In Pursuit of Kaizen

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

Lao Tzu

Kaizen is a Japanese word that generally means change for the better, or improvement. Interestingly, the concept was first imported to Japan from America during the post war occupation. A product of the Great Depression and Second World War, it was an explicitly business related concept that focused on doing more with less.

The Japanese implemented this with great success, transforming it from a simple business concept to a philosophical practice. Today, kaizen often refers to a philosophy of continuous, small improvements, which if implemented successfully can produce incredible results in any aspect of life and help an individual achieve goals they otherwise wouldn’t be able to achieve.

The reason kaizen is successful is because it is purposeful and deliberate and allows us to focus on small incremental changes over time rather than large immediate ones. In today’s age of on-demand and immediate everything it’s often easy to get caught up in the belief that we can create radical change overnight. The reality is that change takes time and effort, real change doesn’t happen overnight, and when it seems like it does it’s usually because we ignored the build-up that led to that change.

It’s All About the Journey:

Perfection, sadly, is impossible. However, the goal of kaizen and the reason for it’s success is because it is a commitment to a continuous journey in pursuit, not of perfection, but of better. Kaizen allows us to break down large, seemingly impossible objectives into manageable, bite sized portions, and to achieve those objectives by a process of continuous improvement.

Want to loose weight and be healthier? Kaizen. Want to be more successful? Kaizen. Want to be happier and more fulfilled? Kaizen. Want to do better at work or make more money? Kaizen.

Kaizen works because instead of focusing on a destination we focus on the journey, this allows us to live in the present rather than an imagined future. Striving for relentless continuous improvement becomes the object rather than the means, allowing us to achieve fulfillment in the doing rather than by reaching a particular destination.

Creating the Process:

While implementing kaizen in theory is simple, it still requires work. The process of kaizen can be broken down into three general areas: 1. Process; 2. Measurement; 3. Innovation.

It sounds a little redundant to say, the process of improving the process, but that’s essentially what kaizen is. It’s not a methodology, there’s no quick and easy solution. To practice kaizen one must first start with an existing process or routine.

The easiest example is an exercise routine. Everyone wants to loose weight, or be in better shape and many of us go to great lengths to achieve this goal, with little success. Even if we have an exercise routine that we follow it eventually gets stale and boring or simply stops creating the results we want.

In order to get better at something we must be able to measure our progress with quantifiable data. This means we have to record the results of our process, for example, today I can benchpress fifty pounds, tomorrow I work on bench-pressing fifty two pounds. By recording and measuring results we can see if our process is working. This helps us to keep on track when working towards longterm objectives, where incremental change or improvement is often hard to see.

Finally, innovation. Innovation for it’s own sake may be a good or a bad thing depending on the results. But because we are looking to get better at getting better what we want to start is establishing better ways of doing what it is that we are already doing. So we must innovate our techniques and processes by doing things differently.

Going Against the Herd:

To create truly radical change we must engage in some counter intuitive thinking, because if we we only ever do what we’ve always done, we will only ever get the same results. This means that we often have to do things differently.

One of the major fundamental components to successful implementation of kaizen is to encourage mistakes. Too often our fear of doing the wrong thing or making a mistake holds us back, so we continue to act in the same old manner to avoid the mental anguish that we’ve trained ourselves to feel when things go wrong. This doesn’t mean that we want to reward ourselves for being unsuccessful, but that we want to encourage innovation and risk taking. We want to do things differently, and if that doesn’t work out, that’s okay, because we are on a journey of continuous improvement.

A second fundamental component is rewarding ourselves for identifying problems and then fixing them. Very often we find ourselves trapped in repetitive cyclical patterns. We don’t see the type of results we want fast enough, so we return to the very bad habits that caused us to be in the place we are unhappy with. This happens all the time with people trying to diet, but can happen in business or romance or any area of life. Even when we are capable of identifying these problematic behaviors or mindsets, identification alone is often not enough to create the necessary change. To help us achieve change we must reward ourselves not only for identifying the problem, but also for creating and implementing solutions, or for engaging in the practice of continuous improvement.

Finally, a third fundamental component is to reduce waste, or do more with less. Kaizen isn’t just about improvement, but efficiency. If it takes you an hour to do everything in the gym, but you could get the same results in only forty five minutes or thirty that’s a lot of time and energy that is being wasted. Doing more with less is the fundamental starting point of kaizen and one of the driving forces of the philosophy.

