Wednesday, August 12, 2020

The Green Omelette

      No, it's not a forgotten radio-drama superhero (although...).  It's what I'm having for breakfast.

     There were leftover blue corn chips.  I like to use something to give my omelettes a little structural integrity -- smashed saltines, bread crumbs, even broken potato chips or a little cornmeal.

     Blue corn chips result in a mottled green batter, with bits of yellow and blue.  A little tarragon and some Italian herb mix for flavor rounded it out.  (I've been using a heavy juice glass* in a measuring cup as a mortar and pestle to crush whatever cooked-grain product I use.  It works well.)

     I'd fried bacon and then some fresh mushrooms in the bacon grease, poured the grease out (yum, mushroom grease -- worth saving if you're going to pan-cook lean meat within a day or two) and wiped the skillet down; you don't want more than the least film of oil or grease when making an omelette in a non-stick pan.  A finely diced radish and Manchego cheese completed the filling.  The end result looked, well, a bit scary -- should an omelette be that color?  Those colors?

     Yep, it sure could.  It was as good an omelette as any I've made.
* French-made Duralex.  I happened across one years ago (yes, most of my dinner service was thrift-store stuff, used or cheap; the nice Corningware "Bountiful Harvest" pattern plates, bowls and cups were a real point of pride when I got them!)  and used it for over a decade until it got knocked onto a hard floor.   Not long afterward, I was looking for new small glasses,  remembered how nice the Duralex one had been, and went looking.  Couldn't find the exact style but a half-dozen plain ones weren't expensive and have held up well, with just the right balance between delicacy and durability.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

The New Blogger Interface?

      Yeah, about that?

      It removes blank lines between paragraphs.  I can't seem to get them back easily.  There may be a way to slap in some HTML, but what an annoying fix.

     It removes or impedes font size commands.  This is annoying to me, since I routinely set footnootes in a smaller font that body text.

     This text should be small and this should be smaller.

     This text should be large and this should be larger.

     ...And suddenly it all works again.  Go figure.

Monday, August 10, 2020

The Ways Of The Wu

      A Wu moves water
      It's a thing that they do.
      It's an essential part
      Of being a Wu.

      I have a small, green bowl of water on the floor in the kitchen, in front of the cabinet to the right of the stove. It's right inside the door from the dining room. There's just enough room to park it out of the way. It's a supplement to the large cat water fountain in the office.

      Holden Wu, our very large young tomcat, will carefully move it out until it is barely inside the doorway, just far enough that an incautious foot can catch it. He moves the water fountain around, too.

      His predecessor, Rannie Wu (no relation), was also a water-mover.

      My yellow tomcat, Huck (also very large), is not interested in relocating water dishes. It seems to be a Wu thing.


Sunday, August 09, 2020

You...Make The Call!

      There's a still from an Indianapolis Black Lives Matter march going around, and on the face of it, it's shocking stuff: two men armed with handguns are standing in the road, in front of a pickup truck they have apparently stopped.  It's usually accompanied by some outrage-inducing text, and on Facebook or blogs, it brings forth a long string of posturing comments about "driving through."

     There are a number of problems with this narrative.  Oh, the photo is real enough; it's from a video, a minute or so in.  The video puts things in better context.

     Everyone involved is in the wrong, including the driver of the truck.  The march appears have been done without a parade permit; the marchers seem to have stopped in front of the studios of at least two local TV stations,* blocking traffic while making statements a bullhorn about a recent police shooting.  While Indianapolis doesn't have a jaywalking ordnance,† they do have one about "obstructing traffic."  It's a misdemeanor.

     Some background for the video: the segment with the truck happened on Meridian, between 12th and 11th streets, where the elevated portion of the "inner loop" freeway crosses overhead.  The camera points West/Southwest most of the time.  Protesters/marchers appear to have fully blocked the street near the 11th St. intersection.  When we first see it, the truck is moving South -- in a Northbound lane.  So something has already happened.

     I have been driving through this intersection almost every work day for over thirty years; I have lived in this neighborhood and one of my work locations is nearby.  At one point, I was parking in a lot North of 12th and walking a block and a half to work.  I know the area at least as well as I know the street in front of my house.

     There is a man holding a handgun at "low ready" in front of the truck, and he is quickly joined by another person doing the same thing.  Indiana has no "brandishing" law; it's a felony to point a gun at someone but having a gun in your hand is not per se illegal.  (There are many situations in which it's a damn stupid idea, however, and I think this is one of them.)

     As the scene develops, the conflict appears to be that the people with guns (and others near them them) want the truck to turn around and leave, while the driver makes several attempts to go forward and towards the group blocking Meridian Street, including crossing to the Southbound lanes; eventually the driver turns the truck around and heads back North.

     Take the politics out of this -- you or I are driving our nice blue truck, maybe down Meridian, maybe headed West on 12th and turning South, when we realize there are people all across the street, doing something,  We slow down and see they've got the street blocked and people are holding signs.  There we were, on our way to [generic location] and they have the street filled up with some kind of a protest!  They're telling us to turn around.  One of them's got a gun.

     You make the call!  Do we:
     A: Get the hell out of there, pronto,
     B: Keep trying to press forward.

     If you picked B for any reason, you're a fool.  Don't think people ought to be in the street?  Call the police; clearing them out is not something one person in a truck can accomplish. 

     I keep seeing commenters complaining, "But they've got no right..."  Indeed, they almost certainly have no right at all to do what they're doing in the way they are doing it; but there they are, lots of them, and there is one of you.  A couple of them are armed, and you have a truck.  You can certainly both manage to injure or even kill one another, and then what next?  You're definitely not going to get wherever you were going.

     In this kind of encounter -- in any kind of encounter with large groups of people doing unexpected things, or with armed people -- your goal is to survive, as intact as possible.  This is real life, not an action movie, and no matter how badass you are, no matter how justified you think you might be to take action against them, if flight is available then fleeing is the best course of action.  It exposes you to the least immediate risk, and it exposes you to the least short- and long-term risk of negative outcomes from threatening or harming others.

     Look, I get that it's not at all satisfying to your ego -- but neither is getting shot in the face through your own windshield.  For that matter, no matter how much you may loath the other person's politics, if you run someone over with your car, you will be tangling with the criminal justice system over it, and that's costly even if you don't face charges, more costly if you are charged and found not guilty, and life-changingly bad if you are found guilty of even the lightest charge. 

     Even worse, by engaging the crowd in a way that implies your errand is more important than the risk to their lives from your driving through the crowd, you are confirming their narrative: your behavior tells them their lives don't matter to you.  You are, in fact, making things worse for everyone.

     There's a public-safety campaign about avoiding flooded streets that uses a simple slogan, one that applies even when the street is flooded with people: Turn around and live.

     Didn't you have something do that was more important than street theater?
* Good luck with that, kids: due to coronavirus precautions, there are no more than four of five people in those TV station buildings, none of whom is allowed to conduct outside interviews.  Field crews edit on their laptop computers and send in video over the Internet or by cellular-phone links.  Most of them haven't been anywhere in their station's building for months except for the lobby, to swap out broken equipment.
† Typical of Indiana law, it works the other way around: you can cross the street anywhere you like, but the only place where pedestrians are preemptively given the right-of-way is in a marked crosswalk.

Saturday, August 08, 2020

Annoying At Best

     I spent a couple of hours fighting with Firefox and my anti-virus software this morning.  Lots of crashing.  Time to replace the anitivirus, I think -- it's getting bad reviews.  What do you use?

