Monday, November 30, 2015

Colorado Horror: Don't Be Stampeded

     In the scant few days since a lone gunman shot several people at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, my TV and my Internet feed have been hemorrhaging the de-damnedest slurry of thin facts, howlingly partisan BS, grasping at straws, straining at gnats and swallowing Camels whole -- probably while they're still lit.  Everyone from the President of the United States, eager to ride his own gun-control hobbyhorse, to conservatives desperate to disclaim the killer -- really guys, look at him and ask yourself what is more likely, that this guy is C. Jenner's long-lost soul-sister, or that he was too busy being gnawed at by his own mind to tick the right box on a voter's registration form?

     Hey, you know what?  It's over; it was over the moment the police took him into custody and now there's nothing but a long, dull police-work slog back through the timeline, figuring out what happened when.  "Why" is probably always going to be at least a partial mystery: there is no perfect window into other people's thoughts.  Eventually, such facts as are findable will be found; eventually, this criminal will end up in court.

     What this isn't -- what no situation like this is -- is a shadow screen for anyone to project their pet causes on.  Not "progressives" trying to paint anti-abortion people with this crime (they didn't do it.  One individual did), not "conservative" pundits pointing to it as evidence of the chaos spawned when people don't do things as they were always done in some idealized past, not gun-banners or even those of us who think more people ought to get trained and carry sidearms.  The reality is you can't stop crazy, not 100%.  Never have, never will: given that society operates under a baseline assumption of peace,* the attacker will always have the advantage of surprise and whatever defense there is will be struggling to get ahead.  Given the will to do harm, harm will be done; you need look no further than the highly-controlled environment of a prison to see that this is true.

     Every person with an applicable agenda to push and a soapbox to declaim from will be trying to use this horror -- but remember the underlying reality: people are dead and one man initiated force to kill them.  Nothing will change that.  This is not how differences are resolved; it's not how the vast majority of even the most committed foes and supporters of abortion address their conflicts over the issue.
* Yes, it does.  Maybe you're in Condition Orange 24/7/365, but most people aren't.  And they're not going to be.  The majority of  people aren't wired up for that.

Sunday, November 29, 2015


     It's probably a good thing I'm a slow riser.  At least, good in terms of my eating a proper diet.  You see, The Dancing Donut is located between Roseholme Cottage and my work.  I can count on being able to stop by once a week, maybe twice if neither of my days off falls on Monday, when they are closed.

     If I could find time to go there every morning, I probably would.

     Their menu changes very slowly.  I have been working my way through it, starting with items I knew I'd enjoy, like "Nutella the Hun," a donut filled with Nutella-based cream and rolled in cinnamon sugar, and "Fritta Astair," an excellent apple fritter. 

     Yesterday, I bought a couple of innocent-looking, regular-sized powdered-sugar donuts, figuring they were nothing special, just a good, dependable standard.  They even call them the "Plain Jane."

     I underestimated them.  By a lot.

     At one time -- and it wasn't that long ago -- there were still a few hole-in-wall* coffee & sinkers joints left around town.  Most of them fried cake-type batter in deep hot fat, producing a slightly chewy-crunchy crust around a light and airy inside.  Served up still hot after a quick roll in cinnamon sugar or powdered sugar, they were a genuine treat, one I haven't had in over twenty years -- and  the ones Dancing Donut makes are exactly that kind, but even better.  It's a taste treat from the past!  Not the cheapest place to buy donuts but my, oh my -- and their cappuchino's good, too.
* In some cases, without even much of a wall -- there was one by the 24-hour laundromat in Carmel in what appeared to be a former Fotomat booth.  It was worthwhile to time one's laundry to finish just as their first batch of the morning came off the cooling rack.  Yum!

Saturday, November 28, 2015

"The Stuff You Only Thought You Owned"

     Intellectual property, that is.

     Amazon's The Man In The High Castle is wildly popular amoung my friends at work -- most of whom appear to be watching bootlegged copies, passed hand-to-hand on thumbdrives.

     They rave about the special effects, the detailed worldbuilding,* the way in which Arendt's "banality of evil" is shown and so on -- but they're missing something.  Dollars are votes; dollars are ratings points.  If you like this kind of detailed science-fictional drama and want to see more of it, the only way you have to signal that back to the people who produced it is to pay for it.

     If you will only watch it if it is free, eventually all you're going to see is content produced cheaply enough that it's worthwhileto give it away; you'll get embedded commercials and you'll learn to like them, and/or utter drek, badly written, poorly acted, clumsily shot.  Or you'll see ever-stronger digital rights management, and ever stricter legal punishments for breach of same.

     Dollars are votes.  If you like it and want more, don't steal it, buy it.
* Though I could swear in the pilot, the license plate "WGG 055" showed up on more than one vehicle.  Details like this are the bane of continuity and prop people.

Friday, November 27, 2015

You Know, It's Odd...

     ...My fried mashed potatoes are not all that great as such things go (they really need a binder -- either mix in an egg or coat them in plenty of flour or even roll them in grated raw potato) but I sure do eat them up fast when I make them!

     Bacon, eggs and mashed potato pancakes, my favorite next-day breakfast after a holiday meal.  I'd post a photograph but, yes, they didn't last that long.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thanksgiving Dinner

     The deviled eggs were a new addition.  I had three hard-boiled eggs in the fridge -- but no mayo!  (I don't use it as a condiment; Tam often keeps a little but today, no.)  But it turns out coarse mustard and a little milk is all you need to mix with the egg yolk for a very tasty filling.

     Turducken, skin-on mashed potatoes with bacon gravy (plus turducken drippings) and a nice green salad filled out the bill.  I had coffee and a Pimm's with lemonade, Tam a soda and a nice craft beer.


     "Shaddup, smile and enjoy the turkey!"

     ...I say this because for some of us, that's what our memories of this holiday -- any holiday -- are: something to be got through.  Here at Roseholme and with Tam as co-conspirator, I have largely reclaimed the day, with traditions like turducken, bacon-based gravy and taking a little time out to remember what we are thankful for (regular paychecks, cats, readers and friends, among others).  It's a good day.

