Friday, September 30, 2011

Oh, Waaah

Northern Indiana Democrat Congressthing Pete Visclosky is worried about Federal budget-cutting. He sees dire shortfalls in....

Wait, I know what you're thinking: he's a Democrat. He's concerned about The Poor or The Homeless, or maybe The Hungry, right? Or "Illegal guns" or racism or Social Justice or some other core value of the American Left, for sure?

Not exactly.

See, there's some Federal parkland up his way (some State parkland, too): the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. It's a young park, established in 1966. Though it might not be all that well-known, it is indeed lovely. (Steel mills and all.) When it was established, there were plenty of property owners who declined to sell or donate their land; about a hundred parcels inside the park are still privately owned. The Feds had been buyin' 'em whenever they could and now.... Now the money has been cut off. Congress has had to choose between kiting checks to pay their light bill and buy fuel for tanks, or keep on buyin' land that's not goin' anywhere (well, no faster than dunes move, that is). And Pete can't hardly stand it -- not that he's asking for donations, mind you; he just wants the Free Money From The Government to keep on rollin' in.

I dunno, seems a bit misplaced if you ask me. The "run 'em all out" attitude of the Regional Director isn't helping any. What happened, Pete, y'solve all the other problems up that way already?

Harold Stark, Master Steam Engineer

At the Indiana State Fair this year, Tam and I saw an amazing -- and, I suppose, twee -- miniature steam traction engine, about half-scale, plenty big enough to ride aboard. It was steaming gently, clearly functional.

It turns out to be the work of Harold Stark, Master Steam Engineer, who's been a major part of the working antique farm machinery exhibit at the fair for the past 31 years. He's quite a guy. You'll find a short video and a little biography at Artisan Ancestors.

(I'll crosspost this to Retrotechnologist soon as I can.)


The Lion/Dog guardian statues found at some temples in the Far East are not too unfamilar in the West these days, but a closer look finds a few other creatures pressed into service, too -- dragons, foxes and even, at least at one temple in Japan, tigers:There's more than a little housecat in that example, I think (though there's more housecat in tiger behavior and body language than you'd expect). I stumbled across this one while looking up Pekingese dogs a few days ago and it reminded me of Roseholme Cottage's resident felines.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Adventures In Unhistory

...In the heady days of the 19th century, a new and much-improved bit for horses was dreamed up by the brilliant, impoverished inventor V. K. Sonva at his home in a South African town later to be the site of Baden-Powell's first fame. His success should have been assured when he founded a company to manufacture them.

We can only look on in saddened wonder at whatever misguided inspiration it could have been that led him to name the firm "Mafeking Sonva Bit Co.," from which the well-spoken, straitlaced Victorians stayed away in droves.

Linguistic Patrol: Modified Absolutes

Heard on a TV morning show, as the hostess and guest are breathlessly describing some $35-an-ounce cosmetic goo: "...It's very essential...."

I could only ponder how that was the most unique gaff I'd heard in weeks. Slightly irreplaceable, even.

Gah. Lady, there's a reason "essentialest" falls oddly to the ear. Sadly, the eejits have already chipped away at the word for one of a kind until "uniquest" almost doesn't -- but that fails to oblige me to let go quietly. They're binary: either you really must have a thing, or you don't; a thing or event is either the only example or there's more than one.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Pandora's Millions

Pandora's Millions is the title of a George O. Smith short story. Along with the preceding Special Delivery, it is one of the earlier explorations of an approaching and largely unheralded future; for an even darker take, try Damon Knight's A For Anything.* (The relevant Smith work is The Complete Venus Equilateral and you can find 'em at Amazon via Tam.)

Oh, we haven't quite got Knight's "Gismo" yet, though "listeners-in" could most certainly end up with copies, as Mrs. Channing muses in the Smith yarns. But an ever-growing group of hobbyists have been steadily pushing on with the next best thing -- and possibly the best "next thing" to come along in decades: 3-D printing. If it's small and can be made of plastic, it can be printed while you wait.

As things stand right now, a 3-D printer can't print a copy of itself -- though they're closer to that goal with every day. AR-15 magazines are being developed by many designers. It doesn't stop there: local blogger Shermlock Shomes recently linked to a printable AR-15 lower. That might need some help in the way of reinforcement and threading, but it's one more step. Hacking away from the other direction, CNC machining is working its way down to near-desktop hardware. It's already garage-scale -- and already making happy bangity sounds. CNC laser and plasma cutters will let you cut out anything you can model as a collection of flat sections, too; I've linked in the past to online services that will carve out your design or sell you the interesting things designed by others.

For a lot of basic manufactured items, everything except microchips or light bulbs, the old assembly-line model is already dead; it's just tottering on for now. The future is catching up and it doesn't need a factory at all. And if you can print whatever object you want, you're wealthy in a way no people have ever been before, ever.

The future? One word:

Mostly thermoplastics. Don't like that old lamp, that footstool? Toss 'em in the hopper and print up a spice rack -- or an AR-15 lower. (Thermosetting types are often tougher but single-use).

You'll probably have to rent time on a fancier machine to chew out the metal parts. At least for a few more years.

How you gonna keep 'em down on the farm when they can print out their own ride to town?
* Of course, if you're concerned about a Knight-type collapse, you may find Smith's Lost Art applicable. It's also in the VE collection.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Nearly Maced Myself

...In the kitchen. While cooking.

My nephew showed up this morning with The Gift Of Vegetables. (This is the guy who painted my house; he was asked for an estimate by a neighbor, whose house he ended up painting, and he was down to do another estimate for another neighbor: good work is its own best advertisment!)

Among the bounty (which included The Squash, photo possibly to follow), a number of tiny, hot bright-red peppers.

I decided to make Cincy-Tex chili; this is a spicy, fragrant, beanless treat with good beef (stew beef from Fresh Market), onion, and three kinds of tomatoes: fresh, diced-canned (Italian imports!) and crushed-canned. And, of course, the hot peppers.

Got the beef goin', with some chili powder (can't find my cumin!), added the onion and a couple of big, red vice vine-ripened tomatoes, cut in chunks; diced one hot pepper, tossed it in and thought to saute a few more, to mild 'em up before adding.

Het up a little skillet with some oil, chopped 'em and tossed 'em in. They did not go quietly. About a minute in and thirty seconds to go, I took a deep breath -- and started coughing. Eyes not-quite burning but holy cow! Opened up a window and started a fan to help the exhaust and it was still strong enough to catch Tam a good one when she wandered in a few minutes later.

I only added about half the peppers to the chili, along with the canned tomatoes and Various Spices* and let it simmer for a half hour. Umm-mm, good! And not even Tam went after the reserve hot peppers, either.

We both qualified for the Clean Plate Club. But I've gotta tell you, for a few minutes there, I was wondering -- I could not catch my breath when the hot peppers heated up! Afterwards, they still had bite but weren't harsh or overwhelming.
* Some black pepper in the pan with a very little oil, at the start; let it heat up, salt the stew meat a little and cut it up small. Then add some chili powder as it browns. With the canned tomatoes, some more chili powder, tarragon, garlic, paprika, ground nutmeg and a hint of cinnamon. Yep, nutmeg and cinnamon. You won't regret it. I'd tell you how much of each to add if I could -- I go by smell and, as it simmers, taste.

For The Most Deserving Propagandizable Cause

Your smartphone is killin' kids in the Congo!!!!!1!

...Thing is, it kind of is, and there's a clever little app dramatizing it (and other ickworthy supply-chain awfuls) that Apple bounced like a hot, hot tater the minute they figured it out. Naturally, it's on Android now. (D'ya wanna walled garden or marketplace? Got both).

But how dead is it killing these kids? Tracing where a nice, smelted heap of niobium or tantalum came from turns out to be tricky but we can look at simple numbers; under "Coltan," which is what they're mining to get the stuff, Wikipedia lists tantalum producers by percentage for the last 19 years, through 2009. That year, the Congo was third from last with 13 percent, behind Canada and Australia -- but they only got that slot because the former top producer (over half the world's supply!), Australia's Sons of Gwalia, is in the process of self-destruction. For the previous 18 years, the Congo was in last place, usually a distant last. Around about 5% of the tantalum out there was extracted by photogenically-desperate children in the Congo.

