Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Can It Be?

     It's getting light earlier.  It's staying light later.  It's not quite as cold.

     I'm still not certain, but it could be that winter might be almost over.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Quantum Quanta!

     Einstein, referring to his skepticism about quantum mechanics, is said to have remarked "God does not play dice."

     Subsequent physics tells us that the dice are, indeed, rolled; and subsequent science journalism is something of a crapshoot, too.

     Sadly, the only probability in the latter is that the journalist, lacking subject-specific expertise and usually working against a deadline, will probably get something wrong.  If the subject is "quantum (whatever), that probability approaches certainty.

     It rarely matters.  Nobody's doing advanced physics using internet filler as a primary source, and the daily practical application you or I have for quantum (whatever) doesn't exist.  Sure, someday it may secure your electronic transactions or supercharge supercomputers, but it hasn't yet.

     Nor has it made time run backwards, but you couldn't've told that from the headlines when some research into the "arrow of time" got sort of quantum-interesting.  Those headlines led of counter-headlines explaining the experiment and its context, or trying to, H. G. Wells, Eloi and all.  And that led into deep and tricky water for one writer.

     He starts out talking about processes that run as well in reverse as forward and uses macro analogies, first an "ideal" model of the Earth orbiting the sun: "Look at that system going forward in time, and the Earth orbits in a clockwise direction. “Reverse” time and instead the Earth will travel in a counterclockwise orbit. Both are equally realistic."

      Yes, that's correct.

     "Or think of two billiard balls colliding. You can run the video in either direction and it still seems physically plausible."

      No! It's not even a good fake unless the pool table is frictionless and the billiard balls are mathematical ideals.

      Entropy is "time's arrow." We can fool our senses into ignoring it but in most physical examples, it's still there, though not always in ways we can see unassisted.

Monday, March 18, 2019

An Excursion

     My friend the Data Viking visited yesterday and we went to the 1500 -- where they were selling an H-bomb!

     No, no, not the real thing.  A training replica of the B61, matching the weight and balance.  The seller was taking bids starting at $10,000.

     I would have bought it, but you know how how it goes -- I get one, the neighbors have to get their own, then I have to get a bigger one, they respond and eventually, we'd all run out of yard space....

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Saturday Breakfast

     The Data Viking says, "It looks like it was already eaten."  Tsk.  It was good!
     Potato, sweet Italian sausage, eggs, mushrooms, sweet orange and red peppers (the long skinny ones), a couple of strips of bacon, Peruvian "Sweety Drops," a little parsley and chives.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Scene, Seen

     I was walking out of the grocery last night, pushing a small cart loaded with a couple of bags groceries when it happened.  A man was backing his SUV out of a space, alternating between looking over his shoulder and watching me and other pedestrians through the windshield.

     It's a tight parking lot, four rows of angled spaces packed into what would be a generous space for three.  With four rows, only the smallest cars can make a smooth job of backing out; most drivers have to do a little back and forth.  This guy was no exception.  He was on the second reversing leg, almost lined up with the lane--

     On the side of the lane opposite where he'd parked, an older long-bed pickup truck wasn't all the way into its space.  It wasn't over by much.  I'd noticed it as something to be aware of, thanks to its shiny wasabi-green paint job and sable-and-cream dual pinstriping.

     The man in the SUV hadn't, quite.  He reversed slowly, carefully, and put his back bumper right into the side of the SUV, behind the left rear wheel.  The pickup truck shuddered on its shocks and the sheet metal crumpled inward.  I'd been watching as I crossed the lane in front of him and did that intake of breath you do when something goes irretrievably wrong.

     By then, I was at the side of my car, thirty or forty feet away. The man in the SUV made eye contact with me, hard eye contact, and I wondered where my pepper spray was, just in case.  He pulled back into the space he'd been parked in before and seemed to be thinking.  I tried to watch him out of the corner of my eye, as he got out, checked his back bumper, and got back his SUV.

      As soon as he shut the door, another man, a redhead with a fringe of beard,  came out of the grocery, walked over to the truck, got in, started it up and looked around.  By then, I was frankly staring, entranced by the tableau.  (It would have been a good time to get in my car and leave, if my best path out hadn't been right between them.)

     The man in the SUV kind of shrugged like he'd made his mind up and rolled down his window.  "Hey, buddy!  Hey!"

     In the pickup, the driver looked around, then rolled his window down.

     "Yeah, buddy?" Mr. SUV got out and walked over to the green truck. "I-- I backed into your truck."

     The redhead said something back, and got out.  Both men walked to the back of the truck and looked at the damage, talking quietly.

     The SUV driver reached for his back pocket.  By then I had put my groceries in my car, and was standing where I could duck behind it.  When he reached back, I flinched.  But he was going for his wallet.

     The redhead held up a hand and shook his head, speaking loud enough that I could hear him, "No.  No, it's okay.  I can fix this myself."

     The two men shook hands, got back in their vehicles and, one after another, pulled out and left.

     Make of it what you will, but if nothing more, it's a pretty good example of how to act like an adult, from both of them.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Tragedy In New Zealand

     Some half-baked loser or group of losers has killed a lot of people in mosques in New Zealand.  Some kind of racist manifesto supposedly linked to the murders has been posted to Web on social media, and is being taken down when found by people who run those venues.

     Part of it allegedly claims one of the reasons the shooter(s) used guns was to get Second Amendment attention here in the United States, which is why I'm commenting.

     I condemn the killings, as any decent person would.  These people were defenseless, at prayer.  It was a heinous attack.

     New Zealand has strict firearms laws, a program of vetting and licensing owners, and restricts access to "military-style semiautomatic rifles."  As ever, evil people intent on evil acts were not deterred by the law. 

     Police in New Zealand have several people in custody.  I expect the rest of the murderous punks will be rounded up shortly.  Say what you will of our modern world, those who commit wicked acts have fewer and fewer places to run, fewer and fewer places to hide.  They will be found and brought to trial.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Yesterday

     The doctor's appointment wasn't quite as bad as I had feared.  She did chide me, but not too harshly.  She's recommending more oatmeal and less bacon, so it's a good thing I like oatmeal.

     The tentative diagnosis of my sore knuckle is "trigger finger," a tightening of the tendon.  She's written a prescription for a topical ointment.

     Spent the work day at the North Campus, mostly clearing away accumulated stuff and taking apart some of the abandoned-in-place stuff.  Took a long walk around the site, checking fences and locks.  The weather was warm and the ground was only a little muddy.  A lot of the site is gets really squishy in the spring, so this was a good chance to check things out.

     Winter might starting to wind down.  It's about time!

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Gone Doctorin'

     Off to the doctor for me this morning.  It's not going to be fun.  She wanted me to try an additional medication and the pharmacy slathered the bottle with "May cause drowsiness/Do not drive or operate heavy machinery" warnings.

     This, after I thought I had raised my concerns that the last time she tried this, the (different) stuff had made it nearly impossible to do my job and had put a stop to all my hobbies.  Look, it's great to keep the ol' machinery made out of meat running, but if the process hobbles the software that runs it, what's the point?  And it's great to get regular medical attention -- but I pay for that by working and if I can't work, well....  She's not going to like this line of thought.  "Big picture" concerns don't mean much to her and she expects her dictates to be followed.  So I may be looking for a new doctor.

     Since her office is not available for anything on short notice -- they want to you take your bad cold or non-urgent injury to the doc-in-a-box -- and she usually pooh-poohs any health concerns I bring -- I can just about count on the swollen knuckle, sore joints and fatigue being shrugged off -- I don't suppose it will be all that much a loss.

     In all the time I've lived in Indianapolis (and nearby), I have only had two doctors I liked and trusted.  Lost track of one of them years ago when I was between jobs; he's the guy who diagnosed and treated the rheumatic fever fare-up I had nearly forty years ago.  The other one fell ill and died much too young.  I really miss him -- he was an absolutely up-front, cards-on-the-table guy, entirely confident in his medical judgement and willing to hear patients out and discuss their health and course of care.  He was a self-admitted hold-out in a world of assembly-line medicine, a man wryly amused that it took a staff of five to run his office, not counting nurses and himself.  The likelihood of ever finding another physician like him is somewhere between zero and none.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Annual Review

     Survived another one. 

     I dread Annual Reviews.  Working my way up, the only time anyone had a "review" was when they were not meeting expectations; there was some hope of improvement or the person would have simply been fired, but it was an indicator of a desperate situation.

     Praise and blame were both rare.  If your bosses thought you were doing your job well, they told you so by continuing to employ you.

