Saturday, December 31, 2011

It Should Be A Congressional Tradition

The Expulsion Of The Drones -- honeybees do it; a practical lot, they kick out all or most of the drones at the onset of winter, removing the drain in their stored honey by now-useless hive members who have already performed their only function. (Nice video from a Canadian bee-blogger).

I can just imagine the happy scene were Congress to do the same, struggling Senators and Representatives being shoved down the Capitol steps by junior members and pages and piling up at the bottom. Heart-warming!

Don't worry for the bees. Much as we keep electing Congressthings, they'll make more in the Spring. Through the winter, there's a slow but steady death-rate and a small pile of dead bees will accumulate. Most of the bees will stay comfy enough, slowed down by the cold but hanging in there.*
* My mother kept bees for years and years; when she and Dad moved back to the Indy area, they had the hive up a little over a week before some officious type showed up from the (suburban) city, demanding they get rid of the "dangerous nuisance." What, there aren't naturally-occurring bees around? It was a very docile hive; she hadn't even had to smoke them to collect honey. ...But it had to go.... Sad. That was some fabulously-good honey, too. Link

Friday, December 30, 2011

Classic TV Shows, Updated

What would they look like today?

The Raffleman: a single father and his son play the lottery and enter raffles obsessively; in each episode, the two solve problems using their Lotto-ticket skills.

Gunsneak: a crusty Western Border Patrol officer cleans up the Old West by smuggling advanced weaponry across the Rio Grande -- on Federal orders! Marshal Holder; "Doc," the meth-brewing entrepreneur; and Miss Kitty, the hard-drinkin' Treasury agent (under cover as a saloon-girl) with a heart of brass.

Manic: the adventures of a steroid-abusing Ohio policeman, fired for over-the-top hostile behavior, who becomes a private detective and doesn't get hit on the head nearly often enough.

The Honeymooners - Intervention and The Honeymooners - The Biggest Loser: A reality show twofer! In the first series, bipolar, spouse-abusing bus driver Ralph is confronted by his wife Alice and friend Ed, a city sanitation worker, and promises to take his medication and attend counseling. In the second, Alice has left and Ralph struggles to lose weight and stay on his meds, roping in poor Ed with various grandiose schemes.

The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits: In-depth reporting on Congress and the Presidency.

Minitru, Nork-Style

Dateline, where else but North Korea -- After awhile, if you're the smoldering-pants news agency of a history-rewriting dictatorship that removed condemnation of hereditary rule from the official political dictionary, you lose all sense of what's true and real -- if there's a messy knot of photographers in an image, why, you Photoshop it away, as neatly as you'd fake up missile-test results.

...Of course, it looks kind of odd to the outside world if an honest news service happened to trip their shutter at the same time from just a couple feet away.

Maybe "a lie can run around the world nefore the truth has got its boots on," but these days, it doesn't matter all that much if it takes the truth a few laps 'round the Equator to catch up; at nearly the speed of light, the lie is caught out in less than an eyeblink.

Thursday, December 29, 2011


Reminder: We will be having a BlogMeet this coming Sunday, at 1:30 p.m. Turk Turon and Frank W. James will be there, along with plenty of other bloggers. How about you?

E-mail roberta (dot) X (at) sbcglobal (dot) net for details!


Some good stuff in this one:

There's a new indoor range in town! Not huge and hours are somewhat limited, but hooray nonetheless, and a big welcome for Indy Trading Post! Quite a remarkable achievement to get all the permits for an indoor range inside the Indy metro and they are to be commended for seeing it through.


Y'know who was a complex, self-described "difficult man?" Big-band leader Artie Shaw -- left-leaning in politics, a sharpshooter and the man who made Cole Porter's Begin the Beguine a hit. (He came to dislike the song.*) Throughout his career, he tended to take long sabbaticals whenever the mood struck; reportedly, he once did so in the middle of a performance. He did some writing, too, which I'd like to have a look at.


Dija know Charles Ponzi wrote an autobiography? Yep -- and it's in print. But Congressbeings, please remember it's not a "how-to" book.


Last but not least, Autovon. It's gone now, leaving a few bunkers in various places. (Indiana colleges had SUVON, a private phone system of sorts, without actual bunkers [mostly!]. Widely abused, it's long gone, too.)
* Joanie Mitchell may have made the definitive statement on the performing artist's dilemma; asked to play one of her hits for the umpteenth time, she laughingly remarked, "Nobody ever said to van Gogh, 'Paint Starry Night again, man.'" But she played the song.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Speaking Of French Engineering

CNES, the French space exploration agency, has a nice English-language edition of their website. They're launching Soyuez rockets now, in addition to the well-established Ariane 5. I suspect the Russian bird does very well, launching from French Guiana instead of the usual approximately-Detroit latitude of Baikonur

Vehicle WANT

It's no secret that my tastes in vehicles are quirky; I'd love to own a Ford Model A (electric start, please), miss the old black Suzuki Samurai I drove for a decade and still regret not having made an offer when Moe & Johnny's (a sort-of Depression-era-themed bar/restaurant in Broad Ripple) sold their much-modified 1920's pickup truck (modern engine, steering, drivetrain, brakes and electrical).

I'm still giving serious thought to a Corvair "Rampside" pickup truck (and I do need to own some kind of a truck); but when I saw a Citroën H Van in a YouTube video, I just about swooned. What's not to love?Ferociously underpowered -- it used the same engine as the lovely Traction Avant (also WANT!) but ends up with a power-to-weight ratio more like the tough little 2CV ("has to make an appointment to merge onto the freeway") -- surviving examples appear to be remarkably durable. Camper versions have carried tourists all over the globe, trundling gamely along where drivers of more powerful vehicles might fear to set a tire.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A Society That Fights Back

...Look, I don't know that it's all that much more polite (most people are polite anyway), but eventually it's a lot safer.

The other day, a fellow went into a grocery store on Indy's northwest side and stuck "something hard" against a clerk's back, ordering her to take him to the store manager's office.

En route, another employee noticed -- and shot the guy. (From context, it would appear that individual had a much better look at the "something hard" than anyone yet interviewed.)

Bottom line: bad guy is stopped, permanently; and IMPD isn't arresting anyone.

Details are still being filled in but it looks like a clean win for the people opposed to strong-arm robbery. And that would be most of us.

In a world where clerks have taken to punching out attempted robbers, crime really doesn't pay.

If you want less of something, stop subsidizing it! That's a message the anti-gun, anti-self-defense crowd cannot grasp -- but most people can, and have, and are applying.Link

Monday, December 26, 2011


You and I, we celebrate the season by spending time with friends and family. The Other Side, they spend it making snarky cracks about the lawful activities of law-abiding individuals.

Just had a comment left by a banned-from-commenting-here anti-freedom guy (he'd love to be mentioned by name; let's just say he's admitted to committing State and Federal firearms felonies and yet remains out of jail -- and out of the U.S.), offering his invidiously warped insight about my comment "I carry a gun so I don't have to be afraid," a notion he ascribes to Marko Kloos. (It's way older than Mr. Kloos' elegant essay -- see, for example, the Savage Automatic Pistol brochure from before WW I, "It Banishes Fear!")

He seems to imply oh yes I am so afraid, nyahh-nyahh.* Wrong-o, slim. And perhaps you've never been as scared as I once was, after getting held up at gunpoint twice (and escaping unharmed only because I resisted), any time I had go outdoors at night. Probably you've never been as pants-wetting scared as I was when it happened.

But I worked a shift that left me no way to avoid commuting in the dark, walking across an unguarded parking lot late at night. So I learned to shoot. I got a carry permit and I bought a gun.

I learned to pay better attention to my surroundings but you know what? It's a lot easier to do that when you are not in fear. I'm cautious, I'm careful and I'm observant -- but I'm not afraid.

No matter how much freedom-hating antis would like to force me to be.

D00d, it's over. The antis have lost big and keep on losing and losing. Keep your hoplophobia outside the U.S., in the same places you're hiding your own sorry ass from legal penalties you have earned by breaking the same kind of laws you'd like to force on everyone else.

