Tuesday, November 30, 2010

It's A "Medium," All Right

Readers may remember the popular TV show, "Quantum Leap." Every episode, our intrepid meddler hero ended up a short-term tenant in someone else's body, needing to correct something in that person's life.

Okay, if you can overlook the meddlesome others-know-best idea, it's a cute notion. It got good ratings, too.

...Only it turns out, it wasn't all that original. On the other hand, it was cribbed from a trio of geniuses: the Marx Brothers were (almost) there first, with Deputy Seraph, "in which Chico and Harpo were angels whose job was to possess people for brief periods of time: bringing two lovers together, exposing a criminal, and so forth." Sound familiar? --Oh, and Grouco is their boss, the title character.

Alas, Deputy Seraph never got past a few minutes of film to frame the pilot. A routine medical check prior to insuring the actors found Chico had advanced hardening of the arteries; he got a downcheck on insurance and the show never got off the ground. Two years later, he was gone.

The idea, however, must have still been in the air a few decades later....

If there is anything new under the sun, Hollywood's already working on sequels followed by a remake. You have heard they're reshooting the Wizard of Oz from the original MGM script, haven't you?

(Just to take the edge off, at this link you'll find about 45 minutes of Chico and Groucho in their radio program Flywheel, Shyster and Flywheel, giving the legal profession the full benefit of their skills).

"Puritanism: the haunting fear that someone, somewhere is having a good time."

H. L. Mencken is gone and more's the pity; an even greater pity is that puritanism, by his definition, is not.

The latest target in the fun-hater's crosshairs is alcohol-infused whipped cream. Sold only to those old enough to buy Demon Rum, it is nevertheless -- according to the nanny-minded -- a Dire Scourge, presumably because it might be fun. I guess it's okay with them if you wanna slump at the bar and grimly choke down gin with Winston and Julia, or gulp cheap whiskey in your dingy office while waiting on clients, lulled by the clatter of Raymond Chandler hammering out another chapter on the other side of the too-thin walls, but if you enjoy an occasional drink, why, That Is Just Too Much and by the time we get to high-test foamy topping for an Irish Coffee on a cold day, it makes their heads explode.

Having driven the alcohol-and-caffeine energy drink just about off the (legal) market -- "for the children" -- their arrogance grows. What's next? Boxed wine? Premixed drinks?

This needs to be nipped in the bud. We already have laws, tons of 'em, aimed at keeping intoxicating beverages away from citizens under 21 (we'll let 'em go trade gunfire with baddies, but a beer? Oh, heavens no! That takes three more years of growing up) . Those laws aren't perfect but making this stuff illegaler only penalizes the people who are old enough to buy it.

You can't legislate foolhardiness out of existence but if you try hard enough, you can outlaw fun.

Don't let 'em.

Monday, November 29, 2010

More Bookshelves

Can't have too many!I had shelves on that wall that were about an inch too wide for the space -- and which had a shelf exactly at the height of the light switch. Solving the second problem solved another one: the cordless phone had been awkwardly located on a lower shelf. Since this is a nice, central spot, I didn't want to relocate it.

Snapped this after supper -- but before loading the dishwasher. So, no looking at the kitchen!

I'll post a little more at Retrotechnologist.

Broken Car Update

So, Sunday evening when I left for work,* Tam -- who has much better car-fu than I, unless the car in question is British and a bit old; and maybe not even then -- suggested cycling the driver's-side lock just for kicks.

Of course this freed up the outside door latch, so now all I have is a broken inside latch. I looked at it, there's only one screw holding it, and hunk of plastic has cracked right off. Amazon will sell me a new little assembly (unless someone out there happens to have an inside left door latch assembly for an '02 Hyundai Accent laying around?). I just have to figure out how the strange little retaining clips that hold the bent ends of the latch and lock actuating rods work.
* Electronic voodoo: if I'm already on-site, watching when high-dollar stuff happens, the widgets won't goof off. Alternatively, if they burst into flames, I can throw myself on the conflagration.... There actually is a middle ground between suttee and sympathetic magic where I'd be of some use.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Victorian Engineering

Imagine your bathtub was a merry-go-round. No, a turnstile--

H'mm. That's not the place to begin. How does a road cross a canal? A bridge, of course. If it is a low bridge and the canal is actually used for boats, it might be a lift bridge or a swing bridge.

Okay, how does a canal cross a road? An aqueduct, right? Yep.

Fine, almost there. How does a canal cross a canal? Especially if the lower canal is for huge ships and the difference in height won't clear them?

As far as I know, this problem has only come up once, over a hundred years ago. The answer was a swing aqueduct -- the Barton Swing Aqueduct (and companion road bridge) and it's still in use. Follow the link and see it in action!

Simple and easy; you seal off a great long section of canal and gently pivot tonnes and tonnes of water out of the way, with no fuss or muss and very little noise. Why, anyone could do it...if they were clever enough. (Some details).

Living within a short bicycle ride of Indy's very own canal, I'm a bit jealous. Ours is only navigable by tiny boats, thanks to low bridges, and they chase you right off ahead of the system's only (non-moving) aqueduct.

It's 24° Out There!

We have officially reached "Bobbi doesn't wanna go outside" weather. Arrgh.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

"Useless Without Pictures" Department

From the Land Of No Chewing Gum:
"The skimpy trunks sported by Singapore's men's water polo team at the Asian Games are causing red faces back home.... The trunks display the Singaporean flag's white crescent moon on the front of the red briefs in what has been described as an inappropriate fashion."

Yahoo News quoted only the text from the illustrated Reuters original and didn't link to it, either. Thousand words, anyone?

Meanwhile, no word on how well the team did in actual competition. Tsk.

"Useless" Learning

Some fine day, the next time you make a long-distance call, you might be indebted to a 19th-Century Scottish engineer, John Scott Russell, and to the United Kingdom's extensive canal network -- and to the delight some people take in figuring things out for the sheer joy of it.

Your long-distance call (and it didn't have to go all that far to qualify) and indeed, the great Internet itself, is being pulsed along fiber-optical cable. Right now, that light fades over distance and has to be boosted by repeaters, complicated points-of-failure. The distance between them could be greatly increased by propagating the signal in the form of low-loss blips of light called solitons. This effect -- with a wave of water instead of light -- was first observed when Russell observed a canal boat being drawn rapidly along a canal by a team of horses. When the boat stopped, the bow wave kept going!

That single, solitary wave kept right on moving at the same speed the boat had. He followed it for a mile before it outran his horse.

You or I might've thought, "Kewl" and gone home for dinner. John Scott Russell went home, built a thirty-foot wave tank and started investigating.

He collected a lot of data, put together some interesting notions, and though he described the day he first saw the soliton as "the happiest day of my life," it was never of any practical use.

...Never, that is, until modern theorists took up the idea, fiddled the math and left it lieing out where the applications types could find it.

They're still working on it -- but someday, one more benefit from 19th-Century Britain's Inland Navigation System and the mind of a man who enjoyed investigating new phenomena may show up at a phone or online computer near you.

And you thought those canal boats and Scots engineers were only "twee?"

Friday, November 26, 2010

I Broke My Car

Both doors were frozen shut this morning. I eventually managed to pop the hatch, and scrambled in that way.

Then -- 'cos sometimes I am smart like that -- I tried to open the driver's door from the inside. Click! The handle flopped free. Door no open. Rolled down the window and the outside handle? Also flopping free.

The good (?) news is, the passenger door opened up on the way to work -- I'd tried it from the outside and I guess the seal warmed up. So it works.

The bad news, the driver's side door is well and truly broken.

The worse news? You can't get the panel off the door unless the door is open.


"...the giftie gie us..."