Creating long lasting sustainable change in life is possible, but it requires a desire not just to change, but to engage in small, continuous improvement and to find satisfaction in the process as a means in of itself rather than as a means to a particular end.


Adventures in Brewing No. 2:

Bottoms to The Ceiling.

It’s been a little over a week and the Irish Red Ale I just brewed is finished and in the bottle. Despite my mistake in pitching the yeast a bit too hot, there was fermentation and it tastes like beer, albeit a bit watery. This is probably the result of my adding extra cold water to drop the temperature after pitching. So while I may have avoided excessive off flavors, in the end I have a beer I consider at best sub-par.

I’ll give it some time to condition to see if it helps, but while i’ve re-learned an important lesson and it’s not completely ruined, it will never be what it could have been. Some of the problem was my process, which is easily improvable, but some of the problem is with my recipe, and i’m going to have to go back to the drawing board to figure out how to improve it. Unfortunately, the answer will likely be to spend more money on ingredients. Now home brewing isn’t the most expensive hobby in the world, but it’s not exactly cheap either, so many DIY home brewers like myself try to cut costs where we can.

Ingredients are not a good place to cut costs, but one place where costs can be cut is by re-using old bottles especially larger 22oz ones. Re-using is environmentally conscious, but it’s also way cheaper than buying new bottles every time you want to brew a new batch. After all why buy when friends, family, and neighbors are more than happy to give you their empty bottles, especially when you return a few of them filled with halfway decent beer?

The only real problem with this is that bottles need to be cleaned, sanitized and stored. This wouldn’t be that big a problem if I had a garage or a space to clean and store them. Unfortunately, I live in a small apartment where space is a premium. While this is an eye sore, it may be a bit of a blessing in disguise. This is because other then issues with temperature, the biggest area where home brewing can go wrong is cleanliness. While even the most basic how to brew reminds you to clean and sanitize your equipment it’s often more difficult to remember to make sure used bottles are clean. As a result of not having a separate place to store my used bottles I have to make sure they are clean to prevent them from making my house smell any more like a brewery than it already does.

Knock on wood, this has prevented serious problems. However, like with most things you trade time for money, and it takes me a lot longer to complete the whole process, because not only do I have to make sure the bottles are cleaned and then sanitized before use, but because I like to produce a product that’s as uniform as possible I have to take off the labels as well. In this regard not all bottles are equal. Some, like Lightening, or Latitude 33 are incredibly difficult, others like Ballast Point are very easy. I’ve tried several different methods, including soaking them in bleach or vinegar, but the easiest seems to just be to soak them in PBW (cleaner) overnight. Yes this takes time, but it’s a lot less work than simply trying to scrape them off.

In the end, it’s bottoms to the ceiling either way, so you might as well enjoy the ride.

Adventures In Brewing:

Wort is like vengeance best pitched lukewarm.

There is a saying in construction, “measure twice cute once,” because once you cut something you can’t un-cut it. This applies to brewing as much as anything in life. There are many points at which a batch of beer can be ruined, but probably one of the easiest ways to ruin a batch is to pitch the yeast in the wart while it is too hot.

Yeast are hearty buggers, they can survive a lot, but too much heat will kill them, and even if it doesn’t, that which does not kill them does not necessarily make them stronger or better. In fact when yeast is pitched in wart that’s not hot enough to kill it, but is still hotter than ideal it can create fusels, which is a German term for bad alcohols, aka rotgut. There’s an ongoing debate as to whether fusels cause us to have bad hangovers, but even if they don’t they can create an off taste, described as hot.

In addition to fusels yeast pitched too warm can cause yeast to produce non-alcohol related chemical compounds such as Diacetyl or Esters that create flavors that are often unwanted in beer and considered to make it taste off. Some beers are prized for their esters, beers made of wheat like hefeweizen are expected to have a hint of banana and clove, but the flavor ins’t necessarily desirable in most beers.

I recently made the mistake of “hot-pitching” a batch of Irish Red Ale. I should have known better, it isn’t the first time i’ve brewed beer, and unfortunately it isn’t the first time i’ve made this rookie mistake, but it’s been a while. After chilling the wart for what seemed like an eternity,  taking its temperature and figuring it was close enough, I sloshed and transferred it to the primary fermenter.

