Wednesday, May 31, 2017

How...Well, Ironic

     There have long been -- as in centuries -- various movements to produce some mark or indicator for irony and sarcasm.  There are, it seems, people who might otherwise miss the point.  There are other people who research such things at great and delightful length. The inverted exclamation symbol is a perennial favorite -- indeed, there are some languages that already use it that way¡ No, really -- and various takes on reversed question marks have been put forward.  Another favorite is reverse-slanted italics, often erroneously attributed to H. L. Mencken.  Other entirely original symbols have been set forth and have sunk, bubbling, in the marketplace of ideas.

     More recently, purple text has been proposed; smilies and tildes are used on occasion.  (As if!~)*

     But the Dutch had their own idea; in 2007, the ironieteken was put forward with great fanfare during the national book festival.

     It looked like this:

     A flash of lightning!  A bolt from the blue!  The sting of snark, the bite of sarcasm...!

     And then someone with a piping-fresh font in their computer typed two of them side-by side.  The thud of of jackboots couldn't have been any louder.  My, how terribly familiar....

     How ironic.

     The ironieteken died a quiet, hasty death, unmourned.

     And you're still stuck figuring out sarcasm and its kin on your own.  It's a kind of ongoing Voight-Kampf test.

     How'd ya do yesterday?
* A bit of a problem for me, as I habitually use "~" to indicate "approximately," as in "~100 miles from here to Dayton."  13 years of formal education, and I came away with that.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Allergies 1, Bobbi 0

     Or about that score.  There may be fractions.  At first, I didn't know what was going on -- maybe sneezing more than usual and I had a big patch of hypersensitive skin on my left hip.  That was four days ago, a number that is significant because--

     As far as I knew, there's only one thing that starts out with a "big patch of hypersensitive skin," and it then turns into an ugly rash in two to four days: shingles.  That would be bad news.*

     Instead, my sinuses got worse and worse while the skin sensitivity faded; woke up Sunday with a sore throat, more of the same Monday.  I thought I had a bad cold and last night, in a spirit of can't-make-it-worse, I took an over-the-counter 24-hour allergy tablet.  It was that or risk drowning in my sleep from a runny nose, which is not what you want people to read in your obit.

     Seems to have helped; anyway, I'm here, way less sneezy and the sore throat is significantly better.
* The shingles vaccine is one of the few kinda-trendy things my company health insurance encourages getting.  I should.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Expanding The Expanse

     I've enjoyed the first two seasons of the TV series, so I decided to try the books, or at least the first one of the series.

     It's pretty good -- competent space opera, no breaks to explain the functioning of ray guns -- heck, no ray guns as such! -- and the same general story.

     What I didn't expect was that the book would be a little less complex than the TV series.  In part, this is because of inherent differences in storytelling; a novel can put you in a character's head or dash off a little exposition on the fly but dramas on screen or stage have to show you.  The scriptwriters have done a masterful job of just that, combining a few "background" characters to create a kind of prototypical hardscrabble Belter and the TV series is the better for it.  As a specific recurring character rather than a few bit players, he would have been a distraction in the book.

     Watching and reading The Expanse makes me want to see TV-series adaptations of hard SF from bigger (or older, anyway) names -- C. J. Cherryh's "Alliance-Union" universe and much of Robert A. Heinlein's output are now well within the capabilities of teleproduction and the (re?)emergence of long-form "serials" provides the right scale for a novel. Maybe a little Larry Niven?  Many of his short stories might make fine movies.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Memorial Day

     Look, there's nothing I can tell you about the day that you shouldn't already know.  It commemorates those fallen in military service.

     Doing so on this day in particular came about after that great bloody scar on the national psyche, the Civil War.  It was something of a rite of healing as well as recognition of the great and terrible sacrifice -- and maybe that sounds New Agey to you, too touchy-feely.  Tough.  There's little enough we can do for the dead -- clear their markers, set a flag, ponder soberly -- but there's plenty we can do to help secure what their sacrifices were in aid of: we can comfort the living, treat one another fairly and recognize that in the end, we will all face the same Great Unknown.

     We can refuse to be jerks.

*  *  *

     Other people fight other battles.  My Mom, born in the shadow of Black Friday, is in the hospital fighting one right now.  She will win this battle; there's fluid in her lungs and the doctors and nurses are clearing it away.  It will come back, by and by, and she'll be in the hospital again.

