Sunday, August 31, 2014

This Morning's Brekky

     A "What's Needing Et?" omelet: BelleVita cheese, gun show "Lil' Chub" smoked sausage sliced, cooked a bit to get the grease out and drained likewise, diced red bell pepper and cherry tomatoes sliced and allowed to soak up Italian seasoning all sauteed enough to stabilize them, and a couple of green olives sliced thin.  Skillet greased with sesame oil ('cos you've got to use that stuff up, it's got a half-life measured in fortnights).  Sprinkled some sesame seeds into the pan before adding the batter, just because.

     I'd've taken a picture but it was making me too hungry.  Plus, you know what a finished omelet looks like, right?  Fried mostly-egg batter,* folded over tasty stuff -- if the only thing I ever accomplish by my food-blogging is to convince more people omelets are not difficult to make, I'll consider myself useful.
* My current mild-cheat recipe is one saltine per egg, mashed up and covered in just enough milk to soak up.  Add some water (maybe a teaspoon per egg), add eggs, throw in a dash of Worcestershire or whatever, beat until uniform in color and consistency, and pour into a well-greased, non-stick pan over low heat. cook until the middle or one side it firm enough to add ingredients, make sure the edge(s) you will turn up gets well-cooked; then flip up and cook until done.  Goes quicker if covered but you've got to keep an eye on it.  You must use a pan that doesn't have sidewalls that get in the way of your spatula; a wide spatula is very handy and there's no rule that says you can't use two if necessary to make the fold.

Is It Just Me?

     Doesn't anyone else find it an utterly freaky coincidence that so many people with the last name "Reporting" end up in TV and radio news?

     "...and I'm Joe Mamma Reporting..."  "This is Natcher Monkee Reporting at Natcher Circus in Old Jersey." "From the World Desk, I'm J. Random Person Reporting." Weird.  Are they all directly related, d'you think?

Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Return Of Limax Maximus

     Yes, the Great Gray Slugs are back -- or at least out of hiding.  They're nocturnal and fairly shy, so you're unlikely to see them all that often.  Nevertheless, they are well-established in North America, having immigrated form Europe like many of us.

     They were defying gravity over a yard up on Roseholme Cottage's back fence, late last night:
     They were circling one another and then one led the other on a brief chase even higher.  This is kind of interesting and would be hot, hot stuff to another slug, since they are generally solitary hunters (of, among other things, smaller species of slugs) and the "circling and chasing" behavior is courtship.  Their love lives are unusually gymnastic; Great Gray Slug couples end up hanging in midair from a long rope of slug-slime, coiled together like ornamental ironwork.  Afterwards, one climbs back up the rope and the other drops to the ground, no doubt shrieking with glee all the way.  ...So if you are walking outdoors on a humid late-summer evening?  Be careful what branches you walk under.

     (One of the slugs briefly climbed to the very top of the six-foot-tall fence and rared up!  I waited to see if it would howl at the moon, but no such luck.)

     For those of you who dislike huge, leopard-spotted slugs (who haven't said anything at all about you, by the way), here's a nice sunset sky instead:

Friday, August 29, 2014

The Anithixotropic Mechanical Oscillator Cozy

     We ate up the last of the hot dogs last night (don't worry, there's plenty more at the supermarket!) and as I was attempting to apply a condiment, having first vigorously agitated the container, it occurred to me that there was a solution to the "ketchup problem."

     It's a strongly thixotropic fluid; when it's sitting in a nice big glob, it wants to stay a nice big glob and when it decides to go, it lets go all at once, gloop, all over your hot dog or fried-potato product or hot dog.  If you're using the stuff a lot or you like mass-marketed catsup,[1] the simple fix is a squeeze bottle.  At Roseholme Cottage, where  broad-shouldered, thick-necked bottles of Heinz Chili Sauce[2] jostle Jalapeno Ketchup[3] and Asian Sweet Chili Sauce[4] for room in the fridge, that's not an ideal approach.

     However--  In mt bristlebot kits, I have medium-size pager "thumpers" or low-frequency buzzers.  Put a couple of those in cutouts in a can cozy, add batteries and a switch and slip it over the ketchup bottle and voila, the anithixotropic cozy!  Turn it on, wait a bit for the red lead[5] to get all agitated, pour, turn off.

     I've got to test this.  As soon as possible.
1. If you do, give Red Gold a try -- it's got a richer taste than most, at least to my palate.
2. Yes, it's "mass-marketed," too, but it's considerably less bland.  No actual heat, just a delightful flavor.  (Also, check out this hot mustard tip from the blog linked to above.)
3. A "limited edition" and very nice it is, too. Notice how Heinz shows up twice?  Yeah, they're that good at the red-tomato-stuff-you-put-on-sammiches thing. Tam swears by the Jalapeno version and I like it -- despite my not being a huge fan of jalapenos, Heinz does 'em right.
4. Not ketchup per se but a bit thixotropic.  Darned good in the usual ketchup applications and even better on roast chicken.  Better barbecue sauce than most barbecue sauces!
5. With a tip of the ol' Stetson to John Wayne.  Ah-yup.

Thursday, August 28, 2014


     I woke up early this morning, hungry, and tried another version of Eggs Pomodoro, eggs poached in tomato sauce.  And it was good; it's pretty hard to get the stuff wrong,

     Much later, I had a little creamed chipped beef (yes, on toast -- rye toast) for lunch and realized you could poach eggs in this stuff.  Most prepared versions are a bit salty and a couple of eggs would help tame that, too.

     I think it'd be awesome.  Then I got to thinking about various sorts of additions, like sauteed vegetables, maybe hot peppers for the adventurous or baby potatoes and pearl onions for "comfort food," and realized the other thing you could do with creamed chipped beef and [vegetables of choice] would be to pour it into a pie crust, roof it with more of the same, and bake until the crust was golden-brown.  More of a Fall or Winter dish, I think, but at the right time of the year, yum!

