Tuesday, December 31, 2013

My Roseholme Resolutions For The New Year

1080p, 1080i, 720p, 480i....

     What, wrong kind?

    Okay, how about these:

     1. To replace my mattress.  Srsly.  It's hurting my back, it's over a decade old, it needs to go.

     2. To stop (or at least reduce) the nearly-every-morning stumble, fumble or domestic mishap that makes the last few minutes of getting ready for work a mad scramble.

     3. To Do Something about my MGB.  Probably sell it, as the cost of fixing it is likely to be way too much.  This makes me sad, but perhaps the car can make someone else happy instead of being all-but-abandoned in my garage.

     4.  More bicycle riding!

     5.  More motor-scooter riding!  (Took the last ride of 2013 only Sunday, during the very last of the unseasonably-warm weather, charging the battery and getting some storage-treated gas into the carburetor.)

     6. A. To finish the dining room/library bookshelves, clear the old table of correspondence, catalogs and general home-debris and set up the new table.
         B. To build the remaining shelves for the living room, uncluttering media and tall-book storage and rearranging the hi-fi components.  Maybe even tackle the large behind-the-couch shelving for my typewriter and Tam's small-computer collections!
        C. To build the short "wraparound" bookshelves that will link the living room and dining room bookshelves.  (See, kids?  That's what a bibliophile's  fate was before e-readers.  Read -- and learn basic carpentry!)

     7. To get my ham radio on the air more.  I have a setup for AM radiotelephone about 75% done.  It could be a lot of fun.  (I decided a long time ago, I wasn't going to use voice modes on the shortwave bands until I could do AM with the other old fossils.)

     8.  To write more -- and get better at it.

     Hey, you've got to have goals, right?

Monday, December 30, 2013

Always Check Your Receipts

     ...Over at Trailer Park Paradise, Sabra takes on a Left-wing pseudo-factiod about Your Tax Dollars At (almost) Work and discovers, lo, the numbers, they are made up.  A quick trip to to IRS website, some number-crunching and she's got the real story, along with some interesting conclusions.

     Shan't spoil it -- though I will note fed.gov is spending 23 times as much on drone-bombing losers (and bystanders) in the wastelands of Asia as they are on all of their science-y programs, including NASA. (All of that high-tech stuff?  1% of your taxes if you made 50K last year!  Just a silly millimeter longer.)  Hey, Uncle Sam?  As long as you're picking my pocket, couldn't we blow them up slightly cheaper and do twice as much science?

     Receipts.  Check 'em. Just sayin'.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Tamara Addams?

    Heard from the living room, where Tam is watching the morning newsthing:  "Yayy, avalanches!  --Gee, who's gonna go skiing in a Hellgate?  Wow, this guy's stuck in snow up to his neck!"

     ...I'm tellin' you, I've never known anyone who gets more enjoyment from the news.  (Per Tam: "You would have to have a heart of stone, not to laugh at that sight -- the guy just skiied right up to a head and waving arms sticking up out of the snow."  He was recording on a Go-Pro or similar camera on his helmet, and had set out to help immediately after the avalanche.)

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Installing Update 1 Of 4,346

     Something like that.  Maybe it was just 64, but it lasted like thousands--  I  took my smallest (and rarely-used) backup netbook into work yesterday, intending, I admit it, to use the faster download speed to install a copy of Scrivener* during lunch. And, yes, to let Windows do the update thing.  Even using the "visitor" wi-fi, it's blazing fast during slow times like the days between Christmas and New Years.

     I started the process early on, just powered it up and let it seek out updates.  By lunch, it was still downloading in the background and easily accommodated the writer's story & word processor download/install process. (I already have Scrivener; one license covers all of the owner's computers, hooray!).

     About the time I was done with lunch, the Windows updates were downloaded and I told the machine to shut down.  This received the usual, "Just as soon as install these updates, lady," response.  Fine, fine, it had the whole rest of the day.

     Quitting time came and went.  We had a squirt-booster shuttle, er, microwave truck fail in the field and I had to work over, troubleshooting and making repairs.  Six hours after clicking the "Shut Down" button, the netbook was still chugging away, "Now Installing Update 1 of 64.  Do Not Shut Down Or Unplug Your Computer."  Yeah, also, "Please Sleep In The Office Tonight?"

     Hey, it's a netbook (a model 1025 Eee) with supposedly near-infinite battery life, so I stuffed into its cute little carrier and carried it home.

     Set back up at home, after a mere hour it proudly admitted, "Now Installing Update 2 of..."  By bedtime, it had struggled all the way to four or five, so I went to bed and left it percolating.

     Wonder of wonders, this morning it was All Done!  --Kind of: powered it up and it went through fifteen minutes of reconfiguration, self-analysis and probably self-Rolfing and preemptive Righthink before it would let me log on, and followed up with another quarter-hour of Agonizing Reappraisal once I had.  It appears to be back on the job of netbooking now, but to tell the truth, I'm reluctant to ask it to do much for the next day or two; it's just gone through the computer version of a couple of sessions of root-canal dentistry and I suspect it's a little tender and grouchy.

     Moral: Power up the spare netbook more than twice a year.
* Scrivener is kind of a "plotting engine" or "outline-to-draft-MS" tool, about as handy to writing as really good spreadsheet/database software is to accounting.  Between Scrivener ($40 at this writing) and Q10 (a shareware full-screen, barebones word processor with a small set of writing-specific features), you can set up even a small netbook with flexible, useful tools for writing and not have to struggle with the clumsiness and cost of general-purpose Word.

Friday, December 27, 2013

I Asked Google About...

     ...The new seventeen-digit verification "word" for comments.  #1 response? "It rubs the decryption on its skin, or it gets the hose again."

     I ain't askin' no more.

"And Now, The News..."

     NBC news this morning promoted an upcoming story: "Swimmers attacked by a school of piranhas."  Tam's been sitting at the foot of (my!) bed ever since, eating breakfast with the happy innocence of Gomez Addams awaiting reports of a natural disaster, occasionally snarling, "C'mon!  Get to the piranhas!"

     Oh, the story finally came up; she just sang out, "Yes!  Here it is -- Fish attack...!"

     Never a dull moment at Roseholme Cottage, right around the corner from the big, decrepit Victorian at 0001 Cemetary Lane .

The Cardboard Box Office

     So, you've got 1. A new baby, 2. A just-moved household, 3. A few zillion cardboard boxes and 4. You're spending a lot more time at home (see item one).

     Do you do as generations of parents before you have done and A. Go quietly crazy -- or do you B. Restage famous movie scenes using whatever's laying around?

     Yeah.  I'll have some more from Column B, please!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Where My Accent Is From

     As determined by a test at the website of the Noo Yawk Tahmes, of all places:

     They nailed it -- see that green circle around the dark-red blob in East-Central Indiana?  While I was born here in Indy, I did most of my growing up in Marion, Indiana, just about dead-center of  that spot.  (Those even-darker red spots around Wichita KS, Jackson MS and the far-West corner of South Carolina?  Darned if I know, though I do have some ancestors from that part of the Carolinas, just about the middle of the original Cherokee nation.)

     How 'bout you?
     Thanks to Jeffro, who found this.

Merry Christmas!

     Just for you, a present from the Hidden Frontier!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Crown To Alan Turning: Pardon

     Fat lot of good it does him, having been dead by his own hand (reputedly: a poisoned apple he made himself) for lo, these many years.  --Who's next in the make-it-didn't happen sweepstakes, Oscar Wilde?

     But quite aside from the talented-Brits-arrested-in-loos count, I note the United Kingdom has the distinct dishono(u)r of having had the world's first computer invented there two or three times -- and killed it on the vine every time.  Difference Engine?  Never built.  Colossus?  Taken apart for "security" reasons after the War and so classified you could get in trouble for admitting you'd worked on it.   I suppose it could be argued that the Raspberry Pi is their apology to the world.

     If they'd treated Newton the same way they treated Babbage and Turing, calculus wouldn't've gotten off the ground until right before World War Two.

And A Happy Christmas Eve To You!

