Sunday, April 30, 2017

A Pome Of Humorous Intent

Red Baron fought the Wolfman,
The end was clear to those who knew:
For one of them could loop-the-loop
But the other was Loup Garou!

     ...You're welcome.

Wore Myself Out Yesterday

     And I didn't even do all that much!  I had to discontinue the anti-inflammatory, which was doing terrible, terrible things to my digestion, so I get pretty creaky.

     Nevertheless, I had some heavy trash to dispose of, then worked with local ham radio guys, changing out the repeater that lives up at the North Campus -- and then home, to clean half the gutters and reseat the X-frame support that carries part of my ham radio antenna over the peak of the roof of my house.  The thing has become lighter over the years, and some combination of wind and fallen branch caught it and turned it through 90 degrees!  (It's due for a replacement and possible upgrade later this year, as is the "LineDragon" that carries the open-wire feedline up and over the gutter.)

     Roof work at Roseholme Cottage is demanding, as the roof has a very steep pitch.  Working right at the edge is slightly dangerous, a constant trade between sufficient friction to not slide off and getting a good angle to dig wet leaves from the guttering.  I can still do the job but I can see that in a few years, I'll need to either get a tall stepladder to work from or hire others to clean the gutters.  Maybe this should be the summer I install leaf screens.

     With the worst gutter mostly clear and the X-frame back in place, I climbed down off the roof, put away the ladder, went inside, took off my Carolina Pole Climbers (calf-length lace-up linesman's boots, which need toeroom-stretching), sat down to watch a movie and kept dozing off.  Roused myself to make a little supper and realized I was all rubber-legged and out of it, and still sleepy.

     I finished dinner, started the dishwasher and staggered off to bed at 8:00 p.m.  Ten hours later, the alarm went off and it felt like fifteen minutes.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Computer Woes Again

     I'm back to "camping in the back yard" with my Surface Pro again.

     My "new" (refurbished) desktop Windows 10 computer is acting up, reporting "low memory" with only one app running, slow, crashing Firefox and the new Microsoft browser, etc.  So it's hosed in some way, maybe just cheap RAM, maybe it needs reseated.  I'm finding out.

     --Make that, "I thought I was finding out." Letting Windows check itself via Microsoft's suggested procedures is like shouting down a well: you don't get much back.  Resource Monitor sees rather a lot of "hard faults/sec," which points back to some kind of hardware unhappiness.  Huck, fetch me a screwdriver!

Friday, April 28, 2017

Low Melting-Point Brains

     Trump Derangement Syndrome hit The New Yorker magazine early and hard; they coasted into the election confident that adopted New Yorker Hilary Clinton was going to grab the White House, a comfortably old-school feminist explanation point to the Dem's Long March through the, and instead they got a different New Yorker, crass and loud and clearly Not Their Sort. 

     The election knocked them off their center and the magazine still hasn't recovered.  This makes me sad; the level of writing to be found in The New Yorker is refreshingly high, at least in general, and anyone who aspires to tell stories well benefits from reading the good stuff.  I enjoy Lester Dent but he'd be the first to tell you that he wrote as quickly as possible, with little attention to style or, sometimes, even grammar.  He told wonderful stories -- even within painfully formulaic plots, Dent maintains consistency and keeps the action going in a manner few other writers manage -- but he never told them quite as well as he would have liked.  Late in his life, he turned out a detective novel that reads like proto-John D. MacDonald, but he was never satisfied with it, feeling his ability to write really good prose had been impaired by a career-long habit of speed.

     The New Yorker has a different problem these days: they tell -- in the finest of style -- dismal, paranoid stories fixated in horror on President Trump, stories that jar with one another, in which the President is a moron on one page and a scheming, unpredictable madman on the next, and elsewhere, he's plotting to loot the nation's coffers, as sure as sunset.  Apparently, one of the effects of Trump Derangement Syndrome is to render the victim unable to grasp contradiction, leaving the magazine tottering along in a kind of senile concern about what that loud fellow in Washington (or Florida) is really up to while unable to discern any of the reality at the heart of the shouting.

     It's sad, really, but perhaps it only reveals a lack of perspective that had been in place for years.  Alas, the magazine that introduced the work of Charles Addams to the world isn't at all what it used to be.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

The Galactic Overlord Expanse

     Tam and I have started watching The Expanse together.  It's a second time through for me and I'm still enjoying it.  Oh, it's space-opera; travel times are laughably condensed, radio conversations don't have any speed-of-light lag, and so on; but it's good space-opera, engaging tales well-told within a larger story arc that unfolds slowly.

     There was something familiar about the general outline: the big threat, the cliffhanger endings, the matter-of-fact treatment of space travel and associated tech--

     In Robert A. Heinlein's juvenile The Rolling Stones -- one of his best, despite just about every part of it having been swept away by subsequent developments in the real world -- Roger Stone and, later, Hazel Stone finance the family's haring off into the far reaches of inhabited space by writing an ongoing science fiction drama (probably radio, possibly some form of TV).  Science and sociology howlers in the series-within-the-book come in for occasional criticism among the characters, as does the melodramatic nature of it, but the series is obviously popular among the public and sounds like great fun if you don't get too picky about plausibility.

     And that's The Expanse in a nutshell.  There's way too much unused volume in the cabins of those spaceships; they haven't got room for the amount of reaction mass they must use, and so on and on.  Nevertheless, it's great fun, and does the best job of building a lived-in future seen on television since Firefly.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Hello, Dali

     What did I just watch...?

     A local TV reporter lead the 6:00 a.m. news today, standing in front of a not-yet-opened Dollar General store, covering, well--  That's the problem.  She was reporting on something which clearly involved police, one of whom had, at some point during the night, discharged his sidearm, possibly in the general direction of a suspiciously-lurking man, about whom it appeared there had been a 911 call, for reasons that were not made clear but presumably having to do with the lurking and the suspiciousness.  No one, it seemed, had been shot or hurt, but "the caller had given a detailed description of the suspect, which the officer matched," which was about the point at which I lost the thread entirely.

     It was word salad.  Mind you, the reporter had strung together all the usual words -- indeed, most of the usual phrases -- but not in a way that made coherent sense.  I'm fond of relating thoughts in an unusual manner, filled with allusions and complex sentences, and I know when I'm in over my head.  This reporter had drowned several times over and gave no sign of grasping her lapse into nonsense.  I fulled expected to see a police spokesperson with doors or windows, or an elephant-giraffe stilting by in the background, on legs slender as threads.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Soylent What?

     So, this morning I'm cooking a sausage for breakfast, and I look at the label:
Polish Sausage
25% less fat than beef or pork sausage
     That's it.  Doesn't say if it's made with turkey, chicken, tilapia, TVP, nope, nothing.  Just "Polish."

     It was delicious.  But I'm still kinda worried.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Finally, A Garden...?

     Not quite.  After a year (a year!) or tarping-over the raised bed in front of the house, I laid down permeable barrier cloth and began to commence to start over -- about two bags of topsoil short of the mark!  There was enough to start the solitary herb that will live among the flowers (rosemary) and to cover most of the barrier. 

     Tamara, who already provided the rosemary, will pick up a couple more bags of topsoil today and with any luck, I'll be planting mixed-wildflower seeds this evening.

     Meanwhile, the hostas and ditch-lilies flourish, the stonecrop is doing well (and I'd like to add to it, more stonecrop and possibly tall yarrow at the back) and the wild violets are running wild and the little white flowers that carpet the front yard have passed their peak.  The little patch of mint is doing all right but might like a bit of the topsoil to help out.  This is gardening-by-default: I'm growing what grows mostly on its own.  The stonecrop and mint are additions that have worked out; the rest was already here.

     First mowing of most of the front yard was last week and the rest of it it will have to be tonight or tomorrow night, ahead of predicted rain Wednesday.  I'm always reluctant to get too aggressive as long as the little wildflowers are blooming; grass and weeds are one thing but it seems wrong to be buzz-cutting flowers.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Return To Peru

     To the Peru Hamfest, that is -- it's an amateur radio swapmeet, officially the North Central Indiana Hamfest, organized by ham radio clubs in Cass, Maimi and Grant Counties and the city of Kokomo, which includes a lot of my "old neighborhood," neighborhoods being kind of large in rural Indiana.

     It's always a good one, not huge but full of interesting items.  I passed up a few I probably shouldn't, like big variable capacitors and roller inductors, but I came away with several vacuum tubes (6BG6s, a kind of 6L6 with a plate cap or an 807 with an octal base, a "sleeper" beam power tube that is often overlooked) and a wooden-boxed Western Union-tagged AC voltmeter built by Daven, with a nice Weston meter.  If the meter itself is still good, it may be a useful item.  If not, it'll at least be decorative.
     Here's the meter.

