Monday, December 31, 2018

And The Calendar Turns

     2018 was....  Well, it was pretty bad, mostly because we lost my Mom. 

      I just hope 2019 will be okay.
    

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Yes, I Have Posted Nothing All Day

     I lazed about.  Finally bestirred myself to go to the store about five p.m. to get some food, including New Year's supplies.  Imagine my horror to discover that not only did our corner market not have any corned beef, they haven't received any from the mother ship!

     So tomorrow, I'll have to look elsewhere.  Seriously, what kind of supermarket chain fails to stock corned beef for New Year's -- and, for that matter, blackeyed peas?  They normally have a few cans on the shelf -- all sold out, and no sign they'd stocked extra.  Heathens.  At least they had cabbage.

     Dinner tonight, a deli pork roast and chicken breast, cut bite-sized and heated up with shishito peppers while they were blistering, with fresh microwave-steamed, halved Brussels sprouts (with garlic cloves and diced orange bell peppers) on the side.  I fried some basmati rice Tam had gotten with her Indian takeaway lunch to add to my meal.  Some sumac on the shioshitos for a lemony kick (a real chef uses real lemon but I didn't know to buy any and I had sumac), and leftover hot, red, oniony Indian hot sauce for the meat: a fine meal, with very little work.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Swedish Pancakes, Revisited

     For years, I've made non-rising Swedish pancakes using a simple recipe: a couple of eggs, a cup of flour, a cup of milk.  They're delicious!

     This is the base recipe for a lot of baked and fried breads,* so there's a lot of room for experiment -- add melted butter and bake in well-greased custard cups at 450°F, and you'll get popovers, which balloon up, leaving huge hollow interiors to be filled with anything from butter and jam to scrambled eggs and bacon.  Make the batter thinner, and you'll get crepes.  A few weeks ago, I happened on a pancake recipe that used melted butter and much less flour.  Tam had a breakfast meeting this morning, so I decided to give it a try.

     The pancakes are remarkable!  The batter's so thin that it spreads out to cover the 10-inch square, flat griddle I usually use, but tough enough to lift and flip with a normal flat spatula once the bottom is cooked.  To serve, I folded them twice to make plate-sized squares; halving the recipe produced enough batter to make two of them, eight layers of wonderfulness with a little butter and sugar between each one.  You can use jelly or jam instead (h'mm, there's still sweet orange marmalade in the fridge...).  Either way, be sparing, it adds up quickly.  I'll be making these again.

     Thinking in terms of what can be done with popovers and flatbread, I'm pondering what a savory version might be like -- leave out the bit of sugar, maybe add a little pepper and parsley (etc.) to the batter and layer with scrambled egg, bacon or crumbled sausage to serve.
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* Using the term in a very broad sense.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Chicken Every Sunday

     It's a book.  Chicken Every Sunday: My Life With Mother's Boarders.  It was written so long ago that it's practically science-fictional today.  Rosemary Taylor's family were certainly go-getters, and in the American Southwest starting around the turn of the century -- that's 19th-to-20th, mind -- her father's succession of business ventures and the up-and-down finances that they led to resulted in her mother taking in boarders, which led to building a bigger house and--  Well, and so on.

     It's a charming book, one of the thousands that were printed up as Armed Services Editions pocket-sized paperbacks and provided to our troops during WW II; it was even made into a stage play and a film (though the cinematic edition sounded as if it might be rather sappier than the book).

     It's heartwarming and good fun, but it's also a reminder of a time of upward mobility and great possibility for those who were open to see it and do the work.  It was a time -- and an attitude -- so distant now that it seems like something from one of my "Hidden Frontier" worlds.  In a time of grim, dark fiction -- and doom-and-gloom on the evening news -- I recommend it to your attention.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

A Full Sink, A Full Breakfast

     The kitchen sink's gone slow again.  We're sparing of the garbage disposal but it's a long drain with multiple bends (all but one are 45s, at least) and an air admittance valve instead of the usual vent.  Running a dishwasher doesn't help and it's five years or more since the last repair.  Hoping to coax it past the first of the year and if simple fixes (it's got a rubber slip fitting near the connection to the main stack) don't help, I'll get a plumber.