     The bean-counters stuck us with annual reviews over twenty years ago.  Initially, it was something of a joke, a few minutes with your immediate supervisor going over a year of work that you both knew very well, let's fill out this form and make the second floor happy and no, we're still not handing out merit increases in pay--

      Then we got a supervisor who had, shall we say, a difficult personality.  He'd save up negative things to bring up in your review in closed-door sessions that might take an hour, sometimes more, with doubts expressed as to one's fitness for this sort of work, more in sorrow than in anger, etc. etc., until you left wondering how you'd been managing give him such a perfect impression of a pathetic loser and half-wishing he would have just fired you and got it over with--

     Do a decade and a half of that and the process begins to get a little stressful. 

     Things have changed at work and it's not like that any more.  Oh, the new guys would be quick to push you overboard if you weren't pulling your weight, and my line of work gets leaner and meaner with every passing week, but they're not big on playing games.  If you're out, you're out; they don't save up for a yearly inquisition and nobody's got time to make the toilers squirm just for a show of managerial keenness.

     So I had my review and it wasn't awful.  Here's hoping I can keep them that way. 

Monday, March 11, 2019

School's Out?

     Last night was the last formal class of the writing group, the last gathering of that interesting bunch of people at the offices of the Indiana Writers Center.

     It's not necessarily over.  The group is organized around an e-mail reflector where we have been sharing our manuscripts and critiques, and it's not going away.  Several of us expressed an interest in continuing the process, and so it will.

     It was a big group, ten at the start.  A few dropped out -- "life happens," especially for part-time writers with full-time jobs and even more so for my classmates who have children.  One, the youngest, never really got started, thanks to persistent e-mail problems and a lack of free time to resolve them.  At least that student was able to audit all but the last class, and I hope it was useful.

     One thing I have learned: my glacial writing pace won't cut it.  I need to write a lot more than I do.

     And another lesson: that swollen and painful knuckle serves as a reminder that the clock is ticking.  If I want to write this stuff, now's the time.  It's easier to type it than to speak it and much easier to edit.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Colcannon For Dinner

     This was our treat yesterday:
TAMARA KEEL PHOTO
     Colcannon, mashed potatoes with greens and some kind of smoked pork, seasoned with onion and parsley.

     This version was made with ham and nice curly kale, lightly cooked before adding to the potatoes.  The milk was heated with chopped green onions, salt and pepper, and it's as good -- and as filling -- a meal as you might expect.  To serve, you make a little "well" in it and fill with butter and parsley flakes.

     There were leftovers.  This morning, I added a little more milk, an egg and a small amount of flour, and fried up potato pancakes.  They were delicious!

     If you have been looking at kale with suspicion, you should try it in this.  It's wonderful.

Saturday, March 09, 2019

Saturday Morning

      I went to bed early yesterday -- by which I mean that I sat down on the side of the bed about six, laid back and went out, just gone, no dreams no nothing, crosswise on the bed and on top of the covers. Woke up an hour later, sat up and said, "Wow!  Was I ever asleep."

     From down hall, I heard Tamara, "You were snoring."

     "Snoring?"

     "Sort of pre-snoring, anyway."

     So I thought, What the heck? and went to bed.

     We'd had a busy day and spent the afternoon visiting Indy Reads Books, a used bookstore/charity that runs literacy programs, followed by a late lunch or early supper at the Massachusetts Avenue Yats.

     The return had called for a seven-mile drive in rush-hour traffic, which is not one of my strengths.  The preparatory work for the Red Line bus route has College Avenue narrowed to one lane as it enters SoBro and -- of course -- even after weeks of this, it's all a terrific surprise to many drivers and there's a frantic merging right before the enormous, illuminated, blinking arrows that follow a succession of bright-orange "LANE ENDS" warning signs.  So I had some reason to be tired.

     I woke up around midnight and did some more critiquing for my writing class, neither of them especially easy, though for different reasons. 

     The literary work took until three; I fell asleep again, woke up from a vaguely detective-story nightmare probably influenced by reading Dashiell Hammett's The Thin Man and rough novelizations of the next two films.  The general storyline and characters were all very familiar, as if the dream was the latest installment of a long-running series.

     Read a little and drifted off, to wake again much later, from a worse nightmare, one of those "something's gone badly wrong at work" types.  Man, that'll get me out of bed and back into the real world! 

Friday, March 08, 2019

Well, That Was Fun

     Not.  I had forgotten the phlebotomist at the my doctor's office -- an outside contractor, so she works for the lab that does analysis -- is deeply, quietly disappointed in pretty much everyone.  Whoever you are, she's over it.  A smile and "Hello" receives a barely perceptible nod; she's got the art of saying the barest minimum required to get the blood-draw done down flat.

     In a way, it's nice -- you're in and out of the room rapidly and smoothly -- and in a way it's heartbreaking, because the impression she leaves is that she has been let down and kicked by everyone she ever met and she's not giving anyone the least flash of personality ever again.

     I've sat in the two-chair "waiting area," a wide spot in the hallway, and witnessed every patient get the same treatment: not unfriendly, not friendly, efficient, resigned and quick.

     I left as I always do, humbled and amazed that anyone could maintain such armor and hoping there's some spot of sunshine in her life and that it never, ever goes out.  I get the impression she'd drown without a word, annoyed as the waters rose but calmly certain no one would ever throw her a lifeline.

Thursday, March 07, 2019

Awake And Phlebotomous

     I'm fasting, slowly.  It's no fun.

     I've got to get all shined up and go get some blood drawn for analysis before I can consume anything more interesting than water.  At least I managed to get a good night's sleep.

Wednesday, March 06, 2019

Woops!

     Really ought to post something.

     I'm a little sick today.

     To make matters worse, yesterday, I had washed my hands and was flipping excess water off my fingers into the sink, and suddenly something felt terribly wrong at the base knuckle of my left social finger.  It hurt like the very dickens!  It's still hurting, and now swollen and something is rubbing in the joint.  Don't know if I should do something about it or not. I've got some topical stuff that seems to be helping.

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

Writing History That Never Happened

     After the other writers in my crtique class mentioned "needing more background" about the Hidden Frontier and a little discussion, the consensus was that I needed a "thumbnail history."

     You often find this in series books, in one form or another -- an introduction, a series of historical digressions by a character, a simple "what when on before" synopsis -- and I have known I needed to write one.

     It's no simple task, thanks to the complexity of the Hidden Frontier timeline and the need to deliberately obscure some facts, like the how the Steam Amish ended up where they are and why they're so skittish, makes it a challenge.  The way the "war" is never quite a real war, due to the vast distances involved and the unwillingness of the Edgers to strike directly against Earth and its vast human-friendly biome (at least compared to everywhere else), the internal struggles during and after the war on Trinity, the difficulties after the war on Frothup, Ryall and A-10, the first breaking away to join the Earth-aligned worlds (the Moon, Kansas II and Blizzard) and the latter two, distant and obscure, becoming, briefly, grotty little central-planning economies -- it's a lot, really.

     The trick, of course, is doing as historians have always done: hit the high points.  The Magna Carta, the battle of Trafalgar, Yorktown, the Constitutional Convention, the War of 1812, the Late Civil Unpleasantness Between The States, and so on.  Then, in in given use of the thumbnail, leave out what doesn't apply.

     For example, I have mentioned in a couple of stories that a "Sergeant Snodgrass" was the first man to land on the moon, sometime in 1951.  This (and the other complications of the early top-secret OHAP* and the budget fight that nearly did it in until a key U. S. Senator's sudden death) does not need to be mentioned in every use of the history.  The fact that OHAP did happen, and resulted in the FCS conspiracy, does,  And so on.

     It's not completely done, but I think I can come up with a useful template that can serve as a general introduction or be used to inform a character's comments as needed to get readers up to speed on the timeline.
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* "Outer Hebrides Agronomy Project," cover name for the black-budget program to develop the stardrive and use it to establish a secret missile base on the Moon.

Monday, March 04, 2019

I'm On Vacation

     All this week.  I'd forgotten about it until Friday.  I kind of took today off from everything.

Sunday, March 03, 2019

Attention, Web Designers

     Don't let robots truncate your headlines to fit the available space:

     Yes, that's the entire image.  Seems like that might hurt.

     The article itself (in Vanity Fair) is a predicable hatchet-piece on a childishly easy target.  Ask anyone who grew up with plenty of money about an employment or poverty-related issue and the odds of getting an answer that is tone-deaf, clueless and/or plain wrong are staggering.  No bread?  Eat cake instead!  Yeah, no.

     I don't think the Green New Deal's "iron rice bowl" plan is even remotely practical, nor do I think it would work any better here than Mao's version did in Red China, but the opinions of a child of third-generation wealth on this subject are not worth much -- not even to rant about in the press.  I'm guessing Bess Levin takes candy from babies, too.

Saturday, March 02, 2019

My Car Is Back!

     Hooray, hooray, my car is back!

     The service shop called in the afternoon and I faced a long drive from downtown to far northeast side, outside the I-465 ring freeway that roughly parallels the Marion County line.  Call it a dozen miles, more or less.

