Thursday, August 22, 2019

Going Back To Electoral College

     Some of the people I encounter online, including a few friends, have taken a particular dislike to the Electoral College.  They think it's unfair.

     Most of them were not at all pleased by the outcome of the most recent Presidential elections, and after all, didn't their candidate rack up the most popular votes?  Why didn't she win, they ask, and isn't this a democracy?  The most recent complainant keeps calling the Electoral College "feudalism" and is sure other countries do this in a better way.

     These notions presuppose a number of things.  First and foremost, that the individual states, as distinct political entities, shouldn't have any voice in the election of the Chief Executive of their Federal union.  This idea strikes me as inimical to the very idea of federalism and the organization of Legislative branch into two houses, one of population-proportional representation and the other with equal representation by each state, clearly shows the intent of the Framers.

     As for "feudalism," it requires upward loyalty -- knights swear fealty to lords, lords swear fealty to a King; that's not how any part of the Electoral College works.

     Do other countries have a better method?  The United Kingdom is one of the oldest democracies around -- and the Crown appoints the Prime Minister from seatholders in the party holding a majority in (usually) the House of Commons, typically the Party leader; no one votes for him or her to hold the office.  Canada and Australia use a similar method, with their respective Governors General acting for the Monarch.  The roots of this system do, in fact, lie in feudalism, though about all that's left of that are the titles and ceremonies.

     What about the French?  Surely they've got a handle on it!  It starts promisingly enough for critics of the Electoral Collage: the President of France is popularly elected every five years and serves as Head of State, with control over foreign policy and defense.  But there's a catch: the French President is obliged to appoint a Prime Minister to actually run the government -- and the Prime Minister is chosen from members of Parliament in the party holding a majority, usually the party leader.  Once again, citizens don't get to directly pick the PM.  (This occasionally results in a President having to choose a PM from a party in opposition to his own, which is probably a maturing experience for everyone involved.

     The method used in the United States is closely coupled to the majority vote, albeit weighted to resemble the distribution of power in Congress.  The Electoral College is supposed to be a safeguard against demagogues and mass enthusiasms; in fact, recent court rules have clarified that electors may, in fact, be "faithless:" they are not obliged to follow their state's popular vote when casting their ballot.  On closer examination, you'd think the people who didn't like the outcome of the most recent Presidential contest would be all in favor of that.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Starship Engineering

     As a practical matter, the spacetime "bubble" used for faster-than-light travel has seventeen dimensions, one less than the eighteen of normal space. When you ask an FTL navigator why this is, he or she will usually reply, "So the seams line up when you fold it." As near as I can tell, they're serious.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

I Live In A City Of Easily-Confused Drivers

     The city's "Red Line" bus project, which installed a dedicated bus lane and station-like bus stops from downtown to Broad Ripple, has caused a lot of traffic rearrangement.  I've tried to bear with it; I'm not a fan, but we're getting streets repaved and left-turn lights at intersections from this, so it's not without direct benefit.

     Downtown, the Red Line used up a bike lane on a one-way street.  The city had a solution: widen the bike lane on the next street over, already one-way in the other direction, and make the bike lane a two-way path with dedicated signals, leaving car traffic one-way.

     Drivers are finding this confusing.  The bicycle signals have a silhouette of a bike on the light, but apparently that's not enough.

     It's not ideal -- but downtown traffic has never been ideal; this is just a new way for it to be a compromise.

Monday, August 19, 2019

As Memory Fades

     Funeral services for Hoosier -- and Holocaust survivor -- Eva Kor were yesterday.  She was just ten years old when her family was sent to Auschwitz concentration camp.  Only she and her twin sister survived.

     Eva Kors devoted a great deal of her life to sharing her experiences; late in life, she embraced forgiveness as a way to come to terms with the evil that had been committed against her and so many others, but she never forgot.

     As the last of the soldiers pass away, as the last survivors of the horrors of WW II are lost, society loses the sense of immediacy; we lose track of the reality that so many despicable acts were committed by and against entirely ordinary people.

     "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it," and some parts of the past are too dreadful to repeat.  Let us not forget.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Buy Kits, Build Kits

     Don't be like me -- I bought a radio crystal checker kit for a few dollars from one of the big auction sites, and then the other day I was looking for something on my workbench and realized I'd bought a kit for a much fancier version at a hamfest a couple of years ago.

     Time to build them both and compare!

