Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Cool Air: $2600

     The A-coil in the air-conditioning system here at Roseholme Cottage has had a slow leak for at least three years now.  Each spring, that has caused it to super-cool, freeze up and it has taken an expensive topping-up to get it running again.

     It happened this Spring.  It also happened yesterday.  This morning, we had the HVAC tech out and he say's it's the A-coil, the one that lives in the ductwork above the furnace and chills the air.  Good news and not: you can still get them.  You can still get the R22 refrigerant this 20-year-old system uses, too -- for another couple of years.  But this whole thing is going to be an unloved orphan in a few years, if the phase-out proceeds as planned.     I could roll the dice, the current Administration isn't friendly to this kind of EPA meddling; but they're unlikely to be in place forever and the companies that make this stuff are mostly giant multi-nationals: R22 -- Freon plus a little of this and a dash of that -- is going away.  It's time to get away from it before everybody is having to and the price goes up.

     Which means Roseholme Cottage needs a new A-coil, a new outdoor unit and some fancy copper line.  And I'll be out $2600.00, American.

     Not fun -- I'm still feeling the pinch from the price of the car I bought a few years ago -- but it was not great sleeping last night and miserable trying to get ready this morning in the heat and humidity, despite open windows and electric fans.  It's got to be done.  What if Tam melted and I had to buy the Internet a replacement?  Way more expensive!  Besides, I've read the H. P. Lovecraft story and I'm not goin' out like that.

     This is actually a pretty good deal compared to the going rate in Indianapolis at this time of year.  They start work tomorrow morning.  Should take about half a day.

Faux-Glazed Pork Chops

     Last night's dinner was a last-minute thing: I was thinking I hadn't had pork chops in a long while.  It turned out the market had some nice shishito peppers, and this and that...  It all came together okay:
Tamara Keel photo
      That "glaze" is just the pan juices.  Started with the pork chops seasoned pretty heavily with chipotle sea salt, alderwood-smoked salt, black pepper, chili-mango mix and smoked Spanish paprika (bittersweet). Started on both sides in a little bacon fat (and I should have seared the edge fat), then just a little Pinot Grigio poured in and covered. Let it go for a least 15-20 minutes over medium-low heat. You want it just barely bubbling. Add wine as needed; you want to keep a little liquid in the bottom of the pan. Turn and give them another 15+ minutes, maintaining liquid level, and then turn up the heat. When it gets hot, add the shishito peppers, turning as needed. You'll be deglazing and adding liquid often. Cook until peppers are done -- they puff up a little and may even "pop." I used a 10" non-stick saucepan with the clear lid, very handy for this kind of cooking.  To serve, the pan juices get poured over the plated chop and peppers, which have added a tiny hint of heat.

     Why Pinot Grigio?  Chance.  Walking toward the checkout, I decided a little wine would help the chops cook.  Looking for white wine, I saw the Pinot Grigio and had vague memories of it being flavorful and having a little "edge." After I'd eaten dinner and was cleaning up the dishes, I chanced to look at the wine label: "Delicate floral aroma...overtones of citrus, pear and apple...."  So let's make that "lucky chance."

     This is actually low-effort cooking: the asparagus has a little olive or sesame oil on it, and is microwaved for 4 minutes plus or minus with some fresh garlic, salt, and a couple of slices of red bell pepper.  The neighborhood grocer's sells it made up, ready to cook.  The tomatoes are just quartered, sprinkled with "Italian seasoning blend" and allowed to sit for five minutes.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Please Bite The Sun

     The way things are going in this country, I'm forced to conclude that it's either Peak Stupid or people have simply lost their flipping minds.  So if you're part of the problem, out raising or meta-raising hell over stuff most people don't even notice over the ringing silence of empty factories and the hot hum of  angry minds all around, go ahead, look right at the eclipse; those stories about it being bad for your eyes are probably just a leftist conspiracy or a capitalist plot.

     ...Or maybe, just maybe, as you start to glance skyward, it'll dawn on you that not everything is the result of some wicked, ill-defined Them, and you'll look away.

     But I doubt it.
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     Title borrowed from a Tanith Lee novel about a character who wants to grow up but can't quite manage to, and modified to fit.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

I'm Burned Out

     This country is rapidly approaching "peak stupid," and I'm sick of all the noise.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Hyperthetical

     So, try this on for size:  You're a dog-fancier.  You have written on the Internet about how much you like dogs.  In fact, you like big, mean bitey dogs, because yours will only bite people you don't like.  There's a city a couple states over that has had a dog park for a long, long time, and the city council has voted to replace it with a cat park.

     You're not happy about this, and when a rally of dog-fanciers who oppose it is announced, you're interested, especially when the artwork shows plenty of big, bitey dogs.  Those are your kind of people!

     Cat-lovers are unhappy.  The most vocal of them are way over the top -- they own tigers and lions, and been heard to wish they could set their big cats to wiping out dogs.  A lot of them have been saying dog-lovers should be slapped, and lot of them have done just that.  The cat-lovers are going to protest the rally.  The dog-lovers aren't nice and the cat-lovers aren't either.   There don't seem to be many fans of lapdogs or housecats at the event or counter-protest.

     You go anyway.  You find yourself, for whatever reason, walking into a big crowd of cat-lovers, but you keep on walking.  One of them shoves you, hard, and your reaction is to start running and shooting into the crowd ahead of you.  Your shots kill one person and injure others.

     Do you think that shooting is justified?

*  *  *
     I've spent a couple of hours over the last two days arguing on Facebook with people who think I am being unfair to the Charlottesville killer, or siding with antifa when I call him a murderer, or that I, as a private citizen, am somehow obliged to refrain from expressing an opinion until the courts have ruled.

     Nonsense.  The killer is known to be an admirer of Nazism at the very least, and not in the "they sure had kewl planes and tanks!" way, but the "they sure had kewl ideas!" way.  I have watched all the video of the event I can find and it looks to me like a deliberate act.  At the very best, it is manslaughter, and would be if the driver was a blameless nun, Stalin or von Ribbentrop.  It would be if the crowd were innocent schoolkids or hardened felons.  You don't go smashing cars into people.  Especially when backing out before anyone gets hurt is an available option.

     Decent people aren't obliged to be nice to Nazis, or to "antifa," either.  We are obliged to refrain from punching (or otherwise aggressing against) people who are not offering a direct physical threat, despite what antifa would prefer.  But not punching them doesn't mean you approve of them.

     When I started carrying a gun, I learned to avoid situations in which I might have to use it.  If you have a choice to go or not go someplace with a high probability of needing to shoot in self defense and you don't have to go, you shouldn't go there.  A car is a deadly weapon, too -- and can be even by mischance.  If you have a choice to not drive into a crowd, even at well under five miles an hour with a lot of smiles and waves all around, you should avoid the crowd.  The killer in Charlottesville did not -- and he was moving considerably faster than 5 mph.  There's no justification for it.

     There was a lot of low-level violence in Charlottesville (and it's only "low-level" if it's not you on the pavement) .  That doesn't excuse vehicular attack.

     A lot of people on both sides want this to be a "Democrats vs. Republican" thing.  It isn't.  Don't fool yourself; the conventional two big parties aren't in this fight.  The principals explicitly reject their philosophies.  The LP isn't in this fight.

     Comments are closed, go defend Nazis on your own blog if you are so inclined.  Comments to this post made in the comments sections of other posts will be deleted with prejudice: this isn't the public square, this is my blog.  Nazis, KKK, those types are not welcome here.*
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* And neither is antifa or other "direct action" lefists.  They're all jerks.  In terms of, "Would I care to sit next to these people on the bus," I say no to both sides. Give me a stolid, silent car thief to sit next to instead.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Overheard While In "The Chair"

     "H'mm, gosh.  We'll be working that tooth -- there's a new spot of decay on the outside, and more decay around an old filling on the inside, so that one will have to come out and get redone.   But the tooth in front of it, the filling it it doesn't look great...."

     (A minor infinity of awkwardness, drilling, vibration both shrill and coarse, rinsing, suctioning, "Turn just a little toward my assistant, okay" and so on.)