     She'll win most of the battles, but in a war that we all will eventually lose.  And there's not a single blamed thing I can do about it other than show up, say hi, share a card, some flowers, an entertaining gadget, trivial little bright sparkles. My Mom fights; it's in her.  She doesn't give up.

*  *  *

     Eleven years, one week and two days ago, my Dad passed away.  It was Mom's birthday.  I miss him.  She misses him, too.

*  *  *

     Today was my birthday.  Tam and I went to brunch.  It was delicious.  Little bright sparkles -- maybe that's all we get.  Maybe that's all anyone gets.  Make the most of them.  Don't stomp on anyone else's.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Slept Today

     Slept most of the day.  Tam bought food and I grilled some absolutely decadent steaks with roasted corn-on-the-cob and baked potatoes.  And now?  Back to sleep.

     I messed up my sleep budget pretty badly last week.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Nose To The Grindstone, Shoulder To The Wheel

     ...Now try to get anything done in that position!  And so it is for me at work.  I arrive every morning with a mental list and by the end of the day, one or two items have been accomplished and all of the rest have been rewritten.  Completely.  Today bids to be more of the same, only more so.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Garden Omelette

     We had the vegetables, and it's difficult for two people to get through the usual family-sized portions sold in grocery stores before they start to turn.

     So this morning, a nice Poblano pepper, radish, cherry tomato, green onion, black olive, celery, carrot, bacon and Manchego cheese omelette is (rapidly becoming "was") on my plate.  Pretty tasty,  especially with a little Peri-Peri sauce and some raw radish on top.

     Meanwhile in the outside world, politics veers between "risible" and "tragic."  Got no fix for you there; chowderheads of every stripe will always be with us.  They win elections right next to the clueful (and in slightly greater numbers); they blow stuff up and shoot when they shouldn't and drive like fools and in a world in which many people can pass an idle afternoon using up more horsepower than was readily available to Julius Caesar at the height of his power, ill-intentioned (or simply incautious) witlings are more dangerous than ever.  The ideology (or lack thereof) that motivates 'em doesn't matter; take away whatever one they're using instead of decency and good sense and they will simply find another.  Just keep your eyes open and do what you can to stop them or at least slow them down.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Return Of The Leopard Slug

     They are to regular slugs as a dreadnought is to a destroyer -- the Great Gray or Leopard Slug.  And several of them live in my back yard.  Presumably several generations of them, though I haven't kept track.

     This year's crop may be pretty good; being relatively bite-sized (several bites when fully-grown; they get to be much bigger than you'd expect, as large as a small snake and fatter) and relatively slow* they spend most of their time out of sight, but I have already had three encounters.

     Several days ago, I turned over a fallen branch and found not only a camo-pattern slug as big as my thumb, but a whole clutch of wasabi-green slug eggs she† had just laid.  I turned it back over and moded it to a safer spot.

     Last night, I was dumping water from the big blue tarp and moving it away from the wild parsnip‡ that has taken up residence in a corner of the fence and which will meet my enforcer, Mr. Weedkiller, I found two more and larger examples, which were hanging on (they produce strong, sticky slime and even a large one can climb vertical surfaces) in various damp and shady folds.  I made sure they were still in the shade and above the waterline as I moved the tarp; what I will do when the time comes to fold the thing up, I don't know.  It's overdue for disposal but I don't want to reduce the population of slugs that hunt garden-eating slugs when I get rid of it.
* Unless you're a smaller vegetarian garden slug.

† It's complicated.  Let us not delve into the private life and courtship of Great Gray slugs, which involves climbing to high places, hanging from a rope of slime and having terrifying knife fights.

‡ The wild parsnip is to the common carrot what a one-percenter biker is to a kid on a moped.  Annoy a lively one on a sunny day and you're likely to end up with nasty chemical burns.  While this gets somewhat panicky coverage by local TV and on social media, good-quality garden gloves, long sleeves and common sense go a long way towards avoiding the problem.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Project Drift

     This was at work -- I expect any project at home to create three or four more.  Work, that's not supposed to happen--

     It seemed simple enough: deliver audio and video signals from a specific source to a nice computer-based recorder, which holds thousands of hours in the space occupied by a large desktop PC.  High-definition video and, as it turns out, stereo sound.

     The video is simple enough: find the multi-output distribution amplifier (DA) on the one-line diagram -- aha! -- and then go find it in the real world.  H'mm, more outputs are hooked up than the drawing shows, but one of them feeds another DA and...yes!  There is exactly one output left!

