Wednesday, February 28, 2018

A Glorious Sunset

     The evening of 27 February.  I like to think this is for my Mom.
     She would have loved it.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

21 May 1931 - 27 Feb 2018

     My mother passed away this morning.  It was a beautiful, sunny morning and there are trees and grass and shrubbery outside the window of her room.  The sky is lovely and blue, with just a hint of high, wispy clouds.

     I wasn't there.  I had to work and I'm still at work.  There are men nine hundred feet up a tall tower counting on me to run the elevator and make sure the transmitters are turned down low enough to keep them safe.  There isn't anyone else to do this job.   But I know the window blinds were set to allow light in when I saw her last night, and I'm sure the sunlight lit her way onward to that land from which none of us return.

     It's impossible to thank your mother for the daunting task she took on in getting you to adulthood as intact as possible; or in keeping you going once you were on your own.  It's too big for any conventional thanks.  All you can do is go on and try to be as good as your Mom thought you were.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Even Dying Is Hard Work

     It certainly looks that way.  Maybe that's a crass observation, but it feels wretched to have to watch someone beyond all help, well beyond any real help you can give -- simply worn out by time -- with good painkillers (but not so much of them as to induce unconsciousness), with supplied oxygen, with nurses and lovely surroundings, with familiar pictures on the wall, familiar belongings on dresser and nightstand, live flowers on the windowsill and she's having to -- only able to -- just lie there, eyes shut, mostly asleep, sometimes dreaming, sometimes awake enough for a word or two.  For all the peace, prettiness and soft music in the hallways, it still looks like desperately hard work.

     To watch you own mother go through this is pain almost beyond enduring.

     Mom had a bad few minutes while I was visiting tonight.  We were waiting for the nurse with her medicine and Mom moved and cried out, quietly.  My sister, my brother and I gathered around, talking to her, patting her, telling her we were all there and we loved her.  She never opened her eyes, but she calmed and said, a bit indistinctly, "I love you," as she relaxed.

     She was sleeping fairly peacefully when I left.  I hope she dreams; I hope her dreams are pleasant.

     It's not like the movies.  It's hard work.  Terribly hard.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

So Do Something

     Yes, there was a horrible atrocity on the 14th, and all of us want to do something.

      We disagree over which "something."  Having the same old arguments over and over isn't actually "doing something." Demonizing people and institutions isn't "doing something."
 
      I'm going to try something else. Something more difficult: I'm going to smile at people. I'm going to talk to them. I'm going to try to treat people as something other than obstacles.

      I might not do it very well. I might not do a lot of good. But I will have done *something.*

      Wanna try?

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Try To Be Good To One Another

     Just put in the effort to treat people as you would like to be treated.  Give it a try.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Don't Be A Mouthpiece For Vladimir

     Interestingly, every bit of coverage of the FBI's Russian election-interference case, from NPR to NBC to Fox News reports that the ongoing Russian effort is to find divisive issues and fan the flames -- not just pushing for (then) Mr. Trump, Sen. Sanders and Ms. Stein in the 2016 election, but anything else they can grab, including the recent school shooting. They are pumping out lots of extremist noise on both side of the issue.

     Have an opinion about that atrocity; have an opinion about what should be done in response to it. Express your opinion anywhere that'll let you, if that's what you want to do. But take a close look at memes you share; take a close look at tweets and opinion pieces you pass along. Is it from a source you know, or is it pot-stirring from some clickbait mess? If it cherry-picks quotes, does it provide a source or link for the full text, audio or video?

      Debate is an important and useful part of political discourse. Saying your piece and standing up for your beliefs is one of the ways we process horrors like the Parkland mass shooting -- but don't be played by Mr. Putin's online culture-warriors.
 
      We stick different bumper stickers on our cars but we all drive together on the same roads pretty peacefully. That is one of our great strengths as Americans. Remember it.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Saw Mom Yesterday

     She's in better spirits.  She...flickers: she knows you for awhile, and then not so much, and then she remembers again.  But she's happy, not scared or sad.  And they're keeping an eye on her blood chemistry and adjusting her medications accordingly.

