Saturday, July 20, 2019

"3.6 Roentgen...."

     The weather was dreadful today, "killer hot" and no hype about it.  So I stayed in and binge-watched HBO's Chernobyl.

     It's well-told and gives a much better look into the terrifying near-miss; the outcome could have been so much worse.  And it's a story of the dangers of politically-driven engineering, a story of overconfidence and of what happens when you forget that failure is an option and Murphy never sleeps.  --Especially not when hazards are not communicated.

     This is the story of many engineering disasters: when engineering bumps up against politics, politics often triumphs; the dam must hold, the lower temperature limit for Shuttle launches is just a guideline, the power grid is sufficiently robust....  Political numbers are often nudged, adjusted, massaged; what's a few billion dollars or rubles here or there?  Engineering numbers don't work that way; even the "wiggle room" is part of the calculation.

     ...You can't fudge it; you can't cajole it.  If you built mistakes into the technology, hiding them doesn't make them go away.

     Chernobyl is an engrossing docudrama.  At the very end, there's a short segment explaining the simplifications used to tell the story, the large science staff distilled to just two people, one real, one composite.  There's no similar segment directly calling out the dangers of misinformation, of concealing information from the people in a position to understand and apply it.

     All around you, every day, there are plenty of potential small-scale engineering disasters.  And plenty of politicians who don't know how that stuff works, making decisions about it.  Below them, plenty of non-technical managers who can't tell genuine reasons for concern from under- or over-reaction.  And an Internet full of bad information.

     None of us can know everything.  Each of us knows a few things -- some of which is true.  Be certain of what you know; be wary of both complacency and panic.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Friday At Last

     And I'm (mostly) off next week -- just an orientation session for some stuff for a couple of hours one day, and possibly the delivery of a half-million worth of new equipment at the North Campus.

     The delivery has been specified as absolutely, positively needing to arrive in a truck equipped with a lift-gate.  We've never had a loading dock there, large deliveries being extremely infrequent.  I'm predicting that the delivery vehicle will most likely not have a built-in lift or, if it does, it will be too small for things we need to unload.  Past history makes this almost certain: trucking companies find it inconvenient and so they either overlook the requirement or assume it isn't really necessary -- after all, what place doesn't have a dock?

     So that could be fun.

     Past that, I've got lots to do around the house and a lot of sleep to catch up on.  The present predictions call for the weather to not be quite so brutally hot.  Sure hope they're right!

Thursday, July 18, 2019

What's A Taylor Pork Roll?

     It's kind of Spam's ancestor, dating back to the 19th Century, invented by John Taylor of Hamilton Square, New Jersey and originally sold as "Taylor's Prepared Ham," a lunchmeat-diameter roll of, well, finely diced ham, or at least smoked pork and some spices.

     In 1906, Uncle Sam promulgated an official definition of ham, and Mr. Taylor's product wasn't included.  So it became, officially at least, "pork roll," and in New Jersey, they argue over which of the two names is right.  Of course they do; there's no fight like as family fight, after all.

     But whatever they call it, they eat it, often as a breakfast meat.  Some Taylor Pork Roll showed up in the "grab & go" presliced meats at our local grocer's deli counter and, being me, I bought it to find out what it was.

     Last night, casting about for something for a light dinner for Tam and me, I fried up four slices -- two just about cover a slice of rye bread with a little overlap in the middle -- melted a dab of butter in the pan, layered two slices of pork roll with a slice of Pepper Jack cheese on each side and slices of rye outside that, and fried the resulting sandwiches in the butter.

     Yum!  They might be onto something in New Jersey.  Those were just about the best fried ham & cheese sandwiches I've had!  Okay, fine, it's not legally "ham;" but it'll do, pig, it'll do.

     (Served it with cauliflower pickled with beets and garlic, which is another very fine treat from the grocery.  I'm going to have to use that, and maybe some regular pickled beets, to make purple pickled eggs, a rare but treasured treat from my youth.)

