Sunday, March 30, 2008


What does it say about the Tam and Roberta household that we watched Boondock Saints last night and Topsy-Turvey this afternoon an' enjoyed 'em both?

"Better back off, d00d -- they're well-armed and erudite..."

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Balkanization Now

Tam has posted about the California exodus; there are Vermont separatists, NH secessionists, folks lookin' to revive the Texas Republic an' plenty of people ready to run a sawzall down the Mason-Dixon line an' y'know what?

I say lets do it. It's time. IL (or perhaps just Cook County/Chicago and its ADI) really should be its own little hoplophobic police state; NY and CA ought to be able to follow their hearts to full membership in the EU.

Squeaky points to the Federal Reserve's presiding over what is surely an impending meltdown and that is but one of the many delightful ways in which the Federal Union has created more mess than utility. It's what they do.

This has not always been the case but it is now. I have a deep sentimental fondness for the nation created by the Founders and Framers, but it's outlived its usefulness and become a burden on the States. It's time to pull the plug. Oh, we'll set up some loose military alliance to keep the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines goin' but the rest of it, from NASA to HUD to the DEA, they can hold bake sales, ask for donations or just shut up shop.

The States will still be there; oh, they'll change, they'll form their own alliances -- perhaps we'll see Jefferson or Franklin reborn; perhaps southern Illinois will hook up with Missouri and the central regions will ally with Iowa. Who knows? --But it's gotta be better than the mess we've got now. Look, it's already like crossing an international border to go from IN to IL, or enter CA from anywhere; might as well go whole hog.

Balkanization now! Why not?

(Posted mostly in jest but, y'know....?)

Still Sleepy

Maybe I'm fightin' somethin' off? --We've had various sorts of whooping whatever goin' around at the Skunk Works, including a variety that turns tenors into baritones. Presumably it would turn a contralto into Phyllis Diller but who wants to find out?

Whaddevvah. Pried my lazy self from the sack promptly at 0830, or was it nine? Ate what we had handy -- oatmeal, coffee. Scrubbed up, geared up, stuffed a magic-heat dealie in my sweatshirt pocket, got out the scooter and toodled to the bank, getting the usual surprised look from motorists, it being coldish despite the sunshine. Stopped off t'the market and picked up ingredients for basic breakfast hash (bacon, eggs, taters), returned home, cooked, ate, and have done zilch since other than laundry, which is not hardly really even work. Still sleepy!

Well, there's always Sunday.

Friday, March 28, 2008


I'd post something trenchant and witty but

...Came home from work, hopped on the scooter and went to pick up dinner at Yats. Miss Tam said, "Pick up a pack'a smokes on the way, willya?" and off I went.

Rolled up to Neighborhood Petrol neat as can be, parked the Chetak, bought a pack, left 'em at the gas station and did not even realize it 'til I was parked at the eatery waiting for our order and Joe walked by sayin' Howdy. So I made up for it by abandoning two exotic soft drinks -- for which I had paid -- when they handed me the rest of dinner.

Impressive. Not.

Someone that spacey should not be operating a two-wheeled motorized vehicle on city streets, not even a little one, even more so as night is fallin'. It's a wonder I did not forget to breathe.

Which I just about did after dinner -- ran a tub, climbed in with an old Poul Andersen paperback and fell asleep for about a half-hour, with no harm to the book thanks to years of practice.

And so here I am. And I'm still sleepy. G'nite!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

I'm So Chaste

Or something.

The Blog-O-Cuss Meter - Do you cuss a lot in your blog or website?
Yet in real life, I more than keep up with Tam. Go figure!

We Sprung Mom X

...Sprung her from hospital yesterday (and by "we," I mean my siblings, as I am pretty much stuck with work and long hours at present -- not happy about that but it is the nature of The Beast).

She'll be on the high-end anti-coagulants for a spell yet -- some of which combine expense and inconvenience in wholly new ways. She points out that this is infinitely better than the real-world alternative, which would be "none."

Her little dog -- supposedly a miniature doberman, though it's more like a black and brown beach ball with legs -- took to her bed and refused to eat the whole time she was away.

My thanks and Mom's as well for the kind thoughts and prayers. She's sounding really good and the docs are confident matters are under control.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Calico Cat and the Gingham Dog

The spitball fight between Democratic candidates Clinton and Obama (which has a good many Democrat voters looking to John McCain -- small surprise there) was reminding me of something, it was right on the tip of my mind for over a day -- and then realization struck: Eugene Field's The Duel --

The gingham dog and the calico cat
Side by side on the table sat;
'Twas half-past twelve, and (what do you think!)
Nor one nor t'other had slept a wink!
The old Dutch clock and the Chinese plate
Appeared to know as sure as fate
There was going to be a terrible spat.
The gingham dog went " Bow-wow-wow!"
And the calico cat replied "Me-ow!"
The air was littered, an hour or so,
With bits of gingham and calico,
Next morning where the two had sat
They found no trace of dog or cat;
And some folks think unto this day
That burglars stole the pair away!
But the truth about the cat and pup
Is this: they ate each other up!

If your childhood reading didn't include this delight, you'll find the entire poem here.

Where Great Britain Used To Be

Really, nothing more need be said.

First Amendment? Wha' Dat?

It's another legislative triumph! In a delightfully bipartisan rape of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America, not to mention Art. 1, Section 9 of the Indiana Constitution, the Indiana state government has passed a law requiring any bookstore that sells books in which there is any hint of any form of, well (nudge-nudge, wink-wink), you know to A) register with the Secretary of State and B) pay the state $250 American for the privilege.