"To see oursels as ithers see us!"*
It showed up at Neanderpundit, where Tam saw it; but I won the coin-toss:

Um, yep, that's Canada making fun of TSA. Canada -- the folks who said, "Sure, run that DEW Line right through here!" and its siblings, too -- or some Canadians, anyhow, think maybe, just maybe, the paranoia might have got the upper hand.
* Robbie Burns, o'course, from the fittingly-titled To A Louse, though he had a parasite other than TSA in mind.

Thanksgiving After-Battle Report

We have met the foe and triumphed! Early intelligence reports were in error; OpFor was commanded, not by General Turducken, but by one Major Turkeybreast.[1] Withal, our strategy proceeded according to plan: a long slow buildup of heat, taking longer and ramping to a slightly lower rate of fire than is commonly recommended, viz. 325°F for 45 min/lb. instead of 350°F, 30 min/lb. This approach proved successful and the resulted in complete capture without risk of dehydration.

On the left flank, a small group (believed to be Yukon Gold Spuds) found themselves in very hot water during the final half-hour of the battle; they were eventually finely divided and smashed by our troops, skin and all, though reports of the addition of Irish butter and what appears to be coffee creamer[2] continue to puzzle our analysts.

In the right, a complex series of engagements -- frying bacon, frying mushrooms in the bacon grease, frying more bacon with onions, followed by the addition of flour, more heat and then the inclusion of milk, resulted in a victory recorded as "bacon-mushroom-onion gravy," now certified as the Official Gravy of the Roseholme campaign.[3]

OpFor's rear guard proved themselves entirely green, started out frozen, became thoroughly steamed and succumbed.[4]

At table, we were supported by an Argentine Malbec, which proved an excellent ally.

Relaxing after a successful campaign, we were surprised that evening by a sudden attack of apple pie a la mode but staged spirited resistance and, in the end, left no survivors.

Thankgiving 2010 was made of win!
1. A five-pound turkey breast, in fact. It was in the bin marked "Turducken." In fact, it was the only thing in there, so I didn't look too closely.
2. I ran out milk making the gravy. But it worked out very well.
3. We ended up with more bacon than needed to add back to the gravy. Tam solved that.
4. Edamame, broccoli, green beans, spinach and asparagus: it's really good.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

If Rod Serling And Neil Sedaka Did Music Videos

Possibly advised by Terry Pratchett, this is what they'd turn out -- be sure you watch all the way to the end!


Thankful For...

What'm'I thankful for?

I'm thankful I was born when I was; any earlier and it would've been a lot more difficult to get where I am.

I'm thankful for my family, even when we don't get along. I haven't helped it, having recently complained to a mass e-mail list about a semi-fake, mass e-mailed "virus alert," with the usual warning about "don't open attachments to any e-mail with the subject line [BLANK]" and years out of date. Hey, here's an idea, don't open e-mail attachments, period. There are usually alternatives for things like e-cards. Why is it the same people who send you these things also send out e-mail with huge attachments and subject lines like TOO CUTE!! or IT MAKES ME PROUD TO BE AN AMERICAN, the latter as if the accomplishments of the last 234 years pale in comparision to a staged photo of fighter jets over the Statue of Liberty? But never mind; gripe about lousy netiquette and you, too can be considered an unfeeling brute. --All that aside, having a family still beats growing up in the gutters and alleyways and I believe mine managed to greatly exceed the minimum recommended daily amount of Family Goodness. Bless and keep 'em all.

I am thankful for the cats that stuck with me for nearly 20 and 21 years. I still miss them.

I'm thankful to have a job. I complain about it sometimes; I'm always on call, we work regular overtime and there aren't a lot of holidays, but it sure beats not working. In over twenty years, I have never had a paycheck bounce and the few times my hours were questioned, it was because I was suspected of under-reporting them.

I'm thankful to have friends. I am a difficult person, emotionally distant and not much of a conversationalist. I'm happy -- and, really, amazed -- that some folks will tolerate it.

I'm thankful for blogging. It's a good creative outlet.

--And I'm thankful for readers. I'd probably still be blogging if I didn't have any (I used to joke that my blog was for me and the search-engine 'bots) but having folks read and comment is a huge plus! The quality of commenters here is a source of delight; the overwhelming majority of you are clever and well-informed. (The other 1% are, of course, spam-bots; and they don't count).

Have a good Thanksgiving!

I'm Cooking!

The bird(s) is in the oven, and a light brekky's on the stove. I'll be back here in about, oh, fifteen minutes to make a longer post.

Between rains in Indy, but there's a middlin' high, very dense mist or fog that has made Broad Ripple something like 1950s Venus, a warmish (!) fogbound, otherworldly place. It won't last; temperatures will cross freezing tonight and keep on heading down.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

"Make It Didn't Happen"

Even at this late date, one still encounters wishful thinkers who want to somehow "create" a world free of nuclear weapons.

It can't be done. The mere knowledge that such weapons did exist is clue enough. (Update: Just ask an aerospace engineer!) Simple fission weapons are just not that tricky if you've got sufficient resources. (And you can put me down in the "and that sucks" column. Doesn't change what is).

An article on the (official) blog of Charles Day, the editor of Physics today and a sharp cookie indeed, ends on a different note:
Hearing about nuclear weapons is gloomy. Fortunately, an uplifting note came from the symposium's cohost and first speaker, Hirotaka Sugawara, who directs JSPS's Washington office. He challenged physicists to devise ways to detect and thwart nuclear weapons:
The nuclear bomb is a product of "devil's work" by physicists. If the tragedy of Hiroshima and Nagasaki should be repeated again somewhere, sometime by someone, physicists should seriously consider contributing to "God's work," which is to nullify the nuclear bombs.

Sugawara acknowledged that the goal would be dificult. But, to quote another physicist, Phil Anderson, about another unmet goal, understanding high-Tc superconductors, "Since when did physicists stop working on something because it's hard?"

It's an interesting idea. I tried to leave a comment but ran up against a setup similar to my own ban-comments-on-older-posts. I'll share it here, just 'cos I can:

"The dire reality is that a nuclear-weapon-free world is impossible; the simple knowledge that it can be done is clue enough, certainly for fission weapons.

"To nullify such weaponry -- by physics, not mere agreement -- is Good Work indeed. But it should be undertaken in the full awareness of the other arms race that answered armor with the longbow and improved arrow design, that answered naval cannon with the ironclad, that brought tanks to trench-war stalemate; and every 'weapon too horrible to use,' every 'weapon so terrible men will turn from war' that, ultimately, was used.

"What stops a fission or fusion reaction at a distance -- and how will it be weaponized?"

One shudders to think. --One shudders more at being the second to think of it.

Willing Victim Brigade

...Led this morning by Susan Estrich, who totally supports TSA's drive to reveal her hidden self and touch her in deeply personal ways -- and to support her case, she cites the Underwear Bomber, a terrorist (of the largely inept, even idiotic sort) not found or even stopped by TSA.

Besides, she says, it's for our own good. When TSA demands people remove their prosthetics, why, she thinks those folks should be grateful! It's for their own safety, after all. Of course, she's smugly thankful she isn't in that position.

Other features include a catty jab at women she thinks are too skimpily dressed -- why should they object to a pat-down or a detailed backscatter x-ray, she wonders, in a replay of the old "she was askin' for it" defense of rapists.

All in all, the more I look at her screed, the more angry it makes me.

Update: Add Debra Saunders to the "do with me as you will, so long as you keep me safe" crowd, too. (Geezle, what is it with these more-or-less feminist writers? Are there suddenly piscine bicyclists when it comes time to kill a spider?)

Today is National Opt-Out Day. If you're flying, ask to skip the nakedizer and make 'em pat you down. Take up their time. Don't be confrontive -- but don't be Susan, either. You can be the wooden shoe that gums up the inexorably-grinding gears of the Security State.

