Friday, August 31, 2018

On "Obstructionism"

     People -- in the media and everyday types online -- decry "obstructionism" in politics, as though a failure to march shoulder-to-shoulder was some kind of failing in Federal, State or local government.

     It's not.  It's baked right in to the way our system of government is set up, and not by accident.  This country was created by and for a large group of people with disparate -- indeed, divergent -- ideas.  It's why the Bill of Rights lists things the government is supposed to keep its hands off -- including some vague, sweeping language about how if it's not mentioned, Uncle Sam can't fiddle with it.  The three branches of the Federal government are each set up to thwart, stymie, slow and trip up one another.  None of this is an accident or an oversight; it's done to keep us from riding roughshod over one another.

     It's not perfect.  It's not even all that successful at limiting government, though it does a better job of that than any other approach.  It's definitely not efficient.  It wasn't meant to be.  The is not stamping out blivets or growing cotton; our elected and appointed pols aren't foremen (forepeople?) or overseers, and thank whatever big thanking-thing you like for that!  --And thank the clever, flawed men who drew up the Constitution and the men and women who amended it.

     Yeah, you didn't get everything you hoped from the Feds, and you got lots of stuff you didn't want.  So does everyone else.  The problem isn't that it's not efficient or united enough -- the problem is they didn't spend enough time and effort fighting one another and whittling their work down to the least-invasive and most widely-supportable version.  "Obstructive?"  They're not nearly obstructionist enough!

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Garage Door: Fail And Fix

     The automatic garage door has been acting...odd.  It was stopping randomly during the closing cycle -- it would stop, the lights would go out, and it would do nothing for a few seconds.  I thought it was either bad contacts on a relay or the motor was stalling, and planned to check it out this coming weekend. 

     Yesterday, it failed badly on Tam; she got it to shut but when I left, later, it balked opening and closing.  So I called in the experts and they showed up this morning.

     It's not a relay.  It's not a mechanical issue cause the electric motor to flake out on excessive torque.  Nope it's a tiny, designed-in flaw, one that took the overhead door tech about five seconds to find: the power transformer is soldered to a circuit board, and hangs from it in one corner.  Over time, the solder joint and foil in the very corner breaks, and you've got an intermittent board.  Often, the substrate cracks as well: heavy transformer, inexpensive circuit-board material.  Repair is iffy, since the thing's already stressed and you're just slopping on more solder.  Not usually stocked, since it's an older board, and about two weeks lead time.  I resoldered the bad joint (it was sure-enough broken) but it was pretty ugly, and by the time I was back up from the basement, the tech had found a new replacement board on his truck. 

     Not cheap, in the way repair at the whole-board level usually is costly, but it's working and perhaps I'll get another ten years or more from it.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Identity Politics Applied To Outer Space

     Sure, why not?  Ever since the film Elysium made the heavy-handed point that the rich were going to head off to clean, well-planned sybaritic lives Innnnn Spaaace and leave the rest of us losers starving on this polluted, used-up ball of mud, it's been taken as a given in some circles.

     Here's why not: there's no air, water,* bacon, broccoli, caviar, bread, carpet, chairs, iPads, condoms, Sansabelt slacks, and so on and on and on.  There are no functioning ecosystems in space and to date, nobody's built one.  ISS recycles quite a lot of water and processes some air, but everything that's up there was brought up there.  Figuring out how to establish an even minimally-closed environment will be a long, slow process and people will die learning.  I doubt any of them will be millionaires.

     What's the use of being the richest man in the Solar system in a space suit at the end of a long supply chain?  Sitting on the Moon, twiddling one's silent-film-villain mustache and sneering down at the planet all your stuff has to be shipped up from?

     Not gonna happen.  About the time you can transport a Caribbean island paradise to the Moon, intact and with a good big hunk of the surrounding sea and all its life, maybe you'll start to see a plutocrat or two in space.  Maybe.

     It's not a refuge for the rich.  It might keep the human race from getting stomped flat by planetary disaster -- but we're going to need viable off-Earth settlements, and that's at least a century away.  It'll be even longer before the livin' is at all easy.
* There's ice.  Given ice, sunlight and a whole lot of money and time, you can get most anything else -- eventually.  But it takes hands.  Working hands.  With all due respect to the accomplishments of Mr. Bezos and Mr. Musk, it's not going to be their hands, it's going to be a bunch of people working for wages.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Another Socilaist Success Story

     Venezuela through the eyes of the BBC.  "Auntie" is in no way a hardline critic of socialism, but they can't overlook this mess.  Venezuela used to be obnoxiously rich; many Venezuelans used to be.  Not all of them were rich and the middle class wasn't all that big a group; there was a sharp divide between rich and poor and not many paths up from poverty.  As oil prices rose and fell, so did the national economy, with the poor and middle class affected the most. Socialism promised to fix that!