...And the bill's sponsor (a Democrat -- gee, isn't that the party that talks most about "freedom of expression?") has expressed surprise at the negative reaction this bit of buffoonery has received from the public. In six pages of comments at the Indianapolis Star story linked above, not a one of them supports the law. Yet our (Republican) Governor did not express the least doubt when signing the bill into law. (Darn it, Mitch, I was almost liking you!)

As it stands, the law is almost certainly going to get the judicial axe for being unenforceably vague; but it'll take someone with deeper pockets than your neighborhood bookseller to challenge it. The language of the law is such that anything steamier than a chaste kiss could put a book into the "adult" category and require the seller to register. Those romance novels at your local grocery store and pharmacy? Oh, dearie me, a bit too much, and right out there where the children might see 'em.... (In a related item, Cosmo continues to see just how close to full-frontal nudity their covers can get; I've not yet seen a read on how the law might apply to them).

Sheeesh. I feel so happy, knowin' the State is lookin' out for my poor, innercent li'l mind an' all. But I sure do wonder how they square it with this:

Indiana Constitution
ARTICLE 1. Bill of Rights
9. Freedom of thought and speech
Section 9. No law shall be passed, restraining the free interchange of thought and opinion, or restricting the right to speak, write, or print, freely, on any subject whatever: but for the abuse of that right, every person shall be responsible.

Seems pretty clear, doesn't it?

(Thanks to Mad Mike for the heads-up on this choice bit of legislunacy).

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Mom X, Hospital

Mom X is back in hospital. Same symptoms as last time – but when they looked at her heart from the inside, everything was fine.

Much puzzlement among the fine young medical professionals; as of last night, she was recovering from the heart catheterization (she tolerates morphine about as comfortably as I do: not hardly) and awaiting more testing, less invasive, today.

You kind thoughts would be much appreciated.

Update: The docs found a blood clot in one of her legs. So she'll be staying in the hospital for the next couple of days on high-test clot-busters. --At this point, I think she is less worried than I am.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Flying Boat Jet Fighters

(We'll return to the story just as soon as I find a plot to borrow, but for now...).

...Jet-powered flying boats? Jet fighters? Supersonic jet fighters that ply the seas on their own hulls? Sure, it sounds like "edible, chocolate-chipotle-flavored automobile tires," but in fact there have been at least two designs flown, one of 'em faster than sound.
Have a look!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Oh, why not?

Mars Needs Swimmin’

By Roberta X.

“A genuinely wild river doesn’t need improving.” One of my old boyfriends used to say that any time the notion of managed wilderness came up. He thought it made him sound deep. I thought it made him sound like a jerk and for that – and a thousand and one other tics, habits and sappy utterances – I left him and concentrated on finishing my doctorate.*

This led directly to my being here, now, at the bottom of what, if you look at in the right way, is one of the genuinely wildest rivers anywhere in the Solar System. Valles Marineris. It definitely needed improvement: water. Though maybe not just now. I finished my instrument check – you’d think we could get reliable telemetry equipment by now but nobody Earthside really understands about the dust and the Lunar manufacturers were priced way out of my employer’s budget – and turned to go.

That was my first mistake. I bumped a rock with my toe, another larger one shifted as it came out from under and, third-of-a-gee slo-mo notwithstanding, my right ankle was trapped before I could move away.

I have plenty of time was my first thought after "Dammit!" At least, I was pretty sure I did.
* Just kiddin', Turk!

I Wanna Write This Novel:

Too Good To Pass Up. I've been saving this screencap for awhile now. Mars Needs Swimmin' Yeah.

Friday, March 21, 2008


The word was coined by the late Col. Cooper; L. Neil Smith has written of it and here's another essay addressing this public-health menace.

Found after stumbling across Page Nine, q. v..

Thursday, March 20, 2008

...And Just A Pinch More On Torture

...Once again, I avoid the heavy lifting: The Discontented Cookie offers pointed analysis.

Neanderpundit Og disagrees. (N.B.: blogs can easily become we're-so-kewl-and-right-fests. Those are fun but you don't learn nuthin'. When I find differing notions based on more than mere emotion, I'm gonna link to them).

Me, I remain of the opinion that no matter how noble the cause or how vile the opponent, treatin' other folks like piñatas will rot your soul. It happens to many sexworkers, it happens to strongarm criminals...and it happens to torturers. It's a fundamental change on attitude and behavior that makes the individual possessed of 'em a danger to everyone with whom he or she comes into contact. An institution suffused with such programming is little more than a malignant cancer.

In wartime or extreme situations, individuals will do dreadful things, uncivilized things; it's the nature of things. It happens. It's what happens next that's the issue -- is such behavior rewarded, made a part of official doctrine, or is it brought to light and dealt with according to civilized principles?

The practical man will call such analysis navel-gazing (in fact, he has!) and guess what, he's right. I'm not there, I have not seen that particular elephant and I'm unlikely to ever be the Great Mahout. I'm still not gonna stand here cheering while we teach 'em it's fun to stomp on whoever's in the way. Abusing the inconvenient to smooth one's own path is a behavior that tends to spread.

(Sidebar: if waterboarding is not torture, there are a fair number of Japanese military officers we're our Federal government is going to have to disinter, reanimate, an' apologize to for having charged with, tried for, convicted of and hanged for waterboarding prisoners. If it's a crime when they do it to us our citizens, it's a crime when we do our government does it to others).

