Thursday, May 28, 2020

It's My Birthday Again

     I thought I had gotten that out of the way last year, but here it is again.

     Most people's birthdays are fine with me.  Mine is not.  A time for agonizing reappraisal, for looking back and seeing how little I have done, how terribly short I have fallen of my goals.  I do not enjoy it.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

The 2020 Pot Roast Experiment

     "You'll send me detailed instructions, right?"  That was Tam's question as I departed for work yesterday, leaving her with a large lump of beef in the fridge, a stewpot and a short (verbal) course in how to prepare and simmer a pot roast.

     She was apprehensive.  It takes hours.  Most of them aren't very busy, but with a stewpot on a gas range, it's not set-and-forget, either.

     A little after noon yesterday, I sat down at my laptop and wrote about two and a half pages on what I thought I knew about cooking a pot roast,* from seasoning and rolling it in flour, to browning, to simmering, with as much detail as I could provide on where various kitchen supplies and tools were to be found.†

     And then I stopped worrying.  What would happen would happen.

     Three or four hours later, when I arrived home, it was fine.  (I should have had one more box of bone broth or beef broth on hand than I did, but that's on me).  I added vegetables -- a lot of washing and knife work -- and gave them time to cook up.  We had a nice dinner, tender pot roast and veggies in their own broth.  (Carrots, potatoes, celery, mushrooms and the very last of the Shishito peppers.)

     Tam was only a little frazzled when I got home from work -- this was well outsider her comfort zone.  Other than the occasional rare steak and tasty things sold in cans, she has avoided cooking for years, put off by TV cooking shows set in spacious, gleaming kitchens crowded with fancy gadgets.  (And possibly by my tendency to growl at interlopers when I am in the middle of cooking in our tiny kitchen.)   I hope this dinner has helped make cookery a little less daunting for her.  Like most tool-using activities, learning a few core skills and a small set of basic tools is all it really takes to do everyday cookery; that other stuff is nice once you've got the basics down but it can also get in the way.
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* Here is what I wrote:
It looks like I will clock out at 6:45 p.m., home about 7:00, and we want 3-4 hours total cook time, so if you start the process about 4:30 or 4:45, that should do.
 

This is a process that you can use over and over, to cook beef, pork and poultry. It is one of the basic ways to prepare meat, the basis of most stews and soups. So it’s worth learning. I get very detailed but my aim is to share some of the wonderfulness in this skill.
 

On Cooking A Large Beef

To begin with, take the meat out of the refrigerator and set it in the bottom of the oven, towards the front, and give it about fifteen minutes to ponder its fate. Set Alexa for, say, 12 to 14 minutes.

Take the large glass bowl I have left on the stove, and put about a quarter-cup of flour in it. The flour is in a paper bag in the cabinets over the stove, behind the right-hand door on the middle shelf. The quarter-cup measuring scoop is on the oatmeal box, to the right of the stove. It is the smaller of the two scoops on the oatmeal box – the markings on them are difficult to read. You don’t have to be exact, heaping or a little scant should be okay.

Flour is sneaky stuff. Move slowly, especially when closing the bag back up. You do not want to aerosol it near flame.

With the flour in the bowl, pepper it and salt it. Don’t stir, just grind pepper over it and shake salt over it, like you are seasoning it to eat.

Slide the bowl back out of the way and get the meat out of the oven. Unwrap it and try not to get blood in your hands. Finish unwrapping and then wash them if you do! I don’t know if the roast was bagged or has a plastic sheet on it or if it is just wrapped. With clean hands, salt and pepper the visible portion, then pick it up and set it in the bowl of flour so the unseasoned bottom side is still down.

Throw away the wrapping that was on the meat (this is why I like step-to-open trash cans).

Now bring the bowl forward where it is easy to get at, and turn the meat over and over until it has a good coating of flour on it. You can use a big fork (hang on to the bowl with your other hand!) but it’s often easier with hands. Once the meat is coated, leave it in the bowl and wash your hands.

You will want a fork later on, so get one out and set it on a saucer on the counter to the right of the stove.

Get the copper-bottomed stewpot (the one from last night) out of the dishwasher and put it on the front, right-hand burner of the stove. Do not turn the burner on yet.

Get the small glass bowl of good bacon grease out of the fridge. It is on a shelf in the door, up high between (I think) jars of mustard and horseradish. Set it on the stove top.

Get out a teaspoon, just a regular metal teaspoon like I use to eat soup, and scoop out a couple of teaspoons of bacon grease into the stewpot. Hold the bowl in one hand, or it will get away. The stuff has the consistency of slightly soft ice cream. You may need to use a butter knife to push it out of the spoon. If a little stays stuck to the inside wall of the stewpot, that’s okay.

Set the grease bowl on the counter off to one side – over by the coffeepot, maybe. Prop the spoon on it.

Get a one-cup glass measure from the cabinet over the stove and fill it with water. Set it on the counter to the right, near your fork. You’ll want it later.

Turn on the burner, turn it down to about medium or lower, and watch the grease melt. You want it liquid but not sizzling. It should cover ¾ or more of the bottom of the pot once it has melted. If it doesn’t, add another teaspoon.

