Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Computer's Got A Brand New Bag

     From a BBC article on "Is Consciousness An Illusion?" this gem:
     "Computers in the 1960s were not very good at chess. Now they play the saxophone like John Coltrane." 
     So...found a hobby they liked better than chess, then?   A is not B, dammit, and until I catch Kasparov doing a jazz solo or read a report of Coltrane checkmating a chess champion, I'm going to look askance at that statement.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Documentary Seen On The Miskatonic University PBS Station?

sed -i 's/Lovecraft/Churchill/g' reality.ours

     "Even though large tracts of the Old World and the New have fallen or may fall to the Great Old Ones and all the non-Euclidian madness of Cthulhu's rule, we shall not flag or fail.  We shall go on to the last grasp of our sanity.  We shall fight in Arkham, we shall fight in the sea off Innsmouth and in the Pacific deeps of R'lyeh, we shall fight with blasted minds and shaking hands in the numbing cold of Antarctica, we shall defend our world, whatever the cost may be.  We shall fight in the graveyards, we shall fight in the asylums and forgotten hollows, we shall fight though our brains be put in cans and carried off by fungi from Yuggoth; we shall never surrender and if, which I can barely believe, this reality or a large part of it were swallowed up or somehow horribly changed, then our Civilization beyond Time, armed and guarded by our scholars and wizards, would carry on the struggle, until, in the face of a blind and uncaring universe, the hidden world, with whatever remains of its reason and force, reappears in an attempt to rescue the shattered remains of normal humanity." 

    Alternating one's reading between cosmic horror and mid-Twentieth Century history can produce unusual mashups.  I'd blame Charles Stross but he'd just point me to Tim Powers.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Writing

     It's frustrating -- when I am minded to write, I barely have a free minute.  When I have available time, I'm too sleepy or off on other things.  But I'm doing what I can.

     Hoping to get enough new stuff together to do a little collection.  There are a couple of novels in the pipeline after that, one in the main "USAS Lupine"  storyline and another one set during the War that tells the story of a Far Edge researcher and a USSF radio operator.  Then there's the still-developing story of how the Earth was very nearly rammed by an asteroid deflected by a rogue Far Edge mercenary, and how the lone survivor of a USSF expedition prevented it (with a little help from level-headed types on both sides).  That one's even got space pirates! 

Sunday, December 09, 2018

Hire It Done!

     Overwhelmed by the fallen leaves, with a bad knee and an inflexible deadline for the last city trash pick up of bagged leaves, I hired it done.

     There are clearinghouse companies that match work and workers; I've used one for lawn-mowing in the past, when neither Tam nor I had time, and they did a good job.  The same company coordinates leaf removal.  It's not cheap, but it's not excessive, especially considering the alternative.

     What showed up was a father-daughter team with basic equipment, on a bitterly-cold day when the leaves were sticking to the ground.  The father pointed that out, I agreed and asked him just do what he could; if some leaves were left, that was okay as long as the big leaf piles (I've been able to do a little raking) and loose stuff went away.  I told him to ignore the patio, where I have managed to accumulate a loose pile of fallen limbs and small branches, cut-down saplings and yanked-up Winter Creeper.

     Two hours later -- two hours of steady effort -- the front and back yards were 95% leaf-free, and he asked if I wanted the brush pile on the patio hauled away, naming a price well under what it was worth to me to have it gone.  Darned right I wanted it removed!  He was happy to extricate the fire bowl and utility wagon from under the heap and I was happy to have my patio back.

     Why didn't I do this last year?

Saturday, December 08, 2018

About "Trust"

     My short piece on trust garners some interesting reactions.  Not everyone gets my point; they talk about trusting others as though it was a choice.

     That's not the kind of trust I was writing about, or not only that.  You are -- right now! -- trusting others, or you wouldn't be connected to the Internet; you would not be connected to utility power, you wouldn't eat any food you didn't raise or grow yourself and you certainly wouldn't drive a car on the public roads or walk on the sidewalks and you would never, ever cross the street on foot.  You'd spend all your time safe inside the bunker you dug for yourself, never picking up the mail (anthrax or worse!) or coming into contact with others. 

     Trusting others isn't a bug and it's not an optional feature, either.  It's an inherent part of being engaged in a functioning society.  It doesn't keep you from noting the location of exits, from being mindful of suspicious persons or situations, or from avoiding risk you deem excessive.  And, yes, there are people who exploit that inherent trust -- but understand that they're rare.  Mailbombers and mass shooters grab headlines but you're more likely to be hit by lighting.

     Someone within a few miles of you has staggering quantities of poisonous chemicals; someone not too far away has a basement armory that would beggar belief.  All around you are people whose jobs, hobbies and/or skill sets include deadly capabilities and the means to use them.  Most of the people around you operate automobiles or other motor vehicles, one of the most deadly contraptions human ingenuity has yet devised, implacable machines that rend flesh and crush bones, and you don't cringe away in fear.   You trust them to stop at red lights and stop signs -- and they do, 99.9999999% of the time.

     I trust people -- and so do you.  Every time you get on an elevator, you trust the people who designed it, installed it and maintain it.  You trust the company that made the hoist cable and the brakes, that made the electric motor and the controls.  You step right in the thing, the doors close -- and it carries you to your selected floor.  Most of the time, you don't even think about it,* you just push the button and off it goes.  And that kind of trust is repeated over and over, by you and all around you, a network of shared trust.  Yes, some people take advantage of it and you've got to be alert for that -- but that doesn't keep you from relying on others, all day, every day, often without even considering it.
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* I'm not a fan.  Occasionally, my work takes me to the tops of tall buildings, carrying tools or  gadgets, and I am reminded that I am much less a fan of a hundred flights of stairs.  I get on the elevator, trusting.

Friday, December 07, 2018

Trust

     You know what? I trust people. I have to -- and so do you.

      I have heard a lot of elitist nonsense from the anti-gun side, and a little from the pro gun side. And I get that the world is stuffed to the gills with yahoos; I've seen "People of Wal-Mart." I qualified for Mensa; I'm supposedly smarter than most of the folks I meet and I'm pretty sure that's so.

     But many of those "yahoos" have skills I lack. Some of them are just better people than I am. And the truth is, most people are all right. I've had cars conk out in bad neighborhoods and had three guys show up to push the thing to a gas station; I had a muffler fall almost off in a wealthy neighborhood, had to pull into the nearest driveway and wire it up out of the way, and the homeowner came out to see if everything was okay. The rich guy didn't run me off. The poor guys didn't rob me.

     You trust these people. You have to. You trust your next-door neighbor with natural gas and a charcoal grill. You trust his seventeen-year-old kid at the wheel of their car. You trust the utility workers to not zap you or poison your city water. You trust the Mormon down the block, with a couple of year's worth of food and who knows what else socked away in his crawl space. You trust the drivers of enormous tractor-trailer rigs on the highway, and the garbage man in his huge truck. You do so every day and you don't think about it much.

     And your neighbor with a gun or two, or twenty? You're trusting him, too, like it or not. The odds are *hugely* that he's not out to get you -- the firearms death rate (other than suicide) in the U.S. is one third of the automobile death rate. (Add firearm suicides in and the rates are within a tenth or two of being equal, a little over 10 per 100,000.)

     If you want a safer world, get to know the people around you. If you want less violence, make more friends. The world is full of people. Most of them are pretty much like you: they want to get along. We mostly hear about the crazy and the wicked -- but they are a tiny minority.

     (This is a rerun, but I think it's worth rerunning.)

Thursday, December 06, 2018

New Story!

     A new vignette at I Work On A Starship:

     "Of course, it took one of the Power Room electricians to find it.
      And of course, it was the ternary degausser.  The degaussers don’t run very often but they’re absolutely essential. ..."

     What's a ternary degausser?  Well, it's got three parts. but they're all the same.  And if you don't have one, eventually it gums up the stardrive. That would be bad.

Witty Repartee Or Poor Speech Recognition?

     Think what you will of Amazon's "Alexa," it's the handiest kitchen timer I've ever used.  Just sing out what you need, when you need it -- but she is a bit nit-picky and perhaps I shouldn't call her on it:

     "Alexa, set a timer.  Ninety seconds."

     "TIMER SET FOR ONE MINUTE, THIRTY SECONDS."

      "Alexa, define 'pedantic.'"

     "AS A NOUN, 'PIG' IS USUALLY DEFINED AS A SWINE; OR, A COARSE OR OBNOXIOUS PERSON.  AS A VERB..."