Friday, August 07, 2020

Puzzled By Coronavirus?

      If the way this virus behaves puzzles you, take a seat right over there next to the immunologists.

     They've got more of a clue than, say, a random journalist or some person on social media -- it's still a puzzle, but they're filling in the edges and trying to sort out the pieces.  It's complicated.

     Lots of people think science works like storybook wizardry: you look up the magic formula or incantation, you consult a seer or a computer, perhaps inspiration strikes, and voila!  It's all laid out, neatly and in full detail.

     The reality is quite a bit more raggedy, a piece here and a chunk there, filled up like a junk-picker's shopping cart and maybe, eventually, assembled into a more-or-less coherent whole.  --And then reassembled, over and over, old bits taken off and now ones added, because that's how discovery works.  Science rarely gets to see the whole elephant all at once; they've got to stick the parts together.

     They're trying.  They're highly motivated; they have parents and families, too.  They miss movies and crowded restaurants and swapmeets and working side-by-side with people whose faces they can see and  all the rest of it just as much as you do.


Thursday, August 06, 2020

Breakfast And

     I enjoyed a nice omelette for breakfast -- bacon, fresh mushrooms, Iberico cheese, a couple of Castlevetrano olives and a little grated Parmesan, with some Italian spice mix and tarragon in the batter.

     And I have been "enjoying" a nasty headache all morning.  They're certainly not getting any better.

     Blogger has kicked me over to the new interface -- which is like a large-print-with-pictures version of the old interface.  That should tell us something, which I will leave as an exercise for the reader.

Wednesday, August 05, 2020

Shelves, Some Pictures

     A reader asked for "in the works" pictures of my current shelf project.  In the crowded garage, some fuzzy smartphone photos are are the best I can do right now, but they show some of the work.

     The first is a view of most of it, seen from the back,  The cross pieces that help keep it stable and (mostly) square are a little clearer than the flat drawing, as well as the bracing piece that should help keep the top shelf from sagging without losing any depth.  The wood's only slightly wider than the fabric storage cubes that will fill most of the space, and losing three-quarters of an inch to a cross-piece won't do.

     The second picture shows my rough joinery, a bit of a stencil and a couple of pencil lines, one to locate the guide for routing the shelf dado and another that carries the line of that dado to the opposite side of the board.  There's a slight difference in width between the shelf and the vertical: some of the wood was bought new and some is salvage.  When working with dimensional lumber at full size, you run the risk of this.  The front edges are aligned, planing will even out the back a little and past that, I'm willing to accept a sixteenth of an inch error in a mostly-hidden place.  A real cabinetmaker, working with something fancier than pine, buys oversize and uses a planer and jointer to get the wood to the necessary dimensions. This wood has a lot of "character," but you have to accept the irregularities that come with that or spend hours trying to pretty it up.

     There is exactly one non-mortised joint in this entire project, where the short vertical supporting the three small shelves meets the full-width shelf above it.  I thought about it, but the complexity of ensuring everything would fit was already pretty high and it didn't seem necessary.  The short shelves may get a triangular brace under the lowest shelf, to carry downard force over to the main vertical on that side and provide some additional lateral stability.

     The next step will be to wipe it down with methylated spirits to remove the pencil marks and mute some of the stencil markings on the wood.  That calls for having the doors and windows open -- and Tam's car farther away!  It's nosed right up to the shelves

Tuesday, August 04, 2020

Two Screens?

     Sometimes a metaphor takes on a life of its own, and becomes a badge.  Sometimes it even gets in the way of thinking more deeply.

     I think both of those have happened with "One screen, two movies," attributed to Scott Adams as a description of current U. S. politics.

     It's compelling image, but it shuts off discussion.  When alluded to in a conversation, it's generally used as to indicate the speaker is on Team Red, but that's not such a big deal -- most people pick Red or Blue and few of them are shy about sharing their choice.

     The big deal is, if people aren't seeing the same movie, they have no common ground.  The metaphor implies the two main parties have no common ground.

     We need them to have common ground.  Sure, the President is just one person, so he (or, eventually, she) is going to be from one party or another.  But Congress is supposed to do most of the heavy lifting when it comes to making laws and setting up the various Bureaus, Departments and Commissions that comprise the Federal Government, and that's a whole lot of of people -- a whole lot of people who need to find compromises they (and, I hope, we) can live with.  To do that, they need common ground.

     It'd better be "One movie, two interpretations."  Sometimes those interpretations are deeply, fundamentally different -- but we'd all better hope they're seeing the same movie, or what's the point?


Monday, August 03, 2020

Cardinal Bribery?

     With Tam having got herself into the hobby of bird-feeding, we are both in the habit of glancing out the kitchen window to see what's happening at the feeder

     One of the better sights is a squirrel sliding down the feeder pole backwards from the anti-rodent device with a disappointed expression.  It's the most effective stop I have seen: a large-diameter tube concentric with the feeder support pole, closed at the top and open at the bottom.  Just large enough to fit a squirrel, too long to get around, too fat to climb, and far enough off the ground that they can't leap onto it.  They're welcome to glean fallen seeds under the feeder, which they do, along with the shy and speedy chipmunks.  Usually all I see of the latter is a flash of red-brown and an excited, "Chip!" when I open the back door.

     We found some small holes dug under the fence, into the neighbor's yard and the pile of maple stump-grindings in the side yard. Tam thought they were chipmunk burrows; I thought they were a bit large, but we weren't sure until the morning last week when a common or Norway rat was seen to slide out of the bird feeder's squirrel-thwarter.  We spotted at least two different individuals over the next few days and called an exterminator, who has already set out the usual solution.  (We may lose a few chipmunks; since one of the rat sightings was one of the bastards eating a mostly-dead chipmunk, we're going to call it collateral damage.  Chipmunks are widespread and they will repopulate.)  It's a city; there are rats.  They're usually not in back yards and it may be that the decline in dining out and the richly-filled dumpsters that result has driven some of them to look elsewhere.

     A more attractive and interesting sight are the cardinals.  We've had a lot of them this year, the bright-red males and drabber females.  They have raised quite a crop of youngsters this summer, and they're starting to arrive at the feeder, too.  They're a motley-looking lot, feathers coming in every which way, the boys in a kind of junior version of their adult plumage, bits of red and brown.  Accompanied by an adult, they flutter clumsily to perch on the arms of our feeder stand, looking like sulky teenagers hauled out to a grown-up restaurant.   The adults gather at the feeder, winkling out choice seeds -- and then they take the seeds over to their fledglings and feed them, beak-to-beak! 

     The young birds haven't fully mastered flight; landing on a swinging feeder has got to be tricky, and then digging out goodies from the seedcake, well, it's a lot to ask.  So Mom and Pop chivvy 'em over the feeder and bring them tasty treats, probably hoping the kid will eventually take a hint and start to figure out how to feed themselves.

     I can imagine the conversation:
     Ma Cardinal:  "C'mon, Junior, let's fly over to Tamara's feeder and we'll bring you your favorites.  Just hold onto the crossbar, you'll be safe enough..."
     Fledgling: "Aww, Mooom!  It's soo far!  Can't I just hang out in the nest?
     Pa Cardinal: "Nothing doing!  And don't argue with your mother.  You don't want to be a student pilot forever, do you?
     Fledgling: "Awwww. ...Well,  okay...."

     It sure looks like that's how it goes!