     In the meantime, there were mushrooms left that I didn't fix for Christmas.  It was about time to use them up, so I did: I'm feasting on bacon, eggs and mushrooms, with coffee and toast.  On the toast, an occasional treat: orange marmalade!  I like the sweeter versions -- yes, the "...with a name like...." brand and I picked up a loaf of white bread.  (Should have looked for something better than "sandwich bread," which has become too much like cake to suit me; but oh well, it toasts okay.)  Holiday indulgence!

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

A Pome.

'Twas the day after Christmas as Roseholme Cottage, you see;
Just one creature was stirring and that creature was me.
Rannie cat was asleep next to Tamara with care
Because the Hogfather had already been there.
Huck in his corner and me at my desk
Rested content with the usual mess.

The dishes were ready, all stacked in the sink
I've had a nice breakfast, with coffee to drink.
And now, boxing day, I'll be back to work
(For we've got some big doings, which I mustn't shirk).
And, oh blog readers, in that vast world out there,
Merry Christmas to all, Happy Holidays to share!


Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Merry Christmas!

      The very best of Season's Greetings to you and yours from me and mine, which I guess would be one and a half cats (I can't claim more than a half-interest in Miss Rannie, though she and Huck must both be rated as 150% cats, so that still leaves 100% for Tam) and all the characters of the Hidden Frontier, from the starship captains to Pertaineth Apperson (you haven't met her yet) to the various Mary Sues and assorted tuckerized friends.

     Tam and I exchanged gifts last night -- a fine scarf in a variation on the "Strawberry Thief" pattern* and the promise of a WW II tank (darned slow shipping!) in Lego-like form for her, and an excellent Conklin "All-American" pen for me, with bottled ink in Diamine's "Antique Copper" and Mont Blanc's "Red Fox" red to accompany it.

     I made "raccoon hash" this morning, which you will be relieved -- you'd better be -- to hear contains no raccoon at all.  Tinned corned beef and canned diced potatoes are both very salty, so rinsing the potatoes before starting therm in the skillet, then dicing the beef and "washing" a bit at a time in a bowl of water (throw it in, let is soak for a minute or two, then fish it out to drain on paper towel) reduces the saltiness without taking away the flavor.  I set some aside to make a no-potato version for Tam and served it with fried eggs.

     Christmas dinner at Roseholme Cottage will be non-traditional: if the weather clears as predicted (or even if it doesn't), we'll grill a couple of steaks and enjoy them with mashed neeps (turnips and rutabagas) and artichokes
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* This is both a pretty thing to have and a multi-level joke, a William Morris pattern made on automatic machines and with the thrushes replaced by their saurian ancestors.  Arts?  Crafts?  Robots?  We got 'em.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Peace On Earth. Now Clock In.

     The very best and merriest of Christmas Eves to you!

     Me, I've got to work.  We sometimes get "early release" on the major holidays but it looks like I'll be covering a job that will take me right up to my scheduled out time....so my boss says I can start a couple of hours late.  Fair enough!

Sunday, December 23, 2018

"I'm Not Standing Still For You!"

     It's one thing, Rannie being the sort of cat who occasionally bites people's ankles.  I don't like it, but she is a cat, after all, and that is something that they have been known to do.

     It's another thing to be a grumpy cat.  A cat Rannie's age is entitled to a certain rather large amount of grumpiness.

     But it's something else entirely to be a cat who gets very grumpy with a person who won't stand in one place to be bitten.

     Rannie likes to make a couple of trial passes first, not-quite smoothing on my ankles, getting lined up, working out range and distance before closing in to nip.  And if I take heed of her efforts and step away, she utters plaintive, annoyed yowls.  How dare I!  So rude!

     All ways are the cat's ways -- except for this.  No, Rannie, I will not stand still to be bitten.

     She's telling her woes to one of her toy mouse-babies right now.  At last count, she had four on my bed, which all arrived after I changed the bedding last night.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Have Not Done Much

     Relaxed all day (other than changing the bedding and washing it, and making an omelet for breakfast), and I'm getting ready to go to bed.  And there's Saturday.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Half A Can Of Spam

     The real stuff, mind you -- introduced in 1937 in a Depression-thrifty effort to use pork shoulder, which wasn't selling as well as the rest of the pig, Wikipedia says it it was the first shelf-stable canned-meat product. (I'm not so sure -- the Brits had tinned "bully beef" during WW I, though it didn't get rave reviews).

     First or not, Spam is tasty and showed up just in time to feed solders and civilians around the world during WW II -- the Brits and Russians welcomed it and so did our troops, despite giving it a number of mocking nicknames.