With the grease melted, transfer the meat from the glass bowl to the stewpot. It may sizzle a little. If you used your hands to move it (safer), wash them, quickly! You may want to turn the fire down. Give that side about a minute (use Alexa) and then turn the meat to another side, using he fork. (Weirdly-shaped sides might require holding the meat in place with the fork stuck in the up side – save those for last.) Continue browning and turning until all sides are brown. Some of the flour in cracks and crannies might not brown, oh well.

When the meat is browned on all sides, pour the cup of water over it. It may yelp a little.

On the counter on the other side of the kitchen, in front of the microwave, is a box of bone broth. Shake it up, then follow the instructions to open it – fold up the triangular flaps on the sides, pop the top up like an old-fashioned milk carton, and use scissors or bend and tear on the dotted line to open. Pour it into the stewpot.

Does the water and bone broth cover the meat? If so, you win! If not, use the measuring cup to add a little more to barely cover it. If the meat floats, stop. Put the lid on and set a timer for five minutes. This is a good time to stay in the kitchen, to see how things go. Now is the time to put the grease bowl back in the fridge, and then dump any left-over flour from the big bowl into the trash and wipe it out with a damp paper towel. If timer is still ticking, empty the dishwasher or find something else to do that will keep you in the room and not staring at the pot like it’s a TV. (This is why you sometimes catch me doing randomish stuff in the kitchen while cooking.)

Remember to throw away the box from the bone broth.

At the end of five minutes, have a look. Is the water simmering, bubbling, boiling? Then turn down the heat. If not, go for another five and check again. If the stewpot starts making noise while you are waiting, it’s boiling – lift the lid and have a look. You want it just simmering – maybe a few bubbles coming up, maybe only rarely. You do not want it boiling after the initial temperature has been reached. This is the critical phase.

Regulating temperature – gas ranges are a little finicky at the low end. Ours will go into “carburation” if it is too low, the flame going out and relighting repeatedly with a series of popping noises. That is highly undesirable; it can put itself out and build up rather more gas than one might wish before the pilot relights it, or it can put the pilot out. Sometimes the pot gets too hot even at the low setting – taking the lid off, stirring, and leaving the lid off awhile will help. It get hotter and stays hotter with the lid on. We want most of the cooking to take place with the lid on, so it takes some attention.

It would be best to check the pot every five minutes for the first fifteen or twenty minutes, and every ten for the next half-hour and if you feel confident after that, every 15 minutes afterward. Do not leave the pot unattended for longer than that. I would advise not going outside while cooking; it’s the hottest part of the day anyway. Make sure there is nothing left out on the counter or stovetop near the burner.

If the liquid cooks down far enough to uncover the meat, add a little more. Cold water is best, and will help with temperature regulation.

What we are after with all this is to preserve the flavor of the meat while cooking it very tender. The flour and fat will help form gravy. The whole process is nearly magical to me, from bloody, raw meat and white, raw flour to warm rich, thick broth and delightful roast meat.



† My Mother and I organize our kitchens similarly, about 50-50 between getting things as close to where they will be used as possible and the art of making everything fit into the available space.  It works -- if you know where everything is.  Her own mother is said to have remarked, "When I visit Ellen's kitchen, I know it will be neat, clean and organized, but I won't be able to find anything."  Her other daughters got better marks for findability, but not quite as well in the other categories.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

It's One Of My Favorite Meals

     Hoppin' John.  It's a classic, though without a nailed-down list of ingredients -- meat (usually ham), black-eyed peas (or other legumes), tomatoes and...?  And whatever.  Usually some kind of heat -- hot sauce, hot pepper, what have you.  (Black-eyed peas turn out to be eaten by just about everybody, everywhere, in everything from desserts to curries to fritters!)

     The version I have been making suits the two of us at Roseholme Cottage.  You need a big stewpot; it makes a lot.  The most recent version started with a hot Italian sausage, squeezed out of its casing and mashed into bits as it cooked.  While that has started to cook, I cut a big (a pound or more) bone-in, center-cut ham steak into roughly 3/8" cubes -- a generous spoon-size.

     The ham goes in as the sausage nears (but is not quite) done, and cooks a bit while I chop up some baby carrots and a good-sized onion  -- pick your favorite; I had a nice yellow one.  Push the meat to the sides of the pan and saute the vegetables in the center.

     As they cook, dice a medium fresh tomato (or a handful of cherry tomatoes) and add it, skin, seeds, pulp and and all.  Chop up two or three stalks of celery and put them in, too.

     It is only then that you can start to think about adding peppers.  Canned chilies are good, and I used a small can of them.  I had a large Poblano, which have a fairly delicate flavor, lost if overcooked.  Diced it, then stirred the canned chilies, other vegetables and meat, pushed all that to the sides of the pan, and gave the Poblano a quick saute before stirring it in.

     Finally time for the beans!  First, a 14.5 oz can of diced or crushed tomatoes, then a can of black-eyed peas the same size, liquid and all.  Pour them right in.  A little basil and a touch of garlic goes well -- or you can raid the spice rack for whatever else seems good. 

