokes. I’ve actually found myself drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon lately because it’s simple and refreshing, but still has some decent taste to it.

Maybe it’s the engineer in me that appreciates true simplicity. That to make something complex just to be complex, well, almost anyone can do that…. it’s easy to keep adding things. But to take things away, to strip down until you get to the true essence of something, to have the self-control to do so… there’s a greater beauty and challenge in that, I think.

So to my readers… can you suggest a good, simple beer?

A Brief Analysis of Heaven Six

Gun folk might know Michael Janich from his co-hosting of The Best Defense TV show. He’s also an accomplished martial artist with a background in escrima. Here’s a video with him explaining “Heaven Six”, a foundational drill in Filipino martial arts such as escrima, arnis, and kali.

What I like about this video is it shows how the basic “Heaven Six” movement goes beyond the sticks. Janich demonstrates a lot of empty hand application, from strikes, to blocks, to joint locks. Certainly he’s just touching the surface, but it does point out all that you can do with just that simple movement.

I haven’t regretted my decision to study kali. This sort of power in simplicity is awesome.

Satisfying ego or satisfying results?

I just finished reading this letter over at Tony Blauer’s website. To be fair, the letter reads like a mix of a testimonial and an ad/promotion for Blauer’s approach. That said, the article still brings up an important point.

The letter recounts Tom Arcuri’s journey in studying and ultimately teaching martial arts. As Mr. Arcuri developed his own style, he recognized why students come to him: not necessarily to learn some style of art, but to learn how to fight or defend themselves. Recognizing a need to satisfy this goal, he set out to meet it. Unfortunately and admittedly he chose the wrong measuring stick for progress: variety. In class situations he could see all sorts of variety and teach it, but once the students got into pressure situations, the variety went out the door. Why?

The answer came to Mr. Arcuri one summer. He came to learn that when one gets into pressure situations, one reverts to gross concepts and skills. Thus variety for the sake of variety goes out the door. Consequently, he changed how he evaluates from “variety” to “results”. I think that’s a good change. Does it necessarily matter how you defend yourself so long as you defend yourself successfully?

Mr. Arcuri writes:

As a group we tend to be control freaks, ego centric, and a bit insecure regarding our skills. This is ironic since we emphasize self-confidence and constant devotion to self-improvement to our students. We spend an inordinate amount of time arguing to be right even in the face of evidence to the contrary. Knowing forty or four hundred techniques gives us control and feeds our egos, but does it enhance our student’s survivability in a “real street fight”? Remember, it’s women and children that are more likely to have to defend themselves in our society.

I touched on this recently. Some arts make a big deal out of how much they have in their curriculum and how much they can teach you. The reality? Not so much. Kuk Sool may tout 3608 techniques, but I’ve long wondered just how they arrive at that total. If you look at what Kuk Sool terms “techniques” (the joint locks, throws, sweeps, etc… Ki Bohn Soo, Sohn Mohk Soo, etc.), then to earn 1st degree black belt you must learn 226 techniques; to earn 2nd degree, 143 techniques (369 total); to earn 3rd degree, 40 techniques (409 total); to earn 4th, 25 techniques (434 total); to earn 5th, 30 techniques (464 total). Now this isn’t to say the official Kuk Sool curriculum doesn’t have other things involved, but the point is that by the time you become a “Master rank” in Kuk Sool, you’ve been taught 464 techniques: only about 13% of the claimed knowledge in the system. Wow. So where are all those other techniques? Super-secret for only the blessed and privileged to know, I guess. Or maybe creative counting; I’ve wondered if by 3608 techniques they mean just the strictly defined techniques or if they also count kicks (front kick, 1; low front kick, 2; middle front kick, 3; high front kick, 4; etc.), punches, and every other little thing, since I know in other arts they will label that sort of stuff “techniques”. But however things are labeled and counted, the point still remains the same: aiming to collect a big number of stuff.

Aside: after a while you’ll find the techniques you’re learning are the same or almost the same. The body only bends so many ways, so if you claim thousands of ways to bend the body, eventually you’re going to repeat yourself in some fashion. Certainly I saw a lot of such repetition in the Kuk Sool curriculum. That’s not all bad because it helps to demonstrate different entries and approaches. But make sure you take those numbers for what they are.