     It's not a health food, no more than bacon.  They make a low-salt version that's pretty good but the main appeal for me is that it's a meat product I can keep on the top shelf of the pantry for times when the fridge is bare and we're hungry.  This morning we were out of breakfast meat and I started to reach for the Spam but hesitated: a whole can is way too much for breakfast for two.

     Then I remembered: the "big-box" store sells little seven-ounce cans of Spam and I'd bought one.  That's just about right for a two-person breakfast.

     And it was.  Hormel turned those hard-to-sell pork shoulders into some good food.

     It's worth keeping some canned meat on the shelf.  Most kinds are good for a couple of years and can make a snow day, a lazy day or a forgetful day better.  Spam is a classic and good corned beef is well worth adding (some versions are quite salty.  Rinsing them helps.  Keep canned diced potatoes, too, and you can make your own corned beef hash, better than the pre-made versions).  With a two-year rotation cycle, I don't know if you can call it "preparedness food," but it's useful to keep around.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

"Harvey," Then And Now

     I miss the days when the only newsworthy Harvey in Hollywood was a six-foot, three-and-a-half-inch invisible rabbit (well, a pooka) that had befriended Jimmy Stewart. The pooka was said to have "conquered time, space and any objections;" our more recent Harvey, not so much. --Or perhaps he has; the legal case against him seems to be in some difficulty.

     However it comes out, even Mr. Weinstein's defense admits to immoral behavior while denying any of it was actionably extralegal.  That's not a reputation that goes away; such behavior is far better avoided in the first place rather than fought over in court on the slim basis of intent and interpretation.  Or, as the other Harvey's pal Elwood P. Dowd admonishes, "...my mother used to say to me, ...'In this world, Elwood, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant.' Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. You may quote me."

     Better to be nice in the first place than to be even a little creepy and have to try talking your way out of it.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Sinus Pain: The Night Stalker

     Last night was the second night in a row that sinus pain woke me up.  I'm no Carl Kolchak* but it seemed like that merited taking some action.  Took care of the worst of it with a serious sinus rinse, followed by a cup of mint tea and a few peanut butter crackers before and after a couple of ibuprofens and an acetaminophen.  I got another couple of hours sleep before deciding to get up and make breakfast.

     Regular nasal rinses make a big difference in my comfort.  Despite that, it's hard to make myself take time for them.  I try not to do them when Tam is likely to notice, since she find the idea of deliberately putting water† up one's nose revolting, which make me snicker, which makes her giggle because it's all too silly for words, and then we're both laughing.  It had been some time since the previous rinse and winter -- even as mild as this one has been so far -- is not a good time to fall behind.
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* It's been pointed out before, but between Kolchak, Special Unit Two and Harry Dresden, Chicago is clearly a dangerous vortex of supernatural forces.  Which explains a lot.

† Distilled water, there are plenty of horror stories about using tap water for this.  Besides, Indiana tap water is so hard that I'd be at risk of developing lime scale.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Astounding It Is

     There's a book out you might enjoy.  It's called  Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron H-bb-rd, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction and it covers the lives and interactions of some of the major names in the field.  (The mincing of the last name listed is mine.  It's best not to utter it whole, or the names of the movements with which he is associated, too.)

    When I was young -- and a very different world it was, where every middling city had its own radio-parts shop (and, pretty quickly, a Radio Shack as well*) and candy stores would happily sell a pack of smokes to a Junior High student† -- and first discovering science fiction, there were giants to be found: Robert A. Heinlein, Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke. Behind them -- and scores of other, lesser-known writers -- stood an imposing editor, John W. Campell, Jr.  If you were a kid, they were a cross between the faces on Mount Rushmore and the Greco-Roman pantheon, something more than mere mortals.

     Also, librarians felt that all of Heinlein's juveniles and pretty much everything Asimov and Clarke wrote was a-okay for young people to read.  So they loomed large, bigger than movie stars, smarter the politicians, adults who wrote books for you without talking down.

     They were, of course, all quite human.  Campbell had gone in for various kinds of fringe pseudoscience in a big way starting a decade before I was born; the galaxy-spanning Asimov shunned air travel and preferred to work in a windowless room; Heinlein was haunted by ill-health.  They were their own creations -- complicated, interesting people.  (Okay, I think H-bb-rd was a BS artist through and through, but he's all over the wartime and postwar SF scene, and has much to answer for.)