Does that mean you shouldn't care? You'd care if you had to hold a gun on a kid* for an hour and twenty minutes a day so's you could have a phone, I think; but it also means yellin' at #SMARTPHONE MAKER over 5% of the raw materials used (probably by yet another company) to make parts that comprise possibly 20% of the phone they sell is not going to get them to care.

If you're concerned about the mess in the Congo, stop playing games on your phone and address the problem; otherwise you're just rubbing feel-good snake oil on yourself. Instead of doing something.

...H'mm. Where have I heard that phrase before?
* Are they? The presence of armed men in a venue where resources with a significant value-to-weight ratio are extracted is generally -- though certainly not always -- about guarding the resource instead of keeping workers working. This factiod isn't surfacing any of the online info I can find about coltan mining in the Congo.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Going Pratchett

Watched the recent teleproduction of Terry Pratchett's Going Postal last week; it's a good adaptation, well-cast, and has the "feel" of Discworld. The story is somewhat changed to make it fit the screen but it is still very much the story. And in the interviews, the cast -- to a man -- go on about how cool it is to visit Discworld, quite beyond the normal promotional talk.

Highly recommended! Amazon's got it -- have a look via Tam's place.

(PS: in one of the novels featuring Rincewind, the Agatean Empire uses cannon called "Barking Dogs." Betcha didn't know that's the name of a strongly exothemicthermic chemical reaction that makes a surprising sound, didja?)

September BlogMeet Report

It was a select group, with two visitors from far, far away -- Ioway, as a matter of fact, or points in that general direction. (It's a wonderful state, they have Hy-Vee supermarkets*).

The Tamara, dutifully studying hard at gun school, was, sadly, not in evidence; I was hoping she'd be able to race through the final exam but she is nae so much for shortcuts.

Here's who she missed:
John MXL, the second long-distance (by my lights) motorcyclist to drop in at a BlogMeet. He gets extra points for having done so in a nasty rain. (He's also one of the brave lads going Kilted To Kick Cancer, though not on two wheels at highway speeds in the rain).

The genial host of The Travis McGee Reader -- and his friendly dog, who (perhaps having read my blog today) spent the BlogMeet in the truck. Anyone who reads John D. McDonald starts out ahead of the pack in my opinion.

Shermlock Shomes
, who volunteered to pinch-hit for Og, but alas! He did not eat freshly road-killed deer on the way in. Tsk.

Nathan, the Fuzzy Curmudgeon, a man with excellent taste in coffee cups. I'm just sayin'.

The Jack, who's been running introspective of late. Some rather interesting thoughts on the use of Habit, in particular.

And Yr. Crspndt., q.v.

Conversation was, as ever, wide-ranging, everything from local TV history to gun laws of various states (or "Why you must stop and rearrange things before entering Illinois," though we have high hopes for the dedicated work being done to start fixing this) (not to mention, "Your carry permit is good in Indiana no matter where it is from") and well, all over the place. It was a spot of warmth on a chilly, rainy afternoon.

Next one will be in late October -- maybe we can (once again) hold it the same Sunday the Brew Pub is having their pumpkin-carving contest. Small children with nearly-sharp pointy things and hapless vegetables, how could it not fail to be fun?
* Last time I was near one, they still had the most astonishing hot-food setup, a cross between a first-rate diner and a small-menu cafeteria, genuine home-cooked Midwestern food like you can hardly find these days -- and inexpensive, too. That, we don't got around here, and we otta.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Knife Post

Gotta do it. All the other kiiiiidz are answering the questionne: "What knife is on your person right now?"

Three:Kershaw in right front pocket, Japanese carpenter's knife in right rear and the Leatherman Wave in a belt holster. That's main, backup and multitool.

Too many? Piffle! The heap would've been a heap bigger if I'd been carrying my purse. I have brittle fingernails.

End Of An Era Epoch Edible

Really, the end of just one weekend of it. Yes, the rumors you have undoubtedly heard by now -- scandalized, I'm sure, at such a heedless desecration of tradition -- are true: after 600 years, Jinhua City's dog-eating festival, slated for 18 October this year, is no more. Say "ciao" to that Chow-Chow roast, bid fond farewell to Pekingese Pekingese.* ...At least at the festival.

There's some evidence that "dog" may be becoming China's cultural equivalent of "Limberger cheese;" 90 percent of the respondents to a web survey on a Chinese site were against food dogs -- and yet they're still said to be not-uncommon at meat markets (and even in space, taikonauts were served up dog. H'mm, so is that why they didn't get an invite to ISS?). Love it or loathe it -- there doesn't appear to be much neutral opinion.

No dog for you? Don't feel too superior. Dog has been on and off menus for thousands of years, all over the world. Unlike sheep, goats, cattle, fowl or swine, they're usually better helpers than entrees, but for most of human history, our pets and working animals have been one hard winter, war or drought away from the stewpot. When things went to the dogs, our ancestors put 'em on the table.
* Supposedly -- and despite appearances -- this very old breed is closer to the wolf than most domestic dogs. Wikipedia also claims, "...made small so that he could go after and destroy little demons that might infest the palace or temple." My family had one when I was a child and while I don't know if he was much for demons, he was pure-dee hell on wheels where mice were concerned. (One even tried to hide under the family cat!) We also had to keep him from trying to herd cattle; he wasn't very successful at it but it annoyed the farmer.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Reality Check

...And that's in the sense of a chess match -- or, better yet, the stop that keeps you from falling off the end of a suspended rope.

I'd been inclined to sulk, or at least marinate; had pretty bad writer's block the last couple of months, some annoying health problems, and found myself becoming more and more reclusive. Most of my interactions with others have not been positive.

Reality has a way of slamming you -- or me, anyway -- upside the head when things get too dark and bleak.

I went to a funeral today, service for someone I really liked. Put on my best approximation of grown-up clothes* and went. Zillion people in a t00-small room, which does me just exactly like you'd think.

But for my most extroverted, people-including aunt? Totally gonna do it. Made myself do it. Her husband was my blood relative, one of Dad's two younger brothers, who passed away about two years ago. It was a second marriage for both of them and an unlikely pairing that worked like music. My uncle, like my father, like all his other brothers and their only sister that made it to adulthood, was well beyond reserved; that bunch communicated by the smallest of expressions and celebrated reunions after decades apart with a curt nod or, in a rarely-seen excess of emotion, a quick handshake. But also like his siblings, he had a quick smile and often a twinkle in his eye; the waters ran deep but they could run merry. And who did he wed?

A bigger-than-life nurse. A woman with a big smile, a big voice, a bigger laugh and a way of gesturing that made it clear she'd hug the whole world if she could. She never met a stranger and a relative by any means could never have been a stranger anyway. She regarded her husband's side of the family as a bit of a challenge and always managed to get everyone up and involved, without ever seeming pushy or condescending. She was a gem and liked by all.

When her husband passed away -- Dad's last brother left -- she was a gentle guide at the funeral, organizing a loving remembrance that was solemn where it needed to be but by no means funereal, and some memory of that day, some hint of her presence -- same room, same group -- seemed to hover over this one.

She will be missed. Of all the siblings and spouses from that side of my family (totalling well over a dozen), only my mother remains.

And there's a wake-up call: Dance while you can. She did -- spent the last year working through her own, "I sure wish I'd done or seen" list, in fact. Went bowling the night before she died. The curtain falls for each of us but it hasn't fallen yet.
* Gets worse every year, alas. I'm at that awkward age where everything looks either too young or too old. H'mm, "mutton dressed as lamb" or "pure frump?" Decisions, decisions.

September BlogMeet!

Yes! It's on!
SUNDAY, 25th September at 3 o'clock (p.m.):
Indy BlogMeet
Broad Ripple Brew Pub
842 East 65th St., Indianapolis, IN 46220

See ya there?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Last Night's Post

...Brought to you by frustration. Haven't seen a raise since we got 1% (or a bit less) in '07 -- yeah, it was a bit less, the recession slammed down -- and all but a very select few of my co-workers are in the exact same situation. (Most of the exceptions were artistes who had ironclad contracts and refused to consider such a thing as surrendering a scheduled raise. Funny coincidence, several of that crowd are no longer with us).