Science Fiction: Out Of The Gutter...Into The Dumpster?

     Way back when -- it was well before my time -- science fiction was trash.  Literally as well as figuratively: printed on cheap pulp paper in the form of cheap magazines, the physical artifact had a useful life measured in months.  Surviving examples are mostly faded to a deep tobacco brown and so brittle that each reading does observable damage.  Forrest J. Ackerman's archives were the single largest repository and (at least back then) he wasn't a scholar, just a driven geek with a powerful acquisitive urge.  Sure, there were talented writers as well as hacks; some very good writers worked in the pulp era and many of the best survived and went on to earn money -- a little, anyway -- and fame.

     By the time I was in grade school, SF (and its sibling, Fantasy) was on the way to a measure of respectability, helped along by Heinlein (and a very few others[1]) appearing in the "slicks," mass-market, mainstream fiction magazines modern readers would scarcely recognize (perhaps most notably, or at least most mainstream, the Saturday Evening Post, which offered readers a steady supply of never-banned-in-Boston fiction worth reading), a children's literature market that was chasing the baby boom, and a swelling college population that included plenty of kids who'd grown up reading the pulps.  Not all of them studied science or engineering; some of them were English majors.  Some of them stayed on.

     Fast-forward a few decades and you've got long-established college courses in SF and Fantasy -- and prestigious "collections," libraries of the very same material an earlier generation of academics despised.  Woo-hoo, happy days are here, the Jubilee has done arrived!

     ...Arrived and (hit that fast-forward button again, kid, willya?  What, you'll "just click farther ahead on the timeline?"  Uh, whatever)...turned into dull old stuff.  Turned back into trash.  That selfsame Sturgeon short that was hot, hot stuff in 1952 and still pretty snazzy in 1970 has been stripped of context by time; when a modern-day toiler in the Grove of Academe stumbles over the October, 1952 issue of Galaxy, all she sees is a collection of strangers, mostly male, all white and a good many of them smoking -- and she is more minded to prune than preserve.  Besides, e-books take up way less space and are a lot less likely to have suspicious-looking titles like If All Men Were Brothers, Would You Let One Marry Your Sister.[2]

     Something like that is happening right now (and to SF/F work by plenty of non-male, non-white non-smoking writers as well as Bradbury, Leiber and Heinlein) to the Eaton Collection at UC Riverside. Yes, that'd be the University of California, and if CA isn't safe for the crunchy mix of nuts, flakes, loose screws, strong sisters and swingin' swords that comprise (in some mad and sometimes mutually-antagonistic manner) the world of SF and Fantasy, the rest of us had better look the heck out.

     Consider joining in with your friends and (yes) those despicable weirdos over in some other corner, and pushin' back.  It's not so much about getting the love and respect of Lit-ratchure professors -- many of 'em they don't truly love anything that anybody else can parse -- as it is keeping our kewl junk from gettin' thrown out.

     Garbage pail to recycle bin within living memory?  Oh, let's not.
1. Writers who "colored outside the lines" helped, too; while Kurt Vonnegut explicitly rejected being identified as an SF writer and cited the contempt of critics as the reason why, Michael Crichton just wrote near-future and contemporary speculative fiction and ignored any crossover with the robots-and-spaceships crowd.  You can bet a goodly percentage of their readers went looking for "more stories like these" and found SF and Fantasy.

2. Which is not the Sturgeon short to which I refer.  You can hunt that one up for yourself; I left plenty of clues.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

BlogMeet Ahoy! Abaft The August Stern...

     Or some such nautical thing.  It will be after the Indy 1500 Gun Show this coming Sunday.  Official start time is just a little earlier than full "after:" 3:00 p.m. at the Broad Ripple Brew Pub, we will be having an Indy BlogMeet.  Be there!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Bug Minions! Attack!

     It's cicada time again at Roseholme Cottage (and the neighborhood).  It's an off year for them, so just a skeleton guard of reserve forces is out, occasionally sputtering into silence for a heat-shocked minute or two until, oppressed by the silence, one lone fellow sings out, "Hey, baby, baby, baby, yeah, YOOOOOOOO!!!" and the rest join in again.

     Twice now, I've gone outside in the morning to discover an empty husk clinging to the foundation while nearby, the new-freed adult is waiting for his wings to set, patiently immobile, almost done.  Both time, they have flown, buzzing, right over my shoulder when I got too near.

     Naturally, I'm starting a new collection of empties, those two and two more found nearby:
     I'm gathering my forces!  Today the window ledge, tomorrow--  Who knows.  The sky's the limit, at least for the few, hot, cicada-haunted weeks as they do their duty and produce a new generation to haunt underground for years, quietly feeding until that day when the heat and time elapsed combine to produce the irresistible itch to climb up and up towards the light, to molt, climb higher, and yell their fool heads off, muting their on ear while they sing.

     Ugly bugs or silly, romantic trolls? Possibly both.  I continue to like them, singing the song of summertime.

Monday, August 25, 2014

What I Did Over The Weekend


The Sweltering

     It was hot this past weekend, beastly hot and humid.  Doing much of anything outdoors meant perspiration-soaked clothing, and I mean flippin' wet.

     Slightly daunted but undeterred (and equipped with several day's supply of T-shirts), I set out to complete the project I had set for the week off: expanding my office bookshelves.
     Petty snazzy, huh?  It's all done except for the shimming and Kreig-fastening to the full shelf next to it.  This one has a tall shelf at the top for microphones and smaller one below it for old cameras and telegraph keys.

     The vertical support at the far right is rabbeted and the shelves are notched to lock the assembly together and keep the vertical flush with the back of the shelves.  This solves the problem of clearance and access, or at least lets me decide on a shelf-by shelf basis which one gets precedence.

     Will this let me finally unpack all my radio books?  Probably not.  But it's a big step in that direction.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Ahhh! Cool Air!

     I don't care what the Lovecraft character said.  When it's hot outdoors, I like cool air. 