     Now the audio.  Easy, right?  No.  It's only available in 5.1 channel surround, your choice of discrete digital (three coaxial cables) or encoded (one cable but it takes dedicated hardware or software to decode).  Email the department that needs this, which would they like?  More back and forth to define terms.  (You can't just grab the Left Front and Right Front channels: true 5.1 has most of the dialog in the center channel.)  Nope.  How about summed mono?  We've got that!  After multiple e-mails, that gets the big nope.  Surely there's a digital stereo version around?  (One coax, easy as pi!)  But there's analog, and here's an analog-to-digital converter with available channels.  ...I/O not on the cross-connect one-line?  ...Kind of not.  Fine, now where are the audio DA outputs?  Dig to find the three different names three different techs have given it, then find it is not on the one-line diagram under any name but there is a Road Map To The Punchblocks and there, after looking and looking, right there is the name.

     "Punchblocks" are an old form of telephone interconnect, and what we use are "66M" blocks, with fifty pairs of odd little forked terminals in two columns of 25; you use a special tool to force a wire down into them (and trim it short in one step -- or cut it clean off, if you turned the tool the wrong way, darn it) and it makes a good connection.  Later versions -- Krone and 110 blocks, ADC "split-cylinder" terminals and suchlike -- don't much care what size or kind of wire they eat, but 66 blocks came first and they like small solid wire, 24 to 26 gauge.  Our spool of the right stuff is, of course, missing.  It took 45 minutes to locate.  

     Punched down analog audio wiring.  Went to find the audio A-to-D/D-to-A testbox (very nifty, has indicator lights and a little speaker).  Not in its spot on the shelf.  Kept looking for digital audio testbox, found it on the bench after looking, fixing something unrelated, and looking more. Fished through a rat's nest of rack wiring to plug it into the digital output of the A-to-D, and...nothing.  Not a sound.  No little light to tell me the data rate, either, and that's funny, because if the A-to-D is even working, it would be on...  Went around to front of racks.  One A-to-D is all lit up, bargraph level meters fluttering, state indicators indicating data rate and meter mode and all of that good stuff.  The other one, the one on which I have been working?  No lights.  Not happy.  Back to the other side, grope to power input on back of device, moving fat bundle of audio wiring to get to it--  IEC plug falls out of connector: some clever neatnik has tie-wrapped the power cord to the audio wiring, with less-than-sufficient cable to keep the power cord connected!  Cut tie wrap, plug back in, and, hey la, the audio testbox begins shouting in my ear!

     I wired up digital audio to its own distribution amplifier (because I'm not going to get caught like this again), and prepared to run cables over to the recorder-thing itself, about twenty feet down the row of racks and on the far side of a control console.  ...There's no small coax in the usual spot.  Hunter around and found orange (digital audio) coax and grabbed a spool of violet (digital video) as well, plus the portable rack the holds them for easy unspooling.  Opened up the computer floor and went to get the nice, screw-together glow-in-the-dark fiberglass wire-pulling sticks...which were missing.  Found them (after half an hour searching), opened floor, poked the sticks through until I hit a Known Obstacle, opened the floor at the square AC-wiring duct and helped the stick over, went back to snaking the fish-stick along, added sections and....clunk.  Clunk?  But....there's nothing else in the way.  But there must be, so I got the electric screwdriver, opened the floor at a new and odd place, and found electricians had visited, leaving a big knot of flexible conduit the stick needs help over.  Got it past that and on to the destination, taped on the two coaxes, pulled them through, disassembled and put away sticks, and went to cut the cables at the start end.

     Glanced at my watch, realized it's a half-hour past quitting time and I still had to put my toys away before I could go home.  Which took another half-hour.

     You know the first or second question I'll be asked at work today?  " get that recorder connected?"

     No.  No, I didn't.  Hand me that box of BNC connectors for 1855A, and I'll finish up that little job -- oh, and I'll need a 75-to-110 Ohm AES/EBU audio balun, and a short XLR to 1/4" TRS 110-Ohm cable, too.  What, we don't have any?

     This may take a little longer.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Hamvention Aftermath

     Except for cooking and a few trips to the market, I have slept or rested for most of the last two days.  That long drive really takes it out of me! 

     Walking through the flea market right before leaving, I passed by a young couple who had just packed up their space.  The man got behind the wheel of his big pickup truck, laughing and joking, started it up -- and hit the air horns as several of us walked past.  Loudest thing I have heard in years!  I covered my ears but it was on my right side and the hearing in my right ear has been wonky ever since.  Thanks, idiot.  Hoping it will wear off.