And by the way, you're still banned. Didn't you have a blog of your own? Wassamatta, no traffic?
* Project much?

Good Morning

Entertaining The Data Viking -- who's had a heck of a year; we were visited yesterday by commenter Perlhaqr (a delightful guy!).

News from Brigid yesterday -- I'd not been reading blogs much of late and missed her knee injury. Ow! She's on track for surgery this week, with my best wishes for a speedy recovery.

More content to follow.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!

...And/or Happy Holidays.

--Don't nobody accuse me of making war on Christmas, either; human beings have been finding reason to celebrate around the (Northern Hemisphere) Winter solstice for years. While it is an especially pleasant circumstance that one of the two biggest Christian holidays happened to fall on approximately the same date and I wouldn't even consider stealing any of their thunder or wonder, plenty of other folks mark the season too. I hope all of 'em enjoy it.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

It'll Be SPAM® For Brekky

...With Bacon in my dreams....
This is how it met the plate.

It starts here, with a challenge from Uncle Jay, who handed me a can of the stuff at the previous BlogMeet: "Let's see what you can cook up with this!" Actually, it starts here, sitting on a cheeseboard. I had my doubts, but it sliced up nicely... ...and cooked up nicely. Set that aside. (Stashed in the oven, as the cats thought it was wonderful!) I moved on to other filling items. Plus cheese -- I had the cheeseboard out already, after all. Bamboozed the eggs with some milk, water and Worcestershire and started the tricky bit next. Managed to flip it! Two huge servings: With salsa -- I added some hot sauce, Tam went with red/black/green pepper Afterwards, the cats demonstrated how to cope: Ahh, a nap!Verdict? It tastes great! You should put a few cans of SPAM® with Bacon in your food cache. I'd rate it better-tasting than the original version (and even that, if you've never tried it, fries up a treat; I keep a can or two on the shelf all the time, for emergency breakfast meat).

The Bacon Spam Experiment Begins

Hey, Uncle Jay? The tasting starts now. Photos to follow.

Update: Hey, this is good! Did a nice omlette: Bacon Spam, mushrooms, a leek, a few green olives, some Gruyere cheese inside and a little leftover Swiss on top.

So This Is Christmas

It's struck me as a very un-Christmas-y holiday season this year: no snow, plenty of green grass, overcast, rainy days interspersed with sunny ones.

Fewer decorations on houses, too. While Christmas retail sales are up compared to last year, they're not what they were before '08. People (with the exception of a few protesters bitterly holding out) appear resigned to things being bad and staying that way.

--And yet, consider the one-percenters who've been paying off layaways at various stores across the country: kindliness and beneficence are not dead and if people appear a little more distracted this year than they have in the past, it's probably because they're either working, or looking for work.

Me, I struck a blow for (new-fangled) tradition; at my extended-family Christmas, held last week to avoid schedule conflict, my great-niece and great-nephew* received, respectively, a nice fat Amazon gift certificate (she's an insatiable, Kindle-carrying reader) and a mechanical construction set very much in the Gilbert mold. (Speaking of Erector sets...!) And that's the best fun of Christmas for me; in too-few years, they'll be all grown up and anything their spinster aunt could give 'em would be impossibly uncool or misaimed.
* Or whatever they are, English being, er, "relatively" deficient. The offspring of my sister's oldest son and his wife.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Oh, I Do Get Letters

A very bubbly but content-free one from Amplified Media, some sort of marketing venture that "loves [my] site." Heck, they were even "impressed with the quality and scope," though I dunno if it was the inadvertent misspellings, lousy arithmetic or the frequent use of a kinda-folksy dialect what won 'em over.

Anyway, they prolly want me to huckster soap or blow-molded plastic novelties or something; whatever, I don't see it workin' here even a little bit.

So here's what I wrote back:

Emma, you seem polite and friendly but cui bono? --What's in it for you?

I don't do adverts on my blogs, period. I work in old-fashioned media. My employers do adverts. My blog is a hobby -- and cannot have even the mere appearance of competing with them. So that pretty much leaves me out of "exciting new opportunities."

I refuse to do covert ads or direct readers to anything other than those items that have actually caught my attention; I think it would be dishonest and unfair to do so. Isn't there already enough faked-up crap in this world?

As for my insights and opinions, I believe elections show pretty conclusively that they are not widely shared. The Internet does allow me to find other people with compatible notions but we're not much of a purchasing bloc. This makes my blog an ineffective tool for anything but a simple outlet for me.

Please bear in mind that while you are free to personally enjoy my blog content, the original content, both written and visual, is protected by U. S. copyright law and international treaties. Notice to that effect is to be found in the right-hand sidebar.

Best of luck in your endeavors, whatever they may be; I found your website (tsk, always include a link, otherwise you look sneaky) but there's very little content at it. I would recommend putting some of your energy and enthusiasm to work filling in the outlines there: if you want to attract bees, grow flowers.

I'm probably too mean. But here's the deal: I do this for me. I'm not doin' it for the money or the fame or whatever; it's an outlet. If I didn't do this, I'd be even more annoying to the people around me, sharing the noise level inside my head.

Feline Faginy?

Huck the cat, who has for some time been knocking small items off my dressing-table to get me out of bed in the morning, has hit on a new and more effective strategy: the past two mornings, he has attempted to steal my wristwatch.

He very carefully and deliberately selects it from the various items, picking it up with great delicacy, leaping down and running away. The first time, he got as far as his scratching post in the living room.

This one bears watching. He's a pretty clever -- and larcenous -- fellow.


In October 2012, Fantastic Plastic is going to release a model of the von Braun Moon ship, as seen in the Collier's article and book from the 1950s. (Actually by Willy Ley, Fred Whipple and von Braun, with illustrations led by Chesley Bonestell) (But use Tam's link, please)

I seriously want this. Now, if they'd just do the Mars ships and re-release the ferry rocket, too!

Marines On The Scene In 90 Minutes

Or your a$$-whuppin' is free!

It's the Ithacus SSTO, delivering 1,200 United States Marines with all the trimmings anywhere on the planet in an hour and a half.

Man, build those and you don't need nearly so many overseas bases. So of course, we didn't. Bummer.

Ron Paul Skeletons, Like Clockwork

Ron Paul's been trending up the polls -- leading in Iowa, last I saw -- and that can only mean one thing: the mainstream media has suddenly remembered those 20-year-old newsletters, filled with all manner of grotty culture-war tinfoil-hattery, that were sent out over his signature. Shock! Horror! Revulsion!

You might remember this hot, breaking news (from 1993) from the last time deep-digging investigators dragged it out in 2008. In '08, Dr. Paul strongly disavowed the sentiments therein (anti-gay, anti-Israel and paranoid; rather than me explaining, go read it yourself); admitted, yes, it was sent out over his signature; no, he hadn't actually read it until very recently; and yes, he certainly wished he had done so at the time. He told CNN the same thing just the other day -- and their reporter was unsatisfied. (What's it take? Rending of one's garments? Ritual bloodletting? Testimony under torture?)

I need to do a little more digging. I seem to recall the fellow alleged to have actually written the newsletter(s) departed under a clod, er, cloud not too long afterwards, but I haven't been able to find proof.

If you do wonder what the guy stands for and votes for, it's a matter of public record and quite different to the newsletters. Of course, that didn't keep CNN from bringing them back up in the manner of a dog's dinner.

The Ritual Grimacing that accompanies primaries is starting, more and more, to resemble one of those complex European village clocks, with mechanical figures posing and gesticulating through the hours; at the top of each new hour, a new front-runner twirls out, followed at half-past by reporters dressed as Death, flinging from bushel-baskets whatever dirt they can find or imagine, no matter how stale.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

When I Make A Movie...

It will be about nuking the gay whales for religion. I'm gonna call it Humpback Mountain.

As Seen Near TV!

Dood, u r doin' it wrong: "Being a veteran of many sweet potato pies I can firmly attest that done right and after a few seconds in the microwave, you're eating a slice of heaven."

...No. Plain no, 'cos once you've spent a few seconds in the microwave, everything tastes different -- and it's a slice of heaven just to be let out.