I have written that I don't think TSA is the worst FedGov invasion; I still don't. But it looks to be turning into a line in the sand and I'll take what I can get along those lines. Airplanes now may spare us cattle cars later.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Let's Map....

Why, look, it's a map graphic!

What's it mapping? TSA's most enthusiastic groper locations? Not even a little! November's voting patterns? Nope. Economic freedom? Kind of. Regulatory burden on the workin' man? More or less. It's a map of gas prices! Click on it to go to the site. The level of detail is impressive. At least in Indianapolis, it zooms right down to the street map level and shows the location of individual gas stations.

They've got one for Canada, too. A bit late for Canadian Thanksgiving, but there's plenty more holiday driving ahead.

...Kind of an interesting correlation with politics on the U.S. map, hey?

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Ancient Greeks

Let's add printing from engravings to the list of things the Greeks almost had, right next to the railroad, the steam engine and the clockwork numerical calculator. --And they did build coin-operated vending machines and had roller-skating music.

It makes me wonder how different that civilization was in reality from the one we reconstruct based on impressive buildings, moving emotionally-affecting sculpture,* tag-ends of drama and philosophy, and things found in middens. For all we know, how very little we know.
* Since various Greek artificers did, in fact, create sculptures that moved, I thought I had better clarify what I meant.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Pretzel Helmke Logic

"The NRA bosses know full well that the semi-automatic military-style Uzi assault pistol used by James Huberty killed 21 people and wounded 19 others at the McDonald’s in San Ysidro, Calif. And that the TEC-9 assault pistol used by the Columbine killers murdered 12 of their classmates and a teacher."
--Paul "Hissy-Fit" Helmke, writing recently on the proposed bATFe Director and "assault weapons."

Sebastian linked him. I won't. But let's have a look here -- in Paul's world, James Huberty is little more than a human bipod; it was a "semi-automatic military-style Uzi assault pistol" that "killed 21 people," in other words, an overgrown, unwieldy handgun. And a Columbine, it wasn't the criminals who were responsible but a cheaper, nastier pistol-like object, "the TEC-9 assault pistol...murdered 12 of their classmates."*

The wording gives him away: he fears the machines. He thinks if all those malefactors had was a pack of sparklers and a few five-gallon cans of gasoline, or a double-bitted axe or a pitcher of koolaid and and a can of drain cleaner, or even an SUV, nothing bad could possibly have happened. He believes objects have volition. Presumably, were he ever to go mad, possibly from crushing eunni or overwhelming existential angst, and murder 37 grade-school children with a 12" #2 Philips screwdriver, it would be the "Craftsman assault driver" that did the killing while the man himself looked on in horror, a helpless tool of the tool. Mmm-hmm.

Clearly, he's emotionally overwrought. Not to mention thrilled to his sparkly-pink core at the thought of a Joyce Foundation gun-banner at the controls of bATFe. He's set his sights on a new goal: the dreaded "assault pistol." 'Cos you can slap a big magazine in them. (Of course, you can get a big one for a 1911, too, or at least you once could. Even my little old Remington .22 is a 15-shooter). 'Cos they look scary. (Tough. My freedom is not contingent on your fears). And 'cos you can shoot them quickly. (Guess he's never seen Jerry Miceluk shoot a revolver, or anyone with a modicum of skill shoot a good bolt-action rifle?)

So, that's what's in your sights? Goofy oversized black pistols? Thanks for the heads-up Paul! Oh, and Paul? You can't have 'em. Remember? "Gun bans are off the table," your side admitted after McDonald. And they still are, even if you were -- once again -- lying.
* Mind you, I find these handguns unaesthetic. They're ugly. They're in-between things of no particular utility -- but if we banned things on the basis of ugliness and relative uselessness, there's a whole lot of people who'd never be allowed out of the house.

In The News

Picked up the Fishwarp Fishwrap & Amateur Democrat -- or whatever they're calling our local paper these days -- this morning, my attention caught by a headline suggesting the 2011 mayoral race could be interesting. Gee, y'think? With a police department that appears convinced its members are above the law, an unpopular New York ex-pat as Public Safety Director, pushing dreadful notions like selling the parking meter franchise for the next fifty years at a rate that amounts to pennies on the dollar, making sweetheart deals with local pro sports franchises and being about useless on property taxes, Mayor Ballard has managed to rile up everyone from Al Sharpton to a significant proportion of Hoosier gun-owners,* the latter a very neat trick for a Republican and Marine to manage.

Of course, the newspaper-like object is chortling over the fact that even this early, there are three Democrats jostling for a chance to run against him. After breezily noting that Democrats swept the county-wide offices in elections this month (word to Mark Massa: Carl Brizzi + negative "scare" ad = FAIL), the writer barely stops to acknowledge that the City-County Coucil stacks up 15 Republicans, one Libertarian and a baker's dozen Democrats before quoting a local expert about "...a Republican mayor running for office in a very Democratic [sic] county."

Yeah, we'll see. Who knows? The local GOP might even decide to run a Republican this time!


Right next to that story, a report on how the 72 DHS(ish) anti-terrorism "fusion centers" have moved from foreign terrorism to investigating domestic versions and, ultimately, to plain ol' crime. Even Tom Ridge thinks maybe they have gone too far. Y'think?

We have a lot of watchmen but none of them are watching one another. Pity.
* Unscientifically based on message-board traffic and the dearth of signups and interested browsers at his booth at our local quarterly gun show. Among other things, Mayor Ballard struck out badly over easing city restrictions on LTCH holders carrying in parks: he's against it.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

A Machine That Vends What?

Live crabs, of course. In a vending machine. Oh, chilled way down; they're essentially hibernating. Pop in your money and out drops a crab, caged in a little plastic holder. You take him home and-- Dinner. Or perhaps an aquarium if you're soft-hearted.

You may have seen this elsewhere. I hadn't. It trumps the weirdest ideas I've had all week.

The Far Left Melts Down

Geesh, I'm kinder to our current President than Ted Rall is:

"It was obvious from the beginning that Mr. Hopey Changey was devoid of character, deploying a toxic blend of liberal rhetoric and right-wing realpolitik. We were in denial."
"We knew Obama was a weasel."

When you were a darling of the Far Left and they've dropped you like a sex tourist abandoning a third-world orphan at the airport, what's next?

Frickin' Sporks

...Now they're gettin' arty. Dude who took that lives in a different reality -- or his camera does.

It's Saturday?

H'mm, guess it is. Everyone overslept at Roseholme Cottage this morning, even the cat. Tam tells me she's got a massive headache; mine woke me up about 0300, but I was able to take enough analgesic to nip it in the bud.

Update: Readers were worried about carbon monoxide. I've been meaning to get a detector anyway and now seemed like a really good time, so I got one.

It's plugged in and running. We're clean and green. Remember, "headache" is pretty much my default state, since about 1996.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Not IMPD? That's Okay, Then

I thought it was Indianapolis' Finest in trouble again, but on further investigation, it was an officer from the bedroom community of Greenwood who flashed a gun and announced, "I am the police," when a concerned bystander chided him for leaving a baby unattended in his car.

It's not to uncommon for LEOs in small towns to kind of look up to the nearest big-city police department -- but he might want to find better role models. His bosses may agree; they've suspended him. Without pay.

Update: It gets better -- or maybe worse. When fellow officers arrived on the scene, they thought his breath might smell of alcohol, and suggested he might want to blow into a tube. This offer was made and refused twice. I'm not sure you or I would have been extended quite that same courtesy.