     But in honor of years upon years of polite silence and gentle -- albeit forced -- smiles, here are The Rules Of My Family's Thanksgiving Dinner (etc.):

     1. No matter what you brought, it was a disappointment and/or someone can't eat it or dislikes it.  This works like mortar and pestle with:

     2. Rejecting the food is rejecting the person and you are bad and wrong to do so, no matter how politely you demur.

     1 and 2 concatenate ratchetwise rather than algebraically: When  $RELATIVE turns their nose up at the dressing you spent great time and effort on and made both with and without oysters,* there will be raised eyebrows and treacly sympathy that your cookery has never been very good; when you pass up the candied/mashed/French fried yams, you who have never eaten yams other than a horrifying taste every year to recall that the taste, texture and combination of seasonings used on them are all repugnant to your palate, why, you're a horrible person, especially after $RELATIVE_A, $RELATIVE_B and $RELATIVE_C  all spent hours over their particular preparations of the dire root.  Don't you love any $RELATIVE?

      3. After the meal, $THE_MEN will sit and hoot at sporting events on the television, while $THE_WOMEN are required to retreat to a world of table-clearing, dish-washing, changing poopy diapers, and rendering permissive babysitting and minor first-aid† to $THE_CHILDREN.  No member of any of the three groups -- or worse, any combination thereof -- should ever, ever take a half hour out from the fray to read a book and recharge.  That's just utterly antisocial, uncaring and probably evidence of unAmericanism. (And this in a family of readers.  I don't understand it.)

     4. No matter what, someone will leave in tears ($THE_WOMEN and $THE_CHILDREN) or cursing ($THE_MEN).  These are firm lines and should any of the first two groups say as much as "drat" or "shit-oh-dear," there will be tsk-tsking at the very least. $THE_MEN, of course, do not cry; they just turn the television up louder.

     5. No matter what you wore, it was wrong, either too casual, too formal, or just plain weird.  Family Thanksgivings at their peak looked like a particularly unimaginative masquerade, and no one approved of anyone else's choice.

     Earlier this morning, I made three pieces of toast and dropped one.  I called it Very Bad Names and Tam told me to not stress out.  She doesn't entirely realize how very much less stressed I am, compared to the past.

     I'm thankful for Thanksgiving at home, in my house, eating things Tam and I both like.  I believe this is the seventh one, and one of the few where I won't have to scurry off to Family Thankspurgatory a day or two later; this year, they're having it on my work day and a considerable distance away.  Yeah, y'all have fun with that, mmmkay?

     Incidentally, Tam loathes yams, too.
* Surely mine is not the only family that makes oyster dressing?  It's good.  Haven't had it in years; you see, mine was never really up to par in the serving line....
† Temporary and moderately indulgent child-overseer is the best of these jobs, if you ask me.  Too many members of the distaff subset of $RELATIVE pick fights over the dishes, which is then a good excuse to dash from the room weeping and get some time alone.  Turns out you're still in dutch if they catch you reading, though.  Um, so I hear.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Pro Tip

     Do not shake the milk bottle after loosening the top.  Really don't.  Especially if it's a new, full bottle.

Turducken: Found!

     I went by the grocer's almost by chance last night; I'd been planning to pick up a couple of nice Cajun meals at Yat's but (as usual) there were no parking spaces for a couple of blocks in any direction.  So I went to the market instead.

     The meat counter only had one person at it, so I gave the row of cooler cases a looking over -- and there were three boneless* turduckens just sitting there, unclaimed!  Seen and asked for, quick as that.

     Hadn't been sure what we to do for the entree, come the day (I was pondering a day-before cooked whole chicken or turkey breast from the deli counter) and now it's solved itself.  I picked up some good applewood-smoked bacon to make gravy, plus some salad.  Potatoes were already in hand and there we go.
* I don't think there is any other kind.  Fresh Market nevertheless labels them that way every year, so I'm passing the verbiage on to you.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Eye Doctor Follow-Up/Nightmare In Gold

     Went back in yesterday afternoon, too see if things had stabilized.  They had, which I had thought would be the verdict.  My big gray floater has mostly moved off to the side, the flashes seem to have ended, the black specks still hover at the edge of my vision (leaving me, from time to time, reacting to things that only I can see but which are really there, just very near and tiny instead of farther away and huge) and the hordes of tiny ones are as ignorable as ever.

     It's more weird than horrible and remember, this is the good outcome.  As I understand it, if you're nearsighted enough, it's practically inevitable that something like this will happen -- and the other things like this involve retina tears or detachment.  Instead, the big blob of gel that fills the eye came away from my retina and some floaters got in, really the lest-bad outcome by a very wide margin.

     This is all well and good but in the meantime, arranging things so the ophthalmologist can take a very good look involves not the usual simple set of eye drops but three different ones: a topical numbing agent (!) and two different dilating ones.  Last time, it was a fine gray fall day and I went out for leisurely lunch afterwards, shielded by my sunglasses.  Yesterday, the plan was to go back to work.

     That was the plan, and a fine cold, clear day it was.  I put my sunglasses on as the doctor walked me back to the lobby and even there, I was noticing light sources and brightly-illuminated surfaces had a bit of a glow, a sunburst or "glory" effect. It was a bit after 4 p.m. when I paid up and walked out, squinting -- and was blinded by the glare when I turned to go west on the sidewalk!  If I looked up facing the Sun, there was nothing but a golden fog, though which slightly darker shapes drifted.

     By looking down and holding up a hand, I made it to the corner and around to my car.  I flipped down sun visors and managed to drive slowly down shady side streets to home, a bit under a mile and all stoplights or 4-way stops, and by that point, I was plain done.  The sun was streaming into the kitchen over the cafe curtains* and bouncing from the tiled surfaces and it was somehow worse than outdoors.  Bright golden lances were coming in the dining room widows and through the "piano window" high in the living room wall, but at least it was dimmer.  My bedroom is set up with blackout shades and curtains; I threw my coat on a hook and headed there mostly on somatic memory.  Sat in the dark and thought; called my boss and confessed I was not going to be back and why, and laid down. Ten minutes later, work rang back with a trivial question, which was both insulting and predictable: it was a fine, sunny day, and I suppose someone whose pupils weren't so dilated you could barely see the iris might've been tempted to play hooky.  Me, after that call I tried looking at Facebook on my phone through sunglasses (not a good idea, too bright), then laid in the dark until I fell asleep.