     The weather has turned disagreeably hot this past week.  Roseholme Cottage has air-conditioning sufficient to keep the place generally comfortable, but it also still has the original 1924 layout of registers and cold-air return.  By the evidence (glass-brick coal scuttle, marks of the old coal bin walls in the basement floor and on the joists overhead, the floor-footprint encircling the present furnace) back then, a coal-burning monster heated the place, possibly without even benefit of forced air and for cooling-- Well, there are plenty of windows.  There are plenty of registers, too: one per room.  In 1924, you didn't want to run supply ducts any farther than necessary and as a result, registers in the bedrooms are just one side of the doorway.  As a result, cooled or warmed air is pumped in...and promptly high-tails it down the hall, around a corner, and back into the return grille in the dining room!

     One fix for that is to head into the basement with ductwork, tin snips and chopsaw, proceeding to relocate the supply registers next to outside walls far away from the doorways -- but that takes time and money, not to mention moving a lot of furniture.  It's not that much trouble in the winter; warm air tarries at the ceiling and circulation is adequate.  Summertime, my room is okay, Tam decamps from her attic to the living room futon, but the office--!

     The office is toasty by mid-afternoon, sweltering by evening.  Two PCs, monitors and peripherals add their heat to the air and all the cold air goes out the door as soon as it arrives.  Something had to be done.
     This is "something."  Two feet tall, hastily-hacked, it makes a big difference in the room.  Throwing the cool air out and up, it turns over the air in the room, helping to push hot air out and providing a gentle breeze for the occupants.

     I have been muttering for years about buying a couple of the big cylindrical cardboard forms sold for pouring deck foundations and using them as elevated duct extensions -- but they are heavy, large and would be awkward. (Also, Huck the tomcat would climb them.  Madcap highjinks would ensue, endangering fragile items.)  This scaled-down version is doing the job so far.  Why didn't I try this sooner?

Saturday, August 23, 2014


     A bacon-Hatch chili-radish-olive-Kentucky bourbon BellaVitano cheese omelet:
     It was gooood. Bacon kissed with mixed pepper before frying, a little dehydrated onion in with the chilies, a few sesame seeds in the pan right before the egg mixture went in (some mashed saltines, some milk and a dab of water), and a sprinkle of hot paprika and cilantro right before serving.  'Cos I can.

Posting From Bed

     Tamara has been using a Microsoft Surface for laptop-type tasks for some time now.  I liked the look of it but Microsoft's prices sounded crazy to me until, earlier this week, I found refurbished Surface RTs for sale at prices well within what last week's overtime earned me.

     The crazy little dime-thin keyboard works well and while Blogger complains about the browser, it does seem to work.

     And thus I find myself having vacation-overslept, posting from bed.

Friday, August 22, 2014

There's No Accounting For It...

     She's best known for the anti-suburban anthem Little Boxes. I kinda like Malvina Reynolds' songs, though I'd be hard pressed to say why.  Politically, we couldn't be farther apart on most issues, other than a certain suspicion that too few people have too much power (though I do share her chortling glee when the underdog strikes back, as in The Battle of Maxton).

     On the other hand, there's no hidden agenda with Reynolds; she was who she was and never shied away from it.  (Sometimes she was decades ahead of her times, in a most disconcerting way: she was denied a high school diploma because of her parents public opposition to U. S. involvement in the war -- World War One, that is).  Reynolds was, indeed,  a "Social Justice Warrior," but with her, it was no fuzzy, comforting groupthink: like her lyrics, it went right to the bone.  I respect someone like that, even while disagreeing.

     More songwriter than songbird, most of her work was written and performed while in her 60s, an age when most people's singing voices have picked up an excess of "character;" her songs are better known in cover versions and perhaps none more than Little Boxes, of which I am happy to link to Sammy Rae's fun and graceful version.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

A Little Spot Of Sunlight -- Or Possibly Whiskey...

     So, the ebola patients in Atlanta are cured and walkin' around, as free as lepers; the Missouri Mishandling continues to run its inevitable course (if I lived there, I'd be leaving, several days ago; as used to be the case with ebola, it will just have to burn all the way through.  Like leprosy before modern medicine came up with a treatment, it's going to be disfiguring.)  The news is, as ever, bad trending to worse ("So be sure to tune in next time and remember, kids, that's Borax Powder®™ and Bleach®™ for effective treatment -- but not mixed together!"), so let us turn our attention back to a simpler, happier time, when beat cops occasionally handed out impromptu street justice and Federal Agents hunted down alcohol distributors with tommyguns and Coast Guard cutters.

     Meet William Frederick McCoy (bootlegger), as Wikipedia calls him; he called himself "an honest lawbreaker" and looked to John Hancock as a model.  An innovative entrepreneur, McCoy is credited with the notion of smuggling vessels parked just outside the three-mile limit as well as the handy prism-shaped package of six bottles, padded, stacked 3-2-1 and sacked.

     His criminal career came to an end when government enforcers dug out and dusted off the Maritime Act of 1790, which extended the territorial limit from three miles to twelve in cases of vessels engaged in fraudulent pursuits.  This was the beginning of the present twelve-mile limit, blessed by international agreement in 1982, and the end for Bill McCoy, who was stopped and boarded by the United States Coast Guard.  The Coasties found a good stock of booze belowdecks and that was that.

     No mobster, McCoy plead guilty, admitting, "I have no tale of woe to tell you. I was outside the three-mile limit, selling whisky, and good whisky, to anyone and everyone who wanted to buy." He served less than a year, invested in real estate and boat-building upon release, and returned to the sea he loved, this time without a cargo deemed contraband by Constitutional amendment.   He lived well past Repeal and died at sea aboard his private yacht in 1948, the last of the honest pirates.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Frikkin' Ferguson

     One of the most frustrating thoughts for me about the mess in MO is that for every person each side of the nightly confrontations-and-worse, there are at least ten people at home nearby, huddled with their hands over their ears, or listening all too alertly for much too long, hoping it will all go away.  Armed or not, if the mob turns on them, it may not matter much.