So, without a dime to spare for staff as prices climb, my employer's launched into a highly expensive makeover of the building. Now, we're in the business of selling sizzle, not steak, and the place has got to look the part; just as you don't go to a job interview in raggedy, out-at-the-knee jeans and T-shirt that's been through the wash too many times,* the edifice in the subbasements of which I toil must not, cannot, appear tatty or strapped for cash. I get that. If the money doesn't come in, it's sure as sunrise not gonna go out.

But it's still jarring to see. Add in a working situation where some folks seem to regard hostility just short of actionable as a real thrilling challenge and, well -- I genuinely regret never having earned a degree. I've seen how my siblings bounce from job to job to job, working at things with little or no connection to the disciplines in which they earned their M.A.s and it's quite obvious that the "stupid pieces of paper" I scoffed at really do open doors.

I wish I had that option. My job, turning gold into dross, is making me stupider and less patient every day I do it. Dammit, the laws about "hostile workplace" appear to have simply ensured a basal quantity of not-quite abuse and sniggering raillery just short of actionable -- exactly like the laws about cowflop and insect parts in ground meat have ensured you will indeed get just short of the Federally-mandated limit of each in every bite. Hey, Congress, another great success. Jerks.
* At least, that used to be done thing. These days, I suppose one simply has a quick delousing and perhaps one's tats freshened up for such occasions.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Y'know, I Planned On Things Working Out Differently

...Like, at least, the economy not crashing. Yeah. That would have been nice.

Geez, I wish I had marketable skills and the interpersonal skills to market them. Some mornings, it's not worth starting up the car.

What's The Opposite Of A Quaker Cannon?

A "Quaker cannon" looks like a big gun but is really a harmless object -- a stove pipe, a painted log (both famously deployed during the Spirited Disagreement Among The States) or even a fancy inflatable decoy (the Allies used that and a whole bag of tricks in WW II to create troops that never were -- and very successfully). It's a ploy used when you need guns but haven't got them.

The opposite? 'Way more real gun than you wanted or needed, perhaps -- and before you tell me, "You can't have too much gun!" you might want to check with the Police Chief in Greenwood, Indiana: Rick McQueary recently received a half-dozen Glock 18s (or equivalent) he never asked for.

For those of you who, like me, don't have all the Team Glock baseball cards, that's a select-fire 9mm handgun nearly indistinguishable from a Glock 17 -- indistinguishable, that is, except for the speed with which it can be turned into an empty gun. And unlike the little Beretta machine pistol, it lacks both a forward grip and few-round-burst capability; it's a weapon that requires a lot of time (and a lot of ammunition) to become competent with -- at which point, it still isn't much use to a small city police department. Chief McQueary points out his officers must consider every shot. He thinks that won't be safe at 1200 rounds a minute.

I'm pleased to hear a top cop speak, even by implication, of the importance of shot placement and taking into account what else might be downrange. Chief McQueary's not pleased at all; he's got six baby buzzguns his department didn't order and won't pay for -- couldn't even if they wanted to, it's not in his budget -- from a gun store that won't take 'em back. They're in limbo.

--No, don't ring him up with an offer to take them off his hands unless your name is "Sheriff" or "Police." They're post-'86 full-autos and thus can't be sold to We The People.

And there we have it, the opposite of a Quaker cannon: the über-firepower a police department didn't want and isn't going to deploy.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Foolhardy Rider Moped Scourge

Indiana, like many states -- I think a majority of them -- doesn't require a driver's license to operate sub-50 cc scooters on city streets and rural roads. You can't take them on a highway; I think (but haven't found a reference) that even the plain old-fashioned "blue highways" are off-limits to them.*

Naturally, the little menaces-to-navigation are highly appealing to those individuals who have lost their license by reason of highly-visible foolishness, mostly of the DUI/OWI variety. And just as naturally, not a few of them have done serious damage to themselves and the vehicles of others (I've yet to see a report on someone being struck and killed by a 49 cc scooter -- pedestrians, beware). The little rides offer no protection all when they come to grief.

For example, this news story, about a young man with a meth problem, who hopped on his "60 mph...bored-out" 50 cc scooter, helmetless, crashed it and was killed. Blood tests showed he had very high levels of unprescribed medication. While his widow admits "he relapsed," she wants the State to step in, expressing the wish there'd been a helmet law, at least.

...Now, the last time I checked, the State had already outlawed the taking of, say, controlled substances; the State already had statutes that required any scooter with an engine displacement of 50 cc or greater -- even if you bored it out and installed an oversized piston after buying it as a sub-50 cc -- to be titled, insured, plated and operated by a licensed rider. And, though a moderately-clever lawyer could slip through the bars, the only exception to riding without a helmet in the law is for persons with a full Motorcycle Endorsement on their driver's license (the State figuring you've learned enough to make an informed decision). So, having flouted at least two laws and possibly three, one of them a felony, would adding more laws for the guy to break have prevented his death?

It seems majorly doubtful. It's a tragedy when someone dies, even if they were robbin' widows and orphans when they died, but when the law allows tragedy to trump good sense, it does more harm than good. There are a lot of low-income folks, some of 'em non-drinking drunks and addicts who have stopped takin', for whom a cheap scooter is the only option. The city bus system is not that great, and no good at all for third-shift assistant dishwasher: the crosstown bus does not run all night long, do-dah, do-dah.

And in closing, a reporter's insight: "Right now if you hit one on the road, chances are you're stuck with the bill." Class, would anyone like to tell me under what circumstances you would not be "stuck with the bill" if you hit another vehicle? Unless my insurer has been lying to me, the only time you're not at fault is when they hit you. (At 35 mph, a 150-pound scooter will leave a mark, make no mistake).

So do me a favor -- don't hit these guys. Most of them are doing the best they can and the remainder probably couldn't get out of the way even if they did notice you.
* Controlled-access freeways are even closed to big 150 cc scooters like mine, the kind that count as motorcycles and already require license plates, insurance and a special driver's license; it takes 250 cc or more to run with the big boys. Comparing my Bajaj Chetak to a tractor-trailer, I'm not even tempted.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Mayoral Candidates. Idiots

--But I repeat myself. Indianapolis Public Schools have emerged as an issue in the city's upcoming elections for Mayor -- specifically, the ways in which the current (running for re-election) occupant and his Democrat challenger would "fix" them. The latter has been running an especially loud-mouthed series of ads, implying the recent state takeover of several failing IPS schools should be laid at the current Mayor's door.

What's the fuss? One tiny little problem: the Mayor of Indianapolis doesn't run the schools. He doesn't even hire the guy that does! Nope, Us The People elect the members of the School Board, who then go out and hire a patsy Baghdad Bob Superintendent of Schools to run 'em -- usually right into the ground, but that's another story. (The current Mr. Big has floated some especially spiteful notions). There's people tryin' to put the City in control of IPS -- 'cos we all know, Mayors are Philosopher-Kings on Horseback, who will Put Everything Right and represent each and every segment of the electorate in a way no mere School Board could possibly hope to approach -- but as it stands, the Mayor can, at best, hector IPS from the Bully Pulpit and charter new schools outside IPS, and that's about it.

...So when a TV newsie this very morning asked the Democrat candidate point-blank about the hitch in her bold plan to redd up IPS to a fareethewell, I cheered....

At least until he let her ignore the meat of the question ("How you gonna do that that? You're not the boss of them!) and trot out her collection of How I Will Save You sound bites in response. Possibly recognizing he was dealing with a stone wall, the reporter sighed and went on to the next question.

I'd like to tell you the incumbent has better sense. He may, but it's a damned close thing. The last time he got to pick a major bigtime city department head, he chose Frank Straub (fire him!), the odious, oleaginous weasel of a Public Safety Director who appears to have been instrumental in losing FOP support for the incumbent in the upcoming election.

I'm tellin' ya, it's tempting to sit this one out. We might as well elect double-dipper Lincoln Plowman and just post a list of prices-for-outcomes. At least the city would finish out his term in the black.