     A dozen miles on a Friday afternoon, most of it on a major, divided-lane, non-freeway route out of the city that turns into an interstate highway once it ducks under 465.  A few places, traffic got up to sixty, at which point the Volkswagen uttered a polite bing! and displayed a warning message on the dash:
SNOW TIRES!
60 MPH
MAXIMUM SPEED
     It was good to know, but considering I was locked into bumper-to-bumper traffic, not something I could do much about.

     Things slowed down soon enough.  Most of the last half of the trip was done in "parking lot" mode, as traffic inched through stoplights in fits and starts.

     The cherry on top was the very last bit: the road turns into interstate at the cloverleaf with 465 and I needed to take the very next exit, so close you've got to scramble through two lanes of merging traffic to get to it.  I, um, "dislike" is too weak a word for how little I enjoy this kind of driving.  Traffic was brisk; the VW chided me a few times about going too fast for snow tires, but I got there, put myself in the correct lane, and after a few more turns, navigated the car into the twisty maze of shopping-center and light-industrial streets that wind back to the fancy-car garage with a feeling of great relief.

     Those roads are cratered badly enough to resemble the aftermath of a modern civil war.  The sleek, low-slung VW CC was not the car for them.  I dodged and weaved and finally arrived at the garage.

     My Lexus Opera Assault Vehicle was waiting out front, sparkling-clean.

     I paid with hardly a wince -- buy the fancy car, pay for fancy service -- and climbed in, dreading the return trip.

     Missed my exit to the freeway so I took the next turn and and put myself on a once-familiar north-south arterial.  Took it down to a stoplighted cross street and got back on the divided-lane boulevard to downtown.  There wasn't nearly as much traffic headed into downtown as there was trying to escape; the outbound lanes were solid and slow but traffic in my direction buzzed along at the limit.

     It was good to be back in my own car.

Friday, March 01, 2019

And Another One

     The repair shop put me in a VW CC, a sporty little sedan that somehow has an enormous trunk -- I mean, you could put an MG Midget in there.  I think I would have known I was in a German car once I sat down in the cockpit even without the VW logo on the dash: there are three (3) clocks visible from behind the wheel!

     It's very pretty, sleek and low-slung.  The bucket seats are covered in soft leather, but it's already making my back act up.  Mostly the getting in and out, I think.  Possibly in part the driving a very nice car that isn't mine in traffic without the height and sightlines of the Lexus SUV-in-a-party-dress.

     That said, it corners like a go-kart and putters along with a Jetsons-esque burble at fifty mph more smoothly than most cars I have driven did at thirty-five.  All of the controls fall naturally under your hand and other than the futuristic keyless key (the fob is the key*), there aren't any surprises to be had in operating the car.

     This is an automated posting because I need to get into work early tomorrow.  With any luck, my car will be done and I'll need to drive out to pick it up.  It's a long drive and is likely to take more than my usual lunch break.
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* Although there is, in fact, a key hidden inside the fob for emergencies.  Oh, it won't start the car, that's not how the keyless ignition works, but it will unlock the doors if the battery goes flat.   Oh yeah, German car.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Here's Hoping...

     This is a pre-scheduled post, because I have to take my car to a specialist garage early this morning.

     I was up late last night, because I suddenly realized I, well, might have forgotten to renew my license plates.  Which expire the day after tomorrow.

     Got that done online -- thank you, Indiana BMV! -- and went to get out my insurance card.  Nope.  I had two cards for the Yamaha motorcycle, one for the motor scooter, and...one that expired in December for my Lexus.

     I dug through every mailing I had received from my insurer and it wasn't there.   I checked all the usual places and found some old mail and still, nothing.

     Oh, I have insurance.  I automated that payment several years ago.  But I couldn't prove it, and I'll be getting a loaner car, which means I ned proof of insurance.  So I logged on to the insurance company's site, and my computer started crashing.  Firefox isn't really stable at present.  Fine, I rebooted.

     But I hadn't saved my username and password.  So I had to get that and the first time, their system took too long to send me the reset link.  Started over, finally got it, and then I must have fumbled what I clicked on.  It set me up to get a copy of the motorcycle insurance card.  Backed up and started over and finally, I got a copy of my car insurance card!

     I sure hope the service shop accepts it.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Hoosier Reading

     Our native and imported Indiana writers are a mixed lot but many are markedly cynical.  Few have had as sharp a tongue as (Indiana-raised, for all that he was born a Buckeye) Ambrose Bierce.

      I've been reading Bierce's Write It Right, which is cheap or free for the Kindle. It's a list of misuses and abuses of English in his typical style, acerbic to the point of acidulousness. The book is fun, though it is a creature of its time (very late 19th century through early 20th) and of Bierce's own quirks, so it can hardly be taken as an absolute guide.

     He was capable of weapons-grade snark.  When critic William Dean Howells said, "Mr. Bierce is among our three greatest writers," Bierce wrote, "I am sure Mr. Howells is the other two." Ouch.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

In Which I Take Up Fencing

     I got home about 7:30 last night, so sleepy that I didn't notice the backyard privacy fence was broken!  Tam asked me if I had noticed and I admitted I was so busy admiring her post windstorm clean-up work that I hadn't seen it.  She'd done a lot: trash cans stood back up, flattened-out cardboard boxes that had spilled out retrieved from where the wind had blown them, grill cover back on, water and ice dumped out of the utility wagon, and all shipshape.

     Except for the fence.

     The house next door was just sold; the former owner has moved out and the new owner has yet to move in, which means their gate isn't locked.  I don't know if a curious would-be owner gave the fence between us a shake to see how sturdy it was, or if the fence was so weak (it's pretty old) that the recent wind had it ready to break and it finally did.

     An entire section had sagged away from one of the 4x4 fence posts.  I didn't want the new owner to be greeted by that; it's no way to begin with a new neighbor.  Besides that, I think good fences make good strangers as well as good neighbors -- sagging fences and open gates send a message that might prove too tempting for some unfortunate person.

       I found some little 2 x 4blocks of wood and got out the good hammer,* salvaged the old nails and tacked the thing back together.  The repair was pretty quick and didn't fall apart overnight, which makes me happy.
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* The good hammer for this is a lightweight Japanese framing hammer with a long handle, a long nose and a redesigned claw.  It's also got a magnet to hold the nail for the first hit. Light enough for me to swing easily, it's heavy enough to sink nails in a few hits and has a waffle-pattern face that prevents slippage.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Writing Class

     Last night was the third one and it's impressive how much progress my fellow students have made.  (Me, I'm still struggling to keep up.)

     I'm reading genres I would not usually read, from YA horror to modern cowboy mystery, and having to provide useful feedback on them.  It's good mental exercise.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Dear TV News, Stop It

     Really.  Stop it.  You don't call Germany "Deutschland," do you?  Then stop trying to pronounce the names of places and people in the Americas as you and Associated Press fondly imagine they are pronounced in the original Spanish.  Especially stop it when it comes to Brazil.*  The thought behind the deed is friendly and well-meant but it's frequently cringeworthy.

     If you didn't grow up hearing and saying those phonemes, you're not going to get them right, not without years of study and immersion and even then?  You'll sound like a very fluent Anglo.  You're making elderly abuelitas frown at the TV screen, wondering if you really meant to say that word that way.

     Just to complicate matters, Spanish is at least as rich as English in national and regional accents; Cubans and Argentines can chat as readily as Americans and Australians -- and with about as much difference in vocabulary and sound.

     American English is relatively flat as accents go.  There's a reason Brits usually have better luck faking an American accent than the other way around: the majority of the sounds that comprise American English are present in most varieties of British English, while the Brit versions of our common tongue use many phonemes we do not.

     Look, if you're on TV and you grew up speaking the lingo (and no matter how you look), that's great and you should pronounce those words the way you learned at home.  But if you didn't, don't try to fake it.  It doesn't work.
_________________________________
* I'll explain this later.  Some of you newspeople aren't going to believe it.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Busy All Day

     Worked on reviews for my class all day today and I still have some writing of my own to do tonight.  From bed, I think.  I'm sleepy.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Hunh

     Sat down at the computer with the clear intent to write and post something interesting.  Never did.  So much for that.

     A sudden-onset migraine cost me over an hour yesterday morning, which I really didn't have to spare.   Called in to clear a late start, took drugs, and managed to get to work only an hour late.  No lunch and worked an hour over. 

     Warmer weather probably won't help headaches but maybe it will make them easier to take.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

About That Writing Class

     The writing class is keeping me busy.  The group of writers is congenial -- I think we all showed up on Day One determined to be -- and they have a remarkable degree of talent.

     They're also prolific.  Over the course of every week, each of us -- nine so far  -- has to review and critique the work of all the others, then summarize each critique to share aloud in class, and the critiques we share cannot take longer than a minute and a half to deliver!