     And everyone -- all of us -- see it through a filter, ours and whatever else gets by unawares, and so it becomes a story about police militarization, opportunistic criminals, about the way a young African-American can't get a break or why hitting a cop is a majorly bad idea, about racism or stateism, about people too ready to protest without knowing the facts or cops too ready to escalate, on and on, yadda-yadda and somewhere in there are four-year-olds who don't know why Mommy is so scared or how come there's shouting outside at night.  And y'know what?  I think that's who the story is really about, and and we're not gonna find out how it turns out for another fifteen or twenty years.

     That is, we won't find out for that long unless one side or another manages to burn the place to the ground along with innocent bystanders stuck in the middle, Moms and children included.

     Oh, I'm not claiming moral equivalence, I'm not even really telling you "think of the children" (if Mom had any sense, she'd be getting out of town by daylight -- though how would you feel if that was your house and your kid and your long walk to the Greyhound station?). The various police agencies involved haven't been saints and some of them have been well less than clever, but they're largely reactive and are, at least in the long term, accountable and could even be made to sweat considerably by the kind of legal and political pressure that could be brought to bear by the dimes and influence of the sheer number of night-time protesters alone...if they were doing something along the lines of stroking the media, lawyering up and renting a few politicians instead of posturing, throwing things and generally trying to bring back the kind of terror Vikings once brought to the British Isles.  But fond though I am of order and quiet, it's costly and difficult to keep when purchased by the blood of brutes and fools -- a well-run police state is quiet and orderly but it's not free.

     Ferguson is unwinnable for either of the recognizable sides; only the barbarians can win and their victory will be ash and ruins.  If you're on the side of the police or you think Michael Brown was murdered, either way the side you need to be on is the one that involves courts and lawyers, charges and trials.  The mess can't be fixed by riots nor by riot police.  Maybe the underlying problems can't be fixed at all but they won't play any more sweetly knee-deep in blood.

     But as long as every last blind one of us looks at the elephant and imagines it to be like something we think we already understand, it will keep being a problem until the loudest get bored. 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Overheard In The Office Part...[Whatever Part We're Up To]

     RX: "...See, if a truck had a tail, it would be a wagon!"

     Tam: "No, if a truck had a tail, it wouldn't bump its backside when it hops."

     ...I tried, by golly, but she raised too steeply for me to stay in the game.

No Seasoning Required

     Hot food for a hot day:

     One (1) chorizo sausage
     One (1) leek
     One (1) good-sized Hatch chili
     One (1) Poblano pepper, likewise
     Two (2) eggs (chicken preferred -- you make this stuff with turtle or pigeon eggs, you're on your own.)
     One (1) slice Iberico, Manchego or similar cheese (to taste)

     Get the sausage started, dice the vegetables and once the chorizo is starting to brown, add leek.  When the leek is starting to shine up, add the Hatch chili and follow with the Poblano right before you sweep it all to the edges, turn up the fire and quick-scramble the eggs.  Cheese is diced over it once you turn off the heat.

      You don't need to add anything, not salt nor pepper nor even Tobasco, except maybe a slice of toast or some other moderator.  It's tasty!  (I had some citrus-walnut red quinoa salad on the side. YMMV.)

Top Of The Morning

     ...The very top of the morning, I suppose, which no doubt explains the vertigo.

     We lost Don Pardo, which makes me sad; in addition to being a very famous voice, I've always heard he really was a guy who looked at everything just a little bit askew. His joyously offbeat work for SNL will live on in fond memory and frequent rerun.

Monday, August 18, 2014

A Beautiful Weed

     I have no idea what this is, but they're all over the North Campus:
     Doesn't seem prickly enough for thistle, and I think the flowers are too flowery.  Big, too, from four to six feet tall.
     Update: Apparently, it's ironweed.  But it still looks pretty.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

In Which I Have Become A Fat-Cat Capitalist

     I am pleased to announce that for at least the next six months, I am now a five-percent owner of a small-town AM radio station that, while it is not itself located in the very back of the beyond, does have a pretty good view of it on a clear day, if you stand near the tower and sight through a gap in the foothills.

     Why?  Well, it was a chance to own part of a radio station while making a micro-loan that, if it pays off, will earn me some hobby money and if it doesn't, I guess I'm going to own five percent of the thing as it augers in, which does put me back in the radio biz after decades away and at roughly the same point I left.

     I didn't gamble more than I could afford to lose; AM radio is a dice-roll these days and probably won't get a lot better soon -- but when you're the sole voice of the Consolidated Town and County High School basefootbasketocky teams, there's still a fair chance to keep the lights on, meet payroll and make loan payments, at least as long as you don't suffer an employee-created shortfall on the first week of school.  (I dunno if charges have been filed but much recovery of losses seems unlikely.) Gah, barbarians at every gate these days.

Ferguson: Nope

     So, the Missouri Highway Patrol moved in, acted like adults, the day passed with plenty of protest by no rioting, looting, arson or similar violation of the accepted norms of civil behavior...and then the night fell and the barbarians returned, this time in violation of a curfew.

     Some speakers-for-savagery are arguing that the curfew is a violation of the First Amendment (at least insofar as shouting and throwing things, some of them on fire, counts as "argument") and I would be willing to entertain the notion if citizens had been "peaceably assembling" even if it was to play loud music and yell rather than trying to "petition for redress of grievances."  Alas, a rioting mob is not a peaceable assembly and a Molotov cocktail isn't a petition, and thus, well, to hell with you idiots weakening the First Amendment by trying to commit crimes under its cover.

     It does appear the state police have made more progress than their predecessor agencies in Ferguson; it appears that the night-fighters have managed to lose even Al Sharpton: "One person was shot last night, and we don't know if was related to the protest or not, or who shot them, but we do not need more people hurt to stop the hurt." Hey, rioters?  When you are so out of line that even Rev. Al is scolding you, you're done.  Pushed right up against it, most people with a choice left prefer civilization to blood in the streets.