Sunday, August 02, 2020


     I finally completed assembly of the somewhat-complicated set of shelves that will, if all goes as planned, wrap around my dressing table and add more storage in my room.
     The design is something I have been fiddling with for over a year.  I started measuring and cutting wood over a month ago.  Dodging rain and working in terrible heat and humidity, progess has been slow.  Eventually I had everything cut, and this last week I routed grooves for the shelves and cross pieces, and yesterday, I started assembly.

     Had to recut a couple of cross pieces; I changed the plan on  the fly, messed up the new measurements, and had to revert to the original design (shallow dados in the verticals rather than full-thickness notches where the cross pieces connect.  But it worked out.

     It still needs to have the offset added at lower left, and both of the verticals need to be cut to clear the baseboard.  Then it will get cleaned (pencil marks mostly wash off with methylated spirits), planed, sanded, finished (probably linseed oil again) and then taken apart into a few subassemblies so I can bring it in and put it together in place.  Maybe another month of spare time in all that.

Saturday, August 01, 2020

Mushroom Season

      They've shown up in small numbers a few times after rain, but this week had just enough rainfall to make the mushrooms happy, especially on the mound of stump-grindings where the hackberry tree once stood.  Interestingly, the clusters have sprung up mostly over places where I had dug into it and added hardwood charcoal ash from my grill.
     They look like tiny Fae barrios
     They are very short-lived; some colonies were already falling into disrepair.

     The smaller groupings can be very attractive.

     By evening, most were folding down, like tiny umbrellas. Maybe they'll be back tomorrow.  I doubt these are edible -- usually the more interesting a mushroom looks, the more likely it is to be dangerous to eat.  But they're nice to look at.

Friday, July 31, 2020

They Made A Pan For Me?

     A start-up that calls themselves Our Place has pretty much made my ideal pan.*  It's early days yet; I only got the Always Pan Wednesday.  But at this point, I'm pretty much sold; the only remaining question is durability, and time will tell.

     So far, it is everything the manufacturer promises. Kind of a cross between a small Dutch oven and a frying pan, it's not oven-safe but other than that, it'll do most anything you need it to.

     I was checking out the website a few months ago, and they were running a sale that took the price from "Should I risk it?" down to "Gonna have to try this."  The lead time was nearly three months but they were getting rave reviews.  And it's nice-looking.
     It ought to hold up well: the deep pan and high, domed lid are sturdy, simple aluminum castings, the included strainer/steamer is stainless steel, and the long handle and knob on the lid are some kind of high-temperature plastic that feels a little like Delrin.  There's an included wooden spatula that parks neatly on a short peg on the handle, with the business end hanging just inside the pan through a gap in the pan and lid -- and the gap lets steam exit when the spatula is removed, or you can rotate the lid slightly and close it off.  And the pan has pouring spouts copied from Grandma's cast-iron skillet and every bit as handy.  But wait -- there's more!

     The non-stick lining was promised as some kind of next-level ceramic, dishwasher-safe and slicker than, well, any other pan you've got.  I've had ceramic non-stick pans, but they were fussy to care for and not as good as the modern Teflon replacements.

     This one is not fussy and almost preposterously slick. 
It is much deeper than it looks in this photo, too.
     See that?  Nice picture of a pan, hey?  --I just cooked bacon and eggs in that pan, drained off the grease and wiped it out.  It hasn't been washed yet.  If it didn't have high sides, I'd be hard-pressed to corral a fried egg to flip it.

     I made Hoppin' John last night -- fried ham chunks, with a lot of fresh onion and a little celery and carrots (plus fresh mushrooms, because I am just that kind of heathen), and once that's all translucent and sizzling, you drain the grease, and add canned chilies, crushed tomatoes and blackeyed peas.  It's not the most pan-friendly of entrees, and to make matters worse, a small amount of leftovers sat in the pan while Tam and I watched two episodes of the second season of Homecoming.†

     The pan wiped clean as a whistle.  Even a little sauce spattered down the side and on the outside of the lid (the inside of it is nonstick, too) came away clean.  A little soapy water and a rinse and it's ready to go.

     I'm liking this pan.  Looks like just the thing for grilled cheese sandwiches or fancy pork chops and vegetables or just about anything else I might cook for dinner..
* They make some other housewares, too -- plates, bowls and glasses with a functional, pleasantly-shaped and no-frills design esthetic that I find appealing and that could fit in just about anywhere.
† Also highly recommended.  You have to watch the (marvelous) first season to know what's going on.  The narrative structure, cinematography and editing remain unusual and engaging, and the music is a wonder.  It's based on a podcast drama -- and the podcast is well worth listening to.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Wednesday Dinner

     So I cooked a brisket:


     Tamara took a photo of last night's dinner -- a chimichurri-marinated brisket slow-cooked in a sealed pan on the grill. I added potatoes, onion, carrots, red bell and Poblano peppers and sliced mushrooms about an hour or 45 minutes before the meat was done.

      I had some misgivings at about the one-hour mark, and added some water. The bottom did get a little well done, but the rest of the meat was very tender.  Next time, I'll cook it fat side down.

      Wasn't too sure about the vegetables and the chimichurri, but let me tell you, they were absolutely wonderful. Just a little heat to it.

      There's not really a recipe for this. Brisket gets about an hour per pound over indirect heat (rake the coals to the sides of the grill) and the veggies are added with about an hour to go. Use whatever vegetables you have -- turnips are good in this, celery would work, whatever your garden grew too many of. (Zucchini? Maybe. They kind of want tomatoes, and so it goes....) Keep it covered the rest of the time, let it sit a few minutes before slicing the beef and enjoy!

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

From An Away Game

     Posted elsewhere, a few days ago:

     "The Peelian principles of policing tell us that 'the police are the public and that the public are the police, the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.'

     "Our own history makes it clear that the Press is the public and the public is the Press, the Press after all being simply members of the public who give (and draw!) attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.

      "The cops are us. The reporters are us. The protesters are us. The people who choose initiate force are, alas, us. It really is that simple."

     I will note (for those convinced that "reporter" is just a guise) that a person holding a camera, a notebook or a smartphone has only got one hand free -- which makes it a hell of a lot harder to shoot fireworks at police, or even to chuck rocks with accuracy.

*  *  *

     My focus has been on Press-police interaction and what the First Amendment protects.  With attention to the wider conflict most visibly taking place at present in the Pacific Northwest:

     Historically, especially in post WW II history, terrorism and street-level violence intended to further a goal is often aimed to do so not as a direct effect but by stimulating a reaction.  It is entirely possible that, if there is any goal to the rioting past breaking things and making a mess, the goal is not to burn down a Federal courthouse or police headquarters, but to provoke a harsh and violent reaction from police -- any police at all, local, State or Federal.

     If this is so, then playing the game at the surface level is a losing strategy.  This is not some 19th-century Napoleonic War set-piece.  The only way to win is to embrace and, essentially, co-opt the non-violent elements while discrediting the violent ones.  It worked in Indianapolis.  I don't know if it can work in Portland; a tipping point may have passed.  But what's happening there now hasn't been improving the situation.
*  *  *

     P.S. A commenter -- whose comments I have not been publishing for some time now -- has leveled an accusation:  "Yet, oddly, you have censored all the comments that disagree with you."
     This is untrue on its face, since I have published some comments that disagree.  And it demonstrates precisely why this person's comments aren't getting published, since he or she shows a deep lack of comprehension of who is limited and what is protected by the First Amendment: I choose not to publish comments that I find ill-informed, intemperate or invidious.  I'm not the government; I can publish or not publish whatever the hell I like.

