Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A Modest Proposal

...This one may Swiftly get me in a lot of trouble. Or it may get me friends I don't want, which is just as bad. --Like either of those is anything new?

Courtesy of Mike-istan (RTWT!), I encountered this piece of, of, eww, "writing" by one Robert Smith, Junior writing in the Detroit News, of which the headline tells the tale: Ban All Guns! Yeah, that'll work -- it's been such a success in United Kingdom that their normally-low rate of firearms deaths has been on the rise since the ban! (Look it up yourself; overall rates in Britain, Scotland, N. Ireland, Wales, etc. are still lowish but the trend's backwards to what the gun-grabbers predict).

Mr. Smith makes much of the tragically high death rate of young, urban, African-American men; and he's right: that group of citizens have a huge lead on any other demographic slice of the polity when it comes to getting shot and doing the shooting.

...And since we're being all practical and common-sense, since men of wisdom like Mr. Smith assure us the presence of guns is to blame, let's put our energy where it will do the most good and save the hardest-hit group first: Disarm All African-Americans!

What, that doesn't sit too well? Makes you feel a bit uncomfortable? Seems rather, oh what do they call it, racist? But golly, it's based on the very trends Robert Smith points out. Don't you care about the price these young men are paying with blood?

I know! Let's draw the line in a less-sensitive place! It's mostly young, urban males that are shooting one another, so let's ban guns in big cities!

That's got to work -- after all, it's been such a success in Chicago, right? And in the District of Colombia and New York City? No? Young black men (men of every hue and age, in fact, plus no few of their sisters; what most of 'em have in common is a criminal history) are still shooting one another even in cities where it's double-plus ultra illegal for minors and felons to buy and carry guns?

Golly gee. How unexpected -- I mean, they have got laws 'n' bans 'n' everything on his Christmas list! And you tell us the perfect fix is a total gun ban, Mr. Smith? You'll go house-to-house, will you, and round up every one of the estimated 9 guns per every ten adults in the U.S., and it'll work, will it?

Sure, just like Prohibition removed all alcoholic beverages from distribution; exactly like The War On Drugs has wiped out the scourge of marijuana, the menace of crack, the horror of heroin, as it has ended the manufacture and sale of crystal meth and the abuse of prescription drugs... Just like those things, your Ban All Guns effort will "succeed." And considering just how many of the firearms deaths (not to mention the deaths by stabbing, beating and being run over) of young men of every color are cited as "drug-related," it seems likely that putting all guns in the same category as the common or garden variety crack rock will make guns an a even more lucrative item of underground commerce -- and even more young men will die over them as well as by them.

I dunno. Seems to me there might be some teensy, weensy flaw in this plan.

Update: Codrea has his own, more succinct take on the article. Yeah, gun-banners? What he said goes for me, too.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Plumbing Companies

Most plumbers are all right -- like any other trade, there are good ones and bad ones, but nearly all of them get leaky pipes and valves fixed; failure is just too obvious.

Plumbing companies, though.... Were the universe inherently just, there would be a very special little corner of Hell reserved for 'em. The best ones often go away, except for the ones that metastasize into vast, sloppy, it's-not-my-problem, Call-One-Number conglomerates.

My old plumbing firm was a Type One. Small. Been there forever. Located here in Broad Ripple, Steck's did a huge amount of work in the nineteen-teens through '40s bungalows in the neighborhood. No old plumbing was a surprise to their guys and their plumbers were unfazed by the classic techniques -- lead and oakum, soldered copper, galvanized-steel nightmares, reseatable valves, no problem. Nor were the wonders of modern plastic foreign to them; they used whatever it took to do the job. So, of course, when the principal retired, Steck's vanished (at least their profitable and well-stocked supply house remains -- you need plumbing stuff, get to Winthrop Supply!).

I found another outfit, one of the El Hugiod firms; their guys did good work (okay, a couple were just adequate and if I meet up with the nitwit who "fixed" our outside hydrant but removed the shutoff inside the basement and left the leaking fixture outside with no steady mounting, I'll have harsh words, but mostly, they're fine and occasionally outstanding). After several repairs small and large, I signed up to their Super-Valued-Customer Club, which promises 15% off and superfast service.

So they say. Big mistake, signing up. Money down the... Well, down the drain.

It's 6:40 p.m. I'm waiting on them now. Funny, they called me at five pip emma at work to let me know the plumber was On His Way. --Maybe he's driving from Oklahoma? Called them a few minutes ago -- got, not the Ultra-Modern Dispatch Centre one might imagine but their answering service, who boredly asked for and took a basic who-what-why-where is he? message but, according to the call I just received from someone supposedly at the plumber's HQ, delivered only a "call this number."

And the best part? I have a hot water leak in the basement (low volume but the iron pipe, in a not very visible place, is in sad shape, wreathed in little sprays of crystallized rust; you can't trust them at that point) and possibly thermostat problems with my water heater, since it doesn't usually run for an hour-plus at a time the way it was when I found and investigated the leak.

At 9:15 this morning, I called up the Hugiod Plumbing-and-Dog-Grooming Outfit, they allowed as how I was indeed a member of the Sooooper Customer Discount Club...and that to get service today would cost an extra $50 for "emergency service."

You know, tonight's adventure, assuming the truck ever shows up at all, is going to be their swan song. I'll find somebody else, somebody that may only be an average plumber but shows up in a timely manner and doesn't have any nonsensical Best Friends Club.

Oh, yeah, my pager keeps going off. Something's awry down at the Skunk Works and I'm tryin' to talk guys through it 'cos I have to, you know, wait for the service guy. Hey, Mr. Plumber, you want your football game? Live? Gonna cost ya extra for that!

Sheesh, I hope his truck didn't get hit or something. Even so, it is way later than the originally-promised time when they called with the "on the way!" message. Nearly two hours ago. Swan. Song.

Update: They lost him. The actual dispatcher and I have spoken twice. They haven't heard from him since he said he was on his way and he's not replying to any means of communication.

Morning Observation

...No, not Orion; I'm pretty sure the Irishman[1] is out of sight by now. I eat oatmeal for breakfast nearly every weekday morning; days I don't, I'm in a hurry and have granola instead. Usually eat right here at the computer, combining refueling with composing.

This morning, I'm out of oatmeal and the seal on the hippie-flakes bag had popped open sometime in the past, admitting the Imp Of Staleness. So I am enjoying a slab of ham on toast, with cheese and mustard. (Yum!)

It has been mentioned here and on Tam's blog that my two very elderly cats spend most of their time on my (vast) desk. The desk was designed to hold a large CRT monitor; when I switched from the coal-fired Old Reliable to a newfangled and larger flat-panel[2], it left a nice cat-sized spot on the former monitor shelf, behind the warm new monitor; the cats like to doze there. Oatmeal won't get their attention; granola in non-fat powdered milk, likewise. But a ham sammich? That's a cat-magnet! Ahh, yes, their natural prey: the smoked ham. On marbled rye.

More to come later; this morning, I'm off to the dentist, thanks to a filling that escaped Sunday. It's enough to shake one's faith in cyanoacrylate.
1. 'Cos, see, "O'Ryan...."
2. Oddly, this happened right after the first set of flat-screens survived long enough at work to be replaced in upgrading rather than because they'd failed. What a coincidence!

Monday, December 29, 2008


...For your delectation: The Delahaye!

BBCAmerica's "Top Gear" has been running promos for their season-opener, featuring a sleek Alfa-Romeo hardtop they describe as "the most beautiful car in the world." Oh, I'll grant it's a lovely vehicle, but it's no Delahaye. It's about even with, say, a Cord 812.

December BlogMeet: Kewl!

Alas, I am short on time; suffice it to say the December BlogMeet was a grand time, with sixteen bloggers and readers from all over gathered for food, libations* and conversation. I counted 16 attendees -- and failed to fully note everyone's names. Hard cider is not, as it turns out, a memory-enhancing tipple. From memory (and in no partular order): Mr. and Mrs. Red, Brigid, Shermlock Shomes & son, Turk Turon, Carteach0, Og, Brigid.... Tam and Caleb were missed; she's been visiting back across the Mason-Dixon line, and Caleb, it turns out, was busy taking the bronze in a combat pistol match that took longer than planned.

Oh, would you look at the time! Starships wait for no one. Links will have to be embedded later.

Sunday, December 28, 2008


I don't care what your particular ism is; I'm sure you consider yourself quite an expert in it. I blogged about some very tentative notions I had, things I was working out, and found myself in a tempest of comments about my own lack of philosophical rigor, found my friends rudely taken to task for their beliefs in the comments of my blog, and was told I was too thin-skinned for the rough-and-tumble games the big boys play. (The implict assumption being I was even interested in such. Bzzt! Wrong!)