     Other men just want to watch the world burn -- and they're still lighting fires when the sun sets in Ferguson. One way or another, that can only go on for a limited period of time.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Are The Adults Prevailing In Ferguson?

     I thought yesterday was too soon to comment, but it appears they've finally started de-escalation in Ferguson, Missouri.  (Warning, link may autoplay video.) The governor yanked the county cops back and sent in the Highway Patrol and they--  by golly, they did the "One Ranger, one riot" approach as well as I have seen it played, walking alongside protesters in shirtsleeve uniforms and only the most basic "bat-belt" carry gear, smiling and talking in normal tones of voice.  Last night, Tam commented on video of Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson strolling with well-behaved protesters, remarking, "Doesn't look like anyone's 'lighting a candle' for him," in reference to the Molotov cocktails hurled at combat-clad county cops a day earlier.  It's plenty risky for the state police, but I can't think of any better way to resolve the mess.

     This may even (finally) get the increasing militarization of police out of the fringes and into the spotlight.  And it's produced one interesting outcome already; U. S. Attorney General Eric Holder said the violence "cannot continue," specifically mentioning violent acts by the public as well as the overbearing police response. Mark me down in the "surprised" column.

     It's still early days but at least things have reached the point where the citizens of Ferguson won't be burning down the courthouse.  How the investigation into the precipitating incident is handled is still going to have huge effect -- but at least it will happen in something better than smoking ruins reeking of tear gas and opportunistic crime.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Computer Games And Me

     I'm not a gamer, which may explain how I have gone so long barely noticing GenCon -- including, as it turns out, a more-than-full schedule of writer's workshops that look both enjoyable and useful.  (Larry Correia's even in town for this one and I owe him as least a steaming mug of Postum or whatever his beverage-of-choice might be.)

     ...On the other hand, given that all this (GenCon) week I have been working an early-morning-hell shift that has included a couple of extra-long days already and bids fair to go very long on overtime before it grinds to a halt, it may be for the best: I'd only be frustrated.

     But that, to paraphrase Mr. Arlo Guthrie, is not what I came to tell you about.  I came to talk about why it is I don't play computer games.

     You see, at one time -- and it was a very long time ago -- I did.  How long ago was it?  I played games on a PLATO terminal, when the florescent-orange displays showed up at the crummy little extension campus where I went to college.  I was one of the many users who called up the (poorly) hidden copy of STAR TREK on the DEC-10 we shared time on, and slowed it to a crawl.  I played Lunar Lander using a printing-on-paper teletype terminal connected to a "minicomputer" and loaded via punched tape because it took just forever to enter a program using the front-panel switches.  Yes, it was that long ago -- the more serious users still wrote in FORTRAN and hauled boxes punch cards down to the computer center and picked up their results hours or days later.

     I played all those games quite assiduously, along with starting up and managing the campus radio station.  I put in long, long radio and computer games.  What I wasn't doing was studying; most of first-year EE is ridiculously easy if you've already been doing electronics -- okay, circuit analysis was a whole new notion and Mr. Thévenin and Mr. Norton offered the keys to some interesting puzzles.  Math.... I'm no great shakes at math, but the guy teaching it was a retired engineer who had used the stuff all his career, loved it, and managed to share some of that delight.  I got by (Bs and Cs) on very little work, very little sleep, and then...

     Then the sleepy little extension college decided it need fewer amateurs teaching.  Came the second semester and all us EEs got dumped into a heavy pure math course with a heavy pure math prof who had very little use for the sort of vermin who would sully the shining edifice of Mathematics by actually applying it; he announced on Day One he was out to flunk as many of us as he could and that he didn't intend that as a spur or a challenge: seventy-five percent of the class were dead meat.  My other courses got more difficult, too, and my response to it was -- can you guess? -- more time playing computer games.

     And so ended my one and only year of Higher Education.  Back then, if you weren't in college, your access to a computer to play with was very nearly nil.  I still had my radio experience and, for various reasons, I moved out my parents' house at 19 and have earned my own way for nearly ever since (age thirty, I was a returnee for six months.  It went a little better than when I was 19.)

     ...Oh, yeah, when I went out and made my own way, I started smoking.  Five years later, I wanted to quit -- and kept trying for the next fifteen years.  Turns out I have a wee bit of an addictive personality.  I even had a few years of drinking heavily -- never at home and eventually I figured out what kind of precipice I was looking over.

     So my reaction to computer games, no matter how interesting or sophisticated they are, is about that of a dry alcoholic discovering there's a distillery next door that hands out free samples.  Tamara sometimes chides me a little over my "superior" attitude towards them and I will admit what I see of computer games strikes me as suffering a certain formless simplicity of plot: too many short arcs, few if any long arcs, too much bashing things with hammers, swords and magic spells -- but that's not why I avoid 'em nor why it irks me to be around them.  Nope, I'm stuffing up my ears and lashing myself to the mast lest the music draw me in.  That's why you won't find me in the War of Worldcraft or elsewhere: I'd have too much trouble getting back out!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Unlike Ants...

     We're not, my peers at work and I, interchangeable; we have different skills sets, different strengths and weaknesses, different subsets of the equipment and facilities that we know well or poorly.  Unlike ants, we can't leave an unambiguous scent trail for one another, either.

     All of that is by way of explaining why, when my boss cc;'d me on some e-mail regarding some fairly complex work interfacing with an outside contractor at a site (the near-abandoned North Campus of our Skunk-Workings) I know very well, and was sending a tech who does not know it at all well, I suggested to him that I'd better go up there and at help our guy and the outside guy find what they need.

     "Do you really think you need to go up there?"
     "Well, the cables aren't marked and if they get into the wrong one, it will shut the whole place down."
     "Oh, it's not that complicated...."
     "No, it's very, very simple: there are single points of failure all through that system and freeing up a connection point will require identifying the ones that are no longer in use."  (The ones a former middle manager told me it was "not an efficient use of time" for me to ID and remove!)

