Wednesday, May 25, 2016

A Quick Note

     Maybe, like Mark Twain, because I didn't have time to write an even shorter one?*  Y'got me.  Anyway, it's Wednesday, which means time for the regular meeting with Mom and her caregivers, which means I dash this off while bolting a slice of toast and a cup of coffee.  Well, cinnamon toast, I'm not a total barbarian.

     At last word, Mom was doing better and better, but she's still in the neck near-immobilizer and will be for some months to come. It's exactly as no fun as you might think, if not more so.

     On the good news side, we seem to be building a potted-plant greenhouse on her windowsill.  She's enjoying it.
* The Twain quote, "Sorry for the long letter, I didn't have time to write a short one," which alludes to the time taken by editing, was at the very least not original with him -- if he ever wrote it at all!  Blaise Pascal appears to be the first person who used the line.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Queen Is Dead, Alas

     Bobbi (in a bad imitation of a lower-class British accent): "'Our Mam's bad sick. We keep giving her the good food you set out for us but she just gets worse and worse. I'm worried 'bout her'"

      Tam: "Stop anthropomorphizing the kitchen ants!"

      As of this morning, it looks like the poison ant baits have done the job.  I do feel a little guilty.

Monday, May 23, 2016

A Brand-New Week

     Vacation is over and it's time to get stuck back in.  --I dread it.

Sunday, May 22, 2016


     For whatever reason (sinus pain, mostly), I was hardly able to sleep last night.  Here I am now, but still pretty out of it.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Hello, Hello, I'm Here -- Post-Roadtrip

     I went to the Dayton Hamvention yesterday, where there were plenty of vendors despite the rain -- though the ones without tents or awnings in the flea market did knock off early.  That just gave me a chance to check the inside booths, mostly commercial, charitable or social organizations.

     Many of the regulars were there -- Vibroplex, Doug Hauff's American Morse Equipment, and the blend of artistry and engineering Begali Keys has brought to that part of the hobby.  I don't remember the UK's Kent Keys having attended in the past but they were there this year, in a booth presumably staffed by the Kents themselves, Mrs. Kent calmly knitting amidst the chaos.  On the other hand, I never found G-QRP or the Morse Telegraph Collectors, both of them booths I look forward to visiting.  (For the high-speed operator, AME is building their version of the out-of-production WBL keyer paddles formerly made in Indianapolis, one of the best super-high-speed paddles ever made: good bearings, good design and a whole lot of weight; you cannot outrun them but you'd better be prepared to copy that fast, too!)

     Among other items, I purchased a Kent straight-key kit, a Chinese (YouKit) antenna analyzer I have had my eye on for a couple of years, and passed up a couple of short Bud (or Par-Metal) racks with partial projects in them, which I may regret later.

     I also rejoined the RSGB.  I was a member of the Radio Society of Great Britain for several years running but dropped off when the economy worsened just as I became a new homeowner with a suddenly-increased tax burden.  This year they had a special offer, three months free and payment deferred until September.  One of the RSGB staffers joked that he despaired of explaining to non-radio amateur friends just were he went and what he did on Hamvention weekend -- I didn't have the presence of mind to offer that Dayton was where the Wright Brothers hung out their shingle and took powered flight from a stunt to an art, nor that it was where the initiators for WW II atomic bombs were made.  And much as Brits and Americans like to think of one other as being pretty much the same except for our accents, there are wide cultural gaps -- a plain old ordinary security guard walked by with a full "batbelt" and the young woman who was signing me up locked eyes on his holstered sidearm and had difficulty looking away.  (Yeah, it's easy to be snarky about unarmed cops -- but try walking up to a policeman in the U.S. and saying, "I've had far too much to drink and I'd better not drive," and see if he hails you a cab, as I'm told is SOP in the UK.  Different countries, different ways.) 

     Other times, the gaps are not so wide, though the language diverges.  At the Begali Keys booth, I asked after an extra weight for their marvelous "Intrepid" bug.  I purchased one when they were first offered (and the dollars-to-Euros ratio was a little more favorable) and I have to work up to it; the lower end of the speed range for mine is about 15 wpm and unless I'm on the air a lot, my ability to copy code drops to about 10 to 13 wpm.  Begali had an Intrepid on the table slowed down to 10 wpm with a pair of larger weights.  That intrigued me; did they offer those weights as an accessory?  The first staffer I asked was struggling with the American language (the Begali booth is large and the 25+ feet of keys on display is consistently two or three hams deep, either sending code or asking questions; try ten hours of that in a language you didn't grow up speaking and you can imagine how he felt.)  He passed my question on to the ever-stylish (and quite fluent) Bruna,* who apologized that it wasn't a regular item, but she'd ask -- and proceeded to ask Mr. Begali himself!  Piero thought a bit, produced a weight from somewhere and bustled out into the crowd to show me how to add the weight without damaging the key, holding up their demonstration copy.  There's a step milled into the part that carries the second pivot, and a machine screw and a tiny plate clamp the reed and pendulum assembly into place; of course, just about every word for every action and component is different in the two languages and we were venturing into territory where even conversational fluency rarely treads.  Geekery will find a way, and with the device in hand he conveyed the gist far better than I could have managed.  It would seem that when you purchase a key of this quality, you're also getting a level of customer service akin to that of a bespoke luxury car.  (He's also a naturally nice man.  We usually exchange greetings at the Hamvention.)