     One the way back, Tam and I stopped off at the Grissom museum.  Grissom AFB (formerely Bunker Hill) was a big SAC base, now AF Reserve, and the little museum there has a nice assortment of unusual aircraft -- including one of the odd-looking drones intended for the SR-71!   Tamara got a lot of photographs before we proceeded onward to Kokomo and dinner at a chain steak joint,* and the on to a good-sized antique mall on the south side of Kokomo.

     I found an interesting device -- while the little buzzer/light/code key toys aren't uncommon, this one is, an "Official Scout Signaler," with a wrinkle-finished metal case.
     Good luck trying to signal a Scout with it: Boy Scouts haven't been required to lean the code in decades and from my experience, Girl Scouts never were.  The water-slide decal is starting to curl and I'm not sure what to do about it.
Tamara Keel photo

     I also bought a set of full-sized "gas burner pliers" in good shape.  Small ones are still made and either size has two or three sets of jaws milled into the gripping end, intended to grip round surfaces.  They're pretty handy.  The same seller had nice small green-shaded hanging lights, fully restored.  I bought one for my hamshack and it looks like it will be a better fit than some of the ones I have looked at in the past.

     A fun day!  We got home around 4:00 p.m. and I laid down and promptly fell asleep for four hours: quite a lot of driving, and it does wear me out.
* The Amish place across from the museum looked pretty darned busy. Plus I think Tam harbors a secret fear they'll kidnap her to a life of children, kitchen work and the church.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

No One He Knows Voted For The Guy

     Adam Gopnik at the venerable old New Yorker magazine can, on a really bright day, almost see himself in a mirror -- but he still can't see what's over his shoulder.  In this regard, he has less vision than the late Pauline Kael, who was self-aware enough to muse, “I live in a rather special world. I only know one person who voted for Nixon. Where they are I don’t know. They’re outside my ken. But sometimes when I’m in a theater I can feel them.”

     Mr. Gopnik seems to feel only outraged disappointment at the voting public, and pure outrage not only at Mr. Trump, but at any reporter or commentator who looks for the least scrap of Presidential behavior by the current President.  --Where Mr. Gopnik was when then-President Obama responded to a critic with, "We won," I don't know, but cheering from the sidelines is probably a good bet.

     I was hoping for balance and what I got was a screed; I'm no fan of Mr. Trump (and was far less a fan of his opponent) but like Mr. Obama, he did indeed win.  Screaming and whining, especially under the headline, "The Persistence of Trump Derangement Syndrome," communicates only one thing: TDS is here to stay.  I already knew that.

     On the wider stage, Presidential Derangement Syndrome has been with us for at least decades and probably longer; it is easier for most people on the losing side of an election to believe the current President is a scheming thug than admit that, state by state, a majority of their fellow citizens* made a choice they dislike.  Yeah, well, they do.  They have been doing so all my life.  Get over it and move on, or continue to be led by addled commentators.  Commentators like...ahem.  Oh, hi, Adam.
* "...state by state, a majority..."  This is how the Electoral College works.  It's how it has always worked. And it's okay to dislike the outcome; you are not also obliged to disparage the process simply because you don't like the current results.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Oh, The Dentistry!

     Yes, I'm up at oh-dark-thirty because I'm due -- overdue! -- for a cleaning and exam.  I try to schedule these things outside of work hours, helped by the fact that I start my work day after the bankers (but it ends well after the cows have come home).  All the dentist had available was the very first appointment of the day, and her day starts before the rooster crows.

     Which is why I'm up so early, and perhaps explains why this odd mix of livestock and bankers are milling around in front of my mind's eye.

- - -

     On another medical note, maybe the prescription anti-inflammatory is doing something. It had better; since all I can take is acetaminophen and I'm trying to stay at 50% of the maximum dose so I have some reserve capacity if things get bad, I'm out of OTC painkiller options.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Physical Security: It Works

     They say, "Locks only stop an honest man," but down at Bradis Guns, on the southwest side of Indianapolis, locks, block walls and a stout door stymied would-be thieves, who tried to use a couple of stolen cars to ram their way into the building and then tried to shoot the lock off the front door.

     It didn't work.  They drove away empty-handed.  Police are looking for a black Hyundai Accent, presumably a bit dented.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

About Those Anti-Inflammatories

    So far, less effective than the ibuprofen.  Kind of a lot less effective.  But I'm only 24 hours into them.

Then The P.S.

     So I went and saw the doctor yesterday; she added an anti-inflammatory to the witch's brew of colorful candies I'm taking and told me to stop taking ibuprofen, as the two work in similar ways and taking them together is too darned much.  (Tylenol is still on the menu, as is a baby aspirin per day.)  So, fine, fine, in and out with minimum damage and something new to try--

     And then, after a perfectly lovely day working in the construction zone at work, barely ahead of the carpeting crew and getting in the way (a little) of the electricians hanging lights and the ceiling-tile guys (a lot) on their tall stilts, I get back to my desk and my cell phone, which has the message light blinking: Nurse Adam, calling to tell me that the doctor meant to send me over for labs, and could I please drop by at my convenience?

     Yeah, sure.  But not this morning, because it was more convenient to make a mushroom, mozzarella and bacon omelette, in compensation for my English muffin and coffee breakfasts the past two days and the "probably none at all" I will enjoy (?) on Friday before heading up to see the dentist before dawn is hardly broken.

- - -

     By the way, it works perfectly well to microwave the mushrooms (2 - 3 minutes) instead of taking the time to pan-fry them, and it's probably better for you.  Portobello, oyster and shiitake mushrooms, a nice combination and sold in about the right amount for a three-egg omelette.  I added exactly one (1) crumbled Ritz cracker to the egg mix, which worked fine, cooking just a bit fluffy and quite sturdy enough to fold over.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Off To The Doctor Again

     Eye doctor yesterday, regular doctor today.  I feel like I should start a long, pointless and vaguely horrifying story about lumbago or psoriasis or possibly geloso,* but I won't.  That medical stuff is pretty dull or pretty dire and either way, best not explored in detail.  No, I don't have any of those ailments.

     Spent some extra time at work last evening, running last-minute wires. The network cable we ordered showed up.  The carpet guys showed up, unloaded half their stuff, left "to pick up the rest" and flaked off for the day instead of returning.  A win for my side, not so great for the contractor's project manager.  Flooring crews tend to be sensitive, artistic types, or perhaps just finicky because the other trades literally walk all over them.  Good to get done but it takes its toll -- got home way late, did laundry while eating pizza Tam had ordered, and went to bed.
* The latter actually a brand of amateur radio equipment by Italian-American John Geloso, who went back to the Old Country after WW II to build it, doing well while doing good.  But I wanted to throw in a ringer and it seemed to fit.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Can't Think Of A Headline

     (Title with a tip of the ol' poetic license to Vincent Furnier, who knows how to hang a lantern on a lack of inspiration.*)

     Had a lovely shopping trip yesterday afternoon and picked up some of the materiel needed to get the raised flowerbed out front going.  It was a weed-filled disaster last year; I finally put a tarp over it and gave up.  This week, as time permits, the worst weeds under the tarp will get dug out, I'll lay down a barrier cloth (which I have), secure it with landscape pins (which I don't have), cover it with decent topsoil and sow with assorted wildflowers, plus a few taller ones at the center.

     It's also time to get some more stonecrop for the formerly bare spot next to the steps.  I like the look of the plant and it does all right on that patch or ground; I have been filling it in with more and more of them for the last few years.  The mint and hosta bed wants raked out, too, and I spent a little while sorting out the "Creeping Charlie" (a pervasive though harmless and somewhat decorative edible weed with purple flowers) from the mint -- it likes to sneak in among the fragrant herb and the leaves of the two plant resemble one another, especially early on.

     My front yard is once again overrun with with small white flowers and wild violets, which I am reluctant to mow.  The strip between the sidewalk and street must get mowed this week and sooner rather than later.  In the back yard, the battle between me and the Winter Creeper continues -- I keep pulling it up but it's determined stuff, nowhere near as friendly as the Creeping Charlie.  Winter Creeper attacks trees and will kill them if not kept in check; it grows on fences and gets into the wood of them, too.  There are still plenty of violets out back and --despite my best efforts -- no shortage of dandelions.  I spent some time Sunday evening on a "lion hunt" in the near section of the back yard and out front.  Can't get them all but they can be kept in check -- and I don't really mind one or two, just don't let them know that!
* As in "We can't even think of a word that rhymes," one of the most recursive lyrics ever, found in the song School's Out.  Yes, that Vincent Furnier.  And now that I have written my piece, I could easily find a title, but I think I'll leave the one I started with for the sake of this footnote.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

It's Sunday And I'm Still Tired

     I'm sure I have an interesting post for the day in my head somewhere, but this one isn't it.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Work, Work, Work

     I started yesterday at about 10:30 a.m.  I ended about 3:30 a.m.