     Get it all stirred in and bubbling, add a couple of bay leaves for luck then reduce heat to a simmer and see what else you'd like.  Tam and I have taken to keeping hot pickled okra* in the fridge -- it's a nice snack.  Some of that sliced into coins goes well in the Hoppin' John, too.  I had a few Shishito peppers, left, too; I washed them, sliced one into short sections and added it to the pot, leaving the others to add whole a few minutes before serving.  Their flavor is even more elusive than the Poblano -- you want them just barely cooked to bright-green to retain it.

     Ten minutes to simmer (adding the last peppers at five) and it was ready.  Usually served over rice, but we had a little rye bread to use up, so we toasted a couple of slices each and had them on the side.  A nice meal, with plenty left over for the day after tomorrow.  Be sure to provide hot sauce or pepper flakes at the table for those who want more heat!
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* Southerners will be aghast, but our corner market stocks "Brooklyn Whatever" brand and their pickled okra is among the best I have had.  Their website appears defunct and they haven't updated their Facebook page since October, but I'm hoping it's just an oversight.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Memorial Day

     Today is the day we remember the fallen military personnel -- the vast majority of them young, the vast majority of them without any real grasp of mortality until, suddenly, they were in the midst of it.  They did their duty.  They did their work and they did not return from it; or they returned shattered, and later perished from it.

     They're gone.  There is nothing you can do for them save remember them, respect them and the terrible price they paid.  Few were philosophers, most could not have given you a grand overview of the conflict that killed them; they stepped up, did as well as they could and died.

     We should work to keep that from happening without dire need -- and we should never forget what they and we have lost.   

Sunday, May 24, 2020

I Was Missing Pork Chops

     I grew up in a house where pork chops showed up for dinner with some regularity (not to mention the occasional slow-cooked-all-day pork roast with vegetables).  I like them and don't have them very often these days.  Tamara's not a fan, correctly pointing out that pork chops in general are often dry, grainy and short on flavor.

     My Mom's were not; she had a sure hand in the kitchen and with no more than salt, pepper and a 1949 RevereWare copper-bottomed skillet,* turned out delicious, moist pork chops.  (There's probably a clue in that she rarely bought the boneless ones and made sure to leave all the fat on.)

     Lacking that level of skill, I cheated.  I have a nice, deep non-stick pan that straddles the line between frying pan† and saucepan.  That mandates boneless pork chops -- but the lid is clear high-temperature glass, so I can see what's going on while keeping them covered.

     A covered pan alone is not enough.  So, what's good with pork?  Shishito peppers pair well, and maybe a quick soy sauce marinade, but that's not enough.  I had a Pink Lady apple, too -- I like apples but I don't always eat them before they go soft.  Apples are a natural pairing with pork.  But the dish needed something else to pull it together.

     Last week, during my once-a-week grocery shopping trip,‡ I had picked up an interesting-looking spice mixture at the butcher counter.  It was labelled "togarashi" but it turns out that it's really shichi-mi tōgarashi or nana-iro tōgarashi, two ways to call it "seven-ingredient chili powder" and apparently it's about as common in japan as plain old spice-mix chili powder is here.  The kind the store sells has ground red dried chilies, Japanese pepper, roasted orange peel, poppyseed, a bit of ground dried seaweed (nori) and black and white sesame seeds.  I'd already tried it on eggs (after tasting it by itself) and it's good stuff.

     I sprinkled a teaspoon or two on the chops, gave it a little while to get absorbed, added maybe a whole tablespoon of soy sauce over them,  and let the pork chops sit in it.  I only gave it five minutes -- longer would be better, but I was hungry.

     Spent the marinating time washing and slicing the apple into wedges about 1/8" thick and then cut those into small wedges.  I peeled most of slices but that's a matter of taste; the peel I left on cooked right up and it does add a note to the flavor.  (I had planned to add a few shavings of pickled ginger, but forgot.  On the list for next time!)

     Just a tiny dollop of bacon fat in the pan, and I added the chops when it was melted, then splashed a little more soy sauce on them.

     While the chops were browning, I washed a generous handful of shishito peppers, slicing two of them into small sections but leaving the remainder whole.  They are small, thin-skinned peppers with a lot of flavor and are usually cooked whole; you eat everything but the stem.

     Flipped the chops and added about half the apples; when I was happy that the down side was browned, I turned them over, added the sliced peppers and the rest of the apples, and put the cover on.

     From there on, I cooked them for ten minutes a side and kept adding whole shishito peppers (I should have taken the cooked ones out, as the flavor gets cooked right out of them -- and into whatever you're cooking with them.)  I used a meat thermometer to determine doneness.  It was something over 25 minutes, the apple was cooked down very soft, and the smell was....wonderful!

     The finished chops looked good and were moist and flavorful.  Even Tam liked them (or at least found them acceptable).  The cooked-down apple, soy sauce, spice mix and sliced peppers made a wonderful kind of gravy and the whole peppers were a nice accompaniment.  (We also had steamed broccoli with Italian seasoning and Parmesan cheese.)

     Things to try next time?  Definitely the ginger.  Definitely another apple or possible a pear, one of the harder varieties like a Bosc.  The togarashi is mild enough that I could add some more of it, too.
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* Good luck finding a new one -- I think they're all aluminum-bottomed now, when you find them.  All stainless steel except for the heat-conducting bottoms and black handles.  I have several pieces of Mom's 1949 set, supplemented with more of the same that Dad bought for her fifty years later.  While you can tell the old ones from the new, it's not by the cooking surface: the handle material is duller and the markings are just about worn off the bottoms of the older pans.  A quick check shows used sets and individual pieces commanding remarkable prices.  There's a reason for that.