(Comment to an article about an obnoxious Al Sharpton anti-GOP ad (possibly the one Og mentioned), in which he is blaming them for the bad economy.)

* * *

Look, Al -- can I call you Al? No? Okay, Hey You: y'know what entity screwed up the economy? Congress. Not a damn' one of 'em stood up and read the phone book or Ulysses to stop the crazy; oh, hells no, they egged one another on, the two parties double-dog-daring one another and they're at it again, still thinking they can drive the vehicle they keep putting in a ditch.

As near as I can tell, the vast majority of Federal incumbents don't give a fat damn about economic recovery by anybody's lights -- not Rand's, not FDR's, not Hayek's or Keynes' or even Eugene V. Debs's. All they care about is tryin' to maneuver things so the other guy's party looks like a sack of bastards, then pointing-in-alarm while snickering in unholy glee. They'd be depantsing one another if they could get away with it.

I think we ought to pair 'em up, hand them Go boards and make them play. Then every three days, pick ten at random, knock 'em out and leave 'em, solo, in jeans and T-shirts along desolate sections of railroad track, flat broke and without ID; meanwhile, we elect replacements and we keep at it until one or more grows a spine and stops playin' games. And I'd volunteer to wield the knockout mallet, too, but I think my breakage rate would be too high.

Never happen. But what a sweetly comforting thought!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Hoosier Knife Law Reform?

SB 0006 could use your help -- call up your State Senator, or e-mail 'em, and remind them that sharp, pointy things that can be opened one-handed aren't any worse than the ones that take both hands. Tam has links to more.

Indiana's archaic "switchblade" law is the kind of law that encourages disrespect for the law. Don't we have a surplus of those anyway?

Interplanetary Tramline: The Aldrin Cycler

Earth-to-Mars in five months, with a 21-month stopover and a five-month return flight? Yep. Just ask Buzz Aldrin, Ph.D., who points out you can park a couple spacecraft in "cycler" orbits between the two planets and they just keep going and going without any additional thrust.

C'mon, this'd be a gimme for Congress: the GOP gets spaceflight and the Dems get green mass transit, plus building it would be a huge, money-sucking source of pork and patronage jobs. How could they not love it?

Oh, yeah, if the opposition might like it, they're each obliged to loathe it. I forgot just for a second.

All right, then, we'll find a better way -- Mr. Musk? Mr. Allen? Mr. Rutan? Mr. Bezos? Such an opportunity I've got for you!

Gun Myths/Gun Realities

The antis say I carry a gun because I'm scared; I carry a gun because I don't want to have to be afraid.

They say because I carry a gun, I think I'm the master of every situation; I carry just so I won't be overmastered by events.

They say because I carry a gun, I'll take unnecessary risks; instead, carrying a gun makes me more determined to avoid risks.

They say anyone who carries a gun is aching to deal death; in reality, carrying a gun makes me take care to minimize the chance of ever having to use it.

I carry a gun so my last thought won't be, "If only I was armed...."

The Origin Of Stonehenge

No, we're still not sure who and all we can do is guess about why, but researchers are now certain they know where the big bluestones came from -- and it's over a hundred miles from the site!

...These kids and their crazy rock fads....

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Roku/Kindle Fire/Prime

...So I have a Roku. I'm liking it. Went to spin up one of those Free (to Amazon Prime members) Instant Videos and -- no workee.

Checked Amazon. H'mm, my guest-of-Tam Prime account is okay-fine. Looked for help there and at Roku. Not finding. Got into live-help chat with Roku and in the midst of one of those, "Now tell me what you see on the TV," exercises, I had that sinking feeling while looking at the screen telling me of all the wonders awaiting -- if only I were an Amazon Prime member. If only I were...

But I'm not, not really; I'm the guest of a member. I did a BRB with Roku, checked at Amazon and, yep: it's only free if the names on the Roku and Prime match.

$80 a year for more free movies and TV shows than I could ever eat? Sign me up! And when Tam's Prime account is up for renewal, she can be my guest for awhile, instead.

(Neatest of all? Seamless handoff between Roku and Kindle Fire: they share bookmarks!)

Wonders Of The Nation

In a country where Toad Suck, Arkansas not only exists but has its own special celebration, there can be darned few impossible things and even fewer merely improbable.

(Sadly, Toadsuck, Texas wimped out at some point and changed its name, vide: "William Henry Davis Murray was born in the town of Toadsuck , Texas [renamed "Collinsville" in the 1880s], on November 21, 1869." A right bastard, too; a poster boy for government excess and Wilsonian-style racism. So perhaps they felt he'd irreparably harmed the good name of Toadsuck, before even attaining his majority.)

Monday, December 19, 2011

A Modicum Of Success

If my spelling is even more erratic than usual, forgive me; I have enjoyed a champagne cocktail. (Bubbly and St-Germain, very nice, but even a little dab does for me).

A well-deserved champagne cocktail: the project I have labored on for lo, these many weeks hit the last big step this morning -- and worked. It's even working nicely.

Never mind the details; at last writing, the [device] produced adequate RF power but signal fidelity, well, the signal-to-noise really should be better than 28 deciBels and it was 19; the Error Vector Magnitude has almost got to be under 3 percent and it was 10 to 11. Despite all that, receivers were decoding it; it would have worked, ugly, awkward and inelegant but hey -- working.

But remember my old pal, the Automagical Feedback Compensator Of Stuff? I'd had to lie to it; it's supposed to get a sample of the very output and instead, I was making it look at a much earlier stage of things, where there was at least enough signal for it to work but not really enough hint of the Bad Things Happening that it could get its tiny, digital teeth into and fix.

Fast-forward to today: the tower crew did their connecting thing way up in the air,and I did mine down on the ground (and found I'd cut that very last piece of rigid transmission line 7/8" too long, necessitating hasty mods). In that piece, I had also installed a signal tap, adjusted and set by dint of much math, incantations, and the use of charts, graphs and interpolation. It should have produced a fairly blistering +15 dBm*.

Powered the thing up, about 50%, and everything worked, no horrible suprises; inched the power up to a full kiloWatt (American, none of your off-size Canadian Imperial kiloWatts here) and it still worked -- ugly and inelegant. Checked the level at the tap, +14.62 dBm, which is fancy figurin'. Checked the level, padded it, and hooked it up to the Compensator, flipped the switch and watched the analyzer.....

...And within 30 seconds (International, ain't nobody gets giddy with units of time no more, not after the Indians misplaced a whole week and had to get a U.N. bailout to get back in sync), darned if the thing wasn't pushing 26 dB signal-to-noise and 3 percent EVM -- and getting better even as I watched. (Settled at 31+ and 2.7, which for widgetry of that vintage is pretty darned good).

It worked. Weeks of improvisation, scrounging and hardware-hacks paid off: the thing actually worked and worked well.

I'd claim I knew it all along, but I gotta tell ya, last week or so, I had my doubts it would ever look that good.

There are still a few niggling loose ends, a lot of cleanup and some control tweaks to do, but the hard part (so far) is done.

You can see why I phoned ahead and asked Tam to break out the bubbly!
* Go ask a signals geek: for a monitoring sample, that's insanely hot. Alas, the thing needs to see +5 dBm at its input, and that's after a splitter; plus, up where I work (only a bit below the police calls, if your local LEOs are majorly up-to-the-minute), even cable loss starts to add up. By the time it reached where it needed to get, it only took a 3 dB attenuator to get the level right; which is also pretty close figuring.

But I Didn't Talk Bad About Your Job...!

But if that's how you feel about it-- Oh, yeah? Well:
"Writing Tech Books - Snitch!"
It's really quite a good book, especially considering 525-line TV was newer than new when it was published.

Somewhere, Logic Is Screaming And Sobbing

Department Of Not Making Any Sense: So, secret-leaker Pfc. Bradley Manning's lawyers now tell us that because he was a gay soldier back when admitting it would have meant getting sent down via a less-than-honorable discharge, that "contributed to mental and emotional problems that should have barred him from having access to sensitive material."