     You could say it did: now just about everyone is grindingly poor, living hand to mouth when there's anything to eat, short on everything that makes modern civilization.  --Well, everything but gasoline, heavily subsidized by the government.  But gas smugglers are a problem thanks to the cheap gas and the socialist wizard running the place is talking about letting gasoline prices seek their level.

     It was a rich country.  Now it's not.  They've still got enormous oil reserves, but it turns out of you break the economy, if you shake down everyone who's got more than his neighbors, instead of leveling out, the money....drains away.

     That's what's at stake with the current crop of "Democratic Socialists" here in the U.S.  I don't think they mean ill, just as I'd be surprised if Hugo Chavez had thought of himself as a villain.  Nor would the U.S. fall apart as rapidly as Venezeula's single-commodity economy.  But the end would be the same: a border-to-border slum, the equality of the starving, the kind of paradise a fool creates.

     One of the things that worries me about the wild flip-flops at the Executive level and the deep divide in Congress is positive feedback: every swing goes farther than the preceding one and roughly half the electorate eggs it on each time.  We're in a barely-controlled bus careening down a mountain road, hard rock on one side, a sheer drop-off on the other, and the passengers are cheering every swerve.  How long 'til it goes smash?


Monday, August 27, 2018

Jacksonville Shooting

     When it popped up in my newsfeed, I thought, "Oh, no, here we go again."  A mass shooting in Jacksonville, Florida -- was it going to be political?  Was the shooter a deranged loner?  A hardened criminal?

     ...I didn't expect an outraged chump with a sense of entitlement.  A sore loser, writ too large.  What can anyone say about that?  It's not really a mental health issue, at least based on what has been reported so far.  It's not about poverty or asymmetrical warfare.  It's just...wrong.

     Police were on the scene rapidly, within two minutes according to some accounts.  Despite that, two people were killed and nine more injured.  There's a lesson there, but it's mostly that low-probability events can kill you.

    Expect the usual political aftermath.  One punk shoots up a gamer championship and everyone else gets chided.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Skipping Another Gun Show

     Tam and I were going to go to the big Indy 1500 Gun Show today but I find that I just can't.  I was ill all day Friday and worked anyway; I felt pretty lousy Saturday.  I'm better today but my knee had started throbbing Saturday night, up and down the basement stairs doing laundry, and as I was getting ready today, well behind my planned schedule, I realized I wasn't looking forward to the show, I was dreading it.

     The years take their toll.  2018 was probably my last year for the Dayton Hamvention, what with the months of knee problems that followed.  The new venue takes a miserably long drive, the weather's been terrible and for me, it's no longer the same event it was at Hara Arena.. 

     Shuffling through the 1500, jammed elbow-to-elbow with everybody, has always been difficult for me and anymore, if my right knee gets irritated, it could take weeks to get things back to normal.  That's too much to risk.

     Tam's just as annoyed as you might expect, and with good reason -- my avocation is her work.  We'd been going to the show together less and less -- her local friends who spend more time shooting usually take her -- but she'd hoped to this time.

The Only Thing The Media Loves More

     The current news cycle has reminded me that the news media's second great love -- after young, lively Democrat politicians -- is an elderly, dead Republican politician, especially when he can be contrasted with living ones in a way that makes them look bad.

     It's odd.  They told me John McCain was a scary, dangerous warhawk when he was alive; now that he can no longer cast a vote in the Senate or run for President, he's a distinguished elder statesman. 

Saturday, August 25, 2018

There's a Storm Rolling In

     It's giving me a headache.  I didn't feel too great anyway -- something I ate yesterday morning spent most of the day disagreeing with me -- and the storm, which has turned the sky greenish-white and has been rumbling with nearly continuous, distant thunder for an hour now, has pretty much decided me: I'm not going anywhere today.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Remember When...

     Gosh, remember when the possibility of more embarrassingly tawdry bedroom antics was an additional reason not to elect another Clinton?

     Back in 2016, I saw the main choices as being between a petty, a vindictive person who had a good handle on how Washington works and a petty, vindictive person who didn't.  While I voted for a third choice, the electorate went with the outsider and here we are.  There was going to be a lot of clashing no matter who won and it is interesting when Presidential Derangement Syndrome flips sides.