     Still not sorry I went.   Maybe next year I'll be able to leave earlier.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Picadillo Omelette

     Last night, I made Beef Picadillo for dinner.  It's a tasty Cuban dish, or anyway, it arrived in the U.S. via Cuban immigrants.  Seems to be fairly widespread in the Spanish-speaking parts of South and Central America.  Somewhere in the delicious region between a thick stew and hash depending on the receipe, it's got ground beef, tomatoes, olives and -- surprise! -- raisins, usually enhanced with hot and/or sweet peppers, spicy sausage, onion, garlic, allspice, cloves, cumin, chili powder, black pepper and so on, creating a very complex and wonderful flavor.

     It is usually eaten over rice or used as a filling for tacos or empanadas.  I was out of cloves, so I used a little touch of cinnamon to hint in that direction,* and the only raisins ready to hand were the nice golden ones from white grapes.  Chorizo started off the wok, with red and cubanelle peppers and an onion following before the beef went in; once it was browned, I added tomatoes, olives -- and plenty of them! -- and a generous handful of raisins, to simmer while I pondered the ingredient list.  I mean -- allspice?  Cloves?  Raisins? Really?  But it simmered on, sending up the most fragrant puffs of steam.

     With some trepidation, I tried a sample.  So good!  Once it was cooked, I zapped a little rice and had a bowl of picadillo.  And a half a bowl more, too. 

     Tam was out of town (and having the kind of frustrating, low-key "adventure" nobody should have, I found out) and there was plenty left over; I set up a couple of small containers for freezing and put a third in the fridge.  By the time she got home, she was frazzled and in no state for food, so there it sat.

     Looking over breakfast options this morning, I had lots of eggs and not much else.  But there was that little glass container of picadillo, and it needed eaten.  So I whipped up a basic three-egg omelette, shaved a nice layer of Manchego cheese on it once it started to set and heated the picadillo in the microwave.  Once it and the omelette were ready, I spooned in a goodly amount, folded the omelette and left it to finish.

     Oh, boy!  The picadillo was good last night, but as an omelette filling, it's close to ambrosial!

     If it sounds interesting, give it a try.  The leftovers are versatile.
* Not ideal but it works if you don't use too much.  The real thing would have been better.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Dayton Hamvention 2017

     Of course, it's in Xenia now, at a lovely county fairground that is a long way down two-lane roads. 

     The venue is at least as large as Hara Arena was, with the flea market occupying the infield of a dirt racetrack and a grassy field outside it.  I managed to walk most of it Friday in a few hours.  Walking on grass is a lot kinder to my feet than walking on the Hara parking lot.

     Flea-market pickings were wildly assorted; I just missed a Globe King 400* transmitter (less cabinet), saw a twin to the audio-frequency voltmeter I bought at Peru, lots of modern and recent electronics, looked at a Collins 32V transmitter (heavy!), saw a rare National NSA speech amplifier in nice condition, and plenty more.

     I didn't take any photos -- I brought my smartphone, but not the charger, and after the long, winding drive to the fairgrounds, I knew I would need it to get back to the highway.

     Didn't buy much; a Nye "Master Key," some 4-pin breadboard sockets, a few crystals, and didn't see several vendors I had bought from in the past.  Didn't cross paths with QRP guru Ade Weiss or telegraph key/Enigma expert Tom Perera.  I did wander past the Vibroplex booth.  Never found Heil microphones, G-QRP, Fists or Begali, but there were many buildings I never got into.

     I left as rain began to fall.  Traffic was heavy, with local law enforcement at the intersections to keep the hams moving; Google decided I needed a brief tour of the region, on back roads past the Kil-Kare Speedway to U. S. 35 to and though downtown Dayton, where I saw the Gerstner Tool Chest factory (or possibly just office) along the river and passed by the local "transmitter row" on the way to Ohio 49 -- which had been my route out of Dayton to I-70 from the old Hamvention location at Hara Arena.  So the roads eventually became familiar and I stopped being quite as irked at Google: there was no good path and it had picked the least bad.  Rain was pretty heavy at times but speeds were relatively low, 60 and down; most of 35 was limited-access, multilane, and 49, while stoplighted, is never less than two lanes in each direction.

     I-70 was brisk; I'm still not used to 75+ running speeds and unless I am in a group, prefer to stay at or below the 70 mph speed limit.  Not to incriminate myself, but there was nearly-solid traffic for much of the way home.  After the long and winding road though Greater Dayton, it was almost refreshing, despite light rain and lots of tire spray.  By the time I reached the Indiana border, skied had largely cleared -- but there were dark clouds and obvious rain, away to the southwest.  It zigged, the road zagged, and the other side of Richmond, we met the rain.

