Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Bring On The Dystopia!

     In my line of work, the Engineering department ends up subscribed to a wide array of more-or-less-related magazines.  Our own trade magazines are pretty much gone, victims of a shinking, backwater industry, so we glean what we can from similar fields.

     One of the magazines that shows up is GCN, Government Computer News, aimed at data-herders and IT folks in the public sector.  It's a nice, glossy mag with lots of vaguely-worded ads.  The most recent issue had an article noted on the cover: 'Minority Report' for real.

     I was taken aback.  The film and original short story are tales of free will vs. determinism, and paint the "prediction" of crimes as a fraught, abusable and perhaps even poisonous gift, dangerous to use and invasive of freedom.  In  actual application, the biases and implicit assumptions of programmers can (and will) skew results.  The intersection of Big Data and "precrime" is not a good neighborhood for free people, and yet that's right where the article heads, lauding "New analytical platforms...to leverage this digital ocean...."

     The piece is blithely unconcerned with potential problems or Constitutional issues, ending with a quote from a former NSA analyst now working in the private sector: "Humans have short lives and simple habits.  The basics of 'The Minority Report' are not only going to happen, they will happen sooner than we think."

     Yeah. "...short lives and simple habits..."  Please face the telescreen, Comrade! Bloody hell, they really do think Orwell was writing a guide to governance, and that Philip K. Dick's amphetamine-fueled paranoid fantasies are police manuals.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Tuesday

     Another day when I don't have much.  Plenty to rant about, I suppose, things like the Supremes yet again flinching away from a Second Amendment case, while they continue to chip away at other fundamental rights, but what good would it do?  Either you know it already or there's no reaching you.

     Meanwhile, the world turns as ever, the press indulges in spin and hyperventilating and continues to increase the distance between who they think they are (noble defenders of Freedom and Good!) and how they are perceived (a pack of partisan shills out of touch with reality).  The truth is something very different: they're just there to help sell you cars and soap flakes.  Stop watching and the people behind them will come up with some other shiny thing to catch your eye.  --Of course, you've already slowed your consumption of mass media like newspapers and television, and are enjoying the targeted echo-chambers of online interaction.  It's fun, but if we don't hang together, they will indeed hang us out to dry separately.
 
     Big Data thinks it knows you, predicts you, runs you.  Does it?  Will it?  Or will it come crashing down under its own weight?

     Damned if I know.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Wldflowers!

Here's a look at the wildflower garden I planted in the raised bed.

     Not that they're all wild:

     I don't know what these are, but I like them.

     This is an interesting experiment.  I'm not much of a gardener, so this nice an outcome is really pleasing.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Placeholder

    This is just a placeholder.  I worked a late shift last night, filling in for a vactioning peer (more or less peer; the weekends include a few operational tasks I am not especially good at).  So I'm awake late with much yet to do. 

     Possibly more later!

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Pretty Amazing

     To live in a time and place in which a "light breakfast" can consist of marbled rye/pumpernickel toast with truffle butter is, really, stunning.  Ancient Rome at the height of its power couldn't deliver this, not even to the Emperor: grit-free bread, fresh butter -- with truffles?  Eat your heart out, Caesar.  And the poor sods didn't even know they were missing out on coffee.

     There's a reason things didn't really start rolling until coffee, tea and chocolate started to be consumed in quantity across the world.  You could make a case for tobacco as well -- nicotine is a positively effective drug and if it wasn't, nobody would have tolerated inhaling the smoke -- but the delivery mechanism has serious downsides.

     (For that matter, it'd make me even happier if a local grocer would start stocking flageolets verts, too.  The old Atlas Supermarket had 'em, and plenty of other canned veggies we don't usually see in these parts.  Those French green kidney beans were particularly tasty.  But goodness, how obscure is that?

     Whatever.  Those Moon-shotting tea- and coffee-drinking smokers, with their chocolate bars and big dreams, slide rules and limited-stock companies, built a pretty amazing world.  I'd be a fool not to enjoy it.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Addictive!

     The Google Doodle of the last two days fascinates me.  It's based on the work of Oskar Fischinger.

How Not To Get Shot By The Police

     I can't promise you any sure answers on that.  The legal aftermath of the Philando Castile shooting -- police officer acquitted -- is all over the blogosphere and social media, and everyone is looking at it in the tinted mirror of their own politics and holding forth.

     I'm not going to hold forth about the situation.  I wasn't there.  "Things went terribly wrong," is about the best I have.  That's no comfort at all for the man's survivors and does nothing to fix matters for them.  Nor does it provide a guideline for police retraining.  Two nervous people interacted and one of them was killed as a result.  It wasn't the policeman.

     Do what you can to manage your encounters with the police.  The officer is well-armed, has backup and works under qualified immunity; courts will tend to defer to his or her opinion.  You?  You're just some gal or some guy.  Oh, probably a citizen, and you like to think of yourself as a good citizen.  When Officer Friendly stopped you, awarding a Good Citizenship medal was probably not the reason.  So you're already behind the eight-ball, more so if you're visibly off the average, and who isn't? Play it cool.
  •      Minimize the reasons you might be stopped.  All vehicle lights working, no big obvious cracks in the windshield, obey speed limits, etc.  (I do badly at this -- I have a sidelight that needs fixed and, typical city-dweller, I'm an habitual flow-of-traffic speeder.)
  •      A police stop is probably not the time to engage in political protest.  Unless you were setting out to make a point, maybe get some bad policy or law challenged in court, concentrate on what you need to do to get through the experience unscathed.  Is this humiliating?  Is it something no decent citizen of a democracy ought to have to endure?  Probably -- but there you are.  Do you want to sleep in your own bed that night?  The alternatives are a thin mattress at the jail or a cold slab at the morgue.  They suck.
  •      If you are stopped, engine off (if driving) and no sudden moves.  Do only what the officer tells you, offer only the information requested and remember the stakes: your life and freedom.
     Greg Ellifritz offers advice for law enforcement officers.  Read it, and consider the implications for you.

     Stay alive, stay out of jail, and write your Congressthing.  Write your state-level representatives.  Call 'em up.  Let your local government know when they or theirs are getting over the line.  And help prevent the next police encounter gone wrong.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Opioid Problem

     This country has one, and I'm not talking about a radio host getting nicked for popping pills.  Nope; from hardscrabble ex-factory towns and rural hamlets where the grain elevator is the tallest thing on the horizon for miles to the mean streets of the big city, people who can't get pills to pop are shooting up heroin (bad) or various versions of fentanyl (way worse).  A significant proportion of them are overdosing, too: it seems that while old-fashioned, street-grade heroin tended to a roughly consistent strength and was generally sufficiently diluted that rule-of-thumb dosage measurement was survivable, fentanyl's another thing.  From Wikipedia: "its extreme potency requires careful measurements of highly diluted fentanyl in solution."

     This is a high-falutin' way of saying that while a little dab'll do ya, an only slightly larger dab will do you in.  Working yesterday near a set of scanners covering police and fire in the Indianapolis city-county* only, I heard two "overdose" calls in the first twenty minutes -- with no "suspected" or "probable" tacked on, either -- and several more over the next hour.† 

     Opioids have a seductive allure (remember that radio host?).  If you're taking them for pain (and I have, quite long-term at times), they work great, but that warm & fuzzy feeling, a glow similar to a couple of mixed drinks in quick succession, is dangerous without the undercurrent of pain.  Oxycontin pipeline shut off?  Stronger drugs let the user clock out of life for awhile -- and the rest of the time, gives them something other than the grinding, hollow emptiness of a country with a shrinking middle class.  Not a good thing -- see William Burrough's The Junky's Christmas for a horrible-yet-sanitized version -- but a thing.

     I don't think we're going to fix this one treating it as a crime or merely addressing the overdoses by putting a supply of single-dose Naloxone injectors in the pockets of every police officer, fireman and paramedic in the country: by the time a user is standing on the threshold of death, it's been too late for a long while.  In conservative Indiana, a lack of needle exchanges has also led to clusters of HIV and hepatitis infections among users.  The state has -- finally -- been allowing counties to set up needle exchanges‡ for about a year now; it's not easy, and in in least one county, has been stymied by a severe "NIMBY" reaction.  So, Mr. and Mrs. America, is a dead junkie on the back porch a better solution?  Maybe it is; maybe the kindest thing to do is to let the addicts die off -- but there will be more, and their dying weighs on the tax rolls. 