     See, we have this big construction project at work.  An entire department -- a big department -- has been moved out, their old space stripped to the bare walls, floor slab and the bottom of the floor above, and then rebuilt.  Most of the work is being done by a general contractor -- fixed price, firm timeline, penalties for not meeting milestones; it's nothing to do with me or my peers.

     But we have a little techy infrastructure to put back in, and we're adding a bit more and--  "firm timeline, penalties..." means the contractor has only barely left time for our stuff in their schedule, and even at that, we're dodging electricians on ladders and in the halls, trying not to get tromped on by suspended-ceiling guys on drywaller's stilts, having to untangle fat multicables the elevated-floor crew has trapped around supports, and so on. There's an immovable event starting Monday: carpet is being laid over the elevated floor.  Once it is down, we will have only limited access to underneath at preplanned (and possibly awkward) places.  There were a bunch of wires and cables still to run at the end of the day Thursday and so I got my routine stuff out of the way first thing Friday and then started in as the construction crews faded away early, this being a holiday weekend and all.

     It never goes as you planned.  Some time after starting, I looked up and realized it had gotten dark outside and I was hungry.  Went and had a vending machine burger and went back to it, my dark-brown work dungarees* paled to taupe by the dust, and didn't see the end of it until three, when, a bit punchy and clumsy, I cleared away tools and remaining materiel, put them in their storage locations,† and headed for home.

     At one time, I made that trip at about that time in the other direction twice every three weeks; the drunks aren't any less worrisome when you are headed north instead of south.

     But I think -- I hope! -- that I have enough done that we'll be able to work with it and perhaps add a few extras next week right under the feet of the carpet-layers, without their even noticing.

     I have also once again proven that when you have to pre-measure and cut cables before installing, you need to leave plenty extra: pulling 50-foot-plus cables into a dead-straight "as the crow flies" run that measured 41 feet left me two feet to connect to at each end.  Where's the extra thirty inches?  It's a mystery!
* Carhartt Double-Fronts.  I swear by 'em.  They are sturdy, comfortable, and have lots of pockets.  Sizing has become kind of variable after they moved production offshore, or maybe just from one offshore location to an even cheaper one, but so far the material and workmanship are still excellent.

† Sadly, not everyone does this.  You want to leave your own stuff out?  Fine.  But shared resources are another thing -- put that stuff back, so the next poor fool can find it!

Friday, April 14, 2017

Police Beatings 101

     You know what the first rule of Police Fight Club is?  You don't want to join it.  Yes, even in this day and age of The Distributed Panopticon and multimillion-dollar lawsuits, there is no amount of money that will bring back the teeth you grew yourself, or make a broken bone heal any faster.  If you want to fight 'em, hold your tongue, hold your temper, bide your time and hire a lawyer.  You won't make as much money, but you'll still be alive to count it.  Remember the maxim popularized by Chris Rock, among others: "If the police have to come after you, they're bringing a beating."

     It would be nice if this weren't so.  It'd be nice if government and civil service jobs were entirely filled by cool, wise philosopher-kings,* too, and while we're at it, how about a cookie?  But that's not how it works.  In the real world, these jobs are filled by the same range of slobs you find in any other line of work.  Most are okay.  A few are jerks.  However -- and here's the critical distinction -- while most everyday encounters are on or very nearly the same level and a determined (or at least stubborn) person can expect to prevail much of the time, this does not hold when you interact with police.  One of you has "sovereign immunity;" one of you has a radio to summon lots of armed help, backed by the full force and might of city, county or state government.  It's not you.

     Does anyone "have a beating coming?"  Under our legal system, no; under the common custom and morality or our time and place, no.  Not ever.  If they do have "something coming," that's for the courts to decide, not the cops.  But alas, Johnny Law has a limited range of options, all of which he is allowed to use if circumstances merit, and only one of them is "gentle persuasion;" every one of the remainder involve some level of force.

     After the fact, it may not be justified; or it may be a lawful use of force that still rankles the popular perception.  Maybe it's an outrage to be followed up by a week of riots. But someone has, nevertheless, suffered a beating.  You don't want to be that guy.

     Want to stop this?  Get more cameras on more officers, in every sense of the phrase.  Write your legislators.  Boycott airlines that offend you.  Wave signs, raise hell!  --Just don't argue it out in the heat of the moment, because in that situation, there is no strategy that can result in you winning. Remember there is one human constant: Police will respond to force with force and it is inherently disproportionate.  You can whup 'em in the courts; you can beat 'em in the media; you can run 'em ragged in City Council or the legislature.  By the side of the road, in an airliner seat, on a sidewalk...?  Not so much.
* Based on experience, I'm starting to think these Platonic creatures are like unicorns and the Easter Bunny. Never met one.  Don't believe I ever will.

N.B.: I'm going to get some pushback in the form of people accusing me of saying folks ought to knuckle under to jackbooted thugs.  No.  Wrong.  What I'm saying is choose your ground; fight in venues where you've got a fair chance of winning.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Ascension, Final Review (SPOILER WARNING)

     So, they wrapped it up, and almost -- almost! -- redeemed the series in the final scene.

     There's too much "stuff" there and not enough narrative glue to hold it all together; the story is too hastily told.  The anachronisms and science blunders are thick and fast in the final episode, but if you're willing to go along, the cast does their best to sell 'em and it's a fun ride.

     It's only later, when you step back, that it starts to get disturbing.  While the cast is even more diverse than a 1970s cola commercial trying to teach the world to sing, in the end only amoral, heterosexual, blue-eyed blondes of steely determination win out; anyone who doesn't fit that mold is swept aside as casually as a child spits off of a bridge.  Total surveillance of people is questioned -- but never seriously challenged.  A corporation -- government contractor? -- that kills off no-longer-wanted employees is accepted matter-of-factly and absolute control is presented as being vindicated by the results it produces.

     In short, it's as if the Nazis were making SF films.

     This could have been a good mini-series; it could have been the beginning of a series.  But it went off the rails in details, in story, in loose ends and in overall tone.  It's still lushly set and well acted; the cast really puts you on the huge starship even though the scale is inconsistent.  This miniseries makes me itch for a video editor and a lot of free time -- you could probably make a decent hour-long drama out of it, or even two hours.  I'm just not sure you wouldn't still be stuck with a Leni Riefenstahl film when you were done.

The Man Who Designed The Hollywood Look

     His name was Paul Revere Williams and you've probably never heard of him.  But that wonderful, sweeping, "Hollywood" style, Mediterranean-meets-futuristic, was something he did better than anyone else.  He designed in many other styles, too, everything from a YMCA in a struggling neighborhood to a bachelor pad for Frank Sinatra.  That swoopy, still-futuristic tower at LAX?  That's his work.

     He was one of the most successful architects in the area.  Orphaned in childhood and of modest means, he worked his way up to the top of his profession before WW II.  He reminds me of the characters you meet in a Robert A. Heinlein story.  And, oh, yes, there's one more thing.


Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Ascension? Oh, And They Came So Close

     I'm two episodes in on this three-episode mini-series (warning, spoilers).  The sets are amazing.  The cast is very good.

     The story--  It could have been so good.  A locked-room mystery within a larger "locked room" in the form of a multigenerational starship?  I'm there!  And all that wrapped in a vast conspiracy?  Even better!  --Had they stopped there.  They didn't.  Nope.  Having noticed that the label said "SCIENCE FICTION!11!!one!!!" the writers threw whatever they could think of at the wall, including 2-generation genetic drift, psionic powers and some "bureaucratic SF" in the manner of The X-Files.  And then had the gall to hinge some critical developments on a Idiot Plot of the worst sort, a child frightened to take her yearly immunization booster shot, which no one in the entire medical facility aboard the starship can figure out how to give to her.  Yep, not main force, not a tranquilizer, not general anesthesia, the doctors and nurses try none of those....

     It's worth watching for the sets.  It's worth watching for the characters and their various plots.  But if it was my project, there's a whole thread that would get edited out.

     Interestingly, the writers don't quite get JFK's United States, which is when the generation ship was launched.  As a result, there are social elements that ring false, or could at least use more explanation.  The writers also don't have a good handle on the kind of infrastructure that it takes to develop and build handheld electronics and small removable digital memory devices.  Large-scale integrated circuits are not trivial; neither are medium-resolution LCD displays.

     Still more fun than not, but it could have been great with slightly fewer ingredients.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Dinner Leads To Dishwashing

     Let's start with the dinner.  Yesterday evening, the weather turned a little nasty.  About five p.m., heavy  rain and light thunderstorm cried and grumbled their way through town.  I decided colcannon would be good for supper* on a day like that.