     Traffic slowed a bit but I wasn't happy with the visibility and moved into the right-hand lane, where tractor-trailer rigs were even slower.  The rain kept getting harder, and I could barely see the lights and hazard flashers of a semi several carlengths ahead.  He slowed and slowed, the left lane slowed, and at the worst, both lanes were crawling along at 30 mph.  Even that felt a bit too fast for me and I resolved to take the next exit, a mile ahead.  By the time we got there, the rain had only slacked off a little; I followed several cars up the ramp and right out of the rain!  By the time we'd reached the cross street, the cloud had passed and there were no more than sprinkles.  I went across to the on-ramp and got right back onto I-70.  The remainder of my trip was uneventful except for a fifteen-minute wait at a hamburger drivethough a mile from home: I had skipped breakfast and had vanilla ice cream and water for lunch, so food was mandatory; after hours on the road, not having to cook from myself was even more so. 

     So there's my Dayton 2017.  I think the new location is going to work out, though it's likely to be muddy today and tomorrow.
* For the geekily-inclined: The RF PA and modulator of this transmitter use oddball tubes -- V-70-D and 5514, respectively -- that are difficult to obtain.  With some component changes, the more common (still in production, last I heard, though you may need to know Mandarin to read the data sheet) 812 and 811 triodes can replace them.  Designed in the heyday of the vacuum tube, the manufacturer was able to chose exactly what they wanted, and so what if the tubes weren't RCA or Eimac "classics?"  We know the answer to that question now, but who thought the transmitters would still be popular fifty years later?

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Up Early

     It's a real treat for the cats: they got their breakfast a half-hour sooner!  I've got a doctor's appointment early today, which is not so much of a treat, especially since we're going to have to have a conversation about my having discontinued one of the two blood pressure medications she has prescribed.

     Why would I do a fool thing like that?  Because it was zombiefying me.  Sluggish, mentally dull, depressed and steadily worse.  I could barely focus on the simplest of tasks.  Was it helping with blood pressure?  You couldn't tell from my notes: the first medication knocked it down to normal range (with, it is true, occasional excursions: I have a touch of White Coat Syndrome) and the one I dropped may have knocked it down another one or two percent.  That's a very high price for a tiny change and there's no point making the machine run within spec if it screws up the software.  Maybe I'd live decades longer -- in a depressed muddle.  Yeah, no thanks.

     Doctors don't like it when the animals talk back, even more so when we second-guess 'em.  I'm not very good at tactfulness or confrontation; dealing with authority figures, I tend to not say much and try to give answers that will get me back out the door with minimal interpersonal conflict.  But I've got to tell her I won't take that stuff again.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Hey, Look, It Worked!

     You kids and your new-fangled steam-driven contraptions!  When I was young, wind and water power was plenty....

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

A Sunset Over The Stutz Buildings

     Just happened to be in the right parking lot at the right time:

     ....Annnnd now Blogger won't let me post pictures.  Okay, then.  Sorry, folks.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Okay, Monday, Okay

     Into the shower so I can go to work to pay the bills so I can eat and have a place to sleep and eat and shower so I can go to work to pay the bills so I can eat and have a place to sleep and eat and shower so I can go to work to pay the bills so I can eat and have a place to sleep and eat and shower so I can go to work to pay the bills so I can eat and have a place to sleep and eat and shower so I can go to work to pay the bills so I can eat and have a place to sleep and eat and shower and then it will be the weekend again.

     Or did I miscount?

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Something New At I Work On A Starship

     Uh-oh!  Someone's in trou-ble!


Chores And Rewards

     Tam took a photo but she hasn't shared it yet: steak and morels was yesterday's award for getting yard work (mostly) done.  I took a weed-eater to the back yard, made a stab at stretching out the tarp (it spent about a year folded over the raised flower bed out front, Phase One of trying to kill off the weeds that infested that bed after the tree that it was built around had to be removed) and picked up downed limbs.

     The grill had been left uncovered during a recent morning downpour.  It has a lid but I usually keep a big, thick-plastic trash bag over it -- unless it's cooling down after use, which usually takes all night.  I dashed out and covered it during a lull in the rain last week, some hours after the storm began, and I wasn't sure what I was going to find when I swung back the lid--

     Dry. Lots of charcoal.  When I'm done cooking, I just close lid and close up the vents; the burning charcoal uses up whatever air is left and stops, and unlike the cheap stuff, hardwood charcoal is just as good when restarted.  Tam was making a store run, having earlier stopped by the organic/local place and all but met the morel truck, so I asked her to pick up some steaks.