     So you sit down in your spare time and go over each manuscript -- 2500 to 5000 words, with a few of my classmates pushing the upper limit -- and catch the obvious things, characters who walk through a door and then open it, William Vest changing names to Grigori West with no explanation, Varangians in toe shoes.  Then you go through and look for plot holes, lack of clarity (after the first 2500 words, we really ought to know what these characters are up to!), larger continuity errors, inconsistencies of style and tone.  And then you've got to decide which of these are sufficiently important to earn mention in your minute and a half!

     Of course, we share the annotated manuscripts as well, and having eight more people look over one's work is a quick (and humbling) education in where you go wrong that begins to illuminate why.

     It is a lot of work; it's what I am doing instead of watching television (I'm several episodes behind on The Orville) and Facebook.  The latter is probably small loss; oh, it's fun and I have a wide range of friends there, but it is ephemeral by design.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Meanwhile, On The Ice Planet

     The TV is playing in my room down the hall, tag-team coverage of the overnight snow and/or ice followed by sleet and/or rain.  Things could have been worse but it's still a non-stop litany of snow, slush, downed power lines and car crashes.

     Sections of the interstates are down to a one-lane crawl and smiling reporters, warned by the TV station's Traffic Center, report the worst live from the front passenger seat while driving around the mess on frontage roads.

     Tamara, as is her usual wont, has taken over the room for the morning.  She complains, "Spring will never come!  We're locked into an eternal hell of gray slush!"

     I'm at the computer with my breakfast, in the room at the other end of the short hallway.  "Shaddup!" I tell her, 'cos I'm classy like that, and I had just been thinking we were getting near the end of the worst of winter, or at least the beginning of the end.

     The next reporter up opens her spiel with the happy thought that Daylight Savings Time starts in just three weeks.

     Tamara sings out, "Hallelujah!  We're saved!" as earnestly as any churchgoer.

     I smile.  I loathe DST -- on the far western edge of the Eastern time zone, Indiana's already ahead of the sun by nearly an hour -- but Tam's dislike of winter overwhelms her at times and this one hasn't been one of the sunniest.  An extra hour of light at the end of the day when she's awake to appreciate it will do her a world of good.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

The Future Is History

     The Future Is History.  That's the title of Masha Gessen's account of the years immediately before perestroika through the rise of  Vladimir Putin, told by following the lives of a number of real people in Russia.  It's fascinating reading so far -- Gessen is a talented writer and her subject matter is compelling.

     Gessen is a lifelong outsider, a Russian expatriate, returnee and re-expatriate.  She is well-placed to write this book, far enough Left that the New York Times and Guardian pay her serious heed while being sufficiently clear-eyed to see reality when she looks at recent history.  I'm perhaps a quarter of the way through and having difficulty setting the book down to do other things.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Loatheable

     Politicians.  As a group, they're obnoxious, attention-craving, fickle and deceitful. They involve themselves in the most amazing graft, scandal and petty-but-despicable behavior.  

     Yes, they're horrible.  I can think of no group of persons who would more deserve to be saddled with the dull, boring, messy and imperfect process of running government.  I don't much trust them to do it well, or to stay inside the limits they are supposed to observe -- but better them than some finer group of men and women, who would be taken away from doing useful and productive work in other fields of endeavor.

     Think of a Congressbeing of whom you disapprove -- would you want that person driving an 18-wheeler on the same highways you take?  Designing a skyscraper or passenger aircraft?  Doing brain surgery?

     No, we're better off with them where they are.  At least we can try to keep an eye on them, and work to vote out the worst of them.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

But What About Mr. Trump's Wall?

     I haven't written much about the latest developments.  I think it has become one of those "team" things: if you're onboard with Team Trump, you're unreservedly okay with it and if you're not, you want no part of it, nohow, no way.

     That's certainly one way to look at it.  It's not the only way.

     Borders create opportunities -- good and bad.  It would be nice if borders could be managed in such a way that only good people got across them, and only in the officially-approved manner; it would be great if every willing immigrant could immigrate, find work and become productive citizens.

     That's not how borders work.  It's not even how they work when the border is a peaceful one between two very similar countries -- as was painfully discovered by one of my long-ago co-workers whose girlfriend turned out to be an illegal immigrant from Canada.  She got nabbed and sent back.

     When the two countries have radically different standards of living, radically different levels of lawfulness and a significant disparity in the availability of technology and of drugs?   People, money and goods are going to cross that border, no matter how high, wide and mighty a wall bars it.

     Oh, you can raise the stakes, and that will have its greatest effect on the most vulnerable.  As I have written before, if better border security prevents people from trying to cross in the places of greatest hazard, and funnels them towards actual border-crossing locations, that's a desirable outcome in terms of fewer lives lost.  At that point, people and their Congressthings can argue about the criteria for letting people in -- and there are legitimate arguments to be made on all sides -- and have it mean something more than mere shouting at the tide.

     Drugs will still cross.  Money will still cross.  Want to fix that?  About the only way to do it is arrange matters so a volume of marijuana doesn't go way up in value the moment it crosses that line.  Do the same for every other smuggled drug.  Legalize it and let Big Pot crush the foreign competition at the cash register.  Know why they're smoking Kools in the poor neighborhoods instead of hand-rolls of backyard tobacco?  Because even growing your own costs more than buying a pack at the 7-11!  Yes, this indeed radical and scary and Not At All What Our Parents Did.  And I'm not looking forward to the day when any trucker can buy a handful of Black Beauties at the Flying J and take his chances on getting caught -- except that day is already here.  Enacting Prohibition didn't make alcohol unavailable.  Ending Prohibition didn't make driving drunk any less a crime.

     Legalize drugs -- start with pot, several states and foreign countries are already running the experiment without collapsing -- and you can build a wall with a fraction of the steel and concrete.

     Why is the story of my former co-worker's lost love worth retelling?  Because it's unusual; for a young, single woman, there was nothing on this side of the border she didn't already have at home except for a few more days of summer.  There was no economic incentive.

     Remove the economic incentive.  Ideally, Mexico should become as prosperous and gang-free as the U. S. (noting that this country is neither universally wealthy nor lacking in a degree of crime, amateur and organized; we're just better off on both scales).  Don't ask me how, though starving their drug gangs for cash would probably help.  Ideally fewer substances would be prohibited in the two countries and the remaining restricted ones would be substantially the same on both sides of the border.

     Sure, you can build a better wall.  Look how well it worked in Berlin!  Or even China.  But it's not a long-term solution.  Neither is using the idea of a wall as a political football.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Slept In

     It feels good.  Now, if only I hadn't awakened a little before four and laid in bed reading until the alarm went off at six and the cats needed to be fed.  But I went back to bed and caught up, and that's a good thing.

     Allen Steele's V-S Day has been my entertainment at these times in recent days. It's an alternate history of WW II, in which von Braun's team at Peenemünde are taken off the V-2 program and put to building Eugen Sänger and Irene Bredt's Silbervogel manned intercontinental rocket bomber instead.  The U.S. starts a crash program to counter it, headed by Robert Goddard, and the race is on!  Good reading.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Secret Identity?

     Apparently, my Chemex fought Soviet Communism!  Well, not mine, exactly, but the design was one of the foot-soldiers for an unexpected Cold Warrior, the Museum Of Modern Art.

     The more widely I read, the more plausible the "Hidden Frontier" becomes.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

The Uninvited Tree

     The flyer, bearing the logos of our public-trust gas-and-water utility and "Keep Indianapolis Beautiful" chirps excitedly, "TREES COMING! A tree may be planted in the right-of-way near your home..."

     In fact, I'm fairly reliably informed that one will be; there's no "if" about it.  I am opposed to this.  We had trees near that area when I moved in, a pine at our neighbor's and some kind of frangible maple in ours.  The roots got into our sewer lines -- segmented clay tile, very vulnerable to root intrusion -- and the maple died in slow stages, finally partially collapsing over the sidewalk, posing a danger to pedestrians and costing me a lot to remove.  Our neighbor had already gotten rid of the pine.  Another maple nearby just fell over in a windstorm!

     The flyer tells me a tree will intercept a lot of rainwater that would otherwise go down the storm drain and I'm all in favor of that, since my basement is still sometimes a way station for rainfall headed for the drain -- but don't stick the thing out where my sewer line runs.  Both city water and city sewer come in from the front.  Roseholme Cottage doesn't have a lot of frontage and all of it is neatly occupied by utilities, each in their own third: sewer, water, streetlight.  There's no space for a tree.

     First thing I will do is ask them to please take their tree elsewhere.  After that?  I don't know.  I haven't got much of a green thumb and I'm certainly not going to expend any effort on the city's tree.  If it's an invasive species, I'll be on firm legal ground to have it removed.  (Also, if it's their right-of-way, how come I'm expected to mow it?  How skillfully am I required to do the job?)