In other policing-type news, local purer-than-spring-water choirboy Brandon Johnson, the 15-year-old who got on the wrong end of a police beating awhile back, was apparently part of a youth group who were taunting an intoxicated man...who proceeded to drive his car towards them. Police are investigating. Um, Mr. Johnson? First time up, huge big mess, you took a beating when you probably should have been arrested, frog-marched to court and made to square yourself with society; the po-leece dropped the ball (dropped it right on you, several times) and you got to be a cause célèbre instead. Don't cont on it happening twice. You got yourself a good, strong sign and the kind of second chance most people in your situation do not; there'll be a lot of people let down if you blow it, the Future You most of all.

About That Roman Swiss Army Knife

It had a few links, a few days back and it is a neat gadget. (This link -- from an unexpected and much-appreciated source -- is to an article about it I hadn't seen). It's more of a "hobo knife;" at least, that's what we called a pocketknife that included a spoon and a fork when I was young. At least one commenter has suggested it might be a sailor's knife, in part because what "experts" are calling a toothpick looks more like a small marlinspike or fid. Whatever it was, whoever used it, the Romans went us more than one better, adding a little shellfish-winkling utensil and something Swiss Army and hobo knives ought to have but don't: a ketchup starter!

Okay, the report calls it "a [tiny!] spatula, which is believed to have been used for poking sauce out of narrow-necked bottles," and the sauce was most likely fermented fish sauce, garum, but considering that stuff is described as "the supreme condiment....a thick liquid..." and actually fairly mild, we can think of it as the Roman equivalent to our tomato-and-vinegar sauce and probably about as thixotropic. It was even put up in bottles of a surprisingly familiar shape!

"Dear Ron Leatherman: Such an idea I have got for your next product...."

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Tubes Within Tubes: Oz Censors Internet Ciggie Ads?

They're going to try. Australia, already with tough restrictions on cigarette advertising in meatspace, has decided Teh Internets are making young'ns smoke. And censorship will fix that! Oh, my yes, it will. Riiiiiight.

Just how old are these vulnerable youngsters, such easy prey for the merchants of death, the demographic with the greatest proportion of smokers? A mere 24 to 29 years of age. You know, what most people throughout history and across the globe know as "adults." Yeah, they still do think they'll live forever at that age, but they outgrow it -- and, funny thing, the smokers start to quit as the realization dawns.

Most of the Western nations have gone from having a majority of smokers to a shrinking minority and it's getting down to a hard core who like the short-term effects* and either don't care about the long-term ones or are willing to accept the trade-off. Keeping them from seeing ads and putting Scary Pictures on cigarette packs isn't going to change their behavior, no matter how virtuous it makes Nanny feel.
* Inhaled nicotine does wonderful things for my ability to concentrate, YMMV; I was also coughing up yeeech every morning and getting winded on a flight of stairs. So I quit, a long time ago. It wasn't easy. But I don't go around feeling superior because I quit or insisting everyone else ought to.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

There Is A Book

Actually, there is a pair of books on my desk right now, but Tam's already claimed one.
I've already started proofreading (the lower book is open on a page rife with tense errors). Rannie the cat has her own opinion: not quite soft enough to nap on and not at all flavorful.

Nice as these are -- shiny covers and decent binding, SharedBook does a fine job -- they are spendy and a bit big for fiction. I am looking at a less-expensive option that produces a more paperback-sized book, with less blog-machinery in the way. And speaking of blogs, here's the one the book is from.

Pictures From The Space Station

At the Unwanted Blog. Worth seeing! Follow his links for more.

I'd go even if I could never come back. Some days, especially if I couldn't.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Happy Thankgiving

Found out last night my family's scheduled the big Thanksgiving Dinner....on a day I'm working.

I've been in the same job for twenty-mumble years and the same biz nearly all my working life and we don't get extra days off, just the holiday (if we are lucky) and whatever regular days off we already have. I've had normal weekends off for years.

My family knows this. Of what's a four-day weekend for people with nonessential jobs, they picked Friday, the one day I do not have off.

Hey, I can take a hint. Okay, then. Let's skip Christmas, too, 'kay?

Tam Offered Me A Scoop

I turned it down.

...Seems TSA FedGov, specifically a U.S. Marshal's office,* leaked a hundred-odd old low-resolution millimeter-wave scans that they hadn't stored properly (Gizmodo).

I don't care. Look, you don't like it, don't fly. IMO, this country is irreparably broken. I can't fix it. Most people do not seem to want it fixed. Politically, I am committed to stickin' an umbrella in the spokes, every chance I get.

If you do fly, you're either gonna get Your Personal Areas touched or have them photographed by high-rez imaging.

If this bothers you, don't fly.

I'm a lot more bothered by the way HIPAA makes my damn medical records a lot less private; I'm a lot more bothered by low-level functionaries blandly demanding my "social" for minor transactions. I'm put off by secret lists of "evildoers" with secret selection criteria and no known way to clear one's name. I'm considerably more bothered by government meddling in health insurance and home loans. Sneaky nakedesque imagry and/or gloved gropes? Go to it, .gov pervs. I've been seen nekkid by better and worse than you and I wasn't impressed. As for what their opinions might've been, I. Do. Not. Care. If TSA gets nekkid pix of me, maybe they'll sell the effing things on the Intrawebz and offset their bloody drain on my taxes, the scum.
* Thanks to falnfenix for catching this!

When NYC Gets A Cold, Europe Sneezes

Which explains why Big Apple bedbugs are showin' up in Gay Paree.

Lookie here, globetrotters, I've got three letters for you: DDT.

If these suckers spread to the hinterlands, meth labs may have to make way for the surreptitious cookers of dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane. "Quick, Henry, the Flit!"

Try to remember the problem last time arose from indiscriminate use -- oh, so very.

Paging Lary Correia --Again!

Electronic highway sign in Arizona warns of "zombies ahead."

Local police told reporters it was a practical joke.

Suuuuure it was.

I knew that MHI stuff was too good to just make up!

(Reading between the lines, it appears the zombie outbreak has been contained.)

Monday, November 15, 2010

New At I Work On A Starship

Frothup: Dropping In continues:

I went back inside and had about enough time to check in with Raub when his phone went off. Or phone-like device; he was carrying the same kind of gadget his buddy had used at the gate, looking like sort of a Soviet iPhone and it seemed to work just fine in the hangar. Edger tech, overbuilt, probably half of it from parts smuggled off Earth. (This is the galling thing about Edgers; lacking any strong central authority that bothers to do more than the most basic policing, short on population and, at least until recently, many kinds of industrial infrastructure, they regard smuggling as a sort of a game. But that trade runs both ways, as it must; I am convinced the papers that started our side down the path towards stealth technology was based on information sold by an Edger smuggler low on trading fodder who needed bucks for blue jeans or beer — or a roller bearing or a breeding pair of guinea pigs; which reminds me, avoid the hot dogs and lunch meat on their side of the line).

Read the rest at I Work On A Starship!

The Way It Was, As You've Never Seen It

We toss off that group of associations tagged "airship" quite glibly these days; after all, the Hindenburg disaster was at least two generations ago and might as well be black-and-white special effects. The happy Goodyear blimps and (roughly) twice-a-decade proposals for passenger or freight lighter-than-air craft are what most people think of, or possibly steampunk airship pirates.

It's easy to forget the first big impetus to turn them from flying toys into practical vehicles was pushed along by the First World War -- but BBC can give you a look over the pilot's shoulder: 1919 airship view of war-torn France. They're not talkies but the images speak 24,000 words a second.

(Hat tip to reader Mike S. for the link).