     Let me tell you, they're as good over hardwood charcoal as ever.  The hardwood kindling makes starting it easy: build a three-level ziggurat of half-length sticks with a crumpled sheet of newspaper in the middle, surround with charcoal, apply a lit match and let it burn!  I did so, then went inside to prep the steaks and mushrooms.

     The steaks were easy: a little fresh-ground mixed pepper and some chipotle sea salt, shake (the grocer puts 'em in plastic bags these days, with the traditional paper around that) and leave.  Tam's gets a third of the cooking time of mine, rare vs. medium-well.  The morels?  That's a story. 

     The wild mushrooms were fresh.  Really fresh.  Really fresh: there'd been no exodus of woodland dwellers. I gently shook the morels in a bag, fished them out and trimmed the stems, then set them in cool, salty water for five minutes.  They had passengers!  Bugs and plenty of them.  I alternated soaks and rinsing with setting up the fire and getting the steaks started, and it took four more soaks before I stopped getting insects.  By then the steaks were done; I parked them on the outer edges of the grill, got the morels started (roll them in a little flour and fry in a bit of hot oil, shortening or bacon fat -- you can add some butter but the temperature and time is a bit much for butter alone), and fetched the steaks in to rest on warmed plates in the oven.

     By the time the mushrooms were done, the steaks were plenty happy, melt-in-your mouth tender and suffused with flavor.  They needed nothing in the way of seasoning.  Some fresh vegetables completed a fine meal, enjoyed just as the sun set.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Even A Blind Sow Shows The Right Time Twice A Day

     The venerable old -- and reliably left-leaning, as in already fallen over and won't get up -- Grauniad gets it right from time time, though mostly on the op-ed-ish pages.  F'rinstance, talking sense about the dangerousness of radioactivity.

     Hunh.  You still shouldn't go soaking it it -- but you kind of already are, and so have your ancestors been, way, way back, even before there were any you could really recognize as specifically ancestral.

Another Day, Another Uproar

     And whatever it is, I'm ignoring it.  It's warm and sunny outside.  I'm gonna take me a real bath and then see what kinda warm-and-sunny stuff I can find to do -- take a string trimmer to the back yard, once I drape the trap over the fence to dry out, and then maybe set up the canvas trash skip, fill it up, and see about getting it hauled away.

     The flowerbed out front could maybe use a little help - I'd like to find some kind of hardy perennial to plant in the center of it, and maybe a little this and this to fill in where my wildflower mix went a bit thin.  Or maybe I'll just plant a little more of that -- if some is good, more is better, right?

Friday, May 12, 2017

Remember The Good Old Days

     ...Back when all you had to worry about FBI Directors getting in the news for was if they were slightly too paranoid, or romantically entangled with their immediate underlings?

    Any more, I look at the front page they same way I used to look at the funny pages: amusing fantasies.  Okay, nobody ever speculated about Blondie or The Phantom blowing up the planet, but Dick Tracy's foes came close a time or two.  Too, the writers were a little better than the ones churning out today's headlines, or at least less hypnotized by their own fantasies.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Okay, I Was Goofing Off

     Wasted the morning looking at videos about steam engines and such.  So I'm out of time.  Um, gee -- politics is still insane, just a mirror-image (more or less) of the preceding eight years.  Meet the new boss, loathed by the press.   Which I see as an advantage: if only more of the press looked to Washington with hostile suspicion no matter which party was in power!  But I'm a dreamer.  We'll take what we get when we get it, and, being Americans, we'll gripe all the while.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Hello -- Wrong Dimension?

     Change sneaks up on us unannounced, sometimes unnoticed.  The gap between seniors and sophomores in my second year of High School, or freshmen and juniors/seniors in my first was exactly the change from the boys in button-down collars (and occasionally ties), the girls in cute outfits and everyone in nice, leather shoes to 80%+ of the kids in jeans, T-shirts and tennis shoes; most of my class and the classes after us moved through school in sloppy comfort, while most of the kids ahead of us "dressed for success."  At the time, we barely noticed, but a glance back through yearbooks -- especially at the "casual" photographs -- shows it.