     I thought there was no really good answer in 2016; the judiciary's getting an influx of Federalist Society-approved judges, at least, and as for the rest--  Time will tell.  Outside of appointed offices, I'm of the opinion that the scope and power of the Presidency is overrated, especially by Presidents and the The Press that covers them; the real action is in Congress, swarming like a busy anthill, complex and difficult to parse.  People don't like that; reporter or Average Citizen, they like to hear about Caesar: one man, easy to follow, noble or venal, Nero, Augustus or Caligula, hate them or love them, it doesn't matter, because it's easier to feel than to think.

     It's a lot more difficult to be fooled if you think rather than feel, though.  Why be anyone's fool? 

Thursday, August 23, 2018

The Cicadas Are Getting Quieter

     The weather has turned a little cooler for a few days, but the cicadas began singing less before it changed.  They must be pairing off -- and alas, once cicadas have wooed and won, the clock is ticking; they've only got a month for their entire adult lives and once the females have laid eggs in little grooves they scratch into tree branches, they're not going to be around for much longer.

     Eggs in the branches, for a creature that spends most of its life underground?  Yep.  You thought kangaroos had it tough?  Newly-hatched cicadas, tiny white insects, plummet to the ground and dig, searching for roots to tap for the sap they live on.  Depending on the breed, they'll be at that for anything from one year to seventeen.  That is, the survivors will; the mortality rate is as high as 98 percent.  So, if you think you've got a lot of them in peak years, bear in mind it could be far more.

     One more odd fact: cicadas sweat!  When it's too hot, they drink heavily and let the excess moisture evaporate through their skin.  If you're thinking most insects don't do that, you'd be right.

     Last night, it sounded like there was one (1) cicada still singing in my neighborhood, and he was slow and mournful -- a bit like this.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Kevin Baker Needs Your Help

     Kevin Baker, long-time blogger at The Smallest Minority, is facing some daunting medical issues and needs your help.  Go here to pitch in.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

It's Raining Again

     We had a moderately dry summer...until recently.  A bit late for the garden but the lawn likes it.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Lawn Mowing, Cicadas And Big-City Nature

     Tamara's battery-powered lawnmower makes pretty short work of our yard.   Faced with the size vs. torque vs. efficiency of DC motors, the maker opted for two small blades with their own motors instead of a single big one.  The resulting swath is wider than any non-riding motor I have operated* and it doesn't mind the occasional overlooked stick.

     Yesterday, I manged to mow all of the front yard and most of the back before my clothing was soaked through from perspiration.  The humidity way way down -- almost fifty percent when I began -- and that made the mid-eighties heat easier to take.  I even cleared away another two feet of the yard-wide "jungle" between the garage and the fence!  Might have a path all the way to the gate yet this year.  I've been trying to clear a few feet every weekend and give it a shot of weedkiller.  There actually stepping stones and gravel all the way, but possibly no barrier cloth underneath. 

     The cicadas have been very vocal this summer and they're starting to hum in unison between the louder cries.  This may indicate those crazy kids are starting to get together.  One has decided the screen of our kitchen window overlooking the back yard is a great place to spend the night, and has been parking itself there a little after sundown.  The day's singing has ended by then, so we don't mind it.  It's a nice green-and-black cicada; Tam tried to photograph it through the window last night, but no dice.  

     There was a chipmunk camping out in the old chimenea for awhile but the neighborhood cats may have got him.  The chipmunk population is well-controlled by our feral cat population -- the rabbits may be a little ahead this year and adult squirrels are a bit large and aggressive for most cats, but they do well against the smaller rodents.  Our possums are pretty stable; there's one or two working the back yards, raiding cat food and eating ticks. The neighborhood raccoon colony remains well-behaved.  Maybe that should be "is well-behaved again," since earlier this year, one claimed our neighbor's garage and refused to be convinced it was a bad idea.  That one got relocated and the rest of them have kept to the storm drains, taking to the trees during rain.  I'm not sure what they eat, other than cat food left out for the feral cats; they're good about staying out of garbage cans.  Raptors remain the biggest predators commonly seen, though coyotes and foxes are occasionally spotted.  We've got a lot of wildlife, for deep inside a large city.
* When I was growing up, my Dad found, after giving up on an enormous (and kind of scary) semi-pro mower that came with the house, a riding mower that hinged in the middle to steer!  The mower deck was underneath, three blades that covered more than three feet per pass.  It was about as kid-safe as lawnmower could be, and so he gave lawn mowing chores to my sister, me and our little brother in turn, as we each were old enough to operate the thing.  That still left the bombshelter/stormshelter "hill" in the back yard, which was too steep for a riding mower and dangerous to mow with a powered push mower.  My Mom spent many summers experimenting with low-growing ground cover, hoping to avoid anyone having to mow it, and eventually settled on crown vetch.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Went To The State Fair Yesterday

     Tam and I went to the Fair.  It was fun!  I was worried my knee might not hold up, but so far, so good.
     Finally rode the Skyride!  Saw baby goats, old steam engines, old tractors, new hand-crafted chairs and hand-knapped flint and obsidian knives, ate Indiana beef, honey ice cream and a bacon-wrapped sausage on a stick.

