Monday, December 18, 2017

So, About That Family Christmas

     It was cancelled this year.  Without going into too much detail, I have an ex-brother-in-law out there; he has some health challenges and was in a pretty bad way last week.  By Friday, he was in the hospital, undergoing various tests while the doctors figured out what to do next.  Saturday was going to be the big holiday gathering here in Indianapolis, mostly his kids and their children; instead, they assembled sixty miles away at a county-seat general hospital with their father and did what they could -- mostly support him and one another emotionally

     Last word I had was that he was doing better and getting some short-term treatment with an eye towards longer-term fixes.  He was always a difficult man and he's having a difficult time of it these days; I can only hope things work out all right for him.

     Family Christmas can wait.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

5,800-Some Words

     And I'm maybe half-way through the middle.  I've got the ending written.  Now I have to get Sarah Jane from here to there, and she's headed that way.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Sending The Lodger For Coffee Is A Good Idea

     Left for work yesterday after writing a grocery list on the dry-erase board in the kitchen.  I figured I'd pick up most of it that evening.

     Tamara enjoys -- and I use the word loosely indeed -- the kind of highly variable paydays that make the life of a freelance writer so very interesting.  Some publications -- too few -- pay on the first and fifteenth, or every Friday, or on the last day of the month, just like clockwork.  Others pay on publication (and one includes a half-dozen free issues, in case your friends doubt that you're a real writer).  Most seem to pay on whim, randomly, and a few even demand to be invoiced separately.  I find that last approach petty and vexing -- the completed manuscript, with name, address and word count* is essentially product and invoice all in one and (IMO) decent publications pay from that.

     Put these two things together, add in that Tam is of a beneficent nature and the postman had that day brought happy correspondence with those wonderful words, "Pay to the order of...," and the result is that she did the grocery shopping.

     Our corner store has done some rearranging.  Bagged coffee, both beans and ground, used to share the same four-sided set of shelves next to the bulk coffee in open-top barrels;† now there are two smaller sets of shelves near opposite ends of the bulk barrels, one across an aisle in a sort of cul-de-sac.   Ground coffee lives one on set of shelves, beans in bags on the other, in about the same spot as all the packaged coffee in the previous layout.

     On the way home from work, I called to see if she needed anything from the store.  She told me the marketing was all done, and added, "The coffee area is all screwed up.  I couldn't find the kind you like."

     "They changed things around, I know where it is.  We've got enough for the morning anyway."

     "Oh, I bought coffee!  Did I ever.  They rang me up and the bill was way over what I expected for bacon, brie and coffee.  I looked at the receipt and the coffee was over thirty dollars for a bag.  We're going to be drinking the good stuff!"

     She'd bought Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee instead of the "Blue Mountain Blend" that sells for about the same as any other decent coffee and has a small amount of the good stuff in it.  Actual one-hundred percent Blue Mountain is the good stuff indeed, and costs like it, too.
* Yes, writing is piecework.  If you're writing something fixed-length, it may be a flat rate for X many column-inches or Y many words (with plus or minus ten percent leeway), but mostly writers are paid by the word.

† I rarely buy from those barrels.  Cute idea, but the lids aren't airtight and coffee beans lose flavor more quickly under those conditions.

Friday, December 15, 2017

The Interrupted Trash-Burglar

     Like many people past a certain age, I wake in the night.  Before returning to bed, I often have a look out the kitchen window and shine a flashlight across the yard and into the garage.  Ten years on, and I still don't entirely trust the automatic garage-door opener.  What if it gets some wild notion?

     It never has, but last night, the sweep of the light caught movement, a dog-sized shape headed around the big hackberry tree and into the well-lit area between the house and garage. It looked up and I saw the mask before the bulky body, small feet and bushy tail completed the picture: a fat racoon was headed purposefully towards the back door, intent on its errand.

     It stopped cold in the flashlight beam, then looked to one side in a way that seemed guilty.  Busted!  It turned around and trundled back the way it had come, waddling with embarrassed indignation.

     I have no idea what it was after.  Tam had wheeled the trash barrel to the curb out front after dinner and the local raccoons are still pretty good about staying out of trouble, so that's out unless it was en route to the front to check the weekly buffet.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Sinus Surgery: I'm Committed

     I'm also scared.  It had started to look as if sinus surgery wasn't going to happen; none of the parties involved wanted to talk about how much it was going to cost and the hospital was pushing me to get registered.  I don't like being chivvied along and I certainly wasn't going to write a blank check.

     The HR person at work finally got me in touch with the right department of our health insurance carrier and they ran through the worst-case numbers.  It would hurt if it goes that high, but it's within what I could manage and my deductible has already been passed this year (and will be higher in 2018).  So now-- next week, actually -- is the time.  They tell me I should be well-recovered by Christmas and back at work a day or two later.

     Now the trepidation.  The ENT will be straightening out my septum and clearing out the ethmoid (between the eyes), sphenoid (behind the eyes) and left maxillary sinuses.  The very last is the one kind of behind the cheekbone, where I have had so much trouble.  It seems pretty invasive and there's a lot of hardware that I depend on in that area.

     The flip side is that I wake myself up, snorking, when I fall asleep.  My nose is usually stopped up, or only running on one cylinder.  It squeaks in a strange way after I blow my nose and changes in air pressure are quite unpleasant.   My chronic headaches aren't getting any better.  This needs to be fixed.  I've been using the neti pot daily and it helps a little -- and suggests that repairs would be a definite improvement.

     Family Christmas first (this weekend!), and we're up to a full softball team of nieces and nephews.  I've got a stack of Dr. Seuss books to match up with the largest group, gift cards for the two oldest, and I need to check the supply of plush critters against the very youngest to see if they're all paired up.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Ralphie, Stuck To The Frozen Lamp-Post

     It appears politicians and their parties can't resist -- show them a dicey situation and they will go for it just like Jean Shepherd's little-boy character tempted to put his tongue on freezing-cold metal.  They know they shouldn't but they just can't refrain from making the exciting, bad choice.

    In 2016, the two big parties both ran candidates with huge negatives, leaving most voters having to choose between a vengeful shrew and a vindictive boor and the Democrats were shocked at the outcome; now the Alabama GOP, running against a pro-abortion Democrat, found themselves with a candidate with a history of imposing his own religion on government institutions and allegations of questionable behavior with young women in his past -- and they're surprised the Democrat won.

     Offer the people two plates of stuff they don't much like and they'll give you a close horse race for the least bad.  Don't try to play the innocent ingenue when the crap sandwich turns voter's stomachs -- and if you were on the side that didn't lose, don't go trumpeting around winning the "not quite as bad as the other one" prize as some kind of historic victory for Goodness And Light.  It wasn't, and next time around, it could be you refusing to make a gracious concession speech.

     And voters just keep kicking the can down the road, hoping for a better choice of creeps, crooks and loudmouths in the next election.  Yeah, well, people in Hell want ice water, too.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

A Visit With Mom

     It was unplanned but long overdue -- a couple of hours with my mother.  She had a doctor's appointment yesterday, and while her facility provides transport to and from, they don't have anyone to sit with the patient.

     My sister, retired and working part-time, usually meets Mom at the doctor's office.  She was working.  My oldest niece, a mother with two sons, often fills in.  She was busy.

     So I got the call.  I was working downtown and the office is on the far north side, right up by the county line.  The work location I call the "north campus" is up that way, too, and I had some work to do there, so I cleared it with my boss and headed toward the medical center with plenty of time.

     Or so I thought.  After following (at a distance) a dump truck full of gravel, I had a couple of miles of open road. Then a city bus that took a squealing left onto the road in front of me in the last seconds of a yellow light, and turned onto an street that angled away a few miles on.  There was still time, if I avoided school zones--  At the next four-way stop, a trash truck lumbered onto the road and crawled along for another couple of miles before taking the turnoff to a country club.

     Somehow I made it to the parking garage with five minutes to spare, got in the right elevator, and picked, on hope, the proper floor--

     The waiting room was huge and there were no familiar faces.  Then, light a ray of light through clouds, I saw her!  Mom's chair was rolled to the end of a row.  She was surprised to see me; there hadn't been time to tell her who would meet her at the office.  We had a nice chat and I went back to the exam room with her.

     Mom is doing well.  She had a number of interesting recent events and memories to share, and is looking forward to Christmas.

     Time well spent.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Still Working On That Story

     Fifteen pages and some 3500 words in, I have just about got Sarah Jane Lotsenheizer where she needs to be, and the plot is thickening.  Gosh, I hope it's not just cornstarch.