     "So, we've got the old filling out -- my, wasn't it a big one! -- and I can get a really good look at the teeth on each side and their fillings.*  That one filling looks really loose.  Let me just see if I can..."  And she picked and prodded at it with various instruments.  Nope. Filling remained stubbornly in place.   "I guess it's okay.  It just looks like it's in there funny."

     I have had the same dentist for over twenty-five years; she took a few years off to look after her parents but other than that, if I have a filling,† she did the work.  She proceeded to fill in the other two fillings with silver (et heavy metal cetera) amalgam,‡ which I didn't know was still used much; turns out it is still stronger and does a better job inhibiting decay than the nice tooth-color stuff.  Finally, she got to the smoothing-out and sculpting stage of the filling:

     "Okay, I'll just run some floss down each side and make sure you'll be able to get between them," which she then did, a little.  I felt an odd sensation and she interrupted herself with, "Hunh, that's funny..."  Long pause.  "It fell out!  That filling I was working at earlier?  It just fell out." She took the lump of metal off my tongue and spent some time peering at the void.  "Doesn't look real good in there--"

     There was another small eternity of drilling and clearing and rinsing and drying and medicating and filling and smoothing and--  She got it done.  I was late to work.

     Ahh, dentistry!  Those were my two best chewing teeth -- yes, when it comes to molars, I'm down to that -- so it's been an interesting and slow-eating 22 hours since.
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* Other than my two upper front teeth and one of the lower, all of the teeth I have left have fillings.  My dental hygiene as a child wasn't any better than any of my peers -- but I inherited teeth of problematic durability from both sides.   

† Or a band around a tooth, which I had for awhile, in an attempt to save a molar.  She applied that in a hurry, shortly before her time away, and somehow it didn't get noted on my chart.  My first checkup with the dentist who was filling (haha!) in for her, he came to that tooth and exclaimed, "A ring!  How did that get on there?"  I didn't remember; it was an 0700 appointment and I was half-awake.  "It got married?" I ventured.  He had to ponder that for a second.
 
‡ Yes, there is still some mercury in there.  Hey, I shoot, I solder electronic things; the mercury from a few fillings, it's way too late to fret over.  My dentist hasn't gone mad yet, and she not only works with the stuff every day, she's got as many fillings as I do.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Dentist Today

     I've been dodging the dentist for weeks.  She wants to do fillings in a couple of teeth that aren't bothering me and I would just as soon not.

     We've reached the point where I can either get these teeth drilled and filled, or go hunting for a new dentist -- who will probably find even more work to do.   So off I will go today.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Problem, In One Headline

(With subheads)
Illegal Immigrant Kills Regional Administrator
--Victim was active in Wiccan church, ran home for winged primates
--Dorothy Gale of Kansas subject of intense manhunt; alleged to have dropped house on victim--

     See, if you don't control the medium, you don't control your message -- so it had better be as unambiguous as possible.  Sometimes, not even freeing all the Munchkins from under the ruby-slippered heel of their oppressor is enough.  (And that, if you were wondering, is one of my concerns about punching Nazis: the video people see is just some guy getting surprise-punched.  It makes him look sympathetic.  And the puncher gets into the legal system as "the accused."  Far better to be "witness for the prosecution," after the bad guy has done something aggressive, though more difficult to arrange.)

     --And you, everybody, might occasionally look down at your uniform, and around at your compatriots, and ask yourself, "Are we the bad guys?"  Commies, Nazis, Democrats, Libertarians, Republicans, independent voters, Greens, don't just drift along. Make sure of where you are and what you're doing.  They're not all the same.  Some ideas are bad ideas; some people are bad people.  Bad people often try to sell bad ideas as good ideas.  Don't play along; don't get played.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Not Today

     Not up to anything too blamed fancy this morning.  The extent to which people are willing to carry water for utterly odious ideas, groups and systems of governance that have already been tried and found to result in pain, misery and death, often directly at the hands of what passes for government, depresses me.

     Look, Churchill was right.  "Democracy" in its various forms as seen around the world today sucks; but it sucks far less for more people than any other system.  "Freedom" is messy, ugly, undisciplined; the only thing worse is government control of the press, of what you can do or say in public.  "Capitalism" is a huge mess -- people often wind up working for lousy wages, employers often end up with lousy workers, distribution of material goods is uneven and it only too easily corrupts or becomes corrupt itself -- yet it has improved the lot in life of more people, more rapidly, than any other system of economics that has been tried.

     Democracy, freedom, capitalism: all deeply imperfect.  Sloppy.  Messy.  Inelegant. But they're better than any of the alternatives, by direct and bloody experiment.

     People died finding this stuff out.  They died in droves, desperately.  They didn't volunteer to be a part of the experiment.  They died of wars and autocrats and needless shortages, they died of prejudice and superstition and because it was easier to ignore them to death.  They're still dying of it and you can read about it in the news any day of the week.

     And yet we're still having to argue -- and worse! -- with dewy-eyed idealists and cold-eyed haters about ideas that were shown to be horrible nonsense when their grandparents were in diapers.

Monday, August 14, 2017

A Basement-Dwelling Loser

     It's looking like the man being held for ramming a a car into a crowd of people in Charlottesville, VA killing one and injuring many is -- oh, surprise -- a sad-sack loser who may have lived with his Mom after washing out of Army basic training.  And it appears he was some kind of armchair Nazi, which jibes with his intended victims.

     While I'm careful to use the appropriate sort of hypothetical language -- innocence is presumed until guilt is proven in court -- there's little doubt he was the man behind the wheel.

     I'm only incidentally interested in the "thoughtcrime" aspect of his crime, since the embrace of a half-baked philosophy for losers that got slapped down hard the only time it ever managed to get much of a foothold* is, in fact, legal under the First Amendment.  You don't go plowing into a crowd of people -- or even only one person -- with an automobile, period.†

     The ability to peacefully assemble for whatever reason is an inherent right.  Not all reasons are especially nice or noble and letting it happen does not constitute approval: society doesn't operate under Robert's Rules of Order and silence should not be mistaken for consent.

     For that matter, counter-protesting shouldn't be mistaken for assault -- and vice-versa; punching someone might be sincere criticism but it is not protected speech.  But you know what even the commies didn't do?  --None of them committed vehicular mayhem and murder.

     Wave signs and shout all you like, for whatever bullshit you want to get before the public; being able to do so is a feature -- not a bug! -- of a free society.  But initiating force is a crime, initiating deadly force a particularly odious crime, especially against your fellow-citizens engaged in the free expression of their own views.

     I've noticed some of my Facebook friends being careful to condemn both sides.  Yeah well--  Most people's political views and philosophies offend me, since they generally come down to ways in which the person expressing them thinks other people ought to be pushed around for some supposed greater good.  I hate that idea.  So what?  I'm not the boss of the inside of their head, or of the crap they scribble on a placard, post on social media or shout from streetcorners.  I'm not a hall monitor, this is adult life.  You don't go beating up people who aren't a physical threat; you don't go ramming into them with a car, or shooting at them or--  That is obvious, basic stuff; there's no need to be "even-handed" about it, it's immoral; it's a crime.

     Here's to a fair and speedy trial and a quick, clean end; or at least a couple of lifetimes in prison.  There were a lot of people in Charlotteville, VA.  One of them has unequivocally demonstrated he can't be trusted around others.
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* It does amaze me to see anything past the "...But they sure had kewl tanks," level of appreciation.  Communism has the excuse of high-sounding ideals and over a century of good PR from the credulous.  But Nazism has stunk on ice from the outset, profoundly and expressly incompatible with American culture, the U. S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights.  It's an either/or, public libraries on one side and book-burnings on the other.
 
† This is, of course, going to prompt one of those supposedly-awkward hypotheticals about "What if it's Pol Pot, Stalin and Jack the Ripper with flamethrowers and they're running towards a group of kindergartners?"  Tellya what, when that happens, you can call me up collect and I'll advise you. Until then, please don't go wandering around without a minder, since you plainly have trouble distinguishing fantasy from reality.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Donald Vs. Mr. Top Nork

     It was days ago now, and the newsies and comedians -- but I repeat myself -- are still all over it: the prospect of "...thermonuclear war.  Toe-to-toe with the Russkis North Korea..."