And who knows -- with his experience, maybe he could bribe IPS to do better.

Monday, September 19, 2011

T Shirt Fail? T-Shirt Win?

Check out the black T-shirts and you tell me. I suppose it all depends on how you look at it -- but there's no convincing me the marketing department at a major Indian truck, tractor and other vehicle maker didn't know what they were saying when they offered these T-shirts to U. S. customers. Buy 'em quick, they're on clearance already!

(I was looking for their three-wheeler utility vehicles. Don't seem to be bringing them to the States.)

Kiss Me, I'm Glowing

There's radioactive ore in Indiana! --At least according to this map. Pssst! Don't tell the EPA!

H'mm, looks like it might be around Turkey Run State Park. Don't mind the Geiger counter, Mr. Ranger. (Update: We're talking very low-grade shales, detectible but you're not gonna do yourself any harm if you have a picnic on an outcropping. I'd be very surprised if the area actually overlaps the park, it was just interestingly close).

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Guns? Oh, Here's A Gun

The Perkins Steam Gun: 1000 rounds a minute -- in 1824! And nary a one fired in war. (You want nightmares for a week? The Civil War Between The States* with steam machine guns. --Like this one -- thankfully, one and only.) As for Perkins, he's pretty amazing.

Found at Lateral Science, q.v., and for the finding of which I must thank Carl Bussjaeger.
* Northerners, Southerners, fight quietly among yourselves over this terminology; given Indiana's deeply divided opinion during the Late Unpleasantness, I thought it only fitting.


Wow. I had a nifty little confessional piece all mapped out, all about bein' pathologically shy and the various and goofy ways in which I have accommodated a basic inability to easily cope with social situations -- back when Ex and I were together, it was easy, just let him take the lead in any dealing with people (oh, and that didn't add any extra strain to the relationship, riiiight). These days, avoiding unfamiliar places and/or situations takes care of most of it, but I still can't go to the mall and places like sports amphitheaters give me the willies even empty -- it's a thousand times worse when there's a crowd there.

I had it all mapped out; went to the kitchen and threw together a sort of a breakfast from this and that (out of eggs, darn it! --Should have gone to the store yesterday but I stayed in and did housecleaning) and when I got back, I sat down and thought, Oh, why bother?

If you ain't got it, it all sounds like BS and self-indulgence. If you haven't spent a week or more hammering away at life through persistent, mild disassociation (combining these two) as the price of attending some unavoidable social function -- or even of having to shop someplace unfamiliar and crowded -- then you'll have no idea; the usual reaction is a good, hearty slap on the back and advice to "leap right in." "Just nerves," they say, "You'll get over it."

Yeah, no thanks; I might not all come back. (Some don't.) Sometimes, under some circumstances, I can cope by pushing through, keeping loud and active; I did it when I was much younger and usually had a drink or two to "help." It's disastrous if it fails, though; try going robotic while tipsy or in the middle of a dance floor. When I go places, it's better to stay on familiar turf if possible, near the exits if not, avoid crowds and never be in a position where I can't just get up and go home.

It's not because I'm aloof. It's not because I'm a cold, insensitive jerk. It's not even because I'm tactikewl.

I just gotta.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Clint Eastwood Says

"...Let's spend a little more time leaving everybody alone."

Oh, how I do like that man!

Yes, Bugs!

I saw my first preying mantis of the season earlier in the week, a medium-sized one hunting annoying insects on the wall of my house. No time for photo but I wished it happy hunting. They'll give you a nice little nip if bothered but they do good work.

Last week, another katydid leafed her way onto the porch, possibly looking for an egg-laying spot: It's a cricket in a party dress! --And with the good sense, I might add, to stay out of my basement. Would that her musical relatives did the same.

But the capper is this late-riser -- say you were a cicada; say you kept hitting the snooze alarm ("Plenty to do down here underground, lots of good grub, why go up?") until one day, one fine day the urge became overwhelming and by golly, you dropped whatever interesting bit of mucking about in the mud you were up to, dug up to the brilliant, blinding sunlight and then climbed and climbed madly up the very first climbable thing you came to, all kind of itchy with the urge to sprout wings and start yellin'. --Seemed kinda flimsy -- but it was too late, your skin was already startin' to stiffen up, so you grabbed and held on for all you were worth-- --Onto a chive stem. I hate to imagine how climbing out of its own skin went for the critter but I'm picturing a kind of Buster Keaton scene. (That image blows up pretty well, and is shrunk a bit from the original. Not bad for hand-held).

Did You Mean...?

In response to hand-wringing Balloon Juice blather about criminal behavior with firearms, one "Linda Featheringill" writes:
...[T]he presence of guns just made it worse. Without the presence of guns, some of those folks would have been yelling at each other but would still be alive. It probably is next to impossible to get rid of them all.

It's certainly more difficult to get rid of them all without guns -- but without guns, you can darned well count on the stronger person doing the "getting rid," especially if they strike first. (Or was that not what you meant? Tsk, you might want to work on that "clarity" thing.)

Y'know what we call the person who strikes first, Linda? The aggressor. They're usually the bad guy. Why do you want the bad guy to win?

Or do you really, in your heart of hearts, just want to "get rid of them all," the attacker and the victim alike, swept neatly out of your nice, quiet life? After all, they're so noisy and messy....

Gack. 'Scuse me, I hafta go urp.

Tiger Sunset

Last evening:Never seen it quite like that before.

(It occurs to me that some of my best photographs are at sunset. A few years back, about the time decent digital cameras started showing up for $100 or less, I bought one and started carrying it all the time. It pays off: the blog header image was shot while driving -- slowly! Just one of a series of barely-framed point'n'shoot images.)

Friday, September 16, 2011

Flying Predator With Three-On-The-Tree

A rambling telephone conversation last night touched on the topic of "first cars."

Mine had the distinction of already being a classic when my Dad purchased it for a shockingly low price: a '64 Ford Falcon with, yes, a "three on the tree" manual transmission. The various interesting holes in the sheet metal, including a disturbingly large one under the gas pedal, probably had something to do with the price. We* fixed that with sheet metal and pop rivets, and there ya go, chalky white paint and all. It was also the car in which, about three months later, I killed the engine (teenager, manual transmission...) at a 4-way stop about a mile from home and in the silence, heard a disturbing sound: drip, hiss...drip, hiss, over and over -- and it was coming from behind me. In fact, it was from the general area of the trunk: the gas tank had a tiny leak -- onto the muffler. I walked home and was promptly sent back with chewing gum, instructed to plug the leak and drive the car the rest of the way home! ...It turns out that it's not that hard to install a new gas tank in a '64 Falcon: the top of the tank is the bottom of the trunk!

That incident aside, I have many happy memories of the car. Ford stopped making them in 1970; their own Mustang was too much competition and after a short stint as a kind of underfed Fairlane, it was done....

...In the United States, that is. In Argentina, they started building 'em in-country in '62 and didn't stop until 1991! Better yet, styling changes were more evolutionary than revolutionary, so by the end, it was a car with something of the "timeless" lines of a BMW or Mercedes sedan, only Ford-ish -- no, really. It's a nice-looking car. See for yourself!

Pretty cool.
* Dad had this theory about kids and cars. My sister and I both got inexpensive, not very powerful, manual-transmission cars for our first ones (hers was a VW Beetle!) and had to show him we could change the air filter, the oil and a tire before we could drive by ourselves. --And we had to do all the minor maintenance with Dad's help. He said it was for our own good and he was right: I don't like to work on cars but it doesn't intimidate me.

Last Night's Dinner

A kind of "ploughman's lunch," only not: couple of hardboiled eggs, some "caviar salsa" (less the pimento; didn't have any) with corn chips and genuine Spanish Manchego cheese.

Stumbled over a description of Queso Manchego during a wikiwander some weeks back (I started with Caribbean islands claimed or colonized by Spain -- didja know there's a Spanish castle in the Dominican Republic built in 1502? -- and somehow ended up in La Mancha) and was pleasantly surprised to find it at the grocery a few days ago. Mild, flavorful and a bit buttery, it's a very nice accompaniment to the slightly spicy salsa.