    I like to think I'm a pretty fair short-order cook and I try to keep up with the changes and trends.  Reverse sear?  Got it.  I've cooked over everything from a wood fire to an induction range; I prefer gas, which puts me squarely in the majority of cooks, both professional and amateur.*  I have used food processors and consider them to be gadgets; even a blender is just a time-saver, not a sea-change (nevertheless, thank you, Fred Waring!),

     But while I was mastering the grilled steak and pan-fried bacon-and-eggs, they have snuck up on me with "sous vide" -- which seems to cook smarter rather than harder -- and the ThermoMix, which appears combine aspects of the mixer, the rice steamer, the electric skillet and the crockpot.  Will they catch on?  Sous vide has been a professional trick since the 18th Century; the clever self-heating mixer, not nearly so long.  They both came at me right out of left field.  Cook what how?  Are bananas blue in this odd new world, or are they still the normal bright orange color?
* I do note that the chef at Gallery Pastry Shop prefers induction for omelettes and gas for everything else.   This seems sensible.

Breakfast Sandwich

     It turns out that hot corned beef, a little bacon and an egg fried in truffle butter is a combination you would not want to miss.

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Decadence: Complete?

     I bought black-truffle butter at the grocer's last night.  They only sell it in small quantities, which is a good thing, as the per-unit price is...well, like truffles: excessive.

     But how often am I going to have such a luxury?  The store hasn't had it in the past (as far as I have noticed) and they may not in the future.  And besides (she said, self-justifyingly), they were out of the good rye bread I usually buy and I had to get relatively plebian whole wheat* instead.

     Tellya what, just a little of that stuff on a bacon-and-egg sandwich is, oh my, so good!

     ...And it's just about morel mushroom time at the local/organic place in my neighborhood.  H'mm, I wonder if just a hint of truffle butter would go well with them?
* Gosh, I miss Roman Meal.  Haven't seen it in stores around here for years.

Monday, May 08, 2017

"Low Memory" Crashes

     The new computer had them a few days ago, then they stopped.  Came back again late last night, after a delightful Sunday meal -- steaks and big mushrooms grilled over hardwood lump charcoal,* lightly-steamed Brussels sprouts and baked potatoes -- and I must admit, I was too busy digesting to fiddle with it.

     But tonight, I think I'd better open this thing up and see what's going on.  Backlash in the gear trains?  A loose 10's-carrying arm?  A stuck steam valve?  Something.
* Also hardwood kindling to start the charcoal.  Lighter fluid?  Pfui!  The difference between the good charcoal and the pressed briquettes of my youth is the difference between live music and a scratchy recording.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

It's Sunny

     Get up.  Go outdoors.  I plan to -- you should, too.  This week will stay chilly and turn rainy, so I don't intend to waste a sunny day.

     Oh, here's a puzzle: My back yard is infested by Northern Creeper.  Every day, it doubles the area it covers.  If it can cover my whole yard in 48 days, how long would it take to cover half my yard?

     If a rake and a bag to pick all the creeper vines up and throw them away would have totaled $1.10 back in 1924 when Roseholme Cottage was built, and the rake cost a dollar more than the bag, what price was the bag?

     If it takes five rake-making machines five minutes to produce five rakes, how long would it take 100 rake-making machines to make 100 rakes?

     Get all three right and you're Sherlock Holmes.  I managed two off-the-cuff and vaporlocked on one; had to take it step-by-step to see where I went off the rails.

Saturday, May 06, 2017

Health-Care Mess

     There was a lot of cheering and hand-wringing the other day, when the U.S. House passed a bill to "repeal and replace" the American Healthcare Act, generally known as "Obamacare," though the actual effect seemed to be to modify one or two parts of it, of this stack of law that runs to thousands of pages.  (Here are two different perspectives, pile'o'paper vs. paperwork-intensive industry.)

     Of course, this thing hasn't reached the U.S. Senate yet, so the bill is still ..."...only a bill...sitting here on Capitol Hill."  Knowing that nothing succeeds like success, the President took a victory lap nonetheless.  It's not a terrible political strategy: Congress has been known to stampede like a herd of cattle.