Update: At least one individual contacted me to point out the extreme contentiousness of this topic on one hand and the difficulties of addressing it on the other. While I think it's an important issue of which to be aware, I have far more questions than answers. Absent any chance of resolution, I'm dropping the subject. I shall continue to refrain from torture; the rest of you, you're on your own.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Speakin' Of The Second...And First...

Adventurer Turk Turon snapped this photo on the scene outside SCOTUS and comments, "I thought the red coat was a nice touch."

I've not blogged much in re Heller and I shan't; if it comes to pass I can once again visit Washington City, Chicago and NYC without risking felony charges, I still won't be all that tempted. --But remember, human rights are inherent. Governments may make the free exercise of them awkward but they can only impede; even when penalized or barred, your rights exist.

Tam On The Second Amendment

...I'd like to think my (impassioned-ish) reading-aloud of a dunderheaded USA T0day article prompted it, but in fact, she's been pointing it out for weeks: go read Tam's primer on 2A and the Bill of Rights. Do it now!

...It's just a blamed pity we can't have it tattooed on the forehead of each and every Authorized Journalist, mirror-reversed (interpolated with plain text for the TV types). Still, a gal can dream, can't she?

Arthur C. Clarke's Final Orbit

SF great (and last of the Big Three writers) Sir Arthur C. Clarke passed away yesterday. He turned 90 this past December, marking the day with a video message. It is interesting that this visionary, father of the geosynchronous communications satellite, said, "...I never expected to see so much happen in the span of a few decades...." At 90, more than half his life had been lived during the Space Age.

While his politics diverge rather widely from mine, Clarke's fiction often emphasized the importance of tolerance and compassion rather than sappy forced acceptance. I will always remember fondly the madly assorted cast and warmly-drawn of characters -- writers and tech geeks, mostly -- to be found in the amusing collection of related yarns, Tales From The White Hart.

Harry Purvis and gang aside, Arthur Clarke's fiction tended to be quieter and more introspective than the work of the other members of SF's triumvirate, Robert A. Heinlein and Isaac Asimov; his grasp of the engineering involved was solid and his treatment of characters no less so. (I've not read a lot of his recent, collaborative work; what I have read struck me as less Clarke and more collaborator. Can't fault that, it says so right on the cover).

...Other writers will pay more attention to 2001: A Space Odyssey, which is a noble effort, especially for the time. I prefer 2010, as good a hard-SF film as I've seen.

The Big Three gave our culture a mighty push Up and Out. When those now young turn 90, will they have seen as much forward progress?

None of the Big Three were able to buy a real passenger ticket to orbit. But one of them, at least, saw passenger tickets to space become reality.

Bon voyage, Sir Arthur!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

But We're Still The Good Guys, Right?

I'd been musin' about tryin' to summarize what I think about the U.S. government using waterboarding and other hobby skills in some attempt to extract information. Now I find I don't have to, 'cos J. R. Shirley already has.

Yeah. What he said. Go read it if you haven't already. Gorrammit,* the good guys aren't supposed to endorse or use torture.


--I understand this is a contentious topic, about which reasonable persons can and will disagree. Fine by me; most of us are, AFAIK, only indirectly in the waterboarding business.

In response to questioning from readers, I posted this in the comment thread:

My objection to such actions undertaken by agents of a nation-state against any person is twofold: first, this is not the behavior of civilized associations and must never be encouraged; the government that abuses "enemy combatants" today will do so to its own citizens tomorrow. (I'm perfectly okay with simply shootin' aforesaid "partisans," BTW, preferably in the act). Second, it has a severely deleterious effect upon the torturers. You cannot reduce another human being to a quivering lump of abject submission without making indelible changes to your own relationship to yourself and to the rest of the species. Once you've internalized that other folks are just so much meat, their spirits rather easily bent and broken, you are no longer fit for civilization; you have become an enemy to all free persons. And, being human, you will justify your actions.

I have known too many bad predators in my life. If our government keeps on makin' 'em, pattin' 'em on the head an' sayin' "nice doggie," we're in for bad times. Lon who?
* Yes, I am a Browncoat.

The Groupthink Mind

This is a first try at some notions that have been a-brewin'. It may evolve. It may fall flat. You pays no money and you takes your chances!

A recent flap involving a lefty-ish Australian blogger's anti-gun-ownership musings and a couple-dozen gunbloggers led me to read a bit more widely. What I'm finding in a mode of thought not unique to the Left but often seen there and it's a worldview I can't find a word for.

In referring to others, the blogger in question leaps from individual to group behavior as if there was no difference -- conflating government-controlled foreign aid with private charity, tax money taken and handed out to other nations with individual contributions of time, expertise, money and/or materials. But he himself -- and his nominal, like-minded peers -- is never considered a member of the collective, always a proud individual. (Never mind, for now, the mad faith that the needs of others imposes an obligation upon those with more; let alone the essential valuelessness of required charity).

Is it solipsism? Blind arrogance? Look, if'n you are gonna treat everyone else as if they are a hive-mind, where d'ya get off exempting yourself?

If this was just the usual PSHness over firearms in the hands of free individuals, I'd shrug it off; we are, after all, talking about a writer who in all earnest believes that gunbloggers receive "marching orders" and "talking points" from what he belives to be a self-evidently horriawful, wicked NRA (of which I am at present not even a member, btw, funds bein' a bit shortish), fears any of what he describes as "manly" virtues and who appears incapable of distinguishing hyperbole and sarcasm from plain talk. I'd shrug it off as a desire for blog-hits, since there is one (1) item about which he happens to be right: there are few (non-NSFW) topics that draw online attention better than an anti-self-defense screed. I would -- except the same attitude and zeitgeist shows up over and over in his other posts. Nor is he by any means alone or exceptional in this attitude; he's just a handy example, recently met.