Thursday, September 15, 2011


The Ancient Greeks and Romans might not have had television or even tabloid newspapers, but they knew how it works and personified it as a minor deity: Pheme or Fama, who, "had her feet on the ground, and her head in the clouds, making the small seem great and the great seem greater."

True that -- especially the bit about "making the small seem great."

Checking In With Scout26

It turns out one of the great visitors at the most recent Indy BlogMeet has been gettin' the ol' Doctor Runaround. BTDT myself, at far lower stakes, and it's one of the very most frustrating situations possible.

September BlogMeet

How does Sunday, 25 September sound? Probably start at the usual 3:00 p.m. Tam and I have been doing a little location-scouting, as there have been some new eateries opening up, but I'm open to suggestion.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Need A Lift To The Beach?

In Barcelona, that's taken care of in style. Um -- you're good with heights, right? (Page translated from French and will undoubtedly read more smoothly in the original for those of you who follow the language).

Built in 1931, just in time for the great Depression and Spanish Civil War, the Port Vell Ariel Tramway is the darnedest thing I have stumbled across in a Google-and-Wiki wander. It's even still running two of the original cable cars. The middle tower -- a stop on the line, mind you -- is the second-highest support tower in any such system anywhere, 107 meters. Rule-of-thumb* tells me that's around 350' American.
* Multiply by three and add ten percent (353'), rounding as you go (350'). It's fast and close -- actual is 351 and a fraction feet.


Trying to fix a bad economy by the application of more and more government is like trying to treat hemophilia by putting more and more leeches on the patient.

...Although in both cases, the bleeding does eventually stop.

Air-Conditioning Update

I bought a long, thin brush and made my plans -- and then never had time. So last week, I called the HVAC company I have used for twenty years -- Butler M-K* -- and they sent a tech out the next day.

Verdict: A pound low on working fluid -- and, he pointed out, when I did my test runs and it froze up again, the outside temperature had already dropped to the mid-upper 60s, which didn't help any.

$100 and he recharged the system and checked it out from top to bottom. I was happy to pay it.
* Called them from my car. Called Directory Assistance (I am not lookin' up and punching in numbers while driving!) and they'd never heard of them -- "But we do list a 'Bulter M-K.' Maybe it's misspelled." When I expressed surprise at The Phone Company having a name misspelled, she said she wasn't. O Tempora! O Orthographia!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Dinner Tonight

It's not New Year's but I was hungry for it and the cheater's version is pretty fast -- I made Hoppin' John for supper.

You can find about a zillion recipes for it (see link above) but it comes down to blackeyed peas (or any close relative -- or almost any ol' bean you find*) with onion and bell pepper (usually green) and a cured pork product (bacon, ham, etc.) over rice.

Glory Foods sells fully-cooked seasoned blackeyed peas in a can; the supermarket's got nifty packets of diced ham, too, plus modern 90-second microwave rice (the wonder of the age!); grab a nice onion and a pepper (the sweet red ones looked good) and you're good to go. All you have to do is rinse (trust me) the ham, toss it in a pan with a little hot oil, dice half the onion (to taste) and add it, dice the bell pepper and set it aside. Saute -- that's between "heat" and "fry" and includes frequent stirring -- until the onion is barely getting translucent, add the pepper (you don't want to overcook a sweet pepper, they get bitter about it) and give it a minute or two (you'll see the color "wake up"). At that point, pour the (opened! Oh, dear) can of blackeyed peas into the pot, stir well, cover and reduce heat to simmer.

Add whatever seasoning you like to this, at whatever stage seems right. Thyme is traditional, as is a little "New Orleans" seasoning. I tossed a quarter-tsp of sweet curry powder on the onions at the start, for color as much as anything; it plays off the ham nicely. And a pinch of sage and marjoram with the beans. This will not need salt. Oh, heavens no.

Give this mixture five minutes or more get to know itself, while you nuke the rice and set the table.

Serve spooned over rice -- be sure to get some of the liquid!

Hot sauce (at table, to taste) is another traditional touch. I went totally left-field; I have been looking at small, bright-red jars of harissa in the local market for months; finally bought some over the weekend. What is it? Think Moroccan salsa, or a thick medium-strength hot sauce without the vinegar. This brand has a mildly smoky taste and a hint of lemon, which fits right in with the ham and beans. A tiny dab is nice on a corn chip, or it can be used to warm up mild salsa. It looks like ketchup. Just don't apply it as if it were!

No photo; this is just a nice mess of stuff over rice. Plus...I ate it already.
* Who will brave the butter bean or chickpea frontiers? I have a terrible weakness for legumes, with blackeyed, field and pigeon peas very high on the list. The there's the chickpea, the lentil, black beans, pinto beans.... "15-Bean Soup" night was a very happy night for me, growing up.

Sheriff-created Local Tragedy

Marion County Sheriff John Layton: "...these firearms might have been returned to the street through an auction process, but I believe that the right thing to do is destroy them and completely eliminate the possibility that they might fall back into hands of criminals."

Yepper. 'Cos we know criminals just love to buy a gun from the po-lice and commit a felony right in front of 'em by filling out a Form 4473 sayin' they are okay-fine to have a gun.

Sheriff John Layton: there's a man for whom I will never vote. Ever. Just another antigunner in uniform. --Except for his own special self, of course.

Monday, September 12, 2011

New Content At Retrotechnologist

A touch of the ol' Art Deco.

In The Nooooz

Morning's best headline: Zombie Caterpillars Rain Death From Treetops.
("Dear USAF 7th Bombardment Wing(H), SAC, please be advised that 'Mors Ab Alto' appears to have been in previous use by a gypsy moth caterpillar parasite." Does that seem right to you?)

Stossel on Federal and public response to 9/11: "...government failed on 9/11, and yet the politicians' answer to failure is always the same: Give us more money and power." In Reason, Ronald Bailey runs the numbers on the odds of J. Random U. S. Civilian being terrorismed to death and concludes you need to buy struck-by-lightning insurance first.

True, and yet -- I was more comfortable with the caterpillars.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A Ticking...

...Clock? Time bomb?

On the morning on 11 September 2001, I was preparing to leave early to see my eye doctor before work. Stopped in my tracks when the first plane hit, I told my ex-to-be, "Well, unless that was an accident, 'they' finally did it. May get worse."

I still wasn't prepared for the second plane or the Pentagon and most certainly not the collapse of the WTC towers,* but I'd been expecting something bad ever since things started to get weirder with Ruby Ridge during the last years of the G. H. W. Bush Presidency, the first WTC attack in '93, and so on. Looking at the availability of asymmetrical methods to apply truly devastating force, I was of the opinion the West, and the U.S. in particular, was overdue to lose a major city to one or another kind of barbarian. I still think we are.

Ten years ago, a principle T. E. Lawrence first applied in modern times against the Ottoman Empire came home to strike Manhattan; but don't kid yourself, everywhere civilization goes, so go those who would pull it down, for their God or for glory, for envy, loot or the sheer joy of making things go smash. It has never been otherwise; and that, that is what you should "never forget."
* Because of knowing about the B-25 crash into the Empire State Building.


Y'know how they say, "The Great Wall of China is visible to the naked eye from orbit? It ain't.

Y'know how they say, "You can't see national boundaries from orbit?" Wrong at least three times over and never more wrong than at the India/Pakistan border. (The others are North/South Korea and Haiti/Dominican Republic) .

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Comes A Voice

...Tam, from the Library Annex (Reading Room, single-seater): "...Those bastids have tiny dreams..."

RX: "Wha..?"

Tam: (over the sound of the sink) "Tiny dreams!"

RX: "Short in duration or small in scope?"

Tam: "Small in vision! 'The space station of the future won't be a giant wheel but small and more like a child's Erector Set construction.' Hmpf!" (Steps out into hall, face to face with--)

RX: "Reading my 'Space Stations' book, ey?"

Tam: "Small-minded space scientists! I hope their ancestors end up living in trees and throwing rocks!"

RX: (Raises an eyebrow, tries to hold serious expression) "Um--"

Tam: "All right, 'Descendants!'"

...A pity, an arboreal version of the opening sequence for 2001: A Space Odyssey was already playing in my mind's theatre).