Apparently I lack patience in life and apparently this carries over into my brewing. I added cold water to increase the volume, usually this cools the wart to around a sufficient temperature, but instead of taking the temperature to make sure it had cooled sufficiently I dumped the yeast straight in.

Almost immediately I realized my mistake. Feeling the side of the fermenter I could tell it was bad. The thermometer read 100F, which is way too hot for ideal fermentation. I’ve read that Ale yeast can survive temperatures up to 110F, but just because it can survive doesn’t mean it’s going to taste good.

In an attempt to save the batch I added more cold water, iced the fermenter, turned on a fan, and rushed to the internet to see if there was any other way to ameliorate the problem, but as with construction you can’t un-cut something once it’s been cut. I know I should just invest in a wart chiller, they aren’t that expensive, but in addition to being impatient, I’m also lazy and cheap.

Fortunately my mistake wasn’t fatal. I can tell from the bubbling of my air lock that the yeast isn’t dead. It’s happily doing what yeast does, chewing through the sugars in the wart and shitting out alcohol. It may not be very tasty but it will be beer and it will be drunk.

Why the Statement, “god is great,” is Inherently Problematic

As a philosophical naturalist it should come as no surprise that I believe all gods are as imaginary as leprechauns or the Easter Bunny, and as a result I don’t agree that “god is great.” But it isn’t my personal disbelief in supernatural causation that gives rise to the problems inherent in the statement, “god is great.”

Instead this particular statement is inherently problematic for a number of reasons, such as: that it’s vague and meaningless; it fails to resolve several philosophical dilemmas surrounding the question of whether a god exists; and it is ultimately divisive to the point of creating conflicts, violence, and oppression.

Now i’m not naive enough to believe it’s possible to refute the possibility a god exists in a seventeen hundred word blog post. I’m just not that convincing, but by highlighting a few of the inherent problems maybe it will cause a few readers to at least pause and think before asserting, “god is great.”

1. Vagueness:

The word god is a common noun, which is why the word shouldn’t be capitalized unless it’s at the beginning of a sentence. While a lot of monotheist name their god, “God,” this in effect is the same as naming your dog, “Dog.” Just because you use the common noun as a proper noun, does not mean that there is only one god, or that everyone who believes in a god believes in the same god you do. Just as me naming my dog, “Dog,” does not make it the only dog or mean that everyone that uses the term dog is referring to my particular dog every time they say the word dog.

Throughout history humans have imagined a myriad of different mutually exclusive gods, many of whom have been named “God,” or declared to be the only god. I would even go as far as to say that every person who believes in god(s) has their own personal concept of what they mean when they use the term god. Thus everyone who believes in a god, believes in their own unique god, even where the believer ascribes to a larger religion, with fixed definitions of its god(s).

This unique god may be compatible with other gods, but by nature a personal god can’t be compatible with every possible variation of god. For instance Yahweh and Jesus, while believed to be the same god by Christians, are in fact mutually exclusive concepts of god. This is why observant Jews don’t believe Jesus is a god, because as of about 800 BCE, religious Jews as a whole began to believe their war god Yahweh was the exclusive and only god.

Thus the term, “god is great,” is vague as to which god is being referred to and why it is great, which means the statement without alternative context can be read as, “My, god, which I name ‘God’ is great merely because it is my god.”

This tells us nothing about whether a god does indeed exist, what the definition of that god is or how we are to determine whether the god in question is indeed great, as there is no manner to determine by what standards greatness is to be judged.

2. Euthyphro’s Dilemma:

Much like Admiral Akbar in Return of the Jedi, every time I hear this statement I feel like saying, “it’s a trap!” This is because the statement, “god is great,” without context falls into a form of the logical dilemma first penned by Plato, and supposedly articulated by Socrates.

Essentially Euthyphro’s Dilemma breaks down into the question, is a god great, “just because?” Or is there an outside standard by which we can judge whether or not a god is indeed great? The word great itself creates problems as in English it generally refers to physical size, or largeness, but it is most often used in the context of this statement as a synonym for goodness.

a. Just Because:

If a god is great, “just because,” that means that the word god becomes a synonym for great, rendering it a meaningless statement premised upon un-proven and debatable presuppositions. Essentially, the statement becomes the same thing as saying, “water is H2O.”  Both statements are redundant as neither establishes anything meaningful about the other and merely reduces the words to synonyms, without proving the existence of the god in question, or defining what it means to for that god to be good or great.