     That's all.  No snark, no subtext: best wishes of the season to you and yours.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Goodness Sake

     Cartoon: two grim-faced policeman hauling away a stricken-looking Santa Claus in handcuffs while a little girl looks on with a truculent expression.  One of the policemen is saying to Santa, "She says you see her when she's sleeping."

Had I Only Seen Them Earlier

     Egyptian hieroglyphic "alphabet" blocks.  I was already planning on giving the littles Greek, Russian and Chinese alphabet blocks next year, and these are even better.

     If you want to broaden a child's horizons, just leave 'em clues and hints.  They may or may not follow them but it'll be their decision and all the more fascinating to them because of it.  (Me, I'm the aunt who hands out science toys and books.)

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Holiday Dinner...In Space

     ISS, zero-G dorm room: pretty much the same thing.  (Be sure to check out the hi-rez version!)  Money quote: "...three different brands of peanut butter, 3 bottles of hot sauce, mini-Reeses peanut butter cups, Ghirardelli chocolates, and Tic Tacs. In other words they really eat like geeks." (And he overlooked "The Good Chocolate" bar, at that.)

     Physically-fit and highly-skilled geeks, mind you, but geeks nevertheless.  Let the meek have the Earth -- just as long as geeks get outer space.  (In space, you've got to have condiments.)

Because Beta Males Buy Luxury Cars, Too

     It's a cute commercial -- and who could possibly disapprove of doing nice things for Santa Claus?

     On the other hand, is this doe-eyed innocent, who huffs and puffs his way up a few flights of stairs, really the role model y'want to present to the car-addled boys of America?  Nothing personal, young man, but do you have any other skills besides barely-adequate sewing?  At all?

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Spacewalking, Drowning, Snub Wars

     C'mon, NASA, seriously?  You've been spec-ing space suits since before the Mercury program (and David Clarke and ILC/Dover [life support by Hamilton Standard] have been building them for about that long), and all of a sudden, you can't get the dehumidifier to work?

     Also, what's up with the TV talking heads looking all goggle-boggled and exclaiming, "Drown in a space suit?  Who'd'a thunk?"
     Gee, I dunno -- only everyone who wears glasses and has bundled up warm to go outdoors in winter?  Your exhaled breath is humid.  Very humid.  And that's even before we add in the water you lose perspiring.  No, the wonder is that anyone can even see through a spacesuit helmet faceplate, ever.

     (Also, "snorkel?"  And not "air tube?"  'Cos, see, really, snorkel implies there's a waterline for it to be above, not the case for blobs of water floating more-or-less randomly around in zero-G.)

     Just in case people have forgotten, there are some perfectly good* Russian space suits aboard ISS.  And a perfectly-good Russian airlock--  But wait, I forgot: these days, NASA won't let anyone under their control wear the Russian suits, or use the Russian airlock, and as for having a cosmonaut go out and remove the bad pump, why, heavens forfend!

     Near as I can determine, the  American, Russian and ESA space crew get along fine on ISS but their bosses these days are not talking to one another much.  Sure, sure, all the sections are latched together; sure, the stabilizing hardware is mostly Russian and so's the air supply -- but ew, NASA apparently doesn't want to have to talk to the commercialized (note the display-card ads in wide shots of Russian Mission Control), shoestring-budget Roscosmos (RKA)/RSC Energia people. (Energia, already 38% state-owned, may end up 51%+ state-owned under a push to renationalize Russia's space industry.  Sad.)
* Bearing in mind that at present, a "perfectly-good" spacesuit is one that won't kill you in the first hour or so.  Gloves are a particular problem, as is movement in general, which is why everyone runs lower pressures and higher oxygen levels and preparing for a spacewalk includes sleeping in the airlock, breathing the low-pressure outdoor mix; otherwise, spacesuited workers end up starfished, comfy but hardly able to bend at any joint.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Goodbye, Target?

     When a store manages to get the credit-card details of some forty million customers stolen and has so far only said, "Ooops!" about it and "they're pretty sure they have plugged the leak," it doesn't bode well for their future.

     This saddens me; I like Target, which has generally offered slightly better quality* and a lot more style than the usual overgrown modern five-and-dime.  But I'm one of the forty million, waiting for the other shoe to drop and wondering what I ought to do next.  If I do go back, I'll pay in cash.
* Though darned if I can find decent, long-lasting knee socks anywhere these days.  And it's not even worth the effort to actually darn them.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Just A Little Reminder

     I loathe this time of year.  Not the various and sundry religious celebrations, those are way kewl as long as I don't have to sit in; I'm happy to walk by, see the lights shining inside and hear the happy voices.  Makes me feel all warm and friendly.

     No, it's the happy-happy-happy commercial crapola and all the social baggage, and pretending I can even remember the names of the, what are they up to, third or fourth-generation children that I see once a year.

     And all the little frustrations of Winter -- I went to scrub out the bathtub, aiming at a nice long soak with Epsom Salts and a cuppa hot chocolate, and got as far as spraying the tub with household cleaner and heating water.  Opened the new box of hot chocolate mix, lifted a packet out and kind of shook it, as one does--
     And sprinkled cocoa powder all over the stove, all over the floor, all over myself.  You see, the packet was miscut.  As were allll of the others in the box, off by an eighth of an inch or so as they went through the packet-packing machine.  None were sealed.  Total loss.

     Gotta clean that up, but in the meantime, the bathtub that the cats occasionally leap into has cleaner in it, so I have to hastily sweep up the worst of the chocomess, then run and shut the washroom door, then back to the kitchen and clean up, etc.  Needless to say, the nice relaxing hot soak is o-u-t.

     But hey, the bathtub is squeaky clean and some progress has been made on the kitchen floor, too.

    I loathe this time of year.  My joints ache, my sinuses act up and everybody is so miserably in-your-face fake-happy that I wanna just curl up in a corner.  Possibly with a hot cuppa hemlock.  --But you know there'd be some damned thing wrong with it, "Oh, no, the hemlock crop got hacked between Black Friday and December 15;* somebody stole all the lethality.  Heck, you could bathe in it...."  Bastids.
* Yeah, I used a credit card at Target between the day after Thanksgiving and the 15th.  Don't have online access to that account, either, so I will have to go to the bank and see what they can do, if anything.

Because It's Cheaper To Shovel Snow Than Lose A Lawsuit

     For that matter, it's easier to shovel snow than render first aid to a neighbor or stranger.

     Tam's recent observation on snow-shoveling (and those who don't) has prompted acrimonious debate, with sunshine-state para-Objectivists objecting, "City's sidewalk, City's to clear."

     Nice notion, but A) the City doesn't agree and B) you don't really want it to; see, the City spins not, nor does it plow.  Every dime the City has, they took from the pockets of you and your fellow inhabitants.  By the time they'd've gathered up a Snow-Shoveller Corps, uniformed them, issued shovels, inspected them for disease and degree of imbecility, worked up a manual of arms for Shovel, Snow, Official, m. 2013, trained supervisors, hired a department head, etc. etc., my taxes would have gone way, way up -- and my street would be low on the priority tree to actually have our walks shoveled, count on it.  They'd probably dutifully drop by every June, shovels on their shoulders, singing a happy snow-shoveler chanty, give the walks a quick look-see and mark us down as done for the year, as pleased as gandy-dancers encountering an already-straight section of rail.

     "But," objectors might splutter, "the City is eeeeevil.  They will fine you if you don't shovel their sidewalk."  They can.  They rarely do -- see, just as they haven't got a Snow-Shoveller Corps, they're a bit light on Shovelled-Walks Inspectors, too.  The po-leece could go around writing tickets but even IMPD would be ashamed of collaring non-shovelers.  The possibility of a -- oh, horrors -- ticket and fine doesn't prompt me to shovel my sidewalks.

     Here's what does (and you will be shocked, shocked to learn my reasons mostly boil down to self-interest):

     1. I want to be able to walk on my own land without slipping, falling, having shoes fill up with snow, etc.  By the time I have cleared the house-to-garage walk, the back-door-to-front-door walk and the front-door-to-curb walk, the itty bit of across-the-frontage sidewalk is nothing.

     2. I enjoy receiving mail and packages.  The Post Office and the various commercial delivery concerns usually will not wade through snow with one's new fridge.  Yes, yes, I'm sure you'll tell me they damned well ought to; but they won't and you can't make them, so....