     Why do I bother?  Some days I wonder if I should just let 'em shut the place down through refusal to recognize that in Engineering, we have specific areas of expertise and assigned responsibility.  Decades ago, I was hired on to be the person-on-the-scene at the North Campus.  The far more reliable equipment we use now has reduced the need to have someone there from 40 hours a week to almost zero -- but it didn't change the history of me having installed most of what's up there, nor has my responsibility for it ever been changed; I just never get time up there until something has either already failed or I can see a problem coming and try to head it off.

     And I have to beg 'em to do that.


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Working Graveyard Shift: Breakfasupper

     So, I'm stuck on the super early morning shift, with a start time so early I have to get up the previous day.  It's a difficult adjustment despite having nearly thirty hours American off between the last day shift and the first night shift -- which was day before yesterday and ten hours long.  

     I'm still jet-lagged and without even the dubious benefits of a bar cart and airline food.*  Ah, food--!  The one variable I can control in this equation for turning time and effort into money.

     So envy me, if you will; not my hours, which are loathsome (and only vacation fill-in) but my breakfasupper:
     1 rather large (and 2.5" thick!) filet mignon, sliced 1/3-2/3 (Tam gets the thick one, rare; I get the thin one, medium)
     Potatoes Roseholme: diced, fried in a little bacon fat and olive oil, with green onions and four shades/two varieties of peppers cooked in, topped with a single strip of bacon (crumbled) and sliced cherry tomatoes in lieu of ketchup.
     Eggs scrambled with a dollop of Worcestershire sauce and kissed afterwards with a little Cholula hot sauce.
     Washed down with the bejeweled splendor of cranberry juice and fresh-ground Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee.

     It's darned good, too.

* As the old folk song put it, "I'm eatin' on an airplane/peanuts and microwave slop again/Eatin' on an aiplane/Oh babe, I hate it so..." and so on..  You know what form of transportation has pretty good food?  Amtrak.  Yes, the very same that couldn't turn a profit running a bordello can whup airline food.  And that's sad.   

Monday, August 11, 2014

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Breakfast Or Dinner

     One or the other -- I had to work a couple of overnights recently.  This morning, this warm and muggy morning, an ice-cold grapefruit half (with a little bit of sugar), a warm almond croissant (with rather more powdered sugar, toasted almond halves and possibly a little grated lemon zest) and a nice bottle of pomegranate juice fill the bill.

     A few days ago, it was Eggs -- well, Egg -- Pomodoro to start my work day, and nothing to it -- a can of stewed tomatoes added to a pan in which I had fried one (1) strip of of bacon and poured off most of the grease, then sauteed three nice green onions, half a green bell pepper and a whole Anaheim-type pepper from a co-worker's garden; then add the tomatoes, scissor in the bacon, give it a nice sprinkle of Italian spices (basil, garlic, ground black pepper, maybe some rosemary, whatever suits you), then let cook it awhile and take a spatula to the tomatoes to mush 'em down to a handier size for eating, like so:
     Cover and let it start to bubble, then uncover and use the spatula to make as many little wells in the stuff as you'd like eggs -- I did one but I could've got four or five in.
       Drop the egg or eggs into their wells, break the yolks or not as suits you, season likewise (a little hot paprika, etc. for me), cover and cook until the eggs are as done as you'd like. I prefer them fairly firm:
     Yum!  I had mine over some mixed-grain stuff (rice, quinoa, I don't know what all).  You can do that, or if you poached several eggs, serve them and a heap of the tomato mixture on toast points or skip 'em and just make a nice assemblage of it on a small plate.  Garnish with a basil leaf or some chopped chives if you want to go fancy. (I'm enough of a Hoosier to wonder how this might work on mashed potatoes.)

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Shoggoths On The Subway, Boojums On The Bus

     ...Cthulhu's eating fries at Carl, Jr's along with the rest of us.  If we're not all going mad, what will become of us...?

     IDHS, Indiana's own (and generally well-intentioned) answer to DHS, mostly concentrates on known dangers: tornado preparedness, having a bug-out bag, dealing with the rare (but overdue) midwestern earthquake, etc.

     However, sometimes they appear to be concerned about nameless horrors from outside normal reality:
     Yes, it says, "Did you SEE something commuting to work or grabbing a bite to eat?"  Emphasis mine, but when things begin eating junk food and wrestling Chevies through rush-hour traffic, it's time to go home, finish lining the basement with tinfoil, stencil the Elder Sign (as drawn by Bill Elder!) on the door and hope you'll survive.  I'll call your 877 number from there but they better have something way better than kryptonite or plutonium to wield against the Things.  John Campbell?  John Carter?  Randolph Carter?  Ya'll better get over here, and only stop to pick up some clever boffins from the Miskatonic on the way.

Friday, August 08, 2014

Sad News

     The raccoon kit died some time last night.  It was stretched out on the doormat when I opened the door.

     I debated how to address this -- flat lie, and say it was gone?  Sugar-coat it by remarking how peaceful it looked?  I don't know.  Wild animals are not pets and raccoons have adjusted quite well to living alongside humans; as a species, they're in no danger.  I don't like for them to suffer, but you can't save them all.  This little one didn't make it and I'm sorry for it.

Out Of Context

     Oh, Facebook, you so funny:


    Argh.  Grh, blarg.

     It's much too early, for some reason.  A lot earlier than the same time yesterday.

     No update on the raccoon yet.  Quick checks on the web have me thinking it is much too young to be on its own.

Thursday, August 07, 2014


     Well, no.  It was waiting for me at the back door, and after thirty seconds or so of this...
     ...It started trundling trustingly towards whichever of my feet was closest.  Take a step, and the raccoon kit would revector on the fly.
       I moved it, with some protest, and got into the house.  Set out some water and cat food and an old cat-carrier that has been "stored" in the back yard for a couple of years, and moved the little critter near them (more complaints.)