     Alec Nevala-Lee has done a good job of telling us what they were like -- from their formative years, through the Campbellian "Golden Age" and beyond.  It's a balanced look at a group of people who were sometimes not so sure of their own centers and makes for fascinating reading.  The Kindle version is low-priced, too!

     I have linked the book here -- if you nip over to Tam's blog and buy it via her sidebar Amazon link, it'd be a help for her budget.
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* With which my fellow young hobbyists and I had a kind of love/hate relationship, especially when compared to the "real" radio parts place.  Sure, Radio Shack had some parts the old place didn't, and they were open evenings and weekends, but it was so screamingly tacky.  Shoddy, even.  And yet, when I needed type '27 indirectly-heated triodes for a Science Fair project, who had 'em?  Yes, Radio Shack.  The professional place didn't stock 1920s-vintage tubes.

† Guess how I know.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Too Many Memories

   Too many memories, in too small a space, with too many people.  I lasted about twenty minutes and then fled.  Did get to meet the newest two additions to the extended family, who were asleep at the time.  I'm still only a great-aunt but it's only a matter of time until the oldest nephew's oldest child does something about that.

     My sister shared a thought that I have had, too: our mother lost her father when she was in her twenties, and her own mother a decade later. We never realized how much a void that must have left.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Lower. Back. Pain.

     I don't know what I did -- worked in a very tight space last week, got myself a new set of kidney stones, or having failed to make the proper sacrifices at the correct altars all being plausible possibilities, with a side order of ten-year-old-mattress (it's complicated: replaced one awhile back but not the other) and minor yard work.  But it's painful indeed and sleeping on a hot pad didn't help.  It's been getting worse over the past four days.

     OTC painkillers have been taking the edge off so far.  Just took the day's first and hoping for the best.

     Of course, whatever remains of Family Christmas -- fragmenting after my mother's passing, with seven or eight young families of the generation after mine forming their own connections and gatherings -- is today.  I'll probably just drop off gifts.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Return To Space

     Virgin Galactic got a manned space vehicle into -- or very near -- space the other day, depending where you think space starts.  FAA and the U.S. military say it's fifty miles, about eighty kilometers, but everyone else prefers 100 km.  The flight cleared fifty miles, so they get astronaut wings -- and at that altitude, wings aren't much use.

     Naturally, nitwits on Facebook are grousing about the "wasteful" flight, not to mention the excursions-for-the-rich to follow.  The adventurous and well-off are our civilization's beta testers, largely self-funding, and I'm happy to see 'em go to the edge of space, especially if that means my great-nieces and -nephews can someday make the trip at regular passenger rates, and have somewhere to stay when they get there.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Spirit Of The Season

     ...Should not include bomb threats.  Hanging is too good for the culprit but I'll settle for seeing them caught, given a perfectly fair trial, and being locked away for a long, long time.

     For me, this is a stressful time of the year and I'm not sure how well I am coping with it.  Better than the mad bomb-threatener, worse the the blissed-out, grinning people inside my TV set.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

It Was A Day To--

     I had the day off, and it was warm, or warmish, upper 40s, so it was a day to start up the scooter with stabilized fuel, and ride it around the block a few times.  I would have gone farther, but it was raining and my wrists are hurting -- wrists and arms, really, and one shoulder, from some work I was doing earlier in the week.

     Built a little charging center of the office, nothing much and there are better designs, but it provides a place for the iPads and Surfaces that isn't on top of the big printer.  That should help.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Computer's Got A Brand New Bag

     From a BBC article on "Is Consciousness An Illusion?" this gem:
     "Computers in the 1960s were not very good at chess. Now they play the saxophone like John Coltrane." 
     So...found a hobby they liked better than chess, then?   A is not B, dammit, and until I catch Kasparov doing a jazz solo or read a report of Coltrane checkmating a chess champion, I'm going to look askance at that statement.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Documentary Seen On The Miskatonic University PBS Station?