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

My Car Goes Back To The Shop

     If things go as planned, my car will be fixed in the next few days and it'll be back to air-conditioned bliss.

     The most recent loaner was a cute little Volvo wagon, a bit worse for the wear but still pretty luxy. I'm finding that the tall, SUV-esque Lexus has spoiled me in an unexpected way: it's a lot easier to get in and out of than conventional vehicles.  It's not an obvious benefit but it is indeed a plus.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Looking At Politics These Days

     If you stare into the dumpster fire that is current U.S. politics for more than a few seconds, it starts staring back with crazy eyes.  Not to mention tweeting, counter-tweeting, polemicising and viewing-with alarm. 

     Alarm is not unwarranted.  This country is dealing with a degree of open division unmatched since the run-up to the Civil War.  When the population of a country becomes so at odds with one another, bad things can follow --  except, possibly, in Canada; when I was much younger, an independent Quebec seemed inevitable.  Somehow they evitated.

     Americans are not Canadians.  Nobody here's much inclined to say, "Sorr-rey," and try to patch things up.  And the loudest voices are yammering at everyone to pick a side.

     Really, we don't like to pick sides; historically, we have done so with great reluctance.  The United States was late to join both World Wars and staved off our own Civil War until it boiled over.  The war in Vietnam muddled along precisely because of waffling.  Is our present mess about to bubble over?

    Say what you wish about our current President -- you will anyway, after all -- but the man has a tendency to pour gasoline on fires that would be better extinguished.  He's the most visible but he's not at all alone. People spat over which group is pushing division the hardest, farthest and/or loudest, much like children trying to blame a fight on one another.  It takes two (or more!) to tango and a hell of a lot of people on all sides are walking around with a rose in their teeth, an ear cocked to the distant beat.  Drums or cannon?  I can't yet be sure.

     With all its flaws, we've got a nice country here.  Break it and it won't go back together easily, if at all.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Sleep? Yeah, Sorta

     Last night, I was exhausted. I went to bed early.  Woke about 9:30, 10:30, 11:30....3:00, 3:15, 3:30, 4:00 - 4:30, 5:00....

     Don't know what I did wrong.  Strained my back a little, hauling a heavy typewriter up the basement stairs for initial testing (inconclusive) and then back down again, but that's pretty much par.  Clearly, I need more practice!

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Indy Hamfest Goodies

ADAPT, IMPROVISE, OVERCOME.  Or at least use your "spot" connectors on things that have 1/4" mono jacks.
      It took at least an hour to get back to the Indianapolis Hamfest Saturday.  Traffic was significantly worse than Friday.  The merge onto the freeway is another long, multilane collector, combining an on-ramp from 56th St. (with runs East-West) with an off-ramp to Shadeland Avenue (a North-South road).

     When I realized traffic on 465 was all but stopped, I continued on around to southbound Shadeland, congratulating myself on my cleverness and attempting to use the voice input of my smartphone get directions from Google Maps.  --Yeah, me and everyone else.  The Googles weren't responding: overloaded.

     It wasn't until traffic on Shadeland slowed and began frantically merging into fewer lanes that I realized the city had checkmated me: there's major construction on Shadeland, too!

     Still nothing from my phone, which was very hot and only getting one syllable in three -- incorrectly.  And remember my car's lack of air-conditioning?  I certainly was!  Does it still count as a "glow" when it soaks through your T-shirt?

     Okay, fine, the hamfest is at the Marion County fairgrounds, the fairground is off Southeastern Avenue and Shadeland has got to intersect Southeastern.  I don't need no stinkin' map!

     Yeah, well--  Got through the construction, made wonderful time for several miles, and darned if Shadeland didn't merge right back into 465 in a confusingly unfamiliar way.  The freeway was at least moving, but very busy.  As I made my way into traffic, I looked over to realize -- too late! -- that Southeastern exited from the very same collector that merged Shadeland onto 465.