     I was working on the Hidden Frontier timeline yesterday -- it runs from the Sonora Aero Club in the 1850s through the present day and perhaps beyond.
     Some years are busier than others.  I may need to expand the scale through the core years, call it 1945 though 2016.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Apparently, "Domo Arigato" Is The Wrong Response

     Three seasons in and I'm still watching Mr. Robot.  I loathe the implied politics, the economics are risible, and the whole thing plays out as if Karl Marx and Noam Chomsky had done a screenplay for Atlas Shrugged -- but then Orson Welles produced and directed it with a modern crew shooting and editing.

     The storytelling is only approximately linear and you're left to pick up flashbacks from context (of which there is plenty); the viewpoint characters are not entirely reliable.  A lot of the story is filtered though the perceptions of central character Elliot Alderson, but just how much of what we see is happening only inside his head remains an open question after three seasons.

     A (so far) minor sub-plot concerns the annexation of "The Congo" by Communist China; just why has not been explained and only a suspicious reader of recent history (or inhabitants of Hiroshima and Nagasaki) is likely to recall that the Shinkolobwe mine is in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.*

     That's the sort of depth and detail that makes it worth watching.  The "hacking" scenes are at least well-advised, though I suspect dramatic necessity sometimes takes over from the dull detail -- but the social engineering aspects of hacking are well-explored, and lock-picking is taken as a given (there's a lot of crossover between hackers of all shades of hat, cryptographers and amateur locksmiths).  It's a William Gibson/Ayn Rand kind of fictional universe and the "anticapitalist"† tilt is just part of the tale.   Gritty, odd and occasionally cringeworthy while maintaining (and subverting) suspension of disbelief.  I have no idea where they're going with this but it's been worth the ride.
* The DRC has been about as beat up by history as any other place on the planet, provided the other place has had very hard times.  There are more French-speakers there than in France and over three-quarters of then are literate; the country is rich in natural resources from rubber trees to gold, diamonds and a host of other minerals and could generate enough power to transform the continent from a single hydroelectric project -- a project that seems to keep getting stalled.  Everyone from local slavers to King Leopold II of Belgium to their own government has abused the people and looted local sources of wealth, along with a succession of local wars continuing into this century; what could be one of the world's wealthiest nations is instead a country with less than a thousand miles of well-paved highway.  Of course, the show could be referring to the Republic of the Congo instead, which had a long history as a communist client state.  But there's a lot less there in the way of exploitable resources and none of it glows in the dark.

† It occurs to me, looking at the word just now, that the Federation of Concerned Spacemen, the shadowy non-government of the Far Edge, is "anticapitolist" in its implacable opposition to any governmental structure larger than the administration of a large city.  Make of that what you will -- changing a single vowel shifts the whole thing.

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Umami Soup

     Last night's dinner:
     Oxtail and beef shank. Leeks, turnip, mushrooms, carrot, celery, four small fresh tomatoes, and the stock is from last night, when I made cube steak with some "fajita mix" (onion and bell peppers),fresh mushrooms, canned mild chili peppers and diced tomato, and beef stock. That left plenty of stock and vegetables, which I added to the soup after the meat was cooked and vegetables were sauteed and I'd deglazed the pan with a dash of water added to what had cooked out of the ingredients. It's wonderfully rich -- the shank had a nice, big bone full of marrow and the oxtail adds all kinds of wonderfulness as it cooks down.

Friday, December 08, 2017

The Wisdom Of The Old

     I'm reading a recently-published Ursula K. LeGuin book (No Time To Spare: Thinking About What Matters), a collection of essays from her blog.*  It's interesting reading.  She and I are poles apart on many things, but closer than either of us might think at first.  The years have left her not exactly disillusioned, but well aware of the illusory nature of things -- especially politics.  I have always admired someone who could build her personal-ideal anarcosocialist utopia (The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia) and proceed to tell a story that poked holes in all the weak points,† and she remains as willing to examine what she perceives.  Our axioms differ and our lexicons are not entirely congruent, yet I find we agree on important things, central things: the need to treat people decently, to use the planet like it's the only habitable planet we have, and to have an eye to the long term.

     We're also both quite fond of cats.

     LeGuin identifies all capitalism as "growth capitalism," and is concerned that, like cancer, it requires endless growth to survive.  By her definition, she's right.  I'd point out that government efforts to regulate it, to channel it, have resulted in many of the deleterious effects she lays at its door: corporations are actively discouraged from looking much past quarters, or single years at best -- "What's good for General Motors is good for the county" once carried the implicit assumption that GM was in it for the long haul, century after century, in the kind of way that we now call "sustainable."  It no longer does, and has not for quite some time.  Other regulations encourage rent-seeking, regulatory capture and the use of regulations to stymie new entrants and thwart competitors.  And vast defense budgets ensure many corporations have a vested interest in war.  This does not strike me as a wise long-term strategy.

     A mess like that, is that "capitalism?"  Karl Marx said it was -- but he was defining an enemy.  When I go to a hamfest, a farmer's market, an antique mall, a gun show or the Feast Of The Hunter's Moon, what is that selling of things you've got plenty of for tokens that will let you buy what you need and want, if not capitalism?  And does it not manage to achieve an equitable -- or at least mutually-acceptable -- distribution of goods and services?  To limit "capitalism" to the goons of Wall Street, to a game best played by those with money to gamble that doesn't risk their physical survival, is to ignore all those regular people, getting by selling loose cigarettes for a penny profit each, selling excess honey from their backyard hive to buy Christmas presents (or, like my Mom, simply giving the honey as gifts -- how she missed her hive when she and Dad moved to a subdivision that was shocked, shocked at the notion of a tiny home apiary, and forced her to rehome it) and a jillion small businesses and minor exchanges.

     So, sure, I've got my disagreements with LeGuin -- and that makes her more worth reading, not less.  She's not a politician; she's not scoring points in some verbal game -- she's 88, what would she win? -- she actually thinks things through.  In a time of so much shouting and so little listening and thinking, it's a rarity.  A gem, a flower.  If for no other reason than to note points of difference and ponder how they might be reconciled or buffered, it is worthwhile reading.

     We're all in this together, all stuck on this same rock, at least for now.  There's a vast universe out there but as a species, we need to stick around here if we're ever going to get there.  Some of us have been around longer than others -- and some of those elders just may have have picked up a useful notion or two.
* A word she finds ugly but, uncharacteristically, does not know the derivation.  These odd combinations of op-ed page and public diary were once a collection of links and things one had found on the World Wide Web: a "web log."  We blog.

 † She goes after, and correctly for the purposes of story-telling, the functional weak points of Odonianism-as-practiced.  In hindsight, I think the world-building can be faulted for an excessive reliance on the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, a miscasting of mercantilism as capitalism and a fundamental misreading of the idea of property -- but as an example of world-building per se, it is among the best.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Oh, Gosh

     I was going to write something about the "recognition of Jerusalem" thing, given that headline-reductionism has sucked all of the nuance out of the story and left us with the usual partisan shouting-past-one-other, but my heart's just not in it.   It doesn't matter to the rock-throwers (figurative and literal) anyway.  Search engines are your friend; this specific issue has been going on for far longer than you might think and is likely to keep on getting kicked down the road, while the State Department shops for real estate.

     Take a little time today to be nice to someone.  Be polite to everyone you meet.  As individuals, we can't fix what's wrong in Washington, or the world; we can't even agree on what is wrong.  But we can smile at people, and be friendly, and not cut people off in traffic or flip them off when they cut us off.  We can make a small difference, and small differences add up.

     (Of course, as I write this, I have an obnoxious one-sided headache that has me as crabby as anything.  Essayist, start with thyself!)

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

...And Into The Difficult Middle

     The middle part of a story is usually the tricky bit -- trying to see how the characters and events line up to take them to the big scene, figuring out what you'd better go back and foreshadow before it shows up later.  Can Sarah Jane Lotzenheiser touch-type?  If a small herd of "mopers"* slows up the truckbus our heroine is riding to the big city and she shifts in her seat to make her sidearm easier to get at, are the big animals the point, or is it her 1911?  And why isn't she carrying it in some easier-to-reach way?  Are Edgers in the mid-1970s any more advanced in how they carry than their Earthbound counterparts?

     And so on.  I know how it starts.  I know how it ends.  Middles, there's the interesting part.
* Yeah, I heard of mopers, always moping about sad-faced....  But in this case, I refer to the animal, pilosispedes immanes macanally, a large, slow, shambling pseudo-ruminant native to Trinity's Other Continent.  The pilospedes fill most of the prey-animal niches on the O.C. and the things that hunt them, you would not want to meet.  Mopers dealt with this by becoming too big for most predators.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Woke Up With a Story Idea

     It's a kind of farmgirl noir, set on the Other Continent of the Edger planet Trinity (not First Continent, where the initial settlements where and most of the Troubles happened).  And it's got gangsters, and 1911s, and somebody shoots a few dimes right out of the air.