     One other "lost in translation:" when I bought the Kent key, I jokingly asked if there was, perhaps, a discount for RSGB members.  He thought about it, and said, "Five dollars, that's the best I can do," and even though I replied I was kidding, five dollars off it was.  Kent Keys are Big Engineering, UK-style, with smooth ball bearings, proper springs, coin-silver contacts and no surprises; they are built to last, keys your great-grandchildren will still be using.

     I don't know how far I walked.  By six p.m., despite buying a rucksack to haul my loot, my back was aching, my feet were sore, the Hamvention was closing and it was raining.  Time to drive home.

     Drove back in the rain, too slow for many drivers (65 is plenty for me when cars are kicking up huge clouds of spray.  It's not that I don't trust my tires, I fret about making a too-sudden move), listening to Welcome To Night Vale.  It's a good way to pass the time on a long drive.
* At Dayton, she is the only person in the entire venue who knows how to properly accessorize a company-logo T-shirt, usually with a harmoniously-patterned scarf and tasteful jewelry.  I find this an enviable talent.

Friday, May 20, 2016

A Lunch And A Birthday

     Tam and I went to Taste Of Havana for lunch yesterday -- Cuban sandwiches, of course, and once you've had the real thing, you'll snicker at the various amateur efforts.  They were outstanding!  The owner is a pleasant, avuncular fellow, larger than life, and his family/staff were just as nice.  Alas, no time for coffee but we'll be back.  At 2:00 p.m. on a work day, they were so busy that Tam peeled off to grab a table and had me order, otherwise we wouldn't have had a table.

     That evening, I went to visit Mom X and my siblings.  It was Mom's birthday and we had (ice cream) cake (I about froze my teeth!) and presents, small things and flowers suitable for the hospital-type room she's still in.  Her aides had outdone us, giving her new pajamas and an easy-on outfit for visits to the doctor; they'd gotten size information from my brother and cleared it with us in advance.  It was a nice visit and Mom is doing better and better with every passing day.  She's hoping to get back to her apartment elsewhere in the retirement complex before too long.

Thursday, May 19, 2016


     Remember the choripán from a few days ago?  The corner grocery has all the ingredients for an American version: chimichurri sauce, crusty French bread, Italian sausage.  So for yesterday's dinner, I fried a couple of 'em, loaded the results into French bread, slathered on the sauce, cut it into handy lengths (which would make them choripanes, no?) and Tam and I dug in.

     Let's just say it's even better than you think.  Probably tastier yet if you grill the sausage.  I used sweet Italian sausages and butterflied them before pan-frying, but you could try the hotter ones and/or leave 'em whole.  Some variations add chopped onion and that would be nice, but even without, it's a real treat, spicy/savory and heavy on the umami.  Served it with a simple salad: grape tomatoes, Anaheim peppers and lovely, buttery mâche lettuce.*
* Thirteen years ago, it was a newcomer to the vegetable aisle and the harvesting was tricky.  It's not too difficult to find now, so they must have got all that worked out.

One Mowed Yard Equals Two Doctor Visits

     So, after asking myself yesterday if I really, truly needed to see the doctor, I decided to check that I wasn't just being self-indulgent in the wake of allergies and some morning gastrointestinal not-to-be-described. The way to do this check is by applying motion to mass, of course, and to do so until you've worked up a sweat.

     The front yard wanted mowed.  Ms. Tamara, unfamiliar (and generally displeased) as she is with my corded electric lawnmower, now pushing twenty years old (the mower.  Well, Tam, too, but she may have pushed it slightly farther), fights the cord and ends up with a sore back.  Me, I have used the thing for years and wrestling fat, flexible wires is part of my job, so I have an easier time of it.  An hour or two later, I had a mowed lawn, too.

      The back yard beckoned.  Well, the part I had weedwhacked a week or two ago beckoned, and got mowed.  The bulk of the back yard did whatever vest-pocket jungles do -- seethed, festered or hummed with bugs and worms, a nightmare of Creepin' Charlie, wild honeysuckle, wild strawberries, volunteer maples, inkweed/pokeweed and laced through and through with Virginia Creeper, which is bidding fair to win the title "Yankee kudzu" despite its nominal state of origin.  The burdock and dandelions scarcely have a chance! It was a weedwacker and pruning-shears job and that's what it got.