     3. I don't really care to touch strangers, nor listen to their wailing, nor see them bleed and thrash about.  One can largely avoid the occasional necessity to render first aid to slippers and fallers by clearing and salting the sidewalk in front of one's home.

     4. Similarly, it's purely inconvenient to be hauled into court by a slip-and-fall victim.  I'd just as soon not give 'em the chance.  Let them go elsewhere if they're minded to fall down and break something.

     5. I want the neighbors to clear their walks so I can comfortably and safely walk to the store, various eateries, etc.  It's considered rude to go threaten them -- plus I am not the boss of them anyway -- so shame (in the form of setting a good example) is about all that's left.  I clear my walk and they see it, and perhaps think, "Oh, so that's the Done Thing, is it?" and clear theirs.  (If the snow isn't much, or the neighbor does stuff for me, I might shovel their walk, too.  Now you've got three houses with cleared walks and, as Arlo Guthrie tells us, people will think it's a Movement. Maybe they'll want to get in on it.) (And maybe they won't.  I still win: I have at least three houses worth of cleared sidewalk to ease my peregrinations.  Yes, ooo, ick, other people might walk on it.  So what?  I got what I wanted!  How many dogs did you want to put in that manger?)

     If you want to be an island, go live on an island (or the functional equivalent).  If you like living in town, where there are things to do and places selling nice stuff to eat and art museums, bike shops and radio-parts stores and so on, with that comes living cheek-by-jowl with the other fonky primates.  If you want to reduce the friction that comes with that, sometimes you've got to oil the gears.  Sometimes you've got to shovel the sidewalks.   Or hire someone to do it for you.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Fermat's Last Stand?

     I've got to dash; Tam had frozen door latches on her car this morning, which a Georgia-raised belle finds a lot more distressing than does a stolid Hoosier country gal.  I'm likely to find the same on my car, though, and it does purely annoy to have to hold the car door shut for most of my commute.  That's one hand to steer, one for the gearshift and one for the door-- Hey!  But one of the lesser skills my father taught (though not directly, only by example) was how to steer with a well-place knee and why that was a darned bad idea.

     That's all by way of explain why I'm leaving you with a link to Fermat's Last Theorem instead my usual deep, thought-provoking drivel.  Fermat's Last Theorem is a cross between a Gilbert & Sullivan musical, MGM's The Wizard Of Oz and a romp though the broader history of mathematics and, indeed, philosophy -- no, wait, don't go 'way!  It's got all manner of fun folk.  Heck, even Blaise Pascal and ol' Freddie Nietzsche put in appearances.  Naturally, Micheal Flynn found it first.

     Typical scene: "Markas puzzles out a solution to this problem [their locomotive has broken]  that shares several features with the party’s last stroke of genius. They place Pascal on a square-meter object to summon Newton.* Then they push a cart into Newton at one meter per second; Newton, surprised, pushes back, transforming him into James Watt (1 Watt = power required to push an object at 1 m/s against opposition of one Newton). James Watt is able to fix the train, allowing them to continue onward."

     A-hem.  Either you're chuckling by now, or you're wondering, What's all this, then?  If the latter, please to be turning your geek card, and thank for playing!
* 1 Pascal = 1 Newton per square meter.  QED.  Also, LS/MFT.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

I'm Probably Spherical

     I was at a doctor's office a month ago, and after they took my height, weight, blood pressure, mother's maiden name and fingernail salinity, they came back in a couple of minutes and handed me a little print-out of all these fact-like bits plus some extra -- including my surface area.

     I haven't run the numbers but I'll just bet the software that calculated that number was based on the assumption I was of uniform density roughly equal to water, and spherical.  Also, WTH?  Why figure it?  Why tell me?  To make providing a hospital gown simpler?  So I know how much suntan lotion to buy?  What?  --It's probably required somewhere in ACA-Obamacare.  It sounds like something Congress would want.

How To Annoy People

     Extensive background checks?  Check.
     Delays?  Check.
     Verifying permission-to-purchase has been duly authorized?  Check
     Assuming buyers only want to make the purchase for bad reasons?  Check.
     Refusing to sell if they're out of their "normal" neighborhood?  Check.
     Finding cash transactions "suspicious?"  Check.
     Creating a blacklist of anyone refused and sharing it with all locations?  Check.
     Report any transaction you're even the least suspicious about to police?  Check.

     What is it?  Firearms sales in MA or CA?  Federal rules for sales of deadly chemicals?  BATFE explosives-sales rules?

     Nope: internal policy at Walgreen's for selling prescription pain medicine.

     As a sufferer of chronic -- and, lucky me, usually low-level -- pain, I know about the suspicion, dismissive treatment and general difficulty of getting strong pain meds.  Even a lot of the doctors treat you as just another drug-seeking opportunist instead of someone who wants to get the pain down to a dull roar so they can get on with life.  (Side effects of the meds can be no darned picnic, either.)  

     CVS lost my prescription business over a decade ago, when the store was frequently out of a non-narcotic, non-pain-treating and relatively common medication that I take.  Walgreen's always has my prescription drugs in stock and they even have a convenient drive-up window; but their latest antics have me wondering if perhaps I should go elsewhere.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Reality Catches Up To The Hidden Frontier

     One of the premises of my I Work On A Starship yarns is that the "Edgers," the somewhat anarchic refugee refuseniks who stumbled into a Lukewarm War with Earth* have better stardrive tech than any Earth nation, apparently as a result of picking up some [spoiler omitted] tech and their own further work.  Another premise is that the whole notion of the FTL or "Jump" drive as Earth forces know it developed from some notion that Richard Feynman dreamed up half-idly as the Manhattan Project wound down, and (unbeknownst to him) was developed by others

     Fast-forward to this Wired article, which ledes with, "Physicists reported this week the discovery of a jewel-like geometric object that dramatically simplifies calculations of particle interactions and challenges the notion that space and time are fundamental components of reality."  But wait, there's more!  "...the traditional machinery of quantum field theory, involving hundreds of Feynman diagrams worth thousands of mathematical terms, was obfuscating something much simpler. 'The number of Feynman diagrams is so explosively large that even computations of really simple processes weren’t done until the age of computers,' ...it became apparent that Feynman’s apparatus was a Rube Goldberg machine."

     That's a bit rearranged but nevertheless, there you have it: two different ways of describing/predicting very basic interactions, one enormously simpler/faster than the other.  And it's Feynman. 

     And yet some people still doubt that the Hidden Frontier might be real....  ;)
* Or at least the U.S. and in-the-know NATO allies, and, separately and a lot lower-key, the USSR.

"I'm Not One To Complain, But..."

     Aw, who'm I kidding?  I'm a whiner, at least sometimes.

     The recurring I-don't-know-why inflammation thing  in my upper right jaw, where a tooth root punched through the bone years ago (resulting in the loss of two teeth, various surgeries, arguments with oral surgeons about there being a hole in the bone and weren't they apologetic when they found it?) has opened up again and is extremely painful.  It's been ramping up since Thursday or so, when some kind of lesion opened up in the middle of the scar and has gotten steadily worse.  Ibuprofen and salt-water rinses aren't helping much.

     I'm going to try to get into my dentist's early this morning, so 'scuse me if I'm scarce.  Actually writing this Sunday evening and preparing to go back to bed, 'cos I sure can't get much done awake.

     Darned if I know what this is.  The hole in the bone has been patched up twice and the docs -- an oral surgeon-endodontist (dentist)/ENT-surgeon (M.D.) -- were very careful to biopsy everything and have it looked over.  Nothing unusual turned up.  But it keeps coming back. It'd been pretty infrequent and mild.  This time it's not mild.

     0533 ETA: Or maybe not "off to the dentist."  It appears to have been snowing steadily most of the night and just getting to work could be challenge enough. 