† Is it a Midwesternism?  A Hoosierism?  "Frying pan" and "skillet" are exactly the same thing to me.  They are not necessarily synonyms to everyone, everywhere.

‡ That's a big change, as has been my doing any kind of weekly menu-planning.  Living in the city with a nearby almost-gourmet supermarket, I have long been in the habit of deciding what to make for dinner based on what looked good at the market during an almost daily stop on my way home.   I won't be doing that for awhile; Indianapolis has still got the highest per-capita infection rate in the state and I'm in no hurry to join.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Ah, Sunrise....

     When the rising sun lights the snow-capped mountains in the distance....
     Hey, wait a minute!  This is Indiana.  We don't have mountains!

     If you look close, you can see the rays of a faint solar glory.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Okay, That's Enough

     I'm sorry guys, but within minutes of sitting down, I've had enough already.  People will politicize any damn thing, no matter how wholesome or innocuous.  I'm not glib enough to persuade them, I'm not big enough or mean enough to beat any sense into them, and, frankly, I just don't care.

     Tam's sitting across from me,  muttering angrily because our lousy AT&T Internet service is down again, or at least struggling.  She's been fuming about the miserable service for at least ten minutes.  I turned around and yelled at her, which scared me and annoyed her even more.  Yeah, that move really helped improve things for everyone, didn't it?  I'm a real miracle of reason, sweetness and light, you betcha.

     This is not a good morning for me to be messing around online.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Cat Overboard!

     Came home last night and noticed the window of my room was very far open -- it's one of two facing west, where the prevailing winds come from, so it's a good one to open.  We rarely open it very far -- the screen isn't that strong.

     I started dinner and went back to my room to change.  My cat Huck was in the window and I thought I had better close it down to a narrow gap, just in case--

     No sooner had I leaned across the bed to close the window than Holden came bouncing in at full speed, leapt onto the bed, jumped on Huck and knocked Huck and the screen right out onto the patio!  I grabbed Holden just as he started over the windowsill, too.  Huck bounded around the corner of the house and out of sight.

     Carrying Holden into the dining room, I closed the door to the hallway so he couldn't get to the open window and shouted "Huck's out!" toward Tam.  I dropped Holden, ran into the kitchen, clawed a container of cat treats out of the cabinet and hurried outside, shaking the bag and calling, "Huuuuck...."  I figured he was gone.

     Instead, he headed right towards me from the corner of the yard; I scooped him up, carried him back inside, and gave him a treat while Holden watched worriedly.

     It took another trip outside to get the screen back in place.  We will only open the window to a smaller than cat-sized crack from now on. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Everything Annoys Me Today

     Woke up hurting in multiple places and in a sour mood.  Hurting less now that I am up and moving around, but haven't been able to improve my mood.  Quite the reverse.

     Forgot to take my thyroid medicine when I fed the cats.  The darned pills come with instructions to take them with a full glass of water and then consume nothing else -- nothing at all -- for at least thirty minutes afterward.  So that was time lost, with a full cup of fresh coffee sitting over one of the between-the-burner pilot lights of the stove with a saucer over the top and a box of UHT "shelf milk" cooling down in the freezer for cereal while the timer ticked down.

     Nothing doesn't irk me this morning.  Not the most innocent or amusing comment.

     It's a symptom of prolonged stress.  Even before the viral pandemic, changes at my work had me on edge.  The small company I work for was purchased by a much larger, publicly-traded company, with their own and quite different culture, procedures and expectations.  I have been through this kind of thing once before and it didn't end well; my expectations for the present experience are pretty low.  I'd like to hold on until full retirement age but it's just a hope.

     The weather has been miserable so far this Spring, mostly cold, cloudy and rainy, the kind of wretched rain that varies in intensity but never goes away, chilly and penetrating.

     The new cat is so full of energy that my cat Huck now hides from him unless it's meal time or he's minded to fight.  Huck rarely comes to sleep on me when I go to bed, preferring to wait until the small hours of the morning when the younger cat is quieter to sneak in and settle down on my legs.  It makes me sad.  I miss him.

     I'm not getting near enough done.  Can't focus.  Can't stick with it.  Days off, I sleep and sleep, cook and veg out at the computer or in front of the TV.  Weekday evenings are about the same.  I hate it but can't get out of the pattern.

     Don't have a summary or a nice, snappy thought to end with.  One endeavors to persevere.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Splash!

     This was going to be a kind of generic post about having a lot to do and not much time or motivation to do it.  Holden the new cat fixed that for me.

     That's what it started out to be.  I was running a tub of water -- my various aches and pains are bothersome enough that I do so several times a week -- and had stopped it about a quarter full, to let the water heater catch up.

     I left the washroom door open and went into the office to work on my post.  Right after Blogger's compose window opened, I heard thump-Splash! Thud, pit-pat, pit-pat, pit-pat....  I looked up to see the tip of the tail of New (and still very young) Cat Holden vanishing though the door from the hallway into the dining room/library, and a trail of wet footprints and splashes leading back to the washroom door.