     Yeah, "This is it, boys."  Maybe.  North Korea screams threats, POTUS blusters back -- and suddenly, he's the bad guy.  Or perhaps just a Nixionian pseudo-madman, inadvertently or not.

     The thing is, for all his flaws, what better sort of background than President Trump's ought a fellow to have in order to understand the mind of a pampered, overfed autocrat with demonstrably bad taste?  This may be the one thing about which he is outstandingly a subject matter expert -- but don't expect him to get any credit for it.

     It's another "crisis" the world will muddle though, probably with far more ink, paper and whizzing electrons than any splash of nuclear fire.  Kim Jong-un's military is remarkable for poor marksmanship and the DPRK is unlikely to be able to bluff their way out of a live-fire miss as a "warning shot."  Therefore, I don't expect them to shoot at all.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Missing The Point

     A recent New Yorker online cartoon -- quite longform for them -- suggests that since our civilization is doomed (presumably by some combination of President Trump and global warming), we ought to leave not merely time capsules, but deliberately confusing ones, for Reasons.

     But that's all we can leave; it's all our forebears have left us, and what we make of them is, at best, a guess.  We're often wrong.  The fine details of people's lives are generally lost or at best distorted.

     We will leave puzzles.  This is brilliantly spoofed in David Macaulay's Motel of the Mysteries but it's a fact.  There's no need to work at it.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Um, No

     I was off today, but my sinuses are so painful that I'm going back to bed.

You Know What's Fun?

     "Fun" is exactly not when work calls you at 4:30 a.m. with a problem they should have called you about twenty hours earlier.  It was too late for an easy fix when they did call -- and they were too short-handed to fix it promptly.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Last Tycoon; The First Spaghetti Carbonara

     Amazon Video got me -- started watching "The Last Tycoon" night before last. Now I'm three episodes in and I'm hooked.

     Like "Remember WENN," which it kind of resembles, right down to the perky gamine viewpoint character (though she certainly doesn't come from "Moosejaw or Elkhart or whatever combination of animal name and body part..."), it's a little hazy on year-specific style and fashion; but hey, it is Hollywood, right? The story is engrossing as can be and the sets are fabulous! Kelsey Grammer is a treat -- the man was born to play bastards -- and Matt Bomer is too handsome and knows it. I take issue with hairstyles; the men with hair wear it much too long around the ears -- about ten years too soon for it -- and the women's hair is mostly early-1930s and not always consistent with their socioeconomic status. Still and all, it's great good fun, a voyage back to an era both better and worse, full of glamor and desperation.

*  *  *
    Discovered pasta carbonara a few days ago and realized I had never had it.  It sounded delicious, but none of the Italian places close by offered the dish.  Finding it in the classic original form is unlikely -- you have to add raw eggs to very hot but not presently-heated spaghetti and pork, and form a sauce without actually scrambling the eggs: there's no small risk of undercooking.  Do it right and you get a lovely, silky end result.

     So I determined to give it a try myself last night.  The experiment was a success. Beginner's luck, maybe: the egg and cheese mixture neither scrambled nor ended up underdone! I was downsizing the recipe on the fly and made too much pasta, easily remedied. Used two kinds of cheese, Parmesan and Pecorino Romano, with a bit of bacon and a bit of pancetta. I should crumble the meat up more next time, but I was very happy with how it came out.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

H'mm

     Haven't much today.  Working on some ideas, trying to process stuff in my life.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Mom

     My mother is once again in the hospital.  Been there several days and when she gets out, it will be to a place with better nursing support and, I am sorry to say, much smaller rooms.

     Where she has been living simply hasn't sufficient staff to give her the level of care she needs.  They had trouble remembering to change her breathing mask at bedtime and back again in the morning, and it is just too fiddly for Mom to do on her own.  This has contributed to her recent hospitalization and thus to the choice to move her.

     It's not an easy choice for any of us.

Monday, August 07, 2017

How I Stopped Time Getting Donuts

     It was 1977.  I was young, foolish and nearly broke.

     ...So, I'm working at a lousy part-time medium-market radio job after having dropped out of college and spending a summer working for The Worst Consulting Engineer In The U.S. (he's out of the biz by request now, so no worry), and my part-time hours include the Sunday Morning shift. It's wintertime, cold and dark. There's a place a half-mile down the road that starts turning out hot, fresh, deep-fried donuts -- and super-cheap donut holes by the bag! -- at 0630 or earlier.  They're best eaten fresh; let them cool down and they're kinda greasy lumps. Alas, the AM was a daytimer and not due on the air for another hour or more. There's no one to make a donut run! So I lace up a taped half-hour *paid* religious show on the deck in the production room where we played every other taped show on Sunday, lock the place up, speed down the road to the donut place with the radio blaring my station, get my treat, hop back in the car and halfway back to the station, the radio says, "...and in thoossse daaayyyssszzzzz bloooooooop........" and falls silent. I floor the accelerator.

      Hit the door running and see that the takeup reel had fallen off, there's tape all over the floor, the Maggie 1022 deck had (for some reason) kept running, and it all probably would have been okay, except the tape had started looping, tied a knot, built up and dragged the capstan motor to a stop. Hastily I hit Stop, pull it all clear, rip the tape (stretches into a nasty thread, of course), grab an empty takeup reel and set it to playing again -- all on the air.

      The conversation with the Operations Director on Monday was...epic. It did *not* include the word "donuts." There was no way I was going to admit to having left the building, a total no-no in 1977. Instead, I claimed to have been in the washroom, which (conveniently!), did not have an air monitor speaker for the FM. Somehow, I didn't get fired, and hung on long enough for my wisdom teeth to come in (do NOT do Beautiful Music hopped up on Anacin and Dr. Pepper, kids!) and a full-time job to open up at a "coffeepot" AMer closer to where I was living.

      But the levels were right all through that. Except when they weren't there at all.  Because that's just what you do.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Charlie Jade

     Charlie Jade is a film noir SF TV series, a Canadian/South African co-production from 2005 that takes place across three difference universes, one of which is our very own here and now.  And ours is in terrible danger....

     I just finished watching this tale of cosmic disaster narrowly averted and I recommend it.

     It's very nearly a familiar trope but the treatment is far from trite; Canadian SF writer Robert J. Sawyer wrote the show's "bible," or overall guideline, and he did a nice job of it.  So, too, did the cinematographer and director, who use different tonalities for the three universes (SF fans may be more familiar with this from its use in the the Firefly episode "Out Of Gas.")

     Some critics have disparaged the editing, which is in much the style of Homicide: Life On The Street, with repeats and jump cuts and odd camera angles: if you didn't like the NBC crime drama's editing, which had the harsh realism of the Baltimore Police Department to anchor it, you're unlikely to enjoy it in Charlie Jade.

     But what about the story?  I think it's darned good; more "graphic novel" than "novel" in places, but fully developed in a way not often found in graphic works -- or most television. There's a genuinely insane bad guy -- or is he? -- and a wildly varied cast, each struggling to figure out what's really going on.  The twists are nearly always unexpected and our heroes have plenty of pluck and grit.

     The overall story arc is satisfying; while there's room left for a second season, the 20 episodes stand up well as a complete story.  If you're willing to work with the director a little, there's a lot of SF enjoyment here.

Saturday, August 05, 2017

DIY Ribbon Microphones

     It's totally a thing.  People build their own ribbon mikes.  It seems to have started with an influx of inexpensive, Chinese-made ribbon mikes, which could be improved with better transformers, thinner foil for the ribbon, changes in internal lead dress and so on.  Eventually, some of the people making mods decided the ribbon pickup itself, the "motor," was simple enough that they might as well build their own.

     Modern materials and methods -- rare-earth magnets, 3-D printing, strong glues -- have made the construction process  far easier than it once was and tiny, powerful magnets give good output in a small package.