Monday, December 04, 2017

Off To The Dentist

     Oh, what fun.  I don't even remember what they're doing today -- some kind of filling.  I'm just grateful to have the teeth I have. 

     Later: the filling was fine but it triggered a whopper of a headache and I didn't have anything to buffer my ibuprofen with.  This led me to a hasty choice of fast-food lunch and....  Well, between that and the vitamin I, my headache stopped being a concern.  I'm going to call it a win.  Pyrrhic, perhaps, but a win nonetheless.

Sunday, December 03, 2017

"The Marvelous Who?"

    The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.  It's an Amazon TV series, set in late-1950s New York City -- or a kind of Technicolor version of it.  "Midge" Maisel has a perfect-looking life: two kids, lovely apartment, plenty of money, rising-young-executive husband who does standup comedy on the side -- until it all falls apart and she ends up behind the microphone, channeling a kind of Joan Rivers/Phyllis Diller vibe.  The whole thing is just a little bit bigger and better than life -- colors brighter, dialog snappier, issues more clearly drawn and all the characters just a bit more "there" than anyone ever is. 

     In look and feel, it's an edgier version of an old color Hollywood movie -- a good old Hollywood movie.  I keep expecting a street scene to turn into a musical number; not gonna happen, that's not where this bus is going.  Well worth watching, though language (and one short scene in the pilot) is occasionally not family-friendly.  The expectations that frame Midge's life -- family, home, marriage, success -- are very much the ones I grew up with decades later and half a continent away, cultural differences notwithstanding.  Some of the grumpier menfolk may find it a little bit too girl-power-y or overly glib; but it's worth looking at if you like pow-pow-pow sharp repartee, nicely-drawn characters and bit of escapism into a place that, for all the grit, is just a little more glittering than reality.

Saturday, December 02, 2017

Breakfast: Bowl

     Sausage, eggs, seven-grain mix and a small Vidalia onion, with some Cholula sauce.
     Breakfast! Or maybe brunch.

Friday, December 01, 2017

Friday Thoughts

     I'm a little burned out.  After a week of high-profile misbehavior* and medical adventure, there's either too little or too much to say.

     Sinus surgery is still up in the air, awaiting word from my insurer.  Like most people, my health insurance has been steadily costing more and doing less for the past thirty years.  My employer, a small and conservative firm, held on to conventional health insurance for years longer than most businesses of like size (and a stellar plan it was, too), and have been scrambling from one rat-bag PPO to another over the last decade or more, putting together the best deal they can manage.  It's still not terrible...except the pre-approval process is heavily biased towards "No" and deductibles are fulfilled on a per-procedure basis rather than being a simple sum of whatever you've had to spend on doctoring in any calendar year.  So they could decide the surgery isn't covered, or simply leave me with more of a bill than I can afford once the insurance portion is paid.  I won't know until they decide, and those wheels grind very slowly, especially around the holidays.

     --Holidays!  Look, I shouldn't snicker, but as one of the technical-type people who had had to work many holidays that my desk-bound peers enjoy at home, I did take some amusement when American Airlines slipped up and gave too many pilots off time for the holidays.  It's fun to own the race house; it's fun to manage the horse and rider.  But someone had to shovel out the stable and without them, the rest of the operations will be hip-deep in fertilizer.  Ayn Rand's memory is grinning like a Halloween pumpkin. 

     Rand?  She's become a curse word to the Left -- and even some of the Right.  Apparently, she "hated the poor" and thought only the rich were deserving.  This surprises me; no, it makes me wonder if the people spouting such notions even read the Cliff Notes for Atlas Shrugged.  --Fine, Rand herself was kind of mean and loved to push back against conventional platitudes, and a good many of her followers suffer from Great Leader Is Right In All Things syndrome, even when Great Leader has a taste for cheap, romantic, adventurous pulp fiction and a messy personal life.  But the good and bad guys in Atlas Shrugged don't sort neatly by income at all, and a recurring image contrasts a clean, airy, well-lit basement cafeteria used by ordinary railroad workers against a dark penthouse pseudo-dive enjoyed by the well-to-do -- well-to-do plotting villains, no less.  Representative examples of hoi polloi, academia, Old Money and the recently-rich all show up as both bold brave heroes and loathsome baddies, with a few ditherers caught in the middle and skewered for their indecision.  I'm not qualified to tell you how the book stands as literature, and as a political tract, it's an early example of the wish-fulfillment genre, not a blueprint for change; but what it doesn't do is hate on the poor and glorify their rich oppressors.  I'm reminded of the possibly apocryphal story of someone expressing surprise at finding W. C. Fields reading the Bible, to which he snarled, "I'm looking for loopholes!"  Similarly, some readers of Rand skim though, looking for the class war they expect to find -- and long for.

     Class war?  That brings me back to where I started: in each and every one of the reported instances of harassment or abuse, the common element is misuse of an imbalance of power by the powerful.  Hey, do you know how you get seething resentment against the people with money and power?  By them acting like jerks.  And that stuff rolls downhill; when J. P. Gotrocks treats his underlings like dirt or toys, how do you suppose they treat the people they can boss around?
* Weak, but when the behavior in question runs the gamut from a creep with a remote door lock whose reputed actions appear to my non-lawyer understanding to constitute rape to a couple of public figures on opposite ends on the political spectrum whose wandering hands may -- or may not -- be innocent, it's difficult to find a wide-enough term.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

"Creeper Culture"

     A precise label eludes me.  On the one hand, you've got TV talent with remote door locks, pervy doctors, and film directors or producers who have taken the "casting couch" cliche to boggling extremes; on the other, you have doddering, clumsy or juvenile types who sometimes put their hands where they oughtn't.

     Both are bad but surely there are different levels of badness, and different appropriate responses?  Often there is a drastic power imbalance inhibiting the right response to low-level creepering -- if your boss or a county judge pats your bottom, you're a lot less likely to give them hell (cold stare, shocked comment, a good slap) for it that you would a random guy in line at the five-and-dime; and once they've gotten away with the low-level stuff, some of  them don't stop there.

     In all the denouncing and firing, I notice a few who might've have been shoved towards proper decorum if they'd been backhanded by their chosen victims early and often; others seem, at least in hindsight, to have been utterly predatory, as set on their path as a shark. Many of the latter appear to have exercised a predator's judgment in their choice of prey, going after the weakest.

     Some kind of tipping-point has been passed; a series of high-profile arrests (Jerry Sandusky, Larry Nasser, Jared Fogle) may have been the earliest signs, followed by accusations against Bill Cosby and the UK's Jimmy Saville.  Or maybe we just passed some kind of "critical mass" of women in management -- nothing personal, guys, but I have been on the receiving end of too many "I'm sure he didn't mean it/he's just a diamond in the rough/think of the team" chats with managerial higher-ups, men who simply can't (or won't) conceive that such misbehavior was seriously meant.

     Things have changed.  It's too early to tell if this first big shift points to greater concern for such things in workplaces generally, or if it will trail off in tabloid-headline trivia.  I'd like to think the good old-fashioned withering glare, stern comment and stinging slap will stage a comeback in response to creepy comments, worrying situations and wandering hands.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

That Was Interesting

     Once the computers had decided my insurance card was okay -- don't ask me, it was perfectly good for my previous visit to the same doctor -- the Ear, Nose and Throat specialist was brisk: "I can't tell how you're pulling air through your nose at all, Ms. X."

     Some of my sinuses aren't there (the frontal sinus, roughly behind your eyebrows, develops as you grow, except sometimes it doesn't.  This is not uncommon).  The rest of them are either full or blocked.  The lovely labyrinth of passages you never notice unless you're outside on an extremely cold day and feel parts of it freeze together and unstick on every inhalation and exhalation?  Mine has a lot of dead ends.  My septum is curved to one side. 

     This does explain why I occasionally wake myself by snoring, not to mention the recurring sinus infections.  It may even help with my headaches and dizziness.

     Some of it -- most of it, I hope! -- can be ballooned clear, literally sneaking in with some kind of inflatable widget and opening things up.  Some of it may need whittled on.  Insurance permitting, I am scheduled for surgery on the 20th of December and should pretty good by the 25th.  The days in between don't sound like fun.

     Other than one ENT correcting an irritated nerve left by a previous surgery, this is the first time in my long history of sinus woes that a doctor has come in with definite problems and a plan to address them.  So I'm feeling hopeful.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

"Bzzz...This Is A Recording...Click...Beeep!"

     Yeah, yeah, Roberta X here, live and direct from last night, because today, I'm off early in the morning to see my Ear, Nose and Throat specialist, who is going to read the auguries of my sinuses to me -- and without even having to hack them free and lay them out on the table, which is a considerable improvement on the old Roman model.