     It was talking quite a bit last night; I assumed the noise was typical youngsters out of the nest ruckus -- our neighborhood has generally well-behaved raccoons, thanks, I suspect, to the more aggressive ones getting weeded out by feral dogs and annoyed homeowners, but in the summer there is a bit more late-night bustle and chatter.  We've had "abandoned" baby raccoons before and they've been reclaimed by Mama within twelve hours.  This one's going on 24, and I am suspecting the parent may never return.

     There's not a whole lot you can do with a baby raccoon; they carry any number of ailments and parasites that would endanger the cats and it's against the law to adopt 'em.  Animal Control doesn't foster or rehabilitate raccoons, they put them down.  It is likely that the kindest thing I could do for this animal is to take it out with a clean shot -- but I can't bring myself to do it.  I'll give it another day and we'll see what happens.

     Poor little raccoon.

Book Report: Gun Machine, By Warren Ellis

     It's an unusual book, unusally well-written, a kind of literary pulp cop novel: an NYPD detective chances on an apartment wallpapered with guns, each of which has been used in an unsolved murder...  But there's a lot more to it than that as the mystery unfolds.

     Turk Turon recommended the book and sent me a copy.  It was a good suggestion.  About halfway through, I read the bio: Warren Ellis is the writing half of the team that dreamed up the graphic-novel series Transmetropolitian, featuring a kind of supercharged Hunter S. Thompson (are you skeered?  You otta be!) tilting at windmills and possibly making it out alive.  Gun Machine is a different kind of book, with characters a little larger than life presented against a carefully-drawn, realistic background.  It teeters on the edge of supernatural detective fiction throughout and ultimately-- But that would be telling.

     Having read Gun Machine, I tried his other bit of prose fiction, Crooked Little Vein. Very NSFW -- one reviewer suggested it was "not for the faint of heart," and I'd second that even if you don't faint much.  Another detective novel, with a protagonist who describes himself as a "crap-magnet" and proceeds to attract a whole lot of crap in the process of finding something unlikely at the behest of -- and with a large cash advance from -- someone unpleasant.  If you are squeamish or easily squicked, don't buy a ticket for this ride.  But it is skillfully, even engagingly told and all's well that ends well, for a rather wide set of values of wellness. Ellis is a Briton and it affects this book; I don't think a U. S. citizen would have conceived of the McGuffin he uses nor made it fly.  But grant him that one unlikely thing and....  "Ripped from the (clickbait) headlines," raw and red.

     As for Gun Machine, if you liked Travis McGee but wondered what kind of adventures Meyer might have had, this might be a book for you.  If you enjoyed Lovecraft but wondered who it was had to clean up after his protagonists had been got by whatever gloppy horror pursued them, it might be a book for you.  I liked it.

     Graphic novel writing tends toward pulp and often not the good kind.  If these novels are any guide, Warren Ellis stands levitatingly well above the herd.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

No, Ed

     Sit back down and shut up, Ed.

     State Representative Ed DeLaney, like most of his ilk,* sends out the occasional glossy mailer full of Deep Thoughts and Big Plans, along with pictures illustrating various focus-group-tested Issues Of Importance and images of The Great Man, El Supremo Ego-boogitty-boo himself.

     He decided to beclown himself in the most recent by asking,"Should the legislature allow Indianapolis to ban assault weapons?"

     Aside from the complete unworkability of it -- my .22LR-converted AR-15 would be hot, hot, hot contraband in my safe, but leave it on the floor of my Mom's house just across the county line and it's as legal as church on Sunday?  And if I wanted to drive from there to the DNR range at Atterbury, would I need to tiptoe around the Unigov city-county metroplex? -- it's insane.  Criminals have shot and killed policemen with AKAR -1547s in Marion County at least two times in the past ten years; they've also shot and killed policemen with the officer's own gun, with various other guns, etc. etc.  Imagine that -- criminals committed criminal acts!  Most were not in legal possession of the weapons in question; some were dangerously crazy but still walking around.  None of them would be deterred by any gun ban, no matter how draconian.

     I tried to speak Ed's language -- poor fellow is a Democrat, after all:
      Dear Ed:

     No, the state legislature most certainly should *not* allow Indianapolis to ban so-called "assault weapons." While they may look scary because they copy the appearance (but not the function) of military weapons, they are not more dangerous then any other firearm.  The normal cartridge for an AR-15 or semi-automatic version of the AK-47 is less powerful than the ones fired by most hunting rifles.  By Federal law, all rifles shoot only one bullet per trigger press and cannot be modified do otherwise. (They are built to make this very, very difficult.)  While your concern for the safety of citizens, especially police officers, is commendable, this expression of it is misplaced.  An "assault weapon" ban would only make criminals of otherwise law-abiding Marion County residents while failing to deter actual criminals from possessing these weapons.  (In most cases, a criminal with a prior record found in possession of any firearms is already going to be chargeable as a "felon in possession," since a felony conviction bars the ownership -- even handling -- of guns.)

     Please try to remember the problem isn't the tool, it's the behavior.  Making greater possibilities open to young persons, helping at-risk youth and minor offenders find a different path, prevention/diversion programs and effective, compassionate treatment for drug addicts will do a lot more to improve everyone's safety than banning some or even all guns.  Without a person to aim it and pull the trigger, guns are just lumps of metal, wood and plastic.  Let's help the persons.  Guns don't cause crimes -- people do, people who can see no other path. To ignore them and concentrate on a set of inert objects would be a real tragedy.
     Will he listen?  I doubt it.  Even at the weeds-and-underbrush level of a State Legislator, most of them only hear the pounding of their own pulse in their ear, the mellifluous, plausible nonsense of their own voice and the cheering few in their echo chamber.
* State Legislators most certainly comprise an "ilk" and a particularly dire and obnoxious one, at that.  