Folks who were there at the time point out how Ayn Rand could be utterly vicious to witlings and the ill-informed, especially later in life; witnessing this particular form of aristocratic Queen-Bee collectivism, I begin to understand how she got that way.

Readers, I do not assume you are monolithic in thought, attitude and/or deed; while I don't especially care about your politics, religion or shoe size as long as you can accept the necessity to not impose 'em upon unwilling others, I hope it is an active, engaged sort of apathy that sees each of you as who you are (or who present yourself to be, my third eye still bein' at the repair shop this week) and not some unit of the collective. Left, Right or orbiting Pluto, that may be one of the more basic differences among people: do you see others as individuals, or some seething mass to be bent to your image of the "common good?"

Me, I'm not even sure there actually is a "common good" or that striving to enforce it is such a great darned idea even if it exists. Who decides? The Queen Bee? (My mom kept bees. I've seen the heap of dead ones outside the hive, a pile that grows and grows as Winter continues. There's your "sacrifice for the common good." Count me out!) Perhaps a roughly and incidentally shared "good enough" is about as far as we ever manage.

Monday, March 17, 2008


"...your mission, Agent Feline, should you choose to accept it, is to traverse the hallway and dining room, ending up deep in enemy-cat territory, where you will penetrate their private litter box and leave a steaming pile of concentrated obnoxiousness. That'll show those dirty rotten other cats not to bogart the best sunny spots and the place right by the heater! This tape will self-destruct in five seconds...."

They're all doing it. It seems this is some kind of tactic. I'm imagining how it might work if humans thought that way: The year is 1942. Deep in Germany, a door slams open and a rumpled, pudgy, sweaty Allied paratrooper with a three-day growth of beard saunters out of Reichsmarshall Goering's private latrine, clenching a smoldering, cheap cigar in his teeth while he tucks in his shirttails: "Y'might not wanna go in there fer a' coupl'a days, Herman...." Yeah.

Mom X: Home, Healthy, Fit To Climb The Walls

...Not that she told me; and I wasn't clever enough to ask: they told her not to drive 'til the middle of this week. With my sister and my nephew at the house, it's not like she was totally trapped but her recovery's been, oh how shall I put it, dumbfoundingly rapid. So you can just imagine this very active, energetic woman, with energy she had not felt in some time returned thanks to the stent, faithfully following Doctor's orders. And counting the days like a prisoner!

She's doing extremely well and we're all counting our blessings after her misadventure. She's looking forward to the Spring. (Come to think if it, so am I).

(I didn't tell her about the entire lawn-ful of crocuses* Tam, the Data Viking and I saw Sunday, right around the corner. What a sight!)
* Tam asks, "Shouldn't that be crocii?" But I'm pretty sure that's the plural of "frog."

Indy 1500 Gun Show!

Tam and I did a quick walk-through Friday evening; Sunday, The Data Viking drove down from his lair* and we hit the show bigtime!

Could not be more fun. This thing's too big to adequately describe; suffice to say that every aisle contained something I made a note to come back and see...and that wasn't time to do so once we'd seen it all.

I looked long and hard at Nagant revolvers, which are becoming ubiquitous and, at $129.00 and down, aren't such a bad deal, especially if you know someone who's got one of the .32 conversion cylinders for them; otherwise the going rate for the oddball rounds makes them a bit dear. One of days, I shall purchase either a Nagant or (preferably) a Webley or Enfield revolver. (With a Smith & Wesson expert for a roommate, if I'm going to buy wheelguns, it's either that or Colt$!)

We did pick up a nice little Colt, but not a revolver: a .25 pocket pistol. I've had an Eibar-type of similar size (a "Protector," quotes and all) but with an enclosed hammer to the Colt's striker. Browning's design incorporates a grip safety, which is smooth as can be. How's that for a pistol made in 1916! Glock fans who espouse Gaston G.'s straightforward design, please note that even the fancy Colt has just over two dozen parts. (Tam says, "It's like a gun, but smaller." --I'd say the same of the oddly kewl old Webley air pistols, myself).

SF writer/bladesmith and all-round cool guy Mad Mike Williamson was there, with his offspring and spouse. I bought a copy of Freehold, his first novel, which I should have picked up a long time ago! I'd been passing by his tables for several years and just happened to find a copy of The Weapon at a local used book store. --Should have bought another copy of that one, come to think of it, so I'd have one to loan out or give away. If you liked Heinlein's Starship Troopers -- not the movie, the book -- you'll like The Weapon. Count on it. So far Freehold is every bit as good. For awhile, I thought I was going to have to stop reading new SF; one reason why I'd been passing by Mr. Williamson's work was because I was leery of being disappointed. The more fool I -- his stuff is good!

All in all, another fine gun show. I saw cartridges I'd never seen before (missed the trounds Tam found at one table, darn it -- but I'd'a wanted to buy a Dardick to shoot 'em in), we all saw plenty of fascinating and wonderful guns and the Data Viking even found sugar-free jerky, which was utterly delicious. (I had to refuse more after a taste; otherwise, I would have gobbled the whole bag!)