     Why do I care?  You see, I own a couple of the most affordable of the classic ribbon microphones: the Electro-Voice V-2.  Well, almost two; at some point after they'd stopped making ribbon mikes and run out of replacement parts, E-V began "repairing" them by removing the motor, hacking at the supports, and bolting in a simple dynamic microphone pickup!  Fraud, you say?  It was an inexpensive mic in its day; users sent in a dead mic and received back a working microphone, more rugged than the one they'd sent in. I'm sure they and E-V at the time saw it as okay.

     One of my V-2s (a V-2A, with a multi-impedance output connector) is one of those "repaired" mikes.  The years have not been kind to the old dynamic element and it doesn't sound all that great.  I'd like to make it a ribbon mike again -- and if the kit I found this morning will fit, it looks as if I can!  Otherwise, I'm in for some finicky bench work; but either way, it's possible.

Friday, August 04, 2017

True, Not True, Speculation

     True: the Indianapolis Colts are making a concerted effort to adopt a more aggressive style of play, tougher and more physical.

     Probably not true: the Colts have posted memos reminding players that as a result of this, so-called "smoky eye" makeup is right out for both practice and game day, and will result suspension and possible disciplinary action; and advising cheerleaders that actual fighting with members of the opposing squad is absolutely forbidden.

     Speculation: there's an internship opening at the offices of the Colts.  Duties include general office work, helping with public relations and ensuring memos are posted to the correct bulletin board.
__________________________
     Prompted by a recent sports report on the hopes of Colts for this season and a memo about tryouts for their cheerleading squad that showed up at work.  Apparently, "fresh, natural faces" are in these days. Picture me with an eyebrow raised skeptically.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Oh, That Was No Fun

     Spent most of yesterday getting beat up by my own innards.  I don't know what caused it.  It was a miserable way to spend a day at work, compounded by the somewhat-different shift I have been working to cover a co-worker's vacation. 

     Here's hoping for better today.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

That Was A Surprise

     So, I'd sent my boss a mildly exasperated e-mail about the state of affairs at the North Campus, pretty much just for the record, expecting the kind of pro forma response I was used to receiving from his predecessors.

     Nope.  He said, "Yes, the place needs to be checked regularly and it has become very disorganized.  You will be making regular visits.  To start, we will meet up there with [the building maintenance guy, whose boss he also is] and come up with a plan to straighten things out."

     The place has become half giant junk room and half a museum to its own past.  I must admit, some of the "museum" aspect will be difficult to give up.  Nevertheless, it's time to get the North Campus into the 21st Century.

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Keep Moving

     You know what's sadder than going back to a place where you once spent all your working day, five days a week?  Going back and discovering your coworkers have been treating the place like their own private junkyard!

     I had occasion to work at the no-longer-staffed North Campus yesterday.  The place was in the middle of a mouse and ant invasion, ruining the toaster, French-press coffeemaker and paper/plasticware in the kitchenette (and so on), in part because staff making use of the site are throwing away food waste in the building instead of in the dumpster outside; a cold-water valve had managed to fail open at the janitor's closet slop sink and was merrily fountaining away; someone had left a storage battery charging on a wooden workbench in the huge, hot garage and dilute battery acid was spattered on the benchtop.  The place was a mess.  I'm going back to doing weekly walk-throughs and if the boss complains, I'll start doing them on my own time: when neglect-induced major failure hits, I'll be the one who has to clean it up, so I'm ahead if I can forestall it.

     Sheesh.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Sunday Scootering!

     The weather was lovely Sunday, breezy with brilliant sunshine and a few clouds until the afternoon, when the clouds thickened up.  No rain and it mostly just spared the city the worst heat of the day.  After a morning of some housework and a long, lazy soak in the tub reading a LeGuin novel,* I garbed up† and got the scooter out.

     A late donut run came first.  A half-hour before closing, pickings were slim at the local donut shop, where the staff has (after a deliciously overestimated first few months) worked out a keen understanding of any day's likely demand.  I picked up a nice chocolate donut free for nothing, because "You're in here a lot."  (Helps that they are on my way to just about everywhere!)

     Took that home for later and set out for groceries, possibly preceded by lunch in Beautiful Downtown Broad Ripple.  Maybe?

     Well, no.  It was one o'clock; the very kewl foodie place over by the donut shop had a private function of some sort underway, and up in the Village‡ proper, all of the usual place were packed.  "Later," I thought, and went to the recently-opened organo-supermarket** to stock up for the coming week.

     Later was too late; I rode home, put groceries away, took a short nap and found myself in the two-hour gap between Lunch and Dinner.  I went to the closer grocer, got a nice bacon-cheddar burger and some onion, bell pepper and a little jalapeno to fry up and put on top, made dinner, watched a little TV, did more housework and went to bed.

     Still working on the touch-typing thing. Typed most of this without looking at the keys.  I'm still fumbling a lot but improving as I build skill.
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*The Eye Of The Heron, which she says might be part of the Hainish Cycle.  Or,  I suppose, not.  It works either way.  The story looks at ideas similar to those she explored in The Dispossessed... and other stories set on the twin worlds of Anarres and Urras, from a different angle and with Earth-humans ass the protagonists.  LeGuin takes a lot of flak from some corners of the libertarian SF crowd, which I think is unfair; time and again, she sets up societies that appeal to appeal to her inclinations or hopes and then points out all the weak points by showing how they fall short in actual practice.

† I keep seeing people on scooters without the least nod towards safety equipment.  Most of the scooters are 49cc "DUI specials," but the road remains as abrasive as it is from a Harley and your own inertia at 35 or 40 mph is the same either way.  Helmet, gloves, padded jacket, boots and my usual Carhartt "Double Front" dungarees are about my minimum, and Tam, veteran of motorcycle commuting and motorcycle accidents, considers even that on the inadequate side.

‡ Yes, "the Village." If it sounds silly to you, take it up with the merchants and other business owners of the Broad Ripple Village Association.

** It appears to be booming.  Meanwhile, the venerable Marsh supermarket chain, with a store a half-mile away, had gone broke.  Marsh was on the way out before the new place broke ground -- but the trend is clear.  Along those same lines, long-established Double-8 Foods, with tiny markets mostly in struggling neighborhoods, failed several years ago and has been replaced by nothing at all, another point on the same graph.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Got Some Stuff Done

     Had a fairly productive day off, for a change.  As in changed oil in my motor scooter, brought the new chair mats in and have mine down already, and made a dinner that I loved: pan-cooked filet mignon so tender it fell apart, a nice baked potato and flash-cooked mixed veggies, with a very small bowl of chocolate gelato for dessert.

     I had seasoned a fresh batch of bacon -- smoked paprika, sage, thyme and mixed peppercorns sprinkled generously over good plain store bacon -- and fried one strip of it in a large skillet, then cooked the beef, browning each side over low-medium heat and then covering it with a pan lid.  Potatoes were nuked during the first of that, then foil-wrapped and set in the oven over the pilot light while an assortment of fresh asparagus, zucchini, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, onion and red bell pepper got the zap.  Turned out very well!

     Tomorrow, who knows -- maybe I'll even get the scooter on the road.  I need to remember to add the 2017 sticker to the license plate before that, though.

I Should Have Left The News Off

     I suppose I have just reached that age where most of the news looks crazy, most of the time.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Back To The Grind

     Touch-typing has caused me to post this already, as no more than a partial title: Learning Can Be A PITA.  So I guess I had better improve, quickly.

     The cats woke me about 4:00 this morning -- Rannie was clawing at the covers and my shoulder, Huck was trying to chew on the microphone-boom-suspended Kindle over my head -- and then they decided to have a little spat.  That was my limit: I evicted them, shut the door. and got a blissful hour's sleep.  Rannie got a nail trim this morning (she was getting snagged) and did she ever complain!  It still left me unduly crabby and in no mood to watch the news this morning.  So I haven't.

     Sometimes pets help reduce stress in unexpected ways!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Hit With A Clue-By-Four

     Yesterday's big-deal problem turned out to be in large part an "upstream" or GIGO issue: if you're sent bad or (worse) inconsistently-wrong content, often you can't fix it in real time.  Oopsie.