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

A Link From Comments: The Biowar You Thought They'd Backed Away From

     Q. How do you research the weaponizing of diseases without, you know, breaking all those international agreements and violating civilized norms of decent behavior?

     A. By calling it "gain function" research, and claiming you're trying to "predict mutations" to simplify the creation of future vaccines!

     This line is patent bullshit; it's like trying to send a message to someone you cannot see or speak with by the both of you rolling dice, hoping the numbers will match.  Even with just a single die, what're the odds?*  What are the odds the Dr. Strangelove's gonna hit on the next Spanish Flu mutation ahead of time (and given CDC's track record, what're the odds he'll lose track of a live sample?)  Nope.  It's weapons research, on a nice long deniable leash.

     To make matters worse, these are the guys saying it's safe to bring ebola cases home.  At least their HQ is in the same city as the hospital; perhaps they'll be on the front lines if it gets out, mumbling, "Oops." Bad enough they're working on biological weapons -- and they are, no matter how they want to portray the activity --but they're careless about it.

     Y'know, me concluding free-market capitalism is the economic system offering the greatest freedom and upward mobility is not the same thing as me concluding the inept and/or wicked types in control of our government and loading down its bureaucracy are okey-dokey a-number-one fine.  And voting for another set of villains and fools won't fix it. 
* 1 in 6.  That's five misses for every match -- and no way to tell matches from misses.  Scale accordingly, Dr. Virus-Predictor.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Why Does The State Board Of Health And CDC Want To Quiz Me?

     Last time they called, I asked for website/callback info, because it sounded preposterous.  Supposedly, it is this survey, in which Nanny is checking to see if you're a good little girl or boy, and wear your seat belt, and refrain from smoking and eat all your beans and fresh fruit and, and, and....

     And no.  They called back Sunday night and I told 'em I wasn't answering their questions, which are invasive of my privacy.  "Mark me down as 'refused to answer,'" I told the guy, who replied, "Even the question about wearing your seat belt?"

     I guess that's supposed to be something everyone does; in my opinion, you're a fool if you don't -- but if you don't and reply honestly, in this state, you just confessed to committing a crime.  Or something even more complicated, since sometimes I am operating a motor vehicle in a lawful manner and not wearing a seat belt: motorscooters don't have seat belts.  I just told him yes, I would not answer even that question.

     (They also have questions about alcohol use, mental health and a worryingly-specific section about both "race" and a series of leading questions about if you feel you have been treated unfairly because of it.  Yeah, what was the last well-meaning government that tracked the "race" of citizens, and remind me how that turned out?  "Survey" refused; maybe CDC's use of that data is innocent as can be, but once gathered, who else will make use of it, by and by?  When did this become okay again?)

     The young survey-pusher told me I'd probably get another call.  The answer is still no.  Go ask questions of someone who wants a Nanny.  Go ask questions of someone who trusts that governments never, ever turn on their citizens, either individually or in conveniently-labeled groups.

Sunday, August 03, 2014

More Fair

     You know why they call it a "midway," don't you?  'Cos it is neither here nor there:

     The Nope trails off:

     Snappy snapshot of the Horticulture building, where every year, we enjoy cold glasses of fine Red Gold *Indiana* tomato juice!  (It really is the best -- if they sold it in single-serving cans, I wouldn't bother with V-8).  I stopped for an old-fashioned strawberry shortcake on the way out, too: dee-lish.  This is also one of the two places you can find honey ice cream, which tastes even better than it sounds: ambrosia!  Also brain freeze, but well worth it.  (I'd already had a small serving at the FFA building, which is the other place you'll find honey ice cream -- Tam had some too; it's that good.

     Also in the Horticulture  building, every year, the bonsai competition:
     Fine, Indiana's "a cornfield with lights," but our lights do illuminate.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

State Fair Photos

     A near-random sampling from the Indiana State Fair, where Tam and I spent most of yesterday.

     The NOPE was very strong this year:
     Oh, not even by astral projection:

     Classic tractors were plentiful!  Here's a tough little Ford:
     Tamara K, Tractorographer:
     The John Deere fan's view:

     Mass transit, Hoosier-style:
     Snicker if you like, but these trams are hugely popular.
     It's a buck for adults, free for kids, one round trip per dollar max.  I think we ought to run 'em downtown, especially during conventions. 

     The recently-updated Coliseum, taken from the tram, looking across the big dirt track and infield parking:

     For those of you who still doubt the reality of the Hidden Frontier, here's a war-surplus Escape Pod, I think USSF/NATO standard issue -- someone has removed all the tags, so I can't be sure:

     And, to close for now, a big stationary engine, hard at work:

Friday, August 01, 2014

State Fair! Plus: Prohibition Ends, Or Not

     Indiana's State Fair starts today, with a fairly-typical balloon race; they'll send a dozen or more colorful bags of hot air in pursuit of one "hare" balloon, aiming to land as close to wherever it comes down as they can manage.  It ain't NASCAR or Indy cars, but if you're anywhere near the Fairgrounds, you can watch them for free.

     New at the Fair this year: Bear* Beer and wine sales.  --Umm, make that "beer and wine sold by the glass with a strict quantity limit, in one building only," and no, you can't leave with your mug'o'suds, neither; so if you were looking forward to washing down a fine ribeye sandwich with one of our many fine local brews, keep lookin'.  It's not happening this year.  --This is another reminder that Prohibition never really ended and for all the wondrous growth and variety in craft beer and wine, you must still get the blessing of The Gummint or face their wrath -- and if you were after makin' distilled spirits, better bring your lawyer.  (And here we are right back at NASCAR, aren't we?)

     Side note, looking up "Prohibition" led to looking up "Anarchy," which led to a poster that explains a lot about the lack of long-term military success by anarchists of the Spanish Civil War.  Psst, buddy?  You're holding it by the wrong end.  (With just a little rework, it's a baseball poster anyway.)
* Yes, should have been beer, not bear, dammit.  I rode my bike all the way down there to pick out a nice baby one as a friend for Huck, too.