     A comparative study of results in the United States and some country that treats use and addiction as public health issues might be informative; as it is, I have seen no more than anecdote.  Even that much has me wondering if something other than the present approach might offer improved results compared to making cops and EMTs haul people back from the edge of death time and again, until, inevitably, the day that help doesn't arrive in time.
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* Back when Marion County was a thin and ugly doughnut and getting smaller all the time, city and county governments merged.  Except it was more like a hostile takeover.  This essentially replaced two tottering monstrosities drowning under their own paperwork with one; and that's progress.  Dick Lugar orchestrated the change and gave it the totally non-Soviet name, "UniGov."

 † Plus the usual things you hear over a police scanner -- a man who locked himself in a business's washroom for two hours, responding only "I'm in here!" when they got worried and knocked; an apparent hostage standoff at a motel complete with multiple officers and directions how to stay "out of the line of fire" that eventually ended without a shot being fired.  It also appears we have an officer who sounds exactly like the late Larry "Bud" Melman.  I'd like to think that somewhere in the city, a short, dumpy, white-haired policeman in thick-lensed hornrimmed glasses is plodding though the challenges of modern policing, gamely triumphing over the entire panoply of modern dangers with a faint smile.

 ‡ While this clearly runs counter to the "whatever you subsidize, you get more of" rule, with Narcan injectors, society is already subsidizing addiction and the choice becomes one of disease-ridden addicts vs. addicts without additional health challenges.  The latter group at least has long-term prospects.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Another Day, Another $36.95

     They seem to be promising rain, which will gratify the flowers.  Unfortunately, I have a very large (folded-flat) cardboard box and a big paper leaf-bag full of lawn clippings to get properly stowed before the skies open up, so that just got added to my morning task stack.

     Ah, but the flowers...!  I need to add photos, but the old square raised bed in the front yard that I cleaned up and sowed with "mixed wildflower" seeds, former location of a former tree,  is really coming into its own.  A row of maroon-and-yellow marigolds led off, followed by little white flowers and for awhile, I thought that was all there was.  Recently, some fuzzy purple blooms have popped up along with a couple of lovely, delicate pink blossoms that look like (but are not) what we called "wild rose" when I was growing up.  There are plenty of buds that haven't opened to look forward to, as well.

     There's also a rosemary plant in that bed.  We managed to keep one going for several years there (and added twigs from the dead bush to the coals in the grill for years after) and perhaps this one will last as long.  So far, the weed barrier cloth I put down is working; there are one or two plants in the bed that I'm giving the hairy eyeball and which will get the old heave-ho if they turn out to be deadbeats, but considering that two years ago, before I tarped it for an entire year, that flowerbed was solid weeds, I'm not unhappy.  Elsewhere, the daylilies are doing all right -- they're pretty much on their own, though the ones along the house may get a little help this year -- and the hostas continue to prosper.  Like the orange lilies, they came with the house; unlike them, they didn't "just happen."  The realtor had transplanted extras from her own yard, and expressed uncertainty how they'd do over the long term.  Coming up on ten years and still going -- they were even completely dug up and lived in big pots for a few months when I had the house painted.  That move paid dividends: there were enough plants to divide up and add another group of hostas to the bed on the other side of the front steps.  There's mint growing there, too; I'd like to grow a little more but I'm happy to have it.

     I'll be happier if I get the paper products taken care of before the rains arrive, though.  Time to start back at it!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Singing To My Cat

Tam Keel photo
Huck, Huck, the giant cat
Reached for my food as I sat.
Thinks to claim it with a touch
Because his hunger is so much.

Sixteen pounds in striped fur,
Small for a tiger and he purrs--
He wants my breakfast, lunch and dinner, too.
Huck, eggs and a banger aren't good for you!

Singing To Tam's Cat

Tam Keel photo
Rannie, Rannie, Underfoot Wu,
How do you say "I love you?"
With winks and blinks and sometimes nods,
Which no one thinks is even odd.

You purr and beg for table scraps,
Or mice we've caught in humane traps.
You'll let no one tell you what to do,
Rannie, Rannie, Underfoot Wu.

Monday, June 19, 2017

A New Monday

     A day I approach with some trepidation.  Today marks the start of a new, all-online timeclock system at work, replacing not the old-fashioned kerchunking gadget that stamps a card, but a pen-and-paper "honor system" that has been in use as long as I have been working for the place.

     It will be a big change, and one that will require a lot of getting used to.  I wouldn't want to be the accountant or manager who has the explain the sudden uptick in overtime, as workers accustomed to working over fifteen or thirty minutes a day and "forgetting" to report most of it when they fill out their timesheet at the end of the week are suddenly obliged to keep track; but the flip side is that Federal wage & hour regs frown on unpaid work and tend to blame employers for it.  The edge of that coin is that a lot of the "forgetters" are highly creative types, who become engrossed in projects and lose track -- or who have so many going at once they they have no choice but to work over.  They and their work are difficult to replace and we'll be finding out how well that square peg fits into a round hole.*

     So chalk up another win for the forces of piling up laws and more laws, ever more detailed and yet supposedly one-size-fits-all.  I just don't know yet what the prize will be.
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* Ah, but here's the thing--  How do you suppose they held wooden ships together?  Everything from ropes and pitch to a kind of proto-rivet consisting of big iron nails clinched over a flat washer inside the hull were used, but one of the most popular methods used "trunnels," which are big squareish hardwood pegs...that are hammered, quite securely, into round holes!  On the other hand, this is the trade that developed the "whimble," a kind of offset bit-brace that is operated in a manner akin to rubbing your stomach while patting your head, so....

Saturday, June 17, 2017

I Broke The Kugel

     Yes I did.  Set it down in the edge of the countertop while trying to sidestep a cat.  Set it down overbalanced and on down it went, crashing onto the tiled floor.

     This is a problem.  The Kugel is a spherical thermal carafe from the German company Alfi and it's got a nice glass vacuum flask inside.  They'll last for decades if you keep them clean and, you know, refrain from dropping them.  On the outside, it looks like an old-fashioned road flare with a handle, or at least the matte-black ones I like do.  Here at Roseholme Cottage, we fill ours with coffee hot from the Chemex and it stays hot for hours.

     Alas, it sounded more like iced tea when I picked it up, a kind of slushy, liquid-damped tinkling as the bits of the former vacuum flask sloshed around in the coffee, which was dripping out through gaps and cracks in the outer shell.  I put it in the trash.

     Steaming gently on the counter was a cup of coffee I had just poured, the very last cup I was ever going to get from that carafe.

     It turned out that they're something Amazon offers Prime customers free same-day delivery on, so when I got home from work, an exact replacement was waiting.  Sometimes this living in the future thing is pretty nice. 

Friday, June 16, 2017

Got Nothing, Really

     Be nice to one another today, okay?  Just try it for one day.  Shucks, I don't think I will even yell at anyone in traffic today.  Or at least I will try not to.

     ETA: Well, I got about five blocks before breaking that resolution.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

A Tragedy In Alexandria

     At least the would-be killer was foiled quickly; at least he (so far) didn't kill anyone.  The murderous nitwit who shot at the GOP team practicing for the annual Congressional Baseball Game certainly intended to.

     I have to wonder -- as Democrat pundits did in 2011 on a much less tenable basis -- just how much influence the current violent partisan rhetoric had on the would-be killer?  In a year in which we're told that it's okay to punch out armchair Nazis who are doing nothing more offensive than stinking up the lecture circuit (and revealing the obnoxiousness of their twisted philosophy in the process), in which mobs wield improvised weapons to prevent invited speakers from speaking on college campuses, is it really a surprise when a particularly deluded loser decides to go hunting politicians who are members of a party of which he disapproves?

     Politics is a rough game; talking smack is a game for adolescents and nitwits.  At their intersection, bad stuff happens, the kinds of things that can screw up a civilized government.  I'm sick and tired of hearing that this President (or his predecessor, and on and on back) is the end of everything, a threat that needs to be rubbed out--  Oh, nonsense.  They're all temporary jobs, for a couple of years, or four, or six, and then we can throw 'em right out if they're a problem.*  Talk against them if you don't like them?  Oppose the polices you think are bad (and cheer on the ones you like)?  Sure, do that.  But try to be a grown-up about it -- because a few of the nominal adults around you aren't.
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* All right, except for Supreme Court justices.  Still, having grown up in a rural county with "IMPEACH EARL WARREN" stickers on the fence posts at every third or fourth intersection leaves one aware that there's a way to remove them, too.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Gems In The Sewer: Television Shows

     Sure, 99% of it is dreck, like the word-guessing program Tam watched last night in which a contestant, given the puzzle, "A STREETCAR NA_ED DESIRE," asked, "Is there an "K?"*

     On the other hand, the suburbanite soap/spy thriller The Americans recently wrapped up their most recent season with a very strong finish with the major protagonists as ambiguously murderous and empathetic as ever.  Covering the (quite fictionalized) tale of a family of Soviet "illegals" in Washington, D.C during the Reagan years, it adroitly weaves the conflicts between their cover and their espionage/black ops work.