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Dinner And Breakfast

     Last night's supper was a New York Strip steak...
     Cooked with mixed mushrooms and whole shishto peppers, a nice combination.  I had a few slices of small-diameter French bread, too.

     And for today's breakfast, corned beef hash, with onion, pickled cherry peppers and a fresh shishito pepper
     More of the fresh peppers would have worked well; they go very well with the corned beef.

     Plus a fried egg!
     Made with canned corned beef and frozen hash browns, which worked out well.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Thursday, August 15, 2019

From The Immovable To The Unreachable

     All day yesterday, I was at the North Campus, working on removing an old gadget -- about the size of  two or three refrigerators -- which will be replaced by a new gadget of about the same size but a different shape.

     Unwired it last week, and removed all the small bits; even got an associated rack about twenty inches wide, a yard deep and over five feet tall unbolted from the floor and carefully moved off the old tile, all by myself.

     By myself again yesterday, first rearranging the random scatter of junk filling the forty-foot-square garage* to make room for unloading the new gadget and associated things, and then taking apart the remainder of the gadget that's got to be removed.  It breaks down into two big cabinets -- once you've found all the bolts holding them together -- and each one is too heavy for me to move, even with all the easily-removable parts taken out.  Finding that out took half a day.  We've got a hobbyist who will be happy to take them away (there's a power supply in each one you would not believe, which sharply limited the pool of people who could make safe use of them), if they can be safely moved.

     Today, it looks like I'll be trying, yet again, to track down the suppliers and contractors for the new gadget.  The people who made the thing would really, really like to ship it to us; the people who will do the associated and largely outdoors portion of the work and supply the parts for it have stopped returning calls.  Their facility is half a day's drive away and there's a point in this project where the best use of my time would be camped out in their lobby, seizing project engineers and corporate vice-presidents by the lapels and asking where our stuff and our crew might be.  We're not quite there yet.  Not quite.  And so I'll do much the same thing by telephone, working my way up the food chain and probably ending up with my boss pulling me into his office, asking why I called that company's president; he won't be officially happy when I tell him it was part of carrying out his instructions that I make contact with them and get an update on the project timeline, but it's what he wants nevertheless.

     This kind of thing is the real core of what I do, just as I have been working on the "top priority" removal job only one day a week; there are, it seems, other top priorities, which mostly involve responding to urgent pages at the main office having to do with bad batteries, preventable damage and mis-typed passwords.  Sarcasm?  No; those things really are urgent, if you want to get decent work product from panicked non-geek people.  It's got to be done so we can go do the more-interesting things as time permits.
* "What all men own, no one owns," and that garage is a prime example.  The space belongs to no single department; it's got our only overhead beam hoist and a higher ceiling than any garage or warehouse type space my local employer owns.  It's supposed to be available to whoever in the company needs it.  When I spent most of my time at the North Campus, I was able to keep it pretty squared away; between me and Building Maintenance, we even kept the worst of the dust swept.  That was years ago.  The place turns into a maze, filled with office furniture "too good the throw out," tag-ends of multi-conductor wire on big spools, company-truck parts, maintenance supplies, project leftovers and plain junk.  A morning's work (in 85-degree heat) gained me a clear area twenty feet square (well. clear once I remove a golf cart and a snowplow attachment from one side) and one fifteen by twenty and a wide aisle connecting them, which should be sufficient.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

They Updated Windows Last Night

     So, of course, my computer was a long time starting up this morning.  Firefox frequently has issues with Windows updates.  While everything was getting reacquainted on the big desktop, I started up my Raspberry Pi and I'm posting this as a safety, in case there's a conflict.

     It's nice to have an alternative!

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Unclaimed Something

     The Indiana Attorney General's office runs the Unclaimed Property Division.  Periodically, they place ads in the newspapers, listing names of people who've got something (generally money) claimable.

     My sister texted me the other day: I was on the list. 

     So was my late mother.  She's got several small listings, in fact, and I need to tell my brother (who has a couple dollars waiting from the BMV himself), since he's her executor.

     As for my unknown amount, I went to their site, entered the name and -- there I was.  There are forms to fill out with various identifying information; I did so and the state says they'll send me a check in a few weeks.

     Okay, this is pretty much the modern-day version of finding a twenty-dollar bill and seventy-five cents in cash between the sofa cushions, but hey, money that would have otherwise been missed. -- and direct benefit from My Tax Dollars At Work.  Shouldn't pass that up.