Gee, all this time I thought this was my little blog that I did for my own amusement. I had no idea I was teaching a philosophy class -- or enrolled in one.

Because I wasn't.

Looky here, if you want to share the superior virtues of your own political philosophy, go do it on your own blog.

If you want to show said superiority by pointing out the faults, flaws and failings of others in place of demonstrating the virtues of your own, you are, in my opinion, a fool and lousy salesman for your ideas. The Competition may indeed stink on ice but until you show you're made of perfume, it's your aroma, too.

This is a little blog. Not even D-list. I have never made any attempt to get links; never pointed out something I thought was especially good to the really big blogs, rarely asked for links (I did bother overworked Alphecca about gettin' a reciprocal link), never advertised and never chose a topic based on how likely it was to get attention. If what I write gets traffic, yay-hooray. If it does not, so what? It saves me using up lots of paper or space on my computer's HD.

That's all it is. I don't make any effort to be especially consistent. What you get is what was in my head when I sat down to write. And I didn't do it for you, I did it for me. Anything you get from it is just gravy. (And it's free, too -- worth exactly what it costs).

I have enabled comment moderation. Your comments may not appear as rapidly as you might wish. And to this post, not at all.

(Update, Sunday morning: I recall encountering online Robert James Bindinotto, a bigtime Objectivist/Minarchist guy and as philosophically consistent as they make 'em. One of the really striking aspects of his interaction with others was that he was unfailingly polite, even when he was slapping them down. Such men are the standard by which I judge all men. A good many of them fall short).

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Friday, December 26, 2008

Manners, Customs, Anarchy And Me

I'm not too sure if I'll let comments run on this; while the Og-and-Billy Show is fascinating when they're not getting personal, it draws the unruly.

A question often asked of anarchists is, what, in the absence of The State, would restrain men's baser impulses?

The simple, surface answer is, the same things that restrain them (or fail to) now. It's a snappy reply but there's not much there. Most men do not refrain from rape because they will be caught and punished; most people do not avoid short-changing others because it is illegal and your sister's favors are not for hire because the Vice Squad is likely, eventually, to haul her in. Indeed, you are now in about as good a position to poison the water supply of your city as any slapdash terrorist -- and consider, the traffic would be less and many jobs would be left open; you have much to gain. Do you seriously entertain that the you and your fellows have not yet done so only due to the likelihood of arrest, trial, imprisonment and execution?

It seems unlikely. While humans are governed largely by self-interest, mature humans tend to take a longer-term approach to "self-interest." Mature humans tend to deal fairly -- or not terribly unfairly, and more or less so to the extent they see them as peers, members of the same tribe -- with others. And past that, they extend a degree of courtesy to others and recognize it when it is given to them. Immature and/or criminal humans do not -- unless you count it a handshake to pick a man's pocket.

What keeps people from "doing unto others" first and hardest is as simple, as apparently trivial as courtesy. Customs. Manners. Those things which must (or must not) be done vary between our different tribes, clans and septs but they always exist. From a High Tea to an outlaw biker rally, there are acts and words of some sort which are observed by those who would take part pf the social interaction; the lout who flouts the social graces and calls it "honesty" makes of himself something less than human.

Looking back to times when the hand of Government fell less heavily on the individual, one finds situations refined and coarse; and while in general the individual had less to fear from crime in the 19th Century the the 21st, he or she had even less to fear in areas where good manners were more widely used and respected. London -- then well-armed, as shown by accounts of The Tottenham Outrage[1] -- was safer than Deadwood. Same species, better manners. Greater awareness of manners even among those who had little or no use for them.

Humans have very few instinctive behaviors; we're born knowing how to suck and in my darker moments, I suspect that's about as far as some people get. Proper manners -- yes, O Rosseauian "Natural Man," that terrible, horrible hypocrisy that lets enemies sit down at table and try to flay each other verbally, pleasantly, instead of reaching for their knives -- is one of humanity's better inventions, ranking with fire and the wheel; the traditions that preserve and transmit our customs and manners are as essential to our progress as was the domestication of animals and the invention of soup.[2]

* * *

Speculative thought about the shape society might take is common to all varieties of political thought and it is not uncommonly shown through rose-colored spectacles. From the "Worker's Paradise" to the high-minded Progressive dreams of Georgist single-taxers to L. Neil Smith's delightful visions of an anarchist/minarchist America, it's all painted so very lovely. Me, not so much; my kind of anarchy takes property rights as fundamental and leaves plenty of room for grotty little factory towns, mean or evil bosses and lazy workers. The indolent would be free to starve, the incompetent to seek their own level and it would be no paradise. --You'd have more choices of doom, mostly, and my own line of work would very likely get less respect and pay worse than it does now. But people would have better manners -- or not, and be held back by the lack. Make of that what you will.

* * *

Philosophically, I am something of a lightweight. There's not a lot of rigor to my thinking; Ayn Rand would've dressed me down but good and turned her back. This does not bother me; we can't all be Immanuel Kant and I'd as soon not. Roberta-X-ism is not a movement and it couldn't be.

* * *

This blog is something I do for my own amusement. It's all over the place -- fools are mocked, I natter about guns and shooting, post fragmentary stories not quite about slices my life or other lives I've glimpsed and whatever else it strikes me to do. Sometimes I'm wrong. Other times I'm not. I blog for fun and I would even if no one read it or commented on it. This is my place and visitors can either play by the very few rules, or they can leave.
1. Itself a fine example of the rude actions of the sort of "Anarchist" that is a blot upon the word -- and the world.
2. Snicker all you like -- before soup, the elders
died when their teeth gave out, somewhere around 30 years old. Not a lot of time to learn much -- and even less time in which to pass it on.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

A Distant Yuletide Evening

(A Christmas story)

His streetcar went clanging away to the next stop and the end of the line. The three-story apartment building where he lived had holiday lights festooning balconies in front of a few apartments and greenery draped on the railings of a few more. Not much decoration, none at all around his — even in this, its fiftieth year, the settlement and settlers didn't have a lot to spare on frivolity. What caught Joel's attention was a cat crying somewhere nearby as he plodded up the drive. There weren't a lot of cats, either; the population had started small, smuggled-in to begin with, and some of the local animals kept the feral population near zero. The first flakes of a fresh snowfall were swirling through the twilight — nothing unusual for the long, harsh Winters of the planet nicknamed "Blizzard" by the earliest settlers but it made the source of the sad sounds all the harder to locate.

"The kitty's stuck in that tree, it's been up there almost all day!" It was one of his apartment-building neighbors, one of the newlyweds in the adjoining apartment. She'd be too embarrassed to speak if she ever figured out how easily sound got through the utility connections, Joel mused, and probably not very relieved to learn his solution, once the hubbub had become tiresome, had been to start keeping earplugs handy near his bed.

Right now she looked worried. Pointing earnestly up at the "tree" — more of a giant fern, looking something like a flattened pine — she said, "The guy upstairs got mad and threw his kitten out the window. It doesn't know how to get down! My Husband's out of town, can't you Do Something...?"

Joel grunted. Even here on the unknown frontier — the starship program and the Settled Worlds established in the 1950s in response to the threat posed by modern nuclear and biological weapons were still classified, hidden from nearly everyone Earthside — even here, there were plenty of people who would rather talk and feel rather than do. "They also serve, who only skin their knuckles," he muttered, grinning to take the edge off.

"Oh, I knew you'd help!"

The fern-trees weren't very strong for their size but Joel was light enough to climb the larger ones. This one was small enough to be questionable and, of course, the kitten was shifting around nervously near the end of a higher branch. And still wailing. Joel set his toolbag down on the porch, away from the damp and the increasing snowfall, and began to climb.

The tree swayed badly as he climbed to the second-story level. This had the benefit of causing the silver-grey kitten to stay put, clinging for dear life. The flip side was that the little cat was even more frightened by the time he got close enough to reach out. It hissed and retreated to the tip of the branch, now sagging down and back towards the slender trunk. Joel backed down a couple of branches, leaned out as far as he dared towards the hissing, spitting kitten, reached for it and took a pinprick paw-swipe in response, then scooped up the now-furious animal. "Got it!" he announced, trying to climb down with the frantic kitten clutched to his chest.

Slipping a few times on the way, he succeeded in returning to solid ground without any major damage to himself or the cat. "There you are," he said, holding the baby cat out to the young woman.

"Me? I don't want a cat! I was just worried. Anyway, it belongs to the man upstairs. But thanks for getting it down." She turned and headed for her door.