     Say it passes: healthcare will still be messed up.  Oh, the won't fine you for not being able to afford insurance; if you have a pre-existing condition, your state will be able (after some fancy folderol) to shove over to a high-risk pool, where you will be charged more for insurance.  And that's about it, not even enough time for the band to get through a whole verse of Nearer My God To Thee as the lead balloon of Big Federally-Mandated Healthcare goes bumbling onward. Healthcare was messed up before ACA, too.  It's never ideal and it never will be.  The shift from "Major Medical" health insurance that worked like automobile or home insurance to cover major events only, to all-encompassing coverage of "wellness," routine doctor visits, medication, skinned knees and so on is partially responsible.*  It was started as cost-saving move: it's cheaper to prevent heart attacks than to treat them, it's cheaper to find cancer while it is is small and relatively treatable, and so on.  Sure, it is probably better for you -- but that was not, in fact, the point.

     And thus, too, for the various forms of universal health care.  People seize on the things they see as direct benefits and they tend to stick; one side or the other or both uses them as slogans and rallying points, but "free stuff from the government" has a powerful allure, as the media-popular image of a Tea Party protester with a HANDS OFF MY MEDICARE sign from a few years ago made clear.  So don't expect any changes to "fix healthcare."  They make things a little better for the insurance companies; they may remove the most direct and obvious boot-on-the-neck provisions, but in the end?  Same bureaucracy.  Same mess of muddling-though with your health insurance.  Same fight to find "in-network" specialists and the same disparity between you and the guy who can afford to pay for it out of his own pocket -- or a hire an attorney to shovel through his insurance paperwork and get them to pay.
* The poor and careless have been dying badly at a higher rate than the well-off and careful since time immemorial. Don't expect that to change.

Friday, May 05, 2017

A Sunny Friday?

     Probably no sun today.  There's water in the basement.  Not a lot, but it seeps in through every tiny crack.  Much more rain and I may be having to rig up the pump.

     Generally, the basement is set up to survive a little water on the floor.  We have a dehumidifier, things are largely stored off the floor, and if the rain doesn't go on too long, it works out.  Two or three times, the basement has taken on significant amounts of water, including one sewer back-up nine years ago.   The floor drain with its anti-backflow valve has been replaced since, and the city redid the sewer and storm drains the following year.  But the system is still semi-combined and significant, prolonged rainfall is not without risk.

     So here's hoping for the best and for no more rain for awhile.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Superhero Design, Northern Edition

     Looking around the Web, you can easily find Canadian-themed superheroes; many are generally modeled on Captain America, right down to a maple leaf-themed shield. No, clever artists, totally wrong! His shield should be made of solid rock. ...Kids these days....

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

A Note To All Politicians:

     "...I would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren't for those meddling kids," does not constitute analysis or explanation for the consequences of your actions.  The last major political figure to coast through with nearly-universal approval was George Washington -- and he only had it for his first term in office.

     Don't be so shocked when it's your turn, politicians. 

Tuesday, May 02, 2017


     That's what it says on the calendar.  It feels more like Autumn -- chilly, windy and rainy.  But at least there is rain, and, cool though it is, the weather is generally warmer.  The wind has been just about epic -- oh, we've had stronger, but rarely all day long, let alone for days.

     It seems, however, to have sailed me towards better health.  After ending the anti-inflammatory fiasco and returning to a regimen of OTC meds,* I am feeling better than I have felt in quite a long time.  Sunday, I took a long walk (long compared to my recent usual, at least) for the first time in quite awhile.  I still tire easily but things are looking towards looking up. 

     May is not my best month -- loaded with family birthdays (including, after everyone else's, my own, which I dread), always very busy at work, and with the Dayton Hamvention to (maybe) fit in.  Here's hoping it can be a healthy month, anyway.

     Also, once the monsoon has passed, I am so gonna add more flowers out front.
* An aspirin morning and evening, plus acetaminophen as needed during the day.  Seems to work.

Monday, May 01, 2017


     A few weeks ago, I began watching Fortitude, a British-produced thriller set in a remote Norwegian village with a played-out coal mine, a growing scientific research center, ambitious eco-tourism hopes and an ongoing string of mysterious deaths, many if not all of them murders.

     It could have been a dull and claustrophobic set-piece.  It's marvelously not; instead, it plays like a collaboration between Michael Crichton and H. P. Lovecraft that had been produced by the team that made the first season of True Detective.

     While it has not yet managed quite the intensity of TD, it comes as close as anything I've seen; like the American program, the characters are well-realized, full of very real-seeming conflict and contradiction.  The backstory plays out in a series of partial glimpses, a little more every episode, in a manner at once natural and unnerving.  Eight and a half episodes in, there's plenty of conflict but still no clear sense of who to cheer on and who to hiss at.

     I'm enjoying it.

     ETA, 12 hours later: so I got to the end of the episode and kinda got icked out a couple of times.  But I'm still watching.