Sunday, November 14, 2010

I Work On...A Book

My efforts on the I Work On A Starship book are coming right along. Now at 121 pages! Price tag is still in the ~$21.00 range. Final proofreading awaits arrival of the first two printed copies.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

This Is How Far We Have Come

Back in the 19th Century, Charles Babbage came up with an eminently sensible and inherently error-free way to automatically calculate and print accurate tables. You might not need a table of logarithms or trig functions (and if you did, your telephone, computer or just about any cheap pocket calculator can spit out whatever numbers you need) but until recently they were both essential and susceptible to human error -- one 1800's British official handbook of tables for navigators had eight layers of errata for a single edition!

Babbage was dogged by problems; operating at or slightly beyond the cutting edge of contemporary mechanical precision, he or his workers often had to invent the machines to make the machines to make the parts for any working model and that took money, a lot of it. One way to control costs was to be right first time and to that end, he developed a highly sophisticated system of notation for mechanical action; not detailed drawings of parts and assemblies but what amount to "circuit diagrams," accompanied by recognizable logic-state charts, detailing the condition of every portion of the machine for every interval of time.

(...Which means even the Difference Engine is clocked logic, just like inside your computer. His next project was even more like your computer).

So, big win, right? He's able to draw schematics and step through what's happening on paper, before ever starting the first detailed drawing for a cam or a gear, let alone actually making those parts. He and his team can get it right, build it and be heroes!

Maybe they could've. But about then, the money ran out and this time, he didn't have enough in the way of personal funds to tide the crew over while he went looking for a grant; he and his master machinist got a little crosswise and things went from bad to worse....

And even worse. You see, in the process of thinking how devices of this sort would work, the first big calculating machines ever conceived, in coming up with a way to describe them on paper, the simple (ha!) method-of-differences logic in the Difference Engine primed Mr. Babbage to dream up a general-purpose computer: the Analytical Engine.

He fell victim to a phenomenon Richard Feynman, working at Los Alamos with IBM card handling machines and a crew of clever college grads a century after Babbage's time described as "...[A] very serious disease and it interferes completely with the work. ...[P]retty soon you can do more and more elaborate things, if you are clever enough, on one machine. ...[I]f you've ever worked with computers, you understand the disease." (The Pleasure Of Finding Things Out, pp 81-2; if you want to know how a really brilliant mind runs, read Dr. Feynman's books). Engrossed by the details, the actual task falls by the wayside.

The Analytical Engine was nothing more -- or less -- than a high-precision 4-function calculator that could be set to execute a prepared sequence of mathematical operations. I'm just old enough to remember the Texas Instrument "four-bangers" that came with a little book explaining how to accomplish Serious Calculation by a sequence of operations using the four basic functions....over and over. This is immensely powerful and his design did just that: set it up, load in the data and watch it go 'til the answer pops out! It clearly separates input data, stored data and the program itself, a huge step in understanding. It was clever. It was engrossing. It would eat Difference Engines for lunch! --And there went Charles Babbage, right down the rabbit-hole. Having promised a machine that would crank out accurate tables, literally crank them out with no thought needed once the initial conditions were set, he was now way off track and never got back. He did eventually produce drawings for Difference Engine #2, with a much reduced parts count -- see Dr. Feynman's "...soon you can do more and more elaborate things, if you are clever enough, on one machine...." the problem being, you end up playing with what the machine can do instead of making it actually do what it actually ought.

His son eventually built a small section of the Difference Engine, before the 20th Century dawned. It worked precisely as intended. Near the end of the 20th Century, a wealthy man had an entire one built, at tremendous expense; it, too worked just as Babbage had determined it would. The British Museum (Or was it the London Science Museum? There seem to be two of these Engines!) had it for a year, a massive multi-ton device, yet elderly female docents were running it with a hand crank (and a 4:1 reduction gear; Babbage had intended the full-size machine be run by a steam engine).

On the other hand, there are fellows who build 'em out of a few hundred bucks worth of Mechano sets; EU-Erector sets, if you will:

And that is how far we've come. Cutting-edge machining work in Babbage's day, children's toys in our day. Heck, the thing could've been built that way in the 1920s or 1930s.

I've been reading a Dover Press reprint of several publications by or about Charles Babbage and his machines. Truly an impressive mind, always able to take the next logical step.

IMPD: It's Raining Wheels

...'Cos they keep falling off. Originally reported as "impersonating an officer," it seems a fellow gave a...dancer....a ride home the other night; he made advances, she demurred...and he flashed a badge and relived her of her ready cash!

And now, it's come out he might have been an actual city policeman. And it's IMPD saying so.

I'm tired of these stories; I'm tired of them turning out to be worse than they look at first glance. This is still only (only?!) 2 or 3 percent of a police force I'd like to think is as good as any in the nation.

But it's time they started doing a better job of policing their own. Looky here, IMPD, you are us. You are citizens, subject to the same laws and held to even higher standards. Please start acting like it.

Tam'll have links later, and I'll link to her posting.

Meanwhile, much like Sinead O'Conner vs. the Pope, IMPD keeps on fighting the "real" enemy. Oh, well-played, sah, well played indeed.


Think we could swap PSH, er, PSD Frank Straub for Sheriff Ken Campbell for even a year? Or would Boone County sue us? Hey, Frank, you could maybe at least ask him for some advice on HowIt Is Done.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Um, Ya Think?

In a season of police DUIs, possible excessive force (and a serious disagreement between administration and the rank and file over it) and a host of other issues with bad results varying from tragic to us-vs-them bad press to merely stupid, the Fraternal Order of Police local is running a survey to determine if there might be -- just maybe -- any sort of morale problem or a difference in perception between working officers and the people at the top.

Gosh, whatever could give them that idea?
Relatedly, with the release of the internal investigation into Officer David Bisard's squad-car wreck that killed one motorcyclist and seriously injured two others, reporters and the public are still expressing skepticism that numerous other policemen, on the scene soon after the the crash, didn't notice he was intoxicated, despite his testing over the legal limit two hours later. Having worked with at least three people who had serious drinking problems, I am not surprised; a committed alcoholic can appear quite sober while drinking enough to put a light drinker under the table. Not saying the officer in question is; but were he to be, it would explain the apparent discrepancy. Policemen are good at spotting the inebriated but they're not Superman, especially when they're not suspicious about the possibility to begin with.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

I Work On A Starship: Almost A Book

I have a couple of test copies coming. Softcover, 111 pages, 8.5" x 11", which is bigger than I'd like. Includes Another Day and most of the short yarns -- I still have to copy a couple over from this blog to the IWOAS blog. Price? A low, low $20.75 American, FOB Roseholme Cottage.

Interested? I have other options, this one (Blog2Print TM) just happened to be quick and easy.

There's another chapter of Frothup: Dropping In almost ready to post, too.

Speaking Of Veterans Day

Much as I make fun of the local paper, sometimes they get it right: opened up today's edition to find an interview with Jesus Quintana, Marine, Vietnam veteran, and this city's best 1911 gunsmith.

Thank you for your service, sir.

Jesus is the guy who turned my Ballester-Molina from a jammomatic back into an automatic. He's also a heck of a nice guy.

Bookshelves, Update

The photo-essay and description is ready at Retrotechnologist. Including my worksheet (a 5.25" by 8.5" page; scanned it larger than it is in real life!). White pine is just about modeling clay to work with; the biggest problem is it cuts so fast you can be in a heap of trouble before you realize it. "Measure thrice, cut once." With any luck.

Armistice Day/Veteran's Day

It's not -- despite what the TV has been tellling me all this week -- just an excuse to have a sale. Possibly the only good thing the odious Woodrow Wilson accomplished (and it can be argued even that was an attempt to further mark his own "war to make the world safe for democracy," fought in alliance with the Kings of England [Emperor of India, etc. etc.], Italy, Belgium, Romania, Serbia and Montenegro, the Emperor of Japan and the Czar of Russia [and King of Poland, etc.]). It doesn't matter who dreamed it up. In 1918, at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, the guns fell silent; not for very long, but who knew that? Death tolls were huge and the number of returning veterans was even larger; something more than a handshake and a final pay was in order.