Riiiiiight. The old, "it's your fault that you didn't know I was deeply troubled and thus failed to keep me away from classified material" defense, plus I'm sure all the other gay soldiers who served under DADT -- you know, the ones that just did their damn soldiering like all their peers? -- must rilly rilly appreciate you claiming to be so spinelessly stressed by the situation that you had to go pass a fat ton of Officially Secret stuff to WikiLeaks. Yeah, that must make a nice impression.

I am, generally, not a big fan of secrecy, especially the kind of bureaucratic "routine secrecy" that stamps TOP SECRET on the General's lunch menu and files it next it planned troop movements; I generally approve of people following the dictates of their conscience -- but dammit, kid, it doesn't happen for free: you do it, you stand ready to pay the price. The price for a soldier who spills secrets is kinda high. Doesn't matter who that soldier might lust after, the price is still the same. It doesn't matter what his motivations were at all. He swore an oath; he knew the consequences and he made his choice.

(I have publicly disapproved treating him any worse than any other prisoner, especially while awaiting trial -- because that ain't the way civilized folk do things.)

Too stressed out? Pfc. Manning, if you're all bent up over that, it's a pity you never met Oliver Sipple. He might have had somewhat to say about that kind of stress.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Full Bobbi

You know what is The Full English Breakfast? --Here at Roseholme, we infrequently serve our own take, known as The Full Bobbi.

What's in it? It depends; this edition took two skillets (a wok and a cast-iron grilling pan [but buy one through Tam's link]), a bowl and a plate: Filet mignon (mine butterflied, Tam's not), fried egg sprinkled with curry powder under a slice of Swiss cheese, bacon, leeks and mushrooms, and a fried tomato. A little fresh-ground pepper and it's ready.

It'll fix you up for the whole day!

A Pome

Dopey Jimmy was really dim,
The dimmest of his ilk;
He thought he'd filled his lunchbag with milk chocolate
But really it was chocolate milk.

(Bit of a mess, what?)

Geek News

--The automagical feedback compensensational widget I was struggling with all last week? Finally got enough signal to it on Friday; what I had earlier was close and should have worked, but the factory techs kept musing over just how fussy the thing was, so I took them seriously and found a signal tap hot enough that I could pad the level down to exactly the +5.00000 dBm called for.

At which point, it continued to not work, in very much the same semi-inert manner as before.

With that in evidence, I convinced the manufacturer that I might not be guessing when I suspected the thing was unhappy. They overnighted in a whole new board (costs more than I paid for my car!). After it showed up Saturday afternoon, I went through the entire setup procedure once more -- and it worked! Not with particular verve or huge improvement, but it did work.

Naturally, by then it was too late in the day to proceed to Step Two, which involves the riggers changing some connections high on the tower.

But, hooray! Progress has been made -- and now I have a whole entire day off.

Back at it Monday, when we'll take that next step. There's no looking back after that, or not much. Think positive!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

What I'm Drinking

You can keep your ales and lagers, your 200-year-old Scotch; I've got mild ginger ale over mild egg-nog ice cream, both very high-quality examples of their respective arts, and it's gooooooood.

It's already making me feel more warmly inclined towards the rest of the human race.

Right to -- Uh-Oh!

Looks like Indiana may become the next "Right To Work" battleground. While I dislike being made to join an organization with political goals very different to my own, sometimes I'm greatly tempted by Enrico Fermi's deeply-held belief at all change was for the worse; the amount of bad blood, grotesque posturing and pointless protests these kinds of fights create may be worse than the ills of old-time unions. Public-employee union fights are the worst -- perhaps they have too much free time? -- but I believe membership in them is voluntary in Indiana; we'll see more UAW types, I'll bet.

--But I talk about that, in part, as a long-time member of one of the weakest skilled-trade union locals on the planet, so don't for a minute assume I'm not mostly concerned it will make my life more complicated. (Mind you, there's no exclusive jurisdiction left for my shop -- meaning most anyone can do our work, the problem being if they'd work for less than we're paid, they aren't going to be very good at it. And, in fact, the non-union shops around here pull down about the same wages and benefits, some a little better, some a little worse. I might not like the price but it's approximately what the market supports. Still would be nice to get a raise -- we volunteered to not take one that would have happened in 2008 and haven't had one since.)

There's yet another way, though; even in a no-right-to-work state, you're not obliged to pony up for the political activities of a union you had to join if you wanted the work: you can opt out of the fluff and pay only the financial core, the costs of collective bargaining, contract administration, and grievance adjustment, and not bear the burden of helping to stuff cash into Senator Pork's slush-fund or bus ijits to jam up the Statehouse halls. There is a downside: if you go fi-core, you can't hold a union office and you can't even vote on contracts; whatever the boys and girls paying for the full ride want will have to do you.

--But when the blowhards go on TV and say there's only their way or hell-on-earth, or wax magnanimous and "admit" the only-only choices are mandatory membership, rah-rah rallies an' all or right-to-work under the grinding heel of capitalist oppressors or the outstretched hand of a modern-day Hank Reardon, understand they're blowing smoke. They don't know what they're talking about -- or they don't want you to know.

I'd kinda bet on the latter.

And remember -- "You can't get blood from a turnip," but while "gold won't always get you good mercenaries, once you get good mercenaries, they can always get you gold." It cuts both ways.

Update: Speaking of unions -- and I believe they're an open shop -- the Star's newsroom's own Newspaper Guild staged a little rally across the street from The Building That Still Looks Like A Newspaper (ignore the aching void where presses once roared and rumbled). Ah, there's a quandary for the modern, Left-leaning Editor! Some of Ruth's commenters trot out predictable 1930's sloganeering, but this animal is starting to show signs of slightly different stripes. Anyway, it's an "I'll pop popcorn" moment for me, no matter who wins. (I still think the Guild otta just cut out the middlemen and go into the news biz themselves. Ghu knows, the Star appears to be getting right out of it.)

Friday, December 16, 2011

How Does It Work?

Well, for starters, the "skyhook" is only there -- along with a row of yellow-tape flags -- to help the winch operator see what his tag line is doing. ETA: WRONG! The Chief Rigger informs me it's called the "weasel," weighs about a hundred pounds and helps keep the basket riding freely on the tagline. My scale is way off, by the way; the weasel rides up and down about 60' away from the base of the tower, while the (only middle-sized) tree is maybe 400' away. In operation, there are two fairly sharp bends in the tagline: at the weasel and at the basket.

The load line rigging is more complex than I drew; it actually runs through yet another sheave fixed to the top of the basket and back to the tower, where it is attached just below the lower of the top two sheaves.

As for the rest, why, here's a thousand words worth:I have taken some liberties in simplifying, especially the load line and hoist, but that's the basic idea. The four sheaves (it's what most people call a pulley*) closest to the tower are, of course, strapped to it.

The more tension on the tagline, the farther the basket gets from the tower, especially when it's low -- which is when it needs to be able to move farthest away. It doesn't need a lot of travel on that axis and this gives it more than enough to avoid various terrestrial-relay dishes, TV receiving antennas and the tall fence around the tower base. Interestingly, there's very little force on the tree end of the tag line; the weight of the line and weasel do a lot of the work and all it sees is the horizontal force needs to displace the load: not much.

Semi-relatedly, it appears some places omit all the hardware: Personally, I've always found 3/8" cable to be too small for comfortable unassisted hoisting and a coating of ice doesn't help any. But maybe that's just me.
* The "pulley" is really just the wheel; the housing it spins in plus a sturdy attachment loop are what makes it a sheave.

Thursday, December 15, 2011


Not just a hook -- a sheave: This is part of a very clever force-rotating tagline setup, but we'll be here all day if I try to explain it.

Oh, To Have A Topic!

I don't. My actual project at work is going very badly, all but the tower work. I'm doing long days, with zero quiet hometime. And even with earplugs, the very noisy environment of the North campus is causing migraines every evening. And the house is a mess, and the holidays are coming, and there's other deadlined projects that I can't work yet on but have to get done by the first of the year...

Plus my Big Date of the year is approaching (New Year's Eve) and as usual, I have nothing to wear and think I'm not looking at all good.

All of this tends to leave me frazzled and ready to get tempery -- which I have done, making matters even more stressful.