     The situation isn't great but it's about as good as it could be, in light of her age and health.  Mom grew up during the Great Depression and WW II, at the very tail end of what's been called the "Greatest Generation," people who not only endured by persisted and triumphed.  But no one wins their last battle; the best any of us can hope for it to enter it unafraid.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Worry About My Mom

     I'm getting better but I'm Ssill not quite up to snuff.  Some of it is the muscle relaxer.  Some of it is...I don't know.  Worn out. 

     My Mom's having some more serious difficulties.  Any prayers, positive vibes and good thoughts you'd send her way will be much appreciated.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Nominally Off This Week

     Though I am on call if the weather gets better.  And I'm still sick.  I did a poor job of taking my medicine on schedule over the weekend, and now I am keeping track.  Maybe that will help.

     Something I dislike even more than the way people shout talking points past one another in the wake of firearms tragedy is the level of personal attack to which many descend.  It is actually possible for people to have deep, fundamental disagreements without either one of them being evil or uncaring.  But not, it seems, without them accusing one another of it.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Friday, February 16, 2018

It's Not License To Be A Jerk

     I'm sick and tired of people behaving like arseholes and when they are called on it, shrugging it off by claiming to be "on the spectrum."

     That's not how it works.  If you're on the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum, you're not any different than anyone else with a disability who is able to function in the wider world: sure, decent people treat you fairly, and decent -- or at least ADA-compliant -- workplaces and businesses have removed physical barriers, but if you're on wheels or sticks, if you can't hear or have lost a limb (and so on), you've still got to work harder than the person who isn't challenged.  I watched a blind man cross a street the other day; he read the signals fine by ear and with his cane leading the way, crossed briskly, found the curb, stepped up (the cut is offset and he'd missed it), crossed a patch of grass to the sidewalk and worked his way over to the traffic-light pole to press the button so he could cross the intersecting street: it was more work for him than you or I encounter accomplishing the same task. 

     And if you're not so good at social interaction, that's not a license to be obnoxious.  It means you're going to have to work harder at saying "please" and "thank you."  If you're not so good at reading nuance, you're going to have to ask people for clarification. And you're probably going to have to figure out how to phrase it in advance.  It's not a badge of specialness or a get-out-of-awkwardness-free card, it's a problem, and one that you must deal with.  Deal with it.  Work at not being a jerk.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Thursday

     Wednesday hit with a thud at mid-afternoon, when TV news devolved into the kind of close attention given to a disturbed killer that disturbed killers crave--

     The predictable talk of "too many guns" and "violent video games" and so on followed; they are cheap and easy things to blame but boys have always played violent games  (remember cap guns and tin soldiers?)  and this country has long had widespread firearm availability and ownership.  What nags me is that no one seems to much care about identifying and maybe even straightening out the killers before they strike.  There's a pattern of torturing small animals, of social alienation, threats of violence and so on that appears to be common to many people who later commit horrific crimes, and it is largely ignored.  Instead, there's a focus on the means -- guns for mass shooting, the hardware of imprisonment for abductors -- or the victims (who indeed rate attention) or the now-outre personality and behavior of the criminal.

     Where was all that when the kid was a Cub Scout?  Where was the concern when he kept tripping fire alarms?  It it enough to expell a child with behavioral problems from school, and let the wider world deal with them?

     For every person who commits a headline-grabbing crime like this, a few dozen more are committing lesser violent crimes; or among the homeless, and perhaps preying on their fellows.  If we're determined to be "doing something," let's direct our energies at people, not objects.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Read It. Read The Links.

     Reason magazine may have found the next Michael A. Bellesiles: Nancy MacLean, author of a hatchet-job bio on one of the early lights in the Public Choice movement.  She certainly has an agenda, and is quite willing to dream up quotes to match.  Have a look.  Don't sperg out, follow the links.  Paging Mr. Fisk....

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

It Wasn't.

     They guessed wrong.  The tower guy started up one of of my employer's towers in a nice sunny downtown location, got about thirty feet up, said "Whups!" and became very meticulous about maintaining two points of attachment as he climbed higher.  Ten feet on, he shook his head and called down, "There's ice on every horizontal surface!"

     That was it for tower work yesterday.  I had plenty else to do.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Can It Be...?

     After weeks and weeks of (well-justified), "Not in this weather," the tower crew is thinking this is the week.  We'll start with (what I hope is) a small task today, and -- weather permitting! -- move on to the big job tomorrow.