Monday, August 12, 2019

The Shelves

     They use one shelf I'd cut and finished four or five years ago and about given up on installing, plus a long one I had used in the kitchen of my previous house:
     The long shelf was finished with boiled linseed oil, which on pine darkens over time to a pretty color.  The shorter one, I used some stain/finish combination and I'm not as happy with it.  "Beading" on the edges of the shelves was done with a tool made by driving a large, slotted, flathead woodscrew into a small scrap of board; the sharp edges of the slot cut a nice groove, with the distance from the top and bottom of the shelf set by how far above the surface the head of the screw sticks out.

     Vertical supports are just pipe flanges and precut pipe sections.  You can buy flanges really inexpensively online, but the quality isn't great; some castings weren't square to the tapped hole and some needed to have the mounting-screw holes drilled out.  1/4"-20 carriage bolts hold them to the shelves.  If I had used the same size pipe for each level, the flanges could have been back to back

     The table was from one of the big chain stores, an inexpensive Mission-style side table.

     Equipment in the picture includes a big RME-45 receiver, a Multi-Elmac AF-68 transmitter, and a Millen transmatch, with a homebrew antenna switch, a Ten-Tec transmatch and an RME VHF converter

Sunday, August 11, 2019

I'm Here...

     Working on pipe-supported shelves for my hamshack.  I have had the material for months and it was starting to bother me.

     Pictures later, if I am not too unhappy with it.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Of All The Luck....

     Tam and I rode our bicycles to the Indiana State Fair yesterday.  I took the day off work for it.

     A quick tram ride* had us at Pioneer Village, home to a couple-three† dining tents run by various Hoosier meat producers.  Lunch!   Tam and I had meat (look, I'm not going to say what kind, for reasons that will become obvious) sandwiches and soft drinks.  I added a condiment from a big pump jug; Tam did not. 

     Once we were fed, we ventured out to look at steam tractors -- one running a sawmill, with the sawn hardwood boards offered for sale -- a one-cylinder gasoline-powered field tile machine, old quilts, chipped-flint knives and other delights.

     About fifteen minutes after lunch, I suffered, ahem, "acute gastrointestinal distress."  The fairgrounds are very well supplied with washrooms, no problem there; but it kept happening, every twenty minutes or so.  Our general route was toward the exit anyway, so I made frequent stops while Tam enjoyed the fair and we left early.

     The bike ride home was a character-building experience for me.  Once home, I changed into my nightgown and took to my bed.  By this morning I was well over it.

     Not at all fun and I'm blaming the condiment (which happened to be one that didn't contain a significant amount of vinegar).  Other than a different choice of soft drinks, it was the only thing we didn't both eat that day.
* Indiana State Fair trams are a remarkable institution, consisting of medium-sized tractors (running on soy diesel!) pulling three or four trailers that consist of outward-facing wooden benches with footrests on each side.  A narrow aisle between the seat backs leaves room for a conductor, one per trailer; it's a dollar per ride, no matter how far or short you go.  With a top speed of perhaps ten miles an hour, they run a big loop through the fairgrounds, making frequent stops at marked locations.  It's about as Hoosier a mass-transit system as could be, and it's both effective and popular.  Each tram train -- there are several -- runs at or near capacity, with trains being added or removed from circulation as demand warrants.

 † Usefully, a number between two and six depending on how you parse it.  We did not try the mutton.

Friday, August 09, 2019

Felony Stupid, At Best

     At worst, another loser hoping to get famous.  It's been all over the news -- a young man showed up at a Springfield, Missouri Walmart, videoing himself, carrying an AR-15 and wearing some kind of vest or plate carrier, hung with pouches.  He is reported to have been carrying "a hundred rounds of ammunition" (probably meaning three full 30-round magazines) and a handgun.

     Unsurprisingly, people in the store reacted with fear; even without the recent horrific attacks, the man was wearing what amounts to the "uniform" of mass killers as described in news reports.

     He does not appear to have made any kind of aggressive move with either gun and eventually another person, described as an "off-duty firefighter" (in other words, an ordinary citizen) drew his own concealed handgun and held the young fool until police arrived.

     Was he planning something terrible?  Was he just a nitwit with a grudge over Walmart's 21-and older limit on ammunition sales?  We don't know.  If he gets a good lawyer, we may never know for sure. 