"...Unh...?" Joel replied, climbing onto the porch as the door to her apartment shut. And locked. "Great." Still holding the squirming cat, perhaps a bit tighter than necessary, he shuffle-kicked his toolbag down the porch to his door, changed his hold on the cat, fished his keys out one-handed, opened the door, shoved the toolbag inside, made a frantic two-handed grab to retain the kitten. He hooked a foot around the door and pulled it shut, looking down at the cat as it swung to. "Time to take you home, I think."

In two years living in the concrete-block apartment building, one of the first set of buildings made from local materials on Blizzard and originally a barracks, Joel had never been to the higher floors. A set of stacked, interlocking modules, the layout of each floor — and originally, of each apartment — was identical. Outside stairs linked balconies to the first-floor porch, two apartments side-by-side on the East and West sides, one in the center on North and South. The "guy upstairs" in question was a recent arrival, a man he'd never met. This didn't make him especially unusual; turnover in the building was high and Joel was anything but outgoing. Careful arrangement of Christmas lights along the new guy's section of the balcony, no name on the door; he knocked and waited. Noting. Knocked louder and eventually heard a stir. The door opened a crack and a bleary, annoyed-looking young man looked out. "What do you want?" he asked.

"Is this your cat?" Joel held up the cat, which obliged by trying to bite him and mewing.

"Not any more! Damn thing pulled the drapes down on me when I was sleeping! It ruined my couch! It's hyperactive!"

"Uh, it was in a fern tree, the one up by the porch...?"

"Yeah, well, cats climb trees. So?"

"Neighbors said it was crying up there all day?"

"It cries a lot. I threw it out!"

"But it was your cat...?"

"Was. You want it? It's yours. Good luck." He shut the door.

Joel looked down at the cat. It hissed at him. "Oh, well," he said, and headed for the stairs.

He hadn't bothered to lock his own door; he shifted to a one-handed hold on the kitten, opened the door, look a step and fell sprawling over his toolbag. The cat escaped as he put his hands out to break his fall and scurried away under the couch. "Da-yum!" Joel yelled as he hit, but nothing felt too damaged. He turned, sat up, and kicked the door shut with half a smile, "I'm an idiot." He turned back to the couch, where, leaning down, he could see two eyes glinting in the far corner. "Fine, you. Stay there."

* * * *

A can of tuna (imported) and a bowl of water had proven enough to lure the kitten out from hiding long enough to growlingly bolt down a third of the food, be briefly sick, take a long drink of water, eat a little more and dance away when he went to wipe up the mess. He'd half-filled a plastic dishpan with dirt hacked from the straggly plantings along the porch and set it near the couch, hoping the kitten would take the hint. Stretched out on the couch, half-listening to the evening news on the radio, he'd reread the Christmas card from the elderly aunt who was his only living relative (and convinced he worked for a oil-exploration firm in some hard-to-reach tropical jungle back on Earth). After ten years, the homeplanet seemed less and less real, drifting away into an improbable nightmare. A bookish, mumbling loner, he'd had a cat back on earth, a grey-and-black tiger-striped tomcat named Ralph. That cat had been his constant companion and the terror of small animals and lesser toms for miles around for years, until the day it stopped coming home. He'd found the little body next to the road a few days later, stiff, unmoving, hit by a car along the road he drove to school every day and vowed, fiercely, Never Again. No More Cats.

Graduation, tech school, military service, the house fire that took both his parents and a short, flawed career in uniform later had found him in the office of an annoyingly-vague employment agent, signing a long-term contract. Months later, he'd been dazzled to find himself aboard a starship, furious to learn "long term" meant "lifetime" and found resignation turning willy-nilly into fascination as he learned more about his new home. The years since arrival, he'd found over-full with work, moving from site to site, installing and maintaining a mad assortment of radio communications equipment, fifty-years worth of military surplus, low-bidder lots and local improvisation. No close friends, no ties back "home" and that home increasingly strange and foreign; the Hidden Frontier retained an element of crew-cuts and "squareness" long-vanished on Earth. Always short on workers and long on things to get done, each world determined to become as self-supporting as possible, the challenges and the society they formed were like nothing contemporaneous on the home planet. His employers rated him adequate, occasionally even brilliant. His neighbors barely noticed him at all.

A noise caught his attention, the kitten carefully making a hole in the improvised litter and he thought, now, this. Outside, the snow continued to fall. The automated streetcar had gone clanging blindly back not long before, the sound eliciting a worrying flurry of panicked scratching from under the couch as it swelled and then faded. Calmer now, the kitten finished its business and made to climb the couch. He started to reach and thought better of it, watching through half-shut eyes as the little cat made its way to the cushions at his feet. Newscast over, the radio began a program of holiday music, schmaltzy old Christmas songs, as the cat, step at a time, climbed up onto his legs and made slowly for his lap, pausing to look around at every sound. Making its way to his lap, it turned around three times, sat down and began kneading at his waist. He moved a hand carefully, stopping as the kitten stopped kneading to look. It settled back down and began to purr.

Looking over at the card and then out the window at snow, now whirling down faster and thicker, catching glints of the colorful lights as it fell, he reached again for the cat, carefully, petted it and it sighed and started to purr louder. "No More Cats for me?" he thought. "No more cats for me on Earth."

(All I saw was a skinny, happy guy getting food for his cat, after I wangled a day-off trip down to Blizzard's landing-site "city," Frostbite Falls. I made up all rest. --Geesh, I wondered why the guys in the Eng. Shop were so highly amused at me wantin' to see the sights: snow, funky flat evergreen-analogs, a robotic trolley system right outta Loonie Tunes, and a whole lotta Metabolist-style semi-prefab buildings on rolling terrain, and that's it. Oh, and some scary native critters, but I never saw any. Kinda Christmas-y, though.)

Merry Christmas to you all and may all your dreams be as warm and happy as a sleeping kitten!

Roberta X aboard the Starship Lupine, Somewhere Out There. Way out there.

About Gummints

Irascible Thomas Paine put it this way:
"Some writers have so confounded society with government, as to leave little or no distinction between them; whereas they are not only different, but have different origins. Society is produced by our wants, and government by wickedness; the former promotes our happiness positively by uniting our affections, the latter negatively by restraining our vices. The one encourages intercourse, the other creates distinctions. The first is a patron, the last a punisher."
(From Common Sense, quoted in the linked posting about Bill of Rights Day by Alan Korwin of Page Nine, via Joe Huffman).

Seems to me that the extent to which we succeed in restraining our own vices -- and individually discouraging others from the commission of the more egregious ones, like assault and robbery -- is the extent to which we don't need government, even arguing, as many do, from the standpoint of government-as-public-utility.

People aren't perfectible but perfection is not required, just an honest effort at civilized behavior on one's own part and a willingness to provide negative reinforcement when circumstances necessitate

Just a thought.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Frosty The Snow-Arsonist

...Lit the old sofa on fire.... Snowglobe is a fire hazard.

It's spelt p-h-y-s-i-c-s, kids. Big convex transparent object = magnifying lens. Isn't it pretty in the sunshine? And how cheerily the carpet smolders!

Seen On The Innenet

"Fewer moving parts means fewer broken pieces."

So true.

(Which reminds me, there's another starship-repair post coming up, possibly even with illustrations).

Dear Minor Occupant:

Due to recent revisions in OSHA regulations in re "Chimney, Suitability for Entry and Egress" and "Fall-Restraint Devices and Suitable Anchor Points," the S. Claus Corporation will be unable to supply you with presents and/or Christmas cheer unless your domicile meets the following minimum requirements:

1. A Chimney flue measuring not less than 36" by 36" and equipped with:
A. An approved and securely-attached ladder made of fireproof materials.
B. A cable-and-brake fall-restraint system rated for at least 5000 lbs.
C. Lighting system per para. 14, subpart A., including battery-operated emergency lights.
D. Exit signage per 14. B.
2. Fireplace must be constructed as to to totally preclude the building of an actual fire therein.
3. Mantle to be not less than 36" above floor nor more than 48" above floor, with attachment points for stockings rated for not less than 200-lbs each.

As in previous years, your roof must be equipped with a 40' X 20' platform lighted per FAA regulations and able to bear a minimum 20,000-lb live load, or we will not be permitted by Federal authorities to land our delivery vehicle.

Wishing you a very Merry -- but most especially, Safe -- Christmas,


Tuesday, December 23, 2008


What is it about cold, sunny days that makes people drive even worse than usual? Monday was, as predicted, Distilled Essence Of Cold. Not a lot of frost and windshields were clear. Nice, bright morning. The ice that had graced (?) our roads had melted by Saturday. Should have been clear sailin'.