     "Alexa, wow!  Isn't that kind of harsh?  I didn't mean to hurt your feelings."

     "I DON'T KNOW ABOUT THAT."

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Unvacation

     Today and the rest of the week was supposed to be a mini-vacation.  For today, at least, it's been cancelled. 

     There's a thing that hasn't been working, a very background sort of thing that no one notices until it is really needed.  It's been a problem off and on for years and for the last couple of years, it hasn't worked at all.  Because it's so much a background thing, of interest only to Engineering, it's been difficult to much attention to it.  We replaced an expensive and difficult to access component of the thing, and after a very sort stretch of proper function, it hasn't been working at all.

     To troubleshoot all of it, I need the assistance of a couple of specialized trades.  Co-ordinating them has been tricky.

     Yesterday morning, unexpectedly, one of the specialists told me they were going to be available today.  By midday, the other one was scheduled and I'd rescheduled that day of vacation.

     I sure hope we'll be able to get this thing working.

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

Politicians Acting Like Adults

     The death and services for former President George H. W. Bush have had an interesting effect: politicians, in this time of bitter partisan divide, have had to behave in a mature manner.  It's been instructive to see who has stepped up and who has stayed in the shadows.  Graciousness is often dismissed as trivial in the rough-and-tumble political arena but I think it's a valuable quality.

     It probably does some good to bring them all together in a situation that does not encourage childish sniping.  They have plenty to disagree about, substantial and important issues, which too often are submerged by the cheap shot, the snide comment, histrionic outrage and posturing for the press.  None of that's easy to pull off at a solemn memorial service.

     Maybe it won't help matters much.  Still, it can't hurt.

Monday, December 03, 2018

Education

     I spent several hours Sunday taking a class at the Indiana Writer's Center. This one was called "Overcoming perfectionism," both the tendency to fiddle with a manuscript during and after the writing to make it better, and the occasional sheer cliff of doubt that rears up when you look at your idea versus your skill set and wonder if you can possibly scale such a height.

     Like any but the most nuts-and-bolts of writing classes -- and perhaps even those -- what it's really about is how the only way to be a writer is to get your fundament in a chair and write.

     One of the best things about being a writer is the feeling of having written; one of the worst things is looking at a blank page and having to fill it up.  Next-to-worst is line-editing, the drudgery of fixing every typo and misspelling, locating every misplaced comma and so on.  And don't even get me started about hunting shifts of tense and viewpoint, mistakes of number and agreement, sneaky malapropisms and other missteps!  --But between the blank page and the various kinds of editing is the writing.  There's no way around it.  And with the writing comes rewriting -- it's not a simple, linear process.

     That's really what the class was about.  Everyone in the class, even our instructor, was or had been put off by their process.  After all, it was famously said of Shakespeare, "in his writing, whatever he penned, he never blotted out a line;" Henry James dictated finished prose that was promptly typed up, submitted to editors and published, right?  Right -- and this is remarked on because it is so unusual.  It's not how most writers work.

     I found the class reassuring.  I managed to put in some work on a story that had me stumped.  Now all I need to do is keep going.

Sunday, December 02, 2018

Noting The Passing Of A President

     George H. W. Bush, June 12, 1924 – November 30, 2018, carried the office of President with what at times appeared to be reluctant grace.  President Reagan's easy handling of the Press meant whoever followed him would look less deft and President Bush was far more strait-laced than his predecessor.  He did the job and didn't whine, not even when Congress fouled his hopes to reduce the deficit and torpedoed his chance of reelection.

     He served well in many jobs for many years, and his passing leaves us with a little less perspective on current events.   

Saturday, December 01, 2018

News Robots

     That hand-crafted local TV newscast you grew up with?  It's gone, along with unsliced bread.

     Automation is the only thing keeping local news alive. The number of people it takes just to put a newscast on the air in a non-automated system -- I'm not talking about gathering, reporting, writing or editing the news , just pushing studio cameras and switcher buttons, turning knobs and yelling at the crew -- is very high and most of them have to be full-time employees.

      Take Indianapolis, a very competitive market ranked somewhere in the top 30s. Of the five stations doing local news, most produce 90 minutes between 4 and 7 p.m. That's a minimum of:

     2 Directors, trading off for each 30-minute segment (it's stressful; Directors come out of the chair sweaty and frazzled after a busy half-hour).

     3 Producers, the "editor" in charge of final scripting for each segment, making sure all the people and video is available, fonts ready, etc. and then running his or her segment, keeping track of timing, ensuring remotes are ready, cueing talent and adjusting as needed to make the show end on time.

     1 or 2 TDs, doing all the video switching.  ("Technical Director."  The Brits call the same job "Vision Mixer," which is a little more descriptive.)

     1 or 2 audio operators, not only running audio but laying out wireless mics for the talent, enuring the mic transmitters and IFB receivers have fresh batteries, etc.

     1 Chyron/Graphics operator, running fonts and fullscreen graphics in real time, supported by a "back room" of at least one other artist. (Automation can pull most of the basic fonts from the script, but we haven't got that, so type fast, kid!)

     1 "Tape" operator, cueing up pre-recorded segments for playback in the correct order for the TD or Director to roll them as needed.

     1 "QC" operator, shading cameras on the fly and pulling in remotes via video-over-IP and microwave; you can hand the latter task off to the person on the News Assignment desk and stick the TD with shading, but it's still one more person.

     3 or 4 camera operators. Most shows use at least four studio cameras but one is usually dedicated to the chroma-key weather wall and camera ops can back up one another,

     1 or 2 Floor Directors, who cue talent and make sure they are pointed at the right camera, usher guests in and out, hand out iPads and put them back on chargers, and dole out emergency batteries for mics and IFB receivers.

     1 Prompter operator, scrolling the teleprompter displays along at a rate that suits the on-air talent -- or a little faster, if the director tells them to. They're also probably having to skip ahead when elements are dropped for timing.

     Fifteen people, plus or minus a few. Their work is used for an hour and a half, at least twice that for Producers and Directors, and an added hour for Audio and Floor on prep and clean-up; the full-timers work shifts that include another hour of news at noon or 10/11 p.m., but they've got to be paid for eight hours and kept busy -- and not one of these people is involved in the collection and reporting of news; there are 4 - 5 photographer/editors and as many field reporters per shift (usually three shifts), assignment editors, "tape" ingest/editors (1 or 2 of each per shift) along with anchors (probably two sets for the 90-minute evening news), Sports reporters, anchor(s) and photogs, Weather talent and a few reporters, photographers and reporters doing features and investigative stuff who report news and generate content.

      Stations can't give up on their original content -- it's the one thing they have that their network, the cable news networks and the competing stations don't have. But do they need all those people just to put the show on the air, and not even kept occupied for their full shift?

     Nope.  There are robots for that.  Robot cameras, script software that picks up on when video segments have to be aired, which camera should be on the air, what fonts and graphics should appear when, and which audio sources should be on at any given time.  But they have to be told what to do.  They have no initiative.  They can't guess at what you meant. 

      To do automation correctly, the prep work becomes detailed and absolutely vital. With a live newscast, the Producer can hand out scripts five minutes before air time and everyone will find their place, staying a few steps ahead if they're good. Under automation, the Producer finishes up her script well in advance, ingesting what the reporters, Desk and wire services have written, marking up voice-over video and sound-on-video segments,* fonts and graphics so automation will pull them in as needed. She hands it off to the Director with an hour or 45 minutes to go, Director adds camera assignment sand moves, then goes into the control room and with the TD, steps through the script much faster than real-time, checking for anything missing, fixing any flubs, noting stuff that has yet to come in.

     The automation crew is still 2 or 3 Directors plus 2 or 3 Producers, but after them, you have 1 or 2 TDs, 1 audio person, 1 floor person -- and that's it. TD also shades cameras, Assignment Desk pulls in remotes in their spare time. Graphics is *all* back room, probably one person. Nine people, roughly -- and they have a lot less down time. There are still the same number of people as before out gathering news, though more and more of the routine stuff is covered by "MMJs," or "one-man-bands," who shoot, edit and report. It's not always ideal, but five MMJs are cheaper than three two-person teams.

     Was your car built by hand, like a Morgan? Was it built on a non-automated assembly line, like a 1932 Ford? Or did robots do most of the heavy lifting, routine assembly and nasty spray-booth work? Your news now comes to you the same way.

      But here's the thing: if the robots aren't programmed correctly, they turn out junk, not cars. The guys who build Moggies? They can't be let loose in a Japanese car plant!