     It was two miles to the next exit, which was also very busy.  Got turned around and back on the freeway in a mere ten minutes, perspiring freely all the while, and made it back to Southeastern and into the hamfest without further trouble.  Yesterday's tickets were still good; I parked and headed over to the flea market, where a few vendors were already packing up.

     Between the flea market and the indoor sales area, I found a few things:

     Here's a National ACN "Velvet Vernier" reduction drive dial with spare scales, and some dial scales for the smaller "SCN" as a bonus, all for $5; a roll of speaker wire; an old power pentide tube; a $5 FM/TV tuneable notch filter that, if it works, I'll use at my job (I've got way more than $5 worth of junkbox components from them), a home-made tuneable field strength meter for (probably) six meters with a National MCN dial that I'll probably mine for parts, a dual 100 pF variable capacitor, a knife switch, a set of guy wire insulators, a couple of 90-degree coax adaptors, a set of end and center insulators for a dipole antenna and a variable "roller" inductor, useful in an antenna tuner, though it needs some readjustment. Also found the adptor pictured above.

Started looking through a box of crystals and the seller spoke up: "Make me an offer for the whole thing."
     So I did just that and he took it, and for what I was going to pay for a handful of crystals at $5 each, I got a nice WW II storage box, all of the crystals, and one socket adaptor.  I've been stacking crystals in a desk drawer, so this should be an improvement.

     The drive back -- oh, I was so clever, I found a better route, Southeastern to Rural (which becomes Keystone because why not?) and back to Broad Ripple -- was about as bad as the drive there: much hotter, mostly bumper-to-bumper and with a long stop for a train. 

     Got home, toweled off, ordered dinner and went to bed early.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Freeway Parking Lot

     Despite continuing improvements -- most of which really are improvements, too -- the interstate highway system around and through Indianapolis routinely grinds to a near-halt at rush hour.  My work hours and usual worksite offer a nice view of the evening rush hour on the "inner loop" (not an actual loop, for various reasons) and it's pretty awful.

     Oh, other cities have it worse, and down at stoplight level, if you know your way around, rush hour's not so bad.  But make no mistake: at peak times, highway traffic regularly slows to a crawl.

     When I took Friday afternoon off to go to the Indianapolis Hamfest and Tam wanted to go along, I asked her to be the exit timekeeper: "We need to be headed towards the gate by four."

     She kept close track; after a break while she took pictures of a classic TransAm in the parking area, we were in my saunamobile and headed for the gate about a quarter after four, and navigating our way around I-465 minutes later.

     Tam was minding the exits; that stretch of 465 grows to five or six lanes across, which are then peeled off in a series of "Exit Only" lanes, one after another, and being in the wrong one at peak times can be a problem.

     Traffic was moving along briskly -- 70 mph or more in the middle lanes, and yes, it's all posted at 45 to 55.  I had swung out to get around a truck in the thickening traffic when she told me to start getting over.  Moved over one lane, two--  The traffic ahead suddenly erupted in brake lights and in seconds, we were at 35 miles an hour or less.

     There were occasional gaps and I kept on working my over to the next-to-rightmost lane as exits went by.  Tam had been a little quiet, thinking about something, and then she spoke,

     "From 70 to Castleton, it'll be down to one lane all weekend.  There's some big project."

     "You don't think they got an early start?  Surely not."

     "Maybe."

     The traffic was getting grim, packing tighter and slowing.  A few impatient souls were slipping across lanes from  gap to gap with NASCAR levels of clearance, which wasn't helping.  I concentrated on getting through it.  Our exit is a long, two lane "collector" that combines two off-ramps and an on-ramp, with a four-lane weaving section in the middle of the run.  I was in the innermost of the two right lanes, so we should be okay, right?

     Wrong.

     Tam: "Bobbi!  We're missing our exit!"

     I had forgotten: only one lane peels off, splitting into two immediately.  Luckily, three cars to our right had taken the farthest-right lane as soon as possible, leaving a good-sized opening.  I checked the mirrors, glanced to my right, and hit the gas, making the exit at the last possible second, trespassing only a little over the white line.