Long before and long after that day, men (and eventually women) stepped up to serve in our military. You don't have to approve the wars they fought in (or missed, by accident of history) or admire the Commander in Chief on whose watch they served to honor their service. Right now, a lot of them are walking around with aftermarket parts acquired in the course of that service. It'd behoove the rest of us to stop and say, "Thank you."

Or at least pause a tick, come that 11th hour, and remember.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

About The Los Angeles Mystery Missile

Tam links to one theory. Me, I will just point out that Mr. Obama's Administration has been making noises for awhile now about the free trade smuggling operations of many Far Edge traders and how they're going to start cracking down.

Somebody just got a reminder. Or not.


I built and installed some more bookshelves -- here's a sample.Very pleased with how they fit into the corner. With door and window frames defining the far edges, I made multiple measurements and it paid off! Shelves are only 5-½" deep, which seems a bit shallow but has worked out well so far.

Planning on doing I have done a full write-up/photo essay later.

It's Not?

I was so let down. They've been offering free chair massages at the Skunk Works, one day each month, and I was finally able to sign up. Showed up early, but they laughed at me and sent me away.

And the chair I brought in really needed massaged, too. Darn it!

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Asset Forfeiture In Indiana

Radley Balko has the lowdown on the shakedown, with links to his work in Reason and the Local Fishwrap's very own coverage.

Bottom line? Don't get arrested for drugs in Indiana. They'll take more than your herbal/chemical amusements and your freedom. It's not why I don't do drugs* -- but it's one reason why I think those who do are fools.
* "Lips that touch amphetamines will never touch mine!" Though that falls all apart when I remember I was on Ritalin for a little while...

Speeking Of Geekery

Is it going too far to admit one squee'd ever so slightly upon discovering the narrow-gauge Leighton Buzzard Light Railway has, in addition to steam, internal combustion locos named after Tolkien characters? There's one named "Red Rum," too. Um, not ridin' that. Nossir.

Semi-Freedom Of Expression?

It's just a little bit pregnant over at North Carolina State University's Free Expression Tunnel, where some students are up in arms that free speech is, well, free. Mike Flynn tells the tale and has the links.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Charles Babbage, Geek Of Geeks


So, he sits down to read the veriest Poet Laureate -- and something that promises to be a bit entertainingly risque and or instructive of the perils of immoral dissipation, too: The Vision of Sin.

You or even me, we'd read Alfred, Lord Tennyson and be emotionally moved. Mr. Babbage, perhaps he is, too; but he stumbles on a counterfactual line and gets his geek on:

"Mr. Babbage, the famous mathematician, is said to have addressed the following letter to Tennyson in reference to this couplet:-- 'Every minute dies a man,/Every minute one is born': I need hardly point out to you that this calculation would tend to keep the sum total of the world's population in a state of perpetual equipoise, whereas it is a well-known fact that the said sum total is constantly on the increase. I would therefore take the liberty of suggesting that, in the next edition of your excellent poem, the erroneous calculation to which I refer should be corrected as follows:-- 'Every moment dies a man,/And one and a sixteenth is born.'

I may add that the exact figures are 1.167, but something must, of course, be conceded to the laws of metre."

There's evidence geekery gets results, too. Though it does seem that "something must, of course, be conceded to the laws" of poetry, in subsequent editions of the poem, that couplet reads, "Every moment dies a man,/Every moment one is born." The precise term has been replaced by an approximate one...with at least 0.167 in leeway....

Unlit Rail

Front-page story about the future of Indy's mass-transit system in the Daily Fishwrap this morning managed to actually flounder its way to the pertinent question: "Will the public get on board?"

In a word, probably not; Indianapolis had an outstanding public transit system back in the 1940s and it was running in the red even then. My Dad grew up in a house that was practically on the streetcar line...and in his teens, was happy to swap riding it for a push-start Cushman scooter, followed by a Model T with a cracked block after the two-wheeler threw a rod.*

The paper wonders if us benighted rubes would use mass-transit -- and does offer up IndyGo and an example of How Not To Run A Bus System. (Even "...President and CEO Mike Terry will be the first to admit [it] is barely scraping by...with limited local funding...." Aha! So, not turning a profit? The paper goes on to tell us us that's why the busses cannot attract folk who don't have to use the bus, a group they call "choice" riders. (Judging by the number of 50cc scooters and bicycles I see, they're not even doing that good a job attracting riders who don't have cars). --Look, if you have to subsidize the service to attract folks who can afford cars, there's something wrong; either you're overcharging, the buses aren't going when/where they're needed (IndyGo is chronically late) or the whole idea is flawed. Or some combination of those things. When customers are staying away in droves, that is a message, one so simple even Wal*Mart can work it out.

A couple of encouraging items: express buses, zipping from the 'burbs to in-town destinations, have proven popular (possibly 'cos they are on time?). They're hoping to add more, maybe even make a few bucks at it, who'da thunk? And light-rail plans have been scaled 'way back -- look, I like the idea of light rail; I like streetcars. But if you don't have riders, you're just building a 1:1 model train set at taxpayer expense...while 15-year-olds scooter past the empty coaches.

This doesn't mean the trolley circulating between downtown and the airport has been scrapped -- only that, for now, it'll have tires instead of flanged wheels. If it doesn't work, if the route needs adjusted, hey, no rails. And the city can find out if it works at all, instead of relying on "experts" like Joe Schwieterman, who assures us (or at least assures What Passes For A Newspaper), "Rail has a cachet that augments a city's cosmopolitan image." Cosmopolitan image? Can you eat it, Joe, have sex with it, or...Oh. Of course. You smoke it.

I'm still not seeing a whole lot about any actual study of what actual riders want, other than the express buses. You'd think the city'd ask those tired folks at bus stops, peering worriedly back up the road, hoping maybe that distant set of headlights is, finally, the bus. Or possibly Godot.
* Gee, and I used to wonder why he was so hardcore about doing proper maintenance on cars when he was all grown up....

A Pome.

Little Johnny got Parcel Post
So neatly packed -- and free!
For what he'd thought was was C.O.D.
Turned out to be OCD.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

There I Was, Dreaming Of Ancient Egypt

And then there was a commercial: "The Imhotep Mattress Company: you'll sleep like the dead -- and wake like a god!"

There was a lot of ironing, too. Frikkin' pleated skirts and kilts!

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Three Cheers

First, three cheers for Marco's Pizza! 'Cos they deliver 'til 2:00 am. Yeah.

I promised Tam pizza; I had thunk to place a last-minute order to another Broad Ripple institution and keep it warm if need be, but that place stops taking orders way too early, 9:45 pm. Marco's is good, straight-up American pizza, available when we want it: Win!

Next, three cheers for Carteach0! --'Cos he gave me a sliding miter saw (the powered variety) some while back and I have been using it this weekend to make more bookshelves. Ran myself right out of daylight and time today (also 1" #8 flathead wood screws) but I have one set of shelves fully assembled, ready for light sanding, and another set all cut, sides ready to be routed (even marked the verticals) and put together. The miter saw really speeds things up; I don't have to clamp a guide piece in place for every cut, just mark it, line it up and zip through the board.

This set of shelves will -- if I measured correctly! -- fit on the opposite side of the window seat and wrap around the corner. Then I'll have two walls with new shelves.

Tam Update

She's headed for Roseholme, laying over in The City Of Brotherly Love for an hour or so. Just called in.

I haven't written on her sojourn 'cos I saw no reason to advertise that I was Home Alone. It'll be a relief not to be.