     The TV producer who is used to "winging it," who doesn't put the newscast together until five minutes before airtime, who pulled off breaking news coverage as smooth as silk thanks to a lot of people frantically doing their jobs at the last minute? He's Plague Death for an automated newscast! Oh, he can probably do them, but they'll look like crap. If the Director didn't get the script in time, the shots will be off, robot cameras looking at an empty desk, or in the wrong direction -- and there's nobody behind the camera to fix them. Large-scale, last-minute rearrangements of the script will wreak havoc. It takes a whole different approach to cover late-breaking news under automation, and a lot more preplanning, with filler you can drop and replace, and careful timing.

      TV profits are shrinking. I love old-fashioned live news but it's getting to be an impossible luxury, especially if you still want your local stations to cover any actual news.
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* Collectively known as V-O/SOT, for voice-over and sound-on-tape and pronounced "voe-sought," they're anything shot out of the studio that doesn't have a reporter in the picture, talking.  This is the real red meat of news: what's happening, as it happened.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Weather?

     So....now it's 41 degrees and climbing, and we've got fog so thick that when I heard a loud snorting and groaning and felt the house shake a little, I was looking for a dinosaur rather than the garbage truck with its fancy hydraulic can-grabbing claw.

     But it was a truck that emerged from the mists and just as well -- I'm pretty sure my insurance doesn't cover thunder lizards.


Thursday, November 29, 2018

Well, It's Warmer Today

     It's much warmer today.  In the upper twenties to low thirties, in fact.  What an improvement!  --Except for the freezing drizzle, of course.

     Yeah.  Here in town, at least so far, it's still just wet, though I won't be surprised if there are patches of ice.  Out where things begin to thin out, it's worse, including my current worry at the North Campus, where some things that shouldn't ice up probably are, while I try to coordinate specialists to help us do something about that.

    

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

The Wind Chill Is Nine

     Nine degrees above zero, mind you; I wouldn't want people to think I was exaggerating.   The thermometer sits at nineteen, which is plenty cold enough.

     Over the weekend, the weather did call for a cold snap followed by gradual warming late in the week and a return to seasonal temperatures over the weekend -- but not this cold.  On the other hand, the early forecast missed the snow, too, and we've had plenty enough to make streets and sidewalks slick.

     Not much to be done except remember August.  And think of the Spring.  Three months and a few days to go!

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

What Did Happen At the Border?

     It's yet another incident where you'll see what you brought to it -- some people I know were horrified that the U.S. used tear gas on refugees while others were concerned about an attempted invasion.

     There is an actual procedure for people seeking asylum in the United States.  It doesn't include climbing a border fence.  It is slow -- a few hundred a week at the San Ysidro port of entry where many of the marchers have gathered and where the attempted illegal crossing and tear-gassing took place.  This is a governmental process, a bit more involved than getting a driver's license, and those wheels turn slowly.

     The miracle is that they turn at all.  The MS St. Louis -- carrying over 600 refugees fleeing Nazi Germany -- was refused by Cuba and the United States in 1939; about a third of the passengers were eventually allowed into Great Britain, and as for the rest, "Two hundred fifty-four passengers in Belgium, France, and the Netherlands after that date died during the Holocaust. Most of these people were murdered in the killing centers of Auschwitz and Sobib√≥r; the rest died in internment camps, in hiding or attempting to evade the Nazis."

     Things like that are why there are laws and international treaties on the granting of asylum to refugees. Those laws aren't perfect but they're a good-faith effort, a balancing act between national security and helping innocents get out of trouble.

     NPR has a fairly neutral round-up (if you make allowance for labels: are these self-described asylum-seekers "migrants?") of what did happen at the border, what led up to it and what might happen in the future.

Monday, November 26, 2018

It's Monday In Indianapolis

     The TV news just reported part of the ring-freeway around town is closed due to a bus fire.  And it's snowing.

     Definitely Monday.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Oh, Blogging!

     I admit it -- I've been goofing off most of the last four days.  I really should have done more.  But I did make some headway on the fallen leaves today, and got a lot of laundry done yesterday.

     What I didn't do, and should have, was winterize my scooter.  That's pretty much a must this week.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

When Life Gives You Leftover Mashed Potatoes

     Fry 'em!
     Pretty good with bacon and eggs.  Mashed potato patties with a little seasoned flour on them, fried in a mixture of bacon fat, butter and sesame oil.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Friday After Turkey

     I slept late, rushed the leaf bags out to the curb in my housecoat when I heard the truck come grunting down the road, checked the mail and found a pretty big check from an interesting retirement realignment.

     It was properly made out (to my bank, for me) to, knock wood, not impact my taxable income.  I'm not going to leave a piece of paper like that in the house any longer than necessary, so I got cleaned up quickly and ran to the bank to get it where it belonged, in my very own IRA, already set up.

     After that, Tam and I had a light meal at Marco's, a nice and dependably-good local place that has withstood Broad Ripple's foodie avalanche by keeping on keeping on: their menu always includes well-executed classics and the service is always friendly.  You can go in there for a meal and know what to expect.

     Came home, messed around a bit and had a nap.  I have been short on sleep for a week and a half.  Time to work on remedying that.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Bacon-Wrapped Turducken

     Every Thanksgiving, I cook a small Turducken. Even a small one is good-sized -- four and a half pounds of turkey, duck, chicken, stuffing and sausage. Typically 30 to 45 minutes per pound at 350, which is a long time in the rarely-used oven--

      The weather was supposed to be clear and not too cold, so I looked into the idea of charcoal grilling in my closed-top grill instead. It turns out that this is a thing people do. You use indirect heat, which means there's no fire directly under the pan; and you do use a pan. Many people that had tried it, liked it. I bought some disposable foil pans, and made sure there was still some charcoal left.

      This morning, I emptied the grill's grate (saving the big lumps of charcoal for reuse), cleaned the grill bars, and pondered what to do. The turducken has a kind of stretch cord netting around it to hold it together, and it's always awkward taking it off afterward. Tam and I had a nice morning walk and stopped by the grocer's to see if they were open. They were. So I bought extra bacon. Who needs a net when you've got smoked pork?

     It worked!
TAMARA KEEL PHOTO
      Here's how it went: Back home, I started the grill with a little pyramid of six fatwood sticks filled by two pages of newsprint, a loose cairn of lump charcoal piled over it. It was larger than usual and I used a couple of matches to light the newsprint in several places.

      Once the flames had slowed down, I closed the lid (vents open) and went inside, where I wove a 4x3 mat of bacon, un-netted the turducken and laid it on top of the bacon. Then I wove another bacon mat on top of the turducken, pinned it in place with several toothpicks, then went around the circumference, bending the lower mat up and pinning under to the top one and to the meat. I added a few more toothpicks for good measure. Went back outside, spread the glowing coals to the sides, added some soaked hickory chips to them, set the grill bars in place and put the pan in the middle with an oven thermometer next to it. Closed it up, set Alexa to time an hour and did other things.
An hour later, the back yard smelled wonderful and the pan was sizzling. Checked the thermometer -- 340°F, though you lose heat fast with the lid up -- dropped in some small pieces of charcoal and more smoking chips, and set timers for one hour and two and a quarter.

      After another hour (and more charcoal and smoking chips), I made skin-on mashed potatoes and oyster mushroom/bacon gravy (fry a few strips of bacon, set it aside, saute oyster mushrooms in the bacon fat, set them aside and drain liquid from them back into the pan, then make a roux with the mushroom-flavored bacon grease and once it's cooked medium-brown, add water to make gravy. Add back mushrooms and as much of the bacon as you like. Other than a little pepper on the bacon, it needs no seasoning). I prepped asparagus for sauteing and the last timer went off.
Outside, a meat thermometer told me the turducken was done. The bacon was nicely browned and the pan held lots of drippings (next year, I'll add a small cookie rack inside the pan). I added some of the more interesting stuff from the drippings to the gravy and sauteed "popcorn" asparagus while the turducken rested on a cutting board. The asparagus takes less than five minutes, then it was time to take a taste and load up plates.
TAMARA KEEL PHOTO
            The gravy and potatoes were great (if I do say so myself). Popcorn asparagus is always good, The turducken was ambrosial! Moist and flavorful. Sure, it's utterly crazy -- but it worked.

Thanksgiving

     Thanksgiving morning.  First one without my Mom.  Planning to concentrate on cooking and crafts.