Saturday, August 18, 2018


     A neat little set of relay interfaces:

     They're for work.

Friday, August 17, 2018

RIP, Aretha Franklin

     We lost a legend yesterday -- you don't need me to tell you that; the mainstream media has been all over the story, with their usual subtlety.

     NPR re-ran an interview with her from the late 1990s that had more substance to it, including a recording of her at the age of 14, performing gospel music in church.  Even then, her talent is unmistakable.  Her father was a preacher and the interview included a brief excerpt from one of his sermons.  His style was impressive -- not quite "hiccup" preaching, but rhythmic, melodic, a well-written sermon in fairly free verse, almost but not quite sung.

     It reminded me of working in radio a lifetime ago.  Sunday mornings in a typical Indiana county-seat station, you ran a lot of religious programs, in hour or half-hour blocks.  If you were lucky, one of two of them would be a "nemo," live services from a local church, carried over high-quality phone lines. The station I was working for had two such programs.  One was from a very large Methodist church, a professionally-produced, multi-microphone, half-hour segment of their morning services that included the sermon and a few hymns.  It was reliably good and back at the station, I could sit back and spend time in the kind of church I'd grown up attending.

     The other one was from a traditional African-American church.  The sound was picked up by a single, high-quality microphone over the pulpit.  The preacher worked in full-on "hiccup" style, a pattern of verse as structured and complex as any old Norse skaldic poem, and included plenty of call-and-response.  The music was wonderful gospel, full of joy.  The entire service was mesmerizing and I looked forward to it every Sunday I worked.  With just one microphone, it took a little gain-riding at the station -- but that single mike meant you were right there, in the middle of everything.  It was some of the best radio I ever had the opportunity to be involved with.

     TV and radio has been playing plenty of Aretha Franklin's better-known work.  Here's one they may've missed, her take on "I Say A Little Prayer."

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Awake Early

     Off see the orthopedic specialist this morning, to get their opinion on my right knee.  It is much improved, despite having to cut physical therapy short after my car wreck.  I need to keep on with the exercises; I gave them up when back pain got bothersome.

     It's all borrowed time with that knee, time I hope to continue borrowing for another five or six years.  If it's got to be replaced, I'll do so shortly before retirement.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Don't Politics Much Any More

    I still pay attention to politics, for the simple reason that no matter which of the two big parties hold the upper hand, I'm in their crosshairs, one way or another -- or more accurately, I'm in the crosshairs of some of their politicians, some of the time.  I'm too old, too female, I own too many guns or I like the Fourth Amendment too much, or the First, or the Second; I'm too pale or too well-off or I work in the wrong industry and no matter what, I'm far too willing to get along with those horrible liberals and those vile conservatives.

     So any more, I mostly just watch.  At the Federal level, the two sides -- and I understand that many people favor one over the other, for reasons they find to be good and sufficient, and feel even the suggestion of moral equivalence is offensive -- have egged one another into positions from which they cannot compromise, not even on the simplest and least controversial of matters.

     About all I can do is watch, note where the fire extinguishers are and keep an eye on the exits.  I'd add, "review the number for 911," but the FedGov is supposed to be its own 911 and that system is pretty busy right now, mostly with its own helmet fires.

     Hey, at least nobody's rioting under the colors of their favorite chariot-racing team, right?  Not so far, anyway.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Tetrazzini: As American As Apple Pie

     Possibly even more so; while the "Italian" dish you know as Turkey Tetrazzini was named for an Italian -- the extraordinary coloratura soprano Luisa Tetrazzini* -- it was invented here in the United States, either at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco, where the singer lived, or at the Knickerbocker Hotel in New Your City.

    Better yet, there's no fixed list of ingredients.  Turkey, a cream sauce of some kind, some sort of vegetable, usually served over thin pasta.  May or may not be baked....