Only not. I bundled up -- thick wool socks, ankle-length bloomers, flannel-lined jeans[1], long-sleeved T-shirt under a good heavy knit under a zip-up hoodie under a sleeveless shell[2], motorcycle boots, scarf, coat, bomber hat (yes, the fur-lined sort with earflaps) and windproof gloves -- and I was fine. The only problem with that get-up is, you can't wear it in a heated area very long without cooking.

The car even started. A little reluctantly, but impressive considering age and mileage. The sky was a beautiful blue bowl overhead, the sun throwing sharp-edged shadows as it crept up the sky like a new member of the Polar Bear Club nerving up for the plunge.

All should have been well.

Wasn't. I went bouncing down the alley and very nearly didn't see cross traffic at the street. Eeek! Well, there's a wake-up. Got out to the main road and had the same thing done to me. At the first intersection with a traffic light, the normal dance had been replaced by dazed dodging. It's a pretty clear run most of my commute, down nice wide streets with good visibility....and I was pulled out on three times and had three more honk/dodge near misses from drivers who somehow failed to see a bright red car with the headlights on.

And the same thing was happening to others all around me.

My theory? Not much of one but I didn't see a lot of sunglasses, despite the intense sunlight. Now singles bars, they keep the lights low, so your pupils will dilate and you'll look "interested" to the people you meet[3] and see them as interested in you, too. (Also helps hide the tacky decor). I think just maybe it works in reverse: on bright days, your pupils contract; what you look at isn't as interesting, not at all. Your attention wanders. You might see but you fail to observe.[4] True or not, I think I was driving better once I'd dug out my sunglasses.

1. Carhartts, my new fave jeans. Especially the warm, flannel-lined ones.
2. Or, unless you speak British, a vest. Also from Carhartt. Seems to be made of canvas and felt -- warm.
3. True fact: if you look at a person or whatever and find it attractive, your pupils dilate. If you don't like it, they contract.
4. With apologies to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Sunday, December 21, 2008


I have not yet blogged to complain about the severe cold and I don't think I will; one puts on another layer or two and perseveres, perverse as that may seem to the colder-blooded.

Extreme cold does more than chill the flesh -- the lights at Roseholme have flickered a couple of times already and my work called awhile ago to get guidance on resetting this'n'that after a bigger glitch at one end or the other (or both) of The Workings. It would be no fun at all if the power went out, especially as I have (foolishly) still not got a little genset. I don't so much care about the fridge -- there's cold free for the taking! -- but the furnace has electronic ignition in addition to the blower motor wantin' power.

Luckily, IP&L's stalwart corps of linemen* takes this sort of thing personally. There are fewer now than there used to be but they are no less dedicated. Wish them a quiet evening!
* I'd like to be grrl-power-y about it but the fact is that the job of runnin' a solo P&L trouble-truck seems to mostly self-select for large, bearded, taciturn and extremely compentent male-type people. There are women that do such work, and do it well (or out they go; it's all about results) but they're even rarer than I am in my trade.

One Of The Best Things

About blogging is, on good days, you don't even have to do your own homework! I'd been thinking about linking writing from Robert LeFevre since I first started discussing "anarchism" (which term turns out to be so dark and variable a mirror as to beggar comprehension), and Kevin's done it already!

One way in which my philosophy differs from LeFevre's is that he was a thoroughgoing pacifist. Me, not so much. I hold with Col. Cooper's observation, "One bleeding-heart type asked me in a recent interview if I did not agree that 'violence begets violence.' I told him that it is my earnest endeavor to see that it does. I would like very much to ensure — and in some cases I have — that any man who offers violence to his fellow citizen begets a whole lot more in return than he can enjoy."* While there may, indeed, be no changing of a man's essential nature, the certainty of a negative outcome is likely to affect the manner in which he expresses it. --And if stopping bad guys one at a time is no more than a short-term solution, it's still better than the alternative and it buys more time to figure out what to do next.
* Jeff Cooper, "Cooper vs. Terrorism", Guns & Ammo Annual, 1975

Imogen Heap

Thomas Dolby speaks highly of her, so I thought I'd give her music a listen:


New Range In The Area!

Wyatt's is getting their range up and running! Red has the scoop and the links. Wyatt's has always been a nice gun shop; this will be a welcome addition to the local scene.


The observant reader -- or even not -- will have noticed a distinct lack of content Saturday.

It's Tam & Co. They're tryin' to wear me out!

Her shooty pal showed up around eightish and we proceeded to breakfast at one of the many nearby fine eateries[1]. Dee-lish it was (I had bread pudding for dessert -- it's the food the Greek Gods waxed wroth over when the kitchens on Mt. Olympus ran out, you know).

Thence back to Roseholme, just in time -- no, in plenty of time; there was a train in the way and then a car parked inside the perimeter -- to see the RCA Dome get blown up. Interesting and, for me, a little sad; I was in the crowd of onlookers when the dome was first inflated. So I've seen it get blown up...and blown, h'm, down? In? Blown up again, I guess.

And from that bundle o'thrills to The Range! Last week at the range, I had a little excitement; remember the small Star 9 mm iron I used to demonstrate my idea of minimum standards for a front sight? Shot that front sight clean off! Held by a little tenon that's staked inside the slide...right up until the day it shears in twain. I've put thousands of rounds through the little Star[2] and paid just over $100 for it, so I can't complain; I bought a few back when they were cheap, so it's not like I don't have parts. I grabbed a spare gun and tucked it in the range bag along with front-sightless Old Faithful and my #1 range gun, a Ruger Mk II, now fitted with a Pac-Lite upper.

Tam had her assortment (including a 1911 with a .22 conversion, Ciener I believe, plus the Gun Blog 9) and her buddy had...I dunno. Several, of which the kewlest the one I call the staplegun: a Ruger pistol with a fully-silenced upper. I find it difficult to shoot accurately: the recoil is a bit more than you'd expect from a .22, but the hardest thing to adjust to is that it does not go bang. Not even quietly and politely. The action makes some clicky sounds as it cycles, period. It's quieter than a roofing stapler -- sounds a bit like one in experienced hands, though: ksh-clack, ksh-clack, ksh-tack, ksh-tick, ksh-clack and there's half a mag, quick as can be. (All in the center of the target, too; my inaccuracy with it is definitely an operator issue).

My "spare" Star had a minor, occasional issue with sear engagement, resulting in a too-light trigger (probably needs cleaned and oiled, it's just sat in the safe since purchase); it was an easy matter to swap the slide over to Old Faithful. Then I had to tap the rear sight back into alignment; a previous owner had decided he knew way more than the manufacturer and had moved it -- who would'a guessed? -- way over to the left. There's a handy staking-punch mark on the slide and sight on this model. I don't know how well it keeps the sight from moving but it's certainly useful for lining it up properly. Spanish handguns have a mixed reputation but despite having slapped a new slide on the old barrel, it shot fine once the sights were right.

After shootin' up a storm -- and removing the centers of a few targets -- we packed up, shopped a bit, and started out on a loooong gunstore crawl, from Beech Grove Firearms to Bradis, a fun time. Afterwards, we retired to Broad Ripple's own Thai Cafe, for bowls of warm and wonderful soup, spring rolls, laab and pad thai. Yum!

I dunno where everyone else went after that -- once we'd returned to Roseholme Cottage, I excused myself and quietly fell asleep in my lab.
1. It was Taste. Now where's my free-meals-forever card? ;)

2. Originally typoed as, "I've put thousands of rounds through the little State..." but Delaware just kept comin' at me...? Yeah, look for my new novel, Zombie States, where fine chewin' gum is sold. Or not.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Musical Geekery/Geekical Musery

How'd I miss these wonderful loonies? A YouTube Video about a very kewl "touch-screen" type interface led me to the sound stylings of The Evolution Control Committee. Check out "undefined," #14 in the block of MP3s at the top of the page (or "Oates & Baloney," "Stairway to Brittany" and other mash-ups), then scroll down to "Pwn Monkey." Bent? Unh, yeah. (There's odder: Beatles sans beat, " ome to ether." I'm skeered, Pa!)

A little less-bent, and what had me on YouTube in the first place, was that Og needs a W.C. seat that plays this (ignore cutesy user-added into, unless you're a big fan of Weird Science):

(This was my pick first time I heard the album). Turns out Thomas Dolby never really went away -- among other things, he's been making your phones ring for years! Has his own blog, too. 80s geek makes good. It's nice to see.

I Don't Know What's Gotten Into Our Mayor

Tam points out that Indianpolis Mayor Greg Ballard seems to be stumbling his way towards Chicago-style gun control. Caleb has more detail.