Let's see, other projects: the current story arc at I Work On A Starship is at a standstill until I can print out the story thus far and (re)-diagram the plot. I know where I'm going but it's taken some turns I had not planned.

The holiday story -- I've done one every year -- is only half an idea. I was going to do it at lunchtimes but instead I find myself taking 15 minutes to eat and 15 to process comments.

My library is still not entirely shelved, even leaving the "To Be Read" stack out of the process. This means the dining room is still crowded and the tabletop is deeeeeeeply buried. MUST dig out from under. Dunno when.

But the heat, lights and water is on, my car is paid for and I am (looks ruefully at waistline) not missing any meals. Might as well try to be happy, it's not any more work than the opposite.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Synergistic Space Access

So, you're Paul Allen, and you're into space.... Burt Rutan's Scaled Composites makes nice, jet-powered, recoverable/reusable boosters, but their payload spacecraft are suborbital; Elon Musk's SpaceX makes excellent rockets, has orbited payloads and is working their way up to really big boosters.

What if you just got the two together? Why, Stratolaunch, is what, delivering SpaceX Dragon spacecraft to low Earth orbit, any inclination, with lower fuel costs than any other launch system. (Unless the Russians have taken to siphoning booster fuel from Chinese missiles -- talk about a win-win!)

Claire Wolfe saw it, too.

Looks like civilization may yet set up a branch office outside this dear ol' ball of mud. Maybe even in time for me to visit after I retire. Mr. Allen, please keep on keepin' on!Link

Today Is...You Know, I Have Lost Track

I'm doing 11-hour work days, as my riggers chase the sun by getting a head start in the morning and staying late every night.

I don't think they'll catch it (omigawd, do you even want to guess what a serious high-steel guy would do with the Sun? I'm suspecting it would involve Bloody Marys on a morning between jobs, but let's hope that and a really good tan is as far as it would go) but they are giving it quite a run -- and so far, very much by the book, on the bounce, everything all laid out, lined up and double-checked.

Tower guys like to be thought of as a rough lot, and many crews are not just rough but raw. Not these guys. On the job, they are on the job.

I can only look on and wish them all success and safety. --And look forward to stealing another night's sleep while the automatic posting timer ticks down on this'n.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

>>>Spaaaaace Pen!>>>

Oh, you've heard the yarn, don't say you haven't -- "NASA spent millions to develop a space pen; the Russians just use pencils."

It's a cute story and when you look at the two space programs, it seems to fit -- aside from Buran, the Russians have really only had the one man-rated booster design, significantly improved over the years, step by step while NASA's had half a dozen, fiddled with, flown and thrown away; NASA's ISS toolkit has a nice little machinist's hammer neatly tucked away but the Russians stuck an eight-pound sledge (with a handle ending in a pick!) in theirs.*

But the truth is better, stranger and makes more sense: to begin with, everyone took pencils into space. NASA even tried mechanical pencils. The leads broke off and got into things. Shavings from sharpening a wooden pencil threatened to end up where they'd do the most harm. Cosmonauts messed with grease pencils...and a guy named Paul C. Fisher decided there had to be a better way. He was already in the pen business, having invented the universal ballpoint refill, perhaps a little shadowed by big names like Scheaffer and Parker, so he dug in and worked at it until he had an all-metal, pressurized-ink pen; even the thixotropic ink has a flash point around 200° C, an important safety feature, especially in the pure-oxygen atmospheres used in U.S. spacecraft until the Apollo One tragedy.

Mr. Fisher never received a dime of government money to develop his pen -- and once it was on the market, even the Russian space program started using them!

The moral of the story? "Don't believe everything you hear," and, "Simple isn't always the best way to go." I shudder to think what a pure-oxy pencil fire might look like but it'd give you a whole new appreciation for the common #2.

And you're not going to forget Paul C. Fisher anytime soon, either.
* If you can only have two hammers, that's not a bad set of choices -- so it's a good thing both space programs are involved.

Monday, December 12, 2011

"What's For Supper, Roberta X?"

(No, not the Bacon Spam -- that will be a breakfast). I made Hearty Beef Stew X: When it's cooking, it is a mystery to the camera!

But it will warm you, inside and out. Start with altogether too much stew meat; I used a pound and a half of beef, snipped it up smaller with kitchen shears, right into a bag of cornstarch with salt and some other spices that looked interesting (aw, how wrong can you go?). Meanwhile, some olive oil and a couple of pats of Irish butter (gotta get it used up, right?) were warming up in a big stewpot. Coated the beef pieces a little at a time, shook off the excess and dropped them in the pot to brown. It smelled good already!

While the beef was browning, I chopped up half an onion, a few carrot and celery sticks (total cheat, the grocer's sells a mix of the latter two for snacking at about the same unit cost as buying either on the hoof -- and with less waste). Tossed the onion in once the beef was well underway, added the other two when the onion started to cook. When they seemed happy, I put in sliced mushrooms, and by then it was time to deglaze a little with some leftover Chianti.

Things were coming right along, so I diced a potato and nuked it for a couple of minutes (more cheating!) while the pot cooked, added the taters and poured beef stock into the pot to cover, put the lid on and went away for twenty minutes.

On my return, I added one of those little cans of green chilies (trust me) and a cab of diced tomatoes; gave that ten minutes to get acquainted, added some succotash (corn, some lima beans -- grow up, they're pretty good) and black beans and gave it another ten-- Turned off the heat, let it set a spell while I rustled up bowls, plates, drinks and silverware. Ladle into bowls and it's ambrosia, with just enough heat to get your attention: Best with whatever-starch on the side -- good crusty bread, or thick corn chips, that sort of thing.

Serves, h'mm, probably 11 to 17. I put a big container of leftover stew in the fridge and I will probably heat it up for the tower crew tomorrow.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Howya Doin'?

We all ask it and often as not respond with the same question, the standard, "fine," being taken for granted.

Not everyone takes the easy way out; I stopped by a Marsh supermarket for some hearty stew supplies and the checker was a man in late middle age who appeared to have been hit by a stroke or, more likely, one of the similar ills to which the flesh is heir. He'd mastered it, though, and while his mobility was limited and his speech a little slurred, he had a cheerful twinkle in his eyes and was moving groceries along quite briskly.

When my selections and I moved up opposite him, he smiled and asked, "How are you this evening?"

I'm conventional: "Very well. And how are you?"

His smile grew broad as he replied, "Unstoppable!"

I'd allow as how he was just that, too.

On reflection, it'd be a darned fine goal for the rest of us.

BlogMeet Report

It was, counting yr. crspndt., Lucky 13 at the Indy BlogMeet, with several new or infrequent visitors.

We met at Claddagh and this particular one has a nice octagonal corner room with a nice round table (with a lazy susan in the center, hooray!); starting clockwise from the entry, we had Joanna, Brigid, loyal reader Kerry, Uncle Jay, The Jack, Midwest Chick, Tam (at 13 o'clock!), Mr. B, Old Grouch, stalwart reader Don, Karl Ushanka, Old NFO and finally, me at 6:00 with my back to the door, last to arrive (but very well defended -- besides, how better to leave this world than face-down in a plate of corned beef and cabbage?).

Discussion was wide-ranging, though with several pilots (and engineers in related fields) present, there was a lot of talk of aircraft and of the various things people have doe with them -- or tried to do. Karl offered up a pair of his famous hats to the two attendees who correctly answered a perhaps not so trivial trivia question: which two of Lenin's four promises to the Russian people were repeated by a U. S. President on the campaign trail in 2008? (Do you know?) --Tam won one hat and The Jack won the other.

A splendid time. Photos will follow -- or should; I seem to have misplaced my camera. Brigid snapped several.

Afterwards, I went to my Mom's and fixed a security light, and then home where I nodded off to bed plenty early.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Amazing Predictions Of The Future!

From Dr. Boli, acclaimed member of the literati, man of letters, keen student of history and bon vivant, an uplifting glimpse of the World of Tomorrow.

Alas, I fear the good doctor may be a bit too much an optimist.

Frosty The NO-man

Friday morning, local TV newscasts pulled out all the stops and then polled the stopped: it was a-gonna SNOW an' by golly, they were all a-goin' on the air early as birds to save us from the Great White Frozen Horror.

