Monday, July 15, 2019

Sleep? Yeah, Sorta

     Last night, I was exhausted. I went to bed early.  Woke about 9:30, 10:30, 11:30....3:00, 3:15, 3:30, 4:00 - 4:30, 5:00....

     Don't know what I did wrong.  Strained my back a little, hauling a heavy typewriter up the basement stairs for initial testing (inconclusive) and then back down again, but that's pretty much par.  Clearly, I need more practice!

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Indy Hamfest Goodies

ADAPT, IMPROVISE, OVERCOME.  Or at least use your "spot" connectors on things that have 1/4" mono jacks.
      It took at least an hour to get back to the Indianapolis Hamfest Saturday.  Traffic was significantly worse than Friday.  The merge onto the freeway is another long, multilane collector, combining an on-ramp from 56th St. (with runs East-West) with an off-ramp to Shadeland Avenue (a North-South road).

     When I realized traffic on 465 was all but stopped, I continued on around to southbound Shadeland, congratulating myself on my cleverness and attempting to use the voice input of my smartphone get directions from Google Maps.  --Yeah, me and everyone else.  The Googles weren't responding: overloaded.

     It wasn't until traffic on Shadeland slowed and began frantically merging into fewer lanes that I realized the city had checkmated me: there's major construction on Shadeland, too!

     Still nothing from my phone, which was very hot and only getting one syllable in three -- incorrectly.  And remember my car's lack of air-conditioning?  I certainly was!  Does it still count as a "glow" when it soaks through your T-shirt?

     Okay, fine, the hamfest is at the Marion County fairgrounds, the fairground is off Southeastern Avenue and Shadeland has got to intersect Southeastern.  I don't need no stinkin' map!

     Yeah, well--  Got through the construction, made wonderful time for several miles, and darned if Shadeland didn't merge right back into 465 in a confusingly unfamiliar way.  The freeway was at least moving, but very busy.  As I made my way into traffic, I looked over to realize -- too late! -- that Southeastern exited from the very same collector that merged Shadeland onto 465.

     It was two miles to the next exit, which was also very busy.  Got turned around and back on the freeway in a mere ten minutes, perspiring freely all the while, and made it back to Southeastern and into the hamfest without further trouble.  Yesterday's tickets were still good; I parked and headed over to the flea market, where a few vendors were already packing up.

     Between the flea market and the indoor sales area, I found a few things:

     Here's a National ACN "Velvet Vernier" reduction drive dial with spare scales, and some dial scales for the smaller "SCN" as a bonus, all for $5; a roll of speaker wire; an old power pentide tube; a $5 FM/TV tuneable notch filter that, if it works, I'll use at my job (I've got way more than $5 worth of junkbox components from them), a home-made tuneable field strength meter for (probably) six meters with a National MCN dial that I'll probably mine for parts, a dual 100 pF variable capacitor, a knife switch, a set of guy wire insulators, a couple of 90-degree coax adaptors, a set of end and center insulators for a dipole antenna and a variable "roller" inductor, useful in an antenna tuner, though it needs some readjustment. Also found the adptor pictured above.

Started looking through a box of crystals and the seller spoke up: "Make me an offer for the whole thing."
     So I did just that and he took it, and for what I was going to pay for a handful of crystals at $5 each, I got a nice WW II storage box, all of the crystals, and one socket adaptor.  I've been stacking crystals in a desk drawer, so this should be an improvement.

     The drive back -- oh, I was so clever, I found a better route, Southeastern to Rural (which becomes Keystone because why not?) and back to Broad Ripple -- was about as bad as the drive there: much hotter, mostly bumper-to-bumper and with a long stop for a train. 

     Got home, toweled off, ordered dinner and went to bed early.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Freeway Parking Lot

     Despite continuing improvements -- most of which really are improvements, too -- the interstate highway system around and through Indianapolis routinely grinds to a near-halt at rush hour.  My work hours and usual worksite offer a nice view of the evening rush hour on the "inner loop" (not an actual loop, for various reasons) and it's pretty awful.

     Oh, other cities have it worse, and down at stoplight level, if you know your way around, rush hour's not so bad.  But make no mistake: at peak times, highway traffic regularly slows to a crawl.

     When I took Friday afternoon off to go to the Indianapolis Hamfest and Tam wanted to go along, I asked her to be the exit timekeeper: "We need to be headed towards the gate by four."

     She kept close track; after a break while she took pictures of a classic TransAm in the parking area, we were in my saunamobile and headed for the gate about a quarter after four, and navigating our way around I-465 minutes later.

     Tam was minding the exits; that stretch of 465 grows to five or six lanes across, which are then peeled off in a series of "Exit Only" lanes, one after another, and being in the wrong one at peak times can be a problem.