Where a god is ontologically the same as goodness then goodness or greatness becomes arbitrary, and whatever the god chooses to do is defined as good. If a god is thought responsible for all events and life on earth, then one would have to say the creation of Hitler, or Stalin and the resulting deaths of millions from their actions were great, because they were both acts of god. Ultimately this reduces the statement either to a tautology, or to a vague and subjective value statement, which is meaningless.

But while this may appeal to some theists, few would respond to the question, “How are you doing?” with the response, “I’m god,” indicating that most believers at least implicitly understand the problems of reducing god to a synonym for goodness or greatness.

b. Objective Standard:

If an objective standard for judging greatness, or goodness exists, then for a god to be great it must not only meet the objective standard, but the standard must exist irrespective of whether a given god exists.

Thus where an objective standard of goodness exists separate and independent of a god’s will there is something over which a god is not sovereign, and the actions of the god in question are restricted to only that which meets the objective definition of goodness or greatness, otherwise it is an untrue statement. This means for the statement to be true a god that is good lacks free will and thus is not able to act in a manner which is anything, but great or good.

Which tells us nothing about what it means to be objectively good, other than that a god who is great by an objective standard is limited from acting in a manner other than in a manner the unestablished standard dictates. Again essentially reducing the statement to little more than a vague tautology, which tells us nothing.

3. Dilemma of Evil:

The statement “god is great,” seems to ignore the problem that in this world there exists things that we describe as evil, as in the battle of good versus evil. If a god is to be described as good or great then there must exist something that is not just the absence of goodness or greatness, but the opposite of good or great, that which we call evil.

Often misattributed to Epicurus, the basic formulation of this problem essentially reads:

Is a god willing to prevent evil, but not able?

Then it is not omnipotent.

Is a god able to prevent evil, but not willing?

Then it is malevolent.

Is a god both willing and able?

Then whence cometh evil?

Is a god neither willing nor able?

Then why call it a god?

For a god to be ontologically good or great, it can’t be responsible for evil, which means there must be at least one other independent non-created being (a god) of equal power, or some other type of supernatural causation responsible for what we call evil.

If there is an objective standard the god in question can only be great if its actions meet that standard, meaning a god is not omnipotent and therefore unable to prevent evil, because the god is limited to only doing that which meets the objective standard of goodness or greatness. This ultimately means worship of that god is irrelevant, because regardless of praise or declaration the god may only do that which is good or great, and is unable to prevent evil.

Either way you cut it, the statement “god is great,” becomes problematic if not down right meaningless when viewed against the dilemma of evil.

4. Inherent Divisiveness of the Statement:

While the philosophical dilemmas and general vagueness of the statement may not be sufficient for most theists to give up using this statement, or convince someone that god(s) don’t exist, it is the effect the statement has on others that should at least give one pause before saying this in mixed company.

The statement, “god is great,” is an inherently divisive statement, because it translates into the statement, “My god, who I name ‘God’ is great, because it is my god.” Since there is not just one god, but an infinite number of possible gods, many of whom are mutually exclusive and none of which is established to be empirically true, the statement inherently creates disagreements and conflict between people.

Anyone, who has a different definition of god from the speaker, especially a mutually exclusive one will by necessity disagree with the speaker. As a result result the listener will either challenge the speaker’s strongly held beliefs, or suffer in silence in an attempt to avoid causing offense or be rejected by the speaker.

Disagreement wouldn’t be a problem if this conflict remained in the theoretical world of logic and philosophy. But unfortunately for us humans, our disagreements and differences of belief very frequently turn into violence and coercion.

As a result this statement can be the cause of a great deal of misery. Take for example a suicide bomber, who believes his or her god is so great that it leads the believer to kill themselves and others for disagreeing with the belief that their personal god is great.

It is remarkable how frail and weak people’s gods are that they constantly require humans to commit acts of violence and brutality against those who disbelieve, or refuse to accept the authority of the self appointed mouth pieces of a particular god. While in secular countries, like the United States of America, this disagreement generally remains an endlessly ongoing shouting match, in countries where one generalized god concept has a monopoly on force, it can cause the denial of the fundamental freedom to believe as our consciouses dictates as well as violent oppression against minority beliefs.