Irony: I Still Haz It

...So, I spent two three hours* helping collect donations -- and, mostly, passing out T-shirts to the donors -- to help pay for the Indianapolis 9/11 memorial. What did I learn?

1. The people stopping by felt really, really good about having a way to pitch in. A few mentioned having had a friend or relative directly affected by the attacks on the World Trade Center towers or the Pentagon. So that was pretty kewl.

2. I darned near did in my back and neck. Been stiff and hurting all day today. Thought I was in better shape than that.
* My department, in which several members had been skeptical or made jokes about the effort, showed up on time and in force. Our replacements....not so much. So we stayed over. Hey, the individual who organized it worked the entire event, well over 13 hours.

A Vistor From Afar, Or One Of Them Places

إخطار إعادة التوجيه
الصفحة التي كنت عليها تحاول إرسالك إلى

إذا كنت لا ترغب في زيارة تلك الصفحة، يمكنك العودة إلى الصفحة السابقة.

Ooooooo. Whatzit say? Somethin' dangerous or tactikewl?

Um, no:

"Redirect Notice
"The page you are trying to send you to the

"If you do not want to visit that page, you can return to the previous page.

The world is not only more ordinary than we think, it is way more ordinary than anyone could imagine.

Except for the giant slugs (limax maximus), of course. Haven't seen them this year -- too hot and dry, I expect. Sic transit gloria limax, alas.

"The War On Democrat Voters"

Requiring voters identify themselves before voting: it's the latest boogyman doin' the boogie-woogie under the Left's bed! --And, like all under-the-bed monsters, it's imaginary.

Let's take a look at how Voter ID works in the state that started it (in an attempt to reduce voting fraud), my own fair Indiana:
Public Law 109-2005 requires Indiana residents to present a government-issued photo ID before casting a ballot at the polls on Election Day.
Oo, nooooooes! How can those cruel, cru-el people do that? Don't they know The Poor can't possibly comply, not without missing meals and having to leave Timmy down the well?

...Glad you asked:
If you do not possess an ID that is acceptable for voting purposes, Public Law 109-2005 requires the BMV to issue an Indiana State ID Card for free.
[Emphasis mine] Please note the same Public Law is referenced in the two quotes. Yes, that's right, the very same law that required you to actually identify yourself also required the state to provide you the means to do so, free for nothing!

--Oh, and any military ID will do, even the ones that expire "INDEF." Or perhaps your driver's license or State ID is expired? Hey, as long as it ran out after the most recently-past General Election, you're good to go.

I'm still assured by the people in funny glasses inside my TV that It Is All A Koch Brothers Plot Against Democrats; and in support, let's take a look at the wild success that plot achieved in 2008 here in the Hoosier heartland, long a GOP stronghold:
Barack Obama upended 40 years of Republican tradition by winning the presidential race in Indiana in one of the closest contests in the nation between him and John McCain.

Friday, September 09, 2011

...What I've Been Reading

The Telling - Ursula K. LeGuin: Set in her universe of the Ekumen and the Hain, this is a striking story. While some folks find her work preachy, I enjoy a lot of it even when I disagree with her thesis; I have always had a soft spot for any writer who can dream up her own personal utopia, spot the glaring flaw in it, and build a novel around it. (The Dispossessed). Utopias are hardly to be seen in her latest work, though the dystopian results of attempts to build them abound; even the dimly-glimpsed alternative has its flaws. A carefully-wrought world with a distressing problem, LeGuin manages to get across the essential problem with any society or system that won't leave people be, and moves the arc from problem to.... Not quite solution. Which is perhaps where the story should end, and the telling begin. Wonderfully well written. Recommended.

Strata - Terry Pratchett: It's not a spoiler to let you know this is Discworld before Discworld. Nor that he had not quite found his narrative voice yet; it begins with a unique notion that turns out to be balanced atop one even odder and more fascinating, turns into a kind of Ringworld parody, and then offers a very brief look at what will become the author's most famous creation. By the end (taking yet another sharp turn), I was starting to hear the Terry Pratchett I've come to enjoy -- and you won't believe which resident of later Discworld is the first to show up! Out of print as far as I know, but can be found used.

Antarctica - Kim Stanley Robinson: Philosophically, I often find myself somewhat to completely at odds with his notions but Robinson may be one of the best writers working in English. And to his credit, there's a strong anti-authoritarian streak in his work; but while he's no communist, he is a definitely-Left libertarian. If you can get past that, he tells compelling, flowing stories and this one manages to move fluidly from a relatively familiar exploration of the U.S. base at McMurdo to...but that would be telling. Alas, you will be reading that "there are too many of us on the planet," with no solution directly offered; but you'll be pleased the learn the villains of the piece are the sort who spike trees and torch tractors; even the ecologically-attuned Robinson can't give 'em halos -- and for that matter, the worst eeeevil corporation simply treats its employees a bit worse than W@lm@rt. While I prefer his earlier work, Icehenge, etc., he is a brilliant writer, able to capture the complexity of human relationships like none other. Worth reading.

As ever, if they sound interesting, please buy via the Amazon link at Tam's.

* * *

An aside -- I think with left-libertarian writers like LeGuin and Robinson, it's easy to get hung up on points of difference and miss the huge overlaps on things like suspicion of bigness and Authority, attitudes towards mercantilism (any corporation is very much a creature of the State), and the importance of voluntary association and of letting people do as they wish as long as it doesn't interfere with others. For example, an important part (and one the author appears to admire) of one culture in The Telling is square dealing, trading value for value, cash on the barrelhead. Yep, LeGuin and Rand, swappin' gold coins at that same table; how 'bout that? Arguments are easy, even a child can do it; finding and holding the common ground where things get done? That requires grown-up interaction.
PS: I missed all but the very end of The President's big speech last night. What I heard sounded like a mishmash of JFK and FDR, as assembled by Kafka or Stanislaw Lem. Will our Five Year Plan for a Great Leap Forward into the Iron Rice Bowl succeed? ...Don't bet on it. Economy, like gravity, eventually does as it must; Presidents and Congresses flail alongside, pretending to herd the avalanche and occasionally succumbing.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Quick Takes

James Hoffa's fighting words -- David Frum looked into what a Teamster's "take out" comprises.

Irony. I Haz It -- having bemoaned the media/political obsession with picking at the scab of 9/11, I learned yesterday that part of my work assignment Friday -- me and everybody else at work, e-v-e-r-y-o-n-e -- will be to stand at the curb and collect donations for Indianapolis's very own islamic victory monument Ground Zero Memorial: two rusty I-beams, from which I hope they've scraped all the asbestos. I find this politically objectionable -- unlike many people, I remember who picnics at Little Big Horn at the anniversary of the battle -- but you know what? It pays exactly the same as doing my real job and gets me out in the healthy fresh air. And it's not as if we were stopping cars and demanding tribute, either.

December 7, 1951 -- Undoubtedly there was a somber ceremony at Pearl Harbor, but I wonder, was there a week-long national dirge leading up to the day? We got Tojo; we got OBL. Yeah, there's still a bunch of wretched weasels out there who hate the West, the U.S. especially, and work to do harm to persons and property; but Americans are not incompetent, and we're no longer unaware. It might be time to take off the sackcloth and ashes.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

The Narrative

Tom Brokaw, pontificating for the Today show: "The Tea Party is tiny but very well organized...they show up everywhere...." --Or, Tom, maybe -- just maybe! -- there are a whole lot of people annoyed at an ever-growing, ever-taxing monster of a Federal government, and a lot more of them than ever are willing to get out there and wave signs? But if you admitted that, you'd pee in your boots from fear.

Meanwhile, anent POTUS, Tom muses, "His party...wonders which guy will show up," the "angry populist," the executive who "rolled back environmental regulations,"* or "the cool arbitrator..." But Tom, that's all the same guy: the "magic mirror" campaigner, who gives the audience whatever they want to see. Tsk, sooo fickle; you lurved it in '08. (To be fair, I'm convinced winning Presidential elections these days requires a degree of appearing to be all things to a majority of the people, to be politically as Suetonius gossiped Julius Caesar was in the bedroom, "Every woman's husband and every man's wife." --Oh, and promise enough special interest groups they'll get their breaded circuses -- promise with crossed fingers).