     Came to the end of that (plus side ventures into weed-spraying the small, shaggy no-man's-land between my driveway and my neighbor to the south's garage followed by more of the same down the rarely used path between my garage and privacy fence that serves to illustrate the uselessness of mandated setbacks on narrow urban lots) and by golly, I was perspiring -- and not feeling especially dizzy or lousy.  Oh, soreness lurked, and is kicking me around a little right now, along with some allergy-like sinus, but I don't feel ill.  Or self-indulgent.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Heigh-Ho, Heigh-Ho...

     ...It's off to doc-in-a-box I go....

     Tam and I walked over to Twenty Tap for lunch yesterday, after spending the actual noontide at the range -- a work day for her, a vacation for me, and it's still  gratifying to send a couple hundred rounds into the ten-ring at seven yards while a big guy with a big gun in the next lane struggles to keep 'em on the paper at fifteen feet.

     (Hey, d00d?  Slow down; sure, you're not that fast, but it's still too quick for now.  Use the sights.  And your grip, gosh, it was cute when Charlie's Angels held guns that way but, really, they're actresses, not shooting instructors.  As for your flinch, I can tell you all day that a full-sized 9mm hasn't much recoil but you may want to start over with something smaller until you believe so in your heart.) 

     But maybe I should be more humble; my own shooting came to a precipitate stop when one of the bucket'o'22s decided to blow its head clean off, with a more-than-usual bang and a whole lot of smoke trailing out from the gun around the misfed next cartridge.  Too hot?  Out of battery?  Defective brass?  I'm not sure, being as my attention was downrange at the time; I dropped the magazine, cleared the misfeed, laid the gun down and prised out the battered circle of brass, thought a bit and pushed the .22 BoreSnake from my cleaning kit through the barrel with a few drops of BreakFree on it.  The bore was clear and clean enough, so I got back into it for fifty or sixty more.  (Which is the other part.  Shooting is like writing: do it a lot, do it often, do it right, and you may, eventually, not suck at it so much.)

     Then off to lunch and a huge one for me, fries and a Spanish Tartine, a kind of open-faced salad on crusty bread, way more filling that you'd think, thanks to nice heirloom tomatoes and olive tapenade.  I walked back early, leaving Tam working on an article in her office-away-from-the-office, realized I was sleepy and dizzy, and was in bed before she arrived home some time later.  I woke for a bit and she pointed out my hearing was even worse than usual, and by then I was very dizzy and the earache/headache that's been bothering me for days was going full bore.  (Shooting usually clears up my headaches -- maybe it's the earplugs?  The overpressure air?)  After that chat, I slept something over twelve hours and this morning, I think I'd better see what the doc-in-a-box has to say.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016



     There's this about chronic, variable pain: it never gets old.  Because you never really get used to it. 

     That is all.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Sunday's Dinner

     Steaks on the grill!  Delicious steaks, in fact.  --Still the same inexpensive grill we have had at Roseholme Cottage for years, but I know The Secret and I'll share it:

     Hardwood charcoal.

     That's it.  Stop buying those compressed-sawdusty things unless you're cooking in a pot over the coals.  Yes, it costs more -- a fraction of the price of the meat, and a bag will last a long time.  It's already something of a special deal to be grilling, so take the next step. 

     (LP gas grill?  You're on you're own; I have no truck with those things.  Kind of like "camping out" under the dining room table, if you ask me.)

     The other "secret" is less of one: if you're grilling something lean, put a dab of good butter on the side you just turned over.  This totally wipes out the health advantages of lean meat (and replaces them with flavor), so you need to be eating healthy otherwise.  It doesn't take much, it's just keeping it from getting all dry and awful.  The more done you like your steak, the more useful this trick is.

     And the final secret is open knowledge: let the meat set out for a little while between taking it out of the fridge and putting it over the fire.  Use that time to apply salt, pepper, and whatever other heathen thing you like.  (I did kebabs with chimichurri* not too long ago, and that's some darned good eating!)

     Do these things and you will produce tasty grilled food.

    --Oh, start that charcoal with some balled-up newspaper.  You don't need lighter fluid, just build a charcoal pyramid around the newspaper with a low opening on the vent side and set it to burning.  Once the charcoal has caught and is burning nicely, spread it out (hot side up!) and add a few more lumps scattered among it.  When you're done cooking, close the grill and close up the vents.  The fire will will go out, saving the unused charcoal for next time.
* Among the uses of chimichurri: the choripán. I must try this. Soon.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Overdrawn At The Sleep Bank

     I spent most of yesterday repaying my sleep debt -- and, short-term, it really does work that way, or so the experts are saying this month.

     Unfortunately, the overdraft fees and interest charges seem to have been applied against my back.