     The cats woke me at their dinner time, which was after sundown -- sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat proved necessary to cope with the overhead lights and I still found looking up was not a good idea.  The computer room/study was a particular nightmare; the kitchen was bearable  I grabbed myself a little snack while the cats ate and returned to the blissful darkness.  At some point, I woke up again and changed to sleepwear,† turned on my Kindle with the brightness way way down, and started a new story in the anthology I was reading.  It was about a landing on Mercury that turned out to be too close to the sunward side.‡  For some reason it was particularly vivid.  I still fell asleep halfway through.
* Boys, that means the curtain rods are only about halfway up the windows.  This is normally a nice, sunny arrangement.  Yesterday it was more of a nightmare.  I find I have a little more sympathy for vampires than previously.
† For the imaginative, I am sorry to ruin whatever image you have but at this time of the year, heavy flannel is standard.
‡ It was an old story -- it turns out Mercury isn't stuck with one side facing the Sun after all, and there went some striking SF images.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

I Learned The Truth, It's Seventeen

     (With apologies to singer-songwriter -- and SF fan! -- Janis Ian).  I was going to write a brrrr-ific post about how the outside temperature was in the 20s and only a couple of days ago we were still enjoying highs in the 50s and whine a little bit about Nature and Its Wonders and maybe snark a little.

     Then I thought, I'd better check the temp or some petulant neckbeard will show up in comments and chide me over it having "...ackshully been thirty degrees...."

     Yeah, dream on.  As I write this, the official Indianapolis temperature is 17ºF, with wind chill making it feel like 8ºF.  Eight. Flippin. F. Degrees.

     I got nothin' for that.  I'm gonna go snuggle with the cats.  You call me up about Springtime.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Coffee: Vivendum, Bibendum. Also, Toys

     I slept in.  It felt goood.  And so is breakfast.  Alas, The Tamara is in recovery mode and nuked herself a glass of chicken noodle soup, leaving me to consume a kind of mixed-grill (bacon, ground sirloin, three kinds of Italian preserved meats) scramble with potato, onion and Anaheim pepper.  With plenty of coffee!

     Another nice toy arrived yesterday -- well, I found out via e-mail USPS had tried to deliver it the evening before and left a note, which must have promptly been whisked away by either the breeze or a late-sleeping malefactor; the Postal Service has a slick online presence that allowed me to set it up for pick-up and produced a claim-check I could print out.  With that and ID, I was able to get the package early yesterday -- and the postal worker was quick, friendly and efficient.  His peers appeared to have similar attitudes.  E-commerce may have breathed new life into the old zombie and, Spooner help me, I can't say I object: the staff no longer seems to be mired in misery and pleased to spread it.

     Ah, but what was in the box?

     This thing with a screen, perched on the Qwerkywriter:
     It's a Surface 2 Pro, about twice as fat as the RT (and about twice the price, if you'll buy used and don't mind a few scratches). The Pros have a gen-u-ine Windows desktop, meaning they will run actual software.  This one did not come with Office -- but I have loaded the lovely no-distractions text editor Q10* and the writerly goodness of Scrivener, and I suppose there might be some way to get my paid-for Word2010 on the thing.

     I can't deny that this somewhat extravagant purchase was motivated by my recent eye problems. As was the "designated driver" screwdriver.
* Per the programmer: "Q10 will clean your kitchen, walk your dog and make excellent coffee. Well, not really. But it's really good as a full-screen text editor." Which it is.  I do dislike the typing sound, but there's a mute button.  IMO, it's even better than the excellent no-distraction text editor in Scrivener.  But bear in mind that I used PerfectWriter and WordStar when they were respectively CP/M and DOS programs, and loved them.

Friday, November 20, 2015

The Domestic Tiger

     Every morning, when I open the door that separates the cats for mealtimes and Huck comes bounding through, I am reminded that at Roseholme Cottage, there's a tiger behind every door -- and, as Rannie Wu reminds me, a lady on the other side.

     Interestingly, this does not remove the suspense.  Huck may be a very small tiger but he's also a very mischievous one.

Thursday, November 19, 2015



adjective: derpliberate
 done with great enthusiasm and minuscule knowledge.

"a derpliberate 'tactical' three-ring binder."
2. embarrasingly useless form or function. 

     Your Word Power, Improved.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

In Which Gilbert & Sullivan Present An Internet Troll

     ...Over a hundred years early!

     For those who don't want to sit through the singing:
If you give me your attention, I will tell you what I can
I'm a genuine philanthropist; all other kinds are sham
Each little fault of temper and each social defect
In my erring fellow creature I endeavour to correct.
To all their little weaknesses I open peoples' eyes
And little plans to snub the self-sufficient I devise
I love my fellow creatures--I do all the good I can
Yet everybody says I'm such a disagreeable man
And I can't think why!

To compliments inflated I've a withering reply
And vanity I always do my best to mortify
A charitable action I can skilfully dissect
And interested motives I'm delighted to detect!
I know everybody's income and what everybody earns
And I carefully compare it with their income tax returns
But to benefit humanity however much I plan,
Yet, everybody says I'm such a disagreeable man
And I can't think why!

I'm sure I'm no ascetic; I'm as pleasant as can be
And you'll always find me ready with a crushing repartee
I've an irritating chuckle; I've a celebrated sneer
I've an entertaining snigger; I've a fascinating leer!
To everybody's prejudice I know a thing or two
I can tell a woman's age in half a minute--and I do!
But although I try to make myself as pleasant as I can
Yet everybody says I'm such a disagreeable man
And I can't think why!
     ...Pretty sure I ran across him on Facebook the other day.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

So, I Broke My Surface 2 RT

     I have no one to blame but myself; I carry a largeish, leather soft-sided briefcase and for over a year, the (refurbished) Surface has just ridden inside without sleeve or case.  Set the thing down kinda hard at work Thursday -- it slipped from my hand -- and thought at the time, "Sure hope I didn't break anything."  I had Friday off.  Took my Surface to lunch Saturday, planning to get some writing done while waiting for Tam.  It powered up, I logged on and suddenly the images on the screen started to quiver.  After thirty long seconds of that, it stopped -- and only two-thirds of the screen was touch-sensitive!  On close inspection, I found two cracks in the top glass.