     More clue-by-fourage: yesterday's big news was a Presidential policy-change-by-tweet, barring "transgender" persons from military service once again.  Except that:
     A) It's actually "still," the Pentagon having already put off until January 2018 implementation of the Obama Administration policy change that let 'em serve.
     B) The best (i.e., the Pentagon paid for 'em) estimates are that we're talking about maybe as many as 2500 full-time troops and 1500 reservists; this would be a lot if they all showed up at the mall but with over two million people in the armed forces, it's literally a rounding error, 0.19%*  So be outraged pro or outraged con, either way you're snuffling after trifles.
     Sure, it's a big deal, cultural-signalling-wise.  But you could watch a regiment march past with that percentage and never notice.  So I'm calling the whole issue as beneath notice except by those directly affected. Hate it?  Love it? Wait three and a half to seven and a half years.
     My best guess is that people in battle don't spend a lot of effort wondering if they still like being called "Gladys" or if the person next to them does.  YMMV.
     And for those worried about a possible draft, the old standby of showing up at the draft board in a dress -- or, in this modern equal-opportunity age, with a mustache -- is once again good.
     C) The monetary angle is nonsense, another rounding error.  This bothers the hell out of me -- because the price of policing the world is so insanely expensive that we can lose eight and a half million of our nice clean tax money in the sofa cushions. Mote in one eye, log in the other, which you gonna go after first?

     But they wave the ol' freak flag and everyone is supposed to pick a side.  Heck with that; I don't run the .mil.  I'm going to treat people as well as they treat me, and not speculate on their pasts.  Ex-commie?  Former girl?  Married to six people?  Tattooed head to toe?  Voted for the wrong horse, last race?  I don't care, as long as you're clean, polite and not unfriendly.
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* Using numbers from several different articles, the highest percentage I get is 0.51%, which just barely gets out of rounding error territory.  Frank Sinatra songs about rams and dams aside, that's no leverage at all.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

And Here's Wednesday

     I spent nearly all of yesterday on a wheel-spinning exercise of genuinely stupid proportions. It's too technical and dull to describe, but it's a recurring problem, complicated by legacy issues from the work of a tech who has since retired. 

     He tended to follow his own path even at the best of times and the thing I am trying to sort may may have been partially motivated by annoyance.  The result has been one of those trouble-shooting exercises where you know there is something wrong but the exact nature and extent of the problem is unclear. 

     Most of yesterday was spent finding out what it wasn't. Maybe today I can start to find out what it is.  Then, perhaps, I can work on fixing it.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Good Scooter News

     I had about given up on the scooter battery.  Trying to be gentle, I had been using the little "battery tender" charger and it was struggling.  Came home last night and decided to give it one more try -- and it worked!  Checked a couple of hours after putting the charger on and the yellow "Charging" led had given way to the green "Storage" indicator!

     Picked up a new funnel for the oil change over the weekend, so now all I need to do is find the time.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Lawnmowing Draws Wildlife?

     It appears to have.  I mowed the lawn -- front and back -- last evening, shortly before sunset.  It was hot work nevertheless.  Once it was done, I went inside, relaxed a little and made dinner.

     Afterward, I went back outside on an errand and looked around for the Great Gray Slugs -- and found a pair of them on the privacy fence!  They are medium-sized as such slugs go, a little more than finger-sized, and didn't like my taking a flash photograph: they froze in place for a minute, then resumed their slug business, whatever it was.

     Still later, I was in the kitchen getting a bottle of water before bed, and motion in the back yard caught my eye: a couple of fat but not too large raccoons were sorting through the freshly-mowed yard, catching something, pouncing after more, and generally looking very pleased.  I tapped on the window and one of them gave me the fishy eye as only raccoons can -- not especially challenging, but clearly a, "Whaddya want?  We're working here!" sort of look.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Quick Notes

     - The final season of Orphan Black is proving to be excellent.  The entire arc adds up to about one short SF trilogy or a very long novel.  TV SF is rarely this good.  I recommend watching it -- in its entirety.

     - The grocery had their house bacon on sale for $3.49 a pound.  I normally prefer applewood-smoked bacon but unless you find it on sale,* the price is crazy high, $9.99/lb.  So I bought some of the cheap stuff and pondered ways to improve it.  Sprinkling it with good smoked paprika, sage, thyme and mixed pepper seemed like a good idea and this morning, I proved that it was!  You need to let it sit at least overnight.

     - Chopped cherry peppers, flash-fried, are excellent in an omelette.  Mozerella, country sausage, sliced green olives, yum!

     - learntyping.org is a good resource if you'd like to touch-type.
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* Their competition had it for $3.99 a pound a couple of weeks ago.  Good stuff, too.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

The Trash Runner

     There was a thunderstorm and heavy rain Friday morning.  As a result, I missed taking the trash out early. When I did take it to the curb, I realized the truck was already a block past the house.

     The (standardized) trash can has big wheels, the truck doesn't move quickly and I am my mother's daughter: rain was still falling as I took off after the truck in my walking sandals, nightgown and robe.

     By the time I had closed the gap, he was at the last house in the next block from mine. I waved and yelled and the driver stopped, got out and lined up the trash can with with the loading gadget, chuckling. "Lady, " he said, "next time, just put it across the street from your house. I pick up on that side a couple of hours later!"

     Good exercise, right?

Friday, July 21, 2017

Casino 401k

     Sitting on my desk is a mailing from the people who run my employer's 401k, touting an exciting new investment tool that will automatically maximize my investment and tweak it from "adventurous" to "cautious" as my retirement age approaches.  At least that's what I think it says; I can barely make head nor tail of it, couched as it is in nice-sounding, empty phrases and high-financesque terminology that probably looks impressive to someone who doesn't read the dictionary for fun.  It's low on numbers, contains no math, no graphs, and very little in the way of objectively factual content.   Since my 401k is set to be as low-risk as possible -- I know too many people who took a deep plunge when the market was roaring and saw their savings swept away in one slump or another -- I don't know why they bothered to send it to me. 

     The whole notion of a 401k as usually implemented comes from people who are happy to play the investment market -- especially with someone else's money -- and cannot understand why anyone else wouldn't share their fascination.  That I might be hoping to get back out what I put in, without inflation and taxes taking too big a bite, is beyond their comprehension.

     I'm convinced that J. Random Guy playing the financial markets -- even mediated by fancy retirement accounts -- is not a good thing.  That's a game for those who can afford to lose; most of us shouldn't be sitting at the high-stakes table, staring in fascination as the wheel spins and the dealer turns up a card with a few year's income hanging in the balance.  If you wouldn't risk it in Las Vegas, don't risk it on Wall Street -- and don't kid yourself that one is any less random than the other.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Avuncularity Is Deleteable

     Be advised and conduct yourself accordingly.  I'm a grown woman; I qualified for the senior discount years ago.  The last of my real uncles passed away a few years back and I am not in the market for any new ones.

     And don't presume you know more about the business of writing than someone who has written as a hobby-with-aspirations since along about 1972.  I have socks that know more about the duller-but-funner* side of writing than most people.  If I feel the need of advice from an actual working writer, all I have to do is spin my chair around and ask the person who buys most of the groceries here with checks from editors.
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* Because checks.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

I Should Be Writing More

     I should be writing more and letting my day job get under my skin less.  My department, as it is and has been constituted and functioned, is on the way out.  So far only by attrition, and as we techs become fewer, more of our work is handed off to hired-gun contractors.  The writing is on the wall.

     There's likely to be enough left to keep me employed for five more years.  Maybe longer, depending on trends in the industry, but counting, really counting on this gig for the near term is probably unwise.  It may not outlast my house payments.

     The only other skill I have is stringing words together.  Towards that end, I have been working on the timeline for the "Hidden Frontier" universe.  I do have stories in thew works, planned for novella to novel length, and a little less "Mary Sue" than earlier works set in the HF universe.  The USAS Lupine stories are a lot of fun and I don't plan to abandon my alter ego -- but I need to step away from it and the first-person narrative to tell any wider stories.