     Orphan Black, the American Beeb's medical SF thriller set about five minutes into the future and starring Tatiana Maslany in, at last count, fourteen different roles, five of them central to the story, has just started its fifth and last season.  Strong so far, though possibly veering near the edge of the same kind of fantasy that damaged the final years of the otherwise good-fun The Pretender.  Still, if any TV show can pull it off, Orphan Black can and I'll just have to see what turns up as the layers of the villain of the piece -- a mysterious organization that calls itself "Neolution" -- are peeled back.  So far, vagueness and mystery have served the series well and we'll just have to see how it all holds up as it heads into the grand denouement.

    Streaming video-on-demand has left me a lot happier about what's on the TV, turning it from a fat sewer pipe that runs at full throttle if allowed to run at all, intro something more like the books on my shelf (or in my Kindle).  Thus tamed, I can mudlark out the shiny parts and avoid most of the rest.
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* Presumably there is, in the same universe in which William Burroughs wrote The Named Lunch.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

No Time -- And The Air-Conditioner Is Fading

     Up early and out of time already.  I spent some of the morning dealing with a frozen-up "A" coil* and now I have to get in the shower.

     Low working fluid, again.  I'll have to call the HVAC tech, and sooner rather than later.
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* Why is it an "A" coil, and does that make the one in the compressor unit outside the "B" coil?  It does not.  The shape of most of them, set to allow maximum contact with the air flowing by, is like a capital lambda; larger ones may have a cross-brace, and this, seen end-on, forms an "A."

Monday, June 12, 2017

Oh, Robot...!

     So, I'm cooking some stuff* Sunday afternoon and I need to keep track of time:

Bobbi: "Alexa, set a timer.  Seven minutes."
Alexa: "TIMER SET.  SEVEN MINUTES STARTING NOW."
[seven minutes elapse]
Alexa: "BOOP.  BIPPITTY-BOOP.  BIPPITTY-BOOP. BIPPITTY--"
Bobbi: "Alexa, stop."
Tam: "Alexa, thank you."
Alexa: "IT'S WHAT I'M HERE FOR."
 Bobbi: "Alexa, Tam is currying favor."
Alexa: "I DON'T KNOW THAT."
Bobbi: "I'm telling you, she is."
...Some people!  Some robots!
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* What is is, is a kind of chili-with-beans version of Eggs Pomodoro -- except the base for the "chili" is some heat-to-eat Indian food, because it turns out they make a perfectly fine version of Midwestern spicy chili in Madras, with cumin, onions, tomatoes and chilis (plus lentils and some other tasty bean); they just don't happen to call it "chili."  I added a can of Red Gold diced tomatoes and some other items, heated it up, dropped in a couple eggs, covered the pan and left them to poach.  I ate mine over rice; Tam took hers straight.  Italian/Mexican/Indian/American fusion? 

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Drunk-Driving Officer Is Out Of Jail

     Former IMPD officer David Bisard has a problem: he drinks and drives.  In 2010, while on duty, he plowed his police car into a group of motorcyclists waiting to make a left turn, killing one and injuring two more.  His blood alcohol was twice the legal limit.  Those are all facts, subsequently established in open court.

     In the aftermath, misleading information was fed to the press, evidence (a blood sample) was mishandled in what appears to have been an attempt to make it useless, and IMPD leadership underwent significant changes.  Meanwhile David Bisard, free and awaiting trial, wrecked his father-in-law's truck and was discovered to have been driving it while drunk.

     He was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to 16 years -- effectively eight, unless he misbehaved behind bars.  Possibly a little light for a man who would not even admit to having been drunk when he killed someone, but pretty heavy time. Eight years of a dangerous serial drunk-driver off the streets.

     Except he's out now, having served only three and a half years.  The families of his victims are vexed.

     I have known and worked with several drunks.  High-functioning alcoholics, every one of them.  They rarely change.  None of the ones I knew did.  One of them drank until his liver put him in the hospital.  Told he could go on to live many more years -- as long as he never drank again -- he got into a treatment program and within a year, drank himself to death.  Three more derailed their careers; one was caught nursing a nice can of some soft drink and vodka at work, sent for blood work and discovered to have a quite astounding blood alcohol level for someone who was upright and talking.  Another worked support for a celebrity's public appearances one drink-friendly holiday, gratefully accepted all the lovely beer he was offered, and was pulled over by police early in the morning of the next day, speeding one of his employer's vehicles the wrong way down the freeway.  The third apparently downed a bottle of some unscented liquor on his way to work -- perhaps just a bit more or more rapidly than was his usual -- then when trying to park, damaged his car and suffered slight injury.  There was blood, so policy called for an ambulance. Downtown ambulances are generally preceded or shadowed by police.  Good police officers are a bit suspicious by nature and the truth will out -- or at least it did then.  None of those four were especially bad guys -- okay, one was a horse's ass sometimes, this is real life -- the point is they weren't foaming-at-the-mouth axe murderers but they were a danger, a largely hidden danger, to themselves and others. Each of them had opportunities for treatment; some of them may even have availed themselves of it.  It didn't help.  Someone who will drink heavily while working or driving is likely to keep on so doing.  Most of them manage to only cause minor harm while they do.

     David Bisard, more dangerous than any of those examples, has been released with a few years on probation and it seems premature.  It is probably only a matter of time before he's back in jail and if the rest of us are very, very lucky, he won't have killed anyone with a vehicle first.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

A-Geeking I Will Go, Early In The Morniing

     I'm off to help in some fairly major electrical work -- and by "help," I mean "stay well away from the hot stuff, while doing what I can to ensure that the bare essentials of of what The Starship Company does will, in fact, continue to get done."

     You see, we're going to shed as much electrical load as we can, shut down incoming power, kill the standby generator (though the last two not, I hope, in that order; but that's not my department, even though it should be) and run on the big UPSes though what is supposed to be some quick work; then we'll power up the UPS inputs while leaving turned off nonessentials like lights, air-conditioning and the cute little automatic faucets in the washrooms.  Oh! And the big coolers in the break area, oopsie.  (If you are visiting my workplace next week, might wanna avoid the vendononautomatic, at least the milk, salads and sandwiches.  Make 'em take you to one of the places across the street for lunch!)

     We're gonna need a whole lot of D cells.  The top brass are hoping the big UPSes will be having a really good day; my immediate supervisor, my peers and I have set up a large vehicle with a husky onboard genset and strung hundreds of feet of temporary power wiring to the places that really, really must have juice* and we'll be putting ourselves on shut-off patrol, looking for and powering down any nonessential loads on the UPS we missed prior to the shutdown.

     Will it work?  I have my doubts; but to the extent that sweat and forethought and keen sense of where we might've slipped up in assigning devices to UPS or commercial power can make it work, I'll be in there trying.
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* Slang, 'Splain Me That Department: wall-socket power and above is "juice" but radiofrequency energy is "the soup."  I don't know why, but I'd kinda like to learn the terms steam engineers used for their working fluid; it might be instructive.

Friday, June 09, 2017

About My Blogroll

     See, here's the thing: I dislike change. At some mule-stubborn, foolish level, I kind of feel as if I can resist it by keeping the things I can control from changing too much or too fast. 

     If you're a Discworld reader (and kept up with the books), you'll know what I mean when I say retaining their old links kept Frank W. James* and Jeffro "alive in the clacks" long after they had passed on.  There are other bloggers who seem to have stopped blogging but are still around, and I hope they start up again some time.  So those links remain, too.

     And some remain simply from inertia.  I dislike change.

     If you don't like this, remember you don't need to use my blogroll.  It's mostly there for my convenience.
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* Sadly, his last blog was hacked into and became a dangerous place to visit, so I eventually had to drop the link.