     Windows offers only a replacement Surface 2 RT -- for $360, three times what I paid for mine.  I may be able to replace the glass (kits start around $75) but in the meantime, I have ordered a used Surface Pro 2 for considerably less than what they sold for new.  I've always been frustrated that the RT won't run the first-draft (Q10) and editing (Scrivener) software I like. (Mind you, if you are comfortable with Microsoft's own set of tools, it's an endearingly competent box.)  Pressure from the new models has pushed the prices for older Pro versions from outrageous down to merely annoying.  Supposedly, they'll run regular Windows software.  I'll be finding out.

     The damage was frustrating for another reason -- I had preordered a Qwerkywriter keyboard at a time when overtime had me flush and they've started to ship.  It's a genuine mechanical-key keyboard, a kind of distant cousin to the Unicomp (essentially the IBM Model M, from the OEM) I favor, with the aesthetics of a pre-WW II typewriter.   It seemed like it might be a nice match to a tablet like the Surface.   ...Of course, to use it, you've got to have a Surface, or at least something tablet-y with Bluetooth.

     Please, keep the comments clear of brand-name fanboying of the kind that puts down everything that isn't $FAVORED_BRAND.  Yes, yours is probably good and way kewl besides and I'm all for you singing its praises -- but putting down Brand M or W doesn't actually make your fave stand any taller.  Give a determined pygmy a lightsaber and he can indeed become the tallest fellow in the room -- but he'll still need a ladder to change light bulbs in the chandelier.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Breakfast, Books

     A delightful cheese omelet (Manchego, Jarlsberg and a crumbled strip of bacon: outstanding!) for the first.

     As for the second, my reading's been all over the block, including Tim (Network Neutraility) Wu's* fascinating The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires, in which he considers that communications media tend to evolve from open, innovative systems to closed and very stable systems.  You can disagree with Tim's proposed solutions, but he makes a very strong case for the cycle from wide-open and disruptive to centralized, consolidated and tightly-controlled, using the telephone, broadcast and motion pictures as his main examples.

     That's on my Kindle; in the bath, in used softcover, I'm reading The New Yorker Book Of War Pieces, covering 1939 to 1945.  It is engrossing, with the level of writing you'd expect from New Yorker and an immediacy nothing written after the war can quite capture.  Fighter pilots Brendan "Paddy" Finucane (d. 1942, in action) and Philip Cochran (survived the war to die while fox-hunting at the age of 69; model for a character in Terry and the Pirates and at least one of the sources for "Steve Canyon")  are among the many people profiled, along with events from 88 days on a raft in the South Atlantic to an escape from Occupied France to (so far) the invasion of Italy.  In the early going, resolve is greatly apparent, but there's uncertainty, too -- can the Allies win this war? This is history as you rarely get it, but should.

     For the discursive mind, these books and Internet access are a heady combination, at least as addictive as reading footnotes. 
* Rannie Wu says "No relation." It's a name about like "Smith," after all.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

"We Really Know Our Worth, The Sun And I...."

     I am not a huge fan of sopranos.  This is perhaps because I ended up a contralto,* after having a very good range and at least fair pitch in childhood.  It didn't last.  However, there is one piece that send chills down my spine, W.S. Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan at perhaps the top of their form -- I first heard it by channel-surfing happenstance.

     Having spent the morning looking for a version of "The Moon and I" (aka "The Sun Whose Rays Are All Ablaze...") from Gilbert and Sullivan's The Mikado at least as good as the one in the film Topsy Turvy, I was frankly delighted to discover this one, recorded "for showcase only:"


     For contrast, the British-through-and-though take from Topsy-Turvy, gorgeously sung, can be heard here.

     Best line: "I mean to rule the Earth as he the sky." Ambition!  (For those unfamiliar with the story line, it is not really such an unreasonable one as you might think.)
* In musical theatre, contraltos are generally limited to playing "witches, britches and bitches."  Basically, the "bad Bond girl" is about as good as it gets.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Communications Security

     It doesn't exist.  If NSA wants to read your mail, they're reading it.  If Google wants to read your mail, they're reading it.  They are probably doing so by means more devious than a brute-force decrypt -- but the "never decodable in finite time" stuff is a happy fantasy, playing off the manner in which we are easily impressed by large numbers.

     The Phone Company has been in bed with the Feds since there was Federal regulation of 'em.  They rat people out as a matter of routine.  The Telegraph Company was doing so even before there was regulation!  ...Mind you, there's a whole alternate to AT&T for the Internet backbone.  It's a network built and operated by the Federal government.  Ahem.

     Communications security is like the Maginot Line: not nearly as impregnable as it appears.  

     If you have information that has really, truly got to be kept secret, don't put it on the phone.  Don't put it on the Internet.  Don't talk about it near a phone. Don't talk about it at all, if you can manage to, and don't write it down, either.
     Two people can keep a secret -- if one of them is dead.  (Cribbed from Heinlein but absolutely true.)  Don't want your mail read?  Tough.

Paris, Earth

     I don't have much to add to reactions to the horrific attacks in Paris.  You have the Internet, TV, radio.  You know as much as I do, probably more.

     ISIS, ISIL, whatever, they look pretty tough against unarmed civilians.  Against a real military?  Nope.  Unlike earlier Islamiod movements, they have a fixed, physical presence, a series of nice, fat targets -- and against a professional First-World military intent on winning, they're not tough at all.

     So go on, idiots, keep poking at The West.  See how that works out in the long run.  Learn what Kaiser Bill learned; find out what Hitler and Tojo and Mussolini found out: you can snicker at and pester the "soft, decadent, weak-willed" denizens of the most advanced civilization on this planet for a pretty long time; you can push them around a little -- but only so far.  Only so far, and then the bill comes due.