     Yes, Holden had decided to jump into the tub. And right back out when he learned that water is indeed wet.
Holden - TAMARA KEEL PHOTO
      He was more surprised than annoyed when I caught up with him, picked him up and hugged his very wet belly against my bathrobe.  I carried him back to where I could grab a bath towel, then lugged cat and towel into my room, where I could set him on the bed and start to dry him off.  I was able to blot a lot of water from his front legs and chest, and then wrapped him up in the towel to get more water from his torso.  That was only okay with him for a little while.  Trying to towel off his tummy and back legs resulted in a little drying and a short, happy play-fight between Holden and the Mysterious Hand-In-Towel Creature.  I carried him into the washroom and tried my hair dryer, but he was terrified of just the sound of it; so he got as much more towel-drying as he would tolerate and I had to leave it at that.
Proof that tomcats are like small boys: Weaponized Washing Behind The Ears!
TAMARA KEEL PHOTO
     As I type, he's sitting on one of the pull-out shelves of my desk (see above), grooming his hind feet. 

Monday, May 18, 2020

Looking At TV We Missed

     Tam and I have been watching Breaking Bad, which neither of us saw first time around.  It is fascinating and well-told, though remarkably harrowing. 

     For me, there are weird resonances in the relationship between Walt and Jesse, and that of my father with my older sister and me.  Oh, not the same; but parts of it rhyme.  Dad had very high standards and expectations; my sister and I, in different ways, were layabouts and not terribly competent at our chores.   We had other interests and we tended to "phone it in" unless closely watched.

     That adds a kind of undercurrent to the drama for me.  The Machiavellian drug boss Gus reminds me of how some of the general managers I have worked for in the past would have liked to be -- or at least how they wanted to be perceived.

     The twisty, close-in plotline, with secrets and subtle moves, is fascinating.  Real life is undoubtedly darker and more grim, but the show is a heck of a ride.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

A Small Project

     I have had an inexpensive kit-built code-practice oscillator for years, built into the hard-plastic box it was sold in.  The plastic was pretty brittle and the little widget had gotten knocked around over the years.  It needed a new case.

     So I gave it one.  That's just a tea tin, with some added spray paint, a perforated metal backing to the thin metal on the (former bottom) front panel, labelled with home-made decals on laser-printable water-slide decal material.
(I have blanked out the rest of my callsign.)
     The slowest part was waiting for the paint and lacquer to dry.

     It was a fun little project and a chance to see how the printable decal material works.  It's nice stuff!

Saturday, May 16, 2020

I Missed A Day

     I never miss a day's blogging.  Not in years.

     I did last Monday and didn't notice it.  Weird times (plus a vacation week) and having to break ties with some longtime online acquaintances over Shiri's Scissors issues* distracted me and I never caught it.

     That's the way the times are.  And they're just getting started.  There's a big, ugly lump in the early stages of making its way through the world's economy right now and it's going to be a long while before we find out just how big and how ugly -- and if the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic is going to keep on making it worse.

     We've got some bad memes hiding under the skirts of this pandemic and the political baggage nitwits have decided to saddle it with.  Those things are worse killers than any bug short of the Black Death; bent memes brought nations to ruin in the 20th Century and they're set to do worse in the 21st if we don't get a handle on them.  For a fictional look at how this kind of thing might play out, read John Barnes' "Daybreak" trilogy: Directive 51, Daybreak Zero and The Last President, and then look at the evening news or social media where echo chambers rub up against one another for examples.
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* Look, vaccination prevents disease with very low risk and the anti-vaxxer stuff has been so thoroughly debunked that the only people pushing it are probably on the payroll of the Voluntary Human Extinction gang; mask-wearing that covers the nose and mouth during public interactions does slow the spread of respiratory illness while not increasing your personal risk (and acting surprised when people give you dirty looks for not wearing a mask is disingenuous at best); the United States of America did send men to the Moon and bring them back safely, beginning with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin in 1969.  These things are facts and I am not obliged to respect your opinion if you deny them.

Friday, May 15, 2020

The World Is Run By The People Who Show Up

     A lot of the most local forms of government in the U. S are amateurish.  It's done by people who have the spare time and/or ambition.

     They are not necessarily the best people.  Those folks have got real jobs, or moved up quickly. It's the ones who top out as Assistant Zoning Director and so on who stick around and shovel paperwork. I am okay with this.

     My very first big time fancy media job was videotaping School Board and City Council meetings in a county-seat town of about 45,000.  The tapes were played back on the local cable TV system the next day. Most of the politicians were sincere, and so were the people who showed up to make public comments.  The meetings often hovered on the verge of chaos, and yet somehow never tumbled in.  The office-holders and plain citizens were not always the cleverest -- but here's the thing: there are a lot more people at the middle of the curve than out at the ends.  They have to live here.  Like it or not, C students are the glue that holds the whole thing together.