Predictions called for possibly as much as -- oh, the dreadfulness -- an inch and a half of real-live SNOW! White Madness!

...What we got that day, on the other hand, was several inches of pure, pellucid NO: No snow, No rain, maybe a spatter of sleet that melted as it hit and furtively scurried off to the gutters, as if ashamed to be so paltry after having been fussed over so much.

To their credit, the TV newsies soldiered on gamely yesterday morning, and only forty (40) or so miles to the north, their intrepid minions found a crunchy white glaze on yards and better-insulated roofs. There really was snow -- and if it had been bad, why, all the machinery was in place, ready to spring into action, long before even the boldest brain-leech-controlled zombie Yeti could venture forth, plying its electric lash on the hapless and happy alike.*

I just wonder how many times they're going to have to do this before we actually get, you know, snowed on, let alone snowed-in.
* Zombie Yetis? Why, yes. But we spray for them now.Link

Friday, December 09, 2011

Wiped. Out.

I'm dead tired. Dog tired. Dead dog tired, and who knew they even had tires? I have spent the last week solid converting a phantasmajector (big, fat high-power vacuum tubes, 30 kW, American) stardrive into a lower-power, all solid-state one (1017 of Mom's old-fashioned hand-crufted Watts, but it'd do just about twice that if you pushed hard). Thing has been offline for several years, accumulating spderwebs, mice and grottiness. We took most of the icky bits out ("green slime" liquid cooling, 37,000 Volt, 2 Amp supplies -- "Weld the neighbors from five feet away! Farther under direct sunlight!"* -- and the fwaazommpp high-current supplies for the focus magnets) but it's still....techty. Persnickitty. Unforgiving.

I made the blame thing make power nice-as-nice after today's big repositioning of RF sample probes ("Won't hurt a bit! Just relaaaaaax!") but it still won't quite meet spec for purity of output spectrum. Or of essence -- it's been a long day and I forget which. There's one (1) Gen 1, semi-experimental automagical compensatori-izational thingie that was retrofitted with much mumbling, exclamation and poking at calculators by a factory-official coven (or was it a congeries?) of neckbeards and pocket-protectioders Way Back When and right now, when I enable it, it sets to with a vengeance and makes the signal worse. This is, as we like to say, suboptimal; what it tells me is that alllllll the other little tuning and tweaks are probably gonna merit yet another look -- after I check each and every input to the compomatic autosator, first.

To add to the fun, tomorrow includes the initial setup for some other major work at the very same location (and wouldn't you like to know!), this of a highly physical sort performed by rugged young men, using rugged equipment, ruggedly, in the ruddy cold rugged outdoors -- and I am supposed to keep an eye on 'em as they labor, unceasingly and unstinting, from 7 'til sundown each and every day until they are done.

Not that I'm complaining.

The good news, I'll still make it to tomorrow's BlogMeet, possibly a few minutes late; Ms. Tam will be in charge and I expect attendees to obey her as they would obey me: hardly at all, and even that much with considerable complaint. ;)
* Flashover distances are farther if there's plenty of UV -- so stop playing Chicken with the high-tension lines in June through August, mmmmkay?

Smoke 'Em If They've Got You?

Indianapolis/Marion County's UniGov seems to be well on their way to "getting" smokers (or not: because the GOP is for the current proposal, the Dems are against it. Ooo, principles! They don't got 'em); see, it's a health risk, so what you've gotta do is ban almost all indoor smoking, and force smokers at least 25' from the nearest door, in all weather -- and if you put up a shelter, that's "indoors" and they can't smoke there. --For their own good, you see.

And yours, too, of course. What could be more healthy than a nice dose of pneumonia shared from the smoker at the next desk over, who has to go out in the rain to feed his or her habit?

Look, I don't smoke. The smell of old smoke bothers me and Tam could, if she would, relate tales of me suggesting her "smoking jacket" is due for a wash or point out the long-necked safety-type ash receptacle I have provided on her favorite Porch from which to View; but that's not my point.

Nor will I get on my own non-smoking high horse. I smoked for many years, well over a decade, and through most of them, the first thing I did in the morning on waking up was to light up and the last thing I did before going to sleep was the put out the cigarette I was smoking in bed. Unlike Tam, who can go the better part of a day (or more) before getting smoke-flustered, I was up to a couple of packs a day. It started to annoy me. More and more of things I worked on were sensitive to ash, I didn't like the taste in my mouth (etc., etc), and so, with a great may fits and starts and frustrations, I quit. It took three years. --That was ten years ago and I cannot have even one, even now: if I smoke one, I know I'll finish the pack and go after more; I've done it before. (Nobody told me about this possibility. Eeek! Maybe I quit just in time!)

It's not a good thing for me. I was seriously habituated to smoking. But it oughtn't be illegal; nobody rounds people up and herds them off to smoky bars and nightclubs -- and as for the waitstaff, they lined themselves up to work there. If you don't like smoking, vote with your feet! I do; I won't go eat in a place with ashtrays on the tables and there are plenty of others who do the same, even here in Indiana where a lot of folks (roughly 25% of adults) are still smoking.

Smoking has been on the decline for years. It stopped being cool and it's darned expensive. But that's not enough for our Great Leaders in UniGov. Nope, they wanna grind it out under their heel -- and leave smokers shivering in the snow, like a new-fangled Little Match Girl with a pack of Camels. They tell me it's "compassionate."

Never knew the word was a synonym for "meddlesome."

Gary Francis Robot

The Iranians appear to have grabbed themselves one of our drones. They're sayin' so. Our military is admitting they lost one. Oops. Informed analysis (and speculation!) at The Unwanted Blog.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Cool Organizing Thingie

The people who make 'em call the line "Grid-It." For an obvious reason: various sized thin slabs covered in a handy grid of stretch straps. I'm tempted to pick up a couple to see how they work out.

Whattaya think?

I Think My Mom Writes Signs For The Street Department

Oh, yeah:"Don't start!" That's Mom, all right. Okay, I'll only cross when the light says okay -- and I'll clean my room, too, honest. And I won't wear cheap green eyeshadow, either.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Phone Line Repaired

Web Site Succoth, Phone Tech Succeedeth

His name was Josh. He was polite and friendly when he called me to announce his imminent arrival and Tam says he checked in and went right to shooting trouble. Our NI looked okay, the drop wire wasn't as bad off as I had feared, even the connection back at the fat multipair cable running up the alley was fine. He knocked on the door, told Tam he was on the trail of the problem and vanished....

Minutes later, he called my home number from a few blocks away. At one of the giant, oversized phone boxes where 19th-century twisted-pair copper phone wire meets 21st-century digital something-or-other (fiber, a big stack of raw, screamin' T-carrier, I dunno), there was a very old-fashioned problem: a water leak! Every time it rained, my line (and plenty others) was getting shorted out.

Our DSL circuit, a supersonic silent scream, hardly noticed (or so we thought), but the phone line went right out whenever water got in.

All better now, more than 24 hours ahead of schedule -- and Internet service sure seems to be a lot faster, too.

ETA: He says the leak is fixed now.

Thank you, Josh from AT&T!


Or nine-shooter. From the most recent gun show, a High Standard Sentinel, a .22 revolver just like I've been looking for.Pretty cute. Darned if I know when I'll have a chance to check it out -- major projects at the Skunk Works, as is typical of 'em around Thanksgiving and Christmas. Maybe next year.


P.S.: It's Pearl Harbor Day, or, as we sometimes call it in techieville, Pay Attention To The RADAR Day!

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Not A Big Truck

As near as I can figure out, it really is a series of tubes!(Moto HT, Iky all-standards monitor, fiber-optic breakout and my Kindle with a stored web-page. No free wi-fi for you! But I was waiting on techs at the other end and couldn't resist the snapshot.)

Standing On The Shoulders Of Giants

I think that pretty well says it.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Dear AT&T

Luv ya, but--

Clicking on "LOG IN" on your start page really ought to take me to, you know, a login window or summat, instead of doing nothing at all, leaving me to flounder cluelessly until I find a page with specific logins for each and every kind of service and package you offer (Wireless. Home Phone. DSL. TV. Home phone and Internet. Wireless and cable but not Wireless Cable. Wireless and home phone, no Internet, Cable on Sundays only. Wireless Teletext with simultaneous translation to and from Lithuanian.