Can You Stab A Boogeyman With A Butterknife?

     0735: Tamara has ostensibly left for work; the basement door has shut and latched, ka-thunk.

     0736: Roberta goes to the kitchen and butters three great big crackers for a light breakfast.  There is a sound from the basement, great brute boots tromping up the stairs: clomp, clomp, clomp...

    0736:20: Roberta is thinking, ohGawdohGawd, I'm gonna have to take on the boogyman with only a butterknife?

     0736:25: Tamara's cheery voice through the basement door: "Later!  First boot-wearing morning since Spring!" Clomp, clomp...  The back door slams.

     Oh, that.  Okay.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Hesitate, Lose

     Thought to treat myself to one of Brownell's "Designated Driver" hex-bit screwdrivers, a nifty little tool with an anodized aluminum handle that neatly stores multiple bits in individual chambers.  Quick, Bobbi, to the Web-site!

     Went there.  No.  It's been discontinued.  Not coming back.  I've been dithering over the thing for literally years and while I did so, the product ran its course.

     Update: On the other hand, eBay....  Found one, ordered it.

I Posted Near-Gibberish Last Night

     So I took this morning off.  I gues I could do some kind of long, self-pitying rant but I'm not minded to.

     I have been watching the Aaron Sorkin HBO series The Newsroom.  Taken in the proper light, it's amusing as hell.  Just as The West Wing was the Clinton White House re-imagined as a kind of second (third?) Camelot, with all the nasty bits papered over and and the lecher-in-chief changed from a horny Arkansan* political hack with indifferent impulse control to a noble, thoughtful Yankee† professor concealing a tragic affliction, The Newsroom is the crappy, slanted networks as liberals wish they were, right down to the demented capitalist ownership, the crusty old-time liberal in charge of the news division and the properly-tamed Republican anchor.  Today, I snickered my way through oh-if-only unhistory retelling the NBC editing of Zimmerman's 911 call (caught, apologized for in the same hour-long news show and played in full for the viewing audience, as opposed to the real-world days of intransigent denial) and the media's mistelling of the cause of the Benghazi embassy murders papered over as "...we knew we were probably wrong, but in the aftermath of [Main Dramatic Story Arc Thing], we felt we had no choice."

     It's hilarious but dangerous, Winston Smith's job at the Ministry Of Truth played for profit, busily scribbling over the common memories of what actually happened in the real world with an appealingly-packaged fantasy.  If you know what's going on and what really went on, you can laugh at it; if it's tapping into your selection bias and preconceived notions, well--  Not so good.  There's more truthiness than truth in this drama.

     For the record, they are spot-on in the small details of how newsrooms work -- including the appalling youth of most of the people actually doing the legwork and finding stories to begin with, the isolation of most of the faces who sell you the news from the mess of unearthing it, the incredible pressure of time to gather news and the even greater pressure to report it in a minute-thirty or less of screen time.  The drinking, the long hours, they get that.  The noble motives?  No.  Forget it.  People get the job with motives they think are noble but once on the job they don't even have time to scratch where it itches, let alone look to the big picture.  Bias in news mostly sneaks in unexamined from those very young staffers, in which pitched stories make it to air, and in what news that the directors and senior producers in News departments think will draw the most attention.

     The news media like to tell themselves that they are in the business of informing you.  Maybe they are.  A lot of the staffers would like to be and honestly try to be.  The organizations who employ them are in the business of helping to sell you soap and new cars, prescription drugs and pet food.  You are not the consumer: you are the product they sell to advertisers.

     And so I watch The Newroom and snicker.  That show has something to sell, too -- and it's not news.
* No offense to natives of that state, but you've got to admit that like Hoosiers and Sooners, there's a certain reputation for unsophistication that comes with the territory, however undeserved it so often is.

† With respect to my Southern friends who use the word to mean anyone from a state on the winning side in the Late Civil Unpleasantness Between And Among The States And Feds, I mean here "Yankee" in the Northern sense of fine old eccentric New England (Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire, possibly Rhode Island) plus the set of Mass., Conn., New York, New Jersey, Delaware and similar festering hellholes so sacred to our media elite.  --With all due apologies to the inhabitants of the latter.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Princess And The...Holy Cow!

    [This post has been edited in an attempt to make it intelligible.]

     So this morning at work, my left foot suddenly started to ache.  It was really bad for a little while, then calmed down.

     The return of real-shoes weather is never a happy time for me; I carry most of my weight on the balls of my feet, I have very high arches and when I walk, I roll my feet from supinated to pronated like it was goin' outta style.  Keen has closed-toe sandals that fit me fine and in really cold weather, Milwaukee makes a jump-boot-style motorcycle boot that I find comfy.  The seasons in between, though--  I've worn Merrill trainers for years.  In recent years, I started getting squeezed across my foot just behind the toes and had to change to a box-laced pattern that only pulls tight across the last two eyelets.

     I mention it because this afternoon, the ache had faded but it sure seemed like the old discomfort was back on the left.  It almost felt like there was a rock in my shoe! I checked (no rock, it's never that easy) and loosened up the laces but it only helped a little; I was limping pretty bad when I left work.

     Got home and decided to have a close look at my foot.  There's usually nothing at all to see when this happens, but it felt pretty bad.  Peeled off my sock, turned my foot to see the sole and--

     Found a large and somewhat inflamed-looking spot with a big, dark splinter in the center of it!

     Sometimes, there is something to see.  Sometimes, the Princess isn't just being petty and petulant -- sometimes there's a good-sized pea under the mattress after all!

     A little careful tweezer work later, I feel much better.*  Maybe a bit of a soak in warm water and Epson Salts for that foot after dinner.
* As John Astin was wont to say in his role on Night Court.

Sorry, Internet

     I have a dire headache -- ibuprofen has taken the worst of the edge but it remains, dull any awful -- and I'm not dealing at all well with the eye thing.

     Here's a little thought for the morning, in the aftermath of Veteran's Day:
"War loses a great deal of its romance after a soldier has seen his first battle. I have a more vivid recollection of the first than of the last one I was in. It is a classical maxim that it is sweet and becoming to die for one's country; but whoever has seen the horrors of a battlefield feels that it is far sweeter to live for it." 