What, our murder rate's not high enough already?

Here's the thing -- wrong state. He can't do it. Way back when (I believe at the same time as our shall-issue License to Carry Handgun was created), Indiana established State preemption of local regulations. A few pre-existing ones were "grandfathered" in; Gary has some unique regs and the city of Speedway still has on the books (but rarely enforced) an ordinance prohibiting the concealed carry of handguns.

Our present Governor and State Legislature have been good friends to law-abiding gun-owners, establishing the first lifetime carry permits in the nation, revamping the big outdoor range at Atterbury and other steps.

So I don't see this as anything but politically damaging for our Mayor. --Oh, and how many legally-purchased, lawfully-owned firearms have been used in crimes in Indy so far this year? The IMPD can tell you, sir. It's a very small number.

Indiana already prohibits carrying handguns without a background check and license; as far as I know, the only exception in State law is if the firearm is unloaded, "securely wrapped" and being carried to or from being bought, sold or repaired. Felons are prohibited from owning handguns. Enforce those laws and see the crime rate dwindle. Make some public noise about offering handgun training to law-abiding citizens and watch the violent crime rate shrink like an ice cube on a hot summer sidewalk.

Or keep on talkin' new limits on gun ownership and see your political fortunes melt the in same fashion. It's a pretty simple choice.

"What Kind Of Anarchist Are You?"

I don't have ask how serious a question that might be -- people are fighting flamewars over it right now. Out on the Left, people have bled and died answering it, after framin' some of the most preposterous definitions I've yet to read.

But geesh, what a stupid question. Either you're the kind of anarchist who will leave other people be, or you're some kinda archist and it doesn't make any diffo how jet-black is your flag.

--If you followed the first link above, it describes all manner of expropriation and non-consensual pushing-around bein' done by self-styled "anarchists." It's the sort of thing that makes a limited government look like one heckuva good idea. The problem is, they don't stay limited. Which is how come I call myself an anarchist -- and why I'm willin' to go along, reluctantly, with a certain small amount of government. Would 1% of what we've got now be enough for you? Could we significantly reduce sovereign immunity and occasionally hang the bastards when they get outta line? Pleeeeze?

Me, I wouldn't like even that much government. But I'd like bein' herded into a Workers Syndicate a lot less. Surprise, it turns out the purpose of the world is not to make me happy -- or you, either. That, we've got to work out for ourselves.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

On A Starship, Success Is Its Own Punishment

Bet it's that way where you work, too.

Strolled into the Engineering Shop at something near the usual time, for a wonder. Said, "Howdy," to the First Watch gang -- Jonny Zed and C. Jay -- and the "earlybirds" on Second Watch, who come in three hours early to maintain continuity (all the "mission-critical" positions are covered that way, a tricky juggling act for the Chief to schedule but he's always got at least one fresh techie in Maintenance and Operators in Drive Control and the Power Room who aren't completely focused on dinner and a warm bunk. At least that's the theory). As soon as I could grab a phone, I called up Stores & Cargo to check on my order: "RX? Yeah, we'll have your tube and...cavity? We'll have 'em at Engineering by this time tomorrow."

I thanked them and hung up, as the Chief emerges from his Inner Sanctum (a private office about the size of a shoebox. But it's got a hatch an' everything, which is nothin' to sneeze at), fixes me with the beady eye and asks after the squirt-booster drive that got added to my task list the other day.
"I've found the problem but ran outta hours before I could fix it last night, chasing the bad ion engine. --Parts for that 'll be here tomorrow."
"Fine. Go fix that drive, then. Today."
Ooops. A good day for the soft answer that turneth away wrath, I do believe; made same and a hasty, quiet exit.

* * *

There is this about the maintenance bay for squirt-boosters: There's no one to bug you. Or lend a hand, but there are plenty of tools and supplies. It's a bad day when these critters don't work. Not a fatal one, usually -- minimum complement for any trip up or down is two and, yes, one alone will do the job. We're not paranoid, it's just that we don't get paid if the freight goes splat. Downside, there's precious little concession made for maintenance access.

A squirt-booster is a cubist's version of a lemon wedge, twenty feet long, eight and a half feet high and four feet wide. There's a very simplified stardrive engine in it along with some very basic reaction-drive for fine maneuvering and it seats six -- or four big guys, or eight people who really, really want to get from Point A to Point B. Especially if they like roller coasters.

How does it work? It very nearly doesn't. You strap 'em to a collection of standard freight containers (ours are a little different, mostly a matter of mods to the basic 8 by 8.5 by 20-foot box) and for planet-to-orbit, blip the drive. That small a mass, that close to a planet, there's not much control, but you can hit orbit with a couple of quick zots and use the drive's vector-shifting tricks for gross maneuvering. --Very gross for the passengers, if any, since you go from rightside up to sideways to whatever; but it does the job. Trips down are nastier; a typical four-by-four drop is four containers, four squirt-boosters tucked in the corners, a wad of crash balloons, some ribbon parachutes and a big ol' ball of foamed ablative. Blip the drive to deorbit, fall and flame, flutter the 'chutes, then jink and jitter around with the drive to get over your landing zone; kill the remaining velocity with the reaction drive and bounce down on the crash balloons. Needless to say, the LZ is nothing more than a large, wide-open field. Very large. It's complex but cheap and modularly scalable. As far as I'm concerned, the pilots who run 'em are either gods or insane. Probably both.

The unit in question, however, has developed a nasty tendency to do nothing at all about half the time when it's supposed to go blip. There's always another unit backing it up, but it adds an unpredictable lurch to the motion; the system's automated but nothing's fast enough to do a complete correction when it fails over. This annoys the pilots, plus there's a small but non-zero chance of lurching into the ground it fit happens at the wrong time they don't like, either.

Yesterday I ran it down to intermittent RF from, yes, another verdammt drive modulator -- simple as a hammer and not itself the cause. RF signal leaves it fine, occasionally does not get to the power amplifier; there is one piece of coax about twelve feet long between them and all I had to do was check it. Every inch. Which I did last night and found a suspicious flat spot.

Today, once I get the suspect section free of the clamps and two layers of spiral-wrap, it's obvious there's more than a flat spot; there's a tiny rectangle punched in the cable, too! Right through to the inner conductor. Maybe a tool slipped when the thing was assembled, maybe someone got clumsy while fixing some other broken bit, but I'll have to cut the line, install a connector, and add a new piece in place of the bad one. Fussy work but straightforward. (Translation: I loathe the connectors and coax used for this application; you can count on ruining one and having to start over at least once, every time).

A mere three hours (and one dropped and lost forever SMA "barrel" coupling -- at least it fell out of the squirt-booster) later, it's working reliably in test mode; I untangle myself from the cramped innards, gather up tools and use the terminal to log it back in service before putting the cover plates back on. Yay, hooray, another problem solved. It had sure made for an interesting ride down a few days ago!

The neck you save may be your own. It does add a touch of personal interest to the work.

Which reminds me, I found part of one of the old RCA ion engines stuffed in a storage locker while fixing the booster. We haven't used them in years! There's a plastic cover over the more-delicate bits, so it's a plain-looking item. Probably someone rebuilt it, years back and it has never been needed. It's definitely been in use -- see the typical erosion of the flange in the 8 o'clock area, which is next to the compensating electrode in a complete unit. The last octet of RCAs was replaced in '95, about ten years too late according to the old-timers.

Linguistic Patrol: Post-Illiteracy

Did it vary or was it an intentional giving-up of some right, privilige or requirement? Some wire-service writers are hazy on which one fits: Oh, those tricksy, tricksy homonyms, how we hateses them! The article is about tipping. Guess it's a good thing we don't tip reporters. --Though perhaps it might help.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

It Never Rains But It Sleets. Torrentially.

You know what stinks? --A lot of things. One of 'em is being called back to the starship early from semi-unauthorized shore leave to work oddball shifts; we've got two techs in sickbay (tolja to take the free flu shots!), the little drive unit in one of the squirt-booster shuttles has gone wonky and I'm still helping out Andy Ha of PingSun, peace and/or a rain of irritated poison frogs be upon 'em.

But wait, there's more! Worked another graveyard half-shift enabling PingSun's tech in the drive room (and ensuring Andy wouldn't get microwaved by mistake) for my "need you early shift" from our last thrillin' episode. --And I should complain, I don't suppose he'd had more than a couple hour's sleep in the previous 48. Then I came back nine hours later, to set up for a test of some new equipment (better, more precise and possibly less-kludged stardrive/insystem control and interface, which is a good thing) and no sooner had I got the door dogged shut than the phone rang and it was Drive Control, advising me one of the RF power amps that feeds the little insystem/maneuvering ion motors had packed it in.