So what’s the point of all of this? IMHO, ego satisfaction. You can strut around qualitatively stating “look at all that I know.” Then it’s easy to get into dick-measuring contests (e.g. Hwa Rang Do, a Kuk Sool contemporary, one-ups with their 4000+ techniques; see my previous article). But will a big ego keep you from getting your ass kicked? Maybe, but I doubt it.

As I’ve often said, what ultimately matters are the personal goals that you have for yourself. If your personal goal is to just acquire a large library of knowledge, then that’s fine. If your personal goal is to inflate your ego, that’s fine too. I know it sounds like I’m down on that, and I personally am because it’s not my goal and I don’t see much true point in that goal. But truly if that’s what you want and you feel it makes your life better, who am I to tell you no? I do hope you have perspective on that goal, but otherwise go for it. Me, my goal these days is combat effectiveness. I’d rather have one technique that I could execute solidly and well and that could truly save my life, than a thousand techniques that I half-assed know and don’t practically do much for me. This is why Filipino martial arts hold so much appeal for me.

As an engineer (with an engineer’s mindset) and given how much Taoism resonates with me, that’s likely why Bruce Lee’s philosophies resonate with me. He speaks of emptying your cup so it can be filled, of keeping what is useful and discarding the rest, of achieving a true simplicity in combat. Note that for these things to happen, first you must acquire. While learning nothing vs. learning something then discarding it, might appear in the end to achieve the same results, they really don’t. Antoine de Saint Exupéry wrote:

Il semble que la perfection soit atteinte non quand il n’y a plus rien à ajouter, mais quand il n’y a plus rien à retrancher.

(It would seem that perfection is attained not when no more can be added, but when no more can be removed.)

To strive for perfection, strive for simplicity. If it is not useful, discard it; but that does imply you must first have acquired it so you could determine if it was useful or not. How to determine if it’s useful? Does it help you satisfy your goals? If your goal is to satisfy your ego, then fine. If your goal is to get satisfying results, well… to me, satisfying results satisfies ego. 🙂

The simplicity of the crossada

In my Kali class tonight, we spent most of the time working on a technique called “crossada”. Basically “X”… “crossing”. There are many interpretations and approaches to it, and here are some videos that illustrate the concept. Note that what’s in these videos isn’t exactly what we were doing in class, just using the videos to illustrate the basic concept.

The key thing is to note the crossing motions done with the hands and/or weapons.

Note as well the variance of weapons: maybe two sticks, maybe one stick and empty hand, maybe sword and dagger, maybe stick and dagger. Whatever you actually see in their hands, imagine something else or nothing at all. In the end, the motions are basically the same. Consider the motions of the first video using just sticks. Now watch again but mentally put a knife in place of the stick and consider how that changes the impact of the exact same motions.

This is what I am loving about Kali: the simplicity. True simplicity. Your body gets trained to a single set of motions. If your hands are empty, the motions work. If you have a knife in one hand and nothing in the other, the same motions work. If you have one stick in one hand, or one stick in each hand, or a stick in one and knife in the other, the same motions work. You aren’t learning one thing for this weapon, then another thing for this weapon, then this other thing for empty hands, and so on. This allows you to not only get up to speed quickly, but it also gives you a broader spectrum to draw from. When I talked about cross-training, maybe you’d have to learn one thing for empty hands, then learn sword, then learn staff. That’s got the “bricks wide, bricks tall” problem I spoke of. But here with Kali (or Escrima or Arnis), you can just stack your bricks tall and you’ll get width for free (so to speak).

Granted I’m simplifying and I’m still a n00b at Kali. But I can see the simplicity and appreciate it, and it reinforces my decision to make the switch and study Kali. Good, good stuff.

Mmm… sausage

Just got back from Johnny G’s Butcher Block, where they processed my pigs from my last hunt.

Got about 30 lbs. of sausage made. Got their “regular” sausage, smoked. As soon as I got home I put one link in a frying pan to heat it up and finish cooking it (it’s about 75% cooked).

My my my.

That was tasty. I like that they season things well, flavorful but not so strong that it’s overpowering. It’s very well balanced. Then the smoke… it was just a perfect smoky flavor. Not too much, not too little. As soon as I opened the pouch I smelled the smoke. It was heavenly.

So far, I’m liking the service and end-product coming out of Johnny G’s. Satisfied customer, willing to keep going back.