     Pop quiz: who said that?  Some WW I soldier-poet, leaning to pacifism in the aftermath, perhaps?  A WW II journalist, traveling with the troops?  A Korean War novelist?

     Nope.  John S. Mosby, writing in 1887 and reflecting on his Civil War experience as the commander of "Mosby's Raiders," what today would be called an unconventional warfare force, operating with considerable impunity behind Union lines in West Virgina.  At the time, the Union called them "guerrillas," with roughly the same connotation then as "terrorist" has today.  Their exploits read more like imaginative fiction bordering on farce than reality, with reports of rousing officers in their beds, intercepting payroll wagons and so on. (H. Beam Piper told them most entertainingly in Rebel Raider.) Mosby's words stand as a sobering reminder that warfare is not a romp; the bill does come due, payable in blood and death.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Armistice Day 2015

     The TV was burbling this morning with happy information about food freebies and discounts for veterans on this day -- a nice gesture but it felt a little trivial.  It is probably not so trivial to the guy I see many mornings holding up a sign reading "Homeless Vet, Will Work For Food" at a downtown freeway off-ramp.

     Originally, this day marked the Armistice that ended World War One.  Europe had been devastated.  A generation of young men had been lost.  The United States had been drawn into our first European war and lost innocence and isolation.  In thousands of ways large and small, that war determined the future: the airplane went from toy to terror in three years; Edwin Armstrong's "superheterodyne" receiver circuit made both broadcasting and reliable transatlantic radiotelephony practical; the Soviet Union emerged from Russia's agony; Germany was brought low, humbled by the victorious, and seethed with resentment; the Austro-Hungarian Empire was no more and the Ottoman Empire would totter on for only five more years after the end of the war.  When the "War To End All Wars" staggered to an end, the seeds for many future wars had been sown.

     Through it all, the soldiers carried the worst burdens -- gassed, shelled, bombed, shot, and doing the same back.  Sometimes with enthusiasm, sometimes reluctantly, rarely refusing (most famously in impromptu "Christmas truces" in the early years, something their generals subsequently tried to prevent ever happening again).  In WW I, soldiers fought lice, rats, inflamed gums, foot-fungus and poor rations in addition to their enemy.  The warrior's lot has improved in subsequent years but even far from the fighting, it's still no bed of roses.  It is fitting that the focus of this day, conceived in great solemnity to mark the formal end of a terrible war, has shifted to the men -- and women -- who have served and are serving.

     A free breakfast may sound like a trifle as I lay in my warm bed, but it's a "thank you" for the veterans, a mark of respect for them and all those who came before them and will follow in the years to come.  It behooves the rest of us to do as much on this day, the eleventh day of the eleventh month, the day when, at the eleventh hour, the guns fell silent and the men manning them and the men they were aimed at could breathe a sigh of relief, however short-lived that respite proved to be.

     Thank you for your service.

Heat At Last!

     Yesterday evening marked the official start of the heating season for Roseholme Cottage.  It was somewhat delayed by my having discovered a large circumferential crack in the flue running from the furnace to the chimney, at which point I had to locate a replacement, find that they were sold flat, and learn how to properly assemble and install them.

     When Tam and I went to put the new section in, I managed to let the entire assembly -- several sections, about six feet of sheet-metal flue in the standard two-foot lengths -- fall clean out, which meant learning a bit more and starting over.

     Anyway, after a few chilly nights, it was complete (before someone gives me A Serious Fatherly Lecture, I have a CO2 (ETA: wrong-- it's a CO detector, as it should be) detector and it is plugged in and running) and we started up the furnace for the first time this Fall last night.  Seems to be working fine.  I try to keep the thermostat between 65° and 68° F in winter; the 75° or so that many people seem to prefer strikes me as wildly impractical if you are properly dressed for cold weather.  The computer room here at Roseholme stays a bit warmer, for obvious reasons.

     Ahh, central heating!  It's hard to imagine what life would be like without it, unless you've read, say, A Christmas Carol.  The past is another country -- and a colder one, about half the time.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

"Posterior Vitreous Detachment"

     No, a posterior vitreous detachment is not the group of military personnel you send to stop someone photocopying their backside.  It's when the big glob of gelatinous stuff (the "vitreous humour." I'm not laughing) that fills up your eyeball pulls away from the retina.  It causes flashes and a big increase in "floaters," and there's an increased risk of retinal detachment for several weeks afterward, but the condition is not all that serious in and of itself.

     Things that increase your risk?  Being female, nearsighted and over 50 all appear to be at the top of the list.  I fit the profile only too well.

     My own eye doctor did some high-detail imaging as well as the traditional methods of looking into the eyeball and explained that in my left eye, the detachment was right at the point of best vision, which would be why the floaters are there, too.  They will likely settle a bit and I'll get better used to them,* and that's it -- another of Aging's thefts.  I'm right-eye-dominant, so for now my shooting should be unaffected.

     On the home front, I did manage to fill up five bags of leaves yesterday.  It started to rain while I was at the opthamologist's, so that will be that until the rest have some time to dry out.

     After the exam, I was sleepy but hungry.  My "Monday" began at 11:00 p.m. Sunday and I left his office after 3:00 p.m., well after what would have been my suppertime.  My pupils were vast and so light-sensitive that I had to wear sunglasses in the dim, gray rainy light.  Most any place else, a tall woman with a Betty Page hairdo and wearing big, dark, old-fashioned-looking sunglasses might stand out, but this is Broad Ripple; I repaired to Public Greens and enjoyed a tasty pork ragout -- shredded pork, pasta shells, some kind of flavorful dark green leafy vegetable and a crumbly white cheese in a wonderful sauce -- and a big cup of cappuchino.  It hit the spot.

     Came home and stayed awake only long enough to feed the cats before going to bed.  Woke ten hours later and could have slept longer.  This has been an "interesting" weekend.  I'd like some dull ones, please.
* Or is it, "I had better get used to them?"  There is something they can do for floaters, but it is drastic and, like a lot of medical treatment, only adequate if doing nothing is far worse: they drain your eye, (possibly) filter the gel, and then fill it back up, adding sterile saline as needed.  This then becomes a regular maintenance thing.  It is to be avoided if possible.