Once I find the right one (DSL, Foam Hone and Wirelessesses, with a side of Morris Dancing), it takes forever to get to the "Service" page, which keeps telling me to go check at the NI* ("Watch this video!" Oooo, complex Deeeep Science.). I already checked there. I already did before I tried to log on. I already did with a frickin' 300-series desk set, which is as basic a phone as you can find, and if it doesn't get DC or dial tone, then they. are. not. there. Where's the checkbox I can check to say I already checked? Not got?

So I slog through all this, and the 34-character limit on the the tell-us-the-problem window, and the warning that if The Phone Man has to come inside and touch my precious wires, that will cost me biggo. (Yeah, look, phone man? You can't. Make sure the drop is okay and the can it comes outta is right; it's dead at the outside wall, with none of my ratty wring connected.)

I do all that and what do I get? I get a solemn, automated, honest-to-George Stibitz promise that they will fix the problem without fail, not later than 2000 this coming Thursday.

Well hoo-ray.
* "Network Interface," the magic putty-colored box on the outside of your house or apartment where the drop from the phone company lands, which has a two-section door. There's only one side you can open without a can wrench cheap set of security drivers sooper-sekrit TelCo tool. On the EZ-open (normal screwdriver) side is the only part of any use to you, one or more tiny modular jacks with short jumpers plugged into them. Unplug the jumper, plug in a phone. Got dialtone? Then the line to your house is okay and a mouse has cut the wire somewhere inside. (Call someone and make sure.) No dialtone? Only The Phone Company can help. In the old days, we called them "demarks" ("demarcation point") and they were implemented in many different ways, none of them as easy to check. If you can't readily ID the thing, please do not go opening up random utility-type boxes on the outside walls of your house -- some of them can kill you, or worse yet, interfere with your cablemodem.

It Is Addictive

I was recently given a Roku LT by a generous colleague (who reminded me that I was on my own for the HDMI cable, which I picked up Sunday). The price of these things has fallen so far that, yes, it's not all that off the chart; it was still a very nice thing for him to do.

If you're an Amazon Prime member -- and we of Roseholme most certainly are -- the sheer number of free (free!) films is staggering. (And per-episode TV shows are priced at e-book rates).

This thing may get me back to looking at TV on the big living-room screen more than casually and rarely. Video quality is as good as the source, and it tracks films in my Kindle Fire (Hogfather was already in "My Library" as soon as I had the Roku linked to my Amazon account and it asked if I wanted to start up where I'd left off! Totally trying to get Tam to sit down and watch it.) Setup isn't especially tricky, either.

You might remember this gadget for those hard-to-gift relatives; all they need is wi-fi and a little computer savvy. But be warned: it could be highly addictive!

Sunday, December 04, 2011

N. B.: X-ray Invisible Hand Grenades?

Seems some Destructive Devices were found in the hands of Occupy Portland attendees and I don't mean the police. Found mention at Geek Warrior, leading to good old, Mencken-echoing Bob Owens.

Closer reading reveals something other than a World War (I, II, the fizzling/cold continuations) "pineapple" or "potato masher:" a powerful firework in a home-canning jar, a sort of poor man's jam tin grenade.

Nasty stuff, if the charge is powerful. I'd suspect the old-style zinc or modern two-piece lid (if used at all) would limit overpressure but even a little bit of broken glass headed your way at speed is no fun.

Of course, some True Scotsman had to pipe up, "You don’t understand. OWS is a non-violent protest. Therefore, any protester that commits violence is NOT part of OWS." No, you don't understand: if you want a protest to be non-violent, you have to step up and keep it that way. You can't just say, "Okay, sure, they slept in our camp and stood on our side, but they're Off The Christmas List." It takes actual skin in the game. Or did you miss the row of Occupiers Elsewhere kneeling and arm-linked in the street, defiantly being tear-gassed? Y'know what? They brought attention to their cause. I might think they're ijits but they sure got word out, and nary a bomb thrown.

But back to our story. Bob worries the shrapnel from such a device might be invisible to X-rays.* The answer is, yes and no: "Almost all glass is visible on plain x rays, but small fragments, between 0.5 and 2.0mm, may not be visible, even when left and right oblique projections are added to the standard posterior-anteroir and lateral views. Any patient who complains of a foreign body sensation should be assumed to have one even in the face of negative x rays."

These glass-bombs are both nasty and clumsy. Such a device either has to be gently placed (like a timed-fuse land mine), or thrown with the fuse timed so that ignition occurs before it hits and shatters the glass, which would greatly reduce the effect. It's nearly as dangerous to the user (and his nearby fellows) as it is to the target -- if it works at all. It's the kind of thing a bloody-minded fool would dream up.

Occupiers, if you really wanna be non-violent, police your own. Remember, if the cops pepper-spray or tear-gas you, you get press and you'll recover. When it comes down to thrown rocks vs. hickory sticks, Molotov cocktails against rubber bullets -- or real ones, both sides look bad, people get hurt or killed and you are probably not going to get the benefit of the doubt.

...Compare and contrast to TEA Party protests or the Glenn Beck 9/12 rally; Occupiers and other lefties can wrinkle their noses all they like, but the protest-with-signs Right's average lice-and-bombs score is hugely lower than that of their counterparts. The cleaner campers of Occupy Lancaster are gonna have to work overtime to get their peers caught up.
* Thanks to an ill-considered High School Physics project, I have had the chance to make and read my own X-radiographs of inanimate objects. It's density-based and glass is a bit denser than most of you. (X-rays of the sort you can create with fairly common lab items -- a spark coil and the right kind of radio tube -- will expose the single-shot Polaroid films once pretty commonly found among basic physics lab toys. Alas, we were short on lead and had to use rather more air instead, marking a very large circle on the classroom floor. It proved unpopular.)

Sunday Breakfast

(I admit it -- I automated the post about BZ last night and slept in this morning. I really needed the sleep.)

Breakfast this morning -- content advisory for any visitors from the Subcontinent, as I'm indulging in cultural tourism at the cooker -- consisted of a variation on the usual one-wok affair: bacon, cooked with a little black pepper and set aside, followed by half an onion, one carrot and a stalk of celery, diced and seasoned with garam masala ("Punjabi style") and curry powder (which is Indian about the same way chop suey is Chinese*) and stir-fried with a little bit of diced panchetta. When that was about half-done, I microwaved a package of brown rice and quinoa (with garlic!) added most of it to the pan; fried that up happy, pushed it to the sides and scrambled three eggs in the center. When they wee done, I added the bacon back, crumbled, and a small handful of diced Swiss cheese.

It was wonderful! Tam, who normally reaches for the salt and hot sauce as a matter of course, commented on the aroma, took a taste and said, "That'll do just as it is." It wasn't hot, in fact the taste was a bit delicate, but oh, my, it was good!

Roll the credits: It was Brigid who took Tam to Penzey's Spices a few days ago, where they spotted the garam masala and Tam thought it would be especially nice on potatoes and onions. Good call.

* "Curry powder, and the contemporary English use of the word curry are Western inventions and do not reflect any specific Indian food...." I can't even begin to duplicate the delights to be found at our local Indian restaurants but the spices are for me as they were to the Brits, a way to bring some of memories home.

3-Quinuclidinyl Benzilate: Things You Wish Weren't Real

What izzit? It's "BZ." It's been used on soldiers.

It sounds like the very wildest sort of tinfoil-hattery (that's where I saw mention) but it doesn't exactly debunk. E.g.:
The patient is often disoriented to time and place. Disturbances in judgment and insight appear. The patient may abandon socially imposed restraints and resort to vulgar and inappropriate behavior. Perceptual clues may no longer be readily interpretable, and the patient is easily distracted and may have memory loss, most notably short-term memory. In the face of these deficits, the patient still tries to make sense of his environment and will not hesitate to make up answers on the spot to questions that confuse him.
But there's good, good news: it apparently doesn't send the affected into a berserk rage. Naw, merely, "...behavioral lability, with patients swinging back and forth between quiet confusion and self-absorption in hallucinations, to frank combativeness." Oh, that's fine, then.