So, if you were at the Indy 1500 and saw a tall blonde in a black CCA ballcap, a sturdy blue-eyed Viking with a friendly smile and a tallish dark-blonde with Bettie Page bangs, that was us. Say "Howdy" next time, okay?
* Or penates, I dunno which. Give yourself ten points if that makes any sense.

I'd've Offered Him A Light

In far-off, exotic New Mexico, a dear, sweet little old lady defied the "experts" and successfully thwarted a purse-snatcher at a gas station. Oh, hully gee, it worked!

...Somebody alert the media (oh, wait, they already know), and wake up Helmke and his band of fools. You don't stop crime by knuckling under, you stop it by sayin' "No" in word and by deed!

This should be the rule and not the exception. It shouldn't even be newsworthy; but perhaps it'll help spread the meme.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

What Is It About Fort Wayne?

First they give us PSH-er par excellence Paul Helmke and now, this: Fear of turnip. Maybe there's something in the water?

Meanwhile, Texans are, at least, a little better at knowing what they've found, if not so wise in choosing where to take it: Here, desk sergeant, please accept this token of my esteem.

Conclusion: let's try to stay with horseshoes for the rest of the year, okay?

Thursday, March 13, 2008

ADD For A Reason

It's just about the prettiest day we've had in months. The sky's like an overturned blue porcelain rice bowl, impossibly high and dark overhead and shading to the palest blue at the horizon, scribbled in cryptic ideoglyphs by a scant few lost clouds and wavering contrails; as a motorcycle buzzrumbles by outside the fence, I know what they mean: Sun's callin'. Get out here. Have some fun.

I cannot. Most of my day has been and will be spent in a windowless office. But my heart? My heart's still 14 or 13, gazing over sunny roofs and tree-lined back yards out the third-story windows of the Art classroom, seeing the birds soar and dreaming of escape.

I'd like to dish up some prime snark on the Declining State Of Things (Balkanization* Now!). Can't. Maybe later!

Update: So, I got off work early ('cos I started early) and came home to go riding started raining. Hmpf. There was a kind of a break in the rain (and the worst of the salt and oil had a chance to go to the gutters) , so I went out and around until it began to rain in serious earnest and added another entire mile to this year's time in the saddle. Ooo. Well, better than nothin'.
* Delightfully, Blogger's spellcheck thinks this should be "Vulcanization!" How illogical.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


It will come as no surprise (at least if you read Tam's blog, too) that today at work I stumbled across some old, small cardboard parts bins once used to sort various small starship-repair items labelled variously "Weevily," "Smells Like Cheese," "Probably Burnt," "Velcronia," and "Makes Me Itchy." Sure looks like my handwriting....

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The War on Guns: Taking the Bait

David Codrea has been passed a deliberately-chilling little message from a Fed: The War on Guns: Taking the Bait. Read it and decide for yourself.

Me, I'm thinkin' Mr. U.S. Marshal Public Servant Blog-Threatener might want to double-check the tinfoil lining in his cap, if he's so all-fired fretted about Gunbloggers. Even firebrands like Codrea will be found urging change through voting and other peaceable means, motivating readers by pointing out the excesses and abuses of our elected and appointed officials. If that's treason, cut me a slice of it, too. Save the biggest hunks for the Founders, who'd probably all be rotting in the pen if some of the dimmer lights present amongst our putative masters had been runnin' the show.

I Voted Today. Better Protect Yourself!

Special election, no less. So we all rode the short bus in the Federal Junior Body 7th District beauty pageant, especially the three candidates.

This is a good thing about Indiana: the ballot offered a Republican (a State Congressbeing and maybe a bit of a nimrod, but that's the worst I've heard), a Democrat (Indianapolis City Councilbeing, scion of a political dynasty and formerly some sort of Homeland Security d00d) and a Libertarian (nice guy and no zanier than his opponents, or not much more). This gave the folks who might have voted D or R reflexively another choice; I've already heard from one chap who picked the Lib mostly on the basis of disliking the other two guys. Media treated the Lib about as well as the other two, despite voicing the belief that he hadn't a prayer. Hey, could be; me, I'd be just as pleased as long as the Democrat loses. We have enough Big Federal Secret Police boosters in the Federal House O'Misrepresentatives already.

...But the real reason I'm here is to once again remind folks that I voted. All things considered, maybe you had better get out there and vote right back at me! It's your first line of defense.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

What, Like In A Jar Under The Porch?

Daylight Savings time came as a personal shock this morning, though professionally I'd been making changes and updates to account for it since the end of last year.

I'm not at all convinced we're "saving" anything but it does mean we're at the verge of two-wheelin' season! Possibly even later this week if the weather forecast holds, I'll be trying my first motor-scooter commute of the year. I've already been scanning the route for potholes. Thanks to a busy Winter, there are plenty of them and they're hungry for 10" wheels. All part of the fun? Perhaps.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Geek Mode Enabled

My previous post about Analog TV, Digital TV and Its Wonders (yes, that's three categories) has prompted a number of responses, including some information a less-than-informational nature.

This is about par for the course. The newspapers have been, shall we say, not all that helpful, while TV station News departments have been largely ignoring the whole thing (ew, ick, Engineering) in the hope it would go away.

The Basics:
First off, yes, analog TV will (mostly) shut down in February 2009. (The little low-power stations have, per the most recent word, until 2012 to make the switch to digital).