     2044 ETA:  Didn't go.  Weather was too poor.  Took Vitamin I and kept my tongue off it and while things were neither "hunky-dory" nor were they "jake," it worked out. --For those who are late to the story, this particular misadventure began well over a decade ago and the worst of it stretched out over the first 4 or 5 years.  It's long past and a round dozen specialists couldn't fix it, so don't you start.  It just is.  It's like ugly wedding-gift furniture, something to be lived with.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Luckiest/Unluckiest Cosmonaut

     If Boris Volynov offers you a ride back to Earth from orbit, be sure to wear your seat belt.  Russian cosmonauts come from a slightly different tradition of space-traveler than NASA's astronauts, but both groups are similarly skilled, tough and resourceful.  To the extent the various space agencies can select for luck, they have.

     But Boris has been oversupplied with luck both good and bad; in 1969, he piloted Soyuz 5 on an ambitious mission, docking with Soyuz 4 and transferring two crewmen to the other vehicle. Soyuz 4, now fully crewed, reentered without incident.  Not so for Soyuz 5, with Volynov flying solo; the "equipment module" at the rear of the reentry capsule didn't disengage and he went planing in, nose-first.  There's a hatch in the nose of a Soyuz; there is no heat shield at that end and the hatch seals began to, well, melt.  As things went from worse to even worse, Volynov's luck changed: the hardware holding the equipment module burned through and eventually the automatic orientation control worked the capsule around so it was flying heat shield first.  Then bad luck returned: the parachute had taken more heat than it was designed for and only partially deployed and as the hurtling capsule approached the ground the retrorockets...didn't fire.  Wikipedia tells us this resulted in "...a hard landing which almost wrecked the module, and broke some of Volynov's teeth."

     Bear in mind that a regular Soyuz touchdown is more like a car crash than a carnival ride; what a cosmonaut calls "a hard landing," would have most people seeking other employment as soon as they stopped seeing stars.

     Not Volynov!  Undaunted, he continued with the program and in 1976, he was the pilot for a two-man crew that docked with Salyut 5, one of the military "Almaz" series.  The information available online is conflicting, but generally agrees that the mission was cut short after his partner fell ill and they had to return to Earth for treatment.  (It would appear the cause was nitric acid fumes from a propellent tank, leaking into the space station's life-support system.)

     It was not an easy return. Latches jammed on undocking and initial efforts to free the spacecraft only got it stuck, connected to but unable to redock with the space station. After an hour and a half, ground controllers worked out a release procedure and relayed it to the cosmonauts, who were finally able to unhook.  Their troubles weren't over; as they reentered, strong winds buffeted the capsule, retrorockets fired unevenly, and Volynov made another harder-than-usual landing.

     On first reading his online biography, I thought he must be the unluckiest space traveler alive but the more I consider it, the more I think he's the luckiest: on every mission, he has encountered far more trouble than most of his peers see in a lifetime -- and each time, he has survived with no more than minor injury.  That takes more than mere luck: it takes a degree of cool-headedness few men could have managed in the same circumstances.  Boris Volynov did it, twice, and lived to tell the tale.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The News From Colorado

     It's as depressing as it was predictable: when the media harps and harps on the anniversary of a mass shooting, when politicians wallow in old blood to push through new laws, it is well-night inevitable that some weak-minded fool with a head full of simmering resentment is going to decide the best way to resolve their own situation is to shoot a person or persons who was no actual threat, in some location most people would consider safe.

     Notice how well Colorado's shiny new gun laws worked.  They have strict limits on how many rounds a gun's magazine can hold: the shooter used a shotgun, holding six shells or less. They've got universal background checks: an 18-year-old quite often has a clean (empty) record and sails through a background check, so there was no legal barrier to the shooter buying the gun -- if he didn't simply take it from home.  There's a Federal law about guns on school grounds: he walked right through it.

     Laws might make you feel better but they cannot stop someone determined to harm others.  Setting up high-attention situations that appeal to people with the kind of personality flaws that make for this variety of murder has a significant probability of the crime being attempted.

     One of my co-workers asked, "What's the matter in Colorado?" I didn't have an answer at the time.  In hindsight, I wonder if it isn't that politicians and the media can't stop picking at the scab.

     And how convenient that it came along just a day after the Paul Barrett article on how "Gun Control Is Basically Dead," in a state where a highly-politicized effort for harsher gun control is facing plenty of pushback.

     If it looked any hinkier, I'd be putting together a tinfoil hat, except for the research showing they do more harm than good.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Ew. (Accidental Screencap)

     Is there a dead rat in the studio?
     The result of a keyboard fumble but you have to admit, his expression certainly fits the graphic.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

House To FCC: "Fairness" Is Unfair

     The FCC has been making noise about getting back into being "News Police," making sure for every bit of airtime someone is hectoring you about one side of any issue, someone else gets to nag you about the other side of it.

     Besides being idiotic -- you can (and probably will) just turn the knob -- it's a highly-subjective mess and would force stations to replace popular programming with unpopular programming.

     Some members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee think so, too, and have asked the FCC to remember there is, still, a First Amendment.

     Will the Commission listen?  Time will tell.

Lucida Dreaming: Drawing Tool? Seeing Tool!

     Unless you study Art or Art History, you may never have heard of a lucida.  What is it?  It's an art tool.

     You see, the Old Masters cheated.  There's a point in the history of Western art where flat painting with very good perspective pops up and never goes away.  Oh, throughout as much of the history of representing things as has been left to us, there has been gifted work; sculpture got very good very early and an as result, many civilizations left us quite realistic 3-D images, faces of the past gazing right pack.  But drawing and painting were a bit* hit-and-miss until determined artists, along about the Renaissance, started after this business of transferring what they saw to their drawing surface.  The clever among them developed cheats: a wire grid to peer through, forcing the artist to maintain a single viewpoint and breaking the image up into smaller, more manageable sections (a sort of digitization process); the camera obscura, which allowed a person with the space to set one up and good night vision a way to just about trace their subject onto the canvas -- and the camera lucida, a kind of a trick done with mirrors (a special prism, actually) that superimposes an image of the subject and the accusingly blank page with no darkened room or onionskin paper required.

     Of course, you do still have to be able to draw; but if you were having trouble transferring what you were seeing to the paper, a ludica is just the gadget.  They're still around, and while big professional versions don't cost what they did back when the prism was hand-ground from rock crystal and the adjustable mounting was hand-crafted by skilled artisans, they're still a chunk'o'change.  And the nervous-minded may think you look odd totin' one in the park, too.

     A couple of clever present-day artists wanted to change that.  Wanting a tool students could afford (and carry around without having to spend a lot of time talking to the police), they did the Kickstarter thing and rapidly found themselves fully-financed and sold all of their initial run.  I found out just too late to order one of the very first.

     Their lucida is back -- and now sold by Amazon.  I ordered mine this morning.     
* A bit -- a Roman with money could, it appears, get his l'oeil quite well-tromped, for example.  But that's not what I'm on about just now.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Ain't Got Much

     It's a slow morning inside my head -- and outside it, too.  "Self-centered world leaders snap selfie at funeral" isn't doing much for me -- it's just sad and, as Tam points out, was once Not The Done Thing.  That was then.  It's been the Age of Self-Aggrandizement for quite awhile now.

     Then there's the new anti-gun blog, where counter-argument has yet to rub a sore spot on the ego of the guy who set it up.  Go and argue if you like.  Me, any more I'd about rather beat a brick wall with a wooden baseball bat, or yell down a well.  You might ask, "But what about the undecided?"  T'hell with 'em.  If they even exist at all: the man or woman who will sift through page after page of dry statistics before making up their mind that their own life is worth defending has the soul of an adding machine.  Such persons are rare.  Nope, most folk are moved by anecdote and personal experience.  If you want to help gun rights up close and in-person, be nice to a newbie online, at the range or at the sporting-goods store.  Don't be The Scary Guy at work or in your neighborhood, be the friendly person who happens to to own firearms.

     I've made up my mind: I'll own guns.  Elected and appointed officials can dink with the laws all they like and all it'll do is vary the degree of difficulty, awkwardness and risk.  Life is easier when you can stay inside the law and that makes working keep the legislative idiocy within bounds and even roll it back a worthwhile effort.  But don't kid yourself: new, restrictive laws don't make eeeevil guns vanish, they only create new (and often unwitting) lawbreakers.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Same Old, Same Old -- In Space

     The opinion piece is four years old but richly deserves mocking nevertheless: space writer James Oberg is bedwettingly horrified that the Russians still carry guns into space.