    

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Keyboard Sadness, Keyboard Opportunity

     Well, darn.  My nice big Unicomp mechanical keyboard has started to forget the "V" key and the left-hand "SHIFT" has become touchy -- press it with your pinkie too far to the right, and though it feels right, the switch hasn't swootch.  Coming up on four years of middling-heavy use and I have had it apart once, so I shouldn't be surprised; there's probably debris I missed getting in the way.  I still like them better than any other keyboard.

     I've had an Azio 104-key MK Retro* with old-fashioned round keys since I found out such things could be had.  The keys are okay but not quite the nice clickative Cherry or buckling-spring keyswitches (though they may be Cherry or a competent clone -- just not as clicky as I'd like).  The layout is conventional and not appreciably larger or smaller than the Unicomp -- and, seeing as the latter is an IBM Model M in all but name, which was closely scaled to the IBM Selectric and Model B typewriters that preceded it, it is my standard of comparison.

     If I can't fix my old keyboard, I'll likely save up and replace it.  In the meantime, this Azio is well worth trying.
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* Whoosh!  Prices seem to have gone up since I bought mine.  Look around, if you like the style -- versions without the number pad begin to approach affordability.  Some the the Far Eastern manufacturers are producing interesting variations, too. Like the look but not the prices?  If you have Bluetooth, the under-$30 Logitech K380, with a nearly full-size keyboard and a clickless but very definite keyboard feel, is my choice for portable use.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Stressful Times

     My mom is still in the hospital.  Slowly improving, but still there.  There's nothing I can do to help.
*  *  *

     The business I work in is...shrinking.  Indirect competition from online services is siphoning off the advertising money my employer relies on, and while they're online, too, it doesn't monetize in the same way or on anywhere near the same scale as the traditional model that the entire industry was structured around.  Less money means less people -- and in a business that ultimately runs on fast talk and BS, and which idolizes a kind of "robber baron" approach to management, it means yearly rounds of layoffs have become twice a year events, quarterly looms on the horizon and, like the smallest adults on the Russian troika pursued by wolves after the last child has been thrown out to appease the predators, my co-workers and I are all looking at one another and wondering not, "Who's next," but just, "I hope I get eaten last."

     Meanwhile, the cars and suits of the men at the top get fancier, while the next level or two down of salaried managers work harder and harder to put a good face on it: they, too, merely hope to be eaten last.  Their nice suits are getting a bit shiny at elbows and cuffs -- or have been replaced by casual wear -- and the clued-in managers and assistants who once had a place at the table are increasingly frozen out, seen as more liability than asset, especially if they have the temerity to point out where "bold, forward-looking vision" ignores a lack of workers and space for them to work in.

     It's a rerun; twenty-five or thirty years ago, a different branch of the business hit a huge, unexpected snag (or set of snags) and shrank to fit the diminished resources (just as it had twenty-five years prior to that).  It's still shrinking, after rounds of consolidation resulted in mountains of debt; the very largest players are not expected to survive the next two years intact, if at all.

*  *  *

      The clock is ticking; it is no longer a matter of "if' but of "when." 

Monday, June 05, 2017

Oh, Boy: Monday!

     I don't even mean it sarcastically, or at least not very.  After working sick all last week, sick enough that I had a nap for lunch one day and probably should have on others, today I am feeling sufficiently better that I can hope to accomplish more and maybe -- just maybe! -- do so in something other than a zombie shuffle.

     Right now, just about everything is hovering near empty.  My pens need filling and so does the car, while I'm personally about a quart low on coffee.  An egg fried in pumpernickel is helping fill the void and I'm working on the rest of the list.

     Colds and/or allergies have long been my nemesis.  At least this one never quite kept me home.

Sunday, June 04, 2017

Work, Work, But At Least At Home

     Saturday, the Data Viking visited and he and Tam and her friend Mike and I all had breakfast (at Taste -- lovely stuff!) and went to the gun show.  Just about walked myself out -- and I'm still getting over the cold.  After, most everyone had something else to do.  What I had to do was mow the lawn, which I did by sheer force of will, burning through three bottles of water in the process.  With that done, I came back inside, peeled out of my sweaty glow-y clothes, got into light PJs and took a nap until bedtime.

     Today was kinda more of the same: cleaned the gutters, grilled a nice late lunch/early supper, got Tam's help reattaching a strip of vinyl siding to the garage (clearly a lowest-bidder job), and repaired the support that gets the open-wire feedline for my main ham radio antenna past the gutter and above roof level: the Linedragon!

     Still needs some adjustment, maybe drill to clear another line spacer.  The old one succumbed to the elements. The replacement got a few coats of linseed oil and we'll see if that helps.

Saturday, June 03, 2017

It Wakes!

     I'm up, I feel like a bad job of reanimation, I'm headed for the tub. Or shower.  Whatever.

     Perfectly lousy week, thanks to the cold.  Going to try to have some fun -- at least a fancy breakfast! -- today, maybe get some outdoor work done, and then hibernate Sunday.

Friday, June 02, 2017

You Have Been Reading Too Much SF When

It starts turning into cheap poetry:

Crabbity-Crabbity hated spin gravity
Had to leave L-5 and go home.

When she got there, lack of forces Coriolis
Meant she could barely pour out
The tea she'd boil for us. 

     Ah, well.

Thursday, June 01, 2017

The Summer Cold

     Cold or allergy or whatever it was.  That thing; it appears to be on the wane.  Whatever it was, it put my sinuses into overdrive, gunked up my ears, annoyed my throat and left me with a nasty, rattling cough.  Not a lot of fever but my head felt like it was stuffed full of old, damp washcloths and every thought was a slow slog through that dreamscape underbrush.

     Woke up this morning drawing breath through both nostrils for the first time since Sunday evening.  Almost didn't know what to think about it.

     This comes with the territory in my line of work.  It's the reporters: they get out there, each and every day, covering The News and therefore mingle with The Public.  Unlike the checker at your neighborhood grocery, they rarely have a bottle of hand sanitizer nearby.*  So one -- just one! -- reporter encounters someone with a cold or flu; he or she then goes back to the ol' cubicle farm, only News did away with cubicles nearly a year ago so as to build a collaborative work environment and they all sit cheek-by-jowl and/or elbow -- and even before, they didn't have half-walls between one another.  So they pass it on to another reporter, a couple of producers and a photographer, all of whom visit the break room, and next thing you know, anyone in the building who is susceptible has got it.

     I'm pretty sure Patient Zero of the latest outbreak grabbed a quick snack while I was eating lunch last Friday; in retrospect, her symptoms are only too familiar....

     So, probably not an allergy, then.  Better yet, likely to be just about over.
_____________________________________
* "All Employees Must Wash Mind Before Returning To Work." Ya think?

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

How...Well, Ironic

     There have long been -- as in centuries -- various movements to produce some mark or indicator for irony and sarcasm.  There are, it seems, people who might otherwise miss the point.  There are other people who research such things at great and delightful length. The inverted exclamation symbol is a perennial favorite -- indeed, there are some languages that already use it that way¡ No, really -- and various takes on reversed question marks have been put forward.  Another favorite is reverse-slanted italics, often erroneously attributed to H. L. Mencken.  Other entirely original symbols have been set forth and have sunk, bubbling, in the marketplace of ideas.

     More recently, purple text has been proposed; smilies and tildes are used on occasion.  (As if!~)*

     But the Dutch had their own idea; in 2007, the ironieteken was put forward with great fanfare during the national book festival.

     It looked like this:

     A flash of lightning!  A bolt from the blue!  The sting of snark, the bite of sarcasm...!

     And then someone with a piping-fresh font in their computer typed two of them side-by side.  The thud of of jackboots couldn't have been any louder.  My, how terribly familiar....

     How ironic.

     The ironieteken died a quiet, hasty death, unmourned.

     And you're still stuck figuring out sarcasm and its kin on your own.  It's a kind of ongoing Voight-Kampf test.

     How'd ya do yesterday?
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* A bit of a problem for me, as I habitually use "~" to indicate "approximately," as in "~100 miles from here to Dayton."  13 years of formal education, and I came away with that.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Allergies 1, Bobbi 0

     Or about that score.  There may be fractions.  At first, I didn't know what was going on -- maybe sneezing more than usual and I had a big patch of hypersensitive skin on my left hip.  That was four days ago, a number that is significant because--

     As far as I knew, there's only one thing that starts out with a "big patch of hypersensitive skin," and it then turns into an ugly rash in two to four days: shingles.  That would be bad news.*

     Instead, my sinuses got worse and worse while the skin sensitivity faded; woke up Sunday with a sore throat, more of the same Monday.  I thought I had a bad cold and last night, in a spirit of can't-make-it-worse, I took an over-the-counter 24-hour allergy tablet.  It was that or risk drowning in my sleep from a runny nose, which is not what you want people to read in your obit.