Oh boy had it! Alarm flags everywhere and shut down to Step One in the start-up. The older units (and this is one) use little ceramic/metal external-anode power tetrodes, vacuum tubes, in a parallel/redundant setup, which means in English that the thing is still running, just not running as well as it should -- and now one glitch away from total failure. Still not a show-stopper, we run 'em in octets, but every little bit counts: it's a long walk home. A few more quick checks and my pager goes off to remind me it's time for the test -- all preset by the Tweed reps; I just have to plug it in when the Bridge prompts me, everyone from me to Drive Control to the bridge crew grabs a set of readings for various minor control inputs and then I set it all back to normal. Goes off without much of a hitch, just a flash of that roller-coaster feeling when I patch it into the drive modulator and a quicker whoooo! when I yank the connections five minutes later.

Back to the RF power amp. I kill a handful of breakers, click-click-click, Screen, High Voltage, Grid, Heater, Control, open up the tuned cavity, poke at the HV points with a grounding hook and use the little puller-widget to yank the tube. It's only a handful, the whole tuned cavity is about the size of three six-packs of beer. Putting the cover back (remembering to remove the ground hook, it does get in the way), I turn the breakers on and hit the Standby (Step 1 in start-up) switch. Heater voltage comes on, five minutes 'til it does anything else... And the phone rings.

It's the Chief. "Roberta? We need to run that test again. How fast can you get it set up?"
"I shut it down, boot-up takes a minute...."
"We need one more iteration. Just one."
"On it," I say as I get over to where the Tweed test widget sits and plug the power back in. And as soon as it reboots, we do the whole thing all over again. Don't ask me -- I just work here.

As soon as that's done, back to the other job, and it quickly develops that the tube and cavity are both questionable. For reasons of efficiency (yeah, right), all the parts for the ion drives are stored in one rather distant hold; octets of the drives are located all along the ten-by-five mile length and breadth of the ship. So I've got to mark it out of service, put a request into the system, smile and make nice. It'll probably be a day before I have the parts. We'll be outward bound by then, establishing a vector and getting to a distance and velocity where the stardrive can be cranked up to full and we can thumb our nose at sensible physics once again. So the odds are I'll be finishing that job in a tearing hurry soon, or under less time pressure once we're subliminal subluminal, inbound to our next stop.

Meantime, the squirt-booster with an iffy drive awaits in its bay. And won't that be fun. There's precious little accommodation made for maintenance access in those things. The theory and practice involved is entirely preposterous, at least until you've seen them run. Maybe even afterward. --But more about that, later.

New Content Coming

...Right now, I'm in the middle of some serious stardrive-type work, complete with broken hours and hastily-grabbed meals. It should -- should! -- be all wrapped up later today, at which time the usual output of half-baked notions, garbled narratives, semi-humorous accounts and the occasional blurry photograph will resume.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

So Wrong -- And, Yet

"Oooo," says the TV weatherbeing, as my alarm-clock television blares on at oh-dark-hundred, "there's some very baaaaad Winter weather on the way! We'll tell you what do do about it after the commercial."

Laying in bed, half-awake, blinking sandy-eyed at the bright colors on the tooobe, I snarl back, "Here's what to do about it: start staking weatherpeople out over anthills until they can fix the weather!"

Wrong on two counts, for which I blame the early hour; the ants are inactive when it gets this cold (in the effing teens!) and we'd want to be staking out real meteorologists. But so very tempting withal!
Durn it, Al Gore promised it would be warmer. I had my swimsuit an' everything.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Get It While It's Hot!

Or still warm, at least: Illinois Senate Seat on eBay. C'mon, you knew someone would do it.

Update: Yanked by the 'Bay, of course. Here's a search results page -- I'm liking the "classified ad" T-shirt and the toy Senate seat with rat figurine.

The ad I found looked looked like this:

It's Bill Of Rights Day

I should have sent you a card: the President did! So did another Hoosier.

There's also all manner of snark to be found, which saves me no little effort.

Alas, you've got to scroll down a ways on the search results to find mention of what those protected rights might be.

Lest we forget:

Amendment I
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Amendment II
A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

Amendment III
No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

Amendment IV
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Amendment V
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

Amendment VI
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.

Amendment VII
In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

Amendment VIII
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

Amendment IX
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Amendment X
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.

(Find more info at

Sunday, December 14, 2008

What Color Is The Sky On Your Planet?

You'd about think it would have to be blue, wouldn't you? At least, it would be anyplace you could breathe the air. Well, not. "True most of the time" is not equal to "True all the time."

Were this anyone else's blog, the title'd point to some nice example of contra-survival behavior; but as you know, I work on a starship[1].

Made planetfall the other day, which is about as rare in my department as a seven-toed cat: it happens but not so often it goes unnoticed. Didn't set out to; there was a nasty set of shifts coming up for the outfit ("PingSun," I think they're originally Taiwanese) that subcontracts to run commo from Earth -- e-mail, TV shows, videos, mostly a big ol' datadump for what passes for ISPs, "cable TV" (it's all wireless) and the like on the various settled worlds. As soon as we drop subluminal, it's a big deal for them to get the latest news, letters, movies, and so on -- you wouldn't believe how gaga some of these places went over "Friends," for pity's sake.

No accounting for taste and after all, I get to spend time back on the homeworld; they don't. Anyway, dropout was scheduled for 0200, ship's time (EST -- Greenwich isn't our home port)[2] and PingSun is busily upgrading everyone's comlinks; for complex reasons (i.e., the Starship Company is tweakin' 'em), we have to change out the gear inbound, do the "rush-urgent" feed, then they do a firmware upgrade on relay satellite(s) (if any) as we cruise in and make orbit. "Make orbit" is space-opera talk for a majorly tricky bit, as we keep the drive ticking over at low level along with the realspace drives for the costliest "artificial gravity" I can think of. Once we (and the worried sorts in the Control Room navigating this mess) pull that off without going splat, the PingSun crews land with the first batch of cargo, install a mess of hardware in a tearing hurry, and are done in time to catch the last squirt-booster up and change the shipboard gear out for the new stuff while we make ready to leave. They test the new-style link on the way out of the system, and we punch through to the next world with it in place. Nobody visits the Drive Room under full power, so next inbound, we do it all over again. Oh what fun. ("Test on the way out? What if it doesn't work?" you ask. In that case, next time 'round, the PingSun tekkies are still flyin' with us; somebody has to wait an extra week to catch up on "CSI: Toledo" and there is much apology and frantic repair. Not my worry!)

Thus at 0200 we find Our Heroine in a transport pod as far up the main boom as one can safely get, about a mile away from the Drive Room. Me, Andy Ha from PingSun, and cubic miles of cargo hold -- kerogen from Smitty's World (we paid too much, unless this stop's buyin'), toasters from WalMart Extraplanetary, gensets and knitting needles and...I don't know. I made most of that list up already. My pager beeps and the message pops up, DRIVE COLD; I key the gate (plain chain-link, we should invent things we can buy from Tractor Supply?) and we zoom the rest of the way.

The usual travails ensue. I helped Andy with the two-person parts, then had my own project, swappin' out a drifty YIG oscillator on the low-level side of the drive (gee, thanks, Millimetrewave Communications, it's not your Boston selves on the line if our drive modulator hiccups at a critical moment). I put the standby drive modulator online -- a quick, queasy not-quite-jolt as the vane switches in the waveguide flip over, fast compared to their dirtside versions but only barely fast enough -- open the panel of the main unit, find all but one of the connections holding the RF tray in place, loosen up the thumbscrews, slide it gingerly forward and mutter "Yikes, dammit," as the last connection -- submini semi-rigid co-ax cable -- starts to deform. Where's that 5/16" wrench? Loosen the SMA connector, gently push the cable out of the way and remove the tray. Then it's a couple more SMAs, a DE-9 and two 3-48 flathead screws. (The whole place is a mad mix of SAE, NC, Metric and BA fasteners, sorry, Captain Kirk). Reverse the process with the new one, stuff the old one in the packing with the "5" I marked on it last time I changed it out and a nice, nice note I'd already written to the manufacturer who told us there was no way we'd have four failures this trip. "Never" in the starship tech trade has been proven by direct experiment to last two weeks.

Slid the reassembled RF track back into the drive mod, connected all the cables, shut the front panel, flipped the ON switch and it came up...little LCD on the front panel reporting insanity and all the fault lights lit! Dear, dear, damme.... Open the panel, look, look... Oh! The ribbon cable I forgot to plug back in, the one that connects the RF tray to the front panel. Yeah, that'd be kind of a problem. Power off, look it all over again to kill time and let the supply ramp down, plug it back in, shut panel, power on, boot -- success! Yayy me, I didn't kill it dead.