     Freeway driving!  You can have it.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Just Six Years

     Not even all of six -- in January 2025, I'll be able to retire with full Social Security.  And don't think I won't take the Federal check, as long as it holds out: having been forced into contributing to FDR's* New Deal "safety net," I have paid in far more what I'll get back and as long as the system is still operating, I'd like to have that small return, thank you all the same.  That and my (tiny) IRA should get me by, assuming I live very frugally.

     If I hold out longer, Uncle Sam will allow me a little more -- but there's a catch:

      Present projections have the system's reserve assets crossing zero in 2034, with a choice after that of cutting benefits about 25 percent and running it right off the incoming tax, cranking up the retirement age (again), or increasing the payroll tax that funds it (to a chorus of, "Boomers ruin everything," from the generations still working).

     It's a race against time!  So why am I not in the least excited about it?
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* Like most of the New Deal, this was a reaction to a more radical proposal; in this case, the Townsend Plan: elderly physician Francis Townsend was pushing the notion of paying every (non-criminal) retiree over sixty the remarkable sum of three hundred 1933 dollars every month, but they had to spend it all within thirty days.  That's around $3800 in 2019 dollars!  It was getting pretty popular, too; as ever, the trouble with the elderly is they have little to lose and plenty of free time.  Congress and President Roosevelt ginned up Social Security by 1935, a tearing hurry at Congressional speed, and headed off Dr. Townsend at the pass with a higher retirement age and a smaller payout.
     Alas, it's a pyramid scheme, and relies on population growth, inflation and a retirement age set late enough that a significant percentage of the prospective recipients die before receiving full benefits.  Medical advances get a lot more of us past 65 -- or even 67 -- these days, so small wonder it's running on empty.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

The Annoyances Of Car Ownership

     Having to get one's car worked on is one of the most annoying things about owning them.  Even having resigned oneself to the inevitable surprise -- "They used a special veeblefletzer in this model, and they're hard to get.  So the part alone is $500 instead of the usual $50, and where it's mounted, well, we'll have to pull the engine...."

     Okay, fine.  The bill will be high.  It will be high everywhere, and about the same, since they're generally ordering from the same wholesaler and calculating labor from the same how-long-should-it-take reference (and hoping to beat the actual times listed, getting more work done in eight hours than the mythical average mechanic).  One grants these things.

     One of the best compensations for them is getting a loaner vehicle.  I take in a defective car, and drive one that works while mine gets fixed, heck of a deal.

     --Until the shop reneges.  My car's in the shop now; the air-conditioning hasn't worked this year and after six weeks of highs in the upper eighties to low nineties, I can no longer ignore it.  They called me yesterday afternoon:

     "Miz Ecks?"

     "Speaking."

     "Hey, your air-conditioning compressor is locked up bad.  It killed the engine when we tried it!*  It'll have to be replaced, and we'd better do the belt.  It dumped all your refrigerant.  It's gonna be $XXXX.XX to fix."

     The number was in the low four digits.  Painful but worth it.  "Okay."

     "You asked us to look at the water pump, and it isn't any worse than last time.  That's still $XXX.XX.  But the timing chain cover?  There's a little drip there, it's not much but you'll want to keep an eye on it.  That's $XXXX.XX if we replace it, 'cos we do have have to pull the engine...."

     The price quoted for that last was a little over half what I paid for the car.  "Look, let's just do the oil change and get the AC working, okay?"

     "Okay.  We'll have to order parts for the air conditioning, be three, four days.  How soon can you get that loaner back to us?"

     Utter confusion on my part.  "You want it back?"

     "Yeah, we're open 'til five-thirty, could you get it up here?  I have it assigned to somebody else tomorrow."

     "I'm downtown and I'm on until at least six-thirty."  It's over a dozen miles from my work to the garage, on one of the most crowded commuter routes in the metro.