What A Mess

I only commented on it in passing when it happened: a nasty altercation between police and a (corn-fed) 15-year-old boy, Brandon Johnson, that resulted his arrest, looking like an ad for a good, old-fashioned beating and a whole bunch of local police with egg on their face. After a hearty round of investigations, demotions and/or exonerations, officer Jerry Piland emerged as the source of some of the worst late hits; IMPD Chief Cielselski sent him home and recommended termination and there was much recrimination all 'round. The gears of justice ground on and the Police Merit Board unwrapped a decision from around the axles yesterday: by a vote of 6-1, they cleared officer Piland and he'll be keeping his job.

Ask me about it and I'm forced to admit I don't know. I wasn't there. When you see someone really beat up after an encounter with The Law, it generally means the responding officers lost control; the difficulty comes when you have to distinguish between losing control of the subject, the situation -- or one's self.

I do know we're left with a mess and one Officer Piland and his friends didn't help by high-fiving and hugs after the hearing cleared him, and local media made worse during the Mayor, Public Safety Director and Policice Chief's "Please don't hate us, we wanted him fired" news conference by juxtaposing it with footage of the post-hearing celebration and still shots of young Mr. Johnson's bruised, bloody and swollen face.

Yeah. Great choice. --Look, riots may be juicy to cover but some of use actually live in town, okay? Scurrying down the freeway to the 'burbs after inciting hostility is not responsible. If you want to cover both sides, get out there and cover 'em.

I have yet to pick a side. PSH -- er, PSD Straub and Chief Cielselski are promising more and better training but this may have been a battle impossible to finesse. A strapping teen-ager, boiling angry as his brother is being arrested and what looks to have been not enough LEOs on the scene until things were well and truly muddled is a receipe for having to throw someone overboard at some point -- either the police stage a strategic withdrawal at the scene (requiring inhuman restraint and superhuman insight), cause is found to charge the young miscreant with something serously serious (it wasn't), or one or more of the officers involved gets pilloried. The Police Merit Board wasn't going along with that and they spent 24 hours just hearing everyone's story. They have a lot more information than I do and it's likely they are right on the facts -- and wrong on the bigger picture.

The only sure thing is, there' s no right answer left, only damage control. City government is in full CYA mode and the rest of us? Outraged statements from family and clergy notwithstanding, this would be a damn good time to practice smilin' at everyone and sayin' "Please" and "Thank you" a lot. Maybe we can't all get along -- but most of us can, most of the time.

...And it might be time for IMPD to get serious about house-cleaning. From the top to the bottom.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Paired Books

Reading When Computers Were Human, I was struck by how short a time it took for statistical analysis of mass behavior of large groups to be considered with an eye to predicting and possibly manipulating the outcome. The Henry Wallaces (C. and A.) for one, including novel analytical innovations like the younger's "corn-hog ratio"* and combining the bully pulpit of the Secretary of Agriculture's office with a private computing team, long before WW II; for another, more overt efforts like the (private, at least to begin with; a Foundation now) Cowles Commission for Economic Research, which originally investigated ways to predict stock prices.

This a remarkably congruent fit with the notions behind Michael Flynn's novel, In The Country Of The Blind, which starts out semi-steampunk and ends up in modern times, simultaneously well ahead of the curve and in some senses, back where it started. Recent editions append another (short) factual piece on peering into the future through math, neatly bookending the notion. (The novel pointed me to yet another interesting, little-known figure, Thomas B. Reed).

If you've read one of these books, consider the other; they compliment one another nicely. (And as I have pointed out before, if you buy 'em through Tam's Amazon link, they flip her a tip and it doesn't cost you any extra: win-win!)
* The Wallace's Swine Commission might've been as much in Upton Sinclair's mind as the packing plants when he wrote, "...porkmaking by machinery, porkmaking by applied mathematics." More bacon, Mr. Sinclair?

Overheard At The Bottom Of A Hole

"Dig faster, I think they're gaining on us." Tam hopes the lame-duck Dems can find something (comparatively) low-impact to fuss over. Me, I'm torn: if they pull anything majorly stupid now, it will hurt them come the next elections; on the other hand, if they keep their hands off the economy and things improve, they'll look better to voters.

On the other other hand, I'd like to put off the day when a dollar won't buy a dollar-sized scrap of wallpaper for just as long as possible....

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Anti-Gunner Gets Mugged

Indianpolits Star columnist Matt Tully encountered a pretty classic mugging election night -- he was downtown near the Circle when two men asked directions, followed him a bit and then one of them hit him on the head!

Mr. Tully ran into the street, yelling, escaping unscathed other than the initial blow.

Matt, y'know what would have made a difference?

(Wait for it, wait for it...)

Situational-frikkin'-awareness. Like you might learn from a self-defense course. Those two guys were following a pattern and had you recognized it, you probably could have avoided getting hit.

You thought I was gonna say "gun," didn't you? Look, a gun's really handy -- if you know what you're doing. If you're not even aware enough to know you're being sized up (for crime, I mean), being armed probably won't help. (Well, other than as a reminder to try'n avoid situations where you might be shootin' at somebody.)

They say "a Republican is a Democrat who's been mugged." I would not hold my breath -- they also say, "The leopard cannot change his shorts."* Ooo, nice animal-print, Matt!
* They only say that version on Discworld, actually.

Election Fallout

Are the Democrats stuck in an LBJ replay? Oh, laugh now -- but LBJ begat Richard Milhous Nixon; whatever you may think of the latter (and consider the alternatives!), he didn't exactly slather the Presidency with glory. Just keep buttering those guns!

Cap-and-bankrupt is off the table! --At least for now. The dedicated few who plug their coal-powered cars into the wall every night still don't realize what has so narrowly been averted.

People everywhere are standing up for their rights! --No, wait, that one's in China. We're still stuck with Kelo.

Europeans are confused. Heh. Guys, this is why the ancestors of so many Americans left Europe.

Me, I'm just happy to see divided government return. Long live acrimonious legislative gridlock! --At least until we can elect us a Congress and Administration that will start trimming the Feds back down to Constitutional size.

However, I sure hope the next consecutive batches of idiots from the two Boot On Your Neck Parties will remember the elections of the last decade -- of the last twenty years -- the next time they get the urge to mouth off about "permanent majorities" or "sweeping, irreversible change." Congress? White House? Y'all are dancing on ice, always -- and it looks to be getting thinner. Bear it in mind. (Like they ever will.... These are the same pinheads we remember from student government. They haven't grown up, only gotten older).

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Really, Really Cold!

From my most recent gas bill:53% warmer than last month, maybe. But 3,950% colder than this time last year? Wouldn't that be, like, below Absolute Zero? I sure hope they figured my bill correctly....

Cold Weather Is Here

...And I am reminded once again that I pity the unfortunate souls who have never stood over a heat vent on a chilly morning, wearing a long bathrobe. Warms you right up!

I worked up my nerve and started the furnace last night. "Nerve," you might ask, "why's that?" --But only if you never lived in a small house with several cats. There's always some cat hair that gets past the filter. The only question is, how much? So far, so good.

Process-Control For Humans

A friend was bemoaning his lot the other day -- he works for some genuinely insane people, in a job with zero upward mobility -- and we came up with an aphorism: "When the only clear feedback you provide is rapping people on the knuckles when they do wrong, don't be surprised if you end up doing a lot of knuckle-rapping."

If in addition, excellent output and barely adequate output get the same response, especially if that response is "meh," guess what you'll tend to get, mostly? Yep. And it's 'cos you set the machinery up wrong. The only feedback is way out at the ship-or-scrap limits.

When I was very young tech and had bounced into factory work after a stint of the same kind of skunk-working I do now, one of the section foremen took exception to the Quality Control engineers: "You guys are always lurking around, trying to find bad stuff, slowing us up!"

