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.
* 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.
* 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:


     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


     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?"
* 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.**
* 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


     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. 
*  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.
* "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.