     Oberg has written extensively about the Russian space program and is well aware that cosmonauts have landed off-course several times, out where the bear and wolf and hostile locals roam.  He's well aware of it and brushes it off with, "...any off-course vehicle would have the entire U.S. rescue team at their disposal almost immediately.."

     Riiiight.  Because there's nothing at all difficult about sending a U.S. recovery team, hardware and all, to get in the way of a Russian operation in Kazakhstan, and no touchy issues of national and professional pride involved to slow efforts down, either.

     It's the same argument against bearing arms you hear from other fools: "The police will protect you."  Yes, when you need help immediately, the State is only minutes -- or, in the case of misaimed space travelers, hours or even a day -- away. What could possibly go wrong in that time?

     But Oberg is still fretting -- 'cos, in the middle of one of the most hostile environments imaginable, aboard a space station filled with horrible (and readily accessable) ways to die -- there are also, packed away in the puzzle-pieces-fit survival kits in a couple of Soyuz capsules, g-u-n-s.

     Pssst, James?  There's a whole lot of hard, hard vacuum out there, too, and toxic coolant and high-voltage electricity and pure oxygen and probably even some nitrogen tetroxide, of which only a little dab'll snuff ya.  There are even hammers and sharp, pointy objects.  Firearms are the least of the crews' worries.  If someone flips out (or goes coldly murderous) on ISS, they can obtain the means to do harm by merely reaching out.

     Alas, he's still worried, in part because there's foreigners aboard ISS, and all of them -- each and every one of those mean, scary, nasty, awful people -- will have access to guns.

     Just like they do on Earth.

     Grow up, James.  The Russians have guns in space.  They're not going to give them up.

     (For a little more woo and scolding on nitrogen tetroxide, along with some jaw-droppingly blithe puffery, try this PBS article.)

Monday, December 09, 2013

Black Ice

     The weather is bad.

     Tam: "Up in Boone County, they had black ice like we saw in the parking lot on the interstate."

     Roberta: "There's a parking lot on the interstate?"

     Tam: "No, black ice like we saw in the parking lot."

     Roberta, musingly: "It just doesn't seem like a very good idea...."

     Tam: [Exasperated look]

     It was a bad idea, in fact; an emergency vehicle stopped and helping people at an accident was struck by  another car. 50 wrecks around metro Indianapolis alone and at least one fatality.

     Be careful out there.

After You're Done Wrestling Darwin, Try Tolkien

     It's not just Neanderthals -- orges?  goblins? -- our ancient but modern-human ancestors were foolin' around with; nope, researchers have evidence they were dating Denisovians (ooh, elves?  Maybe?) and one more, unnamed group of hominids, too.

     "Mark Thomas, an evolutionary geneticist at University College London, described the ancient environment to Nature as a 'Lord of the Rings-type world.'"

      Yes, that's what the man said.  I'm starting to suspect that Pratchetts's Discworld novels may be something of a documentary.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Hating On Amazon Drones?

     What?  Why?  --If I read one more joke or see one more idiotic cartoon about shooting down Amazon drones for the "free prize inside," I'm gonna start screaming.

     What is it with you people?  There's free stuff behind plate glass at the TV store, too, and in every UPS, FedEx and USPS truck.  All you have to do is pick up a brick or a rock and go smash; all you have to do is threaten the driver -- or take him out.  All you have to do is...shoot down the drone.

     Yeah?  Do that and you're a looter.  Do that and you have overstepped the bounds of civilized behavior.  Is that your drone?  I already had to wait an extra day after paying a premium for 1-day delivery and now you wanna get all butthurt over a nice, positive, civilian application of an otherwise death-dealing technology that might've put my order in my hands on time and without exposing a delivery driver to the hazards of winter weather and winter drivers.

     Yeah, go shoot down an unarmed drone.  You'll show that dirty-bad ol' Jeff Bezos.  You'll show that person waiting on an order of stuff they wanted.


      (It would seem I have to spell this out for some people.  See, you're not robbing from a wicked robot, you're stealing from the poor slob who ordered whatever it's carrying.  And as for the weenies worrying about "normalizing drones," go take a seat over there with the hand-wringers from the Brady bunch and Mr. Horowitz's CSGV: they're all weepy over "normalizing military weapons in civil society," too.  Maybe you can clan up and ban private scary black rifles and private drones together!  There are drones in your future.  It's inescapable.  Do you want all of them to by run by the police and the military, or do you want to get to know some flying-model aviation hobbyists and a 1%er shopkeeper, and possibly preserve some sliver of a loophole to drone 'em right back?)

     Is it possible that so many people have never lived in neighborhoods where packages and letters are stolen from front porches and mailboxes?  It stops being amusing real fast once it has happened to you. 

     P.S., if, after all I have written, you're still thinking, "Ha, ha, lighten up girlie.  Free stuff from shooting down drones is just a funny, funny joke," then you're reading the wrong blog and you're not going to like my "lib'ral, commie notions" about property rights being the root of all rights and the initiation of force against others being wrong and immoral. Get the hell out and don't come back.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

The Little Tank That Just Couldn't.

     From a news story sent out by A Professional news service, written (or rewritten) by A Professional news writer, professionally:

"...gave it another try, and the tank it rolled backward again through another guardrail and down an embankment."
     Then the little tank cried and cried.  "Oh, try harder, little tank," Jeffrey said. The little tank roared and road and spun its treads, but went nowhere.  The little tank, it just couldn't.  The little tank was sad.  Jeffrey patted it and sat beside it until the Sheriff came to help.  He dried off its tears so it wouldn't rust.
     The Sheriff was a big, happy man, like Santa Claus without a beard.  "Oh no, little tank," he said.  "You've got yourself in quite a pickle.  Why were you playing so close to the freeway?  You might have been hurt!"
     He was right.  The little tank and Jeffrey had rolled backwards all across the freeway, down an embankment and nearly into a cold, wet ditch.  Then they had climbed out, the treads of the little tank going "clank-clank-clank," and tried to climb the big hill again.  They crossed the freeway three times and never looked both ways.  Or even one way.  And there were cars and trucks zooming right past!
     The little tank started to cry again. Jeffrey cried, too.  Their Mommies had told them to never, ever play near the freeway.
     The Sheriff was nice.  He told them they were very lucky, and not to cry because they were safe now.  He gave both of them hankies that had a star and the word "SHERIFF" on them in big, gold letters.  The Sheriff got on his radio and called their Mommies and a big, big wrecker. Jeffrey and the little tank were going to okay.

     The text of the original story, filed by one of those scribbling, barely-literate hacks at a local newspaper, far from the lofty heights of A major wire service Provider, seems remarkably free of such child-like distortions.  A gem among those poor, benighted savages who eat raw meat and type using only the index fingers of both unwashed hands. Isn't that amazing?

     Yahoo link. Be sure to read the ads, lest you make the baby Mammon cry!  Can't find the story on A Professional wire service's site, or I'd give them a link, too, free for nothin'.  Here's a screencap, edited down to the minimum.
  (Note to A--- P---'s legal department: do a search on "parody" and "fair use," mmmm-kay?)

     (N.B. In the old days, a story like this, sent over a teletype circuit at a blazing 50 Baud, would have broken out in "BUST IT BUST IT BUST IT" a few words after the glitch, followed by a resend under a slugline that included "RESENDING."  'Cos you don't want to send stuff like that to the paying customers at newspapers and broadcast stations.)

Does Their Reach Exceed Their Grope?

     Or is it just their hubris?  In the wake of revelations about the Feds spying on, well, everyone, an NRO spysat just went up with this mission patch:
     Yeah.  We don't have an Orbital Hilton or a tourist lodge on the moon and Pan-Am can't run you up there on a shuttle -- in fact, they're struggling to make the trains run on time while NASA astronauts have to bum a lift from the Russians.*  But our .gov can bigawd tune in every cel-phone call, walkie-talkie and baby monitor everywhere, and read everyone's e-mail and web-browsing history to boot.  China plans to put a missile base on the Moon and this country's space program is all about listening at keyholes and peering in windows.