     The grounds of Roseholme have a plumbing-free back yard where a new tree would be welcome, especially since I'm going to have to take down at least one of the old ones.  There's exactly no chance they'd take that deal. 

     When the plumbers dig up my front yard to replace the drain line this tree will be going after, it's not going to beautify the city any.  I've seen the aftermath of that.  It looks like a WW I battlefield.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

They Have What We Need

     Okay, look, I have to be at the doctor's office super-early and I'm really not a morning person.  So this thing is pre-recorded and set to go out at about the usual time.

     Still, this is kind of kewl, apt or at least super-ironic: the streets of Indianapolis are falling apart faster then the city can keep up -- and they have been trying; last count had something over ten thousand potholes filled so far this winter.

     And now, this year's World Of Asphalt (not to be confused with alt.pave.the.earth) trade show is in Indianapolis!  Yes, this is a place where you can go see massive machines that crawl down a street, chewing it flat, mixing various magical things with the rubble, and laying it back down better than new; a show where marvelous new formulations vie with one another and future is...well, dark, smooth and faintly steaming, with any luck.

     Perhaps the very magic wand the city needs will be offered; with my luck, they'll need to raise taxes to buy it.  H'mmm, replace tires and wheels twice a year or pony up more real-estate and/or downtown food and fun tax?  It's a lose/lose, but one is more scooter-friendly.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Who Else Doesn't Want To Go?

     A slightly-overdue visit to the doctor for my regular physical is coming up tomorrow.  I'm not looking forward to it.  At my age, about the best you can expect to hear is that you're not declining as quickly as most people your age.

     To make matters worse, I have "white coat blood pressure:" my blood pressure is always higher than usual at the doctor's office.  None of them follow the correct procedure -- you're supposed to have been sitting quietly for five minutes first -- and that doesn't help.  Then there's the way the thresholds for hypertension and pre-hypertension keep getting lower and lower.  So I'll be doing my best to think soothing thoughts.

     Still -- I just don't see much reason in seeing a doctor unless I'm sick or injured.  Aging isn't a disease; it's a natural (if unwelcome) process.  Getting my sinuses cleared out last year?  Great use of doctorin'.  Being hectored about my blood pressure and two or three Reeses Peanut Butter Cups per workday, not so much.  They've never been able to do a darned thing about my migraines, after all, and the list of foods that are bad for you vs. good for you changes almost monthly.  I'll smile, be polite, get through it and keep my own council.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Well, I'm Not Seeing Any Wolverines

     I drink a glass of cranberry juice with my breakfast nearly every morning.  The reason why I started doing so is probably nonsense; to get the effect claimed, it would take a lot more than just one glass.  Still, it's tasty and has plenty of vitamins and besides, it keeps the wolverines away.

     What, you don't believe me?  When was the last time you heard of any wild wolverines around here outside of a zoo? 

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Getting Ready For A Class

     It's a writing class.  It may be a challenge, as it meets weekly for five weeks and there are word-count goals.

     Writing fiction is fun when I'm in the mood; if I can get the bones of a story on the page before the feeling fades, it stands a good chance of getting finished.  Longer-form stuff is difficult; I get bogged down in fiddling with small stuff.

     "Prisoner Of War," has been in the works for a few years now.  Set in the early 1960s as the war pitting the United States (and NATO) against the loosely-organized forces of the Federation of Concerned Spacemen ("Far-Edgers") heats up, it covers some of the story of the discovery and claiming of Smitty's World, as well as a little of the life of applied-science whiz (and Steam Amish runaway) Pertaineth Apperson.*  And that's all tangential to the narrative, about a USSF reconnaissance crew who encounter...  Well, no point in giving the whole thing away.  Printed out about 4700 words last night and realized I have at least that many to go. Also that the outline needs more plot-twists.
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* Pert Apperson is over six feet tall, slender, a fair shot, uncommonly gifted at mathematics and a bit impatient with fools; she figures she knows what's best for you better than you do.  She's slightly based on one of my aunts, with a backstory based on another ancestor.

Saturday, February 09, 2019

I'm Busy

     Trying to sort out the kitchen and get some laundry done.  Tam and I are both space-fillers, and horizontal surfaces do not remain clear for long.  This gets to be a problem.

Friday, February 08, 2019

Where's The James Bond Theme Music?

     There's supposed to be James Bond theme music and a splashy gun-barrel photomontage when a shaven-headed billionaire with his own space program tangles with a shady tabloid publisher who has possible ties to bloody petrodollar moguls, dammit.  And where's Bond?  I've been watching those movies for years now and even this early in the film, he's supposed to be right in the thick of the action.

     --Of course, one side was supposed to be quite visibly Simon-pure and true (not to mention hidebound), and as for the phrase, "below-the-waist-selfie," one can hardly imagine something more at odds with the straightforward bedroom athletics of 007.  It's starting to sound more like Harry Palmer than Ian Fleming's man of action and intrigue, only with less panache.

     There's probably not even going to be a secret base or inexplicably explosive computers, either.

Thursday, February 07, 2019

Cooking

     I made kielbasa and cabbage the other day.  It was a good example of how I cook.  Along about lunchtime (peanut butter crackers and a cup of coffee), I was pondering what to make for dinner.  Sausage and cabbage sounded good -- it was rainy and chilly outside and its pretty much "comfort food."

     It had been a long time since I made the stuff, or the related noodle dish.  Looking up a few recipes on my Kindle gave me a better feel for the proportions and what else.  Most versions included onions and garlic, along with something to give it a little heat, typically paprika plus red-pepper flakes of the sort often provided for pizza.

     That gave me things to look for at the market.  Stopped there on my way home after work, thinking I might use a hot Fresno or cherry pepper.  Alas, they were out of Fresnos (and Serranos) and the cherry peppers didn't appeal, so I bought mild Poblano peppers instead.  We had red onions at home and the store had nice green cabbage and butcher-counter kielbasa.

     At home, I cut up and browned the sausage with a little black pepper for luck and a strip of bacon (included in several versions of the dish) to add more smokiness (and grease).  Cooked it, fished it out, and started cut up onions and a little garlic powder and paprika in the same big pan; cut up about half the head of cabbage and added it (with a little paprika) once the onions were underway.  Poblano got the same treatment once the cabbage was starting to get soft, along with more paprika, chipotle powder and black pepper.  Drained it (there's rather a lot of grease), added the meat back in, and warmed the whole dish together.

     Various versions cook the veggies anything from crisp-tender to mushy-soft.  This was stir-fried and darned good.  It fed two with enough left over for the next day.  The leftovers were a bit more conventional, with the cabbage good and soft.  It had a little bite, not too much, and could have been made more so with hot sauce to taste.

     It wasn't exactly any of the recipes I looked at.  I try to get a feel for the basic ingredients, cooking process and desired end result.  This was a visually appealing dish; the onion kept a bit of violet-red color and the dark-green Poblano and browned sausage made a nice contrast against the pale-green cabbage.  Prep and cooking overlapped, probably forty-five minutes from start to finish.

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

State Of The Union

     Last time I checked, the Second War Between The States had not started, so we're good.

     There was a speech last night.  I watched some of it.  It's mostly ritual -- a nod to current events, a nod to history, and a lot of pushing the President's agenda.  If you like him, you liked it.  If you don't like him, you didn't.

     There's not usually any tea-leaf reading to be done over a State of the Union speech and this one was especially that way.  We had all three branches of the Federal government in one room and they all got home okay afterward -- and that, in the broad sweep of things, really is an accomplishment.  A low bar?  Sure it is.  The Fed.gov is supposed to be a plowhorse, not a hedge-jumper.


Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Comment Unnecessary

     The shutdown-delayed  State of the Union address to Congress will be tonight, and TV network news tells me the theme will be "unity."  It think we can count on Congresspeople to be looking as if they are sucking lemons even more than usual.

     There's no requirement that the State of the Union be given live to a joint session of Congress with TV cameras, handshakes, fake smiles and mugging for the cameras; after Washington, most Presents just wrote it and sent the report up Capitol Hill for Congress to read.  Odious President Woodrow Wilson is the guy who changed that, turning it into an opportunity to promote his agenda.  So that's another bad thing you can blame him for.


     Meanwhile (and speaking of leaders with a high opinion of themselves) in Venezuela, the socialist government ran out of people to loot and shiny lies awhile back; now they have dueling Executives (with the incumbent warning of civil war and the challenging interim President scoffing at the notion, perhaps because he knows anyone with the price of a brickbat has already left the country or forted up as much as possible).  Yes, here it is running in real-time, an example of why top-down economic planning is a wretched idea, even in a country that started out with what certainly looked like legitimate beefs about exploitation by foreign enterprises and had plenty of natural resources.  I hope they can sort things out with a minimum of bloodshed and hunger; they've had an excess of both already.  Attempting any deep analysis in advance of the outcome of developing events is worse than futile; first-world countries are sending food and medicine and historians can pick over the meaning of it later.