     Traffic was moving along briskly -- 70 mph or more in the middle lanes, and yes, it's all posted at 45 to 55.  I had swung out to get around a truck in the thickening traffic when she told me to start getting over.  Moved over one lane, two--  The traffic ahead suddenly erupted in brake lights and in seconds, we were at 35 miles an hour or less.

     There were occasional gaps and I kept on working my over to the next-to-rightmost lane as exits went by.  Tam had been a little quiet, thinking about something, and then she spoke,

     "From 70 to Castleton, it'll be down to one lane all weekend.  There's some big project."

     "You don't think they got an early start?  Surely not."


     The traffic was getting grim, packing tighter and slowing.  A few impatient souls were slipping across lanes from  gap to gap with NASCAR levels of clearance, which wasn't helping.  I concentrated on getting through it.  Our exit is a long, two lane "collector" that combines two off-ramps and an on-ramp, with a four-lane weaving section in the middle of the run.  I was in the innermost of the two right lanes, so we should be okay, right?


     Tam: "Bobbi!  We're missing our exit!"

     I had forgotten: only one lane peels off, splitting into two immediately.  Luckily, three cars to our right had taken the farthest-right lane as soon as possible, leaving a good-sized opening.  I checked the mirrors, glanced to my right, and hit the gas, making the exit at the last possible second, trespassing only a little over the white line.

     Freeway driving!  You can have it.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Just Six Years

     Not even all of six -- in January 2025, I'll be able to retire with full Social Security.  And don't think I won't take the Federal check, as long as it holds out: having been forced into contributing to FDR's* New Deal "safety net," I have paid in far more what I'll get back and as long as the system is still operating, I'd like to have that small return, thank you all the same.  That and my (tiny) IRA should get me by, assuming I live very frugally.

     If I hold out longer, Uncle Sam will allow me a little more -- but there's a catch:

      Present projections have the system's reserve assets crossing zero in 2034, with a choice after that of cutting benefits about 25 percent and running it right off the incoming tax, cranking up the retirement age (again), or increasing the payroll tax that funds it (to a chorus of, "Boomers ruin everything," from the generations still working).

     It's a race against time!  So why am I not in the least excited about it?
* Like most of the New Deal, this was a reaction to a more radical proposal; in this case, the Townsend Plan: elderly physician Francis Townsend was pushing the notion of paying every (non-criminal) retiree over sixty the remarkable sum of three hundred 1933 dollars every month, but they had to spend it all within thirty days.  That's around $3800 in 2019 dollars!  It was getting pretty popular, too; as ever, the trouble with the elderly is they have little to lose and plenty of free time.  Congress and President Roosevelt ginned up Social Security by 1935, a tearing hurry at Congressional speed, and headed off Dr. Townsend at the pass with a higher retirement age and a smaller payout.
     Alas, it's a pyramid scheme, and relies on population growth, inflation and a retirement age set late enough that a significant percentage of the prospective recipients die before receiving full benefits.  Medical advances get a lot more of us past 65 -- or even 67 -- these days, so small wonder it's running on empty.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

The Annoyances Of Car Ownership

     Having to get one's car worked on is one of the most annoying things about owning them.  Even having resigned oneself to the inevitable surprise -- "They used a special veeblefletzer in this model, and they're hard to get.  So the part alone is $500 instead of the usual $50, and where it's mounted, well, we'll have to pull the engine...."

     Okay, fine.  The bill will be high.  It will be high everywhere, and about the same, since they're generally ordering from the same wholesaler and calculating labor from the same how-long-should-it-take reference (and hoping to beat the actual times listed, getting more work done in eight hours than the mythical average mechanic).  One grants these things.

     One of the best compensations for them is getting a loaner vehicle.  I take in a defective car, and drive one that works while mine gets fixed, heck of a deal.

     --Until the shop reneges.  My car's in the shop now; the air-conditioning hasn't worked this year and after six weeks of highs in the upper eighties to low nineties, I can no longer ignore it.  They called me yesterday afternoon:

     "Miz Ecks?"


     "Hey, your air-conditioning compressor is locked up bad.  It killed the engine when we tried it!*  It'll have to be replaced, and we'd better do the belt.  It dumped all your refrigerant.  It's gonna be $XXXX.XX to fix."

     The number was in the low four digits.  Painful but worth it.  "Okay."

     "You asked us to look at the water pump, and it isn't any worse than last time.  That's still $XXX.XX.  But the timing chain cover?  There's a little drip there, it's not much but you'll want to keep an eye on it.  That's $XXXX.XX if we replace it, 'cos we do have have to pull the engine...."

     The price quoted for that last was a little over half what I paid for the car.  "Look, let's just do the oil change and get the AC working, okay?"

     "Okay.  We'll have to order parts for the air conditioning, be three, four days.  How soon can you get that loaner back to us?"

     Utter confusion on my part.  "You want it back?"