     Colcannon's an Irish treat and not too difficult to make -- good mashed potatoes mixed with cooked greens, typically cabbage or kale, and a little bacon or ham, served with melted butter and parsley.  I found a recipe that looked interesting, with the butter just browned and scallions (I used most of a large white onion left over from grilled hamburgers on Saturday) cooked with the cabbage, and made a nice big pot of the stuff.  You fry the cabbage and onion separately (in the same pan used to brown the butter) and deglaze with a little chicken broth, adding it to the mashed potatoes before serving. I put most of a couple of diced slices of "country ham" in with the potatoes and a little with the cabbage, and skipped adding salt since the ham's got plenty.  A bit of fresh-ground black pepper was all the seasoning it needed.

     It turned out nicely.  Tam had two bowls!  And then I was left with a big pot holding a small amount of a mashed potatoes and greens mix that can turn to concrete if left for later, so I turned to loading the dishwasher after my TV show.†  It's easy enough to clean up before it sets and I soon had the machine hissing and chuckling away under the counter.

     We use a dry-erase board to keep track of dishwasher status.  With two people in the house and loading and unloading being catch-as-can, you have to do something.  But "dirty," "clean" and "empty" get boring.
     So I came up with another way to say it.
* I habitually call the evening meal "dinner," which may be a Hoosierism or Midwesternism.  That was the term used when and where I grew up.  The odd thing is, the big mid-day meal eaten after church on Sunday was referred to as "Sunday dinner," too.  Breakfasts and regular lunches tended to be small and simple, so perhaps in my dialect, "dinner" means a large sit-down meal.

Ascension, which is kind of interesting, though full of anachronisms.  Perhaps they will be explained; at present, I am wondering if the writers just don't remember what the world was like before handheld devices. 

Monday, April 10, 2017

...And Now The Model M

     Decided to give the nice, big Unicomp keyboard (an IBM Model M in all but name -- and maybe that as well, since the bottom is still marked "MODEL M" from the mold) a try, after a disassembly and cleaning so thorough that I wasn't entirely sure it would still work after I got it back together.

     It does.  I'm using it.

     There's a little bit of desk-cleaning yet to do, and I don't have the computer back in the usual location, but when it's done (or sufficiently cleared -- an open workspace is a process, not an end-state), I'll take a picture to share.  I'm unlikely to ever achieve 5S levels of orderliness but it's better to make the attempt than to wallow in bad habits.

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Well, Here It Is

     New computer, online.  Haven't tried the clicky keyboard, but I've got Q10, Scrivener and Dropbox running.  Here's hoping for the best!

Computer Update

     So... it took most of two days to excavate my desk sufficiently to get the peripherals of the old computer out -- the physical desktop was, literally, three years deep in paperwork.  I am hoping to not restart that very bad habit; I have a filing system, I just wasn't making much use of it.

     As I write, I'm getting the new computer up and running.  Wish me luck!

     --I did find the photograph that proves I have ridden an elephant, for whatever that's worth.  And I found several items I'd forgotten about, including a $25 gift card for Macy's. 

Saturday, April 08, 2017

It's Saturday, Let's Watch A Steam Engine

     One of the oddest stationary steam engines I have seen, a vertical-crankshaft triple-expansion radial engine that, until fairly recently, was used to run a wastewater transfer pump in Boston, MA.

     Look closely; you won't see many engines like it and this one, per the comments, is gone.

Friday, April 07, 2017

Still On The Surface Pro

     UPS supposedly tried to deliver my new computer yesterday, signature-required for some idiotic reason (it's a hundred-dollar refurb job; they've dumped plenty of boxes worth way more on the porch without so much as honking the truck's horn.)   Tam was home and in the office (just off the porch) all afternoon, so as near as we can tell, the driver parked a half block away, put on toe shoes, tiptoed down the walk, up the steps, and left a sticker on the front door as gently as a butterfly lands on a tiny violet, then turned and tiptoed away, pushing his truck a half-block further away before starting it and driving off, grinning and chortling like a Gibraltar ape at his great cleverness.

     Why?  I don't know why.  Perhaps he has been driven mad by the demands of his trade, the constant push for greater speed and volume.  They get dressed-down if they're seen so much as sauntering instead of scurrying or trotting.  But compassion doesn't make me any less disappointed or Tam any less annoyed.

     She is hoping to go pick it up for me today.  We'll see how that goes.

     Edited to add: the autocorrection feature in this version of Exploder is driving me as mad as the hypothetical UPS driver.  It's got about a thousand-word vocabulary and "sauntering" ain't on the list. 

Geopolitical Update

     Here it is, as I understand it: until late yesterday, the debate was over if it was good or bad if Oceania was run by a ruler suspected of favoring Eurasia instead of Eastasia, but as of today, both factions firmly despise Eurasia while suspecting the motives of the opposing faction for so doing.

     And Great Leader is still a hapless, crude mastermind, as well as being a puppet and a loose cannon.  And perhaps a square circle, cold heat and a skinny fat man.

     I'm supposed to care deeply about all this but somehow, I just don't.  World War Three?  Total yawner.  Pax Americana?  Dull as ditchwater.  Proxy wars fought anywhere too broke or torn-up to matter to the civilized world?  An old, boring meat-grinder.*  No matter who does what, the barbarians keep building themselves thrones on the bloody bones of mothers and children, just as they always have.  It's not safe to leave them to it and you can't stop 'em without adding to the death-toll.

      It is snicker-worthy watching Uncle Vlad get all huffy about the "violation of international law" in the U. S. sending a missile salvo on a badwill tour of a Syrian air force base.  Tell it to the Ukrainians, you scheming weasel, and then yank the veto chain from your comfy seat on the UN Security Council just like all the other Great Powers do after they've beat up some two-bit country that doesn't have that option.
* The day I see a significant minority of maimed veterans in the U.S. Congress will be the day I start to think we might get a generation's relief from that wretched game.  It took a Civil War to buy that much peace last time, 1865 -1898, and amateur historians are probably going to cite examples showing even that hindsight is overly rose-colored, probably from all the Army and Native American blood spilled.

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Optionally Nuclear

     Oh, Chuck, you still can't rewrite history--

     To give Senator Schumer his due (and let me be quite clear, I regard public sanitation workers as an inherently more honorable class of civil servants than U. S. Senators, since when the garbageman or sewer tech has done their work, the world is inarguably bettered), he wasn't in favor of the "nuclear option" when his fellow Democrats pushed it through for Cabinet nominees in 2013.  On the other hand, I don't recall him showing Majority Leader Harry Reid any dramatic opposition at the time; even sympathetic accounts have Mr. Schumer "working quietly behind the scenes" to forestall what eventually happened, on a party-line vote in favor.  Including his vote

     And yet there he was on the evening news last night, cheaters sternly low on his nose, as serious as a boiled owl, intoning, "...Democrats have never believed in changing the rules...."  No, dammit, no.  Maybe you do not, sir, and if so it's one of your few admirable positions, but your Party fellows have an irrefutable history of changing the rules of the Senate when it suits them, and most of the Democrats who voted to yank the ol' filibuster when it was in the way of their President four years ago are still around to vote to preserve that hallowed tradition now.  Go be a good soldier for your side, but don't stand there and lie to people with access to search engines like you were acting in a summer-stock production of 1984.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Is This The Face That Launched A Thousand Ships...?

     Whatever; the virus was a Trojan and not a good one.  I may have got it, but I'm seeking expert help at work to make sure.

     Any recommendations on anti-virus software for Windows 10? 

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Bad Computer News

     There's something wrong with my Windows 7 desktop computer -- and it is almost certainly a virus.  I thought it was just an iTunes update goes wrong; removing iTunes fixed it... for one boot-up.  Next time I started the machine, the same symptoms as before: it won't run any of the installed software but the Web browser, my antivirus is off and can't be started, Task Manager comes up but stalls with a (not responding) tag.

     This is not good. 

Monday, April 03, 2017


     It's off to work I go.  And no seven little helpers, either, but I will be up at the North Campus unless they cancel the morning's festivities on account of weather.

     And maybe even then.  Sure, nobody works up there as a regular thing, but we still have all manner of Critical Items at that location and they do want looking after.

Sunday, April 02, 2017

Food Day!

     Saturday, we went to The Gallery Bakery for brunch -- astonishingly good food!

     And, much later, for supper I did reverse-seared steaks, "popcorn" asparagus (crunchy and delicious!) and sliced tomatoes with Italian herbs and black olives.
Tamara Keel Photo
     It was a good day for food!

Saturday, April 01, 2017

Mom's In The Hospital

     She went in Friday morning with suspected pneumonia, but the doctors decided maybe not and are working on figuring out just what is going on.  I visited her last evening and she's alert, lucid -- and about as happy anyone having to remember to breathe in through her nose and out through her mouth ever is.  Supplemental oxygen is a wonderful thing but it's awkward, especially when you doze off.

     Please keep my Mom in your thoughts.