     At the very least, his behavior was "felony stupid."  In most states, it's legal to open-carry a long gun; some states may require a permit and a few prohibit it.  It is, however, rarely a wise choice unless you're hunting, target shooting, or the like.  --Yes, in Miss Bobbi's Libertopia Wonderland, no one would bat an eye, but that's not where we live.  "Don't scare the average citizen" is a good approach to life; it was even before "Get Clean For Gene," but that's probably the best example.

     In 1968, both the incumbent mainstream Democrats and challenging Republicans were in favor of the War in Vietnam.  Democrat Senator Eugene McCarthy got into the race as an anti-war candidate, and all the hippies (well, most of them) were for him.  It was a candidate's dream, a ready-made pool of enthusiastic door-knockers and envelope-stuffers.  There was just one problem: Mr. and (especially) Mrs. Average American were not about the open their door to a dirty, long-haired hippie, even if they were registered voters of the proper party to support the Senator's primary bid, even if they had doubts about the war: hippies scared them up close and personal, while Washington D.C. and Vietnam were far away.

     The answer, of course, was a shave, a haircut and a clean white shirt.  Even a bath, if necessary.  "Get Clean For Gene" was a success.  The McCarthy campaign ultimately failed, impaled on the candidate's gaffes and loss of momentum when Robert Kennedy entered the race -- but not because his campaign workers "scared the normal people."

     It's a good guideline.  Push boundaries a little at a time, if you want to see something different in the world.  Don't commit "felony stupid."

     (P. S., the U.S. eventually left Vietnam.  Did those scrubbed-up hippies help "move the Overton window" on debate about that war?  Probably.)

Thursday, August 08, 2019

An Abundance Of Festivities

     Not only is the Indiana State Fair running for the next couple of weeks, this weekend also includes the Broad Ripple Carnival at Broad Ripple Park!  Plus the Indiana Historical Radio Society's summer meeting.

     I'm pretty sure I'll keep busy this weekend.

Wednesday, August 07, 2019

Wednesday? It's National EAS-Test Day!

     H'mm, it will be Wednesday all day.  But it's only test day once a year, and then only for a few minutes.  (Around 2:20 p.m. EDT, last time I checked.)

     There's another big test of the national Emergency Broadcast System this afternoon, this time checking the "analog" station-to-station relay system that now backs up the internet-based distribution system.  This is the part that hard-failed the first time FEMA convinced FCC to run a full national test.

     The analog backup has worked fine in tests since, but FEMA and FCC want to see if there are any holes in it they haven't yet found.  I have to give the FCC credit -- after decades of just assuming the system would work, once FEMA goaded them into finding out for real and discovering it kind of didn't work, FCC has been enthusiastic about running yearly tests, collecting data from the participants, and working to correct the problems the test reveals.

Tuesday, August 06, 2019

So, Um...How 'Bout That Trade War?

     Our dear, dear pals in Red China have upped the ante. They're still at the table and nobody's ended up with aces-and-eights yet, but it's not what you'd call a friendly game.

Monday, August 05, 2019

Twisted Killers Don't Have A "Side."

     Sure, they have some kind of point they think they're making, some political aim or some horrific trolling; maybe both. 

     But they don't have a "side" in the sense that you, me, Elizabeth Warren or Mitch McConnell have a side; their rantings never add up and they're not a real part of actual politics.  The instant they chose to pick up a gun (or any other means) and start killing unsuspecting innocents, -- and on this scale, even a prison exercise yard full of violent felons are innocents -- they're nothing but killers. 

     It's not even terrorism.  Terrorism has some organizational structure working towards some kind of at least theoretical victory condition -- the UK out of Northern Ireland, everyone on the planet under Sharia law, the violent overthrow of a government, cowing a supposed underclass -- that, when achieved, will end the terror (yeah, rarely gets there and when it does, the violence often just changes focus; nevertheless).  The kind of mass shootings we've seen in the last few days, months and years doesn't have any kind of genuine end state; it's just striking out.

     So when people immediately head off to Facebook and Twitter and whatever information experts pull from the killer's computer or scrawled notebooks with an eye towards finding out what the killer's political leanings were, what his party affiliation might have been--  It's futile.  It's pointless.  Normal politics in this country, no matter how wingnutty or moonbatty, doesn't involve shooting a bunch of fellow-citizens who are just going about their lives.  (It also doesn't involve dressing up in all black, covering your face and breaking windows, either; but that's for another time.)