     Seems to have helped; anyway, I'm here, way less sneezy and the sore throat is significantly better.
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* The shingles vaccine is one of the few kinda-trendy things my company health insurance encourages getting.  I should.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Expanding The Expanse

     I've enjoyed the first two seasons of the TV series, so I decided to try the books, or at least the first one of the series.

     It's pretty good -- competent space opera, no breaks to explain the functioning of ray guns -- heck, no ray guns as such! -- and the same general story.

     What I didn't expect was that the book would be a little less complex than the TV series.  In part, this is because of inherent differences in storytelling; a novel can put you in a character's head or dash off a little exposition on the fly but dramas on screen or stage have to show you.  The scriptwriters have done a masterful job of just that, combining a few "background" characters to create a kind of prototypical hardscrabble Belter and the TV series is the better for it.  As a specific recurring character rather than a few bit players, he would have been a distraction in the book.

     Watching and reading The Expanse makes me want to see TV-series adaptations of hard SF from bigger (or older, anyway) names -- C. J. Cherryh's "Alliance-Union" universe and much of Robert A. Heinlein's output are now well within the capabilities of teleproduction and the (re?)emergence of long-form "serials" provides the right scale for a novel. Maybe a little Larry Niven?  Many of his short stories might make fine movies.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Memorial Day

     Look, there's nothing I can tell you about the day that you shouldn't already know.  It commemorates those fallen in military service.

     Doing so on this day in particular came about after that great bloody scar on the national psyche, the Civil War.  It was something of a rite of healing as well as recognition of the great and terrible sacrifice -- and maybe that sounds New Agey to you, too touchy-feely.  Tough.  There's little enough we can do for the dead -- clear their markers, set a flag, ponder soberly -- but there's plenty we can do to help secure what their sacrifices were in aid of: we can comfort the living, treat one another fairly and recognize that in the end, we will all face the same Great Unknown.

     We can refuse to be jerks.

*  *  *

     Other people fight other battles.  My Mom, born in the shadow of Black Friday, is in the hospital fighting one right now.  She will win this battle; there's fluid in her lungs and the doctors and nurses are clearing it away.  It will come back, by and by, and she'll be in the hospital again.

     She'll win most of the battles, but in a war that we all will eventually lose.  And there's not a single blamed thing I can do about it other than show up, say hi, share a card, some flowers, an entertaining gadget, trivial little bright sparkles. My Mom fights; it's in her.  She doesn't give up.

*  *  *

     Eleven years, one week and two days ago, my Dad passed away.  It was Mom's birthday.  I miss him.  She misses him, too.

*  *  *

     Today was my birthday.  Tam and I went to brunch.  It was delicious.  Little bright sparkles -- maybe that's all we get.  Maybe that's all anyone gets.  Make the most of them.  Don't stomp on anyone else's.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Slept Today

     Slept most of the day.  Tam bought food and I grilled some absolutely decadent steaks with roasted corn-on-the-cob and baked potatoes.  And now?  Back to sleep.

     I messed up my sleep budget pretty badly last week.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Nose To The Grindstone, Shoulder To The Wheel

     ...Now try to get anything done in that position!  And so it is for me at work.  I arrive every morning with a mental list and by the end of the day, one or two items have been accomplished and all of the rest have been rewritten.  Completely.  Today bids to be more of the same, only more so.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Garden Omelette

     We had the vegetables, and it's difficult for two people to get through the usual family-sized portions sold in grocery stores before they start to turn.

     So this morning, a nice Poblano pepper, radish, cherry tomato, green onion, black olive, celery, carrot, bacon and Manchego cheese omelette is (rapidly becoming "was") on my plate.  Pretty tasty,  especially with a little Peri-Peri sauce and some raw radish on top.

     Meanwhile in the outside world, politics veers between "risible" and "tragic."  Got no fix for you there; chowderheads of every stripe will always be with us.  They win elections right next to the clueful (and in slightly greater numbers); they blow stuff up and shoot when they shouldn't and drive like fools and in a world in which many people can pass an idle afternoon using up more horsepower than was readily available to Julius Caesar at the height of his power, ill-intentioned (or simply incautious) witlings are more dangerous than ever.  The ideology (or lack thereof) that motivates 'em doesn't matter; take away whatever one they're using instead of decency and good sense and they will simply find another.  Just keep your eyes open and do what you can to stop them or at least slow them down.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Return Of The Leopard Slug

     They are to regular slugs as a dreadnought is to a destroyer -- the Great Gray or Leopard Slug.  And several of them live in my back yard.  Presumably several generations of them, though I haven't kept track.

     This year's crop may be pretty good; being relatively bite-sized (several bites when fully-grown; they get to be much bigger than you'd expect, as large as a small snake and fatter) and relatively slow* they spend most of their time out of sight, but I have already had three encounters.

     Several days ago, I turned over a fallen branch and found not only a camo-pattern slug as big as my thumb, but a whole clutch of wasabi-green slug eggs she† had just laid.  I turned it back over and moded it to a safer spot.

     Last night, I was dumping water from the big blue tarp and moving it away from the wild parsnip‡ that has taken up residence in a corner of the fence and which will meet my enforcer, Mr. Weedkiller, I found two more and larger examples, which were hanging on (they produce strong, sticky slime and even a large one can climb vertical surfaces) in various damp and shady folds.  I made sure they were still in the shade and above the waterline as I moved the tarp; what I will do when the time comes to fold the thing up, I don't know.  It's overdue for disposal but I don't want to reduce the population of slugs that hunt garden-eating slugs when I get rid of it.
___________________________
* Unless you're a smaller vegetarian garden slug.

† It's complicated.  Let us not delve into the private life and courtship of Great Gray slugs, which involves climbing to high places, hanging from a rope of slime and having terrifying knife fights.

‡ The wild parsnip is to the common carrot what a one-percenter biker is to a kid on a moped.  Annoy a lively one on a sunny day and you're likely to end up with nasty chemical burns.  While this gets somewhat panicky coverage by local TV and on social media, good-quality garden gloves, long sleeves and common sense go a long way towards avoiding the problem.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Project Drift

     This was at work -- I expect any project at home to create three or four more.  Work, that's not supposed to happen--

     It seemed simple enough: deliver audio and video signals from a specific source to a nice computer-based recorder, which holds thousands of hours in the space occupied by a large desktop PC.  High-definition video and, as it turns out, stereo sound.

     The video is simple enough: find the multi-output distribution amplifier (DA) on the one-line diagram -- aha! -- and then go find it in the real world.  H'mm, more outputs are hooked up than the drawing shows, but one of them feeds another DA and...yes!  There is exactly one output left!

     Now the audio.  Easy, right?  No.  It's only available in 5.1 channel surround, your choice of discrete digital (three coaxial cables) or encoded (one cable but it takes dedicated hardware or software to decode).  Email the department that needs this, which would they like?  More back and forth to define terms.  (You can't just grab the Left Front and Right Front channels: true 5.1 has most of the dialog in the center channel.)  Nope.  How about summed mono?  We've got that!  After multiple e-mails, that gets the big nope.  Surely there's a digital stereo version around?  (One coax, easy as pi!)  Ummm...no.  But there's analog, and here's an analog-to-digital converter with available channels.  ...I/O not on the cross-connect one-line?  ...Kind of not.  Fine, now where are the audio DA outputs?  Dig to find the three different names three different techs have given it, then find it is not on the one-line diagram under any name but there is a Road Map To The Punchblocks and there, after looking and looking, right there is the name.

     "Punchblocks" are an old form of telephone interconnect, and what we use are "66M" blocks, with fifty pairs of odd little forked terminals in two columns of 25; you use a special tool to force a wire down into them (and trim it short in one step -- or cut it clean off, if you turned the tool the wrong way, darn it) and it makes a good connection.  Later versions -- Krone and 110 blocks, ADC "split-cylinder" terminals and suchlike -- don't much care what size or kind of wire they eat, but 66 blocks came first and they like small solid wire, 24 to 26 gauge.  Our spool of the right stuff is, of course, missing.  It took 45 minutes to locate.  