Went around the corner to check on Andy, who has a laptop out and plugged in to his collection of widgetry, staring intently at the screen. "Think I'm about done," he says, eyes never straying from the display.

I grabbed the phone and punched the big yellow button marked Drive Control. Ring...ring... "What, out for a smoke?"[3] Ring...
"Master Control."
"It's RX, Drive Room, I'm switchin' back to the main drive mod."
"Saw ya on the security cameras. Think there might be a big glitch? Pilot and Nav on duty'll notice, y'know."
"Yeah, but either it'll be so quick they'll get over it, or I'll have way bigger worries."
"'Yeah, but' if you clear it first, I won't!"
"Then you clear it, hey?"
For an answer, the Drive Control Tech keys his intercom: "Russ?"
I can hear the pilot's reply -- he's pretty bored about now, it's a long steady deceleration at this point, "What's up?"
I hiss, "It's on the log -- parts swap in the drive," and the DC op is, for a wonder, listening.
"Drive work, check the Ops log. Might be a glitch, especially if it doesn't work."
Russ is usually easy-going and this morning's no exception: "Go for it. We'll bump up the thrust on the insystem if we have to."
I asked DC, "Ready?"
"Just a sec...okay."
I say "go!" and hear him repeat it on the intercom. I hit the toggle to transfer back to the main drive mod, there's a shift like the first hint of an earthquake as the switch vanes flop over, and the repaired drive mod's on, steady as can be. "That's it, DC," I say; he says okay and hangs up.

Andy's packing away his tools and computer as I turn around. "Bit of a bump -- again," he says. He knows about our issues with the YIGs; I give him a sour smile and start putting away my toys.

On the ride back to the populated parts of the ship, he asks if I'm workin' a full shift that day. I'm not. The Chief thought it would be funny to give me a graveyard job going into my day off. I admit to having the day off and he says, "You wanna ride down with me later today?"
"To Vineways?" I ask like a goof -- it's where we're headed. "Sure!" I've never seen the place. It has a nifty long catalog number that wouldn't mean anything to you -- port city's Vineways, so's the planet and the locals refer to themselves as "bibbers." (Yeah, I see what they did there).

Made planetfall about midafternoon, Andy headed out on his errands and I checked the place out. Such as it is: There's the main uplink/downlink antenna, a few of the lights of "downtown" at the left; I am standing in the middle of one of the bustling thoroughfares. The sky's not so blue; the habitable zones are very far North and South and the main port's at the North of that area. Not a lot of axial tilt. Days segue from "sunrise" to "sunset" without much in between. Days, it looks like the middle of nowhere, at dusk.

--That's too harsh; one of the Security officers I've known for years and some paper-shuffler she's hanging out with rode down in the same cargo drop; he'd been there before and led us to -- of all things! -- a sushi bar. We covered a table with exotic local items and some familiar tank-grown ones; I figure as long as you have wasabi, you can't go far wrong. Security's pal taught us how to make origami frogs that really hop and I decided "paper-shuffler" was too mean a term, make that "office worker." When we were wrapping up, the host showed up with glasses of plum wine. Very nice and mine went straight to my head.

...At which point my pager went off (Motorola's got a special place in my heart. A very special sort of place). RX, NEED YOU EARLY SHIFT TOMORROW. With the Chief's initials.

A stardrive's tech's work is never done. Consolation, I didn't miss anything: the next day dirtside, it was sunny, cold and snowing horizontally. The "hardy pioneer" life is overrated, even when it includes sushi.
1. USAS "Lupine," in fact, irreverently known to the crew as the "Bluebonnet" (or something worse back before the starship companies were spun off from Uncle Sam and started running mixed crews) but there's a snarling doggy on the ship's letterhead, sure enough.

2. It's an interesting thing that every nation that ran starships had their own little string or loop or cluster of settled worlds. It all got started after WW II, after Dr. Feynman made an offhand remark to-- Well, long story; the stardrive got Manhattan-Projected only more so and the settled worlds were supposed to be a hedge against the Cold War going too hot to recover from. As of now, about a third of the Western ones could make a go of it alone, another third would likely survive by "going Amish" and the remainder, long odds against. We know the Russians got kicked off one by their "settlers" and have had to make terms with most of the rest; there are at least two hardcore Red Star holdouts they don't talk much about. We're running cargo for the Brits these days, the last of their fleet was scrapped in '98; the French stopped talkin' in 1966 when de Gaulle backed out of NATO's combined command and the Chinese...who knows. They've got the technology and the boffins report some activity.

3. Except not. I'm told there were ashtrays on the very first starships. The Russians still have 'em -- and a lot fewer computers than we have, too. And more uniforms and saluting. Ew.

Ammunition Encoding: Indiana Edition

Tam and Sebastian (among many others) have written of the various "ammunition encoding" bills introduced in State legislatures across the country, pushed by lobbyists working for the company that worked out the process (this is not free enterprise capitalism, it's petty mechantilism. See: "Smith, Adam").

In Indiana, it's House Bill 1260 and we're about 11 months late noticing; it was introduced, went to committee and hit (some) shooting forums in January, 2008. The legislator who introduced this ludicrosity is District 98 Representative William Crawford ( As a veteran of the Korean War, we might expect the Honorable William Crawford to have a keen grasp of the importance of armed self-defense and the impracticality of this proposed law; as a Representative from one of the less well-off portions of Marion County (roughly the I-70 corridor on the East Side, part of "The Swamp"), we might think he would appreciate the importance of reloading to individuals of lesser means. We would be wrong.

However, the most recent news (i.e., 11 months out of date) I can find on H.B. 1260 is this:
"Indiana State Rep. VanHaaften, who is the Chairman of the committee [Public Policy --RX] that HB 126o is in (requiring ammunition manufacturers to encode primers on pistol and rifle ammo sold in Indiana) has responded by writing he will not give HB 1260 a hearing." Haven't been able to trace it back to the source and the description "encoded primers," implying firing pins that microstamp, is at odds with the actual bill calling to laser-engrave tiny numbers on the backs of bullets, so don't take it as gospel that the bill is done for.

For those who believe firearms are solely a partisan issue or for people like me, who often suspect just about nobody in De Gummint wants us to have -- oh, gasp, shock, horror, guns -- it is interesting and perhaps instructive to note that both Representatives in this little feint and parry are Democrats.

The outrage is two-pronged; not only is it an affront to the inherent human right of armed self-defense, it is also attempted manipulation of legislation for commercial advantage: the short-sighted dweebs who developed the process are quite happy to try making you a criminal as a byblow of their efforts to make money. While there is honor in honest profit, using State government in the manner of highwayman's musket is anything but an honest method. If a product is so unwanted that folks can only be made to buy it under threat of arrest, it's got no reason to exist.

Saturday, December 13, 2008


The Glide ceramic, toast-propelling, open-type toaster. Looks like what Apple would build, price high and the run ads for mocking anyone dull enough to use the old boring type of toaster.

Naturally, it was designed for a competition and it does not appear anyone is actually manufacturing them. Darn it. And the prototype appears to be actually working. Double-darn it!

Second place, the Dualit Vario, starting at $230, American. But all manner of kewl. And it's British, so you know it will run and run but the crumb tray (she says fondly, thinking of her long-neglected '74 MGB) will always leak.

PS: also want this. It's a gooood surprise, just go there and enjoy! Absolutely brilliant.

Friday, December 12, 2008

We've Lost An Original

Pinup model Bettie Page -- she was on more magazine covers than Cindy Crawford -- passed away yesterday.

I have long admired Miss Page's grit and positive attitude.[1] Growing up poor and unappreciated, in circumstances for which "difficult" is an understatement, she was salutarian of her High School graduating class and went on to achieve a teaching degree, only to discover that at 5' 3" and wildly attractive, teaching High School students was next to impossible.[2]

She stumbled into pinup work ten years older than most of her peers -- and thanks to good genes and healthy living, kept at it ten years later than most models, too. (Yes, boys, any time you see a photo of Bettie with an age listed, add a decade). Rather than be exploited, she undertook posing for pinups as a craft, one she worked at but never took too seriously; and that undoubtedly contributed to her enduring appeal.

Bon voyage, Bettie Page. There will forever be imitators but there's only one Bettie.