Friday, March 31, 2017


     Friday!  I'm looking forward to it.  Major SNAFUs at work yesterday but my involvement was tangential at most, so if I can manage to avoid the fray, I should be able to accomplish some actual geekery of a useful sort. 

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Pein, Peen, Pane, Pain

     There's no sorting it out.  I referred to a ball-pein hammer the other day, a tool sometimes used to peen over the end of a rivet, and got corrected to the latter spelling.  As it happens, both are acceptable and I learned the "ei" spelling as a child.

     Cross-pein hammers are seen in metalwork -- a blacksmith might use cross-pein, straight-pein and diagonal-pein hammers -- and "pinhead" hammers are not unknown, with the pein side tapering down to small cylindrical end.  "Pin" and "pein" (or "peen") seem to share a root word, with a meaning something like "peg."  But wait!  A woodworker might use a Warrington-pattern hammer, a sort of modified cross-pein hammer with a longer pein end, but among them you're about as likely to hear it described as a cross-pane hammer, with the explanation that the long, truncated-wedge pein is there to drive the nails that hold the pieces of wood that comprise the muntins (aka glazing bars) and, I suppose, the mullions of a multipane window without risking striking the glass.

     What's the real story?  I don't know.  "Pane" sounds suspiciously like folk etymology, and may suffer from the same sort of cross-Atlantic phonetic shifts that have an American cabinetmaker carefully making a rabbet along a board while his British cousin forms a rebate, and yet they're doing the exact same thing.

     Whichever term you use, let the weight of the hammer head work for you and don't "choke up" on the handle -- use the whole thing and if you need less force, go get a smaller hammer.  And by "smaller hammer," I include one of my favorites, the tack-hammer edition of the Warrington-pattern known as a "telephone hammer."  Why?  Well, you see, in the day of wooden wall-mounted telephones, it was easier to carry them around in knocked-down form, and tap in a few brads to hold the body of the thing together as part of the installation process....

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Insert General Complaint About Life Here

     Yeah, mostly over the whatever -- maybe! -- on stronger blood pressure medicine, off the antibiotic -- and doing communications-type construction work as part of a big project at work.

     Yesterday, I spent over an hour with a 20-ounce ball-pein  hammer and a big center punch, unscrewing a lock ring on a compression fitting on a three-inch conduit so I could remove a 90-degree sweep elbow -- except the conduit was stood off from an I-beam column on one side and right up against a wall in a corner on the other, and the bottom of the elbow was on the floor.  There was no way to get big channel-locks on the conduit and even with the hammer and punch, the ring could only be moved through about 45 degrees before having to tap another divot into it and use that to  s l o w l y  hammer it through another 45 degrees of rotation.  Eventually, you end up with a nice circle of "apply force here" dimples...and then they start to wear out.  All this on my knees, in a tight space, leaning forward.  As you unscrew the ring, it tends to force the elbow down instead of moving itself up, and that takes another stupid trick, tapping the ring up with a little square drift, but not so much as to cant it or stress the threads.... Odd, I came home with very sore arms and back.  Who'd'a thunk?

     And, since this is taking place in the middle of the very busy bare-walls construction site, with at least five trades all working at once (HVAC, electricians, framers, suspended-ceiling hangers, plasterers and painters,* I have to wear the whole outfit -- gloves (which I do anyway), boots (rarely), hardhat (not more than once in a blue moon, though of course I own one), kneepads (by choice, I'm old) and dust mask (I've had a sufficiency of respiratory problems already, thank you).  My own eyeglasses are safety-rated and I'm getting by without side shields.

     This week was supposedly our "window" to string wires across the slab, to be covered by a difficult-to-access (thanks to the carpet choice) raised floor.  Wires, cables, mind you, that will not survive being trod upon by a man on drywaller's stilts, being rolled over by 600 pounds of concrete-filled raised-floor tiles, being stabbed by the sharp edge of a piece of ductwork, and which should not be interlaced with the electrician's metallic armored cable.  Frustrating?  ...Kinda....  Like Niagara Falls is some water falling over a cliff.

     Of course, my boss has my back -- holding on to it so his boss can hold my feet to the fire, because we're on a DEADLINE and never you mind that the construction subcontractors are days behind schedule, Engineering's job list was written down in ink and must not be changed.  I asked about making holes through the cement-center fancy raised floor tiles, since you don't go buzzing through that stuff with a sawzall, and was told that was "negotiable."  Somehow it was the wrong reply to point out that needing techy things wired up at desk level without visible wires was mandatory, let alone asking how we were supposed to run them from underfloor to desktop without openings.  This is why I'm not management: I live in a world without any magic pixie dust and I won't pretend paradoxes don't exist.
* "Plasterers and painters" generally counts as one trade, possibly so they can't blame one another for lumpy walls and visible drywall joints.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Learn Engineering From An Artist!

     The man who invented the Marble Machine -- and wrote and performed the music it plays -- has built other fascinating instruments, too.

     You don't do that kind of thing unless you have a firm grasp of the basic principles; and you don't finish it unless you understand when it's good enough.  These are two of the most difficult lessons to take to heart but they are the very core of successful geekery: how to begin and when to stop.

     Here's a master at work:
     Form has followed function -- mostly.  Notice the exceptions; notice the places where function has driven form remorselessly.  There's the lesson.

     And the other lesson to be learned?  This is all to make music.  The thing itself is wonderful -- but so is what it creates.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Politics Continues To Make Headlines

     I continue to be a libertarian.  "I do not ignore headlines, Mandrake -- but I do deny they are of essence."  Fights over the fiddlin' details of entitlement programs seem to be the best the "two" parties can muster.  Color me unimpressed.  Color Adam Smith unimpressed.

     536 years for the Roman Republic.  449 years for the Roman Empire, or 1426 depending on how you score it.  Hell, we're hardly even started.  For "bread," read "popcorn."  The circus is built right in.

     If we grab some better gun laws and a mulish Supreme Court, that'll be a good thing.  Holding on to them when the next act takes center stage?  Even better.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

I Won't Kid You

     I probably should not be eating roast beef hash with eggs, Swiss cheese, onion, chives and a kiss of horseradish -- but, given that such a thing does exist, how could I not?  Besides, I had a can of the stuff to use up.  Not nearly as good as scratch-made, they've cheaped out on the meat just as they have with canned corned beef hash, but the additions go a long way in making up for that.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Speaking Of Modern Medicine...

     There's a little bit of medical folderol in store for me today: I'll be getting an echocardiogram later today.  Screamin' early today, so perhaps I won't miss too much work -- I'd better not, since my out-of-pocket for this procedure will be a bit north of $1000, or about a replaced left-rear side light and really serious tuneup on the old RX300 Urban Assault Personnel Carrier.  Guess what's not happening?  Yeah.

     Minimal information from my doctor, so I don't know if this will be basic imaging, or if I'll get to walk on a treadmill or whatever to push my pulse up to 167 or whatever heathen level they want for a stress test.

     Worried?  Me?  --Darned right.

     On the good-news front, the hospital got my Mom stabilized, happy and feeling good, and sent her back home yesterday afternoon.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

My Mom's Back In The Hospital

     Looks like it was a bobble in her ongoing health issues and the most recent information I have is that she is responding well to treatment: supplemental oxygen and drugs to deal with fluid balance.  Anything readers could do along the lines of prayers and/or positive thoughts would be appreciated.

     My own health has been such that I haven't yet visited: she doesn't need to be exposed to my intractable sinus bug (the floodgates if which seem to have been unlocked as of yesterday, a thoroughly unpleasant yet positive development) and unpredictable digestion is not conducive to long walks through unfamiliar corridors where the public washrooms are few and far between.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Night Manager

     Last night, I finished the BBC miniseries of John le CarrĂ©'s The Night Manager. It is everything you'd like to see in a modern spy thriller, just to the realistic side of James Bond: exotic scenery, good-looking people, a genuine villain pitted against plucky, honest heroes, plus some insider treachery and -- lo! -- a genuinely satisfying ending.

     The main hero is Tom Hiddelston's night manager himself, who becomes an operative very much in the style of Keith Laumer's Jame Retief more than 007, though there is nothing of parody about him and quite a lot of quiet British competence.  While there are plenty of moments for anyone with much of an inkling about modern intelligence work to mutter, "No, that's not how it works," it's a cracking good story and will carry you along with just a little suspension of disbelief.  Hugh Laurie is chillingly effective as wicked arms dealer Richard Roper, who the script makes clear isn't just pushing guns and shoulder-fired rockets but poison gas and worse.

     My favorite little bit of nuanced business is a quick scene between a pair of UK and U.S.intelligence types, desk-jockeys pushed by expedience into field wok.  The Brit is about to go do something dangerous and her CIA counterpart makes to hand her his Beretta, to which she replies, "Don't be silly, I'm British; I'll call you if I get into any trouble."  Like Chekov's gun, this one does have a role to play a little later.