     Working in Indianapolis, I have had plenty of occasions to see the meetings of the City-County Council and various zoning and regulatory boards.  The furniture is nice, the issues are larger, and the city's own Cable TV channel does a far better job covering them than I ever did with a single black-and-white TV camera and an early videocassette recorder, but the way it all runs and the people in the audience and at the nice desks aren't any different.  Oh, sometimes a rising star shows up and holds a seat for a few years, but they're soon up and out to state or national office.  The C students, the average people, they're the ones who show up every day and do the grindingly dull work that keeps the city running.

     People sometimes complain about how badly things are run -- slow, awkward, inconvenient.  But it could be so very much worse (and so very much more invasive), and yet it rarely is.

     Still, this is why government should be no bigger than the bare minimum; there's plenty to do even then.  It's also why government should not be "made more efficient."  Fast, efficient operations need highly-skilled operators.  That's not what we elect and hire; that's not what we can elect and hire.

    Sure, we can do better.  We should aspire to do better.  And city governments can be the most preposterously nit-picky meddlers imaginable -- but it would be so much worse without the people who show up and do the work.  They don't always do it as well as it could be done, or as quickly, or even as well as they should.  A few are outright crooks.  But most of them honestly dig in and get it done, for low pay and and endless stream of complaints.  If you could do it better, run for office!

Thursday, May 14, 2020

I Have No Idea...

     I have no idea what to write about.

     Almost anything you can write about the pandemic -- worldwide, nations, state or local response to is, or what individuals can or should do -- has become politicized.  People who once responded to "no guns" signs at businesses by taking their custom elsewhere (and possibly leaving a card explaining why) now flout "please wear a mask" signs at businesses and express outrage when they get so much as a dirty look for it.  (You do realize that the supermarket checker's not getting much above minimum wage for being exposed to every grimy or squeaky-clean citizen with a yen to buy a "bottle of anything and a glazed donut," right?  You want there to be people still willing to do that job competently in the future, don't you?)

     There's no resolving the question in advance, so to hell with that.  As a species, we will run the experiment, with the bold taking risks while the timid (count me in that group) take notes.  Time will tell -- and it may tell us that such a mixed response is the best way for humanity to get through this.  No matter what we do, the individual cost has already been high and it will get higher.  There is no magic reset.

     Meanwhile, I've been -- playing.  I have wanted to try working with printable decal paper for awhile now and this morning, my first effort went from printed and clear-sprayed page to getting cut out and applied to the front (and top) panel of a little project.  The decals need several hours or more to dry, and then I can spray clear lacquer over the whole thing.

     And the wall-wart for my big-name flatbed scanner has been recalled.  So I have taken a pictire of the ID sticker on the thing and need to get the S/N and model number from my scanner to see if [Big Name] will send a replacement.  Like everything else in my office, the flatbed scanner is crowded into a corner, so getting at the bottom to find the numbers will be a small project.

     Small projects are about all I'm feeling okay about at present.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Avoid Looking Like A Fool With This One Weird Trick!

     So your friend shares a news-looking link on social media that totally confirms something you have long suspected about a politician you dislike?  What could be better -- now it's time to tell the whole world!

     Wait! While it might be possible that Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell are secretly married and are presently raising a clutch of twelve of the cutest little lizardoid future world overlords you ever did see, before you share that link, check it: go to the linked site and read the page.  At the top or bottom, there is just about always an "About."  Click on it and see what the website has to say about itself -- is it really news?  If so, have you ever heard of it before?  Does it have a physical address?  Or does it label itself as "satire," "humor" or "entertainment?"

     A lot of poisonous, unfunny nonsense wraps itself up in the flag of "satire" these days.  Who knows, maybe it's sincerely intended; after all, few wits are as pointed as Johnathan Swift's.   Or maybe it's weaponized BS.  Either way, a lot of it maps right onto somebody's darker notions and then gets shared as straight-up Truth.

     Like counterfeit money, eventually it ends up in the hands of someone who sees the fake, and there you are, looking like a fool for trying to pass off nonsense as news.

     Take an extra minute.  Check out the source.  Hey, worst-case, you'll get to see cute baby pictures of the future rulers of the planet, right?

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

War By Other Means

     Is that a Russian baked into the bread recipe you shared on social media?  Maybe.  They're certainly up to no good -- and when they've successfully sowed fear, uncertainly and doubt, that's a win.  This article in The Atlantic will rub many of you the wrong way, here and there, but have a look anyway; you can quibble over the details but the big picture is the same.

     China plays a similar game, and they've played the whole world into a corner over SARS-CoV-2.  The only consolation is that they're stuck in it, too -- and "playing not to lose" by knocking everyone else down to the same level might not have been their direct goal but you can bet they've welcomed the outcome.  There's a military white paper on that going around, which is worth reading.

     The same paper addresses the need for the U. S. to get back into the black/gray/white propaganda wars.  Oh, they don't call it that, and as Western Civilization generally does, they separate gray/white (essentially defensive) work from black/gray (mostly offense).

     Our gray/white work in the past -- Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty, the Voice of America -- has been very effective.  Now we're up against Russia Today, Sputnik radio and their Red Chinese counterparts, and we're not doing so well.  Time we went to work on that.

     We can get back to intramural Red/Blue contests as they come up, like in November -- but we need to keep them intramural, even if it means working with those horrible-awful people across the aisle.  I can promise you there's way worse squatting in Moscow and Beijing, only too happy to jam a stick in our spokes.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Mother's Day

     Don't look at me, I'm an orphan now.