     Perhaps an essay later.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Homecoming

     Homecoming is a TV series on Amazon Prime Video,  based on a podcast of the same name, written by Eli Horowitz and Micah Bloomberg (who wrote the original podcast) and directed by Sam (Mr. Robot) Esmail. 

     It is billed as a "psychological thriller," which is true enough, though with a strong science-fictional element and a background of corporate greed that probably caught Esmail's attention -- on some levels, Mr. Robot is more or less Atlas Shrugged retold for anarcho-anticapitalists.*  Homecoming is a different kind of story, with far more light in its darkness, very much "in the Gothic mode," which is to say there's a good guy or two, a bad guy or two, we come to know which is which, and the story works out to an entirely satisfactory and nearly complete conclusion.  --Nearly complete; there's another season yet to come.  Nevertheless, the first season stands very well on its own and I recommend it to my readers. 

     If you like Theodore Sturgeon's science fiction, I think you'll like this series.  Unusually for modern television programs, each episode is a half-hour long and they often end with something unresolved; not (usually) quite a cliffhanger but close enough.  Having only a half-hour to work in -- fifteen minutes less than a commercially-interrupted "hour" of drama -- forces the writing, acting and direction to be remarkably efficient and Horowitz, Bloomberg and Esmail manage it with skill and unexpected touches.
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* Albeit with a side order of Chinese cyber-warfare and a hero with severe social anxiety.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Geekery For Girls

     Don't do it girls.  Just don't.  Avoid geekery and find something else to do.  It's too frustrating, climbing over walls that aren't there for the boys, over and over and over.

     In my work, I have both general and specific skills, and both general and specific duties and responsibilities.  Any more, the general stuff -- working as one of a half-dozen electronics techs at a communications facility -- makes up the bulk of my work.   Connect this, install that, unsnarl some bit of legacy improvising, work out and build interface gadgets, respond to user problems (often under considerable time pressure), assist managers in long-range planning -- that's most of what I do.  It's the basic skill set of my line of work.  But on top of that, I have considerable experience and training in the installation, maintenance and operation of high-power radiofrequency equipment, including cooling requirements.   I've been doing that for nearly forty years.

     It doesn't make any difference in terms of trust.  Time and again, I diagnose a problem and propose a solution, only to have to explain and justify the entirely predictable and understandable behavior of that specialized equipment at great length, unless I can get a man to tell management exactly the same diagnosis and propose the same solution, at which point it is accepted without question.

     The impression I get -- from several different managers over the years -- is that at some barely-conscious level, they just can't convince themselves that some woman could possibly know what I know.  And yet many of them have resented my attempting to explain in detail so they can follow the observed symptoms and my reasoning as to the cause and remedy.  There's no way around it.  When I can, I'll use factory support engineers or consultants as cut-outs to short-circuit the cycle of skepticism and cautious explanation, which wastes time and effort.  It works.

     But I reach a point where it's all I can do to keep myself from saying, "I told you so, I've been telling you so and how I can fix it, but you won't believe me," clearing out my desk and going home. Who needs it?

     Edited To Add: Things went better than I had expected.  I was able to explain the particular problem that I was concerned about with sufficient clarity that my bosses were confident about the nature of it and my proposed remedy.  The new guys are not the old guys -- there's still the problem of always having to prove myself in a way the boys do not, but it helps considerably to be working for people who are not impervious to reason.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Oxtail Stew Photos

     Tam had visitors in town over the weekend.  I had a lot to do (major laundry, leaf-mowing/raking* and such), but managed to have brunch with everyone Saturday and Sunday.  Sunday night, I heated up oxtail stew leftovers with a can of no-beans chili, and was reminded to ask Tam for her pictures of the stew from Friday:

     Yum!
TAMARA KEEL PHOTO
      Once the sweet Italian sausage and turnip cubes were cooked, the oxtail starts like this: (Click to enlarge.)
TAMARA KEEL PHOTO
     It makes me happy that I decided to find out what the big deal was about oxtail.  Always did like the Knorr dehydrated soup (Campbell's used to make a version, too) but they're smooth, beef/tomato soups.  Cooking down actual oxtail and snipping the meat from the bone produces wonderfully flavorful results.
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* The cordless electric mower does a great job on dry leaves, though the bag fills up rapidly and has to be emptied.  Still better than clearing leaves by hand.  It's slower on wet ones, so on Sunday I raked up the damper areas and kind of turned the piles of fallen leaves over, to help them dry.  Guess what it's doing outside right now?  The online weather called it "a soaking rain."  As opposed to a dry rain, maybe?

Sunday, November 18, 2018

"As I Was Travelling To Saint Ives...."

     Tam was out of town for work (and vacation) during nearly all of October.  The first week she was away, I cut the tip of my left ring finger at work as the result of gesturing carelessly near a ventilation fan with a coarse blade guard.

     The wound was small but fairly deep, right across from side to side, and it wouldn't stop bleeding.  After an hour or more of bandaids, pressure and ice, I went to the company's Official Doc In A Box...which also happens to be a pay-for-plasma center, which I prefer to avoid.  Official policy calls for a manager to accompany the injured employee, so off we went and the doctor superglued the cut in my finger.  Fixed just about as quickly as it can be described, all better!

     There's just one caveat: you're not supposed to get it wet.

     Waterproof bandaids do the trick most of the time.  There's one exception.

     The curtain rises on our stage almost a month later.  My fingertip has healed.  It's Tam's first morning home, after having arrived sometime in the night and fallen asleep on the couch.  I'm in the office writing, having already awakened, made breakfast and coffee, and left a couple slices of bacon in the oven.  She's barely up, and has shuffled into the kitchen, poured herself a cup of coffee and retrieved the plate of bacon.  She turned to get a sheet of paper toweling, and came to a full stop.  The silence was thick for fifteen seconds or more, then she called to me,

     "Bobbi?"
     "Yes?"
     "Why's there a rubber glove next to the sink with three fingers cut off?"
     I was a little distracted.  "Oh, that.  Yes."
     "No, why?"
     "Dog condoms?"
     "Ew, no."
     "An experiment?"
     "What?"
     "Um, for SCIENCE!"
     "No, come on, can't we just throw this out?"
     "Okay.  I cut my finger while you were out of town and I using a glove finger and a rubber band to keep it from getting wet when I wash my hair in the shower.  But they're not 100% water tight and they're hard to dry, so...."
     "I am throwing this thing away!"

     Heh. I guess it was a little disconcerting, at that.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Oxtail Stew!

     Tam called from the grocer's: "They've got oxtail!  Shall I get us some?"

     "Sure.  Get some vegetables, too."

     "I will.  And steak tips.  Maybe some sausage...."

      The way this works is, Tamara buys whatever appeals to her, and I turn it into a meal.  We already had canned tomatoes and some beef stock, which, with the oxtail itself,  are the essential ingredients.  Whatever else you add is an additional layer of flavor and texture.

     Tam arrived with a couple of nice, meaty sections of oxtail, a bag of steak tips, and a decent amount of bulk (uncased) sweet Italian sausage.  Her vegetable choices were turnips, white onions and Polano peppers, with a nice-looking contianer of oyster mushrooms for goods measure.

     I looked at this collection and thought about it.  Turnips can be a challenge; they take a bit of cooking and can be a little bland, though they lend a certain underpinning to the broth (similar to the effect of cabbage) essential to really good flavor.  I peeled and cubed them, added sat, pepper, marjoram and garlic and started them over low-medium heat.  After they were a bit cooked, I added the sausage and a teaspoon or so of rosemary, covered and let it all cook down, opening the pot occasionally to turn and break up the sausage.  Once it was well-browned, put all of that in a bowl and put the bowl in the oven to stay warm over the pilot light.

     Browned the oxtail on all sides in the sausage/turnip grease (drained more from the bowl), and once  it was well underway, I added the streak tips, and pulled out each oxtail in turn, letting it cool and removing as much meat as possible.  I diced a big onion and added that, covering the whole thing.  While that cooked, I cycled the oxtail through several cook/remove meat cycles.  (If you have more time, you can just let it simmer until the meat falls off, though it nearly always takes a little scissor-and-knife work to get it all.)  Added the mushrooms once the beef tips were mostly cooked, then diced up a huge Poblano and added it.  Pulled out the oxtails and cleared them more while sauteing the peppers and mushrooms.  Once the Poblano was brightened up, I added the sausage and turnip, a cup or so of beef stock and a can of diced tomatoes, stirred it all up, covered and let it simmer for fifteen minutes.