     "Oh, we can leave your car out for you."
 
     "I only have the one key."

     "Oh, we leave 'em out like that all the time."

     "Not my car, you don't.  I'll get the loaner back to you in the morning."

     Deep unhappiness from the mechanic.  Yeah, well, sucks to be him.  Sucks worse to get back into my saunamobile for three or four more days -- make that six, with the weekend.

     Annoying.
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* It was enough for me to turn it on and hear the engine falter; letting it kill the engine seemed like a step too far.  Clearly, I lack the investigative finesse of a trained mechanic.  Also, I know who burned the belt they're telling me needs replaced, and it wasn't me.  Worth the extra $45 to not bust my own knuckles but blow me no smoke, pal.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Benjamin Franklin, Reformed Internet Troll?

     By his own account, wise old Benjamin Franklin was something of a troll in his youth, "disputatious" and fond of direct contradiction and of voicing very positive opinions.

     Eventually, he realized that all it did was increase argument and further disagreement; he came to realize he made better headway by Socratic questioning, and better still by modestly expressing his opinions and conclusions, in the form of, "It seems to me...," "I think that..." or even, "I feel...."  (This is a very modern approach, sometimes described as "owning your own opinion" as opposed to stating it as some universal truth.)

     His own biography shows him in adulthood as something of master manipulator, guiding group actions for what he believed to be the greater good -- and it worked, too; Franklin's efforts resulted in the first lending library in America and the earliest organization of volunteer firemen, institutions which were widely copied soon afterward.

     So pay him a little heed: he stopped arguing with strangers (and friends) and managed to accomplish great things instead.*

     And what did you do on social media today?
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* That said, and perhaps despite his own best efforts, Franklin was no plaster saint, entirely willing to use inside influence to further his own business and to reward family and friends with political patronage when he was in a position to do so.  Both were pretty much SOP in his day, for whatever excuse that provides.  On the whole, he nevertheless did far more good than  harm

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

More Reading

     Most recently, Relic and Reliquary by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, linked monster-thrillers in the "don't pay too much attention to the science, just sit back and enjoy the ride" vein.  The cast is well-drawn, maybe a bit close to pulp at times, but only the very best pulp, and the story in each is exciting. Great fun!

     Presently, I have just made a start on Benjamin Franklin's autobiography.  So far, he's an engaging and impressively modern writer, give or take a few flourishes of style.  Franklin was a complicated man and the work reflects it.

Monday, July 08, 2019

NRA Meltdown

     The current mess the NRA is in alarms me.  I've been following it at a bit of a distance, and it appears to be a multi-level failure, based on the mistaken belief that the organization was an endless "cash cow."

     NRA is often accused by opponents of "leveraging fear" in fundraising, as if that was somehow wrong; donations to the Electronic Frontier Foundation go up when online freedoms appear most under attack; the American Civil Liberties Union is quick to issue press releases on abuses of Constitutionally-protected rights and lo, this affects their take.  Surprise, people donate when causes they support are under threat.

     Get a Republican in the White House, especially if there's a GOP majority in the House and/or Senate, and NRA donations dwindle.

     After eight years of President Obama's support of antigunners, however hollow, NRA executives and their deeply-entwined ad agency were fat, happy and overly complacent.  The fight was on!  Until late 2016, when suddenly it wasn't.

     It is clear the rot had been building for awhile.  Now the pool of dollars was shrinking and however you care to characterize the tussle between Wayne LaPierre, Oliver North, ad agency Ackerman-McQueen (to which PR had been hugely and expensively outsourced) and various factions of the Board of Directors, one thing stands out: they're fighting over money.

     Gun rights ain't in it.

     Ack-Mac never gave a flip about the Second Amendment, and why should they?  They're an advertising agency; caring about anything but the bottom line is a huge drawback in that line of work and the way you keep an ad agency toeing the mark is to ensure that getting your message across is crucial to their income.  Instead, Ack-Mac was given a great deal of freedom to determine what the message should be, and the end result was more than a little inward-looking and self-serving.  And out of touch with a lot of the membership.