     Six episodes is about right for a novel; the story gets told with a consistent, worrying tension, punctuated by exciting action.  It's worth watching.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Walk Right In, Sit Right Down, Baby Try Some...Bathtub Gin?

     White lightnin', more likely--

     See, I don't suffer earworms, I hunt 'em down.  With chains and elephant guns.*

     So when the early-Sixties folk-pop Walk Right In, Sit Right Down popped up on my mental playlist, I figured on a short hunt: gotta be some of that beatnikesque forgettable-folk stuff that was duking it out on the charts with early rock'n'roll, right?  Very much of the time, pre-hippie lyrics and all....

     ...Not exactly.  Oh, the song absolutely was a hit for the Rooftop Singers, two weeks at #1 in 1963, and they even get a little songwriting credit for their sparkling-clean version--

     But the original was old even then: in 1929, Gus Cannon's Jug Stompers recorded Walk Right In with considerably more complexity -- and a kazoo solo!

     Wikipedia tells me by the time the Rooftop Singers hit the chart, Gus Cannon had already pawned his banjo to pay the heating bill.  His share of the songwriting royalties -- and a new recording contract -- was a welcome and well-deserved surprise.

     Seriously, I almost missed out on a world-class kazoo solo?  Gotta hunt those earworms! 
* Oh, the gun is the easy part, just a wearable rig with sideways-periscope sights, though you would not believe the size of a trunk-adapted trigger guard.  It's the earplugs that are difficult, and they refuse to shoot without them.

Monday, March 20, 2017

It's Pilot Season

     It's pilot season at Amazon, anyway -- be vewy, vewy quiet!  I'm hunting piwuts!

     Two of them appealed to me and I'll describe them here so you can take a look, if you like.

     Oasis is an interesting SF thriller, in which the leader of Earth's first -- and barely-established -- colony on a planet orbiting a distant star abruptly and unexpectedly calls for a clergyman, a job their resources can scarcely support.  Why?  Only the leader knows -- and he's missing when the "ecumenical priest" arrives.  The setting is akin to Zelazny's A Rose For Ecclesiastes (only without the ancient Martians) and the general mystery is reminiscent of Stanslaw Lem's Solaris, with more than a hint of James Blish's more-philosophical work.  I think it's promising.

     The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is far from outer space and one of the best comedies I have seen on TV in years.  Set in 1950s New York, the title character, a young woman four years into her storybook marriage to a salesman and would-be comedian, suddenly finds herself in very different circumstances.  A lot of the fun comes from just how all of that works out, with an interesting cast of characters, so I won't spoil it.  The writers don't seem to have any axes to grind, they just want to tell a good story.

     A websearch on "Amazon pilot season" will take you to their page of possible new shows.  The watching is free, at least for Amazon Prime members, and you can stream them to your TV, too.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Wow, I Had Something To Say...

     Alas, then I did a web-search on the differences between ACA and AHCA -- so-called "ObamaCare" and "TrumpCare," despite both sets of legislation largely having been drafted by insurance-company lobbyists and Congressional staffers -- and it turns out that so much as dipping a toe in that pool is like erasing your brain, even if you don't look at the comments.

     They're different to one another.  You will be unsurprised to learn that they both stink on ice.  Oh, slightly different aromas, give them that much, but both have more stick than carrot; both punish people for not having insurance. 

     And here's some secret knowledge: all systems of paying for and providing healthcare suck; all of them suck worse if you're poor and none of them are especially bad if you're rich.  There is no happy, Disney-movie solution and on many levels, the more lawmakers mess with it, the worse it gets.

     Before all this started, if you were poor and didn't have insurance, you were perfectly free to die in a ditch; if you chose not to, showing up at a hospital emergency room would get you treatment (hospitals are generally not allowed to turn away anyone who is genuinely ill or injured) and a whopping huge bill.  Under ACA, you could also die in a ditch or walk into a hospital uninsured, but you were going to be fined in addition to the big bill;* under ACHA, the uninsured get the same two choices and skip the fine, but if they choose the hospital and survive to buy insurance they will pay a 30% surcharge on their premiums -- and so will you, if you go more than two months without insurance.  This is all very interesting, but if the initial aim was to reduce the number of uninsured citizens who die in ditches, exactly how does either plan accomplish that goal?  They don't, no more than a low-flow showerhead in Seattle or Indianapolis helps droughts in California or a shrinking fossil aquifer in Arizona.

     The line I keep hearing is that "everyone has to be insured so the risk pool is large enough," which will come as a surprise to the statisticians and actuaries who work for insurance companies.  It does not take a huge pool to make the risk usefully predictable and there's a lower limit to the rule that adding more people makes the risk more predictable and therefore allows reducing the amount of "just in case" money the insurer needs to keep for off-the-prediction surprises: you do have to pay all those mathematicians, adjusters, attorneys, salesmen, managers, top brass and support staff -- and the investors are hoping for a little profit on the money they have put up to get the whole thing rolling, too.  The thing people seem to think they are saying boils down to "if everyone pitched in a dollar, we'd all be able to afford healthcare when we needed it," a charming sentiment that skips blissfully over what right the rest of us have to demand a dollar from every random stranger.

     I don't have any answers or magic plans; look around the world and all healthcare systems have downsides, some obvious and others very subtle.  "Regulatory capture" is a huge pitfall for any plan and some of the single-payer systems are Klein-bottle examples of it.  On the other hand, any system -- private insurance, single-payer or mixed -- is demonstrably better than none at all.

     Just don't look for any fairy-tale fixes.  There are none.  The basic plan is and will always be, "don't get sick."  It never works out quite that way but the closer you get to it, the better off you will be.

     Some sources, by no means unbiased: The LA Times and The Telegraph.
* The fine is (if I remember correctly) under $2500, which is just about big enough to be insulting and for the the person without two dimes to rub together, might as wlll be $25,000 or $250,000.

Saturday, March 18, 2017


     My recent and ongoing health issues -- I'm still on the antibiotic, unfortunate digestive-tract effects and all (and it comes with a long list of things you should not consume within two hours before and two hours after taking the drug, including dairy, antacids, zinc, and so on) -- find me still feeling pretty lousy, especially of an evening.  Recent dinner-time blood pressure readings have been rather higher than my usual and I'm scheduled to see my doctor Monday.

     Here's hoping my white-coat syndrome doesn't flare up!  I don't much trust doctors and often find myself unable to recall symptoms and generally just trying to get out of the place with minimum interaction; this is not the best way to ensure proper treatment, so I'll make notes in advance.

     And it appears that for now, some of my favorite foods like bacon and corn chips are going to have to become rarely-if-ever treats.  It's a good thing I like oatmeal, brown rice, beans and brassicas in general (broccoli, cauliflower, kolrabi, etc.).

     Comments for this post are off, as the general tendency to become hedge-doctor for Miss Bobbi has very bad effects on my blood pressure.  I pay professionals to make those sorts of suggestions; they have some education, considerable experience and are remarkably risk-averse -- and I still have trust issues with them.  Extrapolate from that what my attitude towards lay opinions must be.*

     Perhaps I shall join Ms. Tam on her morning walks.  Even doctors think that's a good idea.
* I happen to work at a fairly abstruse trade, and encounter uninformed opinions from time to time -- usually miles off-target and demonstrating a profound lack of the necessary basics.  I can only imagine what the corresponding experience is like for medical practitioners, but it can't be good.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Mental Whiplash

     If you occasionally read the blogs of both Eric S. Raymond and Charles Stross, you will indeed find some very abrupt curves between them.  Readers of my blog are most likely to see red at Stross's blog -- neither Brexit nor the U. S. Presidential election results sat very well with him -- but I caution you that he is a UK subject, the product of a very different culture (and doesn't vote in our elections).  We may share a largely-common language (or, as Twain put it, be divided by it) but cultural divergence started well before 1776 and hasn't stopped. 

     One thing is for sure, if you read widely enough, it'll knock big old holes in your mental echo chamber.  I think that's a good thing.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Still Not How That Works

     While I have been trying to avoid politics, politics is like an obtuse, friendly salesman with halitosis: it keeps showing up, all smiles and awfulness.

     The latest?  This morning, Tam observed that certain corners of the Internet are running rife with anti-Hawaiian sentiment after a 9th Circuit judge in that state put a temporary block on President Trump's travel restrictions until the courts could have a look at it.  Calls for boycotts (of pineapple, mahi-mahi and leis?) were not long in showing up, along with various flavors of negative commentary -- directed at the state, its history and its people.