     And so can you.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

I Give Up

     No matter how carefully I explain it, I still get comments that amount to, "But why can't the police just stamp on anyone who disagrees with them violently enough, along with everyone else in the vicinity including the Press?"

     Did you feel that way during the Obama administration, when a routine Federal bulk-buy of ammunition via a long-term contract had many of my Right-wing gun-owner friends running around, waving their hands and talking about the Feds ginnin' up for a war on the Heartland?  Every power you let the Feds exercise unchecked is available to whoever is running the show, and we've been alternating parties in power pretty regularly for quite awhile now, with no sign of it changing.

*  *  *

     I also keep getting told how the "major media" is "100% behind" all the destructive civil unrest.

     So, first off, nobody reads National Review or Breitbart?  Fox News is not "major media?"  Because the last time I checked, they had slightly better viewership ratings than CNN.

     And second off, even CNN was decrying indiscriminate destruction and looting.  When protests here in Indianapolis gave way to graffiti, fire-setting and window-smashing, every single one of our local TV news operations -- we have five -- condemned it, along with the shambling remains of our local newspaper.  Four of those newsrooms are run by major network affiliates; the fifth is an interesting also-ran, the former CBS affiliate, and if there was anything extra to be had from siding with the destructive elements, they're hungry enough to try it.  They didn't. 

     Locally, there appeared to be very little personnel overlap between daytime protestors and nighttime wreckers.  After IMPD decided to be less confrontational and more interested in making sure everyone went home okay, it looked like the protesters displaced the would-be rioters and looters: there were still as many police officers around, but they were guarding the people waving signs and chanting slogans instead of staring them down.  The officers were guarding the city, too.  We had a few marches that went on well past curfew after that change in tactics -- but we didn't have any more smashed windows and eventually, things wound down.

     If you meet strongly-motivated protests with force, you just get more force; and once those gloves have come off against one group of protesters, there's no reason to not take them off against another.  Unless you're eager to see a Second Amendment activism day or weekend at some state capitol go very badly, you should be concerned about police use of force.  It's certainly not always wrong -- but it is far better to avert a riot before it starts, and in a way that defuses escalation.

     Our governments operate with the consent of the governed.  You cannot manufacture consent with tear gas, pepperballs and less-lethal weapons.  You cannot beat or shoot people into embracing the virtues of our system of government.

     And I can't thump any sense into the heads of people who are so mired in the rah-rah excitement of the Red vs. Blue contest that they cannot remember any history or conceive of any future.  Go get yourself another beer, and keep swearing at the TV screen.

Monday, July 27, 2020

The Bill Of Rights Is Not A Menu

     You don't get to pick and choose among the items in the Bill of Rights.  They all apply.

     Whenever I write about the First Amendment, I get the same kind of pushback and quibbling that shows up whenever use-of-force, especially firearms, is under discussion.  In use-of-force, people ask, "So I can shoot the bad guys when...?" and spin scenarios.  It's the wrong question, framed the wrong way.  It's not "can" or even "should."  It's "must," as in, "When must I shoot?"  Certainly, no sooner the necessary and only in response to an articulable deadly threat; persons with far more training and experience than I have are better able to address that.

     On the First Amendment, people still think it must have implied exceptions and secret codicils -- surely it cannot protect unpatriotic thoughts or writings?  Surely it doesn't protect silly people who think being required to recite the Pledge of Allegiance constitutes flag-worship?*  Surely the press can be be chivvied away or even arrested when their presence inconveniences the police?

     The last question is usually phrased, "When the police have issued a lawful order to disperse...." Such orders are usually issued to rioters; if a reporter is directly participating in the riot rather than gathering news, sure, the order applies.  By the same token, a person in a blue vest marked PRESS, taking pictures, shooting video, recording audio or taking notes is, in fact, not rioting, and the order to disperse does not apply to them.  Doesn't make any difference if they're on the sidelines or in the rioting crowd, though the latter location does expose them to whatever dispersal methods the police might then use.

     No, journalists aren't special.  What is protected is the activity, and it is essential to our freedoms.  When police can operate in secret, hidden in night and fog, suppressing reports of their actions, there is no check on them.  Conversely, a police force that attempts to conceal public acts cannot be assumed to be operating in the public interest.

     A free country does not suppress ideas.  A free country does not abide police acting in secret when public demonstrations get out of hand.

     You cannot defeat bad ideas by suppressing them -- and the best way to show up violent nitwits as dangerous fools rather than role models is to shine a light on them, and on fair and responsible police and civic action to render justice.  That can't be done in the dark.

     The Bill of Rights isn't an a la carte menu; undermining part of it weakens all the rest.
* It most certainly does, though it took a whole series of court cases to decide.  I cited the case in my previous post.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

The First Amendment: Freedom vs. Authoritarianism

     It pains me to have to write this.  It's probably going to cost me some readers.

     But it's an important principle, one at the very heart of our country's strength, and it appears to me that we're in danger of losing it:  The First Amendment.

     Freedom of thought; freedom of belief.  Freedom of expression.  Freedom of the press.  These are very basic things, things that are supposed to be set outside the government's grasp.  They apply not only to ideas we like, or to ideas that most people agree with -- they also apply to unpopular ideas.  Repugnant ideas.  Wrong ideas.  The most effective way to fight bad ideas is to counter them with better ideas, not by attempting to suppress them.

     In West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, the Supreme Court wrote, "There is no mysticism in the American concept of the state or of the nature or origin of its authority.  We set  up government by consent of the governed and the Bill of Rights denies those in power any legal opportunity to coerce that consent. [...]
     "Those who begin coercive elimination of dissent soon find themselves exterminating dissenters. [...] Freedom to differ is not limited to things  that do not matter much.  That would be a mere shadow of freedom.  The test of its substance is the right to differ as to things that touch the heart of the existing order."

     When I wrote about law enforcement apparently targeting journalists, in reports a Federal judge found so credible he grated a temporary restraining order, I received a few comments.  They were...heated.  Vitriolic.  The people who wrote them are free to hold such ideas, of course.  I'm not obliged to post them on my blog, but I will quote from them in order to address the significant concerns they raise.

     Let me be clear: to the extent that modern "cancel culture," largely a phenomenon originating in the Left, focuses on silencing unpopular opinions, it is a bad thing; and to the extent that that it turns government powers to that end, it is contrary to the Bill of Rights.  But the fact that one side of a conflict is bad does not necessarily mean the opposing side is good; they can both be bad, and to varying degrees.

     When a commenter writes, "I am so tired of watching Portland Antifa and their I'll get away with arson and battery etc that I want to see the mobs machine gunned into hamburger. I want to see Portlands gutters running with the blood of these idiots. If that includes a bunch of lefty so-called journalists, it's just collateral damage and no great loss," the course of action he endorses is completely contrary to American values.

     Individuals who commit arson and battery indeed ought to be arrested by police and changed with their crimes -- but the person standing next to them, waving a sign and jeering, is not equally culpable.  In any event "machine-gunning" is not how the government should or, Constitutionally, can respond -- and if they could, there would be nothing to keep a future, Left-leaning Administration from doing the very same to a rioting mob of Right-wing protestors.

     As for "lefty so-called journalists," there's nothing in the Bill of Rights that limits press freedom to one political leaning or another: John Stossel, Glenn Greenwald, Sean Hannity, Rachael Maddow and some nitwit with a blog are all protected from government interference, even when they're offering up nothing but opinion.  It is generally understood that the government is expected to not shoot them, especially when they have taken pains to make themselves identifiable as "press."