Based on the described effects, I suspect Hollywood is saturated with it -- and perhaps Washington, DC, too.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

And In World News

Walmart is coming to India, along with the whole range of "big box" retailers, thanks to recent legislation.

--I have no idea what to make of this item. I shall be quite interested to see what Indians make of it. (Cue predictable whining from tourists about loss of quaint charm in ...3...2...1... Hey, if'n you don't live there, whyn't you just shaddup and let the people who do work it out?)

December Semi-BlogMeet

'Cos of having a BlogVistor headed through town, a Semi-BlogMeet has been slated for the afternoon of 10 December, 1:30ish, on the North side of Indy.

Also please note I am an idiot sleep-deprived (yeah, that's the ticket!) and had typed the wrong address. Fixed now. I don't send that much e-mail to myself, okay?

Applicants interested in attending can write me at roberta (dooooot) x (aaaahdttt) sbcglobal (daaat) net. I will sort through them as much as I can and get back to you. (Please note this is my publicly-available e-mail and can be a little spam-challenged at times; if I miss you or you get caught in the spamtrap, sorry!)

The Problem With New Jersey

When you need a permit to buy a BB gun, squirrels pwn you.

Out here in the hinterlands, we've got plenty of 12-year-old boys who can fix that for you.

The 99%

Tam was playing MSNBC on the Magic Picture Box (no, the old-timey kind, that doesn't have comments or scrollback) this morning. I went out to the living room to hear how "99 percent..." of the People Of The Earth (or was it The Nations?) thunk the bad ol' U.S. (and the rest of the industrialized West[1]) needed to throttle back right now, so's Gaea didn't drown us.

You know what? Being in the majority does not always mean you are right.

Tellya what; for the purpose of argument, I'll assume that we're really facing anthropogenic global warming, rather than normal, solar-driven long-term variation. Say the problem is totally us, from pole to pole. Considering the way the human race keeps on breeding, we're not gonna fix it by stopping the music and everybody sitting down. Technological problems require technological solutions -- and they are not going to come from the hard-working schmoe living "sustainably"[2] in the Third World, because he is running just as fast as he can simply to stay in the same place. The opinion of 99% is wrong if it thinks otherwise.

We grew up on a world where "democracy" is a good thing. It's had great press. Even communist countries put "democracy" in their names. Yayy, voting! We've forgotten that the democracy of Athens used to be taught as a warning example -- because everything was up for a vote. Individual life, property, freedom: your fellow-citizens could vote them away.

This is the problem with the "We are the 99%" line from the Occupiers, too. Say you are -- does that make it okay to not have to pay back your student loan? Did the debt magically vanish just because there were more of you?

For that matter, just because the majority of the population holds some opinions to be repugnant, that doesn't mean they should be free to use the full force of law to suppress them. If you find someone's ideas appalling or terrible, you're free to shun them; but unless they're initiating force or committing fraud, they're free to express their ideas.

That's why we have a Constitutionally-defined and in theory limited government; its why we have the Bill of Rights and it's why pious appeal to one's opinion being shared by the majority is really no more than a simple threat of force. Might does not make right -- and shame on you if you managed to grow up here without grasping that simple fact.
1. Though Europe usually gets less criticism 'cos they feel really, really bad about having done better for themselves. Ooo, guilt-trip points!

2. Or not sustainable -- Third-World Guy, even if he's doing all right by local standards, has to take a lot more interest in where his next meal is coming from than you do. This rarely leaves a lot of time for consideration of Green-ness in the obtaining thereof.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Book Question: Pharaoh

Have any of my readers read Pharaoh?

It's an historical novel by late 19th/early-20th Century Polish writer Bolesław Prus. I stumbled over it on a Wiki-wander and it looks fascinating.

(In other news, writing-related, my fine old Compaq keyboard died. It may be time for a visit to Buckling Springs, though not this paycheck -- Family Christmas comes early this year.)


It was Bug's Bunny's favorite epithet -- "What a maroon!" -- and Cyril Kornbluth based a series of short science-fiction stories on the notion that people were getting dumber and dumber, over 50 years before Idiocracy showed up at the video store.

Conversely, the Flynn Effect appears to show people are getting more clever, presumably including the guy who just stopped in front of you in the middle of the block without signalling, then turned left, across the path of an oncoming tractor-trailer rig, barely missing being T-boned.

That driver's not the only evidence favoring Kornbluth; the sad case of silver/white save-the-polar-bears-Coke™ cans has the venerable Co-cola company backing down: without the red can, consumers weren't even sure what that stuff was or how it tasted.

Then there's Sabra's take on the media panic over the gun club that's doing their own version of "photos with Santa," which rates a quote. Pop quiz time!
You see a picture of a family and Santa Claus. All the adults are armed, and a machine gun is in the foreground. Are these people:
A) playing an elaborate practical joke
B) probably rednecks
C) shooting hobbyists
D) in need of psychological evaluation

Answer D? Congratulations, you're a fucking idiot
What she said. I might've been more mealy-mouthed but she hits square on the mark.

(Somewhat relatedly, a computer-tech bleg: there's all manner of laptop woes at Trailer Park Paradise. Looks like a 25-cent part might fix one of them -- if she could find the part. Maybe you could help? Rants as good as hers aren't all that easy to get, you know.)

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Safety Reminders From Roberta X

Or, Simple Things You Can Do:

- Park in well-lighted lots with an attendant. You may have to pay for this privilege. Hereabouts, they usually want $5, $10 for "special events." How much is your life worth?

- There's safety in numbers. Two is the minimum!

- If you're drinking, either take a cab or have a non-drinking designated driver. You know what's more likely than being the victim of a crime? A traffic stop. And an arrest.

- If you are driving (sober), have your keys out before you are at your car. Don't stand there at the door and fumble for them; you can be pinned up against it. Unlock, get in, and lock the door as you shut it.

- Let's talk active defense. A "taser" or "stunner" of the most-common (and affordable) sort is a contact weapon. It has to touch Mr. Badguy. It's better not to get that close. Most kinds of pepper spray are legal in Indiana and they're effective over a greater distance; but don't count on them incapacitating an attacker from very far away or for very long -- get away to where people are or inside your car as fast as you can. If you're going to carry a firearm, follow the rules: get a permit. Take a basic class. Take more classes when you can. Determine the best way for you to carry. Practice -- and understand, you must be in fear for your life to use it. (The thing about guns is, they require an investment of time, money and effort. Compared to other martial arts -- hand-to-hand, sword, whatever -- competence is not difficult to attain and is not physically demanding, but unless you do, you only have a very close-range weapon, pretty much like pepper spray or a stunner. Don't count on the sight of a gun scaring an assailant away; it might happen, but it might not.)

- But there's another defensive tool you probably already own: once you are in your car with the doors locked, you command a "weapon" more powerful than a gun. It doesn't move as fast, but it weighs a lot more. Bad guys run from it if it moves their way. You can re-aim it while it's in motion. And you already practice with it every day. Yes, your car may be a comfortable, familiar item, but it's deadly dangerous, too. (Seriously, not everyone is a gunnie, and with all love to L. Neil Smith and the delightful characters in his novels, not everyone will be if they are offered the chance, either -- but a whole lot of people drive cars). I have been taken to task for advising readers to "run down a badguy with their car." No, don't do that; get in, lock the doors and LEAVE. Flee; you are in fear for your life. I don't think you're obliged to yield the right-of-way to someone attacking you. (Get local legal advice; IANAL) I do think he's likely to step back right smartly. In that way, a car is a "weapon:" a powerful thing unlikely to be challenged. But don't go all Batman about it, just get away. Find a policeman. Jeepers, one would think it wouldn't be necessary to advise against attempted vehicular homicide; people run away from cars, well-nigh universally, and if they are running away, what are they, class? That's right: they are no longer a threat.

- Be aware of your surroundings. It's a great big beautiful world out there but you've got to look out for the thorns among the roses instead of letting them find you.