     Punched down analog audio wiring.  Went to find the audio A-to-D/D-to-A testbox (very nifty, has indicator lights and a little speaker).  Not in its spot on the shelf.  Kept looking for digital audio testbox, found it on the bench after looking, fixing something unrelated, and looking more. Fished through a rat's nest of rack wiring to plug it into the digital output of the A-to-D, and...nothing.  Not a sound.  No little light to tell me the data rate, either, and that's funny, because if the A-to-D is even working, it would be on...  Went around to front of racks.  One A-to-D is all lit up, bargraph level meters fluttering, state indicators indicating data rate and meter mode and all of that good stuff.  The other one, the one on which I have been working?  No lights.  Not happy.  Back to the other side, grope to power input on back of device, moving fat bundle of audio wiring to get to it--  IEC plug falls out of connector: some clever neatnik has tie-wrapped the power cord to the audio wiring, with less-than-sufficient cable to keep the power cord connected!  Cut tie wrap, plug back in, and, hey la, the audio testbox begins shouting in my ear!

     I wired up digital audio to its own distribution amplifier (because I'm not going to get caught like this again), and prepared to run cables over to the recorder-thing itself, about twenty feet down the row of racks and on the far side of a control console.  ...There's no small coax in the usual spot.  Hunter around and found orange (digital audio) coax and grabbed a spool of violet (digital video) as well, plus the portable rack the holds them for easy unspooling.  Opened up the computer floor and went to get the nice, screw-together glow-in-the-dark fiberglass wire-pulling sticks...which were missing.  Found them (after half an hour searching), opened floor, poked the sticks through until I hit a Known Obstacle, opened the floor at the square AC-wiring duct and helped the stick over, went back to snaking the fish-stick along, added sections and....clunk.  Clunk?  But....there's nothing else in the way.  But there must be, so I got the electric screwdriver, opened the floor at a new and odd place, and found electricians had visited, leaving a big knot of flexible conduit the stick needs help over.  Got it past that and on to the destination, taped on the two coaxes, pulled them through, disassembled and put away sticks, and went to cut the cables at the start end.

     Glanced at my watch, realized it's a half-hour past quitting time and I still had to put my toys away before I could go home.  Which took another half-hour.

     You know the first or second question I'll be asked at work today?  "So...you get that recorder connected?"

     No.  No, I didn't.  Hand me that box of BNC connectors for 1855A, and I'll finish up that little job -- oh, and I'll need a 75-to-110 Ohm AES/EBU audio balun, and a short XLR to 1/4" TRS 110-Ohm cable, too.  What, we don't have any?

     This may take a little longer.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Hamvention Aftermath

     Except for cooking and a few trips to the market, I have slept or rested for most of the last two days.  That long drive really takes it out of me! 

     Walking through the flea market right before leaving, I passed by a young couple who had just packed up their space.  The man got behind the wheel of his big pickup truck, laughing and joking, started it up -- and hit the air horns as several of us walked past.  Loudest thing I have heard in years!  I covered my ears but it was on my right side and the hearing in my right ear has been wonky ever since.  Thanks, idiot.  Hoping it will wear off.

     Still not sorry I went.   Maybe next year I'll be able to leave earlier.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Picadillo Omelette

     Last night, I made Beef Picadillo for dinner.  It's a tasty Cuban dish, or anyway, it arrived in the U.S. via Cuban immigrants.  Seems to be fairly widespread in the Spanish-speaking parts of South and Central America.  Somewhere in the delicious region between a thick stew and hash depending on the receipe, it's got ground beef, tomatoes, olives and -- surprise! -- raisins, usually enhanced with hot and/or sweet peppers, spicy sausage, onion, garlic, allspice, cloves, cumin, chili powder, black pepper and so on, creating a very complex and wonderful flavor.

     It is usually eaten over rice or used as a filling for tacos or empanadas.  I was out of cloves, so I used a little touch of cinnamon to hint in that direction,* and the only raisins ready to hand were the nice golden ones from white grapes.  Chorizo started off the wok, with red and cubanelle peppers and an onion following before the beef went in; once it was browned, I added tomatoes, olives -- and plenty of them! -- and a generous handful of raisins, to simmer while I pondered the ingredient list.  I mean -- allspice?  Cloves?  Raisins? Really?  But it simmered on, sending up the most fragrant puffs of steam.

     With some trepidation, I tried a sample.  So good!  Once it was cooked, I zapped a little rice and had a bowl of picadillo.  And a half a bowl more, too. 

     Tam was out of town (and having the kind of frustrating, low-key "adventure" nobody should have, I found out) and there was plenty left over; I set up a couple of small containers for freezing and put a third in the fridge.  By the time she got home, she was frazzled and in no state for food, so there it sat.

     Looking over breakfast options this morning, I had lots of eggs and not much else.  But there was that little glass container of picadillo, and it needed eaten.  So I whipped up a basic three-egg omelette, shaved a nice layer of Manchego cheese on it once it started to set and heated the picadillo in the microwave.  Once it and the omelette were ready, I spooned in a goodly amount, folded the omelette and left it to finish.

     Oh, boy!  The picadillo was good last night, but as an omelette filling, it's close to ambrosial!

     If it sounds interesting, give it a try.  The leftovers are versatile.
_____________________________
* Not ideal but it works if you don't use too much.  The real thing would have been better.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Dayton Hamvention 2017

     Of course, it's in Xenia now, at a lovely county fairground that is a long way down two-lane roads. 

     The venue is at least as large as Hara Arena was, with the flea market occupying the infield of a dirt racetrack and a grassy field outside it.  I managed to walk most of it Friday in a few hours.  Walking on grass is a lot kinder to my feet than walking on the Hara parking lot.

     Flea-market pickings were wildly assorted; I just missed a Globe King 400* transmitter (less cabinet), saw a twin to the audio-frequency voltmeter I bought at Peru, lots of modern and recent electronics, looked at a Collins 32V transmitter (heavy!), saw a rare National NSA speech amplifier in nice condition, and plenty more.

     I didn't take any photos -- I brought my smartphone, but not the charger, and after the long, winding drive to the fairgrounds, I knew I would need it to get back to the highway.

     Didn't buy much; a Nye "Master Key," some 4-pin breadboard sockets, a few crystals, and didn't see several vendors I had bought from in the past.  Didn't cross paths with QRP guru Ade Weiss or telegraph key/Enigma expert Tom Perera.  I did wander past the Vibroplex booth.  Never found Heil microphones, G-QRP, Fists or Begali, but there were many buildings I never got into.

     I left as rain began to fall.  Traffic was heavy, with local law enforcement at the intersections to keep the hams moving; Google decided I needed a brief tour of the region, on back roads past the Kil-Kare Speedway to U. S. 35 to and though downtown Dayton, where I saw the Gerstner Tool Chest factory (or possibly just office) along the river and passed by the local "transmitter row" on the way to Ohio 49 -- which had been my route out of Dayton to I-70 from the old Hamvention location at Hara Arena.  So the roads eventually became familiar and I stopped being quite as irked at Google: there was no good path and it had picked the least bad.  Rain was pretty heavy at times but speeds were relatively low, 60 and down; most of 35 was limited-access, multilane, and 49, while stoplighted, is never less than two lanes in each direction.

     I-70 was brisk; I'm still not used to 75+ running speeds and unless I am in a group, prefer to stay at or below the 70 mph speed limit.  Not to incriminate myself, but there was nearly-solid traffic for much of the way home.  After the long and winding road though Greater Dayton, it was almost refreshing, despite light rain and lots of tire spray.  By the time I reached the Indiana border, skied had largely cleared -- but there were dark clouds and obvious rain, away to the southwest.  It zigged, the road zagged, and the other side of Richmond, we met the rain.

     Traffic slowed a bit but I wasn't happy with the visibility and moved into the right-hand lane, where tractor-trailer rigs were even slower.  The rain kept getting harder, and I could barely see the lights and hazard flashers of a semi several carlengths ahead.  He slowed and slowed, the left lane slowed, and at the worst, both lanes were crawling along at 30 mph.  Even that felt a bit too fast for me and I resolved to take the next exit, a mile ahead.  By the time we got there, the rain had only slacked off a little; I followed several cars up the ramp and right out of the rain!  By the time we'd reached the cross street, the cloud had passed and there were no more than sprinkles.  I went across to the on-ramp and got right back onto I-70.  The remainder of my trip was uneventful except for a fifteen-minute wait at a hamburger drivethough a mile from home: I had skipped breakfast and had vanilla ice cream and water for lunch, so food was mandatory; after hours on the road, not having to cook from myself was even more so. 