     So when inspiration hit last night, I didn't feel constrained.
     A daytime TV show cooking segment had included the reminder that most ground turkey is optimized to be just about zero fat -- and that keeps you from getting the flavor.  The speaker recommended looking for ground turkey with dark and white meat in it, not the ultra-lean stuff, pointing out that turkey is already plenty lean.  It reminded me that I hadn't made Turkey Tetrazzini for a long time.

     Our market turned out to not have anything but low-fat turkey -- but the very lean turkey and some sweet Italian sausage, about 50/50 by weight, seemed like a good compromise.  Browned, with fresh mushrooms and green onions added near the end of the cooking process, it was a great start.

     I added some diced sweet peppers, the small ones sold in bagged lots, and some greens--  My "old standard" recipe calls for spinach, but there was some spinach/arugula mix that looked good.  Pushed the meat and mushrooms to the sides, poured in the peppers and let them cook while I rinsed the greens.   Snipped the greens in atop the peppers, covered and let it go until they started to brighten up, then poured in cream of mushroom soup and a drained can of diced tomatoes.  I saved the drained tomato liquid and added just enough to the pan to get a nice, thick texture.  Covered and let it cook until everything was warmed through and bubbling.  You can serve it over pasta, or not, and a generous handful of shredded Parmesan on top adds a nice note to the flavor.

     Tam thought it was pretty good -- and so did I.
* She seems to have been remarkably well thought of, with a bubbly personality quite at odds with the stereotype of an operatic soprano.  Her singing is effortless-sounding, even the highest notes.

Monday, August 13, 2018

An Unsquare Egg To Start The Day

     Call it Toad-in-the-hole, or Gashouse Eggs, whatever: an egg fried in a hole punched in a slice of buttered bread.  It's good-tasting and quick.  Make it with sliced white bread, and it's a "Square Egg."  Me, I'm not so fond of store-bought white bread; growing up, we had home-made bread* or Roman Meal, and these days, rye or pumpernickel is my choice.  That gives you flattened-oval slices, and it's darned good.

     You can cook the disc of bread you removed, or break the egg yolk, tear up the left-over bread into little pieces, and drop it into the egg.  It's good either way.
* Mom usually made two or more loaves, because fresh-baked bread is a delight that tends to get eaten up as soon as it is cool enough; so you make one for now, and more for later.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

The Seventeen-Year-Old Cat

     The Mouse-Baby Song has been sung, long, low-pitched and mournful, sung holding the stuffed toy in one's mouth, of course.  It must be so; it is the only way to be sure the Great Cat will hear, and bring the prey near our waiting-place. The Mouse-Baby Song has been sung, and the mouse-baby itself deposited dead-center in a doorway, as is required.

    The ceremony is complete.  Good eating is assured for one more day, despite the blithe, utter unconcern of the monkey-Mommies with the proper rituals as they sit there, staring at the box that make flat pictures that smell only of dust.  They're so unaware of the things that matter!

Saturday, August 11, 2018


     Saturday at last.  I'm still fighting pretty serious depression and general twitchiness, which is almost certainly from the darned steroid.  It was prescribed over my objections and I only took it because I was filling in on the early morning shift and back pain was keeping me from sleeping.  I couldn't take the muscle relaxant or prescription pain medication for fear of oversleeping.  In hindsight, I would have done better to have toughed it out with OTC stuff and stoicism.

     The shift is about eight hours ahead of my usual shift and it's difficult to adjust to -- starting or ending -- over the course of a weekend. Waking time is an hour past my usual bedtime. 

     Still, for a person of my age and formal education, the rate of pay is little short of fantastic.  For the ability to own a house, to drive a fairly decent vehicle, to indulge my hobbies, I'll put up with some mood swings.  I have had mood swings and a lousy income, and if I can't change they first, it's certainly easier with the second.

     Prednisone is right out, though.  Even knowing it's chemical, walking around feeling worthless and sad is as bad as back pain, and more dangerous.

Friday, August 10, 2018

I Think It Might Be Friday

     I'm hoping this is the end of the week, anyway.  It's been a busy one, complicated by medical folderol. 

     Tamara is back, after a couple of weeks house-sitting for a well-known SF author.  She seems to have picked up a mild case of the fancy-pens bug, and even owns a nice fountain pen, which she uses.  That's a big deal for a left-hander; I've known other left-handed fountain-pen users and there are a number of tricks to it, most of which the user has had to figure out alone.  Both the SF author and I are taking credit for Tam's newfound enjoyment of good pens, but the truth is, equability pens sell themselves: she saw a particularly nice rollerball pen online, bought it and found the writing experience so much improved that she looked around for more of the same.  Fountain pens take more looking after than the other kinds* but much like the Chemex coffeemaker, for some people, the extra effort is worth it.