     Of every Hidden Frontier story I have ever written, I'm most frustrated with "The Veteran."  I know there's more of a story there than I have managed to tell, and better ways to tell it, and one of these days, I'll be able to do it justice.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Monday At The Geek Works

     Yesterday I nearly said, "No, you're right, let's go on pushing the buttons, hooting like chimps and maybe bashing at the thing with a rock instead of actually looking at the actual hardware so we can begin to actually find out what's actually wrong."

      Will someone please explain to me the attraction of standing around spinning fanciful theories about what might possibly be wrong has over laying hands and meters and tools on the broken whatever and finding out what's wrong?

      I have been doing this stuff, at one level or another, since 1973, and I have never figured out why people can't shut up and put their bodies, senses and clever minds in productive motion instead of standing around trying to be cut-rate Hollywood scientists.

Monday, July 17, 2017

For Some Reason, My Enthusiasm Is Sub-Optimal

     Hey-la, another one-day weekend come and gone.  Gosh, they go by so fast!  I wonder why?

     I have, finally, scheduled some vacation time for next month.  I passed up two already-set vacation weeks earlier this year, since we had huge ongoing projects and the Layoff Fairy was hitting pretty hard.  Sure, they'll pull the plug on you as readily when you are there as when you're not, but you've got a better chance to clear out your desk yourself and make sure your ex-peers know about the stuff you have been having to kick once a week to keep running.  The loss of institutional knowledge means nothing to thew accountants and executive, but the to techs left behind, a few clues can make a world of difference.

     But if there were/are too many of us, why am I working so many weekends?

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Mom Update

     This is, as near as I can tell, good news.
 
     My Mom is, amazingly, back in her assisted-living apartment as of this afternoon! The hospital managed to stabilize her daytime oxygen level with the nasal cannula -- and her sleeping level with a semi-coverage mask so she gets enough oxygen breathing through her mouth.

      I found out by going to the hospital to see her and being told, "You just missed her." This got me to my target heart rate in a hurry but the nurses were quick to explain. Her senior-care place is not far from the hospital and I arrives just after she was settled in. She seemed pretty chipper. It was quite a relief after the fairly grim information I'd received over the weekend.
 
     The nursing staff at the home -- overworked though they are -- are up to speed on changing the mask and the ones I have met seem pretty sharp.

Well, That Was Fun

   Not.  It was supposed to be a simple exercise, in at nine in the morning (with donuts), out by one in the afternoon (with deli sandwiches), while electricians did all the heavy lifting and us fine young gentlemen and lady of Engineering airily shifted power connections from UPS power to non-UPS power and back again, casual as afternoon tea in the garden.

     Instead, the plug-moving proved to be disruptive, operators groused about engineers crawling around making monitors blink and requiring them to shut down their various computers and then log back on; the UPS techs had software trouble,  the electricians hit unexpected wire-pulling snags -- we're talking mostly three-phase, 208 Volt, 200 Amp service, a quintuplet* of big, fat wires to each of the UPS breaker panels, of which there are several -- and as we shut equipment down, rack by rack, breaker by breaker, just about every new shut-down revealed unexpected failures and previously-unknown interconnections.

     Powering back up, we found a couple of critical devices that faulted on rebooting or simply conked out, power supplies now inert lumps.  One gadget, a peer and I restored by stealing power supplies from a similar (but non-critical) device; another can't-run-without-it was already replaced by its backup for the power changes, which is now working without a net.  At one point, a staffer's family member called in to report an overlooked outrage that had gone on for two hours, unnoticed because we have no way to monitor the ultimate output.

     Got home, exhausted, about 7:30 p.m. and Tam bought me dinner at Open Society Public House,† a delayed birthday gift and a huge relief, a lovely meat of filet mignon cooked to perfection with first-class mashed potatoes and sauteed stringbeans that opened with shishito peppers in a marvelous sauce and ended with berry-topped vanilla-orange custard.  I even enjoyed a mixed drink, a mint-lemon upgrade from the "7&7" or "CC&7" of my decades-younger days.

     --Got home, got settled and went to bed, exhausted, wrung out from the day, dizzy, maybe still feeling that single drink with a decent meal.  My phone made the sound indicating a text.  I ignored it.  It made the sound again, so I picked it up and looked:

     -Has [baby brother] texted you? 
     -Did you hear from [baby brother]?  Call me.

     They were from my sister.  As I read those, a long text popped up from her: my Mom is showing no improvement and they're having trouble keeping her blood oxygenation up without a full-coverage mask. She'd been on a CPAP machine to sleep for the last two nights and supposedly, my brother was going to do a mass text, which I had not received.

     Maybe my phone was overloaded or too shielded at work.  It happens.  I called, we spoke (she spoke.  I listened.  One does not often manage to slip in a word edgewise with my sister).

     Anyway, I'm going to go see Mom today.  Your good thoughts and prayers would be appreciated.
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* Five wires for three-phase power?  Sure.  It's 208 Y, not Δ, so three hot wires and the neutral (and 120V wall-socket juice from each hot to the neutral), plus a ground.  I didn't look but we usually specify a full-sized ground wire, just in case; the electrical code in most places allows it to be smaller but that's not a clever idea for a facility like the place I work.

 † Not the George Soros organization, the gastropub/coffeehouse.  In terms of the speed and quality of the service, as well as the outstanding food, it is as close to the Platonic ideal of dining out as you can get.  They don't faff about: as soon as you are seated and settled -- but not before! -- wait staff arrives with menus and waits for your beverage order.  From then on, staff and items arrive at the right time and dishes taken away once you are done with them, all as smoothly and unobtrusively as sleight-of-hand.  It is not inexpensive -- but you get every cent of what you pay for, and then some.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

I Ain't Been Got Yet

     Just a quick note, I am still around, but today is being consumed by a massive power-cutover project at work: we're getting a big, shiny-new UPS!

     I turns out there are many (the engineering "many:" "more than ten.". We run out of fingers) devices that should have had dual power supplies that don't -- and other with both power supplies n the same breaker.  This has bee, shall we say, "bracing."

     They just stood us down for lunch.  My peers and I will be back at it shortly, heaven help us.  --Oh, by the way?  The UPS guy is having software problems,  So this could be even more fun, later!

Friday, July 14, 2017

So I Need To Write A Letter

     I've been having a hard time writing a letter.  It's nothing bad but it does involve a degree of emotional vulnerability and you readers may have noticed that I'm a little...locked down that way.  I have had a somewhat disappointing life -- not all of it my own fault, but enough -- and I just don't trust any kind of closeness that involves emotional risk.  Which all of them do.

     So, I tried with a pen, with a keyboard, and stuff would come up.  I made excuses: too busy, too stressed, doesn't really matter because nothing does, and so on.  And there was this huge wall of significance building up, and months went by--

     So, take a pin to that balloon, right?  Scribble off a quick note on Messenger and get it done!

     Yeah, well-- started into that last night, got two and a half paragraphs churned out (and they were good paragraphs, too), and either hit the wrong button or the computer glitched, but whatever, Firefox shut down, bam, and when I reopened it, all my work was gone.  Lost.

     I swore for two minutes, pausing only for breath. Then I went to bed, where I slept poorly.

     Sorry.  I'm lousy at humaning these days.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Dear Microsoft...

     Why would I ever see this:

UPDATING WINDOWS
100% COMPLETE
DO NOT SHUT OFF YOUR COMPUTER

     For more than, oh, about five seconds?  When it's up for two minutes, I begin to suspect  -- just a little tiny bit -- that you might be fibbing about that "100%" part.

My Mom Is In The Hospital Again

     Mom was sent to the ICU late last night.  I had taken melatonin (work yesterday spent most of the afternoon teetering on the brink of semi-disaster and I was a bit wired) and slept through my sister's texts.

     Positive thoughts and prayers for my mother would not be remiss.  Because she is elderly and frail, they can't do anything very aggressive to help, just monitor her oxygen level and ensure she's getting enough.  She's been a real trouper though all of this, but it's difficult and frightening for her.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Interociter!