     It makes me as proud as the protagonist  in a Greek Tragedy, it does.  And I lurves me some Big Brother, especially when he dresses up like Cthulhu and looms.  Just gimme a minnit to urp neatly into my shirt pocket first, 'kay?
* Russians are to spaceships as Cubans are to classic cars, as near as I can tell.

Friday, December 06, 2013


     Just "No."
     It doesn't help saying it but hey, at least I did something?  Gotta git out and shovel.

     There's another 3" or more on the way during the day.  And the trash has to go out.  And Tam-of-the-injured-shoulder has the stubborns, and swears she can haul the cans out front.  "Can" and "should:" not actually synonyms.  So, laters; I gotta boot up, glove up, lay hold and heave.

     ETA: Photo is from last night.  There's another 1.5" - 2" on top of that and the forecast calls for another three or more by the end of the day.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Project A119: Nuke The Moon

          Not another chapter in I Work On A Starship.  Not the IMAO Moon-nuking-for-world-peace proposal, now over a decade old.  Nope, the very real USAF Study of Lunar Research Flights, Project A119 from the late 1950s.

     "According to one of the leaders of the project, physicist Leonard Reiffel, hitting the moon with an intercontinental ballistic missile would have been relatively easy to accomplish, including hitting the target with an accuracy of about two miles."

     Okay, then.  That'll put a scare in them Rooshians aliens.

     (The Wikipedia article says the USSR thought about it, too.  Luckily both sides had better sense, 'cos you know, if one had, the other would want to do so, too and next thing you know, the Moon would be totally unrecognizable and the Apollo astronauts would've had to wear lead longjohns.)

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Harmonious Folk

     I'm told Dylan did a version of this--

     Yeah, well.  'Druther have this one.

     Is there any darned thing left that some sick weasel -- corporate penny-shaver or green-weenie or regulator run amok -- isn't trying to replace (or already has) with some ersatz edition made out of cheap, biodegradable plastic slathered in bright colors, all misinterpreted, bendy and useless, and destined to end in tatters along the side of a crumbling road?  Anything at all, except maybe the human voice?  And they'll try'n sell you a chopped-up, cut-rate digitized version of that, too, and claim the tinny simulacrum droning in your earbuds is "just as good as the real thing."

     It ain't.

     Maybe this is a little reminder, a glimpse of memory of a description of a sniff of a full Sunday dinner that's been cooking all day, laid out in the fair-to-middling best china on a freshly-launder tablecloth on a cool Fall afternoon.

Glowing Wind Blows In Lunar Solar Power?

     Vast amounts of (electrical) power and a Moon colony by 2030?  Count me in!

     It's an ill wind that blows no good and the "hot" wind for Fukushima has left Japanese engineers and futurists wondering how they'll keep the lights on.  One idea reboots an old notion: solar power from orbit, beaming down microwaves or lasers.  Inefficient?  Sure, but with the Sun on the other end of the line, who care?  Atmospheric losses are low and you let the beams spread and pick them up on huge "rectennas" or broad, floating solar collectors.

     But where the original concept called for solar power satellites in orbit, Shimizu takes another approach: "paving" the Moon in solar cells and transmission facilities in a broad ring around its equator.  Crazy?  Maybe; but it does avoid the tricky parts of trying to build really big structures in orbit, and keep techs around to work on 'em.  Mind you, it's on a scale that makes damming the Strait of Gibraltar and lowering the Mediterranean Sea look like a Science Fair project, but the payoff would be even bigger.

     ...Look for it to get shouted down by the same idiots who don't understand RF field strength that doomed the original SPS, but if Japan gets cold enough, they'll try something and I sure hope this is still on the table.

Riding A Soyuz Back To Earth

     "The 'soft landing' isn't really soft..."  Yeah, but it works:

Tuesday, December 03, 2013



     (Careful poking around, some other images are NSFW.)

Opinion: Savages.

      You do not put milk in Earl Grey tea.  Not ever.

     Outrageous.  Unacceptable.  Do these ignorant barbarians on the Internet not know what a dad-blasted bergamot is?

     No.   Most of them do not and would not even if one landed on their head with a label pinned to it, reading, "Behold, the bergamot."

     I lay the blame for this outrage directly at the feet of the decline of Great Britain.  They have Let Their Side Down and now English-speaking tea drinkers outside that island-bound nation are pouring milk into Earl Grey and drinking it (actually drinking it!), thinking, "Yes.  Yes, this is how tea should taste."

     Ugh.  If the Brits were capable of making an acceptable cup of coffee, the asymmetry would be unbearable.  Thankfully, they cannot -- for whatever happens, we have got the Chemex, and they have naught.*

     Now, if we just had a nice plate of arrowroot digestives.
* "Whatever happens, we have got/The Maxim gun, and they have not" --Hilaire Beloc; sadly, he also wrote, "Is there no Latin word for Tea? Upon my soul, if I had known that I would have left the vulgar stuff alone." He was by birth French and never fully gave it up, just as one might expect.

Monday, December 02, 2013

I May Not Know Art

...But I guess I have figured out what people don't like -- or at least won't comment on.

     Edited to add: See, it's a joke, like?  I wrote about books and writers, and people got wordy; I wrote about art and artists, and they sat there quietly picturing things.   It's hard to type a painting; you can do it but it really calls for a monospaced font.

So We Went To See Matisse

    Or some of his oeuvre, really, and don't let the French fool ya; he did actual work with his actual hands and though you may picture canvases bright with primary colors and primitive-looking images, the artist was well capable of capturing a model's likeness with a bare minimum of lines--
     --which seems only fair, considering.

     He moved between mediums quite fluidly:
     And by now, the boys are all wishing they'd studied Art, too.

     (Color?  You wanted color?  They have all of Jazz on the wall!  Photos don't really do it justice, or mine don't; try these.)

     It wasn't just Matisse-- here's Europa, takin' it on the lam (or being pitched the ol' bull, depending on how you want to read it).

     Even the working walls are Art:
     "Day seven, -- or is it eight? -- trapped in William Gibson's mind.  My partner swears she keeps catching glimpses of a gigantic and terrifyingly cerulean Formicidae but it can't be real.  At night, we sleep in flimsy boxes, swaying high over water; by day, we search these sterile, well-lit corridors.  Is there no way out?  The ceilings are all the color of a television tuned to a dead station or an Amtrak engine pulling into one, fuzzily gray or a horribly flat, glowing blue."

     Tam got into the spirit of the thing, and over a late lunch, did her own impression of a Picasso:

     A fun day spent with Tam and the Data Viking at the Indianapolis Museum of Art.  There may be many museums like it, but this one is ours.
M-I-C, K-E--  no, wait, wrong hat!

Sunday, December 01, 2013

I Survived Family Thanksgiving

     Almost didn't go.  Almost didn't find the house even when I did go.  Brought Tam along for moral support.  Came home exhausted after two and a half hours and simply crashed, out like a light, entirely wrung out.  Woke three hours later with a blinding headache, took Vitamin I and slept deeply again until morning.

     This level of emotional reaction, unconscious though it is, is in some ways unfair of me.  There usually aren't any majorly dreadful scenes at these events (just repercussions after, sometimes months after, over innocent remarks or who one did or did not speak to).  On the other hand, I was once again reminded that even one two-year-old is a crowd.  (And my sister's poor tomcat feels the same way only more so, and will complain about it to anyone who will listen. He's a good cat and has been around children before, so he simply evades -- and registers his objections with the grown-ups.  For his part, the two-year-old loves, loves, loves the kitty, and would happily express his affection by hauling the critter around like a dishrag.)

     Anyway, survived. General, if cautious, goodwill all 'round. One can scarcely ask for more.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

PC Bookshelf?

     Kind of at a loss for topics -- I could link to Penn and Teller's replaying of Luis Walter Alvarez's experiment showing you don't need a second gunman, but history's history and no matter what you think happened, it's long over. (Thanks to Whipped Cream Difficulties for the first link.)

     Nope, I'm here to talk about Political Correctness. --Now you may cheer, thinking I'm about to rip speech codes and the kind of ninnies who get Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn thrown out of school libraries, and I suppose I am, too.