     Given that the outstanding feature of the weekend was sleet and today's forecast calls for a high of 33°F, I'm a little surprised.  But I've worked with these guys for years and they have a very finely calibrated sense of the possible when it comes to weather and high places.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

What's On The TV?

     It might look like a penguin, but it's actually a Russian cop show, Gentlemen Comrades. No, really -- set in Moscow in the aftermath of the October Revolution, with the ongoing Russian Civil War raging in the distant background, a time and place for which "interesting" is an understatement.  The city is a mess, crime runs rampant, the Bolsheviks are grabbing power with both hands while trying to consolidate what they already have.

     There's a functioning secret police/political police, the Cheka* (of course), but regular police forces, the newly-formed Militsiya, are struggling, understaffed, inexperienced and overwhelmed.  And it's these ordinary cops, the "Criminal Police," who are the focus of the series.  The first character we meet is a "revolutionary sailor" -- which means he's an earnest rube, something like a patriotic, unsophisticated farmboy -- freshly assigned to the Moscow militsiya as an investigator.  The second is more complex: a former detective for the Czar's police, now out of work, under considerable suspicion and drinking heavily.  Events unfold; the young sailor meets Dornbergs, his boss and (apparently) the top man in  the Criminal Police, and is assigned to stop a strange gang of leaping, white-robed criminals.  Meanwhile the same gang attacks a friend of the former Imperial detective, frightens his sister, and leads him to sober up and offer to help the militsiya for just this one case.  Dornbergs accepts (over the objections of his Cheka liaison), pairs him up with the young sailor and the hunt is on.

     It's about as accurate as Have Gun, Will Travel, or perhaps Hec Ramsey, and for similar reasons of national myth and cinematic convention (parts of the past were considerably filthier than you'd care to see).   Production values are excellent.  The acting and story-telling is first-rate and the overall sweep and structure reminds me of the first season of Homicide: Life On The Street, with an emerging ensemble cast of well-developed personalities.  Each story arc takes up at least two hour-long episodes, allowing for fairly convoluted plots; gun geeks may enjoy the Nagant revolvers, Broomhandle Mauser "Bolos" and other early 20th-century firearms used by police and bad guys.  The contrast between the eager greenhorn and experienced detective is well-played, as are various subplots.

     English subtitles appear to have been translated by a native Russian speaker, with some of the foibles of number and article typical of that tongue; they're clear enough, and the substitutions of "Mr. [Last name]" for "firstname + patronymic" and "KGB" for "Cheka" are actually useful clarifications for English speakers.

     I'm a half-dozen episodes in  and still enjoying it.  Sure wouldn't want to have to live through it at the time!
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* "The All-Russian Emergency Commission for Combating Counter-Revolution and Sabotage," no less, later changed to, "All-Russian Extraordinary Commission for Combating Counter-Revolution, Profiteering and Corruption," which developed from a similar organization operating in Petrograd.  "VCheka" and "'Cheka" are the short versions of the name, from Vserossiyskaya chrezvychaynaya, "All-Russian Extraordinary." Over time, they became the GPU, OGPU, NKVD and, yes, KGB. Ordinary crime was at best outside their remit.  At worst?  H'mmm, remember how the FBI and the Mob were said to work together during WW II? Yeah, that.  For decades.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

I Got Ripped Off

     As ripoffs go, it was small one: ordered more Chemex coffemaker filters though Amazon, and it's not an item they stock; you have to buy from one of the little suppliers who sell through Amazon.  This has never been a problem -- until "Kitchen Eco."

     As of today, they have eight reviews, all one-star; the earliest is from 7 February and the most recent is from me.  They all say the same things: fake filters.  Not the right ones.  Too small to be useful.  Counterfeit box -- too small, multiple misspellings.  And wouldn't you know, now there's nothing in "Kitchen Eco's" virtual storefront on Amazon.

     I've ordered some filters directly from Chemex.  Shipping is costly but the per-box price of the filters is lower and it works out to a lower overall price.  They'll be awhile arriving; Tam is out right now on an urgent mission to our nearest Chemex stockist, in hopes they'll have one of three versions of the standard, chemistry-lab type filter that fit our coffeemaker.*  Yes, it's extra effort.  They make such great coffee that we think it's worth it.
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* In the event of an emergency, I'll do a batch of coarse grind and get out the vacuumatic -- almost as good but tricky to get the proper strength and clarity.  (Spellcheck suggests "traumatic" in place of "vaccumatic."  Hey, it's not that difficult.