Ahh, election season. I'll be voting mostly Libertarian -- and popping popcorn.
* I believe that's hyperbole: all he did was tell EPA to maintain existing smog standards, rather than implementing stricter rules. But the Green Democrats have been cadging beers to cry in ever since, blearily averring Hilary (or Ralph) wouldn'a done it.

Breakfast: Wishes vs. Reality

What I'd make if I had time: a "slinger," hashbrowns, a couple eggs and a sausage or ground pork patties, generously covered with chili, with onions and cheese.

Wikipedia tells me it's a "Midwestern diner specialty," but until I stumbled over the article, I'd never heard of it. (Despite that, I invented my own version one weekend morning: corned beef hash, fried egg, chili on top, much better than you'd expect).

What I'm having: Honey-Nut Chex. Which are really quite good.

Plus coffee and juice, of course.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Mom X Update

Ever since her "woke up on the floor" event and subsequent trip to the hospital, Mom's been in a rehab hospital -- kind of like a nursing home, but with more and better-paid nurses, plus a physical rehab center right down the hall.

She has three broken ribs (high ones --1, 2 and 3 on the right), plus a nasty bump on the head and it was worrying to figure out. But her doc persisted and it looks very much like dehydration caused by a change in medication; we've all had dehydration sneak up on us, usually in the mild form of discovering you were way thirstier than you expected; this was similar but worse. And there's some comfort in that -- it wasn't any of the bad things it could've been, but something simple and preventable.

She's a lot more active now; helps to have experts keeping everything on track, and with the painful broken ribs, she needed to have somebody around 24/7. But she's made steady and rapid progress, and hopes to be back home by the end of this week! (She's walking better than I've seen in years.)

--Her little dog misses her terribly. Given freedom of the house, Ty will check Mom's bedroom, then get comfy next to the door so he can be sure of seeing her.

Teamsters President Rant

Yeah, yeah, I ignored Labor Day...again. I think it's idiotic to "celebrate labor" by havin' everyone (other than essential services and retail workers!) take the day off (especially managers and above; funny, that). Oh, it could be worse -- I guess it's better to go have a picnic than a live-fire, audience-participation restaging of the Haymarket riot.

James Hoffa of the Teamsters disagrees. Nope; if there's a metaphorical fuse, he'll happily supply a match -- and an arm to throw the explosive package, too. Or as he put it "...they gotta war...let's take these sons-of-bitches out!"

What foe was he talking about? Multiple-choice:
A) The bosses and owners, traditional boogeyman for labor leaders.
B) Al-Qaeda and other Muslim terrorist groups
C) The TEA Parties and some Congressional Republicans

...Yeah, that one's a gimme, an easy "C." Reportedly, the President -- you know, of the United States -- was at that event and, as they say, "Silence is consent."* Which is what he said about inciting partisan violence: de nada.

Makes me feel soooooooo comfy. Or, how about that, exactly the reverse. Hoffa, you fatheaded bombthrower, is your flag not bloody enough?

(Upcoming Bookend Holiday Rant: "By the same amount of time after Pearl Harbor, we'd helped reduce Berlin to rubble, burnt Dresden to a crisp, nuked two cities in Japan, held two full sets of war-crimes trials and had brought most of the troops home and were well underway rebuilding the victim and losing countries; the war was won, over and receding in the rearview mirror," or, "A Hair Shirt and Two Holes In The Ground." I blame a hyperdramatic, crybaby media, plus a compliant audience of vid-addicted drones who won't tell 'em when to STHU.)
* Ever wonder who that 'they' might be?

Monday, September 05, 2011

Katy Green

--She looks like a leaf that woke up and decided to try hopping:A couple of commenters have mentioned how they just couldn't possibly live anyplace where you could tell the season by the insect life; I guess that means I'm popular in sterile facilities located in the Polar regions, 'cos anywhere else, you have bugs.

You just do. They've got us outnumbered and most of them are no problem. Katydid and cicadas certainly aren't, other than the noise. (Okay, it's possible katydids might show up in sufficient numbers to vex a farmer.) Katydids sing me to sleep every night in the Summer and Fall; I can't image disliking them. (I like cicadas, too -- did you know the males have a mechanical disconnect in their ears? 'Strewth, a boy cicada can turn off his tympana. So human! Actually, it's so they don't deafen themselves, the cheaters). --Crickets are okay other than running loose indoors, I draw the line at that. (There's a batch outside now, complaining "chill...chill....chill" very slowly.)

Wherever you are, bugs are there, too (with a few exceptions -- high enough and/or dry enough, even the persistent ones tend to go ::pop::). Many are quite beautiful -- might as well enjoy them!

House Number By Daylight

Very happy with it. Wouldn't change a thing!
Photo if now I can have figured out how to scramble it.

(Bug-haters, that's probably a cicada at upper left on the attic window frame! Ooooooeeeeeee!)


It started, I think, with a random link to Joe E. Brown, lead to Philip Wylie, forked to his short story, "The Paradise Crater" (a Nazis-on-the-Moon yarn from 1945 that had him under house arrest by the Feds for awhile -- I want to read it!) and another Wylie work, Gladiator, (considered a probable influence on Superman) which led back Joe E. Brown and from there to Daws Butler. (With side trips to see Don Messick and Time for Beany). (This leads inevitably to The Brain and his voice, the brilliant Maurice LaMarche. Oh, if only he weren't...Canadian. [Kidding!])

"Daws who?" Why, the voice of Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound and a long list of Hanna-Barbera characters, and one of Nancy Cartwright's mentors!

.....From Wylie article, it appears likely he was the godfather not only of the Man of Steel, but the Man of Bronze (Doc Savage) and the Man of the Future (Flash Gordon).

Sunday, September 04, 2011


Wotta day -- about noon-thirty, the A-coil for Roseholme Cottage's air conditioning froze up (or, more like, finished freezing up), so I got to peel the tape off and learn the guys who installed it were, shall we say, not neat freaks, nor were they much for sheet-metal screws.

I'm tellin' ya, I am giving serious thought to making up an angle-iron frame with every side a removable sheet of galvanized metal, sticking it between the furnace and the box where all ducts depart, and havin' the cooling coils installed in it. It's who-ever-bothers difficult to clean them otherwise and as for defrosting, it was Not Fun.

...About then, work called, to tell me someone was breaking into the North Campus! Oh, no, hold was my boss, tripped up by the alarm. So I had to call up there, just to make sure nothing else had gone wrong. The alarm system doesn't leave a whole lot of leeway; if you can't touch-type the keypad, you have maybe 1.5 tries. (I have the centipede's problem: I can work it fine unless I stop to think about it.)

But Tam and I got defrosting done and I hope the coil hasn't iced up again. Ran it for a couple of hours after with just the fan, to dry 'em off. We started up the AC about four hours ago and we still seem to have cool air moving. Picked up fasteners and some foil tape at Giant Home Improvement; the tape has yet to be applied, 'til I am sure I won't have to open it up again. (You do not use "duct tape" for this. It's not really for ducts. Go figure).

Update, 0000 hours: Iced up again. Dammit. I'd like to suppose we were low on coolant but it's more likely the coils are all clogged up. With, say, a paste of fine cat-hair and condensation. I'm betting that new coils may be on the horizon. Tomorrow's predicted high, 70 degrees coolly Fahrenheit, for a mercy.

I also did the first-effort stenciling of the street number. The sun set on me (it's a slow process) but I pressed on. I'm not unhappy with it by flashlight; we shall see what sunrise reveals.

The end of that effort was interwoven with starting up the grill for a couple of nice ribeyes; I also nuked a pair of white potatoes, then buttered, salted, peppered and foiled them and added them to the grill, hoping a little hardwood smoke would trickle in.

Did it work? --Put it this way: Tam finished her potato in lipsmacking delight and spent another 20 minutes on the steak, finally putting a little aside for later. The steaks were darned good, too; I was wondering how much of My Secret Recipe was in simply buying Filet Mignon and the answer is -- about 25%.

And, meanwhile, the Joys of Laundry. Which is where I'm headed next, to load the dryer for another volley.