Yes, that means grand-dad's fridge-sized RCA with the big, big 12" screen won't be able to pick up stations, no more than it ever was able to tune in UHF.... And there's the rub. As one commenter has already discovered, converter boxes are coming on the market. They hook up between your rabbit ears or outside antenna and the antenna input or audio-video inputs of your present TV and tune in all flavors of HDTV, converting it down to standard-resolution; while you won't get any better a picture than your TV is presently capable of giving you, you will get everything it can do, picture quality as good as you're getting from a DVD player. You're probably not getting a picture that good over the air or via analog cable right now.

So you will have to buy something to keep on gettin' free TV, and you can thank the Grand Alliance[1] of set makers, computer companies and film studios for that; but it is not a whole new overpriced Red Chinese, er, expensive, imported, um, somewhat to the high end of affordable but nifty HDTV set.

In fact, with a converter, you can even keep on recording things in 525-line standard-definition.[2] Just put the converter box ahead of your VCR or DVD recorder or video server.

Cable and satellite TV companies will also still be pumping out analog-compatible TV to to the paying customers -- also to that lowlife across the alley who hooked up his own, at least 'til they find him out.

Stations were assigned DTV power levels that gave them coverage equal to their analog coverage. In practice, since a digital TV signal is either great or gone -- and ATSC is way more so than the encoding used for satellite TV -- this means the "fringe areas" are now gonna get decent pictures.

Spectral Recovery:
Yes, the FCC will begin saving ghosts.... Or not. And the DTV/HDTV signals are exactly as wide, per channel, as the old analog ones. Oh, just barely; we have to jump up an' down on 'em to get them to fit and even at that, part of my job consists of goin' around every so often an' givin' the stuff that stuffs it all down a good, solid whack wherever it's bulging.

Howsomever, we can do a cute trick with DTV that we could not do with analog. While a cable company can use all or most the channels, 2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10-11-12-13-14-15-16....99999 by dint of havin' it all in one wire where they can fuss with it[3] but channel assignment for over-the-air analog TV is one of the very darkest of Dark Arts; this is why you will often find similar groupings of channel assignments in different cities. All those "extra" channels are needed so the stations can be assigned channels in such a way as to not interfere with one another (at least on paper). This is not true of DTV; those channels can be stacked up side by side by side, without interference.

Can be and are. Some bright lad at the Grand Alliance put a bug in the ear of some bright lad at the FCC, and they worked out there were a whole lot of channels on the UHF end nobody was going to need. So no new channels were assigned up there and the stations that already were there got told not to leave anything behind when they packed up for their new DTV channels. The vacated space was auctioned off for public-safety and other two-way radio uses, including some data comms. The original plan was to clean out not only the top end of UHF but the very bottom of VHF[5] as well. This foundered on two things: low-band VHF stations (2-6) have been groovin' for years on havin' signals that could be picked up from Big City to Bugtussle (and, when the wind is right, in Far Forn Parts) , which they did not care to give up; while, conversely, no two-way user was seriously interested in such low frequencies.

So the Feds ended up "owning" (?!!!) some shiny-new spectrum, which they promptly put to work hailin' traffic on the nearest street corner. 'Course, it won't have any place to go until 2009 and the cars are backin' up, so you can see that the odds of that Feb '09 date gettin' pushed back or set aside are, well, as slim as a crack whore.

In Summation:

I. DTV picture quality and sound are really good. Even with a converter box ahead of your old TV, you'll see some improvement. (If you have really, really bad ghosting, there is a slight chance you won't see nothin' -- see, it's either there and good, or it's gone. That's digital for ya).

II. Save your Steam-Powered TVs. They can still be made to work. If you have cable or satellite, you're home free.

III. Wave bye-bye to the upper UHF channels. There was never anything good there anyway. Besides, it'll still be on the air, just at a lower number. Though your TV may lie to you about it.

IV. This was not the TV stations' idea. It wasn't even thunk up by the networks. On the other hand, the TV set market was pretty much saturated and the TeeVees were lastin' a long, long time. Something that would make people go buy new tellyvisions, h'mmm, cui bono? Yeah. Them. The spectrum sell-off was just the bait the Feds lunged for. (Look for some "buyer's remorse" posturing in Congress as the deadline approaches. Also lines like, "technological disenfranchisement," which translates into, "free TVs or converters for the people in my district whose votes I am courting." Your tax dollars at work).
1. I'm pretty sure they helped start WW I, too.
2. HDTV standards counterpart in resolution and screen shape to what we get from 525-line analog is called, confusingly, 480i; each number refers to the number of horizontal lines per image but the older term uses the total number of 'em including the ones that are working behind the scenes to keep everything in sync while the newer term just uses the number of lines actually displayed. The "i" tells us it's knitting the picture like fancy socks, alternately sending the interlaced odd-numbered and even-numbered lines to fool your eye all the better. Other common resolutions are 720p ("progressive," all the lines of the picture one after another in order in the manner of a computer monitor), 1080i, and -- not over the air -- 1080p. Nobody could figure out how to stuff all of 1080p in the teeny little box we have to cram the pix into to get them through the air. Or at least they couldn't a decade ago.
3. They also cheat -- starting with 14, none of them are on the same frequencies as the over-the-air channels of the same number. This can lead to big fun for radio hams and other users of two-way radio when the cable system leaks signals. Which they do.
4. Most every other station has the option, come 02-2009, to stay on their DTV channel or return to their old channel in their coat of many digital colors -- and the software is set up to lull your DTV set into believing they've been on the same channel all along.
5. This terminology may irk English- or 'Strine-speaking overseas readers, who are used to thinking of TV channels as not being so very much in one "band" or another and get their local high-fidelity, frequency-modulation stereo radio signals on VHF. US terminology differs. It's all part of the fun, really.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Our Viewing Public

In the early days of the Great HDTV Forced Obsolescence Transition, I read that it was gonna be "...The same vast wasteland but in 16 x 9..."