     What do I expect?  Nothing.  I've danced this dance before and it has come up empty every time; but it has been more than fifteen years since the last round and who knows, maybe there's something to see or some improvement to be made.  It's highly unlikely either of those will be the case, so I'm not looking for anything more than a guided tour of my sinus cavities, led by an expert guide who has hunted many similar caverns and knows what to watch for. ("I'll remain here in the van while Jim ascends the nasal concha to search for the entrance to the frontal sinus and whatever strange creatures dwell within....")

Monday, November 27, 2017

The Country Is Still Purple

     Despite remarkably polarized rhetoric (and the usual conflicting characterizations of the President, who no one seems to remember is just the guy we hire to shake hands with kings, deal with high-level personnel and keep the various branches of the Armed Forces from excessive spatting), the country is still purple.

     Your neighbors are who they are and they're likely going to keep on being who they are, just as you will.  And those revealing purple maps?  That was originally invented as an exercise for a freshman programming course.  It's not rocket science: we live in a remarkably assorted nation and elections for political office are just one day.  How you get along with your neighbors for the other 364 matters quite a lot -- the guy next door doesn't run the economy any more than you, but he's a lot better situated to lend you a hand (and you to him) than anyone in Congress or your state legislature.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

So Early...!

     It was "so early" when I got up for work -- and somehow, it still feels way too early.  But it isn't.

Saturday, November 25, 2017


     Yes, I am here -- kind of caught in the gears of a transition between a late-evening shift and an early-morning shift.  Automation lets my employer do more -- a lot more -- with fewer people but the downside is that when someone is out on extended sick leave (the Ops side is down one) or vacation (one from Ops and two from Engineering), scheduling people to cover what needs covered gets complicated.  With three sets of schedules -- Engineering and IS now babysit one another's kittens -- under two supervisors and one foreman, who are not on the same shifts themselves, "complicated" may be an understatement.

     Could be worse -- maritime watchstanding schedules aim to screw over everyone equally while ensuring the ship gets looked after, and you end up with patterns that are far trickier to adjust to, especially if you don't start it young and fit.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Roseholme Thanksgiving Dinner

     The menu was a little less elaborate than it has been in past years; we're trying to eat in a healthy manner, even on "cheat" days.  Still, Tam and I did well:
Tamara Keel photo

     A small turducken roll (3.25 pounds of turkey, duck, chicken, andouille sausage and stuffing), mashed cauliflower with bacon gravy,* small green salads (and cornbread for me). Add beverage of choice and, if desired, eggnog for dessert.  It worked out well, I think, and didn't leave us too full to move afterward.
* Yes, bacon gravy.  Not too difficult to make, though it is easy to make too much roux and weaken the flavor if you don't watch yourself.  Bacon fat and flour to make a medium-dark roux, then you turn off the heat, stir in milk and water or (better) good stock, put the stove back to medium heat and cook until it thickens, with the heat off while the cooked bacon crumbled back in after the gravy is cooked and allowed to sit over a very low fire for at least five minutes for the flavor to "marry."  From starting the roux (sift small amounts of flour from your fingertips into the hot fat until there's enough -- remember, stirrer in the pan, not fingers!) to right before you crumble in the bacon, your stirrer never stops moving -- I use a small, plastic spatula.  Salt, pepper and so on as desired.

Thursday, November 23, 2017


     Thank you for being out there, and for reading and sometimes responding!

About That Rand Paul/Neighbor Thing

     GQ has a little more insight.  A little snarky near the end but the basic tale as they construe it rings pretty true to my ear.

     Tl;dr version is, "neighbor-type dispute over lawncare methods, between a couple of quirky guys."

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Day Before The Day

     Be careful out there, please?  Here in the Midwest, we've got a snoot-full of Winter, or as close as you can get without snow up to your tailbone.  Jack Frost has had a nip or two already; it's just freezing and while we'll claw up out of that today, we're not going to get far.

     Roads are already jammed, so mind how you go, as you head through the river and over the woods (oh, dear) for Grandmother's house.

     Here at Roseholme Cottage, Thanksgiving will be the usual quiet, gustatory event, with turducken and some kind of bacon gravy -- mashed cauliflower will likely replace the usual mashed tatties (despite my tears: I grew up thinking potatoes in every form were an essential nutrient and you'd probably fall ill if you didn't have them several days a week) and there may even be salad.  Possibly a libation or two.  What wine with turducken -- or do you take a small whiskey, instead, while hoping the patchwork beast doesn't break free of its restraints?

     I hope you and yours find many good things for which to be thankful.  As for me, it's the season of Holiday Specials and I'm off to a bit of a rehearsal today, with the real thing to follow come Friday.  I'll be thankful if we get through it with the minimum of fuss and bother.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

No. Just No.

     I dug around over at CNN this morning, looking for something to comment on.  It's just depressing.  I don't mind a deadlocked Congress or the Press yapping at the heels of the White House: all Presidents ought to be closely watched (alas, some are watched less by the mainstream media than others, but I'll take it when I can get it) and a Congress that can't get much done is a Congress that can't make things much worse: like Enrico Fermi, I have reached the conclusion that most political change is for the worst, no matter who's pushing it or how much I admire their intentions.

     But politicians are such children -- no better than their contemporaries in Hollywood, who they resemble more and more with every passing year. We're wired up to live in small groups, without a whole lot of socioeconomic distance between the fat cats on top and the losers who haul out their trash on the bottom; we're wired up to breed young, get the kids raised, and be out of the way as soon as the next generation doesn't need babysitters for their offspring.  We're wired up to live on fairly short rations and to hanker after the stuff that's not so easy to come by -- rich meat, salt, fats, sweets.  We get too much of the last four and almost none of the rest; most people go through life riled up about one part of the shortfall or another and never understand why.  It's why we get creepers, and envy, and all manner of abuses of power and such badness, and not a bit of it is quickly fixable if it can be fixed at all.

     But money and power are amplifiers.  If you're a little creepy or obnoxious at minimum wage, just wait 'til you're managing the fast food joint -- or when you own a whole string of them and wind up on the City Council.  A good many of the dull, boring, old-fashioned and/or arbitrary rules of society are roughly aimed at keeping our worst impulses in check (or, perhaps unfortunately, well-hidden) and when you throw off those "tired old strictures," you're damned unlikely to wind up building a paradise on Earth.  We're much better at building our own Hells and purgatories -- and we have.  This is a hell, at least, and some of the biggest demons are on campaign posters and in movie ads.

     And we don't even get a seat next to fire near Mark Twain. 

Monday, November 20, 2017


     I took another class at the Indiana Writers Center Saturday: "Finishing Your First Novel (and your second)."  Pretty good stuff, with due attention to plotting and structure.  I am hoping it will help get me off top dead center with Dropping In.  Presently warming up with a top-to-bottom rewrite of The Veteran, intended to move it from a detailed character sketch to more of an actual story.

     Time, as they say, will tell.  Plenty of people would like to write; some of them do write; some write pretty well.

     The same instructor taught a course on self-publishing, in the general Kindle Direct Publishing model.  He's making fair money at it, which is as good a recommendation as can be had.  The class will likely return next year and I'll be looking for it.

     The Writer's Center itself is moving, or at least its main classroom space (etc.) is moving.  While the occasional class sets up at charming Marian University, IWC has mostly been renting space at the Indianapolis Art Center, a 1934 WPA survival that outlasted its Federal funding by pluck, luck and the contributions of members to become a charitable foundation with its own splendid classrooms and gallery space...and is now so busy with its own work and so sought-after as an event venue that rents have gone up.  The new IWC location will be in a new artist's workspace opening up on downtown's Massachusetts Avenue, the Circle City Industrial Complex.  Seems to have a brewpub, which means there's a good chance of at least soft drinks and munchables -- possibly even coffee, which is sadly lacking at the present space, a smallish classroom/office building on the Art Center campus.  Alas, no longer a quick bicycle ride for me, but it will be well within motor-scooter distance.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

"...An Aerial Flood Watch..."

     When Alexa said it, I goggled.  An aerial flood?  Was I being gaslighted by a robot?  Were my radio antennas in danger?  Was the sky about to turn to water?

     The answers are, "Not exactly," "No," "No," and "No," and I should have Googled instead, but it wasn't great news.  The National Weather Service has issued something that is the approximate opposite of a Flash Flood Watch: an Areal Flood Watch, a sort of creeping, relentless rising of water than can follow prolonged heavy rain.  Ugly bureaucratese aside -- and what would  you call it, in the near Twitter-sized character allotment of a weather alert? -- it's accurate enough and we have certainly had rain enough.