sed -i 's/Lovecraft/Churchill/g' reality.ours

     "Even though large tracts of the Old World and the New have fallen or may fall to the Great Old Ones and all the non-Euclidian madness of Cthulhu's rule, we shall not flag or fail.  We shall go on to the last grasp of our sanity.  We shall fight in Arkham, we shall fight in the sea off Innsmouth and in the Pacific deeps of R'lyeh, we shall fight with blasted minds and shaking hands in the numbing cold of Antarctica, we shall defend our world, whatever the cost may be.  We shall fight in the graveyards, we shall fight in the asylums and forgotten hollows, we shall fight though our brains be put in cans and carried off by fungi from Yuggoth; we shall never surrender and if, which I can barely believe, this reality or a large part of it were swallowed up or somehow horribly changed, then our Civilization beyond Time, armed and guarded by our scholars and wizards, would carry on the struggle, until, in the face of a blind and uncaring universe, the hidden world, with whatever remains of its reason and force, reappears in an attempt to rescue the shattered remains of normal humanity." 

    Alternating one's reading between cosmic horror and mid-Twentieth Century history can produce unusual mashups.  I'd blame Charles Stross but he'd just point me to Tim Powers.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Writing

     It's frustrating -- when I am minded to write, I barely have a free minute.  When I have available time, I'm too sleepy or off on other things.  But I'm doing what I can.

     Hoping to get enough new stuff together to do a little collection.  There are a couple of novels in the pipeline after that, one in the main "USAS Lupine"  storyline and another one set during the War that tells the story of a Far Edge researcher and a USSF radio operator.  Then there's the still-developing story of how the Earth was very nearly rammed by an asteroid deflected by a rogue Far Edge mercenary, and how the lone survivor of a USSF expedition prevented it (with a little help from level-headed types on both sides).  That one's even got space pirates! 

Sunday, December 09, 2018

Hire It Done!

     Overwhelmed by the fallen leaves, with a bad knee and an inflexible deadline for the last city trash pick up of bagged leaves, I hired it done.

     There are clearinghouse companies that match work and workers; I've used one for lawn-mowing in the past, when neither Tam nor I had time, and they did a good job.  The same company coordinates leaf removal.  It's not cheap, but it's not excessive, especially considering the alternative.

     What showed up was a father-daughter team with basic equipment, on a bitterly-cold day when the leaves were sticking to the ground.  The father pointed that out, I agreed and asked him just do what he could; if some leaves were left, that was okay as long as the big leaf piles (I've been able to do a little raking) and loose stuff went away.  I told him to ignore the patio, where I have managed to accumulate a loose pile of fallen limbs and small branches, cut-down saplings and yanked-up Winter Creeper.

     Two hours later -- two hours of steady effort -- the front and back yards were 95% leaf-free, and he asked if I wanted the brush pile on the patio hauled away, naming a price well under what it was worth to me to have it gone.  Darned right I wanted it removed!  He was happy to extricate the fire bowl and utility wagon from under the heap and I was happy to have my patio back.

     Why didn't I do this last year?

Saturday, December 08, 2018

About "Trust"

     My short piece on trust garners some interesting reactions.  Not everyone gets my point; they talk about trusting others as though it was a choice.

     That's not the kind of trust I was writing about, or not only that.  You are -- right now! -- trusting others, or you wouldn't be connected to the Internet; you would not be connected to utility power, you wouldn't eat any food you didn't raise or grow yourself and you certainly wouldn't drive a car on the public roads or walk on the sidewalks and you would never, ever cross the street on foot.  You'd spend all your time safe inside the bunker you dug for yourself, never picking up the mail (anthrax or worse!) or coming into contact with others. 

     Trusting others isn't a bug and it's not an optional feature, either.  It's an inherent part of being engaged in a functioning society.  It doesn't keep you from noting the location of exits, from being mindful of suspicious persons or situations, or from avoiding risk you deem excessive.  And, yes, there are people who exploit that inherent trust -- but understand that they're rare.  Mailbombers and mass shooters grab headlines but you're more likely to be hit by lighting.

     Someone within a few miles of you has staggering quantities of poisonous chemicals; someone not too far away has a basement armory that would beggar belief.  All around you are people whose jobs, hobbies and/or skill sets include deadly capabilities and the means to use them.  Most of the people around you operate automobiles or other motor vehicles, one of the most deadly contraptions human ingenuity has yet devised, implacable machines that rend flesh and crush bones, and you don't cringe away in fear.   You trust them to stop at red lights and stop signs -- and they do, 99.9999999% of the time.