     So there's my Dayton 2017.  I think the new location is going to work out, though it's likely to be muddy today and tomorrow.
_____________________________
* For the geekily-inclined: The RF PA and modulator of this transmitter use oddball tubes -- V-70-D and 5514, respectively -- that are difficult to obtain.  With some component changes, the more common (still in production, last I heard, though you may need to know Mandarin to read the data sheet) 812 and 811 triodes can replace them.  Designed in the heyday of the vacuum tube, the manufacturer was able to chose exactly what they wanted, and so what if the tubes weren't RCA or Eimac "classics?"  We know the answer to that question now, but who thought the transmitters would still be popular fifty years later?

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Up Early

     It's a real treat for the cats: they got their breakfast a half-hour sooner!  I've got a doctor's appointment early today, which is not so much of a treat, especially since we're going to have to have a conversation about my having discontinued one of the two blood pressure medications she has prescribed.

     Why would I do a fool thing like that?  Because it was zombiefying me.  Sluggish, mentally dull, depressed and steadily worse.  I could barely focus on the simplest of tasks.  Was it helping with blood pressure?  You couldn't tell from my notes: the first medication knocked it down to normal range (with, it is true, occasional excursions: I have a touch of White Coat Syndrome) and the one I dropped may have knocked it down another one or two percent.  That's a very high price for a tiny change and there's no point making the machine run within spec if it screws up the software.  Maybe I'd live decades longer -- in a depressed muddle.  Yeah, no thanks.

     Doctors don't like it when the animals talk back, even more so when we second-guess 'em.  I'm not very good at tactfulness or confrontation; dealing with authority figures, I tend to not say much and try to give answers that will get me back out the door with minimal interpersonal conflict.  But I've got to tell her I won't take that stuff again.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Hey, Look, It Worked!

     You kids and your new-fangled steam-driven contraptions!  When I was young, wind and water power was plenty....

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

A Sunset Over The Stutz Buildings

     Just happened to be in the right parking lot at the right time:

     ....Annnnd now Blogger won't let me post pictures.  Okay, then.  Sorry, folks.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Okay, Monday, Okay

     Into the shower so I can go to work to pay the bills so I can eat and have a place to sleep and eat and shower so I can go to work to pay the bills so I can eat and have a place to sleep and eat and shower so I can go to work to pay the bills so I can eat and have a place to sleep and eat and shower so I can go to work to pay the bills so I can eat and have a place to sleep and eat and shower so I can go to work to pay the bills so I can eat and have a place to sleep and eat and shower and then it will be the weekend again.

     Or did I miscount?

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Something New At I Work On A Starship

     Uh-oh!  Someone's in trou-ble!

TRANSCRIPT OF TESTIMONY, DISCIPLINARY HEARING, STARDRIVE TECHNICIAN 1ST CLASS R. HUMKEL, USAS LUPINE.  QUESTION CONTENT REDACTED FOR PRIVACY, SEE USSF A/83:1(a)

Chores And Rewards

     Tam took a photo but she hasn't shared it yet: steak and morels was yesterday's award for getting yard work (mostly) done.  I took a weed-eater to the back yard, made a stab at stretching out the tarp (it spent about a year folded over the raised flower bed out front, Phase One of trying to kill off the weeds that infested that bed after the tree that it was built around had to be removed) and picked up downed limbs.

     The grill had been left uncovered during a recent morning downpour.  It has a lid but I usually keep a big, thick-plastic trash bag over it -- unless it's cooling down after use, which usually takes all night.  I dashed out and covered it during a lull in the rain last week, some hours after the storm began, and I wasn't sure what I was going to find when I swung back the lid--

     Dry. Lots of charcoal.  When I'm done cooking, I just close lid and close up the vents; the burning charcoal uses up whatever air is left and stops, and unlike the cheap stuff, hardwood charcoal is just as good when restarted.  Tam was making a store run, having earlier stopped by the organic/local place and all but met the morel truck, so I asked her to pick up some steaks.

     Let me tell you, they're as good over hardwood charcoal as ever.  The hardwood kindling makes starting it easy: build a three-level ziggurat of half-length sticks with a crumpled sheet of newspaper in the middle, surround with charcoal, apply a lit match and let it burn!  I did so, then went inside to prep the steaks and mushrooms.

     The steaks were easy: a little fresh-ground mixed pepper and some chipotle sea salt, shake (the grocer puts 'em in plastic bags these days, with the traditional paper around that) and leave.  Tam's gets a third of the cooking time of mine, rare vs. medium-well.  The morels?  That's a story. 

     The wild mushrooms were fresh.  Really fresh.  Really fresh: there'd been no exodus of woodland dwellers. I gently shook the morels in a bag, fished them out and trimmed the stems, then set them in cool, salty water for five minutes.  They had passengers!  Bugs and plenty of them.  I alternated soaks and rinsing with setting up the fire and getting the steaks started, and it took four more soaks before I stopped getting insects.  By then the steaks were done; I parked them on the outer edges of the grill, got the morels started (roll them in a little flour and fry in a bit of hot oil, shortening or bacon fat -- you can add some butter but the temperature and time is a bit much for butter alone), and fetched the steaks in to rest on warmed plates in the oven.

     By the time the mushrooms were done, the steaks were plenty happy, melt-in-your mouth tender and suffused with flavor.  They needed nothing in the way of seasoning.  Some fresh vegetables completed a fine meal, enjoyed just as the sun set.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Even A Blind Sow Shows The Right Time Twice A Day

     The venerable old -- and reliably left-leaning, as in already fallen over and won't get up -- Grauniad gets it right from time time, though mostly on the op-ed-ish pages.  F'rinstance, talking sense about the dangerousness of radioactivity.

     Hunh.  You still shouldn't go soaking it it -- but you kind of already are, and so have your ancestors been, way, way back, even before there were any you could really recognize as specifically ancestral.

Another Day, Another Uproar

     And whatever it is, I'm ignoring it.  It's warm and sunny outside.  I'm gonna take me a real bath and then see what kinda warm-and-sunny stuff I can find to do -- take a string trimmer to the back yard, once I drape the trap over the fence to dry out, and then maybe set up the canvas trash skip, fill it up, and see about getting it hauled away.

     The flowerbed out front could maybe use a little help - I'd like to find some kind of hardy perennial to plant in the center of it, and maybe a little this and this to fill in where my wildflower mix went a bit thin.  Or maybe I'll just plant a little more of that -- if some is good, more is better, right?

Friday, May 12, 2017

Remember The Good Old Days

     ...Back when all you had to worry about FBI Directors getting in the news for was if they were slightly too paranoid, or romantically entangled with their immediate underlings?

    Any more, I look at the front page they same way I used to look at the funny pages: amusing fantasies.  Okay, nobody ever speculated about Blondie or The Phantom blowing up the planet, but Dick Tracy's foes came close a time or two.  Too, the writers were a little better than the ones churning out today's headlines, or at least less hypnotized by their own fantasies.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Okay, I Was Goofing Off

     Wasted the morning looking at videos about steam engines and such.  So I'm out of time.  Um, gee -- politics is still insane, just a mirror-image (more or less) of the preceding eight years.  Meet the new boss, loathed by the press.   Which I see as an advantage: if only more of the press looked to Washington with hostile suspicion no matter which party was in power!  But I'm a dreamer.  We'll take what we get when we get it, and, being Americans, we'll gripe all the while.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Hello -- Wrong Dimension?

     Change sneaks up on us unannounced, sometimes unnoticed.  The gap between seniors and sophomores in my second year of High School, or freshmen and juniors/seniors in my first was exactly the change from the boys in button-down collars (and occasionally ties), the girls in cute outfits and everyone in nice, leather shoes to 80%+ of the kids in jeans, T-shirts and tennis shoes; most of my class and the classes after us moved through school in sloppy comfort, while most of the kids ahead of us "dressed for success."  At the time, we barely noticed, but a glance back through yearbooks -- especially at the "casual" photographs -- shows it.