     The lost parts at work remain a mystery; the fellow who stored them says they're not where he put them, and no one else remembers having even seen them.  My basic replacement assortment arrived yesterday and I'm probably going to keep them in my desk.  We're still sorting out our expanded workshop area and I don't want to have to go through this again.  The bulk is so small that I can file them in a manila folder.
* Liquid-ink capillary pens like the Rapidograph, often used as drafting pens, do need similar care and perhaps more, since dried ink will clog them. I used them for many years before deciding they were just too fragile to carry; points for the old-style Rapidographs had become all but impossible to find.

Thursday, August 09, 2018

It Kept Getting Worse

     Going back to bed would have been a good idea yesterday.  Blogging about it didn't make the problem go away and as I struggled to get ready for work, it was harder and harder to do routine tasks.  I finally called in sick-but-hoping-to-improve, slogged through the rest of my morning routine as slow as tar in January (and nearly as brittle), and decided to brave the roads a little after noon.

     It wasn't fun.  Everything was moving too fast and too near.  The intentions of other drivers were difficult to read.  The light was too bright--  Made it in, stuck to small, simple tasks and by four o'clock, I wasn't having to grab corners and doorways to keep from running into them.  Things got a little better and the drive home was only slightly worse than usual.

     Prednisone was already on my allergies list because of how it affects me.  The doctor made a strong case for it this time and I went along.  That was a mistake

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

A Bad Case Of The Klutz

     It's probably the prednisone.  Though I took the last yesterday, the stuff builds up and takes awhile to get out of your system.  Whatever it is, I have been clumsy and out-of-step all morning.  Woke up slowly and face-down and nearly fell getting out of bed.  Cooking breakfast went poorly -- the usual ballet that ends neatly with coffee ready, toast and egg done at the same time, juice poured and drank was instead a jumbled mess, bacon too cold, toast burned, egg barely kept from burning, coffee half-done.

      Later, I nearly dropped a book in the washroom sink.  Can't keep from falling over my own feet and if you saw this blog post before correction, the number of typos would amaze you.

     To make matters worse, yesterday, I was confronted what just how much of a steam-locomotive technician in an all-electric world I have become: I needed a few diodes for a project -- a couple of PTC205s or 1N4007s to sum two 5 Volt power supplies, a few 1N4148s to put across relay coils to suppress the inductive spike when you turn off the juice (and keep them pulled in just a little longer, a cheap "pulse stretcher" that can sometimes prevent problems).  We not only didn't have any, there wasn't even a place for them!

    In the most recent rearrangement and expansion of Engineering, we added three more workbenches and revamped parts storage.  We kept a good stock of connectors and basic passive components, mostly resistors and capacitors, a few relays.  The consensus was that our stock of TTL and CMOS discrete logic could go -- either to deep storage or a surplus dealer -- because it was long past its time.  Anything you once did with TLL or CMOS is either simple enough that now you can just use a relay, or complicated enough to merit an embedded microcontroller.  And as for transistors and diodes, we'd keep a few basic types that would cover most of our needs: 2N3904 and 2N3906 transistors are an NPN/PNP pair that will do for most relay driver and small-signal work, a fairly tough rectifier like the 1N4007 or PTC205 (1kV/1A and 1kV/2.5A respectively) for power supplies, and a smaller diode like 1N914/1N4148 or 1N4001 for other uses.  Add some three-terminal regulators (78nn and 79nn positive and negative regulators in 5V and 12V versions), and that's nearly everything you might want.  With 15-Volt regulators and NE5532As, we'd be set for audio work as well -- and that's not even a shoebox full of parts.

     Yeah, well, nobody saved the shoebox, as near as my bosses, peers and I can tell.  We used to have a wall of ICs, transistors and diodes, neatly sorted by type and number, and they're all gone.  Every last one of them, along the with the little drawers they were stored in.

     I have a few of the parts I need here at home, so I'm providing them for this project; I have ordered more for my employer and they'll restock what I have used.

     But think about it: a whole wall of parts vanished and no one noticed (except, presumably, the guy who threw them out).  Parts that were once critical to the kind of work I do.  At one time, I prided myself on having a foot in both camps: it was 1937 in my basement workshop, and five minutes into the future in my shop at work.  Any more?  Pick your flavor of "old," because that's all there is.