In fact in at least thirteen countries it is illegal and punishable by incarceration or corporal punishment to deny that a particular god concept, named “God,” is great. While some theist might think this a nifty idea when their general god is the one receiving state sponsorship, they are just as quick to scream persecution when the shoe is on the other foot.

So while one needn’t give up the belief in a god because of the problems inherent in the statement, “god is great,” it would be better for us all if we moved away from endlessly proclaiming such a divisive and meaningless statements as, “god is great.”

Final 2014 Na No Wri Mo

Today is the first of November, and along with indicating my rent is due it the marks the end of Na No Wii Mo. Congrats to all who succeeded and all those who tried but did not do.

I got about 31,000 words in. Not as far as I would have liked, but further than I expected. At least now I have a bones that I can go back to and work on to flesh the novel out and fix some of the problems.

Next year will be better for sure.

Na No Wri Mo #4

Well, it’s the fourth week of National Novel Writing Month. I hope everyone else who has been participating has had better luck than I.

Currently my novel is at 28,002 words. While I’ve averaged over a thousand words a day, I’ve failed to actually stick to my desired one thousand words a day minimum and probably won’t hit my original hoped for length.

Still, I think by the end of the month I will have about 35,000 words of a rough draft. This is a pretty good start for a rough draft, especially considering I’m going to have to go back through and add an excessive amount of world building and explanation for things I came up with mid draft.

While I prefer a much slower pace for novel writing, I still think this has been a good learning process and the eventual result, with some work, might be passable.

They Don’t Make That Anymore

My eyes glance over the tell tale words on the site, “Product out of stock.” My first impulse is to ask, “Why?” I know the answer, it’s always the same, “They don’t make that anymore.”

And why should they? They don’t make the bike anymore, why make parts for it?

I have learned, “they don’t make that anymore,” is a common refrain among despondent bike builders. Neophytes like myself have neither the skill or imagination to build a new part, and 3D printing parts is still a ways away from replicating solid options. There is a tremendous feeling of helplessness when one learns that simply replacing a part is not as easy as ordering a new one.

The latest example of this was my carb harness. I rebuilt the carbs a while ago, finding it difficult, and making it more so by pulling the carbs from the bracket that holds them together, something I later learned is unnecessary. I think I had some vague notion of painting them black, but changed my mind. So when I went to bench set them I was quite shocked to find a major problem.

IMG_0576                                    IMG_0578


At some point, between the time I took them apart and put them back together, or maybe even before the aluminum bracket cracked on the right side. After checking Ebay for a used one, it seemed like this was a common occurrence.  Sadly, “they don’t make that anymore.” So the options were, search for someone with a not yet cracked one, buy an expensive new set of carbs, or get it fixed.

I choose the later. Fortunately, there are people in this world with more skill and talent at metal work than I, and I was able to have one of those people weld the bracket back together. After a bit of grinding the carbs were good to go and ready to be tuned and put back on the engine.


This isn’t the only time I’ve run into this problem while rebuilding TIM. Some instances, like the carbs, are probably due to age, or an aggressive hand in pulling the bike apart, others are just sort of mind boggling. For instance, the brake pivot that was installed on TIM when I got the bike was too small for the bracket on the frame. It was only by a few millimeters, and could be made functional, but not really safe. (No one really wants to ride around with the constant fear of their brake pedal falling off the pivot while traveling on the highway. )


The reason the brake pivot didn’t fit is likely because the frame is and F model and the pivot was off a K model. The two bikes use the same L bracket style brake pivot, except they are of just slightly different lengths. So whoever put the bike together before I at least twice replaced a part with an almost identical, yet slightly different sized part. (The other time I’m aware of was the front fork, where the top and bottom of the triple tree were from different model bikes.)



Fortunately I was able to find a correct sized brake pivot for the bike, but it took time and a bunch of work. But that’s what I find fun about building a bike, solving a problem in a creative manner with what you’ve got, because “they don’t make that anymore.” And I’m sure whoever takes over ownership of TIM after me will shake their head and wonder why I did some of the things I did. After all, the bars I put on are off a 350.