"That's not what my job is," said the target of his ire, "I'm trying to make sure most of what we build is good! "

They never were pals but after that exchange, scrap from that section of the plant, which had been far too high, started dropping.

What kind of feedback are you giving the people around you?

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Election News, Indiana

The Libertarians will (probably) stay on the ballot: Mike Wherry, LPIN's pick for Secretary of State, has picked up 6% of the vote at this writing, with 73% of the precincts reporting; 2% or better is all it takes for continued ready access.* One of these days, they'll reach the magic 10% mark and become a Major Party -- which I think means they'd have to run in the primaries.

Dr. Marvin Scott, not so lucky. The Mister The Honorable The Grandson Andre Carson has defeated him, 58% to 39% and will continue to be our Congressbeing from the 7th district. This is a shame but it's also a lot better showing than I expected. There's some evidence Dr. Scott drew votes away from the Libertarian entrant in that race, who came in markedly lower than most other LP candidates I have checked so far. While I dislike Mr. Carson's political stances intensely, and he's pulled a few stunts with the press that have made me like him less, he ran some of the best political ads I have seen, entirely avoiding any mud-slinging or disparaging of his opponent. Of course, that's not so hard to do when you're just about certain to win. If this contest continues to get closer, we may see more of a grapple next time around or the one after that.

Conversely, voters in the 9th have sent Baron Hill (D and not into that whole "freedom of the press" thing so much) home. Congressman Todd Young will take his place, 53% to 41%. Read 'em close, sir, that's not a mandate: do well, or don't bother to unpack.

The GOP took the 9th from the Democrats as well.

The 2nd is still too close to call -- Jackie Walorski (R) is at 47% to incumbent Joe Donnelly's (D) 48%, and perhaps its no wonder: "Both are pro-gun, pro-life, and oppose climate change legislation, though it's Donnelly who has been endorsed by the NRA..." Libertarian Mark Vogel's got 5% of the vote, enough to tip the balance; um, I'm just sayin', Joe and Jackie, could'a made a difference....

Voters have plopped down decidedly on the Zombie side in the sparkly vampire vs. undead U. S. Senate race between Brad "Dreamy" Ellsworth and Dan "I have socks older than most Congressmen" Coats. While I would far rather have the sensible and intelligent Rebecca Sink-Burris in that chair, I won't pretend for a minute that I'm sorry to see Mr. Ellsworth go. If nothing else, Mr. Coats should be well-inoculated against the kind of follow-the-leader that made the freshman Senator little more than a sure vote for Madame Speaker Pelosi.

In one State race, the Democrats didn't even bother to run anyone. Representative Cindy Noe is well-liked and (at least) sends out periodic polls asking her constituent's opinions. She did have an opponent: Libertarian Joe Hauptmann got 18% of the vote to Ms. Noe's 82%.

On the other hand, no one bothered to run against the one Democrat I usually end up voting for, John O'Hara, Constable for Washington Township. It's not that great a job, though you do get to carry a gun and drive a police car. How the constable does so is pretty much up to him, and John plays it low-key, plain clothes and an unmarked car. He lived across the street from my old house, which makes him about the only person standing for office of whom I have any personal knowledge, and he's a good guy. (What does the Constable do? Most of the heavy lifting for the township's Small Claims Court -- serving papers and such fun stuff).

There's plenty more -- a solid majority in favor of putting our property tax cap in the state Constitution, among other things; but that's as much of a round-up as I've got.

Voting was the usual pleasant reminder that some aspects our political system are still firmly in the hands of dedicated amateurs, hobbyists, really; they were doing a fine job of it, too. The process was easy, smooth and quick. Does it really change much? Ask me next week -- or next month. Or next year.

Next: turn on the TV and see how bad the big networks are whining! (Speaking of TV: Indiana results, here).
* This frees parties from the awkward process of circulating petitions, I believe one for every candidate they field. It doesn't require a huge number of signatures but it takes good shoeleather and thick skin.

Don't Look Now

...But as you wend your way to the polls, Japan is spatting with both Russia and China over various islands; seems the Russians picked up a couple as WW II wound down, and won't give them back. Meanwhile, in a heartwarming twist right out of Tom Leher's National Brotherhood Week, the gripe over another set of menaces to navigation is between Japan and both Chinas; though there's a little historical background from the 15th through 19th centuries, the current dispute dates way, waaaay back...to 1971.

Sure hope they're not into any other Leher tunes. And isn't it nice to see the ROC and the PRC finally in complete accord about something?

Ah, island-hopping!

Monday, November 01, 2010

Where Do You Vote?

Google can look it up!

Remember, in Indiana, if you have no other guide, see who the Indianapolis Star supports and then don't vote for those people. That's most of the decision already done! (Okay, okay, I still have a soft spot for Todd Rokita (R), our outgoing Secretary of State, standing for U.S. Congress from the 4th district; he's not in my district, so I don't have to make the tough choice between him and a LP guy.) Leave out all the incumbents -- they had their chance already -- and you may only have one or two races with any choice to make.

In the cute/zombie race between Brad Ellsworth and Dan Coats, the paper's gone for age over beauty; which is enough to finish pushing Mr. Coats off my list. Rebecca Sink-Burris (LP) is the only candidate in that race who hasn't slung deceptive mud. It's the modifier that did the guys the most damage.

A candidate whose politics I despise is presently running one of the most high-minded, positive campaign ads I've ever seen on the ijit box. He's probably a shoo-in for election, which makes the high road a lot easier to take. I don't like the guy much -- but I have to admire the ad.

Blood For David?

If you see David Broder, willya please let him know he's a bloody-minded idiot? Seems he thinks it would be, unh, kewl if the Prez went to war against Iran....um, not that he really should and, like, stuff; but hey, FDR fixed the economy and eliminated a global menace, so, just for funzies, think what it would be like. Neat, hunh?

You know, I'd never advocate it, not ever, but what's nice to think about -- but not to do, not for realio trulio, even though it sure would be neat-o -- is most of the next hundred or so people Mr. Broder meets reaching out with one hand and gently poppin' him on the side of the head, while saying, "You halfwit"

Yeah, let's have another war, David. What a swell idea. You go first.

When The Law Gives You Lemons

...Start squeezin'!

Take, for example, the innovative and clever philosopher-kings legislators of the next state to the left: they wanted to ensure the scourge of gambling was strictly limited in Illinois, and (as in many other states), discerned the very best way of so doing was to limit it to venues afloat, presumably so those overcome by the vice could be given a quick cold-water dousing, or possibly drowned.

Yeah, I don't get it, either.

But they, with their ever so much keener inner vision, did. And thus they passed a law: to be legal, a casino had to be supported by water. You know: riverboats. Barges. Fill out the right forms, cross the proper palms with silver, and probably even your weekend fishing-and-poker outings could be done up all law-abiding. Keep it afloat and it's Just Fine.

Enter a would-be casino operator who lacked a lake. They might not even have liked boats. But they had a lawyer!

It appears they had a singularly singular attorney, the kind of person who parses logic the way most people nibble chips. History does not record if he was in the tub when the "Eureka!" moment hit, but the Web takes us to the next step: his idea went to an engineer and an architectural firm, who ran the numbers and said "Can do."

Water, you see, is incompressible. It's really pretty strong stuff. And at land-locked (I checked) Jumer's Casino, the gaming floor floats atop a fraction of an inch of water! All legal as can be; it is, after all, "on water."

When the law give you lemons, start squeezing. And when it demands water, tank up.

(A tip of the hairdo to The Unwanted Blog, which mentioned the place in an article about an unusually-located monument dedicated to Vietnam veteran John Baker, who saw the elephant rather more closely than most).