     Three times an orphan in some senses, having moved out at 19 with no little acrimony (nor much education), then reconciling a few years later.  That was followed by moving back nearly a decade later, after some success and one crashing failure at my chosen trade in the exciting, fast-paced broadcast industry.  Of course I went right back to it as soon as I could find even a lousy job, despite parental advice not to, and that precipitated another, "and don't come back!" that took even longer to heal.

     Heal it did, every time, and not because "your Mom has to."  It was made very clear to me growing up that no such obligation existed; quite the reverse.  She chose to, both times, and I shall be forever grateful. (And talked my Dad into going along, too, which was no mean feat.)

     The last parting, no one ever comes back from.  You're left there, alone, and the person who gave you the tools to cope with it?  That would be your mother.

     If your Mom is still around, today would be a very good day to call her up and tell her that you love her.

     One day, she will be too far away to call.

Saturday, May 09, 2020

Sonic Screwdriver?

     I have been working on a connection panel that will have over 400 screw terminals wired up when complete, all of them small enough to be fiddly.  I'm using Euro-style blocks with crimped ferrules on the wire, a fast and space-saving system.  But that's a lot of screwed-down connections to open up and tighten by hand.
     This little gem has been a real time saver.  It's not quite torque-y enough for the last couple of turns that crunch down on the ferrule but it does all rest of the work.  And it has a one-button control: push it and twist the thing in the direction you want it to go, and it spins. The farther you turn, the faster it spins,  This means there's enough feedback as it reaches its torque limit to slow it gradually.  It charges from a standard USB supply and came with a nice assortment of driver bits.

     Mine was bought from an online limited-number deals site at a lower price some time ago, but the ES121 is about $95 on Amazon and the ES120 is a bit less expensive -- I'm not sure what the difference is.

Friday, May 08, 2020

Times Are Too Weird

     I had a nice little essay, a version of one I posted elsewhere, on the importance of wearing a mask out of politeness and consideration for others.  But it says nothing yesterday's little cartoon doesn't and I am convinced that the people who refuse to wear masks -- for whatever reason -- cannot be persuaded to.

     They seem to think that because they are such good people, they could never, ever be a carrier of an illness, and since the main thing a mask does is keep you from sharing your germs and viruses with other people, why bother?

     But that's not how it works.  Viruses don't care who you are and this one is highly communicable.  You are almost certainly not immune to it -- possibly not even if you have already had it.

     Making mask-wearing a "virtue signal," making the wearing or not wearing of them into some way of signalling your political beliefs is a huge mistake, one that helps spread this virus.  There are groups encouraging not wearing masks, despite the fact that at the very worst, a properly-worn mask does no harm.  What is their agenda?  Why do they want you to risk spreading a highly contagious virus?

     I can't make you stop such behavior.  All I can do is ask.  Please don't be a disease vector.  Please don't treat the people around you like they are disposable.

Wednesday, May 06, 2020

Hot Dog Soup

     I wouldn't call it "Depression cooking" but it's certainly economical.  It was a common lunch or dinner treat at home when I was growing up.

     Just take canned vegetable soup and slice a couple of hot dogs into rounds about a quarter-inch thick, adding them to the soup.  Heat and eat -- you'll know it's done because the hot dog slices will bulge in the middle.  This feeds about two, with sides (PB&J, for instance, or celery and carrot sticks.  Or both); you'll want more soup and dogs to feed more people or if you skip the sides.

     Last night, I used a couple of cans of non-condensed soup and three hot dogs (splurge!).  Amy's brand alphabet soup (low-fat, no less, which the good Hebrew National hot dogs aren't) and their french-style vegetable soup.  Kind of an upscale version of what, in hindsight, was the result of a tight budget and five mouths to feed.  It was just as good as memory tells me the original was, and that's something to treasure.

     There are likely to be some tough times ahead.  Small comforts can be helpful.

Tuesday, May 05, 2020

Do Your Homework. Do The Math.

     Wait!  Don't just pass that meme or link along, no matter how well it fits with what you believe, expect, or even with what you think you know.

     Check it out.  Read the fine print.  Evaluate the source. (Here's some help.) Follow the links and get back to the primary source, if you can.

     Most reputable news providers cover who, what, where, when and how pretty accurately.  Where they fall down is on "why," and in how much of the story they choose to tell.  You must provide context -- and you don't do that by passing along a few lines that resonated with your own notions; you don't do that by uncritically sharing some commentator's opinion as though it were fact.  You don't do that by blind loyalty to any politician or party.

     People like to bluster that "their opinion is just as good as anybody else's," but in fact, your opinion is valueless when you don't have the facts.  Look that stuff up!  Don't assume you already know, especially those things that "everybody knows."  Make sure!  Double-check!  When there are reasonable doubts, share the doubt!

     You have at your fingertips the most amazing system for finding things out ever seen in the entire span of human history.  When you use it to spread unsubstantiated, alarmist rumor and utter nonsense, you let down all those who came before you and shortchange your future descendants.  You lend aid and comfort to the enemies of Western Civilization.