     "Yeah, we're open 'til five-thirty, could you get it up here?  I have it assigned to somebody else tomorrow."

     "I'm downtown and I'm on until at least six-thirty."  It's over a dozen miles from my work to the garage, on one of the most crowded commuter routes in the metro.

     "Oh, we can leave your car out for you."
     "I only have the one key."

     "Oh, we leave 'em out like that all the time."

     "Not my car, you don't.  I'll get the loaner back to you in the morning."

     Deep unhappiness from the mechanic.  Yeah, well, sucks to be him.  Sucks worse to get back into my saunamobile for three or four more days -- make that six, with the weekend.

* It was enough for me to turn it on and hear the engine falter; letting it kill the engine seemed like a step too far.  Clearly, I lack the investigative finesse of a trained mechanic.  Also, I know who burned the belt they're telling me needs replaced, and it wasn't me.  Worth the extra $45 to not bust my own knuckles but blow me no smoke, pal.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Benjamin Franklin, Reformed Internet Troll?

     By his own account, wise old Benjamin Franklin was something of a troll in his youth, "disputatious" and fond of direct contradiction and of voicing very positive opinions.

     Eventually, he realized that all it did was increase argument and further disagreement; he came to realize he made better headway by Socratic questioning, and better still by modestly expressing his opinions and conclusions, in the form of, "It seems to me...," "I think that..." or even, "I feel...."  (This is a very modern approach, sometimes described as "owning your own opinion" as opposed to stating it as some universal truth.)

     His own biography shows him in adulthood as something of master manipulator, guiding group actions for what he believed to be the greater good -- and it worked, too; Franklin's efforts resulted in the first lending library in America and the earliest organization of volunteer firemen, institutions which were widely copied soon afterward.

     So pay him a little heed: he stopped arguing with strangers (and friends) and managed to accomplish great things instead.*

     And what did you do on social media today?
* That said, and perhaps despite his own best efforts, Franklin was no plaster saint, entirely willing to use inside influence to further his own business and to reward family and friends with political patronage when he was in a position to do so.  Both were pretty much SOP in his day, for whatever excuse that provides.  On the whole, he nevertheless did far more good than  harm

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

More Reading

     Most recently, Relic and Reliquary by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, linked monster-thrillers in the "don't pay too much attention to the science, just sit back and enjoy the ride" vein.  The cast is well-drawn, maybe a bit close to pulp at times, but only the very best pulp, and the story in each is exciting. Great fun!

     Presently, I have just made a start on Benjamin Franklin's autobiography.  So far, he's an engaging and impressively modern writer, give or take a few flourishes of style.  Franklin was a complicated man and the work reflects it.

Monday, July 08, 2019

NRA Meltdown

     The current mess the NRA is in alarms me.  I've been following it at a bit of a distance, and it appears to be a multi-level failure, based on the mistaken belief that the organization was an endless "cash cow."

     NRA is often accused by opponents of "leveraging fear" in fundraising, as if that was somehow wrong; donations to the Electronic Frontier Foundation go up when online freedoms appear most under attack; the American Civil Liberties Union is quick to issue press releases on abuses of Constitutionally-protected rights and lo, this affects their take.  Surprise, people donate when causes they support are under threat.

     Get a Republican in the White House, especially if there's a GOP majority in the House and/or Senate, and NRA donations dwindle.

     After eight years of President Obama's support of antigunners, however hollow, NRA executives and their deeply-entwined ad agency were fat, happy and overly complacent.  The fight was on!  Until late 2016, when suddenly it wasn't.

     It is clear the rot had been building for awhile.  Now the pool of dollars was shrinking and however you care to characterize the tussle between Wayne LaPierre, Oliver North, ad agency Ackerman-McQueen (to which PR had been hugely and expensively outsourced) and various factions of the Board of Directors, one thing stands out: they're fighting over money.

     Gun rights ain't in it.

     Ack-Mac never gave a flip about the Second Amendment, and why should they?  They're an advertising agency; caring about anything but the bottom line is a huge drawback in that line of work and the way you keep an ad agency toeing the mark is to ensure that getting your message across is crucial to their income.  Instead, Ack-Mac was given a great deal of freedom to determine what the message should be, and the end result was more than a little inward-looking and self-serving.  And out of touch with a lot of the membership.

     NRA's executives, meanwhile, isolated from much of the hurly-burly of messaging and outreach, appear to have relied on what Ack-Mac was telling them, and on having a compliant, bloated Board of Directors that could be counted on to rubber-stamp whatever the leadership wanted.

     Nobody, save a few members of the Board, was listening to the membership. 

     When the money started to get tighter, pretty much everyone reacted to save their jobs and didn't look to survival of the organization as a whole.