     NRA's executives, meanwhile, isolated from much of the hurly-burly of messaging and outreach, appear to have relied on what Ack-Mac was telling them, and on having a compliant, bloated Board of Directors that could be counted on to rubber-stamp whatever the leadership wanted.

     Nobody, save a few members of the Board, was listening to the membership. 

     When the money started to get tighter, pretty much everyone reacted to save their jobs and didn't look to survival of the organization as a whole.

     Until Chris Cox got the axe, I was mainly just watching.  Watching in no little alarm, but figuring NRA would weather the storm and emerge, leaner, meaner and with a renewed sense of mission.  I'm starting to doubt that.  Wayne LaPierre's got the survival instinct of a cockroach -- and is just as much of a team player.  Whoever he's got to push overboard to stay in power, he will.  Board members who have spoken out publicly are finding themselves kicked off of committees -- pardon me, not invited to continue serving.

     Is it going to continue to be the National Rifle Association, or is it just hanging around to keep a few people living in the style to which they'd like to remain accustomed?

     2020 is coming.  Bloomberg's pockets are deep.  There's a even chance we're going to have a Democrat President in the next go-round, and the odds aren't much worse that he or she will have a (slim) Congressional majority as well.  If the NRA isn't focused in their core mission by then, it's going to mean a lot more than an executive or three losing their phony-baloney jobs.

     NRA's going off the rails and I don't know know how to fix it.  The people who can do the most, soonest, are in Fairfax, Virginia.  It's time they got to it.

Sunday, July 07, 2019

A Quick Note

     I felt pretty lousy all day today, and did pretty much nothing except a little laundry.

Saturday, July 06, 2019

Dizzy All Day

     I don't know if it's some kind of a bug or just the weather, but I have barely managed to attain and maintain verticality all day, and the sound effects inside my skull have been, well...unnerving.

     Did the sinus rinse thing a couple of hours ago and I'm better, but exhausted.  You know the saying about having backups for critical items, "Two is one and one is none?"  Days off seem to work like that for me.

Friday, July 05, 2019

A Glorious Fourth

     Okay, other than a small fire, we didn't take the advice of John Adams, who wrote of Independence Day, "It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shews, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other from this time forward forever more."*

     We nevertheless celebrated.  Our neighbors provided a lot of "shews ... [sounds like unto] guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations," Indiana having pleasantly few restrictions on what kinds of fireworks can be sold to the general public and the law allowing considerable leeway over the holiday in setting them off.

     Shopping Wednesday, the neighborhood market offered a special meal package for the holiday: four lovely hamburgers (USDA Prime!), big tasty ciabatta buns, choice of cheese (Colby Jack for us), ear corn and potato salad.  When they make things that easy and offer a substantial discount to boot, why fight it.  I wasn't all that sure of the potato salad -- their deli tends to err on the side of caution in terms of seasoning, but I couldn't've been more wrong: it was as good as the best home-made, rich and complex, with exactly the right amount of sweet pickles.

     Fired up the grill, which has seen all too little use in this rainy Spring and early Summer.  Tam and I cooperated to clean the corn (partially de-silked and with a bit of husk as sold; we cleared the rest of the silk, made sure the husks were clean and damp, and wrapped them in foil with a little butter, Chipotle salt and butter).  By then the coals were going well, so I put the corn on.

     The burgers had been out a while, salted, peppered and Worcestershire sauced.  You don't want to start them still cold!  Once the corn had a fair head start (it wants fifteen minutes on a hot grill; I had it around the edges, to get a little more time), I oiled up up a perforated grill pan, loaded the hamburgers on board and set it over the coals.