     Dreams of  "gutters running red with blood" are best left to authoritarians: fascists and communists, either of whom will kill you just as dead for saying the wrong thing.  That's not how it is supposed to work in the United States of America.  When you urge it, you are urging the overthrow of our system of government.

     Another commenter was irked at the press:
     "I duuno but I have not seen any evidence of a true independent reporter for some time."
     I'm not sure what this means, especially in a world of blogs, Twitter and YouTube videos open to anyone.  Most professional journalists do work for some entity, and they answer to some kind of an editor -- but they operate pretty independently: it's the only way you can cover a developing event.  And it is true that if we send reporters working for National Review and The Nation to cover the same event, they're going to deliver very different views of it -- not because they got their marching orders from above, but because they freely chose where they wanted to work, based in part on congruent outlooks.

     "Also the police know that if a protest is not broadcast in living color it can die out."
     That doesn't give the police the right to censor or deny coverage.  That would be the opposite of a free press.  Still, it seems nonsensical; I have seen everything from long-term "Occupy" camp-outs to Second Amendment rallies get lots of attendance despite receiving only cursory TV coverage.  It takes more than the chance to grace TV screens to get feet on the ground -- especially for more than one day.

     "We saw that with the Vietnam war. Put all the losses up and cover up the wins and before long you have a vibratent anti war faction."
     This is a distortion of history -- of something that was on TV screens every night of my childhood and teens.  Opposition to the war in Vietnam started in 1965 with opposition to the draft, especially in the age group subject to it.  Protests grew after that, still focused on the draft, escalating to the mass turning-in of draft cards in October, 1967.  The Tet offensive in early 1968 resulted in the first press coverage implying the U. S. military in Vietnam was weak -- with causality lists to support that impression.  The truth was closer to a strong U. S. military, fighting a war under conditions and with aims that were so misaligned with reality as to make the war unwinnable: they'd been a given a mission that left them stuck throwing men into a meatgrinder.  Under such circumstances, a "vibrant antiwar faction" was inevitable.  You're blaming the media for what should be laid on Congress and the Presidents who were running that "police action."

     "But sure, let's make a protected class that wants to tear down civilization. That will end well."
     The men who wrote the Bill of Rights, and who got the Amendment passed in the U. S. Congress and the legislatures of the States, were convinced that by protecting freedom of belief, freedom of thought, freedom of expression and freedom of the press from government meddling and limitation, they were protecting the exchange of ideas fundamental to the United States of America.  I'm quite sure there are reporters, commentators and editors who would love to "tear down civilization," everything from radical Islamic fundamentalists to black-flag anarcho-communists to pipsqueak Nazis to some kinds of crazy I can't even conceive of.  Our best weapon to fight them is to address and counter their destructive nonsense with constructive sense, with better ideas -- ideas that include freedom of the press.

     You cannot improve a free society by making it less free.  That road only leads to one place, and it's not freedom.

     History is unmistakably clear about that.

Friday, July 24, 2020

Targeting Journalists

     Whatever is going on in Portland, Oregon, it's ugly.  Trying to set an occupied building on fire is evil, no matter who the fire-setters and their prospective victims might be.  Trying to ambush someone with a hammer is not a legitimate act of protest.  Waving signs and chanting slogans?  A-okay.  Blocking traffic?  Not so much.

     --Precisely where on the scale of despicable actions one might rank turning pepper spray and less-lethal weapons on clearly-identified journalists who are not in the body of a crowd of protesters, rioters or plain old malefactors is an open question, but it's not admirable.  Especially not when it is done by law enforcement personnel.

     That's not just my opinion; the U. S. District Court for the area thinks the behavior is credible enough and disturbing enough to rate a temporary restraining order, telling the various law enforcement agencies operating in Portland that they cannot target journalists covering the protests and unrest.  (Here's one news story summarizing it.)

     There are reasonable exceptions -- if J. Random Newshound has gotten him- or herself into the midst of a violent mob that gets tear-gassed (etc.), that's just part of the risks of the job.  But deliberate targeting of a journalist is now officially forbidden.

     What have we come to, that it is necessary to remind the people charged with enforcing the laws and maintaining order that the First Amendment is a fundamental part of the body of this country's laws?

Thursday, July 23, 2020

This Just In--

     The National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda has issued a Severe Brainstorm Warning for all of the United States.  At 7:45 a.m.m Eastern Time, mental disturbance "Stone" was expanding, and may strike anywhere, at any time.

     Persons in the warning area are advised to seek a comfortable area in the living room, family room or bedroom of their home.  Comfort food, favorite movies and TV shows, children, pets and other family members should be close at hand throughout the storm.  Even favorite songs will be of some assistance.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

It's Not A Football Game

     The interesting thing about street-level politics -- from the most civil of electoral contests to scuffles on the asphalt, from sign-waving to brick-throwing, is that it's not a ball game or a Western: you are not obliged to pick sides, and even if one side is less worse than the other, that doesn't mean they can't both be in the wrong.

     Which brings us to lovely Portland, Oregon.  All I know is what I read in the papers -- and half of that is wrong.  For sure they have civil unrest, violence, rioting.  It looks like the rioters are the usual mix of sincere activists, would-be Marxists, and people who just showed up to set fires and break things.  For sure there is a Federal response, using officers who appear to have missing or obscured nametags.  The Mayor doesn't want them there and neither does the state's Governor; DHS showed up, and refused to speak to local reporters.

     Even well-connected local media can't come up with answers.

     Many of my Facebook acquaintances are cheering on the Federal actions in Portland, despite the Constitutional reservation of general police powers to the States.  How is it jackbooted thuggery when the Feds take on a bunch of well-armed, frustrated ranchers and yet not jackbooted thuggery when the targets are Left-of-center and dreadlocked instead of Stetsoned?

     I don't know.  I'm not at all in favor of violent protest or setting fire to Federal offices, but I'm not real keen on the kind of arrest-tag-charge or release of persons not on Federal property we're seeing from the Feds, either.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

And It All Lurches On

     I have stopped asking "What's next?"  I don't want to know. 

     Increasingly, it looks like our species' present troubles are the answer to the Fermi Paradox.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Did Not Feel Well Today

     So I didn't post any thing.  I worked outdoors a lot Saturday and it was not a good idea.  I was exhausted and achy all day Sunday and Monday was not much better.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

The Truth About White Knights

     It's a bleak little parable, I suppose, but a hopeful one, too.

     Start with the fairy-tale paradigm: the weeping princess imprisoned in a tower, under some threat or another, while a white knight rides to her rescue.

     Pretty thrilling, hey?  But it's just a story.  In real life, the white knight's got a vested interest in keeping the princess locked in the tower: as soon as she is rescued, he's out of a job.

     Worse yet if the princess gets out on her own.   If someone happens by and tells the princess there's a ladder from her cell's balcony to the ground, just out her sight, the white knight will become enraged.

     Me, I have always had to be a self-rescuing princess (with a hint or two about finding the ladders), and I figured out the truth about white knights a long time ago: they don't have your best interests at heart, only their own.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Pork Chops!

     I did the pork chop thing again the other night, marinated chops cooked with fruit and vegetables:
     This is right after adding the sliced peppers; they need to cook just a bit more.  It was delicious!

Friday, July 17, 2020

A Whimble!

     Against expectations, I seem to have acquired a whimble.