     I trust people -- and so do you.  Every time you get on an elevator, you trust the people who designed it, installed it and maintain it.  You trust the company that made the hoist cable and the brakes, that made the electric motor and the controls.  You step right in the thing, the doors close -- and it carries you to your selected floor.  Most of the time, you don't even think about it,* you just push the button and off it goes.  And that kind of trust is repeated over and over, by you and all around you, a network of shared trust.  Yes, some people take advantage of it and you've got to be alert for that -- but that doesn't keep you from relying on others, all day, every day, often without even considering it.
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* I'm not a fan.  Occasionally, my work takes me to the tops of tall buildings, carrying tools or  gadgets, and I am reminded that I am much less a fan of a hundred flights of stairs.  I get on the elevator, trusting.

Friday, December 07, 2018

Trust

     You know what? I trust people. I have to -- and so do you.

      I have heard a lot of elitist nonsense from the anti-gun side, and a little from the pro gun side. And I get that the world is stuffed to the gills with yahoos; I've seen "People of Wal-Mart." I qualified for Mensa; I'm supposedly smarter than most of the folks I meet and I'm pretty sure that's so.

     But many of those "yahoos" have skills I lack. Some of them are just better people than I am. And the truth is, most people are all right. I've had cars conk out in bad neighborhoods and had three guys show up to push the thing to a gas station; I had a muffler fall almost off in a wealthy neighborhood, had to pull into the nearest driveway and wire it up out of the way, and the homeowner came out to see if everything was okay. The rich guy didn't run me off. The poor guys didn't rob me.

     You trust these people. You have to. You trust your next-door neighbor with natural gas and a charcoal grill. You trust his seventeen-year-old kid at the wheel of their car. You trust the utility workers to not zap you or poison your city water. You trust the Mormon down the block, with a couple of year's worth of food and who knows what else socked away in his crawl space. You trust the drivers of enormous tractor-trailer rigs on the highway, and the garbage man in his huge truck. You do so every day and you don't think about it much.

     And your neighbor with a gun or two, or twenty? You're trusting him, too, like it or not. The odds are *hugely* that he's not out to get you -- the firearms death rate (other than suicide) in the U.S. is one third of the automobile death rate. (Add firearm suicides in and the rates are within a tenth or two of being equal, a little over 10 per 100,000.)

     If you want a safer world, get to know the people around you. If you want less violence, make more friends. The world is full of people. Most of them are pretty much like you: they want to get along. We mostly hear about the crazy and the wicked -- but they are a tiny minority.

     (This is a rerun, but I think it's worth rerunning.)

Thursday, December 06, 2018

New Story!

     A new vignette at I Work On A Starship:

     "Of course, it took one of the Power Room electricians to find it.
      And of course, it was the ternary degausser.  The degaussers don’t run very often but they’re absolutely essential. ..."

     What's a ternary degausser?  Well, it's got three parts. but they're all the same.  And if you don't have one, eventually it gums up the stardrive. That would be bad.

Witty Repartee Or Poor Speech Recognition?

     Think what you will of Amazon's "Alexa," it's the handiest kitchen timer I've ever used.  Just sing out what you need, when you need it -- but she is a bit nit-picky and perhaps I shouldn't call her on it:

     "Alexa, set a timer.  Ninety seconds."

     "TIMER SET FOR ONE MINUTE, THIRTY SECONDS."

      "Alexa, define 'pedantic.'"

     "AS A NOUN, 'PIG' IS USUALLY DEFINED AS A SWINE; OR, A COARSE OR OBNOXIOUS PERSON.  AS A VERB..."

     "Alexa, wow!  Isn't that kind of harsh?  I didn't mean to hurt your feelings."

     "I DON'T KNOW ABOUT THAT."

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Unvacation

     Today and the rest of the week was supposed to be a mini-vacation.  For today, at least, it's been cancelled. 

     There's a thing that hasn't been working, a very background sort of thing that no one notices until it is really needed.  It's been a problem off and on for years and for the last couple of years, it hasn't worked at all.  Because it's so much a background thing, of interest only to Engineering, it's been difficult to much attention to it.  We replaced an expensive and difficult to access component of the thing, and after a very sort stretch of proper function, it hasn't been working at all.

     To troubleshoot all of it, I need the assistance of a couple of specialized trades.  Co-ordinating them has been tricky.

     Yesterday morning, unexpectedly, one of the specialists told me they were going to be available today.  By midday, the other one was scheduled and I'd rescheduled that day of vacation.