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Oh, What Fun

     Transitioning back to my regular shift after a week on the 3:00 am - 11:30 am shift isn't easy.  Doing so while still on the Prednisone the doctor prescribed for my post-wreck back pain is...frustrating.  I go to sleep dizzy and wake up about 3:00 am, my mind racing.  Between the drug and the lack of sleep, I'm clumsy.  On the last full day of the stuff now, so it will pass, and at least the dose has been low enough that I haven't been too outspoken, but it's darned annoying.

     I made Swedish pancakes this morning.  Figured if I was going to be frustrated, I could at least get a treat out of it.  Rannie Wu was getting underfoot and at one point, I looked down to realize she was sitting, watching me, with her tail in a saucer of olive oil I'd poured for her earlier.  But it worked out; a lot of making those pancakes is letting them cook, which left time to scrub the olive-oiled tail of the Ancient Wu.  --It's a title of respect, she's got awhile to go before she's ancient in years.

Monday, August 06, 2018

Sunday Work, Sunday Supper

     Lawn mowed, a lot of the fallen branches picked up, another few feet gained on the "jungle" that grows in the narrow space between one side of my garage and the fence,* branches removed from the roof and the gutters slightly cleared, and once again a reminder that the very worn soles of my calf-high Carolina Pole Climber boots are not safe on the steep roof of the house.

     Cleaned up after that, spent a little while on a spare laptop with a too-full hard drive (it ended up needing a fresh start, and then more cleaning-up to get rid of the pre-installed stuff I didn't want), then went to the megamart and the grocer's for a start on the week's supplies.  On returning home, I discovered during the unloading process that the temperature and humidity had gone way up.  Just hauling bags in from my car had me perspiring.

     So I made myself a treat, Tam being busy elsewhere: pseudo reverse-sear New York Strip steak, a green salad, and the better grade of instant mashed potatoes.  (Yes, yes, but they're so much easier.)

     Grilled corn and a steak cooked over hardwood charcoal would have been nice.  At 91 degrees and humid, grilling was going to be pretty miserable work.   I seasoned the steak and let it sit out while I considered the options -- steak cooks better and tastes better if it doesn't start cooking cold. There was a little truffle butter left, so I melted that over low heat in a small frying pan, popped the steak in, put another little blob of butter on top of it and let it alone for five minutes.  Kept turning it every five minutes until it felt done enough, while boiling water for the potatoes.  Uncovered the steak and raised the heat a bit while making the potatoes -- "Remove water from heat, add potato mix, stir with a fork until fully blended, let sit for one minute" -- and I'd already made and dressed the salad.  Loaded a bowl of salad and put meat and mashed potatoes on a plate, ready for supper.

     This left a nice pool of pan drippings and truffle butter in the frying pan.  H'mm, mashed potatoes of the blander sort, and that stuff--  Dipped a finger in and gave it a taste, and it was better than I could have hoped, steak and truffle flavors blended.  I made a well in the potatoes and poured it in.  It didn't elevate the instant to match home-made, but it stepped them up quite a lot.
* Every Spring, I tell myself that this year, it's not going to get ahead of me.  With the knee problem, this year I didn't even reach the point of being able to lie to myself about it.  As time and weather permit, I have been chopping back a few feet and spraying it with brush killer.  I might reach the far end by Autumn.

Sunday, August 05, 2018

"Round Like A Circle In A Spiral, Like A Wheel Within A Wheel..."

     The windmills of....breakfast?

     I slept in and woke up, hungry and wanting a change from the usual.  A refrigerator check turned up one (1) round slice of Colby Jack cheese and nice deli salami, thin-sliced and nearly the same diameter.

     Several years ago, Tamara returned from a house-sitting gig* praising the usefulness of a single-egg frying pan for solo breakfasts.  You've probably seen them, about the diameter of a DVD, looking like dollhouse hardware.  They heat up quickly and most have a relatively thick bottom, so the heat is very even.  They'll fry an egg nicely in minimum time.  Of course, I had to buy one; they're inexpensive.

     At the stove, tiny skillet on the burner, a bit of butter melted, egg dropped in with a broken yolk† on top (I pour 'em in and then take a toothpick to the yolk) and cooked 'til the bottom's nearly done.  Flip, lay a slice of cheese on it and and a slice or two of salami over that.  The turned side will be cooked pretty quickly, so you flip the whole thing, add another slice or two of salami on that side of the egg, give it no more than thirty seconds and flip again for another thirty.  At that point, you will have strata of warmed-up salami, cooked egg, melty but not molten cheese and more salami.  The who thing should be set on doubled paper towel to drain and cool a bit.

   I had mine between two slices of toast, buttering the toast with what was left in the little frying pan.  It would be good all by itself, or with some other starch; hash browns, for instance.  H'mm, hash browns -- maybe I need a second one-egg frying pan for them!