Friday, February 09, 2018

Howdy!

     In a bit of a hurry this morning, so this is what you get.  Well, this and a link to a commercial with an earworm-worthy jingle.  Wouldn't begin to tell you one way or another about the product but between that and their "Princess Bride" commercial for the same client, I think highly of their ad agency.

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Well, That's Better

     Spent most of yesterday horizontal.  I took my pills and slept.  By evening, my back was much improved.  Today, I'll take anti-inflammatories alone and see how I feel after work -- I can certainly take the muscle relaxer in the evening if needed.  It's a definite non-driving medication for me.

     I certainly hurt a lot less this morning.  In hindsight, I've been in a fair amount of pain for a couple of weeks and have been refusing to face it.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Sick Today

     I'm one of the worst kinds of sick for someone raised in the middle-class virtues of thrift and hard work: my back is acting up.

     Only a little, but when it hurts to move between sitting and standing, when getting up from sitting on the floor* is a difficult and complex process as well as painful and well-nigh impossible unless there's something to grab to help haul myself up, when the pain distracts excessively--  That's sick enough.

     I've been ignoring the problem  for several weeks.  January 14th at the most recent Indy 1500 gun show was when it first hit hard enough to be a problem; walking the floor in heavy boots, my lower back started aching and I ran out of energy.  Ahead of the rest of the party, I shuffled through the last few aisles, found a chair, and waited for my friends to find me.  Since then, I've tried to get enough sleep (and mostly succeeded), used a heat pad almost nightly, soaked in Epsom-salted baths, changed how I was sleeping (wedge pillow, flat pillow, none) and been careful to avoid side-sleeping on the wedge pillow.  None of it helped a lot.

     Yesterday afternoon, after a day spent somewhere between "Dead Slow" and "Stop," punctuated by the tricky task of moving from standing to sitting to floor-level work, it seemed like a trip to the doc-in-a-box might be in order.  Preferably while I could still drive.

     Managed to hit the place at a fairly slack time, only two people ahead of me, and in short order found myself talking to a nice young doctor.  He asked questions, poked and prodded and said it sounded and felt like muscle spasm, triggered by strain.  That's not impossible; I do occasionally have to move heavy things and we've been doing a lot of it at work.  He prescribed anti-inflammatories and a muscle relaxant.

     Filled the 'scrip last night, took the first installment, became quite dizzy/tipsy, went to bed and drifted off to a lovely dreamland.  I woke at six this morning only long enough to feed the cats, take more drugs and return to bed.  Called in sick at some point, and didn't fully wake until about an hour ago.

     Made myself a little breakfast, rice and left over "chili mix" vegetables (red and green bell pepper, jalapeno pepper and onions) stir-fried with scrambled eggs and a little bacon. Plus a pot of coffee.

     Now I'm fed and feeling better, living in a world where things drift by in the most delightful undersea manner, and contemplating a return to bed.  I have got to get this under control ASAP and if it takes twenty-fours mostly spent horizontal, so be it.
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* The installation I'm working on changing has got connection panels from about a foot and a half above floor level to a little over four feet up.  There are few grabbable points and they're not much.

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Surveillance? They're Drowning In It!

     NSA overwhelmed, it seems.

     ...Unless they're just saying that...?

     "Two by two, noids of blue...."

Monday, February 05, 2018

Come The Revolution, I Don't Know You...

     Except that only works if I didn't know you before.

     Here's the thing: it's 2018.  The NSA and the FBI read the contents of your phone and listen in about as easily as you select channels on your TV.  Your local police probably do, too, though they may have to be more coy about it.  Thanks to "parallel construction," they don't even have to admit to snooping, as long as they can dredge up a way, however flimsy, by which they can claim to have learned the same things.  And don't assume your cell phone isn't listening even when you think it's off, because it's pretty much pre-hacked.