Tam agrees. Colorfully.

...Ummm, okay; she is right but I've got bills to pay, so please be good little lemmings an' buy yer new HDTV sets or converters before Uncle Sam makes us pull the plug on coal-fired TV. Pleeze? We promise the plotless dreck, aerial coverage of car wrecks and panic-stricken whinging about the weather will be all sparkly-like!

PS: Yes, this means the TV on rabbit ears in the guest bedroom will not work after February TV-Doomsdayteenth, 2009. Unless Congress blinks.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Dinner! Half-hour Beef Stew

Stressful few days, needin' comfort food, that would mean I cooked tonight. Tam helped, seein' as how she enjoys food, too.

Beef stew, almost from scratch, starting with fake (or at least nearly-foolproof) roux:

You'll need 3 or 4 strips of good bacon, a pound of stew beef, a medium onion, a potato, one package of fresh mushrooms (I used portabellas but go with what you find) and a half-cup or so of carrots, all cut into half-inch-ish chunks; a half-cup or so of celery (sliced 1/4" thick or less); about 1/3 cup of flour, two cans of Campbell's condensed Beef Consomme, some red wine if desired (I prefer a Chianti; Gabbiano is nice), a small paper bag of the "lunch sack" size and spices as listed below.

Please know that I don't bother measuring any of this when I'm cooking. When I give measurements, take them as more of a suggestion. Food's supposed to be tasty, not a lab formula, so follow your tastebuds and imagination!

Start the bacon frying in your stew pot (shame on you if you haven't got one -- go buy one today; stainless or enamelware will do) . While it's going, cut the stew beef if needed and mix the flour, a tiny bit of salt (there's plenty in the broth) or rather more Cajun seasoning and black pepper (fresh-ground is best) in the paper bag. Drop about half the stew meat in the paper bag, give it a few good shakes, take it out and do the remainder. The bacon should be about crisp, so set it aside to drain on paper towel and drop the floured meat into the hot bacon fat and brown well. It's okay if a little extra flour comes along, but don't add too much; the meat will haul along about enough. (There will be some flour left in the bag. Toss it; it's cheap). Brown the meat well on all sides and once that's done, add the onion, carrots and mushroom and saute a bit, then toss in the celery, saute a little more (you're looking for the onion to be getting transparent) and add a splash of red wine -- maybe a quarter or third of a cup or so -- and kind of scrape the good stuff up from the bottom of the pot. (Yes, "deglazing." Oooo).

The flour won't stick to the meat much in the final result. It's just a sneaky way to do a brown roux that's difficult to get wrong.

Now add a can of consomme, not too fast, stirring as you do. Add about half a soup can of water and then the potato. Add the other can of consomme and enough water to cover. If desired, break up the bacon set aside early on and add it, too. Bring to a boil, turn the heat down, cover partially, and leave to simmer for at least twenty minutes. (Sort of "reducing." More ooo). It's done when the potatoes are soft. The broth will not be as heavy as store-bought stew but it will taste a lot better.

Serve with bread, flatbread or biscuits and butter. Home-made yum! (Tam agrees).

You can add other things to this basic start. Root vegetables work nicely but canned tomatoes, corn and/or beans will take it in a more soup-like direction. A hint of cabbage helps almost any soup, btw. Refrigerate leftovers for the next day -- a night in the fridge often improves a quick stew.

Countrywide = Ugh

So, I went to make a house payment online. Guess what? If I sign up to do that, I'm stuck with it. As in, "for the whole rest of the term of the loan." Not actually my style; when big money is on the line, I prefer actual artifacts, like statements, receipts and cancelled checks.

Kinda left the notebook with the most recent statement up at the hospital today so guess what, Countrywide? No checkie tonight. If you'd'a been a bit better about it, you'd'a got paid already. But noooooo.

An' a pleasure doin' business w'yez. Geeeeesh.

My Mom's In Hospital

...Went in yesterday afternoon with what has, thus far, proven to be a minor heart attack. Caught well in time, the blockage was completely cleared by simple (? !) catheterization and she was resting comfortably (i.e., fast asleep with good blood pressure and oxygenation) when I left her room late last night.

Quite a scare. Mom had been feeling poorly but had been chalking it up to mere fret and worry and telling herself "just get yourself in gear and get busy!" Now, at least, she and her offspring know what symptoms to watch out for.

I'll be headed back to the hospital today. She'll be in for the next three days. It helps to have someone around.

Update: Spent much of today at the Heart Center. Mom's looking a lot better, able to eat a bit, they even took her for a short walk! Quite a few vistors, too.

My thanks to everyone for the kind wishes and prayers.

The docs did put in a stent, which totally cleared the blockage. This is not a procedure they put you under to do, so Mom's kind of hazing along and the cardiac specialist is talking to his team: "Okay, here we are, h'mmm, did I get into the right artery?"
Mom from under the sheet, "You'd sure better have!"
Highfalutin' M.D., "...[stunned silence]...."
That's my Mom!

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Hey! We're Tryin' To Sleep Over Here!

The local weather channel clone has a news ticker and the results of headline-ese are sometimes off-kilter; this morning, "CALIFORNIA TO HEAR GAY MARRIAGE ARGUMENT" scrolled by, leaving me to wonder if it wasn't the same ol' old-couple bickering only with both voices in the same range, or if the pro-and-con had become so loud nobody on the Left Coast was able to shut it out.