    I like to think I'm a pretty fair short-order cook and I try to keep up with the changes and trends.  Reverse sear?  Got it.  I've cooked over everything from a wood fire to an induction range; I prefer gas, which puts me squarely in the majority of cooks, both professional and amateur.*  I have used food processors and consider them to be gadgets; even a blender is just a time-saver, not a sea-change (nevertheless, thank you, Fred Waring!),

     But while I was mastering the grilled steak and pan-fried bacon-and-eggs, they have snuck up on me with "sous vide" -- which seems to cook smarter rather than harder -- and the ThermoMix, which appears combine aspects of the mixer, the rice steamer, the electric skillet and the crockpot.  Will they catch on?  Sous vide has been a professional trick since the 18th Century; the clever self-heating mixer, not nearly so long.  They both came at me right out of left field.  Cook what how?  Are bananas blue in this odd new world, or are they still the normal bright orange color?
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* I do note that the chef at Gallery Pastry Shop prefers induction for omelettes and gas for everything else.   This seems sensible.

Breakfast Sandwich

     It turns out that hot corned beef, a little bacon and an egg fried in truffle butter is a combination you would not want to miss.

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Decadence: Complete?

     I bought black-truffle butter at the grocer's last night.  They only sell it in small quantities, which is a good thing, as the per-unit price is...well, like truffles: excessive.

     But how often am I going to have such a luxury?  The store hasn't had it in the past (as far as I have noticed) and they may not in the future.  And besides (she said, self-justifyingly), they were out of the good rye bread I usually buy and I had to get relatively plebian whole wheat* instead.

     Tellya what, just a little of that stuff on a bacon-and-egg sandwich is, oh my, so good!

     ...And it's just about morel mushroom time at the local/organic place in my neighborhood.  H'mm, I wonder if just a hint of truffle butter would go well with them?
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* Gosh, I miss Roman Meal.  Haven't seen it in stores around here for years.

Monday, May 08, 2017

"Low Memory" Crashes

     The new computer had them a few days ago, then they stopped.  Came back again late last night, after a delightful Sunday meal -- steaks and big mushrooms grilled over hardwood lump charcoal,* lightly-steamed Brussels sprouts and baked potatoes -- and I must admit, I was too busy digesting to fiddle with it.

     But tonight, I think I'd better open this thing up and see what's going on.  Backlash in the gear trains?  A loose 10's-carrying arm?  A stuck steam valve?  Something.
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* Also hardwood kindling to start the charcoal.  Lighter fluid?  Pfui!  The difference between the good charcoal and the pressed briquettes of my youth is the difference between live music and a scratchy recording.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

It's Sunny

     Get up.  Go outdoors.  I plan to -- you should, too.  This week will stay chilly and turn rainy, so I don't intend to waste a sunny day.

     Oh, here's a puzzle: My back yard is infested by Northern Creeper.  Every day, it doubles the area it covers.  If it can cover my whole yard in 48 days, how long would it take to cover half my yard?

     If a rake and a bag to pick all the creeper vines up and throw them away would have totaled $1.10 back in 1924 when Roseholme Cottage was built, and the rake cost a dollar more than the bag, what price was the bag?

     If it takes five rake-making machines five minutes to produce five rakes, how long would it take 100 rake-making machines to make 100 rakes?

     Get all three right and you're Sherlock Holmes.  I managed two off-the-cuff and vaporlocked on one; had to take it step-by-step to see where I went off the rails.

Saturday, May 06, 2017

Health-Care Mess

     There was a lot of cheering and hand-wringing the other day, when the U.S. House passed a bill to "repeal and replace" the American Healthcare Act, generally known as "Obamacare," though the actual effect seemed to be to modify one or two parts of it, of this stack of law that runs to thousands of pages.  (Here are two different perspectives, pile'o'paper vs. paperwork-intensive industry.)

     Of course, this thing hasn't reached the U.S. Senate yet, so the bill is still ..."...only a bill...sitting here on Capitol Hill."  Knowing that nothing succeeds like success, the President took a victory lap nonetheless.  It's not a terrible political strategy: Congress has been known to stampede like a herd of cattle.

     Say it passes: healthcare will still be messed up.  Oh, the fed.gov won't fine you for not being able to afford insurance; if you have a pre-existing condition, your state will be able (after some fancy folderol) to shove over to a high-risk pool, where you will be charged more for insurance.  And that's about it, not even enough time for the band to get through a whole verse of Nearer My God To Thee as the lead balloon of Big Federally-Mandated Healthcare goes bumbling onward. Healthcare was messed up before ACA, too.  It's never ideal and it never will be.  The shift from "Major Medical" health insurance that worked like automobile or home insurance to cover major events only, to all-encompassing coverage of "wellness," routine doctor visits, medication, skinned knees and so on is partially responsible.*  It was started as cost-saving move: it's cheaper to prevent heart attacks than to treat them, it's cheaper to find cancer while it is is small and relatively treatable, and so on.  Sure, it is probably better for you -- but that was not, in fact, the point.

     And thus, too, for the various forms of universal health care.  People seize on the things they see as direct benefits and they tend to stick; one side or the other or both uses them as slogans and rallying points, but "free stuff from the government" has a powerful allure, as the media-popular image of a Tea Party protester with a HANDS OFF MY MEDICARE sign from a few years ago made clear.  So don't expect any changes to "fix healthcare."  They make things a little better for the insurance companies; they may remove the most direct and obvious boot-on-the-neck provisions, but in the end?  Same bureaucracy.  Same mess of muddling-though with your health insurance.  Same fight to find "in-network" specialists and the same disparity between you and the guy who can afford to pay for it out of his own pocket -- or a hire an attorney to shovel through his insurance paperwork and get them to pay.
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* The poor and careless have been dying badly at a higher rate than the well-off and careful since time immemorial. Don't expect that to change.

Friday, May 05, 2017

A Sunny Friday?

     Probably no sun today.  There's water in the basement.  Not a lot, but it seeps in through every tiny crack.  Much more rain and I may be having to rig up the pump.

     Generally, the basement is set up to survive a little water on the floor.  We have a dehumidifier, things are largely stored off the floor, and if the rain doesn't go on too long, it works out.  Two or three times, the basement has taken on significant amounts of water, including one sewer back-up nine years ago.   The floor drain with its anti-backflow valve has been replaced since, and the city redid the sewer and storm drains the following year.  But the system is still semi-combined and significant, prolonged rainfall is not without risk.

     So here's hoping for the best and for no more rain for awhile.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Superhero Design, Northern Edition

     Looking around the Web, you can easily find Canadian-themed superheroes; many are generally modeled on Captain America, right down to a maple leaf-themed shield. No, clever artists, totally wrong! His shield should be made of solid rock. ...Kids these days....

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

A Note To All Politicians:

     "...I would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren't for those meddling kids," does not constitute analysis or explanation for the consequences of your actions.  The last major political figure to coast through with nearly-universal approval was George Washington -- and he only had it for his first term in office.

     Don't be so shocked when it's your turn, politicians. 

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Springtime?

     That's what it says on the calendar.  It feels more like Autumn -- chilly, windy and rainy.  But at least there is rain, and, cool though it is, the weather is generally warmer.  The wind has been just about epic -- oh, we've had stronger, but rarely all day long, let alone for days.

     It seems, however, to have sailed me towards better health.  After ending the anti-inflammatory fiasco and returning to a regimen of OTC meds,* I am feeling better than I have felt in quite a long time.  Sunday, I took a long walk (long compared to my recent usual, at least) for the first time in quite awhile.  I still tire easily but things are looking towards looking up. 

     May is not my best month -- loaded with family birthdays (including, after everyone else's, my own, which I dread), always very busy at work, and with the Dayton Hamvention to (maybe) fit in.  Here's hoping it can be a healthy month, anyway.

     Also, once the monsoon has passed, I am so gonna add more flowers out front.
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* An aspirin morning and evening, plus acetaminophen as needed during the day.  Seems to work.

Monday, May 01, 2017

Fortitude

     A few weeks ago, I began watching Fortitude, a British-produced thriller set in a remote Norwegian village with a played-out coal mine, a growing scientific research center, ambitious eco-tourism hopes and an ongoing string of mysterious deaths, many if not all of them murders.

     It could have been a dull and claustrophobic set-piece.  It's marvelously not; instead, it plays like a collaboration between Michael Crichton and H. P. Lovecraft that had been produced by the team that made the first season of True Detective.

     While it has not yet managed quite the intensity of TD, it comes as close as anything I've seen; like the American program, the characters are well-realized, full of very real-seeming conflict and contradiction.  The backstory plays out in a series of partial glimpses, a little more every episode, in a manner at once natural and unnerving.  Eight and a half episodes in, there's plenty of conflict but still no clear sense of who to cheer on and who to hiss at.

     I'm enjoying it.

     ETA, 12 hours later: so I got to the end of the episode and kinda got icked out a couple of times.  But I'm still watching.

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.