     No, this doesn't call for pills or an ointment.  A whimble is a kind of carpenter's bit brace with an offset upper handle (the "pad" end), useful when extra torque is needed for boring large holes or in hard wood.  Or they're run faster in softer woods, though perhaps with some risk of making less-neat hole.

     No pictures of mine yet; it's pretty rough and will need some shimming where the chuck attaches, but it seems to be working okay.

     A whimble was the last type of brace I didn't have.  So now, if there is some urgent need for a whimble and a capable person to operate it it, I stand ready.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

It Keeps On

     Now I have to change the IPs of a bunch of simple widgets -- that all have to see one another.  And they're all multi-channel input-output devices with considerable setup per channel, which will be awkward and sloe to rebuild if I lose it.  So, you know, no pressure.

     All this is because IP networking is apparently voodoo rather than technology.  There have got to be tools that would let us analyze the traffic problems that occasionally jam everything up, but all of the highly-trained experts tell me no, no, it can't be done -- and warn me not to try.  "Can't be done."

     Okay, then.  Let me just press these cuneiform letters into soft clay, and as soon as it hardens, we'll run it through and see if it works.  And if not, well, there's plenty of sticky mud left.

     There's no such thing as a Wireshark, hey?

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

You Know What's Not Fun?

     It's not fun when you put in weeks of work on a poorly-documented project, only to discover the physical side is largely moot, while most of the software set-up you have done turns out to have been actively harmful and has to be removed and redone from scratch, thanks to an undocumented but known bug.

     Gee, thanks.

     On the other hand, I get paid the same, if my efforts are productive or useless.  Which turns out to be way less fulfilling than it might be -- the money's nice and every other Friday is a little party in my bank account, but an ornamental stone dog might be able to do most of my work just as well.

     One more frustration in a time of frustrations. 

*  *  *
     Meanwhile, in Miami, the infection rate is 28% and they have testing lines that stretch for blocks.  Maybe they're standing too close to one another while they wait?

Tuesday, July 14, 2020


     I woke up tired this morning.  Fed the cats, thought about it for a couple of minutes, and went back to bed with the alarm set for an hour.

     An hour and a half later, I was...better.  A nasty, bilateral version of the one-sided migraines that have dogged me for years is well underway, but as soon as the OTC painkillers kick in, they should take the edge off.

     It's probably stress -- the ongoing coronavirus mess and some pressure at work to complete my part of a major project have combined to give me a lot to worry about.  There's a hell of a lot of that going these days, of course, and complaining about it doesn't make it go away.

     On the other hand, I enjoyed a nice roast beef sandwich for lunch yesterday, with curly fries.  That's the first fast food I have had in months.

     And the "wild canaries" are showing up!  They're really American Goldfinches and according to the experts, there are some around Indiana throughout the year -- but they wear dull-colored plumage in Winter and only in Summer do the males turn brilliantly yellow with black wings; the females become a little more resplendent too, and we get bright streaks of color, bobbing around, raiding small seeds and swooping away.  It makes me smile to see them. 

Monday, July 13, 2020

Heigh-Ho, Heigh-Ho, It's Off To Work....

     And so on.  But I think I will splurge today.  I have not been to a drive-through since the pandemic shut-downs, but today, I think I'll give it a try.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Project Day

     I spent most of today working on a project -- more shelves.  These wrap around a dressing table, and provide space for many more of the 11" fabric storage cubes:
     That's drawn in LibreOffice's "Draw," which at least as nice a simple drawing program as I have used, quite comparable to the MicroSoft product for this kind of work -- and if you are in the habit of "thinking with a pencil," it is great for noodling around to see what fits where, especially since it will work to scale.  This is just a front elevation; all the parts are 11" pine boards except the three cross-braces, rabbeted in at the back.  The little stairstep at bottom left is an offset to clear the baseboard.  I'll have to cope the verticals at the back for baseboard clearance as well.

     The second page -- you can see a thumbnail at the left -- is a cutting guide.  Today I got all of the pieces cut and routed grooves for the top two shelves.

     This won't be a quick project.  I'm willing to let it take however long it takes. The next step is to do more routing.  After that, I'll sand it, assemble it -- it's too big to maneuver into place in one piece, so some parts will be glued, others just held together with screws -- plane, sand, clean it and apply some kind of finish.  Probably more linseed oil, though I'm wondering about the darker "Danish Oil."  It will take days of spare time.  There's one other piece, a plywood backer that will hold a mirror over the desk, but that will go in after the rest is all in place.

     I finished up the day by grilling meat on a sword!
     Our corner market had chimichurri marinated Brazilian-style steaks, three little ones bent into U shapes and impaled by a flat skewer, almost a pound and a half total.  Grilled over the good hardwood charcoal and accompanied by grill-cooked fresh mushrooms, stir-fry vegetables (microwaved from a bag -- hey, it was a project day!) and some nice spiced rice/quinoa mix, it made a good dinner to end the day on.

     And next, Monday.   Oh, well.

Saturday, July 11, 2020


     We got the blame thing working.  I still suspect somebody, somehow managed to block the exact octet we had been using, somewhere in the chain of more-or-less managed switches between here and there -- but I also don't care, as long as it's working.  Someone else can unearth and defuse that UXB at some future date; it won't be me.   The likes me and my old-technology peers of aren't allowed into the managed switches because, well, golly, if the specially-trained professionals can foul them up so badly, think of the damage us ignorant, blundering Philistines might do? A-hem.

     Afterward, I went for a walk in the very breezy outdoors and visited the biggest milkweed patch that I can get to -- sweet-scented and filled with bugs, including a gracefully flittering Monarch butterfly.  They're home to many of the good old red-with black spots, capsule-shaped milkweed beetles, who will test your hearing by chittering at you in very high frequencies if you pick one up and hold it to your ear -- if you can; they're wily and quick, and will drop like a rock if your shadow crosses them.  I can't hear them any more, so I don't try to catch them.  The milkweed, some plants standing nearly six feet tall, is also popular with iridescent, metallic-looking Japanese beetles, an invasive species but interesting-looking.  But it's the big bumblebees that like them most of all; I only saw one one honeybee* but every plant had at least two bumblebees fighting the breeze to hang on, and one cluster of blossoms had three of the large bees, getting in one another's way as they loaded up with goodies to take home.

     It doesn't take away the stress, but it makes it easy to bear.  Just about to the end of this project and then I'll see what's next.
* Apparently milkweed is a risky venture for the smaller bees -- they can be trapped by the flowers!  Man, nobody's got easy work, not even the bugs.

Friday, July 10, 2020


     Over the least couple of weeks, I have been beating my head against a wall over a couple of essentially penny-ante network configuration problems at work.

     There has long been a conflict of expectations at my work between my department of old-school geeks and the IS/IT department of new-style geeks.  Merging our departments didn't help.  IS/IT still has their own command structure and while they want (and generally get) access to everything my department works with, it is not a two-way street: everything they work with is deemed far too mysterious and arcane to be touched by those of us in the pocket-screwdriver crowd.  We think 99.9" uptime is risibly inadequate; they think it's a golden achievement.

     I can't get too specific -- even that last paragraph is pushing too much, but I'm so frustrated that I don't much care.

     We have a big job underway and one corner of it needs to be on the network.  That's a simple task, one we have done over and over, but this time, it's somehow -- and unexplainably -- Just Too Hard.  I've been just going along, doing what I am told, and I'm sick and tired of it; unless there has been some sudden huge flash of insight on the part of my opposite numbers, today I'm going to see how big a sword I can take to this Gordian knot to get the project moving forward.   I'm not spending another afternoon doing piddling tasks and staring anxiously at my e-mail every few minutes and sending an inquiry every hour, only to be told at the end of the day that "they forgot."