     Today, all we get is cold.  And colder; when I awoke at 5:00 (not oh-dark-thirty but you can still see its fading tracks), Indianapolis was already as warm as we're going to get today: 38 degrees.  Winter is sneaking in.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Robotically Trucking Ourselves

     It's probably a good thing, and not nearly as icky as it looks.  It's almost certainly inevitable: robots are going to start doing more and more big-rig driving, especially on freeways, especially when conditions aren't challenging.

     The good news?  They don't fall asleep.  They aren't going to be texting or Facebooking on smartphones.  They won't even be yelling at one another on CB radios.

     The bad news is that they don't cope well with the unexpected.  So far, they don't like snow, rain can be problematic, and as for ice on the road, they have more trouble seeing it than you do.  They -- and more to the point, us, including the people who are testing them -- aren't hugely comfortable on busy city streets.

     But they are coming.  Listen -- my line of work once took a lot of people, mainly doing kind of dull jobs that occasionally got very busy but mostly consisted of setting things up ahead of time, pushing buttons on precise cues, and putting the material back into storage, over and over.  The busy times, each job ran very close to as much as one person can reliably do at one time.  Busy or slow, the work required attention at all times. Scheduling what happened when was a complex game, like three-dimensional Go.  And then, we got computers.  Scheduling got them first; you still needed a human to double-check and adjust, but a job that took five or six people eight hours now took one person (or two, if you needed to cover vacations and sick time).   And step by step, the computers started running more and more of the, well, drudge jobs.  The equipment changed.  The jobs for people changed.  One day, what used to take three or four people could be done by one person and multiple computers -- who still is, at the busiest times, doing as much as one average person can manage to do at one time.

     That's the model for trucking.  We're liable to have drivers behind the wheel for many more years -- but increasingly, they'll be managing the machines that will do most of the work instead of doing the work themselves.  Truck "trains" are a distinct possibility.  And the routine parts of the job where a human fails -- the long, dull stretches of highway -- will be handed off to a machine.  You can count on it.

     The question is, where does the human fit in?  Can one person behind the wheel of one truck manage multiple trucks?  (It certainly works on rails -- though there are usually two or three people, and the traffic and its management are an altogether different process.)

     Automatable jobs will be automated eventually.  Me, I moved to fixing the automatons

     The other side of this is what powers the trucks.  It's easy and fun to sneer at electric vehicles -- after all, the power plant is most likely to burn coal, hundreds of miles away from the vehicle itself.  The flip side is, it's a lot easier to hang a really effective muffler on one big coal-fired generating plant than on ten thousand scurrying cars and trucks.  Some heavily-used truck routes are looking into overhead catenary cables to power trucks, an ugly but very mature technology you can find running trains and buses in many cities, and a system that can pay off in states with restrictive emissions regulations for vehicles.  I think you can count on it.  (Personally, I've always liked Robert A. Heinlein's open linear induction motor truckways -- one of the better descriptions can be found in Starman Jones -- but they're inefficient and expensive.  On the other hand, they're a lot less ugly than overhead wires, which would help with NIMBY concerns.  On the other other hand, the infrastructure would be considerably more costly to build, even before you get around to putting truck-analogs on it.)

Friday, November 17, 2017

Continental Breakfast

     Juice, coffee, buttered rye toast, a few Castelvetrano olives, a couple of caperberries and sneering at politicians.  Could not just one of them be conducting a torrid, illicit affair with a grown-up adult-type person (and the two of them married, but not to one another), rather than leering after teenagers or immaturely groping sleeping women?

     A little bit of old-fashioned adultery -- emphasis on the "adult" -- would be a blamed relief.

     I kind of expect politicians to be creepy, lecherous, larcenous and two-faced, but I thought they were adults.  Wrong!

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Structural Failure, A Success Otherwise

     This morning's omelette was a disaster, if you measure success as turning out a perfect golden half-moon of egg mixture around a savory filling.  The blamed thing stuck and shredded when I folded it, then fell apart when I tried to flip it over a few minutes later.  There were Words.

     Taste without looking and it's a triumph: the eggs were beaten with smashed up Lavosh Seed Overload flatbread mixed with water; the filling is applewood-smoked bacon and sliced fresh mushrooms that I cooked in truffle butter.  It's gooooood!  Appearance bedamned.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017


     It looks as if there are a number of interesting pools I could leap into this morning -- a (so-far) bloodless revolution in Zimbabwe! Judge Roy Moore's alleged predilections! -- though at least one of them is actually a cesspit.

     The fact is that right now, Roy Moore is Alabama's problem and Alabama -- both the government and the citizens -- has demonstrated profoundly mixed feelings toward the man on issues far wider in scope than the current horrible ickiness: this is the fellow who famously hung up a copy of the Ten Commandments in his courtroom.  That could be unremarkable; you'll find Moses holding a couple tablets in a sculptural grouping over  the back entrance to the U. S. Supreme Court building where he's hanging out with Confucius and Solon, and inside the courtroom in a frieze with the likes of Hammurabi, Mohammad, King John(!), Solomon and Napoleon. Nope, it was Judge Moore himself who made the Commandments a problem, by specifically stating he had a religious purpose in posting them.   This was not unpopular with the voting public; he rode the publicity to the office of Chief Justice of the state's top court and installed a much larger version of the Commandments in the court's rotunda, in granite.  This, coupled with his public statements, roused the ire of ACLU and others and resulted in further legal action culminated by the removal of the monument and, eventually, Judge Moore -- who then managed a comeback via the ballot box! And then got crosswise again over an issue of judicial authority in a controversial matter and was, once again, removed from office.  Yet it's a creepy habit of getting involved with High School girls that is the big issue with this guy?  There are lots of folks still saying, "Better him than a Democrat."  Personally, were I an Alabamian, I'd even take a flippin' Communist instead, if the commie understood and followed the laws of the state and the nation, pledged to do an honest job of representing his constituents and didn't cheat.  In fact, Judge Moore himself was a Democrat until 1990 and you still don't see a whole lot of communism among Alabama Democrats.

     And speaking of commies...!  Too soon to tell if Robert Mugabe's actually on the outs in Zimbabwe or if the government there will see much change, but one can hope.  They'd've been better off with an honest commie, too, instead of the crappy strongman socialism that has impoverished and starved a country that used to export food.  It's too much to expect that the government will dip much of a toe in democracy, but if ever a place was ripe for it, Zimbabwe is.  It's about time the people there got a break.  Will they?  If past history of even freely-voting people is any guide (see above), they will not; they will opt for more of the devil they know.  Still, sometimes you flip a coin and it stands on the edge.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017


     I'm taking a few days off -- well, they're making me take a few days off; I had deferred some vacation time earlier in the year and it's not as simple as "use it or lose it;" it cannot be carried over and we are required to use it.*  So here I am.  I'll have to work a half-day tomorrow (a thing that can't be rescheduled) but the rest of the week is free time!  I'll be able to stay off my bad knee and work on getting better.

     Celebrating with a nice bowl of sausage, fried potatoes and mushrooms plus scrambled eggs.
* Vacation and sick leave polices at my workplace are byzantine and I'd say they border on punitive, except I have worked many jobs where there was no such thing as "paid sick time:" if you were too sick to work, you didn't get paid.  Compared to that, five paid sick days a year and a requirement to burn vacation days for any extended medical absence past that point plus three-quarter pay for really long medical leave is actually pretty decent. And individual sick days once you're over the limit can be taken as unpaid leave or vacation, which I think is fair.

Monday, November 13, 2017

...But My Rights...!

     Imagine the howl and outcry if you had to show ID, fill out a Form 4473 and wait for the FBI background check to be completed before you could join a church (or start one), buy a book, write for a newspaper, or vote.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

As Expected

     Yesterday, I had to take care of the fallen leaves.  My knee has been acting up. but Tam's got a torn intercostal, and is working a lot, so it was my job.

     The new electric lawnmower has a bagging attachment and does a pretty good job.  The lawn needed mowing anyway, and so -- I mowed 'em.  Filled three big leaf bags (all I had) and got all of the front yard and about a third of the back.

     Didn't do my knee any good at all.  It started to hurt and was hot by bedtime.  I slept with a cold pack on it -- heck of a thing, thin sweat pants, cold pack over that, a hand towel wrapped over that and an electric blanket over all of me -- but it is worse this morning.  I'm off to soak in the tub, then try to get some things done.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Armistice On The Hidden Frontier

     The Agreement of 1989 ended the war between the Federation of Concerned Spacemen -- the non-government of the Far Edge -- and the U.S. plus selected NATO members. But it almost did more than that--

     There's a new story -- more a vignette, really -- at I Work On A Starship!