     After that, it was time to fill up the bowls.  I tasted a spoonful of the broth and was very happy; Tam showed up, took a taste and kind of murmured in joy, "Yum!"

     Yeah, that worked out.  Cooking the sausage and turnips together first is a winning strategy: the turnip cooked all the way through and is flavorful.  The broth was silky and rich.   Photos later, if the household photographer sends them to me.

Friday, November 16, 2018

What's In Your Trunk?

     Yesterday's sleetstorm in Indianapolis -- which has turned into record snows in the northeastern U.S. -- prompted me to return my "winter kit" and "responder kit" to my car, along with the nice FEMA-type emergency-supplies knapsack I won at a recent industry conference.

     You should carry a few things in your car, no matter where you live.  Just what depends on what you encounter, but there are some basics.

     My basic winter kit or "crash bag" is similar to a bug-out bag.  It's a small canvas duffle or large gym bag, black, a bit beat-up. There's a change of clothes (two changes of undies and socks, plus extra heavy socks) and a nightgown, toothbrush and toothpaste plus grooming supplies, a pair of work gloves, a penknife, a few band-aids, some cough drops and a silly "survival kit in a tin" that takes up little room.  I used to keep a paperback book or two in it and I still should -- you can't always charge a Kindle or smartphone.

     The "responder kit" is related to my job.  In the wake of the devastating hurricanes that hit the East and Gulf Coasts, emergency management agencies and industry groups realized that the people who maintain radio and TV transmitters, wireless internet providers and cellular towers sometimes needed to get into areas that were otherwise off-limits due to natural disasters (etc.), so that these communication services could be kept running or restored to operation.  In my state, it resulted in a program that includes training in FEMA's "modular" emergency management system, itself a result of working to correct muddled chains of command and areas of responsibility in the aftermath of Hurricanes Sandy and Katrina,* sessions with the State Police on how to interact with emergency personnel, a background check and an ID card.  We're obliged to wear basic safety gear if we use the card -- hard hat, high-visibility vest, gloves, boots -- and I keep that all in a bright orange bag in my trunk.  I keep a nice crowbar strapped to the outside: I got locked out of the North Campus one day; it didn't happen to be an emergency, but what if it had been?  Stanley sells the answer!  Also in that bag, surplus binoculars: sometimes you need to get a look at something far away.

     The FEMA-type kit...I'm still learning what's in it.  I need to lay it all out on my bed and take inventory.  (I ought to add written inventories to each bag, too.)  A lot of First Aid supplies, from bandaids to slings.  Heavy  gloves.  Latex or nitrile gloves. Hard hat (yes, another one).  Adjustable wrench and pry bar.  Flashlight.  Emergency radio covering AM/FM/Weather bands.  All packed to occupy minimum volume in a decent-quality nylon backpack (dark green and a bit nondescript.  This prize is from a presentation by a County-level Emergency Services manager, a very hands-on guy who's read some of the same books I have).

     That pretty much occupies the back half of my trunk.  I keep bathroom tissue (the North Campus doesn't get a lot of attention from Facilities) and bottled water in there, too, though the water supply is minimized in wintertime and I check it for freezing.

     There are things that aren't in the bags, because they live on my belt, in my purse or in my pockets -- a lighter, pocket knife, multi-tool, two-way radio (work and ham frequencies), sidearm, pencil and paper, phone/Kindle charger (a lighter-plug adapter), spare lipstick and a flashlight (prior to the FEMA kit, I didn't have one in a trunk bag -- I don't like long-term battery storage; you need to check them monthly for leakage and change them out twice a year) plus other small items.

     I have been snowed in at work a few times and on a couple of occasions, problems with remote-control equipment have effectively stranded me at an isolated location until I could get it working.  Having the basics always on hand can be a big help.  I had unloaded my old car after it was wrecked and hadn't put the bags in my new car until the bad weather yesterday reminded me.

     If you don't carry an emergency kit, ask yourself what you might need on short notice -- and why you don't have it already.
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* It's easy to poke fun at FEMA but they're serious about their work and the midlevel people who do the heavy lifting (and their staffs) are actually good at it and were allowed to apply their planning skills after the hurricane response made headlines.  The modular management setup provides a flexible framework with clear areas of responsibility and reporting paths.  Properly applied even a little, it makes a big difference in getting help where it is needed and avoiding jurisdiction squabbles.  It is obviously the work of people who never want to have to deal with unsnarling another huge cluster of fail again.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Winter's Here

     Oh, not officially -- but onset of Winter weather has announced itself with an overnight ice storm.  So far, Indianapolis/Marion County* has escaped the worst of it but to go one county north and it's not good.  The site I call the "North Campus" is right in the transition area.  I left my phone up there last night and it may have to stay awhile.  Only a little to the north, schools have been closed for the day due to slick roads.

     Out the back door, we appear to have not had a heavy layer of ice; surfaces are pebbled with maybe a two-thirds coverage of eighth-inch diameter ice droplets.  It's more than enough to need scraping, and just enough to make the roads slick.

     From the TV down the hall, I'm hearing reporters not too far afield talking about rain changing to snow.  The temperature's due to climb back up.  By the afternoon, the snow will change to rain.  Temperatures in the 40s on Friday and over the weekend, so we only have to get through today.  (Slow down, please, and stay in your lane.) I'll be staying in the big-city "heat island" today, if I can.
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* Nearly identical, except for towns like Lawrence and Speedway that didn't want to join the UniGov collective.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Another Early Day

     Yes, and up at the North Campus, too, where -- weather permitting -- there's some outside work.  My part of it should be fairly light and as long as I remember to dress warmly -- as in, not leave my Winter hat at home like I did yesterday -- I shouldn't get too cold.

     There are tasks left over from Monday, when work expanded to fill the available time and kept right on expanding.  We're hoping to get them done today.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Stan Lee Is Gone

     He wasn't young -- 95?  Few people ever get there -- and I wasn't a huge fan of comicbooks* and yet--  It's surprisingly saddening.  The guy who wrote those funny/snarky things in the back of the better comics and signed off with "Excelsior," gone?  The fellow who put in a cameo in movies featuring characters from magazines he edited, always there in the background, no more?

     It's painful.  I'm going to miss him. A little of my childhood goes with him.  A little of a lot of people's childhoods goes with him.

     Godspeed.
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* His preferred version of the word, according to some sources. 

Monday, November 12, 2018

Dinner And A Story

     My early start this morning meant an early departure -- so I met Tam at 20 Tap for dinner...

     ...a Pork Mojo Bowl, which has lots of pork and plenty of mojo...

     ...and a story!
     Still in progress.

Early Day

     In a hurry -- more later, if things go as planned.  Probably even if they don't.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

One Hundred Years Ago

     ...The guns fell silent in Europe.  It had been a horrendous war, a "war to end wars," fought until the very last second at the insistence of the leaders, and surely the Western world had learned a lesson--

     Two months shy of twenty-one years later,* they did it again, for over six years.  And we still haven't put an end to evil -- or even to the conflict of moral equals.

     Never forget this.  And never forget the blood and toil of the men and women whose lives and labor are given to resolve these conflicts, as much as they can ever be resolved.  History isn't markers on a map, it's people.
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* Even earlier in Asia, September 1931 or July 1937. 

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Sleep, That Knits Up....

     I don't know what sleep really knits up -- I'm told the way we read the Shakespeare quote is slightly askew to the original meaning* -- but it certainly sent me on a journey.

     Sleep and I are not best friends.  Oh, I love sleeping as much as anyone, though it can be fugitive.  It's the laying down that doesn't work for me.  A thin pillow and flat on my back makes for snorking, possible reflux and numb fingers and toes.  No pillow spares the fingers and toes but the reflux risk is worse.  A big wedge fixes all that, but makes my lower back hurt.  Side sleeping can work but the cats complain, and if I don't lay just right, my neck hurts in  the morning.

     Yeah, yeah, life's tough when you're sleeping in a big ol' bed under a heated comforter--  Not complaining, only describing.  I'm used to all that, and making occasional adjustments in the night.

     But last night was long (I went to bed early) and when I awoke at six this morning to feed the cats, my right knee, the bad one, ached like never before, worse with weight on it, one hot, bright spot of pain at the lower left and radiating outward.  I hobbled through cat-feeding and went back to bed, fearing the worst.  Slumber fell on me like a load of gravel.

     Three and a half hours later, sleep ebbed away and I sat up, still worried.  H'mm.  No pain from the knee.  Flipped back the covers, sat up, stood up--  Not hurting.  Took a few steps.  My right knee is fine.  Like it never even hurt.