     The problem with that, of course, is while Federal judges may indeed be soaking in the culture of wherever it is they're serving, the people, history, etc. of that region don't get a vote in the judge's decisions: those are based on his reading of the applicable law and judicial precedent (and, occasionally, whim).  --Which will be tested, probably most severely, as this case makes its way through the Federal court system.  That testing will be by people who do that sort of thing for a living, not by Japanese tourists, a consortium from Dole or even that nice young taxicab driver you remember from the time you vacationed there.  The White House is suggesting this Executive order may be fought all the way to the U. S. Supreme Court if necessary, a process which will quite rapidly stop having anything to do with a U. S. state on a remote Pacific island -- an island, by the way, which not only suffered the sneak attack of 7 December 1941, but which knows a little about informal immigrants and unvettable visitors making trouble, from at least the 18th Century through the 20th.

     It's a big, complicated world and very little of it actually runs on the politics of identity and grievance.  Nor on whining and ranting on the Internets.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Modern Medicine

     Modern antibiotics have gone -- have had to go -- so far down the "arms race" road against mutating bugs that the side effects have become genuinely hellacious.  I'm starting Day 4 of the renewed antibiotic regimen and it's been miserable. 

     Sure hope this helps with the sinus/lungs issues.   And the joint pain.  Kind of thinking it has but it's too early to be sure.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

New Sandals, Hooray!

     A year and a half ago, or maybe it was two years, I bought a replacement set of what I wear instead of house slippers: Teva sandals, which are more or less a walking/running shoe sole with a minimal arrangement of straps to hold it to your foot.  They were a little different from the previous set, but they were on sale.

     Unfortunately, I bought the wrong style; worse yet, the seller didn't have half-sizes and I bought the next size down, counting on the remarkable adjustability of the brand's designs to let me center them on my feet.  --Except the style I bought didn't have an adjustable back-of-ankle strap.  I spent the next year-plus occasionally stubbing my toes, but hey, thirty-dollar footwear.  Gotta get your money's worth.  A couple of weeks ago, I managed to opened the front door into my right foot, and my little toe caught the brunt of it.  It was time for new sandals.

     They had about given out anyway (Velcro and even a little cat hair is a high-maintenance combination, especially once the cats figure out they can smooth on it if you leave the instep strap open ).  This time, I was careful to order the right Tevas, in the right size.  They arrived yesterday and I wasted no time in trying them on.  What a difference!  Adjustable toe, instep and back-of-ankle straps let me set them to fit my feet, the sole and insole are much better then the old pair, and my toes don't hang over at all. Shopped for price once I'd found the right style, which has put me in a pair with white soles and red straps: I have ambulance feet!  But they fit and are comfortable and that's all that counts.

     These sandals are the best compromise between barefoot and shod I know of: lightweight, grippy, thick enough to provide protection.  I rarely wore shoes and socks at all around the house until I was well-grown (40s) and these are just enough footgear to suit me.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Notes Towards Better Corned Beef Hash

    Still tinned, but not the all-in-one-can stuff that -- in my opinion -- barely passes muster anymore.  Nope, you start with one of the distinctive trapezoidal cans of South American (usually Argentine*) corned beef and a can of cubed, cooked potatoes.

     Drain and rinse the potatoes (there's plenty of salt in this, don't pass up a chance to remove some.  Is there a No Salt Added version of canned tatties?  Try it!), and set them cooking at medium heat in a skillet with a very small amount of your favorite kitchen lubricant -- butter, oil, whatever.  I used a kiss of Bertolli Extra Light Olive Oil, because it was what I had ready to hand.  You want just one layer of potatoes for best results. A little pepper or what-have-you won't hurt.  At this point, you're just cooking moisture out of 'em.  Shake or stir occasionally.  Eventually the pan will be dry; mind they don't stick.  Cook until they suit you; if they start to brown even a little, you'd better have the beef ready.

     Untin the beef onto a (non-wooden) cutting board.  You may have to pry, so mind the sharp edges!  Cut it into cubes, 3/8" or so, push the potato to the edges of the skillet, and put the meat into the center.  Mix it all up, spread evenly, and let it cook.  It is ready to eat as soon as it it warmed through, though Tam and I prefer to let it get a little crunchy on the bottom.   Top to taste -- I like scrambled egg on mine, but chopped fresh chives or green onion would be a nice addition, as would shredded cheese.

     Shelf life of the canned ingredients is excellent -- I used the oldest can of corned beef in our pantry, good well into 2020.  Stock a little and rotate through as a supplement to your emergency food supplies.  In a pinch, you could eat this stuff cold: both ingredients are already cooked.
* One of the minor ironies of the Falklands War was that it pitted the Brits against a leading producer of bully beef. Eat up, Tommy, it's tinned mutton tomorrow!

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Oh, fertheluva--

     I'm sick.  Not "again," still.

     So, the doctor's office mistakenly double-prescribed antibiotics, I foolishly took 'em both -- for one day! -- and it messed up my digestion, badly.  Cost me a day's work and has cost many many hurried trips down the hall since, but it's been steadily improving.  (Well, except for last Thursday, but I'm blaming a supermarket vegetable tray for that.)

     Meanwhile, I'm still short of breath, mildly congested of sinuses, far more headachy than usual, and my knees and elbows started to ache.  A lot.  This is a very worrisome thing for me, because when I had rheumatic fever in childhood and again in my late 20s,* extremely painful joints were the most obvious symptom, knees and (to a lesser extent) elbows.  I spent yesterday in bed, having not slept well the night before, and after all day in bed and a steady intake of OTC painkillers, I slept pretty well last night.

     Restarted the strong antibiotic last night, too, perhaps just in time: I have been coughing and coughing all morning, and evidence is my lungs are clearing.  Hoping I can manage to keep my digestion balanced and get through the whole bottle of pills as prescribed.  No dairy within two hours before or after taking them (once a day), so I suppose it will be yogurt for lunch.  Yeech.
* It is not impossible that I'm due for another round, or overdue.  I would just as soon avoid it.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

The Dawns Are Quiet Here

     It was a Soviet WW II movie, good enough to get international attention.  Before that, it was a war novel.*  And in 2015, a Russian media company made a four-episode mini-series.

     I just finished watching the 2015 version.  It's a sobering and emotionally engaging look at the Russian WW II experience; it is set in the northwest and the main character is a sergeant who had served in that area during the Winter War with Finland, been badly wounded, and ended up back in the middle of nowhere, at a minor rail junction with a couple of AA guns and a small group of soldiers.

     Various complications follow -- and then a group of German army saboteurs are parachuted into the woods, presumably to damage the railroad or a more important canal not terribly far away. By chance, their presence is discovered.  Communications are poor, manpower is scarce, and the sergeant and six of his soldiers have to stop what they think are two enemy soldiers.  --But it's never that simple, is it?

     The Dawns Are Quiet Here is a bit of a tear-jerker, and hardcore tactical types will likely find plenty of points to criticize in the actual battles; but it's an engrossing, well-told story.  There's a little gratuitous female nudity, and the kind of violence you'd expect from a war movie: I don't think this one is for the kids.  Adults may find it interesting.  I did.  In Russian, with subtitles -- and a good enough cast you won't notice you're reading.
* But not one you can easily find in English.  It appears the only translation was published during Soviet rule; it's scarce, long out of print, and expensive when you find a copy.

Friday, March 10, 2017

And Back To Winter

     At least for the next week.  After that, who knows.  We're looking at several days with lows in the teens and highs in the thirties -- just in time for the weekend!

     Tam just headed towards the back door at a high rate of speed -- sprinkling rain put her off running the trash can out to the curb last night and now the clock is ticking: 6:55 as I write this and the trash truck swings by as early as 7:00.  --It can be late as 9:00 or 9:30 a.m. some weeks, but there's no predicting it.  33°F out there, too, which is not pajama weather.

     I'm thinking this weekend might just be a "don't bother to get out of bed" weekend for me.  Pile on the quilts, set a much of cocoa on the nightstand and read until I doze off, repeating as often as necessary.   Probably not, but the thought is comforting.

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Fiction? Fiction, Right?

     It's difficult to write about the Hidden Frontier because, face it, our history is your history; ours just includes the parts you can't be allowed to know.  This makes it duller on the one hand, and flips it right over into the realm of your next-door neighbor who's seen a UFO on the other.

     Thing is, your neighbor may actually have seen  a UFO, only it was probably an IFO -- or an SFO.  We know which ones are ours, and the occasional semi-official Edger vehicle that lands at Groom Lake Naval Air Station -- sure, keep on asking the USAF about "Area 51," and they'll keep on telling you under oath that it's not theirs -- covertly identifies itself six ways from Sunday and lands as no more than a streak of light in some onlooker's cheap Chinese binoculars.  SFOs?  That's another story.  The Far Edge doesn't exactly have a government as most people understand the term, and their independent ship owners regard smuggling as a basic right.  It's under better control than back during the War, but there's no way to stop it.  If you see a UFO, ask yourself what products are grown, mined or made nearby.