Monday, February 04, 2019

Prohibitionists Gonna Prohibit

     So, recreational marijuana is increasingly legal at the state level,* Sunday liquor sales have come to Indiana, and in lovely, tropical Hawaii....

     In Hawaii, they're looking to ban cigarettes in a manner that would make the Volstead Act look like a polite suggestion: the minimum purchase age would rise to 30 next year, 50 in 2022 and by 2024, no one, no matter how old, would be allowed to purchase cigarettes.  Legally, that is, and what possible chance is there that a black market would arise for a prohibited product of that nature, especially one readily available elsewhere?

     Generations of bootleggers and drug dealers are laughing.

     The preamble to the bill states, “The cigarette is considered the deadliest artifact in human history,” though without telling reader by whom.  The simple club, edged weapons and nuclear weapons were unavailable for comment.

     Cigarettes will shorten your life.  They're not really much fun.  But an outright ban is not the best way to be rid of them.  The bill in Hawaii hasn't got much chance of becoming law -- and even lower chances of succeeding if it does.
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* There are only three (3) states where pot is entirely illegal; the remainder range from closely-controlled medical-use programs to complete legality -- at the state level.  The Feds are not impressed, but so far have been unwilling to press the issue.

Sunday, February 03, 2019

Politics Feels Broken (or Pretty Noids All In A Row)

     Politics feels broken these days, at least it does to me.  Maybe it is, maybe it isn't  -- but it feels that way.

     Politicians casually assert dire and ill-supported calumnies about one another as fact.  Parties and voters are drifting apart, from Republican never-Trumpers to the recent poll* that says fifty-four percent of Democrats believe their party is leaning too far to the left.

     I'd give you the Yeats line about, "The center cannot hold," except there is no center, only a propaganda-blasted no-man's land in which the hand of Man dare not set foot -- or at least, no politician-man.  Or -woman.

     On the other hand (or perhaps foot), and despite discovering that I've been blocked by yet another Facebooker for not disliking Mr. Trump with sufficient force, or perhaps for suggesting angry Marx-based online rants accomplish exactly as much as angry Rand-based online rants (nothing), civil society keeps on keepin' on.  Keeps on, but people are a little more irked, a little more convinced of the futility of our political and governmental institutions, and a little more likely to listen to politicians claiming to have The Answer.

     That's what worries me.  One of the greatest strengths of this country was that we didn't have a single answer; oh, sure, there are broad principles, most importantly the structure of the Federal and State governments as Constitutionally-limited republics, but it's fairly loose and gets looser the closer it gets to the individual citizen.  The United States has long been a great mass of people, churning in something like Brownian motion, innovating, growing and generally confounding and outproducing our enemies.    This country has been unpredictable.

     Any intelligence service will tell you that unpredictability makes their work more difficult.  One of the reasons the CIA liked strongmen better than popular uprisings was that it was a lot easier to figure out what the strongman would do.

     Americans burned out by politics, divided, looking to a Man (or Woman) On Horseback to solve their troubles -- drain the swamp, end economic inequality, control the violence in our cities, fix the border, etc. -- are predictable.

     This is a boon to our enemies and no favor to ourselves.  For that matter, it's a gift to our nominally-friendly competitors in world trade.

     Please bear it in mind.  Don't give up.  Don't give in to bitter rancor.  Whatever oddball notions you cherish, don't be stampeded away from them.  America is a mob, a rabble; a wonderful, creative mess with plenty of individual answers.  Let's keep it that way.
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* Cited on Meet The Press this morning.  Closest I can find is a CNN exit poll from the midterms, with 54% of Democrat voters describing themselves as "moderate" or "conservative."  As did about half the Democrats they voted into office.

Saturday, February 02, 2019

Saturday: Mend And Maintain

     There's a rather long list of things to get done around the house -- after I have a nice nap.

Friday, February 01, 2019

And A Lovely Parting Gift!

     At least it's pretty.  The extreme cold is moving on.  It's all of 17°F (-8.3°C) right now, which is a huge improvement, and the temperature should reach 31 later today.

     But there's about three inches of powder snow on the ground, streets, sidewalks and cars parked outside in my neighborhood.  I'll have my own share of it to deal with and apparently, it's much slicker than you might expect; the morning TV news was a litany of car wrecks and slowed or stopped traffic.

     Let's all be very careful, whattaya say?

     This weekend and the early part of next week is supposed to remarkably warm for this time of year.  I won't like the mud but nicer temperatures will make a big difference!

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Four-Way

     It's not one of the listed ways you can get Steak'n'Shake chili, as far as I can tell -- they have chili three way and five ways, but four?  Forget that!*

     No, four-way is what a failed stoplight devolves to: if the light is out, absent other signage or someone directing traffic, the intersection becomes a four-way stop.  There are no significant exceptions to this rule.

     From my workplace, one of the city's major intersections is readily visible.  During rush hour (which runs from about four to six-thirty p.m., a long hour), the traffic light failed: power was out.  Our lights were flickering, but we have a big UPS and a generator; about all that happens is the lights blink, the vending machines go off and on, and our internet connectivity becomes variable--  Yeah, that last will be looked into today; it shouldn't happen.

     But this isn't about my office's lack of cute pet videos.  It's about what people did at a high-traffic, multilane intersection.  It wasn't pretty.  There were lots of near-misses, though no actual crashes.  People were zooming though as if the lack of a light meant "do your own thing!"  There were the ones who didn't even slow down, the rolling stops, the swerves and unsignaled turns; there were people sitting stopped for turn after turn, trying to understand it all.  There were even a few drivers who stopped their cars in the intersection!

     That's not how this works.  That's not how any of this works.  It's a question on the driving exam and the answer is, when the traffic light goes out, the intersection is to be treated as a four-way stop.

     Please.
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* However, Skyline Chili will fix you right up for four-way chili -- they have two different kinds of four-ways.  Which is confusing.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Into The Boreal Malestrom!

     Yeah, it's so cold my thesaurus is stuck.  Best-read of the terrific lizards, but even on a steady diet of steamy beach novels, they grind to a halt when the thermometer drops below zero. Which ours has.  Well below.

     It's so cold that the giant CFL "farm light" lighting my back yard (which replaced the old mercury-vapor after it gave up over the course of a cold winter) is putting out a dim fraction of its usual light.  It's so cold that a local TV station, in the heart of central steam-heated downtown Indianapolis* went out into their parking lot and showed the Polar explorer trick of tossing a mugful of boiling water into the air, where it instantly froze to snow.  (The utility is assiduous about controlling steam leaks but in cold weather, a careful  eye can usually spot one or two manholes in the service area emitting a plume of steam.  I'll bet those are interesting in the cold!)

     City trash pick-up and Federal mail has been cancelled for today and tomorrow and the various road projects underway are all on hold until the weather improves.  Indianapolis is nowhere near the heart of this cold, but like most of the continental U.S., we're seeing temperatures that have been -- so far -- once-in-a-lifetime.

     Be careful out there.  Better yet, don't go out there.  Temperatures will be in the fifties by the weekend.
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* Indianapolis has the second-largest steam utility system in the United States, delivering steam for heating and industrial purposes to businesses and residences in and near the"Mile Square" of downtown.  But good luck finding out much about it!  Currently, it appears to be run by Citizen's Energy Group, our public-trust gas and water utility, though as nearly as I can determine, the electric utility -- Indianapolis Power and Light at the time -- set it up in the 1920s and ran it for many years.  The steam is a byproduct of a generating station just south of downtown. which weaned itself off coal in 2014.  Presumably it burns natural gas now.  I have certain fondness for it; I lived for several years in a downtown apartment building on central steam heat, warm and a little noisy as air went knocking up the pipes.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Polar Vortex

     Most of the continental U.S. is getting hit by the Polar vortex,  No matter where you live, the next few days are going to bring cold temperatures hugely below the usual.

     It was quite cold when I drove to a writing class Saturday.  The Indiana Writer's Center has moved from their comfortable, costly quarters on the campus of the Indianapolis Art Center in Broad Ripple to the Circle City Industrial Complex, a vast space near trending Mass. Ave., filled with artists, makers and small businesses.*  My route takes me down College Avenue† and under the Inner Loop overpasses at 10th Street and there, right under the center lane, well to the back of the broad sidewalk, was a good-sized, clean-looking wall tent with a loaded shopping cart parked next to it.  The tent seemed to be bulging a bit, perhaps stuffed with insulating salvage.