     Don't want to be monitored?  Then don't get noticed.  You're surrounded by RF bugs -- whoops, cellular telephones -- all the time, and they and the 'net are producing a flood of information so vast that our pals at NSA had to build a huge building halfway across the continent from their HQ just to hold the stuff they think might be interesting.  If you're one more gnat in the swarm, how will they pick you out?  If you've decided to be a lightning bug, how could they not?*

     So when I mention having a robot listener in a couple of rooms of my house and I get grumping about Stalinist Russia back, I laugh.  You're too late, decades too late, and that gadget in your shirt pocket is only the tip of the iceberg.  Privacy vanished quite awhile ago.  Mao's "fish in water" never will -- spies and successful conspirators are nothing like James Bond.  They're dull.  Ordinary.  Boring -- until the day they're not.

     Don't want Jeff Bezos's or Google or Microsoft or Apple's machines listening?  That's fine.  Don't install the device or the software.  But don't strut about telling me how I have bowed to the oppressor's will unless you're living off the grid in the woods or underground and communicating via hand-delivered messages -- and how sure can you be that your courier isn't a fink?  The human element is always the weakest link: people are much better at betrayal than machines.
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* The flip side works, too: be so visible, loud and obvious a firefly that of course you will be watched and you disappearance will be noted by the gen. pop.; and be so ineffectual that of course you will be discounted.  Under the cover of such noise, it's possible to do rather a lot, or so they tell me, but it's difficult to pull off and goes very wrong if you slip.

Sunday, February 04, 2018

If Digital Assistants Were Real

Amazon's Alexa favors late-60s fashion and style; she considers her work a profession, on a par with being a paralegal.  She's in her late twenties to early thirties. She has a deadpan sense of humor and a mad crush on some DJ you've never heard of.  When you call her for help, she was waiting on the call -- possibly filing or handling correspondence, studying or listening to music, because she's always busy -- and she's instantly ready to assist.  Probably drives a Miata. Considers Della Street (Perry Mason's secretary) a role model.

     Apple's Siri has rainbow-dyed hair, dresses like a skater, and was doing something more interesting when you interrupted.  She's a bit of a smart-alec and is so young you wonder if she should be working.  But she knows everything and she knows that she knows -- and that you don't.  Nevertheless, she's happy to help you out. Commutes on a skateboard.  Has read every William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, Neal Stephenson and Neil Gaiman novel.

     Google's Assistant is an assemblage of electronic parts that looks remarkably human most of the time.  Help or just sit there, all the same to it; but it is indeed helpful and most of the time, you want to call it he or she; then the light shifts and you remember it's just a collection of parts and clever coding.  It cries, quietly, when it is sure no one is looking.

     Microsoft's Cortana, seen from the proper angle, appears to be a paperclip with eyes.  It is worried you will notice this.

Saturday, February 03, 2018

So, Saturday

     ...And they're forecasting freezing rain.  To add to the fun, I'm working tomorrow, a bit to schedule fill-in.

     So to heck with it.  I'm going to the range.

Friday, February 02, 2018

In Which We Frighten Large Rodents

     I feel sorry for the poor groundhog.  Puxatawny Phil -- and his many relatives -- spend this day being awakened early, surrounded by bright lights and looming primates, and expected to perform.  Small wonder, then, that the local meterologially-prognosticating groundhog ducked its head and tried to hide behind its front paws when the camera was pointed its way.

     Why do we do this?  I'm not sure; perhaps because the media weren't sure what to make of Candlemas, or the tradition that good weather on that day (which is, in fact, this day) meant Winter would continue longer.

Thursday, February 01, 2018

Politics Isn't Junior High

    Or maybe it is.  In what possible way does it make any sense to proclaim that the President is a dangerous, scary bad guy who needs to be watched -- and then proudly announce you boycotted his State Of The Union speech?

     Pick one.  Me, I figure all Presidents -- and Congressthings, too -- darned well ought to be watched, and closely.  I know, I know -- the guy you voted for is a saint and a genius, too; it's only those Presidents from the other party who are malign morons and/or evil schemers.  Nevertheless, if they're wonderful, keeping an eye on them will do no harm and if they're not, it'll do a lot of good to know what they're up to, as much as we ever can.

     This isn't Junior High and refusing to sit with that horrid Betsy Johansen at lunch -- or watch the POTUS tryin' to tell Congress it's all good and getting better except for the parts he rilly-rilly wants them to legislate about -- will not, in fact, prove any kind of a point or help improve things.