Feh. I'm still not seein' why it's any of the gummint's business -- besides, why should anyone be spared messy, expensive, soul-searing divorces? Good luck, you wild kids, and try not to saw the cat in half when you work out who gets what.


Sunday, March 02, 2008

Pop! Pop! Bang!

Tam and I drove out to Pop Guns today in the Z3 (vroooom!), her first chance to shoot since hittin' town and my first since Valentine's day. I hauled along my .22 and the "laundry guns," a CZ-75B compact and an EAA Witness compact in .38SA and she had 1911 and a nice Smith revolver.

My first chance to see Tam shootin' a revolver and the first time I've shot a wheelgun since my ex X-ed out a couple years back. Lady Tam, she groks revolvers just as one would expect: DA, rapid fire, neat tiny hexagonal groups. Me? At seven yards, I can almost reliably keep 'em all on the paper with a revolver. Yeah. Also my hands had forgotten how to hold one properly for reloading -- good thing Tam's a patient teacher!

OTOH, I surprised myself with the 75B, which I had packed up some years ago under the mental note, "Pretty but I can't shoot well with it." I was gettin' close groups and it felt natural; perhaps time with other sidearms has helped me with this lighter gun. And the .38SA was as usual, shot like a .22, right where I wanted it to go -- I love everything about this caliber except the price.

All in all, a fun couple of hours. The SRO crowd at the range was once again a reminder of the value of range membership: right to the head of the line!

Inside Roberta's Brain

The wizard emerged from the back of the cluttered study, preceded by fluttering bats and holding an owl on a perch like a lantern. His eyes narrowed as he saw me and I knew a Skrying was imminent.

"What of the Foe?" I asked.

"...Be wary, small warrior!* It is known as The Obama. Forever enshrouded in self-created fog, it entices men with meaningless platitudes of Hope and Change. Change, indeed! Brave and foolish men have entered the cloud, only to emerge with the heads of of voles and shrews or the minds of insects!"

"For dinner?"

"Nay, fool! They have become the change their leader wished."

"Eeep. What, then, of the other foes, the elderly knight and the witch?"

"Oh, them? Not much, really, as long as you shut up and do as you're told."

"But O Ancient One, I kind of suck at that."

"H'mm. Bit of a problem, then."

* Or did he say "worrier?" So difficult to know.

WAFFLE _ _ _ _ _

Tam's likely blogging along these lines, too, but this'n's worth it:

We're nattering along and she points out how the "Culinary Capital Of The World" (NYC, per a VFTP poster an' for all I know he's right, if one's got the attitude, palate an' pocketbook) has not got even a single Waffle House, adding that Waffle House is, in point of fact, the pinnacle of short-order breakfasty eats.

Me, I am agreeable, so I nod but remark, "I dunno. Waffle and Steak is better."

Tam: "What?"

"Waffle and Steak," I say, "I think they're local or regional. Way better. Serious diner ambiance goin' on. Majorly good food. Fast. Friendly."

"That is semantically null. It's like saying, 'This chair over here is better than the Platonic Ideal of a chair!"

"No, really. It's better."

"Impossible," Tam retorts, and turns back to her monitor and keyboard. Tappety, tappety, tap, tap. click. "Oh! '...Known as Waffle and Steak only in Indiana, where another firm owns all rights to the name Waffle House.' Hmm!"

Me: "You mean we're actually talking about the same place?

Tam: "Yup."

...Statistically Improbable Predilection #476, or the simple fact the place is just plain good? I dunno.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

"When I Go..."

[Warning for the humor-impaired: This is dark humor. It is not real. It has no hidden meaning. Try to play along with the grown-ups].

We all know the old joke that ends, "...peacefully in his sleep, not screaming and trying to get out like his passengers...," right?

So, relaxing after a day of banking, shopping[1] and eating the very best sort of deli food (Eat at Shapiro's. Bring money and an appetite. You'll be happy), us Snark Sisters were riffin' on the theme, things like, "Enjoying a fine cigar, not panicking and trying to flee the flames like the passengers on his dirigible," and "Lost in nitrogen narcosis, not fighting over the emergency oxygen mask like the other people in his bathyscape," when we[2] hit on it:

"When I go, I wanna be happy an' fulfilled like my crazy great-uncle, not scared, duct-taped and helpless like his hostages...."

1. Vroom! Further, deponent sayeth not.
2. And by "we" I mean "me," in the case of the example cited; but I do, from time to time, muster the grace to blush over the manner in which I prattle on. Besides, Tam snickered. --H'mm, that doesn't actualllly dilute it any, does it?


Breda has an especially good post up anent fighting back.

She links to several other posts by other bloggers that are also well worth reading. Personal encounters with, well, Evil.

I've seen that elephant my own self. Twice at least, back when I was unarmed and most unaware; I'd tell the tale but others have done so and better. The condensed version of the worst: I ran. Bad guy caught up. I threw a bag of groceries at him. He shot and missed, closed the few feet remaining, knocked me down and got my purse and the wad of cash I used to carry in lieu of credit cards. Meanwhile back at the car, my ex was being divested of wallet and watch by the other three goblins.

Next time? I don't want a next time. My adrenaline reactions are harsh; my decision-making process becomes very rapid and very short-term. My hope and goal is to face it on my feet, resisting.

Why would anyone do anything else?