PS: It's giant green katydid season! Photo may follow.

The Benefits Of Cross-Cultural Communication

Russel Peters on why zero got invented in India.


Picture this: a same-day delivery service that gets it wrong only one time in six million. A multihub shipper without paper trails, routing items from multiple sources to multiple destinations (and back again, same day!) using a cleverly-simple number/letter/color code. And it happens in a nearly "flat" organization, only three levels total from the guys who deal with customers to the tippy-top -- oh, and to work there, you have to "buy-in," by contributing actual working hardware.

Maybe you've never heard of them but Prince Charles has -- and timed a visit to Mumbai so he could meet dabbawallahs in that tiny mid-day window of time when they've got time.

Here's a glimpse of what they do:

Yes, they're runnin' lunch from Mom or wife to family members working outside the home or attending school, and doing it with Six-Sigma reliability (and nary a bloviating pep-session about it, either -- 'cos there are lunches to get delivered!)

Started out during the Raj; seems some of the office-working Brits in-country weren't all that happy with their nearby tiffin options and wanted a little something home-cooked. Where there's a will (and some cash), there's a way -- and it was a way Indians could pick up a few rupees from their "overstaying guests," too. But it turned out to be one of those things that, once set up, grew to bring in a steady income on tiny fees.

Probably plenty to be learned from a close study of their methods; certainly some aspects are unique, while others ought to be as familiar as the sadly not-quite-vanished* American milkman. When the pundits speak of "high trust" societies or business cultures, this is what they're talking about.
* See comments; there are a few real delivering dairies left.

Random Music

Buzzin' away on Indy's airwaves, mostly forgotten, is one of those "video musicbox" low-power stations, little more than a fat server hooked to a little transmitter. I was hunting radar as dinky, noisy pop-up storms tackhammered into town and channel-hopped in just in time for this to start up:

...Okay, now you tell me what genre that is. I thought country at first but on second thought, I'm not so sure. Kinda catchy, whatever it is.

(The consensus is "R&B" or "blues;" and the word is, there may just be a little band called Sidewinder in the Air Force that does a cover -- and some other very fine performances you can find on that there YouTube.) Link

Saturday, September 03, 2011


Went out to the garage late the other night and on my return, noticed a perfectly enormous cicada on the doorframe, sitting there quietly at a funny angle, all green, black and gold. I took a good, long look; they're fascinating critters, homely as a bulldog but wonderfully shaded and marked.

...And then I realized that next to it, at precisely the same angle and pose, was a tiny, clear-winged insect, doing its best to look like a baby cicada. Since that's not how the cicada life-cycle works (not even close), I'm going to assume it was sheer admiration.

Okay, they're bugs. But I'm still greatly reminded of the Looney Toons cartoons with the two thug dogs, an enormous bulldog and a tiny mutt: "Whatcha wanna do today, Spike? Make a really annoying sound for like hours an' hours? Hey, Spike? Y'wanna we should do that, hunh?"

Maybe I'd better switch to decaf.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Tomb Or Opportunity?

"Save the Star!" is the rallying cry of the website; some might find that a little self-serving but it's more like self-interested, since the site's set up and run by The Newspaper Guild, the union for the Indianapolis Star's reporters and others. Hey, no paper, no union dues, they'd be insane if they weren't concerned. (Indiana's not a right-to-work state, if you were wondering; that union card is a prerequisite).

The paper's owner, the notoriously tightfisted, newspapers-as-a-business Gannett, has indeed been cutting and hacking away at jobs. The most recent casualty I know of was the guy who covered the auto industry and manufacturing; given the way those jobs have been fleeing Marion County and the surrounding doughnut counties, it's an open question just how much work there was for him: "Yup, the plants are still closed," week after week, doesn't make headlines.

If there's less to report and if subscribers are fleeing (to the 'net and TV, it appears) in droves, an outfit like Gannett, honed in small, lean markets, is going to follow it all the way down, figuring there'll be a bottom and betting it'll either be profitable to operate -- or profitable to sell. (At least the hardware? "Hey buddy, wanna buy a web press?" "No, thanks, got all my money tied up in buggy whips!")

But when The Guild tells us, "Those of us who remain are finding it harder to provide the news you need, the stories you want to read and the information you expect," it sounds like a call to preserve a museum, kind of an inky Conner Prairie. (Ha! Should'a thought of that before they ditched the Linotype!) Like the tomb of Tutankhamen, pickled under glass, safe from the admiring breath of tourists and the touch of common hands....

But if there's news people need going unreported, if there are stories they want to read languishing unleaded on hard drives and thumb drives or in reporter's skulls, if hoi polloi* are expecting information and not finding it --

Why, what those poor rubes need is a newspaper. A real-live, chock-fulla-news newspaper! Right here in Circle City!

And you know who could put 'em together a pretty darned good, low-overhead newspaper? Why, a bunch of out of work reporters and copy editors and photographers! Oh, if only they had some kind of a way to organize, out from under the heavy thumb of a profiteering corporation with nasty evil investors; if only they had some kind of syndicate. Or a Guild....

If only. In other news, you would not believe where pigs are flying out of before that'll happen. No you would not. My goodness won't that be uncomfortable. (Might be worth it if they did, though -- why should newspapers go gentle into the good night, put to sleep like a stray? Get out there and run. It might not work, it probably won't work; at least the industry would die on its feet.)
* You know WTH is old Greek for "the?" Hoi. Oi! I ain't sayin' it twicet and you shouldn't expect me to.

To Heck With My Flying Car

Where's my cheap-as-shingles photovoltaic roof? Add a synchronous inverter and I can roll weather dice with Power & Light over who pays who.

Ah, if only. Right now it costs too much for a seat at that table. But it's my second goal after paying off the mortgage.

Flying car, pfui, I've seen how you people drive and I'm not wanting it in 3-D. I'm holding out for Douglas-Martin sunpower screens! (They're sure not gonna be Solyndra products. Hey, way to build a better mousetrap suck down the Free Money From The Government.)

Thursday, September 01, 2011

I Did Not Know That

"Q: Who invented the spaceship and where...?"

"A: The Space Ship Was Invented In 1453. The Inventor was named John Hillman Jockenhowser..."

By golly, it's enough to make you stop asking. Or start answering, in similar vein. Or would it be "vain," as in "in?"

Related. Yeesh.

Reading, Learning

"Diogenes, on being asked why people give to beggars but not to philosophers, said: 'Because they suppose they might become lame and blind but they never suppose they might take up philosophy.'"[1]

I just finished Possum Living, "How to Live Well Without a Job and (Almost) No Money;" the author's father was a great admirer of Diogenes and the (then) 18-year-old Polly Free sets out with her own lamp of truth, describing how the two of them were getting through the late 1970s -- years of malaise and stagflation -- on practically nothing but their wits and the kind of small-scale agriculture and animal husbandry you can practice in a suburban back yard and basement.

As someone who grew up in a home with ducks in the yard (ahh, duck eggs! Nothing better for baking! I liked them fried; you might not), a good-sized vegetable garden and a beehive[2], I found the book utterly charming. And it includes descriptions of home winemaking and distillation, for those inclined towards chemical recreation. Not just a period piece, it's at least as full of practical notions as any similar work and refreshingly free of politics or scaremongering. This book is worth owning.

What became of young "Polly," unschooled from 7th grade on? Why, she grew up to become an aerospace engineer (with a degree and a job at NASA) and later, a Nature instructor, and has raised a few kids of her own. Not bad for a "possum," hey? Not bad for anyone!
1. That's a "chreia," by the way, a class of writing well worth Googling.

2. Absolutely true: Mom never "smoked" her bees to calm them and though she owned a beekeeper's veiled hat, after a few years, she didn't bother with it. She and the bees got along just fine, even when she was collecting honey. I have no idea how this arrangement was reached; I can only report what I observed. When my parents moved to a bedroom community near Indianapolis and brought the bees along, the little town sent a code-enforcement honcho over: the bees had to go. "Too dangerous," they said. Yeah, just like roses are dangerous.

Hallelujah - Imogen Heap

One voice. A little electronics. Nothing more.