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Might As Well Be Burma-Shave Signs: The CIA Reads Everyone's Mail

     NSA was already reading everyone's mail -- and, perv-like, saving copies to reread later -- but they weren't sharing it with anyone (this, too, follows the behavior of a laundry-stealing perv; but I digress).  CIA was, it appears, miffed by this, and resolved to create their own cyberwar unit, only better, with dope and hookers.

     You will not be shocked to learn they succeeded.  If you've been following the news at all, you will also not be shocked to hear WikiLeaks* got a big old chunk of data about it, and is trickling it out, "redacted," they say, "to prevent the proliferation of cyber-warfare tools."  Or their source only supplied redacted material -- but that's just me being skeptical.  It doesn't matter: tell the global pool of hackers, crackers, white- gray- and black-hatted programmer-cowboys, that a vulnerability exists, and like really clever chimps at really powerful typewriters aping Shakespeare, they will find it -- and use it less than three minutes later.

     Let me tell you a little story about something I know (to his embarrassment) as "Stockman's Law:" years ago, decades back, when a computer on your desk talking to a howling acoustic-coupler modem and thence to powerful mainframes half a world away was a pretty new and shiny thing for most people, a talented young programmer and geek-of-all-work was assigned the job of coming up with a "bulletproof" way for his employer, a software company, to offer what we now know as "online support:" a way for you, the end user, to dial into a collection of user-experience reports, updates, and advice directly from the people who wrote the software.  It would be wonderful -- if it was unhackable.

     The young programmer -- and he was no slouch; he'd recently created a custom version of the computer language "C" for his employer, finishing only a little behind the release of "C+" -- took on this task with hope; after all, he'd got his start back when the clever students enjoying finding new ways to crash the nearby university's big IBM mainframe, doing so in the dead of night, and showing the console operators how they'd done it so the vulnerability could be remedied!† 

     He thought and he thought and everything he came up with -- had a hole in it.  Allow unrestricted public access to a computer, and people you don't want in it will get in.  Passwords are a trivial problem, given time  Even air-gapping didn't work, especially if media traveled both directions across the air-gap.  Nope, the only way to be mostly safe was to run the support system on an isolated computer from which nothing ever, ever came back to his employer's network -- and that still left the users vulnerable, especially if the support machine was used to distribute software.

     The general rule he evolved was this: "If you want to keep a computer safe, you cannot allow any form of unrestricted access.  If it is accessible, people you don't want in will inevitably get in."  That's Stockman's Law: if your computer has to be secure, it can have no network connection, no removable media, no unvetted users, no nothing but a display and HIDs -- and even that can be defeated by a malicious authorized user. And then what good is it?‡

     So, put it together: CIA can read your mail (and apparently can't keep their methods secret.  Tsk, what would Wild Bill Donovan have thought?)  NSA can read your mail.  Wanna bet our dear pals at GCHQ etc., not to mention Eurasian Russian and Eastasian Red Chinese intelligence agencies can't?

     Okay, now here's the payoff: tell me what's the big deal about Mike Pence or Hilary Clinton using unsecured servers or public e-mail providers?  They might as well paint two sides of the Capitol building with blackboard paint and scrawl messages on it with chalk!  Hell, it might even be more secure, if their handwriting is lousy enough and their messages sufficiently in-group cryptic.§

     It was true forty years ago and it is even more true now: If you want to keep something secret, don't put it where people can get at it.  Don't put it on a computer.  Two people can keep a secret -- if one of them is dead.
* Depending on who you talk to and when, WikiLeaks and Julian Assange are brave heroes or tools of the Russians.  Me, I think a little of both, plus a lot of self-inflated bravado propped up by wanna-be idealists who feed 'em leads and data-dumps.  Does Uncle Vlad really run 'em?  I don't know -- but I'll bet they make him laugh. And somehow they never take a leak in his pool.

† Yes, that was what we did back then, and the better schools allowed it in order to get cooperation from the crashers in creating a fix.  The less-good ones simply had to endure it.  I say "we" but it was only barely me; I was a high-school student at the time, winning science fairs, getting free trips to good colleges, and indulging my insomnia.  You can pick up quite a lot that way, especially from antisocial boys eager to impress.

‡ This depends on what you need it to do.  At work, I run a number of critical systems on nearly-isolated or fully-isolated networks: the computers on them talk to one another and to several [REDACTED] devices, but not to the outside world.  Alas, one of the more critical has a dual-NICed machine for grabbing data it must regularly poll from elsewhere; this is firewalled six ways from Sunday but it's still a hole.

    --Central Intelligence

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Lurching From Crisis To Crisis

     A little less than two hours from the end of my shift -- and ten minutes before it was needed -- we had a critical widget fail.  No, that's not exactly true: the darned thing was found twenty minutes before it was needed and the users spent ten minutes spinning their wheels and making oblique comments on the intercom instead of yelling for help.

     It was ten minutes we really could have used.

     There were several possible causes; the device moves around and uses fiber-optic connections to the controller, via a kind of connector that it easy to unplug but shouldn't be -- and yet occasionally is, by helpful users trying to untangle the traveling cable from four more just like it.  So we cleaned 'em, a procedure that takes two and a half minutes per connector, five minutes for each end of the cable or ten minutes overall.  That didn't work, and by then it was too late.

     We kept checking, staying out of the way of the users as best we could, and after two hours, it was pretty obvious that the fiber "modem" on the device itself had failed.  When I departed, the next shift was just finishing swapping the entire device for a near-substitute, and won't this be expensive fun to get get fixed!

Monday, March 06, 2017


     And I am not looking forward to this.  Saturday, I visited the North Campus to check out a problem my employer has been unwilling to spare me time to troubleshoot, and while there, found signs that vandals had gotten into one of the more dangerous fenced enclosures.  Possibly either children or idiots, given what was damaged and how.  The way things run now (and have for over a decade), site security is the Security Department's lookout, but I'm sure I'll get quizzed on it as if it were still the old days and I was still in sole and responsible charge of that site.

     Some of the damage will slow ongoing projects, too, and the damaged item is something I will have to ride herd on yet a third department to get repaired.

     So there will be a lot of explaining and hand-holding and me working very, very hard to not say anything like "I told you so," or gripe about the official policy towards that location.  Since that's the place I was originally hired to look after, it is difficult to let go -- but let go I must; it simply no longer matters much to my employer nor do they consider messing with it a good use of the time they pay me for.

     At least I got a few small things done around the house this weekend, and had a nice visit from my pal the Data Viking!

Sunday, March 05, 2017

"Can I Try That?"

     That's not what cats ask if they find your food interesting.  Nope, some of them will wait until you look away from your plate and make a grab.

     Huck will do this, if he thinks he can get away with it.  Since he's tall enough to counter-surf, the typewriter tray of my desk is no problem for him, though he rarely goes after it unless he's feeling particularly ornery.  This morning, I had my breakfast there (a stack of Swedish pancakes and a strip of bacon, worked down to a couple of forkfuls and a single bite, respectively) and I'd been saving a little coffee to wash down the last of it.  Turned to the keyboard, typed a couple of words and-- Thud!  Splatter!  Huck had decided to try his luck and pulled the coffee cup over.

     There was about one swallow of coffee left, most of which hit the floor.  A little on the cat, a little on the typewriter shelf.  The mug was unharmed.

     ...I had not anticipated that a cat might be after my coffee.  He certainly doesn't need the extra energy!  At least my food didn't get nabbed.

Saturday, March 04, 2017

Winter, Winter, Chicken Dinner...?

     Yeah, only without the dinner.  Or the chickens.  Plenty cold the last couple of days, with a dusting of snow yesterday morning and this morning.  Yes, it's March.  --But it should warm up today and tomorrow, so I can't complain too much.

Friday, March 03, 2017

The Expanse

     It's a science-fiction TV series based on a book series that I have never read.  It's great fun, though I still fault the science.  Sets are great, props are great, cast is great, characters are strong and the story is good -- but basic fiddlin' details, like which way is "down" on (and docked to) a spinning space station, how long radio waves take to get from, say, Earth to the Outer Planets (hours!), transit times even with a constant-boost drive (which they don't really have) and the goofiness of  "acceleration drugs" make it more of a graphic novel come alive than a book-turned-TV-drama.

     That said, Firefly had as many physics and technology howlers as The Expanse, if not more;* this doesn't make either one unwatchable or less fun, just check your skepticism at the door and bring popcorn!  It's about halfway through the second season and available via Amazon and probably other on-demand services, so there are big blocks of story to enjoy if you haven't already.
* Each one has Big SF Exceptions, things essential to the plot that make no sense at all -- Firefly's possibly-FTL drive system, The Expanse's Big Spoiler I Won't Mention.  You have to allow those for most SF.  And little-to-obscure things can be wrong if well-sold (I loved The Martian but the math doesn't work at several points in the film.  Sorry, he didn't make it).  But don't cheat high-school physics!