Monday, November 09, 2015

Not An Adventure

     So, yesterday I had an--  H'mm.  Not an adventure.

     I was working a fill-in shift, which meant getting up a little after 1 or 2 a.m. to get to work not later than 5:00 a.m.  Getting ready, I realized I was seeing little flashes of white light in my peripheral vision on my left side and there was something -- maybe stray strands of hair? -- at the edge of my vision on the right side.  And hey, was that a spider or a little bug on the  floor?

     But it whisked out of sight when I looked at it, at which point I realized the various dark spots were floaters inside my eye, little bits of stuff.  You get them as you age; if you haven't had one, you probably will eventually. Mystery solved.

     Hours later, I was at a desk at work when I realized a really big floater was moving around in my left eye.  I looked up at a well-lit, plain wall, and realized that in addition to the big one, there were layers and layers of tiny specks in the vision from my left eye, drifting about.  It was kind of scary and the symptoms, flashes and a sudden bunch of floaters, seemed vaguely familiar.

     Of course I looked it up online.  That combination of things has something greater than a ten percent chance of indicating a torn or detached retina.  They can be repaired -- if you get treatment in 24 to 72 hours.  But it was Sunday.

     A few calls later, I had learned hospital ERs deal with this kind of thing routinely; I left work an hour early and went to the ER, where they checked things out pretty thoroughly. An ER is not an ophthalmologist's office but they have a specialist on tap, along with the good old fashioned instrument for looking into one's eyes -- chin rest, bright light and fancy optics for the doctor.  That was about the last step, after the regular ER doctor had done pressure checks, dye-and-UV checks for damage, and -- to my surprise --ultrasound imaging.  Nothing turned up.  That's a relief.

     They sent me home with hugely dilated eyes and instructions to contact them if anything changed and to schedule appointments with my eye doctor and family doctor.

     I've still got the floaters but at least I have a plan.

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Leaves Partially Raked

     Did all of the front yard, most of one side yard and got one entire bag filled Saturday.  Plenty left to do. 

Saturday, November 07, 2015

I Do Not Like Freeway Traffic

     Here in The Big City, we have got big-city-type freeway traffic: nose-to-tail, at or over the speed limit unless there's been a wreck or the number of cars has exceeded the capacity of the road (parts of the "Inner Loop" of interstates 65 and 70 through downtown are notorious for this), and pretty "red in tooth an claw" when it comes to exits and merging.  Here at the crossroads of Southern-style semi-courteous and Yankee-type "get your nose in and just keep moving" traffic manners,† you can never be quite sure what the other drivers will get up to -- and from the number of last-minute four-lane cross-dashes, some of them aren't either.

     I don't like it. In fact, I fear and loathe it.  Driving a small and nimble car helps; even the little Hyundai Accent and Suzuki Samurai I once drove usually had enough zip to get out of the way; while the bigger Lexus RX300 I have is scarcely petite, it's got decent acceleration, good brakes and a very positive control feel.

     On the other hand--  Last afternoon, I got tapped to do some field work.  Pretty simple -- take a heavily-laden "Sprinter" panel van ten miles down the aforementioned Inner Loop, drive another few miles of stop-and-go suburban traffic to a location, set up, work with a crew for a couple of hours, and then return to base.  The actual work is a snap -- set up a microwave link, run a few cables and an extension cord, push a few buttons and then take it all down afterwards.  But driving that bedamned truck--!!!

     It's ferociously underpowered.  Maybe if it was kitted out with plumber's tools and supplies or filled with parcels to be delivered, it would be fine, but in my trade, we mount thousands of pounds of equipment in these vans.  0-60 is a matter of a couple of minutes; okay, I can deal with that, see "Suzuki Samurai" above.*  But the brakes are frighteningly spongy and slowing or stopping is more of a request than a command.  Steering is a little soft and tends to hunt.  None of these are so bad as to make the vehicle dangerous -- but when you put, oh, me at the wheel and head into bumper-to-bumper, 65 mph, multi-lane traffic on a route where highways merge and split and some of the exits require getting across two and four lanes merging into six in what seems like barely enough distance, it's a recipe for white knuckles.

     There and back, I kept putting my hands on the wheel in the well-defined modern 4:30/7:30 position, and the next time I'd glance down, they'd be back at 1970s Driver's-Ed 10 and 2, my bloodless knuckles all but glowing in the instrument lights.  On the return trip, I made sure to free up and flex one hand or the other before they started to ache.

     Made it, didn't even miss an exit or split, don't think I cut off any semis or even ordinary cars (large side mirrors topped with convex "panorama" mirrors are some help), but it certainly got me to my target heart rate and boosted my adrenaline.   
* The tough little baby SUV has a sub-one-liter engine about the size of an old-fashioned tabletop sewing machine and nearly the same horsepower-to-weight ratio as a full semi tractor-trailer.  They're pretty good up to 45 mph if you flirt with the red line and don't mind doing a lot of shifting but at freeway speeds, it runs with the trucks.  The drivers seem greatly amused by this
† U.S. 40, running smack through the middle of town from east to west, is the "greaSy/greaZy" dialect divider, one marker of Northern/Southern speech.  We really do have all kinds.  OTOH, it's 2015, which is to say you probably do too, wherever you live.

Friday, November 06, 2015

The Sad Thing About The "Early Release" of Fake Anonymous KKK Info

     ...Was that a lot of it seemed plausible.  Buncha politicians secretly racist?  That's an easy sell -- easier than some guy down the block with eyeholes in his pillowslips, which is probably the bulk of what's going to be mined from the actual data-dump.

     There's a problem with this sort of thing and it's the same problem as the "Red scare" witch-hunts of the 1950s and earlier:* the guy who went to a meeting or signed up for a mailing list out of curiosity, ignorance or orneriness and later turned away is painted with the same stain as the most wild-eyed True Believer and it's difficult to sort them out by cross-examination: how do you tell honest regret from sneaky deceit?