     Don't know what that was about but I'll take it.
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* A "ravelled sleave" referred not to part of a garment but to a tangled mess of yarn, which needed to be untangled and "knit up" into a ball or skein to be useful.  Or so I read.

Friday, November 09, 2018

On Mass Shootings And Wall-To-Wall News Coverage

     There's an institutional tropism in news organizations to want lurid news and to linger over it when it happens. I'm not sure there's any conscious individual intent past the cynical awareness that "If it bleeds, it leads." And this unacknowledged, unrecognized hunger may be a far worse problem than deliberate malice could ever be.

     It took about eight hours from the first shot fired until we knew the California mass-murderer's middle name and a thumbnail biography had been promulgated.  Don't think the next frustrated, unhinged, attention-seeking or otherwise borderline types pondering the fame that comes from causing grievous harm to large numbers of people weren't taking note.

Thursday, November 08, 2018

California Mass Shooting

     There's been a mass shooting in California -- eleven people dead, plus the asshole that did it.  Just in time for Nancy Pelksi's re-ascension to the Speaskership, in the state the Gifford Law Center To Prevent A Civil Right  rates literally A1 for its efforts to keep the wrong sort of people from laying hands on the wrong kind of gun.

     As I write, TV networks are gleefully dancing in the blood, reporting with puzzlement that despite law-enforcement efforts to locate an "assault rifle," all they've turned up is a handgun -- possibly with "illegal high-capacity magazines," since California banned the sale of new, normal-capacity magazines some time back and only allows magazines that hold not more ten rounds.*

     Me, I'm disgusted.  There will be mainstream-media punditry pointing an accusing finger at "lax gun laws," and (mostly non-mainstream) counter-punditry pointing out that the strict gun laws of the California Republic pretty much insured no one was equipped to stop the killer shortly after he began shooting.  None of them -- not one! -- will ask what it is that we as a society are doing that makes shooting large numbers of innocents so attractive to the crazed and desperate.  The United States has had crazy people since before there was a United States; we've owned large numbers of personal firearms for that long, too: compared to most other countries, the United States of America has always been "awash in guns" and has always been a welcoming environment for people whose grip on reality was a little bit askew -- and yet the high-profile mass shooting is a relatively recent phenomenon.

     Interestingly, so is 24-hour cable and online news, hungry for sensation and doling out gobbets of cheap, low-grade fame on an hourly basis.  Correlation isn't inevitably causation but maybe this one rates a closer look...at least until the next spin of the news cycle pushes this mass shooting out of the spotlight.
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* It's more complicated than that.  Proposition 63, passed in November 2016, would have banned the sale or transfer of any magazine holding over ten rounds and made it a misdemeanor to own one.  In 2017, a judge blocked enforcement of the latter, and allowed Californians to keep their "grandfathered" pre-2001 normal-capacity magazines.  Oh, if only the state were more like Manzanar!  I'm sure they'll manage that, by and by.

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Well, We Had An Election

     With record or near-record turnout for a midterm election, the American people have decided.... (drumroll, please!) ...that they didn't want so much decisiveness.  With Congress split, the Democrats dominating the House (albeit with an interesting coalition of their far-out Left, old party stalwarts and a few Manchinesque mugwumps that their Speaker and Party Whip will be hard-pressed to keep marching in step) and the GOP still in control of the Senate, getting any legislation passed will be a lot more difficult.  Mr. Trump will need his very best sales skills to keep things moving and while the pundits predict spluttering outrage and the Dems have vowed to investigate everything they and their kid's grade school class can think up about him, the man has a history of confounding the wise; I wouldn't count him out just yet.

     Meanwhile, H. L. Mencken counsels us, "Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard." 

     Of course, he also pointed out, "The state — or, to make the matter more concrete, the government — consists of a gang of men exactly like you and me. They have, taking one with another, no special talent for the business of government; they have only a talent for getting and holding office. Their principal device to that end is to search out groups who pant and pine for something they can't get and to promise to give it to them. Nine times out of ten that promise is worth nothing. The tenth time is made good by looting A to satisfy B. In other words, government is a broker in pillage, and every election is sort of an advance auction sale of stolen goods."

     What was up for auction in your state, and who won it?

     For whatever it's worth, with 88% of the votes counted, Indiana's Libertarian Party candidate for Secretary of State has 3% of the vote.  The party needs for him to get at least 2% to retain ballot access. 

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

The Early Bird Gets....

     I dunno.  Probably the Early Bird at our polling place still gets to stand in line and maybe say Hi to our neighbor, The Democrat, who has a high degree of civic involvement and who, being self-employed and able to free up the time, works every election helping check people in -- in Indiana, you show ID and they (it's a team of two, who check one another) look you up on a big list, put a tick mark next to your name if/when they find you and have crosschecked your address, and hand you a ballot.  She and the other election workers will be at that for most of a very long day, which rates all kinds of extra points with me no matter what one's party affiliation.

     We have a new polling place, a big Methodist church right on Meridian Street.  Unlike the previous location, there's all kinds of parking.  The lot has entrances and exits right on very busy Meridian Street, and maybe off quiet(er) Illinois Street as well, so traffic arrangements could be interesting.

Monday, November 05, 2018

Or Not Early Voting

     I drove by on my way to a writing class* and there was a pretty good line.  Not to worry, I thought, my class ends an hour before the early voting location closes, I can hurry back and stop by then.

     It was ten 'til closing time when I returned.  The parking lot was full of cars and the line was nearly all the way across the city-block-long row of storefronts.  Looks like I'll be lining up on Election Day.
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* "The Basics of Self-Publishing," not so much writing as what to do after you've written something.

Sunday, November 04, 2018

Dutifully Civic

     I'm giving serious thought to voting today.  Tuesday could be quite busy and our voting location is at a school* with just about no on-site parking -- so that means a long, unarmed walk.  The closest early voting location has a large parking lot and they're supposed to be open today.  I have some errands over that direction anyway.
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* Until they moved to be closer to their congregation, our voting location was a synagogue, a lovely building with book-lined hallways; these days it's the gymnasium of a Catholic elementary school.  The election staff are nearly all volunteers, of course.  At the citizen level, election-day voting in America is a wonderfully grassroots, amateur effort.  I've never tried early voting, so I'll see how it compares. 

Saturday, November 03, 2018

Sending Troops To The Border, OMG!

     Yeah, well, the Federal government can send them, but they still cannot do the job of police -- that pesky Posse Comitatus Act doesn't allow it.  It appears the United States Coast Guard is exempt, but they're not being sent in.

     So what, exactly, can the Army do?  Mostly good things, as it turns out, or at least neutral ones:

     1. They can render humanitarian aid.  This is good, since it's rather difficult to sort out refuge-seekers, plain old border sneaks and the skullduggerous if they're dying of thirst.

     2. They can lend logistical support, carrying Border Patrol personnel to where they can do the most good.  This also includes repairing fences and the like.

     3. They can do aerial reconnaissance and similar intel work, keeping track of who's where.

     These are jobs which should help defuse situations and ease worries, not escalate matters.

     Presumably, if the "invasion" turns into an actual invasion, buncha dudes rushing the border waving clubs or something, then the .mil could repel them.  But this seems unlikely.  It's a stunt at worst, a photo-op in the run-up to the mid-term elections, a bloody shirt both big parties can wave over their own slogans and the marchers are being treated as little more than props.  It is likely many of them are fleeing bad conditions at home; it is uncertain if those conditions qualify them for refugee status under UN treaties and U.S. law -- but there is a formal procedure for figuring this out, which the Border Patrol is quite familiar with and the Army troops will be told what the rules are.  I expect this to fizzle out in the usual bureaucratic border morass, with the usual posturing by people with an axe to grind. 

     The little guys -- J. Random "It's-got-to-be-better-elsewhere" and family, J. Random low-ranking soldier and J. Random low-ranking Border Patrolman -- will end up doing all of the sweating and improvising, while nice people in nice suits have nice press conferences and photo ops in nice surroundings.  If that doesn't irk you, perhaps it should.  People get shoved around like pawns in a chess game way too often while the chessplayers walk away fat and happy.

Friday, November 02, 2018

Industry Conference

     Spent all day yesterday at a conference for my line of work.  It's set up in an interesting way -- they used to have a separate awards banquet, atttended by general managers, department heads and creative talent, and then (on different dates for each, spaced over the year) all-day workshops for managers, creative folks and engineers.