     Time passed.  My little covered grill is not super hot as such things go and the grill pan slows it even more.  Getting a burger to medium rare takes upwards of twenty minutes, all that lovely hardwood lump charcoal smoke swirling around them the whole time.  I took the corn off first and stacked it on a plate in the oven, then brought in three of the burgers and we prepped them, dished out potato salad, and unwrapped corn.

     It was wonderful!  Once my plate was loaded up, I fetched the fourth burger, now cooked to medium well, and prepped it like the others -- Coleman's mustard (how's that for ex-Colonial effrontery?), Heinz Chili Sauce (it'll make you sneer at ordinary catsup) and a slice of Colby Jack.

     The meal was -- if I say so myself -- delicious.  It was also way too much food.  Tam and I watched a couple of episodes of The Orville, munching steadily, and after a custard cup of potato salad each, our second ear of corn, and a few bites into the second burger, we looked at each other.  Tam spoke first, "This is great, but I don't think I have room left to finish it."

     I agreed.  I had nice sweet cherries in the fridge for dessert and never got them out.  Those hamburgers were huge!
    
     So it was a glorious Fourth, fireworks sizzling and popping outside and plenty of food on the table.
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* Of course, he thought we'd celebrate on the Second, instead of adding in the couple of days Congress spent faffing around with the Declaration.  Alas, John, no.

Thursday, July 04, 2019

It's Independance Day

     Set your arguments aside for one day.  You are free to have them thanks to the edgy, far-out thinkers who thought the common man ought to have a voice -- a determining voice -- in the government that set his taxes and boundaries.   ...Eventually, the common woman got in on the deal, too.

     No other country started in violent revolution has ever made the kind of progress the United States has made across so many fields.  That's a fact, no matter what your politics are; I don't think it was luck and do think it is entirely related to our form of government.

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

"And Another Thing Broad Ripple Has Ruined Me For..."

     ...Is bacon.  Tam made the remark after blind taste-testing this morning but it could have as well been me, when I cooked up some supposedly high-end bacon I'd ordered from Amazon Prime Delivery Monday after working all night and being to sleepy to shop in person.

     You know, the kind of bacon sold sealed in plastic?  We just don't buy it; the corner market's got the good stuff, applewood-smoked in big slabs and sliced on arrival.  Per-pound cost is not much more than the best prepackaged stuff and I can buy it in small amounts, avoiding the problem of using up a whole package of bacon before it begins tasting stale.

     It has made us bacon snobs; even the fancy thick-sliced applewood and cherry-smoked bacon I cooked this morning, fresh from vacuum-sealed plastic, is just "meh" compared to the butcher-shop stuff.

     Okay, that's the pretty much worst sort of 21st-Century food-hipsterism, but is it still pretentious when there's a real difference in taste and quality?

     (An omelette cures many ills -- as part of a filling with diced portobello mushroom caps and Swiss cheese, this assembly-line* bacon is okay.)
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* But isn't it all assembly-line, really?  All commercial meat comes from an assembly, or more properly, disassembly line; some meat, like bacon and ham, then gets additional processing (and some gets even more).  I suspect the real difference in bacon comes from a slightly less-aggressive use of preservatives and shorter time from smoking to selling for the stuff we buy wrapped in brown paper at the butcher counter, versus the pale-pink and curiously-regular plastic-sealed flitches I grew up eating, two slices at a time.

Tuesday, July 02, 2019

2 July

     No, I don't have any comments on tennis-shoe patterns, activism or the overly-shallow treatment of what passes for historical knowledge in many circles these days.

     Nope, here's what I've got for today: we celebrate it on the official date, the Fourth of July, but it was on this date that an assorted group of thinkers, politicians, polemicists and "direct action" men, all of them white, many of them well-off, many of them slave-owners, put their signatures on the document that touched light to the fuse of events that would result in the ethical, moral, political and technological advances that would, over not too many years as history is counted, put an end to slavery.

     At least some of them knew it, too.  And signed anyway.

Monday, July 01, 2019

The Lack Of A Posting This Morning

     Awake at six a.m.?  Check.  Cats fed?  Check.  Not ill?  Check.  Slept?