     But what about you?  I've had readers tell me none o' that John Scalzi SF has ever sullied their eyes, no ma'am, 'cos he is, you see, a Democrat and a lib'ral.  There are folks passing up the amazing, pellucid prose of Kim Stanley Robinson on account he is Green-ish and has socialist leanings -- and never you mind that his work expresses some familiar concerns about individual rights vs. the collective or that he hammered out an entire novel about an underground, quirky revolution that seizes an entire continent.  Across the aisle, nitwits are yet sweatin' over how to go see Ender's Game at the movie house without losin' their lefty street cred over supporting a man with such awful, horrible opinions on who otta be allowed to commit wedlock on whom -- and never mind that by the time the movie hits the screen, the guy who wrote the book the thing is based on has already seen about as much as he's ever gonna: Hollywood knows how to keep their money in town. There are folks who rail against Ursula K. LeGuin's fiction on account of her politics, both real-world and in print.  And so on and so forth, all across the spectrum of political thought and personal philosophy.  Is Robert A. Heinlein a staunch supporter of women's rights and/or* a dirty old man?  Depends on who you ask!

     Me, I kinda admire a writer who builds her own utopia and then pokes it full of holes (The Dispossessed) and while I think a world of Odonians would drive people insane at a far higher rate than she imagined, I'm glad someone ran the thought-experiment, especially in such an entertaining way.  Would LeGuin and I agree on who to vote for, even for dogcatcher?  Probably not.  Do I read her work?  Darned right I do.

     See, over here, we have the writer, who may be a kind of mean guy with Red sympathies -- and over there, his work, which includes such libertarian classics as And Then There Were None.  Yes, that's Eric Frank Russell, and yes, I have a shelf-full of his work.

     Sure, an author's beliefs and personality influences what they write -- but the stuff's got to sell, too.  Despite what those deconstructive critics are tryin' to tell ya, the work is not the person.  It's just a glimpse through a bent kaliedoscope at some part of who they are and what they know.  Charles Stross and H. P. Lovecraft would very likely have found themselves at odds on most issues from gay rights to the British Crown -- and yet Stross's yarns about the occult-intelligence agency "The Laundry" are just a Concorde flight (or step through an intradimensonal transatlantic portal) from Lovecraft's Innsmouth and Miskatonic University.

     Read (or don't read) authors because of what they write, and let the politics go hang.  It's not gonna pollute your head and you're not "sending a message" by not reading a talented author just 'cos you and them didn't vote for the same prospective oppressor.

     Increasingly, we live in an over-polarized world; we might as well be Blue vs. Green (vs. White vs. Red) rioters in Imperial Constantinople.  Depolarize.  Read what you like -- and read to find out what else you'd like to read more of.
* Because I forget that to most people "or" is what I mean by XOR, while in my head, "or" is OR, with a truth table that runs: A=0, B=0, Output=0; A=1, B=0, O=1; A=0, B=1, O=1; A=1, B=1, O=1.  For XOR, that last  set, A=1, B=1 has an Output = 0 and all the others are the same as before -- which is how you end up with "one or the other but not both," the causal meaning of spoken alternatives, "either A or B," an eXclusive OR.  What is it with you people?  Mr. Boole?  Mr. Boole?

Friday, November 29, 2013

Pass The Gravy, Pass Up The Politics

     My Official Family Thanksgiving is yet to come; those of my relatives not too much at loggerheads* will be gathering Saturday to bond through overeating.

     Despite a range of political opinions that range from religious-Right through center-right to RINO and past to a younger generation that calls itself "progressive," votes Dem and would move to bluer shores if only they weren't making so much more money in this benighted red state (and besides, do you know what taxes are like there?), and my very own firearm-friendly anarchism, we don't talk much politics.

     First off, why look for things to disagree about, when a plate of dammnable (my brother claims "delicious") yams trimmed with marshmallows is right there on the table, reeking?  Second, we all of us go vote, with the secret, smug satisfaction that we're cancelling out one evil or stupid person's effort, at least.  Third, whatever our disagreements, nobody wants to make my Mom sad, and she would be if we started in on politics.

     Much as I'd like to think my family was in some way unique, I doubt it. Most families avoid discord at the holiday table -- the holidays are stressful enough without trying to add to it.  Does that stop our would-be Great Leaders?

     Oh, hells no and it's not just the President's insidious effort to get supporters to talk up Obamacare and shout out those wicked ol' GOP uncles who might talk it down.  Nope, it turns out along with your ACArgument, soon-to-be-ex-Mayor (against guns) Bloomberg is handing out an anti-gun Thanksgiving placemat for the kids.

     Move over, Mom, the State wants a seat at the table. And I bet it won't even eat up those yams and spare me the sight and smell of 'em.  Oh, what happy holidays are these, that have such people in 'em?

     (H/T to Alphecca for the link!)
* The family tradition of a relational style that has much in common with trench warfare has expanded to a new generation and I'm not entirely unsympathetic to the combatants. Nor especially surprised.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Turkey. Day.

     I spent about four hours in the kitchen, though twenty minutes of it was making coffee and enjoying a cuppa' and a bowl of cereal.

     The remainder?  Turducken with mushrooms, "popcorn" asparagus, green salad, mashed skin-on russet potatoes and bacon/onion/Surry sausage gravy.  Plus a nice glass of mead.
Artsy version [TAMFOTO]
     Photo may has followed.

A clearer view [TAMFOTO]
     It was dee-lish.  Adding a chopped-up Surry sausage to the gravy pan (and as a source of some of the hot fat) was an interesting addition.  I put a package of mushrooms around the turducken for the last half-hour, and kept it basted with butter for the last forty-five minutes or so.

     Dessert?  Who has room?  Tam and I watched a couple of Season 2 Venture Brothers episodes, laughed like madwomen, and we'll both be napping soon, possibly accompanied by one cat each.  If I stake out the window seat (where sunlight is streaming in), I may get both cats all to myself.

     As ever, Farmmom gets credit for any success I have with gravy: I'm just following her advice.

Happy Thanksgiving

     What are you doing on the internet?  Shouldn't you be helping out in the kitchen?

     20 degrees here; I'm thinking the kitchen is an especially good place to be.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Former Officer Bisard, Off To Jail

         David Bisard, the IMPD officer who struck a group of motorcyclists three years ago, killing one and injuring others while intoxicated on duty, has been sentenced to sixteen years in jail.

     While he has expressed remorse, he's still maintaining he wasn't drunk at the time.  The jury disagreed and the judge has made undergoing treatment for alcohol abuse a part of Bisard's sentence.

     Still to come: a second DUI charge, stemming from an incident while he was out on bond; that DUI put him back behind bars and he's facing an additional year in jail if found guilty.

     And yes, it's "former officer:" he resigned this week, before IMPD could get around to firing him.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

What Was It Thoreau Said?

     Oh, yes: "If I knew for a certainty that a man was coming to my house with the conscious design of doing me good, I should run for my life."

     In other words:
     However, my boundless faith in the inefficiency, ineptitude and occasional malfeasance* of the Federal Government does leave some room for hope.
* Or, at least, misfeasance.  A lot of the bureaugentsia couldn't work up a really good mal even if it was their only ticket out of perdition.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Mr. Colt's Collier's Revolving-Cylinder Firearm

     Hunh.  Who knew?  Like most firearms hobbyists, I was aware of odd precursors to the Colt revolver, but I sure didn't know about Elisha Collier's relatively-successful flintlock revolvers -- or that Samuel Colt had seen them.

     This takes no glory away from Colt, who devised a more-compact mechanism and was the first to incorporate percussion caps, resulting in the first genuinely-reliable repeating sidearm and jumpstarting seventy years of remarkable advancement in gun design.

"I'm Thankful For..."

     A local car dealer runs a commercial consisting of short video snippits of each of his offspring -- they're up to grandkids by now, at least -- sharing whatever scripted-cute thing they're thankful for.  While a jaded eye notes the ads are updated only at long intervals, presumably whenever there's a new crop of photogenic young, and it is likely no few of the "kids" have diplomas and dependents of their own while we're still cooing over their tongue-tied efforts, it is a sign of the season and a reminder to consider what one might be thankful for.

     I'm thankful I'm not in Texas just now -- or Oklahoma.  Or in any of the locations the TV is telling me are going to get ice-stormed good and hard over the next few days.