Thursday, July 09, 2020

So... Um, Nope. Nothing.

     I am pretty much drawing a blank.  There's not a lot to talk about that isn't highly-politicized, or at least an on-ramp to a highly-politicized argument, and that can of worms is already rancid.

     Tam and I are watching Stranger Things, which is...interesting.  I'm not usually much of a fan of TV and movies with teens and kids in the leading roles, but the series setting of "Hawkins, IN" is very loosely based on Marion, Indiana* (minus the Mississinewa River and plus more hills than actually exist) and I just happen to have spent several years there.  That bought it time enough to draw me into the story.  It's interesting so far.
* This is from some web-published material that includes a series-official map of the town.  There is a case to be made for a Southern Indiana location based on later events, but Season One includes references to Jonesboro as a nearby small town, which puts Hawkins very near Marion, so...  There are even quarries around Marion.  Nothing so grand as the one in the TV series, but they exist.

Wednesday, July 08, 2020

Right Up The Ol' Nose

     I had to get tested for an active COVID-19 infection -- again -- yesterday.  My doctor wants to see me in her office (so much for skipping that*), but my symptoms were close enough to their criteria for a lingering version of the stuff that testing was mandatory.

     And of course, there's a significant mismatch between how long it takes to get the results (three to five days) and when her staff wanted to schedule me (Friday).

     The test itself?  A lot of waiting.  No Lilly-style drive-through assembly line this time.  The parking lot was pretty active, people pulling in and out, people getting tested in their cars every half-hour or so by sweating spaceman, but turnover was slow.  You were supposed call in from your car on arrival.  I did so and promptly got put on hold for twenty-plus minutes of repetitive music-on-hold.

     I was reading a book from Kindle in my lap and holding my cellphone in my off hand when I nodded off  and dropped the phone, which vanished under the driver's seat, speaker blaring.  I had to get out, open the back door, and grope blindly until I found it.   That was about as exciting as the process got.  Eventually  then the office picked up, took my information, asked what I was driving, and promised someone would be out "shortly."

     Shortly had become pretty tall when, forty-five minutes later, a young man came clumping out in a moon suit, sample kit in hand, headed for my car.  After the usual "name, spell it, date of birth" exchange, he had me look up at the doorframe and leaned in, distressingly-long swab in hand, warning that it was going to be "irritating like a turned up shirt-collar label."

     That's another thing that's not like the test at Lilly: this was no soft and gentle sterile cotton swab, but a nasty little sponge on the end of a long plastic wand.  It was indeed irritating.  Having the thing up in my sinus cavity made me cough, which I tried to suppress without a lot of success.  There was a good reason for the nurse's moon suit.

     And now it's tic-tock, tic-tock, for results Friday at the earliest.

     Today, I've got to go get some blood work plus a COVID-19 antibody test, one my doctor says is highly reliable.  And won't that be fun?
* Blood pressure medicine aside, I'm questioning why I even have a family doctor.  What's the point, really?  They run doctors like machines on an assembly line these days, so there's none of the long-established personal relationship one used to have with one's physician.  I'm too old for my robust good health and happiness to matter -- nobody is more invisible than a middle-aged woman, in healthcare or elsewhere -- but not so old that I'm fragile.  There are doc-in-a-box places everywhere and plenty of good ERs nearby if anything actually noticeable happens.

Monday, July 06, 2020

Doctor Today

     Just a regular doctor's appointment -- which I had forgotten until the medical outfit's automated system sent me a text Thursday of last week, after their close of business.  Too late to ring them up and ask if if this trip was really necessary, and could we not just do it over the phone?

     Yeah, thanks for the short notice.  I don't want to go.  It has been my intention to avoid medical facilities until we got to the other side of this pandemic* unless there was dire need for it.  Had I remembered this appointment in time, I would have cancelled it or tried to change it to online.  I went to the website, where you can ask for prescription refills, ask questions of the doctors or nurses, pay bills, fill out forms....  In fact, just about anything except cancel an appointment, which it specifically mentions Cannot Be Done Online.

     Hold on, my cellphone is ringing.... 

     Just got off the call.  It was my doctor's office.  Guess what?  It's a video visit after all!  I'd better take my temperature and blood pressure first, then.
* Which may not be the word to use, for a very encouraging reason: the death rate has to be above a certain level for CDC to call a spreading virus a "pandemic."  The death rate in the U. S. from COVOID-19 has been dropping and is now quite close to that threshold.   It may head back up again; for obvious reasons, deaths lag new infections by several weeks.  Conversely, the medical profession has learned at lot about managing the worst cases, which is helping survival rates.  For the present, there's a chance this thing is turning less deadly. 

Sunday, July 05, 2020

Pork Roast At Roseholme Cottage

     It was something I'd been wanting to try for awhile: a version of my Mom's Sunday Pork Roast, a dish that cooked slowly in the oven for hours, filling the house with a maddeningly tantalizing aroma.  For the last hour, it would be joined in the pan by potatoes, onions, carrots and celery, which cooked in the juices under a little aluminum-foil "tent" and emerged darkened and flavorful.

     The oven here at Roseholme cottage is not so great; the elderly gas range is overdue for replacement.  With temperatures in the 90s, running it for several hours is a non-starter.  I do, however, possess an entirely adequate charcoal grill.  It's not going to make the outdoors noticeably hotter.

     Our neighborhood grocer has been stocking nice-looking pork roasts recently -- and the price is a fraction of the cost of beef.

     Obviously, I had to try it.  With a pork roast in hand -- or in a very large freezer bag -- I made a marinade of balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, a little garlic powder and a teaspoon of onion powder, some thyme and rosemary, black pepper and shichimi togarishsi, and gave it a day to soak.  (Some kind of fruit would have been a nice addition -- cherries, a fresh pear, an apple, possibly even citrus.)

     Yesterday, I stoked the grill.  I've been using excelsior -- plane shavings -- from nice pine to start the hardwood kindling and charcoal, and they work a treat.  I built a big chimney of kindling and charcoal, and set it going with a single match.  It turned out to be barely enough charcoal to do the job -- but enough, nevertheless.
     After a mere two and a half hours, hey, presto!  I thought some chili peppers would be nice to add.
     Done enough to add vegetables.  We had a few to use up: potato, onion, carrot, celery, turnip, radishes, mushrooms, and Brussels sprouts (Yes, I dropped a mushroom.):
     I covered the pan with aluminum foil.  After an hour that included some desperate poking together of coals and blowing on them to to get the heat up, it looks good--

     --From any angle.
     And just as good on the plate!

     It was very tasty, a bit spicy, and the roast was plenty moist.  I'll be trying this again, and starting with a little more charcoal.  Was it as good as my Mom's?  Probably not.  But I wouldn't have been ashamed to serve it to her.

Saturday, July 04, 2020

A Glorious Fourth

     It should probably be the Second, but 18-Century editorial processes being what they were, it was the Fourth when the Declaration was in final form, so here we are.

     And it is glorious, the significant opening move of the most successful revolution in the history of the world.  You may not see as many fireworks this year; you may not be spending time at the show pressed check by jowl with strangers and friends (and, look, that's for the best), but there are still backyard and small-scale or socially-distanced "...Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more," as John Adams wrote, and even a little of his "...Pomp and Parade...," just from a safe physical distance.