     We've already been through one bad cold spell.  Homeless shelters were full to overflowing, but pledged to turn no one away.  Staffers interviewed on local TV pointed out there there were some homeless people who couldn't bring themselves to sleep in the shelter.  Too feral or cross-grained, so uncomfortable with the notion that they'd risk death by exposure rather than spend even a single night crowded into a warm shelter.

     Happy graphs like the ones I linked to yesterday only go so far.  There are people way over at the worse-than-poor end and many of them are not getting out.  It's cheap and easy to suggest they could if they just had the will; cheap, easy and untrue.  Some can't.  Some....won't.  And for some, about all you can do is take note.  It's not an easy life; it's dirty and difficult even in good weather.  In weather like this?  You hope they'll see another dawn.  And another, until the worst has passed.
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* Though much more recent, it's a bit like the Stutz, a former automobile factory that has been artist's studios and small business space for many years.  I suppose there's a limit to this kind of redevelopment, but Indy hasn't reached it yet.

† Which hasn't run by or through a college for two or three generations.  The street is where it has always been but they moved the college.

Monday, January 28, 2019

A Happy Set Of Charts

     In the course of a (civil) Facebook conversation, I found occasion to look up the definition of "Third World" as applied to nations.  What I found was not what I expected; rather than being about economic well-being or having a stable, free society, the Three Worlds were political alignments: the West as First, the Soviet Block as Second and the non-aligned countries were Third.

     This meaning has shifted rather a lot and my sources had different ideas about why and what the terms mean now.  But "Third World" is still not a synonym for "failed state" or "banana republic."

     In the course of the discussion at Wikipedia, a pair of charts showing "economic density" in 1970 and 2015 were presented. This is a measure of how well people are doing, population charted vertically, income horizontally, color-coded by continent, and it shows a positive shift:

   1970 has a distinct "double-hump" shape: over at one hump, well below the extreme poverty line, are the poor, mostly living in Asia and not living well; the other hump is the rich, mostly in the developed nations, doing very well indeed.

     2015 has no such structure.  There's one big hump, centered well above the extreme poverty line.  There are more people in the world of 2015 -- but far fewer of them are desperately poor.  (Sadly, most are in Africa, which does not appear to have made much progress since 1970).  Yes, the world still has plenty of hunger, but we have made progress,  Significant progress.

     Some people are richer than others.  Some are a great deal richer.  But humanity is increasingly not sorting itself into one bunch sleeping on silk and enjoying fresh-peeled grapes while another bunch longs for a discarded grape skin.  More people are getting enough to get by; more people are earning enough to move up, buy land, get educations, start small businesses -- and that's a good thing.

     Oh, it's a tall, tall hump on the 2015 chart and the people at the top of it enjoy luxury no Roman Emperor ever had.  But far more people than ever before finish their day with a full belly and a roof over their head.  There's doom and gloom on the mass media all day.  There are certainly things to worry about.  But humanity isn't quite as bad as we sometimes think.  Our vector sum is pointing in the right direction.  Let's keep moving that way!

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Leftovers, Fried

     Fried rice:
     The rice is leftover from last night's Cajun delivery dinner; fried along with some soy sauce with vegetables from a "Geek Salad" deli medley from the day before yesterday -- red and yellow bell peppers, cherry tomato, zucchini, red onion and black olive -- plus bacon, some leftover corned beef, and two eggs, one scrambled in and the other fried flat.

     For seasoning, there were a few crumbs of feta cheese and olive oil on the veggies, plus chives, parsley, cilantro (not to everyone's taste -- if you have never had it, check before using! It's a genetic thing), dehydrated celery and fresh-ground black pepper.  Remarkably good for something thrown together from what I had in the fridge.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Living In The Future

     In my kitchen is a robot, provided by and controlled by a vast commercial empire engaged in everything from selling shoes to building and flying manned spacecraft. This sophisticated artificial intelligence listens to everything I say, ready to respond immediately.

      I use it as a cooking timer.

Friday, January 25, 2019

I Had To Buy It

     Went looking for some rolling shelves to help me start to better organize my library and this showed up:

     Not quite what I was looking for, but the price was appealing -- and then there's the name!  Who wouldn't like better mental shelves?

Thursday, January 24, 2019

On Borders And Walls

          Oh, it's a deep partisan divide; I get it.  I also got a Facebook message with a video of carefully-selected quotes from prominent Democrat politicians on the need for secure borders and immigration control, with a note to "share it far and wide."

     Right.  Because that's totally persuasive, in much the same way that Abraham Lincoln's thoughts on the primacy of labor over capital (look it up) would convert Republicans to Marxism.

     It's a partisan fight.  I'd like to tell you the issues matter, that past positions matter -- but they don't.  Party A has chosen a position,  Party B opposes it.  And vice versa.  If one side drinks Coke, the other side clamors for Pepsi -- or maybe 7Up, because it's more opposite.

     Personally, I am all for open borders, along with a complete lack of tax-funded, government run social services for everybody. Work or starve, and if you think there's a need for free hospitals or old-age insurance (etc.), you get together with a few thousand friends and roll your own.

     Those things aren't going to happen.  Conversely, I can see a strong border being touted as a humanitarian thing, keeping people from trying to cross in dangerous, desolate spots.  But in order for that to work, tourists, immigrants and refugees would have to be processed in a timely manner at the official border crossings, necessitating a huge increase in Federal workers.  You'd think the Democrats would be in favor of that -- quicker processing, more government jobs -- especially in light of their comments on the plight of workers affected by the current government shutdown and you'd think Republicans would be happy to work with them to get a big, serious wall, but remember paragraph three: it's a partisan fight.  It's not really about borders, walls, immigrants or refugees.  It's about picking a side.

     There's also a lot of vested interest in an off-the-books labor force, not covered by minimum-wage laws and afraid to complain about unsafe conditions.  The people who hire them are just about the only ones who benefit from the present situation and they stand the most to lose no matter which of the two sides wins. 

     I wonder just how much influence they wield?

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Factions

     Yet again, a writer friend is deploring the divisiveness and factionalism in science fiction, especially at conventions.

     It's nothing new.  It goes back to the first WorldCon.  And it has always been a game that can only be lost.

     Don't believe me?  Read for yourself.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Writing

     Spent the morning working on a new story, trying to get the general idea on paper.  I have several in the works, but this one is something I'd been toying with and it took form.  The recent extrasolar visitor 'Oumuamua is far too good a fit to Far Edge reconnaissance patrols to pass up -- but it's too slow, tumbling, and years late.  What could have happened?

     That, you see, is a story.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Eclipse And Chill

     It's not going replace video-streaming-service and chill, but last night's eclipse probably would have gotten good Neilsen numbers, if the ratings service kept track of natural phenomena.

     Last night I napped a bit, then added a thick robe and sandals to my socks and sweatpants and Winter nightgown to go looking for the Moon, peering out windows until I realized a total eclipse was going to be pretty much overhead.  I stepped outside -- into air about nine degrees above zero -- and discovered high, thin clouds were making a rainbow ring around the moon, which was already showing an edge of the Earth's shadow.  I took a deep breath and realized I wasn't going to be able to stand outside long.  The cold air was overwhelming!

     The soles of thick sandals make good insulation and my toes didn't feel too cold.  Multiple warm layers kept my core comfortable but fingers and ears and the tip of my nose were well-chilled in only a few minutes looking.  I watched the rest of the eclipse on a handheld, warm in my bed.

     This morning, the air was clear and the Moon was exceptionally bright.  Temperatures are below zero at the official measuring points.  In town it may be above zero, but only barely.  

Sunday, January 20, 2019

...Then They Came For The Coffee.

      Look, when it was just snail darters and polar bears, I worried, but not so much.  But now they're warning that wild coffee may be in trouble, and that's a whole different thing.

     We don't so much drink the wild stuff, and it's not quite as bad a dead-end as the banana,* but there are only two main branches of the coffee family we drink; all of the lovely different kinds are just little variations on one or the other, grown in different soils and conditions, roasted differently and occasionally specially sorted (Tanzanian peaberry) or passed through a civet cat (no, really).  The wild relatives are used to breed in resistance to disease or pests, or to get a different flavor.  The seeds don't store well, so you need places where the stuff grows wild.
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* There have only been two varieties of dessert banana sold in the U.S. and each one was essentially a cloned plant.  The Gros Michel was gone by the end of the 1950s, all but eliminated by Panama disease.  It was replaced by the Cavendish and if you're under 50 years old and haven't traveled, Cavendish may be the only dessert banana you have ever tasted.  Panama disease is going after Cavendish bananas now; there's a disease-resistant Gros Michel under development but you might bear in mind that the old song, "Yes, We Have No Bananas" refers to some of the earliest banana crop shortfalls in the 1920s -- and, perhaps, to the power of positive thinking!

Saturday, January 19, 2019

A Little Dinner

     It's actually leftovers from last night.  A good meal for a cold evening: temperatures are in the twenties now and predicted to reach single digits overnight.