     Starting a few years ago, they combined all of them into one slightly long day, with two or three "tracks" of workshops for each group, plenty of time in between sessions for browsing a sales/showcase area for vendors serving our business, and a big awards luncheon where everyone mingles.  This seems to be working well, and helps with some crossover between specialties.

     The food's pretty good, too.  The one drawback for Engineering types?  They went from a nice breakfast buffet -- pastries, coffee, bacon, eggs, potatoes, cereal, milk, juice etc., etc. -- and a modest lunch at the engineering-only workshop to a coffee-and-cakes breakfast and a huge lunch at the all-inclusive event.  I do miss that breakfast. 

Thursday, November 01, 2018

Okay, It's Trivial, But...

     There's an inverse relationship between needing a lint roller and being able to find one.  Tam and I routinely keep on in the kitchen near the paper-towel holder; I found another one over the weekend when I was straightening up my room.

     Today, I need to dress a little more like an adult than usual.  I even brought brand-new black Carhartts (my usual double-front work dungarees) and with two cats in the house, a lint roller would be quite handy.  Naturally I can't locate any of them!

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Antisemitism

     It has a long history in Western culture.  Antisemitism is the worst sort of xenophobic nonsense and it brings out the worst in people.  It has no basis in fact.

     Pre-Revolutionary America was a better place for Jews than Europe -- and even here, they were not allowed to participate in elections (community councils and the like) until the founding of the United States.

     The Pittsburgh killer explicitly stated antisemitism was his motive.  This is entirely unAmerican, counter to the freedoms protected by the Bill of Rights, and should be repugnant to all decent people.

     There's a gun show in town this weekend and I was thinking about going.  I still might -- but there are a couple of vendors who show up from time to time* that I would have a very difficult time not calling out.  They always have significantly fewer browsers than the other tables -- unfortunately, it's still a non-zero number.

     This pernicious notion is the precise opposite to the American ideal of tolerance and freedom.  It should be opposed vigorously whenever it shows up.

     If you're thinking about making a "Yes, but..." comment or worse to this post, do us both a favor and ban yourself now.  I won't have it.  I'm not obliged to tolerate poison and I won't.
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* Neither of them sell guns; each specializes in an only slightly firearm-related thing, different to the other.  At least the guy selling bath towels and coffee mugs with pictures of Nazi leaders on them stopped showing up.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

The Thing About Kings

     The thing about kings is, traditionally, historically, they're both cause and blame.  A good harvest?  The king  -- or the pharaoh -- must have done all the right things; a bad harvest must mean he has done wrong.  Sometimes things got bad and stayed that way, and kings were sacrificed (or just killed) to placate the gods.

     Culturally, we've got kings -- and perhaps a few of the old gods -- lurking in the background.  These days, Presidents fill much of that role.  If the economy is doing well or poorly, it must be the President's doing!  ...It usually isn't.

     Do the times make the man, or does the man make the times?  President Trump has condemned the recent violence -- mail bombs, what appears to be a racially motivated double murder, the horrific killings in Pittsburgh -- and one of the reactions I'm seeing is that "he has encouraged it."  I'm not so sure; I think his speech (and Twitter messaging) is often rash; he's got a personal battle with the Press going, the likes of which hasn't been seen since Richard Nixon and he's been all in favor of roughing-up hecklers -- but that doesn't constitute approval of hate-motivated crimes.

     He's very easy to blame; he's a polarizing figure, whose personality is not terribly endearing even to many of his supporters, who campaigned to enthusiastic crowds on a strongly "America first" agenda; he's pretty blind to the historical usage of many of the terms he employs, deliberately or otherwise.

     But he didn't conjure up the outrage-fueled crowds; and for their part, actual mob violence has been rare.  This country's crop of crazed loners is always present; it has been for lifetimes.  A roster of successful and would-be presidential assassins alone turns up mostly men and women who had a very shaky relationship with reality.

     The manner in which the Trump administration and Mr. Sessions' Justice Department in particular handles this recent spate of crimes will have a great deal of effect on public perception.  Mr. Trump's habit of sniping at the press -- whether it is justified or not -- will be an impediment.  It will likely have an effect on the mid-term elections.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Box Of Purses

     I think it's a sign of something.  Age, probably.  Sunday, I started in straightening up my bedroom and I kept finding purses and bags and the occasional laptop case.  Eventually I had a big storage tub full of them even after throwing out the worn-out ones.

     Once I finish, I guess I'll go through them one more time, sort out a few useful ones, and take the rest to Goodwill.  Didn't expect to find so many!

Sunday, October 28, 2018

"Destroy This Mad Brute"

     The title is from a WW I Allied enlistment poster featuring a slavering subhuman in a pickelhaube, bloody club in one hand and a fair maiden representing Liberty or Justice* or Democracy in peril clutched in his other arm.

     Real life isn't that easy.  It wasn't even that simple then.  Today's monster lives just down the street -- or in a Pittsburgh apartment block.  There aren't any sure ways to stop such people ahead of time; we can work to build a society where the kind of sentiments he is reported to have expressed are unacceptable among decent people, but there will always be be people who express them anyway.  You can say, "Shoot back," but though it's a satisfying thought, it's not always a practical solution for the average person (or even the average concealed carrier) -- and may be unacceptable to some groups.

     The murderous outrage in Pittsburgh is the most recent example.   In response, police agencies across the country have stepped up patrols near synagogues or even stationed patrol cars at them during religious services.  Religious freedom is a foundational element of the United States and the overwhelming majority of citizens and residents will not tolerate attacks on worshipers.

     The usual partisan hue and cry has been raised; the President has spoken out against this crime, as he did against the mailbomber, and has been blamed for both nevertheless.  Me, I'll blame the people who commit the crimes; I don't think individual decent, sane people are lured to commit such acts by mainstream political figures.  While the "average guy" may indeed be capable of atrocity,† he does so by "going along to get along," as humans have done since time immemorial.  These  lone killers are something else -- dangerous lunatics, uncontrolled by moral concerns or societal norms.  The Internet makes it possible for them to find like-minded others, just as innocent quilters and cat-lovers congregate.  If there's a way to sieve the truly dangerous from the general mass of noisy Internet creeps and nutters, neither Facebook nor the NSA has figured it out yet.

     Be careful out there.  Practice being nice to others -- and keep a wary eye out for deranged violence.
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* That would explain her off-the-bosom dress.

† See the book Ordinary Men, if you have a strong stomach.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Sleepy

     Two cups of coffee and I'm still sleepy.  I didn't get a lot of sleep last week.  Maybe I'll have a nap.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Punditry

     I could offer up my commentary and insight on current events, but it's just too depressing.  Hey, you know what?  Be respectful and polite to those around you.  Don't go out of your way to "push people's buttons."  Don't be a jerk.  And oh, yeah, don't send mail-bombs to people.

     I'm hearing a lot of claims of "Extremist Trump supporter!" from liberals and "False flag!" from conservatives about the mail-bomber.  Yeah, about that--  Probably None Of The Above.  Mail bombs are notoriously unreliable, in both activation and target selection.  Who believes ex-Presidents and Congressthings open their own mail?  --Lunatics, that's who.  This will turn out to be the work of some kind of a nutjob.  Left, Right or Center, what they won't be is an "operative" or a regular member of one party or another.  Come on, think this through -- you don't do this sort of thing, I don't do this sort of thing and neither does the schoolteacher who lives down the street and went off to march in Washington in a pink knit hat in 2016.

     Normal people don't send explosive packages to other people, even those they loathe; normal people don't send fake explosive packages to people to "game the media," especially when most of the media are their friends anyway.   Even most crazed would-be assassins tend to opt for more accurate methods and professionals just plant repugnant pornography on their target's computer or fly in a drone, depending on the desired degree of subtlety. 

     Paranoia is addictive.  Don't smoke that stuff, kids.  It's not good for you.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Footnote

     Picking up the asterisk from yesterday's post:

     * Yes, "rack room," or occasionally "rack compartment," looking not very much different from a modern-day server farm.  I was Chief on the freighter Billy How before things were quite so digital, though even then, the early '90s, it was well begun and any fool could see the trend was only going to grow.  Still, the end is the same; then it was mostly screwdriver adjustments with oscilloscopes and meters to see the result; now it's all keyboards and screens for the same job. 