Armistice Day/Veterans Day

     Let's talk about people -- starting with the people who, 99 years ago this day, managed to put an end to the First World War and who thought they were going to be able to fix the peace in place, like a beautiful moth on a collector's display.  It didn't work.  With the war over, six months of peace negotiations were entered into with the highest of hopes -- the first three of Wilson's Fourteen Points are a libertarian dream -- and the parties built a peaceful Europe that carried the seeds of its own destruction.

     But they had hope.  The weary soldiers had hope -- and for nearly eleven years, that hope soared.  Don't lose sight of that.  People fail; our institutions fail on a grand scale -- but we get up and try again.

     As time -- and wars -- have passed and piled up, the focus of this day has shifted, from the agreement that ended the War To End All Wars, from politicians and their fine words to the people who have fought all wars and the peace in between: the veterans.

     You can, I suppose, look at the sidewalk and mumble, "Than kew for y'service," like you were tipping a waiter.  A little recognition is better than none.  But better yet, make eye contact, listen -- maybe the veterans you know spent four years, or twenty, as a glorified filing clerk in uniform; maybe they did brave or dangerous things.  They served.  Lend them your attention for even a little time.

     I have worked with a guy who did comms on a big SAC airplane, with an African-American commercial artist who would smile sadly and look off in the distance when his service in WW II was mentioned, with Army, Marine and USAF vets who fought in Vietnam; with a man the army spent a few months teaching high-speed Morse Code and then sent off to radio in radar plots to fighter bases in the Pacific -- by voice.  I had an Uncle who served on a tiny Naval patrol craft in the Med (that once bumped into an Italian submarine with a crew bound and determined to surrender and figured a Chief Petty Officer was as good for that as anyone), a brother who served as a chaplain in the Middle East and a great, great grandfather who got through Army training, was kicked on a hip by mule en route to his first assignment, and sent home after (mostly) recovering.  They all stepped up.  They all had hopes -- and put themselves at risk to preserve them, and yours as well.  Thank them and know who you are thanking, and why.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Jack Woodford On Writing

     Jack Woodford was the pen name of a prolific writer of fiction and film scripts.  His fiction, I'm told, was largely ephemeral, what might be called "airport books" today.  But he also wrote several books on how to write, and they are highly regarded.

    Robert A. Heinlein found Woodford's Trial And Error of use.  An expanded version is available from Amazon as Write And Error.  I'm reading it now, and it is indeed full of good and useful advice.  Some of the information on markets is out of date; there's barely any market for short fiction these days and unless you are really amazingly extra-special or well-known -- or better, both -- it's no way to make money, but that's just one aspect of a multi-faceted book.  If you write or would like to, it's worth your time.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

A Story About Crutches

     In response to my recent report of trouble with my poor, abused right knee, one piece of online advice was "get a cane."

     Get?  I've owned a cane since the late stages of my recovery from the 2006 motor scooter wreck* that damaged my right knee (and broke the thighbone, an ugly spiral fracture).  And a knee brace, and the crutches I used and came to loathe for months before (and then a little while after -- my immune system took issue with the plate and screws used to hold things together while the bone healed, so I had to go back in and have all the metal bits taken out).

     Loathe?  Oh, yes.  Crutches and canes are perverse, annoying things.  Other than the four-footed cane -- with its own problems -- they won't stand up on their own and yet if you need them, you're probably not in shape to bend or kneel and pick them up.  They get caught on things.  There's rarely a good place to put them when you don't need them.  Driving, dining, desk work -- it's all made more difficult by having to mange those blamed sticks.  But try to cross a room without them, and--  So you come to resent the darned things.

     Decades ago, I worked with a man who'd suffered polio in early childhood, well after the vaccine was available but before he'd received it.  It got his legs and left them weak and spindly.  He had braces, but still needed "elbow crutches" to get around -- the kind with a loose cuff for the upper arm and a grab handle that sticks out at ninety degrees, about as small and light and "convenient" as crutches ever get.  They're tricky to use, which is why hospitals send you home with old A-frame full-height crutches, but if you're a long-term user, the smaller ones are better.

     He hated them.  He was a big, muscular guy of Scots-Irish ancestry, with a bushy blond beard and a volcanic temper.  A good man, good at his job, but perpetually short-fused and never more so than at the frustrating behavior of his crutches, always in the way, often out of reach, and when stowed, occasionally falling over unexpectedly.  A storm of profanity would follow, often accompanied by a door slamming and the thumps and clicks of a man moving rapidly on crutches.

     Time passed and he was offered a better job in a distant state.  It was a big step up and he went for it.  That meant finding a new doctor in his new city--

     About a year later, he showed up at the business where we'd worked for a visit -- walked right in the front door, all smiles.  Walked in!  He had been going to his family doctor for years, keeping the same hardware he'd used in High School; his new physician had taken one look at his old braces and half-crutches and sent him to a specialist.  The state of the art had advanced considerably, and before he knew it, he was up on his own two feet (with a little technological assistance) and shopping for a tasteful cane for occasional use.

     Hearing his tale that day, seeing the light in his eyes and the persistence of what had been a rare and fleeting smile, I thought I knew how frustrated he must have been before.  Twenty-five years later, I broke my right knee badly enough to put myself on crutches (and in a knee brace) for six months -- and only then did I begin to have a glimmering of how he must have felt.

     I own a cane.  I keep it in my car (and there's a backup stashed in the garage) so that I can always get it no matter where I am.  I've been using my cane this week.  I don't much like it -- but there's way worse and I'd like to avoid that as long as I can.
* A wreck, mind you, for which I have no one to blame but myself.  I'd owned the scooter for a couple of weeks and had commuted to work on it.  I was on standby for the ABATE Rider's Course. Went out to pick up lunch and on the way back to work, got the shifter stuck between gears on a bumpy stretch of road.  Fought it back into gear with the throttle open, hit a bump, got the front wheel briefly up and came back down turned to one side.  Loss of control was immediate and irreversible and as the scooter wobbled, I stuck out a foot.  It went road, sky,  road, sky and then I was on my back in the road, a little way from my scooter, which was on its side and idling.  I tried to get up, felt blinding pain, wormed over to the scooter and turned it off.  This was right outside work; coworkers came out, called an ambulance, and some of them were walking my scooter off to the building by the time the ambulance arrived.  The ER was sure I just had a bad sprain, so I lay there on a gurney and ate my lunch.  I was just finishing when the X-rays came back: "Okay, looks like you do have a broken leg.  You'll be going into surgery in a few hours-- hey, is that corned beef?"  It was, and I was off the surgery list and off food until the next morning.  That evening my cellphone rang: "Miss X?  We have an opening for the ABATE class this weekend...."  I replied, "How do you feel about irony?"  Turned out they weren't so keen on it.  Six months later, I took the class. 

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Stupid Trick Knee Tricks

     My right knee is not happy.  Sleeping with a nice sealed cold pack on it helped -- the swelling is way down and it is not as painful -- but it still hurts plenty.

     Sunday, Tam and I walked about two-thirds of the width of the State Fairgrounds and back again, with the slow Gun Show Shuffle through the Indy 1500 in between.  It was a nice show, nice they way they often are when I go without any fun money to spend, and the elfin young woman who has taken over the knife-sharpening work at these shows did a wonderful job with my Japanese carpenter's knife.  But the hard-floor slow walk at these events is always rough on my bad knee and the long walk before and after does not appear to have helped.

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

That's It, I'm Officially Over With This Day

     Not, mind you, that it is unlikely to get worse.  But I'm not endorsing any of this day as it has gone so far, a farrago of small frustrations from having so much going on at breakfast that I failed to preload the thermal carafe with hot water and then melted a notch in the handle of one of my good spatulas by using it, propped up on the edge of the skillet, to try to keep a breakfast wrap for Tamara from unrolling.

     My own breakfast was cold by the time I got to it and as I sat down at my desk to eat, Tam's cat began to throw up on my bed, where I had left the covers thrown back.  Tam was kind enough to deal with that...but once her effort was underway, the cat walked down the hallway and horked just outside the door to the office and that was clearly my job.

     Tempers are now short all over (including the cat, who is not at all happy about her tummy) and thus prepared, I sat down to write.  Maybe it helps to talk about it.

     Update: By the time I got to work, my right knee, which was hurting a little yesterday, had started to swell and hurt like the dickens.  Hurts worse if bent.  After an hour, I fetched my cane and avoided walking as much as I could.  It still hurts.  I'm going to try an icepack.

Monday, November 06, 2017

Unfitting The Narrative

   --And yet impossible to ignore.  Sunday, a cowardly and evil man shot worshipers in a church in Texas; when he emerged from the building (and here's the money quote): 
A man who lives next door to the church grabbed his own rifle and engaged the suspect[...]. The gunman dropped his "Ruger AR assault-type rifle" and fled.
     Yeah.  This is the usual behavior for this kind of murderer: confronted with effective opposition, they flake out.