     I sure hope we'll be able to get this thing working.

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

Politicians Acting Like Adults

     The death and services for former President George H. W. Bush have had an interesting effect: politicians, in this time of bitter partisan divide, have had to behave in a mature manner.  It's been instructive to see who has stepped up and who has stayed in the shadows.  Graciousness is often dismissed as trivial in the rough-and-tumble political arena but I think it's a valuable quality.

     It probably does some good to bring them all together in a situation that does not encourage childish sniping.  They have plenty to disagree about, substantial and important issues, which too often are submerged by the cheap shot, the snide comment, histrionic outrage and posturing for the press.  None of that's easy to pull off at a solemn memorial service.

     Maybe it won't help matters much.  Still, it can't hurt.

Monday, December 03, 2018

Education

     I spent several hours Sunday taking a class at the Indiana Writer's Center. This one was called "Overcoming perfectionism," both the tendency to fiddle with a manuscript during and after the writing to make it better, and the occasional sheer cliff of doubt that rears up when you look at your idea versus your skill set and wonder if you can possibly scale such a height.

     Like any but the most nuts-and-bolts of writing classes -- and perhaps even those -- what it's really about is how the only way to be a writer is to get your fundament in a chair and write.

     One of the best things about being a writer is the feeling of having written; one of the worst things is looking at a blank page and having to fill it up.  Next-to-worst is line-editing, the drudgery of fixing every typo and misspelling, locating every misplaced comma and so on.  And don't even get me started about hunting shifts of tense and viewpoint, mistakes of number and agreement, sneaky malapropisms and other missteps!  --But between the blank page and the various kinds of editing is the writing.  There's no way around it.  And with the writing comes rewriting -- it's not a simple, linear process.

     That's really what the class was about.  Everyone in the class, even our instructor, was or had been put off by their process.  After all, it was famously said of Shakespeare, "in his writing, whatever he penned, he never blotted out a line;" Henry James dictated finished prose that was promptly typed up, submitted to editors and published, right?  Right -- and this is remarked on because it is so unusual.  It's not how most writers work.

     I found the class reassuring.  I managed to put in some work on a story that had me stumped.  Now all I need to do is keep going.

Sunday, December 02, 2018

Noting The Passing Of A President

     George H. W. Bush, June 12, 1924 – November 30, 2018, carried the office of President with what at times appeared to be reluctant grace.  President Reagan's easy handling of the Press meant whoever followed him would look less deft and President Bush was far more strait-laced than his predecessor.  He did the job and didn't whine, not even when Congress fouled his hopes to reduce the deficit and torpedoed his chance of reelection.

     He served well in many jobs for many years, and his passing leaves us with a little less perspective on current events.   

Saturday, December 01, 2018

News Robots

     That hand-crafted local TV newscast you grew up with?  It's gone, along with unsliced bread.

     Automation is the only thing keeping local news alive. The number of people it takes just to put a newscast on the air in a non-automated system -- I'm not talking about gathering, reporting, writing or editing the news , just pushing studio cameras and switcher buttons, turning knobs and yelling at the crew -- is very high and most of them have to be full-time employees.

      Take Indianapolis, a very competitive market ranked somewhere in the top 30s. Of the five stations doing local news, most produce 90 minutes between 4 and 7 p.m. That's a minimum of:

     2 Directors, trading off for each 30-minute segment (it's stressful; Directors come out of the chair sweaty and frazzled after a busy half-hour).

     3 Producers, the "editor" in charge of final scripting for each segment, making sure all the people and video is available, fonts ready, etc. and then running his or her segment, keeping track of timing, ensuring remotes are ready, cueing talent and adjusting as needed to make the show end on time.

     1 or 2 TDs, doing all the video switching.  ("Technical Director."  The Brits call the same job "Vision Mixer," which is a little more descriptive.)

     1 or 2 audio operators, not only running audio but laying out wireless mics for the talent, enuring the mic transmitters and IFB receivers have fresh batteries, etc.

     1 Chyron/Graphics operator, running fonts and fullscreen graphics in real time, supported by a "back room" of at least one other artist. (Automation can pull most of the basic fonts from the script, but we haven't got that, so type fast, kid!)

     1 "Tape" operator, cueing up pre-recorded segments for playback in the correct order for the TD or Director to roll them as needed.