     It's no coincidence the bigger holidays generally fall when the weather's lousy: they started out dodging around the necessarily seasonal work on farms.  Halloween provides a respite as harvest winds up and by (U.S.) Thanksgiving, you'd about have the crops all stored and all the canning (etc.) done, with any surplus left for the feast.  Another month of make and mend, and you're ready for the shortest day of the year, a time spent in religious observance and/or with family.*

     But that means the latter two come along as the year is winding up for a final bad-weather onslaught.  It means the tradition of gathering doesn't keep us in our homes and communities, but traveling to connect with scattered families.

     Spare a thought for the season's travelers, if you would, and for all their kith and kin.  Especially this year.
* Snark back and forth at one another all you like about the happy coincidence, Cosmic Good Planning or cynical manipulation responsible for Christmas falling so close to the Winter solstice.  'Tis when it is either way and even the most long-standing of arguments over calendars doesn't move it much.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Complain About The Cold...

     Get more of it: 17 degrease F out there, which is like 30 below, Celsius; or -31, Centigrade.

     ....Okay, you got me; it's a tic over -8 C.  Went to double-fhefk and the cirst C/F fonverter I flicked on was really frummy.  Still afting up, in caft. Deceftive!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

VOIP: The Wave Of The Future

     And like much of the future, it sucks.  My Mom has it -- so she can't dial 911.  Mind you, her VOIP service comes from the very same Big PhATT Phone Co. she has always had, the very same outfit that she gets cell phone service (with functioning 911) from, but by the eternal howling flame of the spirit of Mr. A. G. Bell, they can't figger out how to make her VOIP tell the system where her house is and find the right 911 call center to connect to.

      They also seem to have gnarfed up her first effort at a wearable call-for-help button.  Something about the connection provided by the plain-old-phones jack on the VOIP multimodemockery has the call-for-help hub convinced it should otta pulse-dial and there's no way to correct this short of getting the provider of that service to dial into it.  This, of course, they will happily do Monday through Friday between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m., when it is well-nigh impossible for me to be there to plug the thing in.  Can't leave it connected, you see, because then it complains, loudly, every few minutes, asking, "PLEASE CHECK THE TELEPHONE CONNECTION.  PLEASE CHECK THE TELEPHONE CONNECTION," and who doesn't love that?

     Made of freaking win.  Or not.  Oh, Don Ameche, we hardly knew ye.  And we never appreciated what we had.

Yes, I Slept In

     It's twenty-four degrees out there.  24

     I've left a wake-up call for warm o'clock.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Hungarian Wax Pepper

     "What's that called?" The asker was a grocery checker at a supermarket I visit infrequently, a man who appears hard-used by life and who, when asked, "How are you?" invariably responds, "Unstoppable!"

     He was stumped by the pepper, though, an innocent-looking, smallish, waxy-yellow vegetable.

     I wasn't much help at first.  "I'm not sure.  There wasn't a label on the bin...  It was next to the jalapenos.  It could be...a Hungarian pepper?"

     He'd left it for last; now he picked up the laminated list of obscure, un-barcoded vegetables, and scanned it rapidly.  "A Hungarian wax pepper?"

     A dim light came on in my head, like the tiny bulb in a 1940s Shelvador fridge.  "Yes!  That's it."

     "I think that's the first time anyone's bought a Hungarian wax pepper at my lane. Interesting."

*  *  *

     I'd been picking up the makings of "Hoppin' John" when I bought the pepper: diced ham, blackeyed peas, onion, a red bell pepper, a can of mild green chilies, some rice to serve it over.  The little hot pepper seemed like a good addition.  When I was making dinner, I offered Tam a taste, and she pronounced it delicious.  Raw, I found it a bit hot but not overwhelming.

     It turned out to be exactly right.  Diced and sauteed, it calmed down a little but retained a nicely flavorsome bite; I wish I'd bought one or two more.

     Recipe, it's nothing fancy; first dice and saute the fresh veggies.  I used half a white onion and half a red bell pepper along with all of the Hungarian wax pepper, starting with the onion and when it was getting translucent, added the peppers briefly.  Then pour in a can of blackeyed peas (drained and rinsed if you want to keep the sodium down) and the diced ham (some of the cheaper ham can benefit from a rinse, too), cover and heat well.  The mixture should be moist and will develop a bit of liquid.  Add water if it seems too dry.  Serve over rice.  Refinements?  Better ham, and/or fresh blackeyed peas, various interesting varieties of rice.  The basic version is fast, easy, filling and tasty. (If you start with fresh or dried legumes, they get first shift in the pot, for however long it takes 'til they are nearly done.  Ham next, then the sauteed veggies.)

     Tam pronounced it "delicious" and cleaned her bowl.  Given that she is not a big fan of either rice or blackeyed peas, I was pleased.

"Richmond Is A Hard Road To Travel"

     Interesting little Civil War (U.S.) tune:

     Y'get some of the best music from wars but it comes at too high a price.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Iron Horse Replaces Tin Bird?

  Pan Am -- remember Pan Am?  It's a railroad now.


     It almost sounds like a joke, or the opening scene of some wistful, nostalgic prose pastorale: two boys walking along an autumn trail with a pellet gun -- an air rifle! -- planning to hunt squirrels.  They were walking, in fact, up the long-gone Monon railroad line, right past the former blacksmith's shop where my Dad, at the ripe old age of 16, bought the bolt-action .22 rifle presently locked up right down the hall. (You could do that, back then.)

     That stretch of the path also passes within a few blocks of an elementary school, just then letting out.  Or, as the news story's lede puts it, "Two juveniles with a pellet gun prompted a lockdown at Orchard Park Elementary School...."  Yeah.

     The report ends, "Officers will be investigating the incident and will work with the Hamilton County Prosecutor's Office to determine if any charges should be filed."

     Gee, air gun, no shots fired, legally possessed.  Squirrel season runs from 15 August 2013 to 31 January, 2014.*  Looks to me like the young would-be squirrel-hunters should be in the clear (barring any age-ist BB-gun nonsense buried in state law).  Can the school administrators be charged with reckless endangerment?  Hysteria? Arrant damfoolishness?  One could hope -- but don't hold your breath.
* With  daily bag limit of five.  We're in no danger of running out; every year, squirrels produce a couple of litters of three pups each and,  as DNR observes, while  "[s]quirrels produce fewer offspring than other mammals..." they "...are more successful in rearing them."  Ma and Pa squirrel are a little too successful for their own good. With few natural checks-- a squirrel is a match for most cats (at least the local red or fox squirrels are) -- Man's got to maintain the balance.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013


     We were once again treated to the outpouring of horror and magnificently-simulated grief over the assassination of John F. Kennedy, most of it from journalists who were unconceived, unborn or in diapers when it happened.  (But oh, they've got People Who Were There to interview -- yet again.)

     Once again, we're told that it was the worst, the most terrible thing that ever happened to a U. S. President, in all of history--

     And that, as H. L. Mencken might've said, is utter buncombe.  While no President -- or any other law-abiding citizen -- deserves to be shot down, especially as long as there's an independent press and the process of impeachment available, it's an amazing coincidence that the only one they've got on film and tape is somehow the very worst.

     Yeah, right.  Consider Lincoln, who was assassinated in the actual (defective) course of an actual conspiracy, for which eight people were eventually convicted and four were hanged.  Consider James A. Garfield, suffering though eleven weeks of increasingly dire infection before dying in agony, or William McKinley, lingering for days before sucumbing to gangrene.  If there's a scale of terribleness, someone else is going to have to rank these untimely deaths -- but not on the basis of which one offers the most compelling video.

     Perspective: it's a terrible thing to lose and a worse thing to never have had.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013


     I dunno.
     It's what happens when I clean a couple of fountain pens with a quick dip in distilled water and then drop a square of paper onto the swirl.

It's Always Watching

     It takes a picture every two seconds, and tags it and indexes it, too.  And they'd like to sell you one.

    I'm not sure if it's kewl or deeply disturbing.  Probably both.  Log your life!  Stick the data in the cloud!  Early aviators feared "clouds filled with rocks."  There may be worse hazards lurking in ours.

Monday, November 18, 2013