     I expect this story to drop out of sight quickly, or to be accompanied by a lot of pushing for "gun control;" but it was Texas state law forbidding firearms in churches that gave the killer a sanctuary full of unarmed victims, and* the Texan gun culture that meant an armed citizen was able to respond in an effective and timely manner.

     At least for now, the oldstream media has to sit up, swallow their bubblegum and report the facts: to stop a spree killer, you need a citizen with a gun.  And it doesn't make a bit of difference if that citizen has a spiffy uniform, a badge and the sanction of government or not.  I'm only sorry the killer wasn't stopped more quickly, by one of his intended victims.
* Not so!  This was true until 2015, when the law was changed; since then churches must post specific signage forbidding the carriage of firearms openly and/or concealed, or it is allowed.

Sunday, November 05, 2017

Heinlein Wanders In...

     Not the man himself, of course, or his shade, either; but I became curious about a book of essays to which had contributed,* and looked it up in the massive two-volume biography by William H. Patterson, Jr.,† which lead to reading around in the book (I am bad for following footnotes backwards into the text, in a "Hunh!  What prompted that?" sort of way).  Heinlein's an interesting writer and an interesting man, never terribly comfortable with his public image and rarely in as good health as he liked to have people think.
     Love him or loathe him, his influence looms large (and somewhat misunderstood) over SF, which he helped legitimize as literature while writing for a living and without even a hint of an MFA degree.
 * I could swear he also contributed to a book on writing SF in the later 1940s or early '50s, which I located years ago at what was, at the time, a ruinous price; but I can't run the title to earth and it was about three desktop computers ago.

Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialog With His Century, a marvelous and very readable effort, for which Patterson's reward was to unexpectedly fall ill and die.  This is the kind of thing that leads to nihilism in the survivors.

Saturday, November 04, 2017

Lazy Day

     I admit it -- I have done nothing today.  Nine and a half hours at the thing yesterday, followed by an end-of-the-week dinner at A Real Grown-Up Restaurant left me all wrung out.  Slept eight and a half hours, made a very small breakfast, and have wandered the house ever since, midly dazed.

     Huck the cat and I played "chase and be chased" (you take turns; most cats will play this game) for awhile about noon and that's been the extent of my exertions so far.

Friday, November 03, 2017

Yearly Engineering Conference

     Today, I'll be going to a statewide Engineering Conference on the kind of engineering for which I am a technician -- and if you think that's confusing, ponder that most of the Chief Engineers (it says so right on their door) who will be there aren't officially "Engineers" in the hang-out-a-shingle legal sense, either.  About half of them have some form of EE degree, maybe more than half, but it's not a line of work where regular big boss engineers need to be Certified Professional Engineers, so they're not.  They hire 'em for projects when needed, and if a CPE is not needed (or if there is any sort of heavy lifting), you get soldering-iron jockeys like me.

    And tomorrow, the whole lot of us -- techs and Chiefs and Assistant Chiefs, plus the occasional CPE (usually teaching the rest of us) get to go hang out, learn stuff, attend a big rubber-chicken lunch and awards ceremony with non-technical people in our business, and then go learn more stuff while trying not to fall asleep.

     It'll be fun.

Thursday, November 02, 2017

First Of The Month, End Of The Week

     Hooray!  It's bill-paying time!  At least I can pay the recurring utility and house-payment bills; the days of deciding who gets a wave-off until the disconnect notices arrive are behind me, at least for now.  You never forget those times if you've been through them, and not having to play Stupid Deadline Tricks is a relief.

     My Poetic License is up for renewal, too, and I let a good magazine subscription slide that I shouldn't.

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Now It Can Be Told

     Finally warm!  The weather turned cold last week and the furnace at Roseholme Cottage needed to be checked out -- but our service guys were booked solid 'til Halloween.

    We dug up a 750 W (on low) forced-air space heater and kept the house at 58 (with occasional dips to 57 and that last degree is brutal), and a little warmer in whichever of three rooms in the back of the house it was aimed at.  Between it, electric blankets, comforters and cats, we did okay.  I simmered big pots of stew over the weekend, which kept the kitchen nice.  (When I moved in, I added two new electrical circuits, one for the washroom and one for my bedroom.  That's two dedicated circuits for just this kind of use.  The washroom opens off the middle of the hall, so the heater sat just outside the door and I did without a blowdryer.)

     Still, it was not entirely comfortable.  When Tam called me Tuesday afternoon to report the central heating was back, I was greatly relieved.  68 degrees F is wonderful!

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Conspiracy Klutzes

     I have said it before: I do not so much mind the notion that some secret cabal or camarilla is running the world from their secret headquarters in Zurich or Duluth.

     What I mind is that they do such a lousy job of it.  If the Hidden Rulers Of Everything were even a little bit on the ball, there'd be intercontinental ballistic passenger rockets, robot valets and a luxury hotel on the Moon -- with, of course, a totally secret members-only club where the HROE could hang out, paneled in Lunar diamonds and the scalps of their enemies.  For their convenience, there'd be air-droppable, solar-powered cellular telephone hubs (tapped, of course, by the HROE) and scalable, air-droppable power plants in both atomic and solar, with a sideline in wind and ocean-thermal versions, all built under patents the HROE control, in HROE-owned factories.  They'd desalinate seawater and (being greedy plutocrats) sell it to the thirsty at prices that'd keep them alive to come back to buy more, day after day after day.

     But they don't.  We have none of these things  -- and neither do they.  If there are secret rulers of the world, they're idiots.  Clods.  They could be plundering an entire solar system and living off the fat of the land behind high walls, supporting bread, circuses and streetcar lines to placate the masses out of petty cash.

     We need a better line of hidden despots.  The ones we have -- if we do -- suck at the job. They sow only panic and reap only famine, poverty and failure.  I'm starting to think they just might be imaginary.

Monday, October 30, 2017

The Good Old American Jury-Rig?

     A good many Americans pride themselves on their ability to make do -- even if you have to come up with a terrible kludge, you go ahead and get the job done, right?  And it's as American as apple pie!  We're can-do people!

     Except, you see, while we're good at that, darned good at it, so are a lot of other people.  Oh, it's not quite the same.  Every culture has its own flavor, and yet it's always a similar dish.  Our linguistic neighbors, the Brits, just bodge something together and muddle through; over in India, the quick fix or improvised solution is a jugaad, and they're so good at it that there's an entire class of junk-based utility vehicles and a management technique both known as jugaad. The French put on their thinking caps and apply "System D," and hack not just technological systems but socioeconomic ones was well.  The Germans have "Trick 17" and the frugal German-speakers in Switzerland have saved up and made it "Trick 77," while the Finns think "Trick 3" is handier.

     And so on.  The human race is a clever bunch -- and one of the things we're most clever about is getting by.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Mission To Zyxx? Yes!

     I'm three episodes in.  It's an interesting podcast -- improv science-fiction comedy, with a basic setup that's been done just about often enough to make a good foundation for comedy: the evil Galactic Monarchy has been overthrown by the way less-evil Federated Alliance -- or is it the Allied Federation? -- in what is totally not a lateral move.  They're sending diplomatic missions everywhere and scraping the bottom of the barrel for diplomats.  The Zyxx region has probably not been a very safe place to send ambassadors, at least none of them have ever been heard from again, and now a very assorted and perhaps less-than-qualified crew is being sent there to try again....

     Not for the kids.  Clever and funny.  Mission To Zyxx.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

It's A Chilly Morning

     I had a left-over potato, evicted from the beef stew last night on account of carbs -- wait, beef stew?  Yes, this:
      Beef stew with oxtail, beef shank, Italian sausage and stew beef, along with a couple of nice fat turnips, carrots, celery, onion, a few cherry tomatoes, some fresh mushrooms and a very little banana pepper for zing.  A store-bought crusty roll on the side.

     But back to breakfast: here's this huge baking potato that needs to be used or towed out to sea and sunk, and wouldn't that be a waste?

     Also, it's kind of cold in the house, what with the change in the weather, cheapskate landlady and all.

     So: four slices of bacon, anointed with smoked Spanish paprika and rubbed sage, fried.

     One double-fist-sized baking potato, sliced very thin and fried in a mixture of paprika-sage bacon fat, garlic-ginger stir-fry oil and tasty olive oil, with some "bread-dipping" Mediterranean spice mix dusted over.  Even with a 16" skillet, this takes time -- and warms the place up.