(Update: Dave Stevens, the artist who dreamed up The Rocketeer, also passed away this year, back in March. If the Disney film is all you've seen, the connection is that in the comic books, the Rocketeer's girlfriend is named "Bettie" and is very obviously Bettie Page. Another connection is, Dave led the effort to find Bettie in retirement and pay her royalties for the use of her image. ...At Dave Stevens website, I found his drawing of me. Not really, but after having been told by strangers for years that I look just like someone they know, I've finally seen her).
1. I also borrowed her trademark hairstyle, long ago, and have kept it ever since.
2. Don't scoff -- one of my H.S. English teachers was a near-twin of Marilyn Monroe and maintained control in the classroom only by dint of near-superhuman mind games.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Smoldering News

C-List Blogger Tries To Burn Kitchen With Toaster, Film At 11. (It's a great movie, all about life and war and true love an' explosions, but 'til then, this):

Have I mentioned my toaster karma? It's terrible. Most machines like me and I like them. I like to think I'm middlin'-fair in the kitchen, too, competent with all the various and sundry "labor saving" devices that make the gas and power companies so happy.

Somewhere, sometime, somehow, something went terribly wrong between me and toasters. It may have been the time 20-odd years ago when, flush with money, I threw over my battered, dependable old Sunbeam (which had always made good toast but was no longer shiny) for The Toaster With A Brain. After a few weeks and multiple disasters, I realized that it did have a brain - a malevolent brain. It wanted to kill me. I had to be very careful when using it and, in due time (i.e., I had to save up), it was replaced with another, simpler toaster. Which also did not work worth squat.

From that day to this, the toasters have changed but the story has not. The blamed things can no longer be trusted. I have to hover, keeping close watch, ready to shut them down when the toast has reached the desired hue. Otherwise, baaaaaaad things happen.

Tonight, I let my guard down. I don't know why -- I was tired, distracted. I slapped a couple slices of rye in the machine, set it going and left the room.

Went off to the computer room, where Tam had a music video she wanted me to see. And then another one, in the course of which I realized I was smelling smoke.

Ran without stopping to think, down the hall, through the dining room and into the billowing clouds (yii!!) filling the kitchen. I could barely see the pot of beef stew simmering on the range, turned it off, opened a window, grabbed a fan, Tam came out to help and only then did it register with me that the. smoke. was. coming. from. the. toaster!

It was a two-slot inferno! Yanked the cord, red-hot coals of toast popped up (but not, by the luck that rescues idiots and fools, out) and said a Very Bad Word Indeed. The smell was like an old coal furnace with a short chimney on a windy day (with good reason. The former toast is now impure carbon).

Long story short, looks like no harm done, dinner was fine, we have vented the smoke... And I am wondering if maybe I should try the high-end toaster Brigid has blogged about. On the other hand, with my luck, it would suborn the fridge, too.

Friggin' toasters. What'd I ever do to them?

Someday You Will Have An ND

It is not "if" but "when;" and what follows "when" is "how bad." Maybe you'll be careful enough. We're all seen the reports from people who were not; the link is to someone who was and it still made for a bad time.

The gun-cleaning/clearing area at Roseholme has not had a sand barrel but it's going to. It's too easy to become careless and every little bit helps.

Also, note that in the linked story, the gun was believed to be unloaded. They never are, not until you have it field-stripped and maybe not even then; but we get casual. The guys that taught me to shoot handguns made a big deal about checking the chamber with both eyes and a finger -- not just to "make doubly sure" but also on the theory that you might, just might, be reminded to slow down and pay attention at that critical step.

Note I Did Not Herein Mention The Governor Of Illinois

"Nevertheless there was an anomaly here. We were supposed to respect our government and its laws, yet by all accounts those who were charged with the conduct of government the making of its laws were most dreadful swine; indeed, the very conditions of their tenure precluded their being anything else."

--Albert Jay Nock

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A Result By No Means Unexpected

Your result for The Steampunk Style Test...

The Gadgeteer

36% Elegant, 69% Technological, 20% Historical, 16% Adventurous and 40% Playful!

You are the Gadgeteer, the embodiment of steampunk technology. Ironically, many of the things that most define your style are probably too large to easily carry about, but given the opportunity you would prefer to be seen surrounded by boiler engines, gear-driven calculators, and incredible automata. Of all the steampunk fashion styles, you place the greatest emphasis on technological accessories, and you are the most likely to create elaborate gadgets that are as much a part of your outfit as your clothes. You probably have goggles, but unlike most people you consider them to be for more than decoration. Whereas most people might look odd carrying a satchel of tools around, for you they may well be essential. Above all, you remind everyone that what sets the genre apart from Victoriana is simply the level of technology.

Try our other Steampunk test here.

Take The Steampunk Style Test
at HelloQuizzy

Thanks, Breda!

Governments, Sandlines And Me

My politics are a bit... Different. Though I am happy enough to participate in the political process (for much the same reason that fish swim in water), the State has always seemed to me to be coercive at best and inherently illegitimate at worst.

Consider that even as fine a document as the United States Constitution is effectively a contract you never signed, but are nevertheless bound by; while the other party to the contract, the Federal government, consistently finds loopholes, bends, or simply ignores the restrictions supposedly set upon it by that same contract. While this behavior is often (but not always) more polite, less bloody and better-justified than that of, say, a ravaging barbarian horde or a Chicago crime mob, at the heart of it there is no difference: they will do as they please with your life, liberty and property -- and you'll just have to play along. Sure, you can object and the odds are a lot better for you under an honest government than against Visigoths or Capone's gang, but you're still most likely going to lose. There is an inherent problem in government of any sort: if it's big enough to get anything done, it's big enough to crush you.

Because of having reached this conclusion, I call myself an anarchist. Until somebody trots out a magic solution to keeping the individual safe from an entity that makes the laws, collects the taxes, operates the courts and runs the police forces, jails and gallows, the State -- any State -- is simply a collection of thugs with clubs who have learned to eat with silverware and say "please" and "thank you" while they steal from you. That they can do it under the color of law -- some "law" the dimwits, drunks and demagogues elected by a slim majority of your supposed peers have decided to enact -- is nothing more than a slick paint-job over bad Bondo.

Still, it's what we've got, and so I play along with this business of elections and campaigns, even lending a hand; given a set of very bad choices, I'll still opt for the least bad. (As others have pointed out, bad as a representative republic may be, every other system of government is worse)

How does this apply to "lines in the sand?" It's simple. As far as I'm concerned, all governments cross my "line" on Day One. But governments are not like a single baddie confronting one in an alley; you cannot simply shoot them when they try to do you harm. Life can become very inconvenient for you if you even try. So in another sense, I don't have a line in the sand at all. Government, it seems to me, is not a pack of wolves howling at your door, but a flood; and the question is not "How many wolves can you shoot?" but "How long can you stay afloat?"

This is the "anarchism" that leaves me sidelined in the "Three-Percenter" vs. "Prgamatist" debate: a sense that most of our arguments, heartfelt and well-reasoned though they are, come down to fleas arguing on the back of an elephant. Hey, as long as the beast doesn't go tryin' to scratch the itch, we'll be okay -- and if it does, which side you were on won't matter.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Rock On, Yahoo!

Checking a news story about The Great Illinois Governor Disposal, barbecue and pressfest (Hizzoner: "Gotta t'row one t'the wolves, boys, an' I got just the fella..."), I found this collection of somehow-related possibilities at the bottom of the page (please note last selection):

If Yahoo says so, it must be true!

December Blogmeet Reminder

Oh, that Jean Shepard! Oh, that Shermlock Shomes!
Oh! That December BlogMeet!

Monday, December 08, 2008

Geek + Too Much Free Time

Remember the kids you knew (or, yee-haw, babysat for) who liked nothing better than to go marching through the house, beating on a pan lid with a spoon?

Some of them still do -- only they've learned to solder and discovered solenoids. And circuit design and writing software and maybe -- just maybe -- a little bit about music, too. Don't go there if you've got a headache but in the right mood, it's pretty kewl.

Not Complaining, But

Tom Cat came home from the vet better but in, "Watch him and bring him back in if he isn't eating and drinking" condition. Stopped up and dehydrated -- either could be the cause of the other, and when I'm 108, I'll probably be hazy about such things, too. He's napping under the desk (in a catbed he's spurned for months) at present.

Earlier, I was sitting on the floor petting him and my steam-powered laptop made a funny noise, went BSOD, then decided it didn't know how to boot up. Successive frobbing brought it back up to the desktop once, only to fail in the same way -- so I'm presently on a salvaged machine from work I had sitting in reserve. Did I have backups for all the photos and data on the laptop? Had I saved my links?
Er.... [crickets].
Any data-recovery gurus out there?

Some days, I should'a stood in bed. And jumped up high enough to knock myself out against the ceiling, maybe.