     1 "QC" operator, shading cameras on the fly and pulling in remotes via video-over-IP and microwave; you can hand the latter task off to the person on the News Assignment desk and stick the TD with shading, but it's still one more person.

     3 or 4 camera operators. Most shows use at least four studio cameras but one is usually dedicated to the chroma-key weather wall and camera ops can back up one another,

     1 or 2 Floor Directors, who cue talent and make sure they are pointed at the right camera, usher guests in and out, hand out iPads and put them back on chargers, and dole out emergency batteries for mics and IFB receivers.

     1 Prompter operator, scrolling the teleprompter displays along at a rate that suits the on-air talent -- or a little faster, if the director tells them to. They're also probably having to skip ahead when elements are dropped for timing.

     Fifteen people, plus or minus a few. Their work is used for an hour and a half, at least twice that for Producers and Directors, and an added hour for Audio and Floor on prep and clean-up; the full-timers work shifts that include another hour of news at noon or 10/11 p.m., but they've got to be paid for eight hours and kept busy -- and not one of these people is involved in the collection and reporting of news; there are 4 - 5 photographer/editors and as many field reporters per shift (usually three shifts), assignment editors, "tape" ingest/editors (1 or 2 of each per shift) along with anchors (probably two sets for the 90-minute evening news), Sports reporters, anchor(s) and photogs, Weather talent and a few reporters, photographers and reporters doing features and investigative stuff who report news and generate content.

      Stations can't give up on their original content -- it's the one thing they have that their network, the cable news networks and the competing stations don't have. But do they need all those people just to put the show on the air, and not even kept occupied for their full shift?

     Nope.  There are robots for that.  Robot cameras, script software that picks up on when video segments have to be aired, which camera should be on the air, what fonts and graphics should appear when, and which audio sources should be on at any given time.  But they have to be told what to do.  They have no initiative.  They can't guess at what you meant. 

      To do automation correctly, the prep work becomes detailed and absolutely vital. With a live newscast, the Producer can hand out scripts five minutes before air time and everyone will find their place, staying a few steps ahead if they're good. Under automation, the Producer finishes up her script well in advance, ingesting what the reporters, Desk and wire services have written, marking up voice-over video and sound-on-video segments,* fonts and graphics so automation will pull them in as needed. She hands it off to the Director with an hour or 45 minutes to go, Director adds camera assignment sand moves, then goes into the control room and with the TD, steps through the script much faster than real-time, checking for anything missing, fixing any flubs, noting stuff that has yet to come in.

     The automation crew is still 2 or 3 Directors plus 2 or 3 Producers, but after them, you have 1 or 2 TDs, 1 audio person, 1 floor person -- and that's it. TD also shades cameras, Assignment Desk pulls in remotes in their spare time. Graphics is *all* back room, probably one person. Nine people, roughly -- and they have a lot less down time. There are still the same number of people as before out gathering news, though more and more of the routine stuff is covered by "MMJs," or "one-man-bands," who shoot, edit and report. It's not always ideal, but five MMJs are cheaper than three two-person teams.

     Was your car built by hand, like a Morgan? Was it built on a non-automated assembly line, like a 1932 Ford? Or did robots do most of the heavy lifting, routine assembly and nasty spray-booth work? Your news now comes to you the same way.

      But here's the thing: if the robots aren't programmed correctly, they turn out junk, not cars. The guys who build Moggies? They can't be let loose in a Japanese car plant!

     The TV producer who is used to "winging it," who doesn't put the newscast together until five minutes before airtime, who pulled off breaking news coverage as smooth as silk thanks to a lot of people frantically doing their jobs at the last minute? He's Plague Death for an automated newscast! Oh, he can probably do them, but they'll look like crap. If the Director didn't get the script in time, the shots will be off, robot cameras looking at an empty desk, or in the wrong direction -- and there's nobody behind the camera to fix them. Large-scale, last-minute rearrangements of the script will wreak havoc. It takes a whole different approach to cover late-breaking news under automation, and a lot more preplanning, with filler you can drop and replace, and careful timing.

      TV profits are shrinking. I love old-fashioned live news but it's getting to be an impossible luxury, especially if you still want your local stations to cover any actual news.
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* Collectively known as V-O/SOT, for voice-over and sound-on-tape and pronounced "voe-sought," they're anything shot out of the studio that doesn't have a reporter in the picture, talking.  This is the real red meat of news: what's happening, as it happened.