     I'd suggest we can only judge men and women by their actions; their true thoughts can never be determined with certainty.  Despite that, expect witch-hunting and sensationalized (and likely highly imaginative) accounts.  The Press will love it if they can find at least one public figure to topple.

     Is it better to have a determined gang of "hacktivists" do this sort of thing† rather than J. Edgar Hoover's FBI or a House or Senate Committee?  Probably; but the falsely or inaccurately accused will still face the same kind of stigmatization, albeit free of the wrath of Congress and/or Federal prosecution.  ...Think what a comfort that will be for their children, to know Mommy or Daddy won't be going to jail, merely loathed by the neighbors....

     Were there Communists in the State Department, Reds in Hollywood?  Yep.  Was everyone accused of it an actual commie or fellow-traveler?  Nope.  Did every Soviet mole, spy or sympathizer get  rooted out?  Oh, hells no.   Remember that in coming days.  Haters still gonna hate and like the poor, they'll always be around.
* Yes, earlier. Red-hunting history didn't begin with Murrow's news coverage of McCarthy.
† Mind you, even that is nothing new.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Comfort Food

...Say what you like, come what may -- a breakfast scramble of eggs, green onions, Castleveltrano olives and Manchego cheese makes up for a whole lot of things.  Especially with a deep-red grapefruit half for afters!

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Oh, You Shouldn't Have

     ...But they did anyhow.  We've got a Democrat Mayor in Indy and my district has a Democrat councilman, too.  The party has a one-seat majority on the City-County Council.

     I would have greatly preferred a divided government.  It keeps 'em busy in less-harmful ways.  On the other hand, my disappointment is probably minor compared to that of Ohio's would-be pot-growing barons, who found their marijuana-legalization/constitutional monopoly scheme received a resounding No from voters, while the measure barring that state from ever granting any kind of monopoly via the state constitution squeaked to a narrow win -- and yes, it was inspired by the attempt to get a chokehold on commercial production of legal pot.  (I figure legal herb is an inevitability -- but maybe not real soon, at least in the Midwest.  I could be wrong, one way or the other.)  I'm not a fan of the stuff -- but remind me, was there more (and less-moderate) drinking during Prohibition, or after Repeal?

     Still, for now Ohio's still saying, "Lips that touch ganja shall never touch mine," and there it stands until next time -- and Indy's given a big ol' open-mouthed kiss to the Democrats.  We'll see how King Stork works out.  Just keep the streets plowed, Joe Hogsett, and don't let 'em jack up my property tax any higher.

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Get Up, Get Donuts, Vote, Go To Work

     Do you know where to vote in Indiana today?  Find out!

     I have to go to work an hour early today (self-inflicted project) and it's Election Day.  And I wanna donut.  So this is a canned posting.  Go vote, if you can.  Use your best judgement, we'll be stuck with these idiots for awhile.  Let's at least get a fresh crop.

Monday, November 02, 2015

The War On Some Drugs Ruined Sassafras Tea

     As I child, I loved sassafras tea.  It was a very occasional treat, delicious, copper-colored, sweet and hot.  I treasure my memories of the aroma and taste, and of the very first time I had a cup of it. 

     You can still buy supposed sassafras concentrate.  It doesn't taste a bit like the stuff tasted when I was young.  Good sassafras faded out gradually -- I used to find short lengths of the root in simply-labeled cellophane packets at the grocer's, Indiana-produced and presumably with most of the safrole steamed away.  But I guess even that was too much for the drug warriors; you'll look in vain for it now.  Safrole, the stuff that gives sassafras a distinctive taste, was determined to be more bad for you than good and withdrawn from commercial use in 1960.  By 1976, the DEA labelled it a drug precursor: it's used in the manufacture of MDMA, "Ecstasy."  And not only is it illegal as can be,* overuse of MDMA appears to be not at all good for you, either, and in several ways.

     There are small amounts of safrole in many spices -- cinnamon, nutmeg, star anise, black pepper, the Cajun spice filé (ground sassafras leaves!) -- and that's a pretty good list of "spices Roberta X likes," as well.  Coincidence?  I don't know, but here's another: M.D.s have tried me several times on various SSRIs to deal with my chronic headaches, and that stuff just destroys me after a few days: nothing's any fun, nothing's worth doing -- or even worth not doing, either.  There's something goofy going on with all that but given that SSRIs and kin are only barely understood by the people who do understand them,† don't look to me for theories; I figure it means even if I could get real sassafras tea, I would be wise to enjoy it only sparingly.

     Past that, I don't know.  But I'm sitting here drinking a mug of frikkin' bluejohn pseudosassafras tea, and it hasn't got the right taste.  Not even close. It's not even the right color! A bottle of "Sarsaparilla" soda pop comes closer on both counts.  I'm pouring this weaksauce dishwater out and brewing some chamomile instead.
* That falls under the "doing stuff" section of the rule, "Don't go stupid places with stupid people doing stupid stuff."  Felonies are, by design and definition, not fun.  Go do something else and don't get caught in the gears.

† This is one reason why I'm kind of cynical about doctoring.  Yeah, they have a whole wagon-load of pills and powders these days, but for many of those patented and trademarked nostrums, all the medical profession really knows is they work on some specific problems some of the time, somehow.  Good doctors are humbled by by this and hand the stuff out with much thought and care.  They're not miracle-workers; they can reduce fractures, lance boils and figure out if you've got gout or the flu but the laser-like precision implied in drug company ads on TV generally does not exist.  M.D.s know what they do often works better if you think they're ten moves ahead of whatever ails you.  They're frequently not, but being very clever, well-educated and aware of the remarkable effects of the Tincture of Time is the next best thing, and that, most of them have got.

Oooo, Recycled Daylight

     Or is it reclaimed daylight?  Siphoned off the end of the day in clear violation of causality and now we must pay the piper, but who am I to argue with King Canute and Congress, and their desire to get me to drive home in the dark only half the year?

     In Indiana, we go between double-daylight saving and regular daylight saving, being as we are at the extreme western end of Eastern Standard Time.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

It's Noo- Eleve- Twel... Aaaaagh!

     You did it, you messed with time and blew it all up, didn't you?

     Well, I hope you're pleased with yourselves.