     "Rack" is an overused word.  Small to medium sized equipment gets installed in racks nineteen inches wide and standardized to a pattern that goes back to late 19th-Century telephone equipment; when we had computer and audio tapes aboard starships, they got "racked" on the machines instead of "mounted" and "re-racked" instead of rewound.  You even sleep in a rack -- well, you do if you're a regular grew member; as Chief Engineer I rated a compartment of my own, much too handy to Engineering and nearly large enough to turn around in.  Somehow the meaning is clear in context -- and the galley never serves rack of lamb. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

The Problem With Captains

     It was the problems with the data-loggers on the old Billy How that clued me in that the ship's new owners were going to be difficult to work for.  Cincinnati Group was something well beyond frugal and had installed a Captain and XO who came aboard determined to show us a thing or two about how starships should be run.

     See -- or maybe you don't; it's been decades and all of the technology has changed -- back then just as now, everything having to do with maneuvering the starship was recorded.  Intercom chatter, control inputs, telemetry, inertial navs, all of it was saved and at that time,, that meant magnetic tape.  Some tracks were digital, some analog; one track was nothing but a clock.  The idea was that if anything went wrong, you'd have a record of it and with any luck, enough information to put things right.

     They were fiddly beasts.  Billy How had six of them in two groups of three, one set in the rack room* just off the Command deck and another down in Engineering/Power, the combined space for the Jump exciter, reactor controls, and suchlike. The two-inch wide tapes spooled slowly, each one holding twenty-four hours of recording on one big reel, and we "bicycled" ten reels of tape thor each set of recorders.

     They were supposed to spool slowly, that is.  The set up on Command had gotten squirrely, racing through a tape in a few hours during the Jump in the Kansas II system.  Once we were back in normal space, I dug into them,  running the setup procedure from the manual, and they weren't behaving as they should; the speed control, a lovely complex setup with tachometers on the drive and reel motors and a triple phase-locked servo, wouldn't stay locked.  The signals from the tachs were ragged, and when I went to look for replacements, all I found were a few empty boxes with a note from three years before: "Order more ASAP."  Before my time as Chief but I should've checked already.

     By the time I'd got that far, we were close enough to get a reply back from Kansas II in a few hours, so I messaged the chandler Cincinnati Group preferred to deal with and had a price back on replacement parts by the start of my next watch.  They weren't cheap.  Between all six units, we needed eighteen of them; not all the tachs were bad, but at least half had failed the rest probably weren't far behind.

     The new Captain was in his quarters just off the Command bridge.  "Cap'n Wheat?  About the loggers, I'm going to need some parts."

     Gregory Wheat was a young man as starship captains go, only a few years older than I was at the time.  He looked up from the papers on his desk and frowned, "And what parts would those be, young lady?"

     I kept smiling.  Captains get a lot of leeway.  "Tachs for the speed control.  About half ours are worn out and I'd like to stock replacements for the remainder.  So eighteen, at just over seven hundred dollars per deck."

     His eyebrows went up.  "You want...over four thousand dollars worth of parts?"

     "Didn't have any replacements in stock, sir.  That's on me; I missed the empties on the shelf."

     "Why don't you have another look at those recorders, see what you can do.  I'll get back to you."

     I kept on smiling.  "Yessir."

     I took the old tachs apart and cleaned them up again -- they're optical, and any grime on the moving disc will mess them up -- but it didn't do much good.

     Shortly after chow, the Captain called me up to the bridge.  "I'm going to get you some help.  The Kessler is at Kansas II.  It's a Cincy-Group freighter a bit larger than us.  I was XO there and they've got a real sharp Chief.  He'll come aboard after we reach K-two and help you with those loggers."

     I was thinking he wasn't going to be much help if he didn't bring any tachs with him, but you don't say that kind of thing to the guy in the worry seat, so I nodded and replied, "I'll look forward to that."

*  *  *

     The trip in was uneventful.  Once we were parked in orbit around Kansas II, Kessler sent a squirt-booster over and I met their Chief at the airlock -- a dapper young man, who was not, in fact, carrying any replacement tachs.  We shook hands and exchanged names -- Jim MacAlheny, he was and I asked if he had any luggage.

     He laughed.  "No, just me and a green tweaker."  The ubiquitous pocket screwdriver -- we all carried one back then; it was practically a badge of office.  "I'd better check in with the Old Man."

     I told him, "Okay; then we can see about the tachs on those loggers."

     The Captain was in his quarters; I waved the Kessler's Chief in ahead of me, and Capain Wheat stood up, his hand out.  "Jim!  It's been too long.  How're you doing?"

     "Greg, you've come up in the world!"

     "Yes, well -- close the door.  We've got some catching up to do."

     With that, he shut the hatch in my face.  I went back to Engineering; there was plenty to do.

*  *  *

     Jim didn't  show up again for several hours.   I kept myself busy checking the replacement parts stock; finding one set of empty boxes had me worried there were others.  I didn't realize the next watch had come on until my number two stuck his head in the storage compartment.

     "Chief Bobbi?  Cap'n Wheat's on the 'com for you.  Says he wants you up on Command."

     I gave him a smile.  "Always good to be wanted, right?"  I wiped my hands and got moving.

     The Captain was at his desk and Jim was in the visitor's chair.  I squeezed in and Captain Wheat told me to close the door.  He gave me a look I couldn't quite read. "Jim tells me those tachs are shot."

     "Yessir."

     "Well, why is that?"

     "Age, sir?  Those loggers run all the time.  It's a wear part."

     That got a frown.  Beside me, Jim said nothing, his expression neutral.  "Well, why didn't you say so?"

     "Sir?"

     "That we needed tachs."

     "But sir--"

     "I had to fly Jim over here at great expense to the company, because you didn't know how to fix those loggers!"

     "Sir, I said--"

     "I really hope this does not set a pattern, Roberta.  It does not bode well."

     Jim still said nothing.  I gave him a closer look, silent appeal.  Nothing.

     "Yes, sir.  It will not set a pattern."

     "Indeed.  Jim has ordered the parts we need.  I trust you will be up to installing them?"

     I was boiling mad.  But you don't get mad at starship captains.  You can't.  "I believe so, sir."

     "You believe?"

     This was well past tolerable.  Nevertheless, it's a long walk home and there's not much to breathe along the way.  "I can and I will.  Sir."

     "See that you do.  Thank you."  Captain Wheat waved a hand in dismissal.

     "Sir."  I opened the hatch and got out, shaking mad.

     And that was when I realized working for Cincinnati Group might not be a long-term career for me.

       

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Limerick!

     As we approach Halloween, a verse for the season:

Arch-wizard Worthington Wells
Was entirely too careless with spells
He used them to play
In a most perilous way
Now he's stuck in his own private Hells.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

So How Bad Is The World?

     These are parlous times, right? I keep hearing people saying everything's falling apart, it's all getting worse--

      Wrong. Things are getting better, and they have been getting better for years. Decades, even. But that's not just the opinion of a Midwestern, libertarian spinster. Vox Media is way to the left of me, in part the brainchild of Ezra Klein, and they've got the facts in charts and graphs. Doom and gloom is easy to sell and there's enormous room for improvement; but fewer people are starving, more people can read, and people are, by golly, actually climbing out of the worst kinds of poverty.

     The world isn't perfect.  But it's not as bad as it once was and it's getting better.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

"And Will You Be Having A Virus With That...?"

     There's some kind of head cold making the rounds at work.  We've all been trying to be careful, lots of handwashing and disinfectant spray and all that.  But when I came home last night, I realized my throat was feeling a bit tender.

     Took an extra multivitamin and had a couple of cups of strong tea on the theory that it couldn't hurt.  Woke up this morning no worse than before, after a night of what I am assured is "not terribly bad snoring from the other end of the house."*

     So I guess we'll see.
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* From time to time, it wakes me up.  And now I know what words without vowels sound like.

Friday, October 19, 2018

It's Cold Now

     And it's going to stay cold the rest of this month.  November is not notable for hot weather, so there it is.  No "Indian Summer" this year; temperatures went from eighties to fifties in the course of a day.

     The yard is littered with leaves and I am hoping Saturday afternoon, the yard will be dry enough to set the mower lower and see how much of the leaves I can mow up instead of raking.

     Possibly the roads will be dry enough I can ride my motor scooter a little; I have had very little time in the saddle this year and I miss it.  Between rain and road construction, this wasn't a favorable summer for riding.

     Of course, the gutters need cleared -- gutter screens would be an excellent idea.  Managed to clean them from a ladder instead of from the roof last time, a slightly slower but much safer method.  Maybe I'll try that Sunday.  It will be colder but the work is active enough to keep warm.