     The interociter is a fine bit of science-fictional window-dressing, first encountered in the novel (and later film) This Island Earth* by Raymond F. Jones.   The first portion ("The Alien Machine") of both book and film is a genuine geek-fest: research scientist receives some oddball electronic components and an even stranger catalog, orders a kit from it and proceeds to build a strange machine.  Once the machine is assembled and turned on, a person appears in the inverted-triangular screen, congratulates the builder on his skill, and invites him to join an elite group of other scientists.†

     So I was looking up this widget the other day, double-checking my spelling, and found the Wikipedia article about it has a section called "Other Appearances."  The thing is a trope, after all, probably more widely known than the ansible, so it's no surprise it gets shout-outs here and there.

     But the very last entry in the section says this: "An Interocitor appears on the label of Café Bustelo. It depicts a woman on an interocitor video screen enjoying a cup of Bustelo coffee."

     H'mm.  It struck me as unlikely.  I like a good cup of Cuban style coffee from time to time and Café Bustelo is an excellent version, but does it really?

     Yes.  It does.  Really:
     Memo: do not hire graphic designers who spend excessive time at the movies.  "Welcome to Metaluna -- regular, or decaf?"
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* Quite successfully given the Mystery Science Fiction Theatre 3000 treatment several years ago.  The remainder of the film is not nearly as much of a geek-fest and the collection of nifty, mostly RCA gadgets that makes the first part such geek catnip does not continue.  On the other hand, what looks like a first draft of the bridge of the Starship Enterprise is used for a lot of it....

† This is what we all hoped would happen when we finished building a Heathkit back in the day.  Can't speak for anyone else but it certainly never happened to me.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

An Observation

     It is perhaps emblematic of the change in American politics that "What didn't the President know, and when did he not know it?" has become a matter of serious concern for the Press.

     Once upon a time, even a loathed President had to be specifically culpable; now it's sufficient to be not inculpable in general.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Reading The News

     I was looking for something to comment on but all I'm finding "above the fold" (youngsters won't remember what that meant) is more-smoke-than-fire stuff about Russia.

     Russia?  In my life, they have gone from Looming Existential Threat to Struggling Democracy to WTF? and back to being force-grown as a World Threat.  It's certainly no nation to want for a neighbor these days, especially for countries that were once a part of the Soviet hegemony.

     But it's pretty much a thugocracy, and one with simple motives and predictable territorial ambitions.  A kind of a spoiler, lurking around the edges and grabbing what it can.

     Meanwhile, when was the last time you heard anything about the South China Sea?

Sunday, July 09, 2017

"...People Used To Get Behind The President After The Election Was Over..."

     I still hear that from time to time and it's utter nonsense.  To take one of the more obvious, plenty of people disliked FDR during his terms of office and plenty of newspaper editors and columnists criticized his Administration's polices, even during WW II.  Presidents Truman and Eisenhower had their critics, and so on and so forth--

     So this business of claiming that after the election, the public and the Press all just lined up and went along is pure bunkum.  Americans are not now and have never been the falling-into-line type, as even a cursory examination of the early Presidencies demonstrates.

     There was, however, one difference between those "good old days" and recent history: Presidents and their Administrations were generally questioned and criticized over matters of some substance.  Even if it was gossipy or salacious -- Warren G. Harding's mistress, for example -- it was something big.  Any more, Presidents are criticized for petty, stupid things at least as often as matters of policy: Mr. Obama's "Mom jeans," Mr. Trump's unlikely hair color and style.

     Our parents, grandparents and so on might not have got behind Presidents they disliked, but they didn't question what tie the Chief Executive wore to state dinners or snicker over mishaps like his staff not making hotel reservations on overseas trips.  I don't remember hearing much of that until President Ford fell down the stairs from Air Force One, and it was slow to ramp up afterward.  I'd like to tell you we're at Peak Derp, but we probably aren't.

     Maybe venting over the petty stuff is better than ignoring it; maybe it's a safety valve.  But I think it's more like a rash, itchy and constant.

     Don't pick at it.  You'll only make it worse.

Friday, July 07, 2017

Blame Johnson And Nixon

     I was thinking the other day why I find the Trump Presidency pretty much a yawner.  Which I do.

     Sure, I work around a lot of people who think he is The Worst Ever, a new old-fashioned fascist like Hitler or Mussolini, but that is patent nonsense: whatever else you can say about Schicklgruber and il Duce, they had philosophies and published plans -- evil, horrible plans based on a twisted philosophy, but a definite framework nonetheless.  Mr. Trump, now, everything I have seen indicates he's an absolute spur-of-the-moment pragmatist, which may not be the best of possible Presidential traits but is solid proof that he's not up to anything much past late-night twitter spats.  He doesn't even have a fancy uniform, which is a pretty stunning omission given what I have seen of his sense of style.

     Growing up, the first election I (barely) remember is the Nixon-Kennedy race, and the awful suspicion by my parents that some female member of the extended family had had the temerity to vote for Mr. Kennedy.  This was generally held to be an awful mistake caused by the candidate's good looks.  Then everything came crashing down and even the adults who had been most incensed at the thought of someone they knew and trusted having voted for that East Coast Democrat were horrified by the assassin's shot in Dallas.

     President Johnson was in and my folks loathed him.  He reportedly held conferences from the toilet (true) and showed reporters his gallbladder surgery scar.  He was, for lack of a better word, crass.  The hippie kids hated him for the Vietnam War; conservative adults loathed him for carrying on just like a big ol' Democrat and for his abrasive personal style. Eventually even the Press disliked him, and it showed.

     So he was disliked from both sides and the big middle of the bell curve was irked.  In a comeback effort by scrappy ol' Dick Nixon, the man who went toe-to-toe with Nikita Khrushchev over the state of kitchens and daily life in their respective nations, he spoke directly to that "silent majority" and made his way into office on the strength of their votes.

     The press promptly found he was a President they could dislike far more heartily than they had Johnson -- and Mr. Nixon had long possessed a gift for hating them right back and redoubled, which he proceeded to exercise.

     Richard Milhous Nixon was (in my opinion) a foreign policy genius, who probably should have been pulled into the State Department and kept there as a resource.  The Presidency did him no good and directly led to the multi-year feud and growing cynicism on both sides that culminated in the Watergate investigation, his resignation, and President Ford followed by President Carter, two men as determined to be likeable as puppies and neither one especially suited for that tail-wagging role.  It  left me so burned out on Federal politics that after pulling a lever in the Carter-Ford contest, I didn't vote for years.

     And Mr. Trump?  He's just Mr. Johnson's personal style with Mr. Nixon's sullenness, and lacking the nasty war in Southeast Asia that allowed them both to seem bigger than life.  He just doesn't bother me that much.  I don't think he's the Great Savior of Conservatism (seriously, guys?  Can you not do better?), nor do I think he is a would-be fascist dictator.  He's just Another One Like Them, of which this country has had plenty, most of them buffed warm and shiny by history but a plain ugly bunch of outright bastards in their day.

     Love him?  Hate him?  He, too, shall pass.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Another Busy Morning

     So busy, I shan't have time to write much.  I am hopelessly behind on nearly everything.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

A Glorious Fourth

     Tam and I had a nice day yesterday -- slept late, a good breakfast, plenty of "illuminations" after sunset and in between, a marvelous dinner:
Tamara Keel photo
     That's Tam's; I butterfly my steaks and cook them to medium, which isn't as photogenic and drawls howls of outrage from the raw-meat crowd.

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Independence Day

     I slept in.  'Cos I can.  Plans for later include lining the sidewalk to the front door with sparklers, followed or preceded by a dinner of grilled steaks, baked potatoes, braised Brussels sprouts,* tasty beverages (I totally should have had Tam buy some Sunlight Cream Ale: I'm not a complete Dry, merely temperate and this is a holiday, after all) and perhaps some chocolate‡ fudge.

     For now, a nice three-egg omelette with Chorizo,*† Poblano peppers,*† tomatoes,†‡ black olives* and Manchego cheese* will do to start the day.**
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* Immigrants, like many of our ancestors.

  † On the general topic of Chorizo sausage, peppers and tomatoes, Ohio's Secret Seed Cartel can fix you up with heirloom and unusual varieties of the latter two, plus lots more.  So where's the Chorizo come in?  Spell it txorizo and you've got the Basque version, tasty as only Basque cuisine can be, and for that, you need some choricero peppers.
 