     Oh, the post title?  Here:

* Yes, it's true: I send my lodger out to house-sit for science-fiction writers, hoping she'll soak up the ambiance and re-radiate it on her return.  It's just one of the little things I do instead of writing....

† You may prefer the yolk intact.  In that case, you'll probably want to drape a piece of salami over the egg before you flip it.  This should help with overcooking and breakage.

Saturday, August 04, 2018

Better Corned Beef Hash

     Canned corned beef, diced fresh potato, a little spice (parsley, onion flakes, black pepper) and a quarter-cup of water or a little more:
     Ten minutes in a covered skillet, flipped, cook a little uncovered to dry it, add an egg on top and give it five-plus covered, until the egg is as done as you like.

     Much better than the canned version.  You can beat it with deli or home-cooked corned beef brisket, but those take a lot more effort.

Friday, August 03, 2018


     My RX350 has tire pressure sensors.  Probably.  So far, I have good tire pressure and a warning icon showing on the dash.  I'm either doing the setting procedure wrong or some part of the system isn't working.

     So there's a project for the weekend.

Thursday, August 02, 2018

Breakfast Omelet

     A nice little omelet, filled with, oh, gee, a little bacon, a little Canadian bacon, a little salami, some chopped green onions and small sweet peppers, and a tablespoon or so of leftover elote corn salad -- corn, crumbles of pale cheese, cilantro and a little mild heat from some manner of hot pepper.

     It's a tasty combination!

*  *  *
     I occasionally get mildly snarky comments about the amount of food blogging I do, amid the philosophizing and commentary.

     Here's the deal: I think food, enough of it and a variety of it, is essential to civil society.  Yes, yes, you'll die without it, but it's more than that.  People who are just getting by, or who aren't getting by, people who spend all their time trying to provide the basics, food, shelter, they're easy prey for any fast talker who promises more; they're closer to deciding that other people are merely resources to be exploited; they'll buy into the idea that if only some group or class is wrung out, driven out, eliminated, everything will be better.  They do this not because they're stupid or gullible, not because they're criminals, not because they were born hating, but because they are human, and they're hungry.

     It's nice to think that the desperate are all noble Jean Valjeans, doing horrible things only because they must.  For too many people, it becomes a way of life.  It's best stopped before it starts.  Hungry children can easily grow up to be misfit adults.

     Conversely, in a healthy society, there's plenty to eat, of many different sorts.  We're omnivores; we are comforted by having food around and all the more so when it's not a supply of identical bland, balanced bars of survival rations.

     "Feed a man a fish, and he eats a meal; teach him to fish, and he'll have food for life."  And teach him to set up and run a fish farm, and he'll feed his family, your family and a whole lot more -- and at every level of eating, catching or raising fish, he's likely to be too busy to stick a knife in you.  Engaged in activites, he's likely to become more engaged in the society around him; able to look farther ahead than the next day's meal, he's likely to make better decisions.

     So I blog about food.  It's not just food.


Wednesday, August 01, 2018

That's Not How This Works

     Way Scarier If You're Ignorant Department: "Donald Trump will be totally responsible for every downloadable plastic AR-15 that will be roaming the streets of our country." --Massachusetts Senator Edward J. Markey, quoted in the New York Times.  It's almost fractally wrong.

      The reality is something else -- there are no undetectable plastic rifles and even the Defense Distributed 3-D printable one is only a smallish part to which a lot of big metal parts need to be attached, like a barrel, bolt and trigger assembly. There are no plastic versions of rifle barrels, period. There are no all-plastic bullets, period. There is a single-shot, mostly plastic handgun...but it needs a metal firing pin and metal bullets to be anything more than a paperweight.

      In a world where there are 3-D printers and thumbdrives (not to mention peer-to-peer file sharing over networks), this fight is already over. About all we can do is pass laws that are 21st-century versions of the 19th-century British law that required a man with a red flag had to precede the dangerous menace of horseless carriages to protect the public. Call me Pollyanna, but I think we'd make more progress, faster, if we set to work to fix the things that make a man want to harm his fellow men.

     Human life has never been worth more, over more of the world, than it is right now.  Not because we banned things, not because one particular religion is ascendant, not even because we're better people -- but more people are working at being better people, and more of them are better-off.  And more of them have the time to do this: they live longer, they're more literate, they're not having to spend every single minute just struggling to make it through the day.  Want a better world?  Figure out how to do more of that, for more people, without pushing down the ones who already have it.  It doesn't have to be a perfect answer.  It only has to be good enough.