      And the best part of it, a degree of freedom unparalleled in human history, a set of basic assumptions about the inherent individual rights of everyone that would later be partially codified in the Bill of Rights as a list of things that the government was to keep its sticky hands off?  We still have that, too.

     I have seen and read a lot of fussing over public health measures intended to slow the spread of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.  And they are annoying at times.  The shutdowns go well beyond mere inconvenience, but we've already had 'em, so big a lump that if there are more, it's not going to perturb the economy at anywhere near the same scale as has already irrevokably happened.  But masks, handwashing, social distance?  Those things are not infringements.  Not only by custom of long standing -- John Adams and his Revolutionary peers lived in a world of epidemics and pesthouses, of risky and sometimes compulsory variolation* followed by quarantine -- but by black letter law and judicial decisions.

     You are free.   Free to make your own decisions, for good or ill.  But you are not free to make decisions for other adults, and that includes the decision to be exposed to a dangerous pandemic.  Go look the fireworks, or set off a few yourself, and reflect on our history, which is far more than a collection of partisan talking points.
* No less a personage than George Washington ordered soldiers of the Continenal Army to undergo this early method of smallpox immunization.

We Got The Good Tech

     It was the same guy who unsnarled things the time, in December of 2014.  In a world of overworked and undertrained telephone techs, he's only the first item, too busy: the man knows what he is doing and works at it calmly and methodically.  I don't know what he found (it is the Phone Company, and there are things mere mortals are not meant to know) but apparently it was over at the box that turns our connection from the phone switch (the former CLifford CO) into a POTS line, a couple of streets over.

     We're back in business, dial tone, DC, Internet and all.

Friday, July 03, 2020

Technical Note

     The Phone Company is supposed to come out today and fix our dial-up line at Roseholme Cottage.  If they show up at all, odds are better than 50-50 that they'll kill our Internet access, since it's on a different pair in the same drop.

     So I'm posting this now.  If you don't see anything from me for a day or two, it will most likely be an AT&T-created outage.

Thursday, July 02, 2020

Cooking By Short-Wave

     The twelve-year-old microwave oven failed last week.  Tam bought it not too long after she moved in; my dinky 700-Watt zapper with a balky mechanical timer wasn't enough oven to keep her fed.  She got a modern one, 1100 Watts and big enough to warm up a whole ham.*  It worked well for years.

     Last week, the microwave finished failing: the "buttons" on the control panel have been gradually dying for a couple of month.  It's a problem Litton and Amana solved in the 1970s, with non-tactile glass-surface touch controls -- but the solution didn't stick.  Membrane switches are cheaper to produce and less finicky.

     But they do fail.  The "1" and "6" buttons when first, then the whole left half of the number panel and, slowly, all but the rarely-used controls at the top and the "start" and "stop" buttons.  It wasn't much of a problem, really.  On that model, pressing "start" calls up a thirty-second run and additional presses add thirty more seconds, up to a total of five minutes.  If you're mainly using the microwave to bake potatoes and defrost leftovers (the "defrost" button worked until the last), it's not a problem.

     Then the "start" button died.  Punching around, the only one that still worked was "popcorn," a three-minute, 100% power cycle.  That was usable but it was clearly time.  I ordered a new microwave and it showed up yesterday.

     Why didn't I fix the old one?  Membrane switches is why.  It'll be a bespoke layout, conductive material screen-printed and fused onto plastic.  If it peels apart -- not all will -- you can clean them up, even paint new conductive goop over the old pads, but it's a short-term fix.  There's not much to work with there and nothing will hold up as well as the original.  It's a hundred-dollar-or-less consumer good.   The part that does the actual microwaving?  That's all working fine.

     The Amana RR9 chassis I remember fondly from having been a tech in the factory of a subcontractor that built the controllers for them, way back before the not-yet-public Internet snuck off college campuses?  That thing cost as much as a crummy used car.  The limitation was magnetron life, and those were field-replaceable.  The controller interface was simple -- power in, switched power out, and a pair of leads for a temperature probe in the higher-end models, all on a Molex connector.  In a pinch (or, say, a test equipment maintenance shop), you could replace the controller with a toggle switch; add a pushbutton in parallel to pulse the tube to make popcorn.  Sell a family one of those ovens, and they'd have a microwave for thirty years -- if they could afford to buy it in the first place.  Which is possibly why cheaper, overseas-made ovens displaced them from the market.
* This is not to imply that Tam considers a whole ham a proper snack.  My old microwave, though, wouldn't even fit a some dinners.


Wednesday, July 01, 2020

"Accidental" Dinner

     There was a nice smoked ham steak in the fridge.  Not a lot in the way of vegetables -- some canned stuff, plus half a red bell pepper, fresh carrots and radishes.  I was due for a trip to the grocery, but my work day ran late.

     I didn't want to make Hoppin' John again -- besides, I didn't have any onion or blackeyed peas.  Maybe fry up the ham steak and make succotash with canned corn and cannellini beans?  I thought about that on the way home but it seemed a bit...thin.

     In the kitchen, I looked at the available ingredients, and cubed up the ham with a little garlic powder and a teaspoon of onion powder, then chopped up a half-dozen baby carrots and a couple of big radishes, following with the bell pepper, diced, once the rest was well-cooked.  Adding a can of the white beans, about half drained, and then the corn, well-drained, resulted in a nice-looking mixture.  I put in three bay leaves, some sage, parsley, celery seed, basil and some black pepper, covered it and let it simmer for ten minutes.

     The result was a thick and flavorful stew, a few steps away from ham and beans.  We ate it with some garlic naan left over from chili the night before,* which worked very nicely.
* The Indian bread is hardly cornbread but pairs well with chili -- and keeps better than any cornbread you can buy.  Think of it as a puffy flour tortilla.

The Vice-President Says "Mask Up!"

     Yesterday, Vice-President Pence joined Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy in advising Americans to wear a mask to help control the spread of COVID-19.  Could we please go back to planting signs in our yards and putting bumper stickers on our cars to show our political affiliation now?

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Nearly Nine Years

     It was some time not too long before August, 2011 when I finally gave up on the Old Reliable brand of trash can that I kept buying more of, repairing and being frustrated by.  I like step-to-open trash cans.  In a home with cats, some kind of lidded can for kitchen trash is essential.

     Trash cans from an upstart outfit had been showing up at the big-box hardware store for a few years back then -- slick, modern designs, at about half again the price of what I'd been buying -- and, after yet another allthread and plastic washer repair had failed when I stepped on the treadle (with a loud thump and pieces all over the floor), I decided I'd spend the extra to see about the new stuff.

     Simplehuman trash receptacles come with a five-year warranty.  The first one I bought was solidly built, free of nickel-dime "value-engineering."  After nearly nine years, ours failed -- mildly, the treadle is worn enough that the lid doesn't open all the way. 

     The "Old Reliable" trash cans I had been buying lasted a year at most before needing tricky repairs, which might last another year.  So that's 4.5 times the life at less than twice the price. Better is also less costly, and by a considerable amount.  Plus they've got size and shape-matched bags, which (if you buy in bulk), are about the same price as one-size-sorta-fits.  I was happy to buy another Simplehuman can of the same model we'd used for so long.  (Their website doesn't show the older, less-expensive designs; I bought my replacement at Amazon and it's just like the one I bought a decade ago except for the color.  The newer models include one of the same "footprint" and capacity.)

     They're also selling some serious home-of-the-future stuff these days.  I don't need a trash can that can beat me at chess or a lighted mirror that looks like a computer monitor (and folds!) but I like living in a world where that's a thing.