     This isn't normal.  Stop trying to jam it into normal partisan molds. That's not where it goes.

Sunday, August 04, 2019

Two Days, Two Mass Shootings

     And the toxic little warts who committed them are already famous, too.  We've got to stop that.

     We've got young men growing up with no socially-approved "tribe" at all; not even as "approved" as hippies and preppies once were, and then we're surprised when the ones they carve out for themselves are so awful?

     Most mass shooters -- and the online culture that seems to foster them -- are the flip side of urban gangs, essentially the same thing only organized online and financed by nothingburger jobs and cheap housing in Mom and Dad's basement instead of being organized in person and funded by crime and drug dealing. Seething resentment?  Check.  Need for some kind of social order that is satisfied in the coarsest way?  Check.  A general feeling of not having a future?  Check. An inability to confine their violence to one another?  Check.

     There's a hole in their lives.

     This is a void that cannot be stamped out; you cannot get rid of a hole by digging it wider and deeper.  It's got to be replaced.  Filled in.  Right now, a purulent mess of bad ideas and worse behavior is what fills it.  Egging one another on is what fills it and then spills over to harm innocents.

     The bulk of the participants are of "warrior age," and that's exactly what they'd've been up to in a simpler and more violent time.  Here and now, they have no meaningful or socially useful enemies to fight, not enough work and too much petty distraction.

     I don't know how to fix it.  I do agree that "thoughts and payers" are not a solution, but I'm not seeing any laws new or old that could fix it, either.  We're going to have to fix it at the source, somehow, and the source is not hardware or "society" or even "the Internet:" it's individual people, individual relationships, and tribal-scale culture and cultural institutions.

Saturday, August 03, 2019


     Spent the afternoon sweeping off the concrete-block patio (the huge hackberry tree in the back yard drops green seeds everywhere) and assembling a new "fire bowl," the kind of screen-covered above-ground fireplace the city doesn't object to  The old one had rusted out after a dozen years and a rip in the cover that I had missed.

     The little fireplace gives me a way to use up the fallen twigs and branches, and it can be kind of nice to sit by as the evenings grow cooler (and the mosquitoes die off).  I'd ordered the thing before my unexpected medical bill showed up and I might as well get some good from it.

Friday, August 02, 2019

Poignant Salvage

     I spent yesterday on the early stages of removing a two thousand Watt analog transmitter I installed nearly thirty years ago.  It was a pretty good little transmitter; I shepherded it through a major channel change, through the original manufacturer changing hands and then passing the device-specific parts replacement/repair off to a third-party, and moving from brand-new to rebuilt transmitting tubes.  (Kennetron, by the way, is the last of the independent tube rebuilders and did very good work for us, at about half the price of new).

     The OEM and the brand-specific aftermarket guys are gone now, and the transmitter itself has been out of service for nearly a decade.  But it wasn't worth removing until we needed the space, which we do.  What I'm doing is disconnecting wiring and readying up the transmitter and related equipment; it's on the very last patch of the original gray and green floor tile* in the building, which will require a specialist to remove.

     It's something of a trip through old memories, from the time I was trying to figure  out a mess of wiring in the poorly-lit rack next to it and, tugging on a wire, launched a very dead bird right past my face to the day I was retuning it and realized the factory tech who'd said, "Oh, the solid-state amplifiers are wideband, shouldn't have to touch those" had no idea I was moving the thing from one end of the UHF band to the middle and I was, in fact, going to have to retune the entire transmitter all the way from the low-level stages to the high-power output.  That turned out well, one of my earliest successes at keeping the little secondary station running using mostly what we had on hand or could dig out of dumpster-bound storage.

     Some of the parts are destined for salvage but most of it will just join that same "e-waste" storage, waiting for the recycler.
* I wanted to keep the checkerboard floor pattern when we redid the building interior, which made the architect's industrial designer snicker.  Nope, we got a nice, bland shades-of-gray pattern.  Drop a machine screw and it blends in invisibly.   

Thursday, August 01, 2019

Better -- And Off To The Dentist.

     Not a hundred percent this morning, but better.

     Remembered last night that I have a regular dental exam this morning.  Too late to cancel and I'm pretty sure my illness was the result of a frozen dinner that disagreed with me, so off I go, hoping for the best.