     A few cherry tomatoes, split and fried and eggs to match, and there you have it: Serious Breakfast!  Tamara even declared a "cheat day" and had six or seven (this is cheating?) chips.  There'd be photos but it didn't last all that long.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Sometimes You're Just Mommy (And Don't Realize It)

     Even without children, even no more domestic than I am--

     I was rattling around the kitchen last night, irked and short-tempered;  Tam and I had planned on going somewhere for dinner but it has dawned on the tower crew that there is very bad weather incoming (possibly as early as noon today) and they worked aloft until sundown and chased the very tail end of civil twilight out the gate; so I got home late, having stopped at the corner grocer on the way home and stocked up for dinner and the next morning's breakfast, or so I had thought.

     In the freezer, there was a little left-over beef stew and I thought I had a can of relatively low-carb French Country Vegetable Soup to eke it out, but no, what I had was Beef And Barley (ironically, lower in carbs) and it simply wouldn't do.

     Tam was conciliatory: "Look, there's enough there for one.  You have that, and I'll fend for myself."

     I was still annoyed.  She's been away the better part of a month and it turns out a big part of my self-image is being able to, you know, feed the various creatures under my roof: cats, Tamaras, and so on.  Cooking and serving a meal is soothing.  Not being able to, even when the "cooking" is no more than reheating leftovers and opening a can is frustrating.

     Having the cats come to me to be served breakfast (they're quite insistent) and snuggle up to me whenever I relax is soothing, too.  I'm definitely a "mommy" to the cats.

     I made an omelette this morning.  "Sweet" Italian sausage, mushrooms, a Poblano pepper, a few Kalamata olives and some Manchego cheese. Tam was just retreating to her couch as I was getting up (a night-owl to begin with, she's been out West and hasn't readjusted to Eastern time), but she said she'd be up for breakfast, so I've saved her a portion.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Too Much To Do

     Didn't get any really good pictures yesterday.  Today, I have another CAT scan early in the morning, followed by a busy day, so, well, I'll try to post something interesting tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

In Haste

     Much to do this morning.  I'll see about taking some pictures.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Yes, It's Fall

     Cold and wet, as Indiana sometimes is at this time of year, but I can at least hope the pollen and other allergy-inducing this will be greatly reduced.  The amaryllis has come inside for the year, to spend the cold months in the basement (and will need to be trimmed back) and if things dry up again by the weekend, it will be time to return to gathering up the leaves.

     And I still need to buy Halloween candy! Time not only flies, it's supersonic.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Autumn Is Here

     Overnight, it turned chilly, rainy and gray outside.  Well, not quite gray yet; that will have to wait on the sunrise in a half-hour or so.

     I'm still kind of yeechy with back pain and on tenterhooks for worse.  Still, I will take this constant and relatively low-level pain (along with waking frequently because of drinking a lot of fluids) over the far worse alternative.  Back to the doctor later today and I'll see what she has to say.

     The weather is probably going to interfere with the outside work I have been supervising (for very low levels of supervision).  Where to report today -- the main facility or the usually unstaffed North Campus -- remains an open question and probably will until I hear from the workers.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Well, That Went Well

     Wait, it didn't.  A lot of hurting and drinking of water and so on.  But I have stuff to do that I didn't get done yesterday  and it needs to be done today.

Saturday, October 21, 2017


     My back hurts (kidney stones).  My head hurts.  I had big plans but I'm going back to bed.

     --I have figured out that "classic" Far Edge starships (1950 through 1980 or so) look like a cross between submarines and Rocky Jones spaceships on the inside.

Friday, October 20, 2017

"Gentlemen Do Not Read One Another's Mail:" A Biography

     Like hell they don't, when the "gentlemen" involved are the governments of countries--

     But they didn't use to, or not much, for the very simple reason that they were rarely able to get at one another's mail.  Letters in a courier's pouch, slips of paper carried by a pigeon: needles in a haystack and worse, they're extraordinarily difficult to intercept without revealing that they have been intercepted.  Technology began to change that.  Wired telegraphy is difficult (but not impossible) to tap with 19th-Century technology but it is inherently insecure; operators can be bribed, trash rifled through for carelessly discarded messages, sharp eyes and ears in the office can read messages from the wire as easily as reading over someone's shoulder....  And then came radio, nearly as open as shouting from the rooftops: suddenly, the "gentlemen" might as well be throwing their letters through each other's transoms!* 

     They were not, however, writing them in plain text.  Codes and ciphers were the thing, and so was decoding them, or trying to.

     In the First World War, the United States barely had a cryptological effort.  The military did what they could, eventually resulting in Herbert O.Yardley's "Black Chamber," MI-8, but well before he was up and running, they had to turn to civilian help.  (I will note Yardley was a Hoosier.  This may be significant.)

     Enter Riverbank Laboratories (still around today: same location, but they pursued another of the lab's interests.  And the original building would hardly be out of place in a spy film!).  Enter eccentric millionaire George Fabyan, his eccentric (but by no means unshared) belief that Francis Bacon was the real author of Shakespeare's works, and the eccentric theory that this information was somehow encrypted in the earliest printed versions of Shakespeare.  And to decode that, a millionaire needs a staff of cryptologists working in his private labs on his private estate.

     It's a story right out of a--  I was going to write, "pulp magazine," but it's too wild for that.   It's straight out a dime novel.  Picture an estate sprawling along and across the Fox River near Geneva, Illinois, complete with a home remodeled by Frank Lloyd Wright, a Dutch windmill grinding grain, a private zoo, a Japanese garden, a Roman swimming pool on a island in the river; picture over a hundred people working on various projects that had struck Fabyan's fancy, from acoustical levitation to improved grains, from trench design to cast-concrete art.  Picture it not in a book or film, but in real life.

     Bacon having written Shakespeare was a bust; the "biliteral code" theorist on Fabyan's payroll was, it seems, self-deceived.  But the cryptology effort had attracted other talented people and among them were geneticist William F. Friedman and Elizebeth (yes, with three e's) Smith, the latter of Huntington, Indiana.†  When WW I --The Great War -- began roaring through Europe, the government turned to Colonel Fabyan.  Fabyan turned to his staff; specifically, to Smith and Friedman.

     Smith was the scholar of language, Friedman the analyst -- but between them, technique and skills developed rapidly; before the war was over, they had not only decoded huge numbers of messages but written a series of booklets that still comprise an introductory course to cryptanalysis, a science they named and were instrumental in developing.

     As inevitably as in, well, a dime novel, the two fell in love and married--  And after the Great War ended, they fled Riverbank: Fabyan was still an eccentric millionaire, with all that entails, and had been intercepting Washington's job offers to the two of them for quite some time.

     The two of them went from strength to strength and adventure to adventure after that -- helping to catch rumrunners, aiding in the efforts to crack Japanese codes, and so on.  I'm in the midst of reading a fascinating biography of Elizebeth Smith Friedman, and it's still the stuff of spy novels -- only better.  It happened; she and William really did these things.
* I'm not going to explain what a "transom" is.  I have lived in a building that had transoms, and they can be a very great relief in summer's heat and winter's stuffiness, a lost grace note. Unless you have neighbors who frequently cook cabbage.

† I keep running into Hoosier cryptologists and spies. Are we a state of geeky romantics?  And is it related to why are there so many Hoosier comedians, as well?

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Putting A Name To Discomfort

     So, I have had some symptoms recently that didn't entirely add up -- pain here, discomfort there, fatigue (Imagine!  After a week of shift work) and so on and so forth.  It seemed vaguely familiar, but what...?  Went to the doctor, who called for a few tests, and she suspects I have another kidney stone.

     Imaging this afternoon (insurance permitting) to make sure. In the meantime--

     In the meantime, it's like walking around with a ticking time bomb.  These things can produce excruciating pain, depending on where they land in your plumbing, and they do so with little warning.  I figure I might as well go to work, where there's a good chance the floor I curl up on will be carpeted and there are plenty of people around who know the number for 911.  The long drive between downtown and the imaging place is a worry, but there are places to stop all along the way.

     We'll see.  I slept fifteen hours, which may've helped with the fatigue.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

When You Wake In The Night

     Or when I wake in the night, at least, there's a pretty good chance it's because a calf cramp is coming on.

     I'm usually a bit fuzzy and I lay there, trying to remember: which way should I move my foot?  One direction will forestall or at least reduce the pain; the other will make it far worse, and the clock is ticking.  Any second, the cramp will spasm and then it will be too late.

     This week, I have been walking considerably more than usual, since I don't want to park my car where globs of thick, dark-colored grease will fall on it from a great height. Yesterday evening, feeling spry, I added to the total with a brisk walk down the Monon for a snack.  Three times last night, incipient cramps woke me.  Each time, I was just a little late remembering to move my foot so as to stretch the muscles of my calf ahead of the cramp.  After the second one, I put the heating pad under my calves and went back to sleep.

     Gentle stretching exercises are the order of the day.