     Ingredients include kielbasa, a pound and a half of on-sale New York Strip steak cut up (it was considerably cheaper than their steak tips and they were out of stew beef), fennel bulb, onion, carrot, a few Brussels sprouts (quartered)* and diced giant Portobello mushroom caps. Once that was cooked enough to suit me, I added some beef stock and fire-roasted crushed tomatoes...which were kind of overpowering, so I put in a little more stock, a handful of raisins for sweet and sliced black olives for salt.
 

     It was pretty good last night but it still needed...something. So tonight, I added a can of black-eyed peas, basil, and celery flakes with a dash of Per-Peri sauce and that did the trick!

     I was especially happy with the kielbasa's contribution; it was just one sausage squeezed out of the casing but it smelled heavenly as it cooked down and added to the broth.

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* A little bit of cabbage improves the broth, but you have to buy a whole cabbage.  Brussels sprouts are at least as good, and you can use them a few at a time.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Breakfast Omelette

     I brought home cooked chicken breasts from the deli for dinner last night.  Tam didn't want any; her cat Rannie Wu had been unwell and they'd spent much of the afternoon at the vet.

     Rannie is better, but worry ruins Tamara's appetite.  That meant there was left-over chicken, with a half-life measured in days (and not many of them).

     So -- why not a "Simon and Gafunkel" omelette?

     Why not!  Leftover chicken, cubed and fried in bacon grease with a little Peri-Peri sauce, Colby Jack cheese, black olives and a few garlic-pickled mushrooms and red peppers.  I put a little parsley and a few crushed corn chips dissolved in water in the eggs,the first for flavor and the second to help them hold together.

     But why is it a "Simon and Garfunkel" omelette?  Here's why!

     The song was named for a chicken-and-egg dish Paul Simon saw on the menu in a Chinese restaurant.The equation's reversible, right?

Thursday, January 17, 2019

There's Still Plenty Left

     Sweet orange marmalade* on toast: good.

     Sweet orange marmalade in oatmeal: not bad, don't know if I would try again.

     Sweet orange marmalade and peanut butter sandwiches?  So much better than grape jelly!  It surprised me.  It's a real treat.

     I bought a jar of orange marmalade on a whim, week before last.  The store was out of rye bread and if I'm going to have to eat white bread,† I'm going to have something to put on it.
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* Traditionally, marmalade should have a bitter component from the acid in the citrus juice that helps it set.  The Smucker's orange marmalade of my youth -- and occasionally, adulthood -- is made to be sweeter and less bitter.  I'll buy Dundee or another traditional type occasionally, too, but for "comfort food," the sweeter version wins.

† Mass-produced white bread is much too cake-like for me.  The "hearty" versions toast up all right, with Pepperidge Farm "Farmhouse White" and "Italian" among the best.  Most store-baked white bread is okay, but shelf-life is short and having to slice it is unhandy.  Home-made bread?  It usually gets eaten within a couple of hours of baking!

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Federal Shutdown: Day 25

     The streets are strewn with wrecked, burned-out cars and the gnawed remains of the dead.  A cold wind howls down from the north, seeking the gap at the collar of my coat like an arrow to the heart. It is a half-hour before dawn, with the only light a faint, bluish skyglow and the flickering of candles down the block -- or perhaps larger fires, farther away.  A coyote howls and another, closer, answers.

     I can't let it frighten me.  With a prybar, rubber tubing and gas can, I hope to siphon enough gasoline from the wrecks to get to work, if there's anything left downtown.  A dozen hours ago, the generator was running and my co-workers were patrolling the fences, a block-sized island of order in a world gone mad....

     Except, of course, that hasn't happened.  I won't kid you: the news isn't great and the dim light of Caesarism flickers over the horizon like heat lightning.  This is good or bad, depending on your choice of pundits, and a cunning plan or the surprise outcome of mutual intransigence, also pundit-dependent.  Me, I don't know; all I know is that the rough beast slouches on towards our modern Babylon, with no recognizable face save that of Everyman.  Tick-tock!

     Tick-tock.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Good Morning, Readers

     I'm drawing a blank.  The current Congress is a nearly-endless source of amusement -- but it's as funny as riding in a bus going over a cliff.  You can laugh all the way down, but it's still going to hit.

     On the other hand, how hard is it going to hit, and what is at the bottom?  The Federal government has been shut down* for over three weeks and yet civilization has not fallen.  Who possibly could have predicted it?
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* N.B., a "shut down" fed.gov still seems to be operating at a level that George Washington or Calvin Coolidge might have recognized as a functioning Federal government.  It's not like Congress has gone home and there's a stack of sign-in sheets at the abandoned border crossings.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Oxtail And Root Vegetable Stew

     It's seriously and officially Winter in Indianapolis.  That means it's time for slow-simmered stew!  Sunday, Tam braved the elements, with a promise to bring home "stew fixings."  I didn't press for details -- it's more interesting that way.

     She returned with a half-pound of Italian sausage, a pound each of steak tips and oxtail, a huge rutabaga, several turnips, a bag of carrots, a whole fennel,* a couple of onions, sliced shiitake mushrooms and a big carton of crushed tomatoes.†

     So, here's the procedure for turning all of that into supper:
     Set the meat out before you start cooking; put salt and pepper on the steak tips (or stew meat) and oxtails and let 'em get less cold.

      I started by cooking the half-pound of (loose) sausage with a little Italian spice mix and fresh-ground mixed pepper while I peeled and cut up the rutabaga, which was huge. As I cut it into 1/2" cubes, I put them in a bowl and sprinkled a little ground chipotle and sea salt with garlic on each layer. Don't go overboard!

     The sausage is cooked like ground beef for sloppy joes, you just keep breaking it up, When the sausage was cooked, I removed to a bowl it with a slotted spoon, covered it and set it at an angle. So there's grease in the pan; the rutabaga goes in, maybe with a little sesame oil for smokiness. You'll get some more grease from the sausage after a few minutes, just pour it over the veggies. Cover and make sure the heat's not too high. (Once you get the last of the grease from the sausage, set the meat somewhere to keep warm.)

     As the rutabaga cooks (and the more you cook it, the better), peel the turnip and cube it, then add it to the pot and stir everything around. After it has cooked down some, you can add a little water (and deglaze, the spatula is your friend and that goodness needs to get cooked into the vegetables), but not enough to cover. Then cut up the carrots, 1/2" cubes, and add them. You're sauteing all this as you go. The photo shows this point in the process.

      (About here is where I should have put in the oxtails, salted and peppered, but I hadn't noticed them. Get them well-browned on all sides. I added them with the steak tips and it went fine.)

      Wash and cut up the fennel bulb -- a little bigger then 1/2 cubes, since the layers will fall apart. You can wash some of the feathery bits and add them in small clumps, if you'd like.

      Dice the onion and add it, too -- I put 3/4 of it in now and saved some back, on a whim.

      Add the mushrooms right after the onion. Follow package directions. Most of them need to be rinsed off. Chop them up if needed.

     Cook all that down, while cutting up the green and red bell pepper. Use something with heat here if you would prefer. They go in last. Peppers are kind of delicate and shouldn't be overcooked.

     Add the stew beef (half pound to a pound) and brown it. Once it's well-browned, add the sausage back in and some beef broth (I use Better Than Bullion, which is not cheap but worth the price. A little dab dissolved in boiling water will do you, read the directions); deglaze, get it simmering, add the tomatoes and then cover. (My biggest stewpot and one of the saucepans have clear covers. Handy as can be for keeping an eye on the food.)

      You might want to grab out the biggest oxtail right before you add the tomatoes. Haul it out and set it on the cutting board and let it cool a little. The go after it with a small, sharp knife and pointy kitchen shears, removing meat and discarding fat and small bits of gristle. Toss the meat in, and put the bone back in once you have it as picked clean as you can manage. Don't worry if you missed some. Fish out another section of oxtail -- Tam bought three good-sized ones -- let it cool enough to handle, and give it the same treatment. You will probably do this at least twice for each section. Keep returning the bones to the pot: there's all manner of good stuff in there that you want cooked into the stew.

      It's done when the rutabaga and turnip is soft and the oxtail bones are as clear of meat as you can get them.

      This will easily serve six. Or two people for several days. It generally gets better after a day in the fridge and reheating -- and leave those oxtail bones in if you can!

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* Not everyone is familiar with this.  It's kind of like celery, turned way, way up.  Stalks with feathery green leafy parts emerge from a large bulb.  The taste is distantly root beer-like but not overpowering, and works way better in savory dishes than you might expect..  As far as I know, the whole thing is edible, though people generally use the bulb and feathery parts.

† Our favorite brand recently stopped using cans in favor of lined cardboard boxes.  I was doubtful, but it's fine.