     Until Chris Cox got the axe, I was mainly just watching.  Watching in no little alarm, but figuring NRA would weather the storm and emerge, leaner, meaner and with a renewed sense of mission.  I'm starting to doubt that.  Wayne LaPierre's got the survival instinct of a cockroach -- and is just as much of a team player.  Whoever he's got to push overboard to stay in power, he will.  Board members who have spoken out publicly are finding themselves kicked off of committees -- pardon me, not invited to continue serving.

     Is it going to continue to be the National Rifle Association, or is it just hanging around to keep a few people living in the style to which they'd like to remain accustomed?

     2020 is coming.  Bloomberg's pockets are deep.  There's a even chance we're going to have a Democrat President in the next go-round, and the odds aren't much worse that he or she will have a (slim) Congressional majority as well.  If the NRA isn't focused in their core mission by then, it's going to mean a lot more than an executive or three losing their phony-baloney jobs.

     NRA's going off the rails and I don't know know how to fix it.  The people who can do the most, soonest, are in Fairfax, Virginia.  It's time they got to it.

Sunday, July 07, 2019

A Quick Note

     I felt pretty lousy all day today, and did pretty much nothing except a little laundry.

Saturday, July 06, 2019

Dizzy All Day

     I don't know if it's some kind of a bug or just the weather, but I have barely managed to attain and maintain verticality all day, and the sound effects inside my skull have been, well...unnerving.

     Did the sinus rinse thing a couple of hours ago and I'm better, but exhausted.  You know the saying about having backups for critical items, "Two is one and one is none?"  Days off seem to work like that for me.

Friday, July 05, 2019

A Glorious Fourth

     Okay, other than a small fire, we didn't take the advice of John Adams, who wrote of Independence Day, "It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shews, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other from this time forward forever more."*

     We nevertheless celebrated.  Our neighbors provided a lot of "shews ... [sounds like unto] guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations," Indiana having pleasantly few restrictions on what kinds of fireworks can be sold to the general public and the law allowing considerable leeway over the holiday in setting them off.

     Shopping Wednesday, the neighborhood market offered a special meal package for the holiday: four lovely hamburgers (USDA Prime!), big tasty ciabatta buns, choice of cheese (Colby Jack for us), ear corn and potato salad.  When they make things that easy and offer a substantial discount to boot, why fight it.  I wasn't all that sure of the potato salad -- their deli tends to err on the side of caution in terms of seasoning, but I couldn't've been more wrong: it was as good as the best home-made, rich and complex, with exactly the right amount of sweet pickles.

     Fired up the grill, which has seen all too little use in this rainy Spring and early Summer.  Tam and I cooperated to clean the corn (partially de-silked and with a bit of husk as sold; we cleared the rest of the silk, made sure the husks were clean and damp, and wrapped them in foil with a little butter, Chipotle salt and butter).  By then the coals were going well, so I put the corn on.

     The burgers had been out a while, salted, peppered and Worcestershire sauced.  You don't want to start them still cold!  Once the corn had a fair head start (it wants fifteen minutes on a hot grill; I had it around the edges, to get a little more time), I oiled up up a perforated grill pan, loaded the hamburgers on board and set it over the coals.

     Time passed.  My little covered grill is not super hot as such things go and the grill pan slows it even more.  Getting a burger to medium rare takes upwards of twenty minutes, all that lovely hardwood lump charcoal smoke swirling around them the whole time.  I took the corn off first and stacked it on a plate in the oven, then brought in three of the burgers and we prepped them, dished out potato salad, and unwrapped corn.

     It was wonderful!  Once my plate was loaded up, I fetched the fourth burger, now cooked to medium well, and prepped it like the others -- Coleman's mustard (how's that for ex-Colonial effrontery?), Heinz Chili Sauce (it'll make you sneer at ordinary catsup) and a slice of Colby Jack.

     The meal was -- if I say so myself -- delicious.  It was also way too much food.  Tam and I watched a couple of episodes of The Orville, munching steadily, and after a custard cup of potato salad each, our second ear of corn, and a few bites into the second burger, we looked at each other.  Tam spoke first, "This is great, but I don't think I have room left to finish it."

     I agreed.  I had nice sweet cherries in the fridge for dessert and never got them out.  Those hamburgers were huge!
     So it was a glorious Fourth, fireworks sizzling and popping outside and plenty of food on the table.
* Of course, he thought we'd celebrate on the Second, instead of adding in the couple of days Congress spent faffing around with the Declaration.  Alas, John, no.

Thursday, July 04, 2019

It's Independance Day

     Set your arguments aside for one day.  You are free to have them thanks to the edgy, far-out thinkers who thought the common man ought to have a voice -- a determining voice -- in the government that set his taxes and boundaries.   ...Eventually, the common woman got in on the deal, too.

     No other country started in violent revolution has ever made the kind of progress the United States has made across so many fields.  That's a fact, no matter what your politics are; I don't think it was luck and do think it is entirely related to our form of government.