‡ Also immigrants, but from farther south in the New World.

  ** Chickens, source of the eggs in that omelette back at the beginning of that paragraph (duck eggs sadly not being commercially available here), aren't so much "from" anywhere.  Those sneaky mini-dinosaurs are from everywhere!  If you go back before anyone was writing things down -- at least in a language that can be read today --  it seems likely that chickens, like Gypsies but much earlier, got their start in India.  Eggs being quite a treat and a critter that will lay one per day being not so common otherwise, chickens traveled well and spread faster than the written word or numbers and were ubiquitous before anyone noticed.  But while the species may be a citizen of the world, the various sub-varieties -- and there are scads -- usually have a known home and a fancier name than most of us.

Monday, July 03, 2017

Scootin'!

     Yesterday, I finally spent more than mere minutes on my motor scooter.  It's the real deal, a Vespa-like Bajaj Chetak* with a 150cc 4-stroke one cylinder motor and a twist-to-shift four-speed manual transmission with a hand clutch:† big enough to get into trouble, small enough that you'd better have a plan for when you do.

     The scooter started right up with the pedal, just one tap and blup-blupblupblipblupblipblup....!  Tire pressure was okay and the oil--  It's a year old; it wants changing sooner rather than later.  (It's a fiddly job, more like working on a sewing machine.  So that's on my list.)

     I'd topped up the battery a few days earlier -- no one makes a sealed battery quite the right size for these -- and planned on a series of rides of increasing length to see if it was going to need replaced or not. Halfway through the longest trip (about a mile), I stopped to window-shop, and was able to use the electric start!

     So that's looking good.  I'm about due to replace the tires -- or get them replaced, as the wheels are two-piece and the tires are tubeless, so there may be a trick to it -- but with an oil change, I may be able to do some scooter commuting yet this year. 
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*  Bajaj, an Indian company, apparently started out building licensed Vespa copies, then drifted farther and farther off-model, the four-stroke engine being the most obvious.  A late-model Chetak has very little parts commonality with a Vespa, despite a striking resemblance.  In the home market, these served the purpose of a second car in a middle-class American household.  With increasing prosperity came consumer desire for larger vehicles; Bajaj dropped their scooter line about 2006, kept their motorcycle range, and last I knew, had added small automobiles.  At the time, Bajaj was building the only California-legal motor scooter.  Competitor Star/LML just happened to be coming off a prolonged worker's strike at the time; their scooters were much close to the Vespa original and as production resumed, they quickly added a version with a four-stroke, low-emission engine and filled the vacancy the competitor had left.

 † Shifting a classic scooter takes some getting used to: the clutch lever and twist-shifter are both on the left grip. Tapping your toes will not help!  Same pattern as a motorcycle but finding the gears is a matter of practice.

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Saturday, July 01, 2017

Star Trek Beyond And Humans

     I watched the most recent installment of the rebooted Star Trek franchise recently.  It was certainly good entertainment, with every character punched up to at least eleven.  For good and ill, it was  an updated episode of the original TV series, cast in the gothic mode,* happy ending and all.  I liked that.

     The scriptwriters had better be sending a big check to the estate of pulp writer Lester Dent: the film very closely follows his "Master Plot" (analyzed here) and includes the Dent-ian touch of having a supposed victim turn out to actually be on the wrong side.  Lester Dent was one of the best of the pulp writers and it should come as no surprise that the Star Trek movie humps right along--

     --From pulp trope to pulp trope to "uncharted outer space" and holes you can throw characters through.  Humorously-played aliens?  Check, and in an embarrassingly simplistic manner.  Convenient motorcycle?  Check, and after a century or more, it still works; ditto an entire starship, which seems to be stronger than rock.  Then we have a character who suddenly, and by no obvious means, changes species....  It's pulp, and the usual thing is to keep the action moving so quickly that you don't care about the bumps.  Lester Dent generally drafted fiction about as quickly as he could type, the bulk of it first and final draft all in one -- but I don't remember any holes quite this large in his Doc Savage work.  I don't mind aiming low; pulp writers migrated to TV work in droves and turned out honest entertainment, to which this film is a fond homage; just please, a little more craftsmanship! 

     It's a good movie.  Just don't think about it too much as it plays.

*   *   *

     On the other hand, the UK TV series Humans, about a near-future or parallel-world society in which humanlike robots are common and a very few have begun to become self-aware, is one of the best-hearted approaches to the subject matter.  This doesn't prevent exciting and occasionally violent action, but it does keep the androids from being either too noble for words or becoming a monolithic threat.  Instead, they're as varied as the humans.  The second season was released recently and a third has been approved.  There are no spaceship armadas or physics-defying hand-to-hand struggles, but I find it engrossing nonetheless.  Pulp?  Yes, probably; but good pulp.
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* "The gothic mode:" there's good, there's evil, we know which is which and the good guys win. At one time, all SF was that way.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Thursday, June 29, 2017

The FM-Band Station That Wasn't

     Here's a tale of geekery that I stumbled across yesterday morning.  It belongs over at Retrotechnologist but I'll debut it here.  Though it's about radio and TV broadcasting here in Indiana, the story begins in Turkey.

     The principal of the tale was Armenian.  He was born in 1900.  It was a bad time to be an Armenian in Turkey, and getting worse; his father saw this and in 1907, took the family to the United States.

     Sarkes Tarzian grew up with the infant science of radio and was a bright student; out of college, he worked for Atwater-Kent and, eventually, RCA.  He was a good engineer and a master of cost-effective designs.  When WW II ended, the 45-year-old engineer found himself in Bloomington, Indiana, at an RCA plant already back to building consumer radios, much like the Atwater-Kent factory where he'd started out.

     Rather than go back to the grind, he hung out his own shingle, a consulting engineer.  FM broadcasting was just getting started back up, settling into the new band RCA had managed to get it nudged into, but receivers were expensive.  The new mode didn't use spectrum as efficiently as AM, either -- and that left an opening for a sharp engineer: "All-American Five" AC-DC radios for the AM band were cheap to build -- and, if you knew what you were doing, cheap to convert to the FM band.  Detecting FM required plenty of additional, expensive parts -- but if a station transmitted an AM signal, the AA5 would do the job.  In early 1946, Tarzian put amplitude-modulated W9XHZ on the air on 87.75 MHz, built scores of up-converters into ice-cream tins so existing radios could pick up the station, and modified a few dozen "generic" AA5s built at the not-too-distant Meissner plant (Mt. Carmel, IL) as fix-tuned receivers.  It worked.

     However, the experiment had already been tried.  In the late 1930s through early 40s, "Apex" stations transmitting AM on frequencies from 24 MHz up through 50MHz had been on the air.  They worked, too -- but Major Armstrong's FM system worked better.  TV was starting to grow and by May, 1949, it had come to nearby Indianapolis: WFBM-TV was the first, on channel 6.  The sound carrier -- FM! -- for channel 6 is, oops, 87.75 MHz.  The FCC required Tarzian's station to shut down any time channel 6 was on the air and when the license (for by-then KS2XAP) ran out, that was the end.

     If you can't beat them, join them: Sarkes Tarzian and his crew got their own TV license (and a regular AM-band station, too, WTTS)  and by November of 1949, WTTV was on the air on Channel 10, with a transmitter and antenna built at the Sarkes Tarzian factory.  Five years later, they moved to channel 4, put up a tall tower midway between Bloomington and Indianapolis, and went head-to-head against channel 6.  Little love was lost between the two; noting that transmitter problems had put WFBM-TV off the air for an extended period of time in 1949, WTTV promoted themselves as "Indiana's oldest continuously-operating TV station" for years afterward. 

     Sarkes Tarzian got into the consumer side of television early on; realizing the tuners were the trickiest part of building a TV set, he designed his own sturdy, inexpensive version and built them in bulk for many manufacturers.  TV station WTTV was built with TV-tuner money!

     ...That's the story of how central Indiana had, for a few years, an FM-band station that wasn't FM.

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.