     There are barbarians at the gate -- and they're carrying memes.

Monday, May 04, 2020

"Everybody Back In The Pool...!" Only Not

     Yes, Indiana -- along with many other states -- has begun to open back up.  This doesn't include Indianapolis/Marion County, the virus "hot spot" where I live, nor does it apply to Cass and Lake Counties, still struggling to get transmission under control.  We've got until 15 May at the earliest.

     Marion County has had 6,176 confirmed cases so far, with 360 deaths.  Roughly two percent of the population here has been tested and we're well ahead of most counties in the state.

     Even at this first step in the multi-step re-opening, the state strongly recommends wearing masks in public and frequent handwashing.  Restrictions on non-essential travel have been lifted.  Remote work should continue for those who can do so and persons aged 65 years and older (or with other risk factors) should stay home.  Social distancing remains mandatory and social gatherings are limited to no more than 25 people. Manufacturing can restart, subject to state and OSHA/CDC guidelines.

     Retail and commercial stores can open to customers at 50% of capacity, including (after waiting an extra week to be sure) restaurants and bars that serve food.  Gyms, fitness centers, alcohol-only bars, nightclubs, playgrounds, casinos and so on will remain closed.  Places of worship can open back up starting this Friday under a long list of recommendations to help ensure social distance and safety; elderly and high-risk people are advised to attend services remotely.

     That's what the state is asking for.  What we will get -- probably even in here in Indianapolis, which is still under a stay-home/limit non-essential travel order -- will likely be "Olly-olly oxen free!" and the yahoos will rush out, unwashed and lacking masks, to congregate in large groups and sneeze on one another.

     The number of new COVID-19 cases has barely begun to flatten in Indiana.  I predict* that within the next two to four weeks, we'll see a second wave start up, bringing most counties to a per-capita infection rate on the same order as seen in Marion and Lake counties.  I can't do anything about that.

     We'll learn the hard way, just like we always do, and if we're lucky -- as we often are -- we'll learn quickly.  Or there will be less of us, with more compelling memories.
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* Based on my vast knowledge of...  Um.  Of authoritative-sounding guesswork, human nature and popular accounts of people's behavior during the beginning of various historical pandemics: nobody wants to take a disease seriously until the dead are rotting in the streets.  This is generally too late.

Sunday, May 03, 2020

"Gee, It Got In Everywhere...."

     Signed on my computer this morning to get a lovely screen from Microsoft offering to show me how to integrate my content and apps across multiple devices!  Oh, the convenience of it!  Yay, hooray!  Hoo....

     ...ray?

     No.  Hard pass.

     Repeat after me:* cross-device linkage is cross-device vulnerability.  Sharing where your web-browser's tabs are pointing, the contents of your Photos and Documents folders and so on means exposing them to the web -- and to any netizen clever and/or crooked enough to get into them.  Don't do it.  We're all too exposed to risks already.
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* The link is the asterisk.  Follow it!

Saturday, May 02, 2020

My New Motto

     "I can't keep you from being stupid, but I will help make it hurt."

     Also, "anecdote" and "data" are not the same thing.   They're not even close.

Friday, May 01, 2020

Getting Sporty?

     There will be walkouts/sickouts at some Amazon and Whole Foods facilities today, as well as at some similar and related businesses.  Not a strike per se, but a "labor action," protesting what some workers are describing as insufficient anti-viral measures.  Don't ask me if it's justified.  I don't know.  It could backfire if it causes significant disruption in deliveries to customers.  A one-day action?  That'll get in the news, probably even get them some support.  But if it runs longer, pretty soon the people who have been relying on delivery services are going to get very unhappy.

    Yesterday, a group of angry protesters in Michigan held a rally at their state capitol and some of them spent time in the building, yelling and chanting at legislators.  Openly armed, which is presently just as legal in Michigan as it once was in California.  (There might be a lesson in there, if anyone's listening.)  Between upset "lockdown" protestors and legislators with that crawling sensation between their shoulder blades,* I am very doubtful there's any listening going on.  Likely to be a lot of reacting, none of it good.

     One of the factors believed to have helped supercharge the influenza pandemic of 1918 - 1920 was that the early stages of it occurred during a World War.  Men were crowded together in camps and trenches with limited sanitation facilities, and if you weren't falling-down sick, you were staying there.  The gravely ill were hauled off to crowded field hospitals, which wasn't an improvement in terms of disease transmission.

     Adding civil unrest to a viral pandemic that is still very poorly understood isn't a winning formula.  It's difficult -- very difficult -- to wait but until the medical types get a better handle on how widespread the virus really is, and just how readily transmissible it is, we're all going to have to be cautious.  Take notes now, and if necessary, you can strike and/or hang the bastards later.  Or possibly just vote seriously, with an eye to the past actions and future plans of the politicians on your ballot.  Voter turnout in the United States has been pretty low.  A determined and active electorate could make a real difference at the state and local levels, and skip the fuss and bother of pitched battles in the rubble while running a fever.  ...Just a thought!
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* Look, I think politicians should go around in fear, but most of them only need to be fearing not getting re-elected.  Scare them too badly and they won't pay attention to ideas.  You don't want that.  They're useless in that condition.  Way more than most of them already are.