     ...Um.  Not so much.

     Along about dinner time last night, I had a call from work.

     "Along about dinner" being that point in the process where I had two New York strip steaks and a batch of mushrooms in a cast-iron grill pan on the stove, having decided it was too hot to grill outdoors.  My right knee was hurting and while I hadn't quite been in pajamas all day, what I was wearing wasn't suited to anything more formal than weeding a garden, and maybe not even that.

     Dinner was at that point where you either finish cooking it and eat it, or you throw it away. Dinner for two.

     So the phone rings and it's one of the Master Control techs, reporting a pressurization issue at the unstaffed North Campus.  We monitor a couple of things up there that are kept dry by keeping them full of dry air (from a sophisticated compressor-dehydrator*) or, as a backup, dry nitrogen from tall, 3500-psi tanks of the gas.  The system only runs 5 psi above ambient, but it's a critical 5 psi; what we're keeping dry runs a thousand feet, carrying high voltage, high-current VHF and UHF energy and if it gets wet, the connection points (one every twenty feet) can begin to arc and heat up, melting their support insulators.  This doesn't end well.

     Dry air is fed into the system from a single point but there are two different monitors.  I am rewiring alarm connections, and one of them failed shortly after my last work.  It had been intermittent; I thought I had found the wiring problem but I had not.  Hey, no problem, we have two alarm sensors; I asked Master Control be especially vigilant until I could return to the North Campus.

     And that was why the tech had called: the second alarm had tripped. 

     Maybe it was a false indication, maybe not.  There's a while left once the alarm goes, at 2.75 psi.  Nothing for it but to finish cooking, eat dinner in some haste, change into slightly more civilized attire (it's always 65°F at the North Campus, unless something has gone very wrong), grab a few bottles of water, and head out.

*  *  *

     Arrive to discover the compressor was dead.  D-E-A-D, no breakers tripped, motor windings reading less than half the normal DC resistance. 

     System pressure was just under 2 psi.  I started up the dry-nitrogen system and the regulator was wonky: the tank was low.  I set flow rate with the valve so it was sitting at 3.5 psi to repressurize, loaded all one-hundred and fifty pounds of the compressor-dehydrator onto a cart, and hauled it to the the workshop in the far end of the building.

     A few more checks later, it was obvious there was no fixing the compressor this side of an electric-motor shop.  I have a spare, of course.  It's tricky to change; you can't get at the mounting bolts, so you remove the support plate from the shockmounts.  The plate is held by bolts through the rubber shockmounts from underneath and, you guessed it, they won't support the 60-some pounds of the thing  upside down or sideways and the feet of the unit aren't tall enough to let you reach under.  Nope, one hangs the enclosure over the edge of the cart and removes one bolt at a time.  A bit of un-plumbing, some electrical, and it was out.  The same thing in reverse to install the replacement (after a spine-freezing moment when I read "230V/50Hz" at the top of the label on it, until I read on down to the description of how to strap it for 120V and the maker's admission that it would run on 60-cycle power, too).  Checked it was set up for wall-socket juice and proceeded to test the finished installation.  This is quick to write but it's nearly two hour's work.

     It ran fine!

     Hauled it back to the far end of the building, plugged it in, and started it up without connecting the output.  The compressor feeds a finned cooling section and then a pair of "molecular sieves" that remove the last bit of moisture from the air.  There's a clever arrangement of valves, one of them run by a solenoid controlled by a thirty-second timer: every half a minute, one of the sieves gets backflushed to clear any captured moisture, while the other is online.  Thirty seconds later, they trade places.  If the thing has been shut down, you need to run it to clear them both out, a process that can take up to an hour.

     The dry air is held in a small tank at about 70 psi, and fed out through a regulator at 2 to 10 psi, so the compressor can run at a reasonable pressure and comfortable duty cycle, and so there's sufficient pressure for the backflush.  Drying it out, all you need to do is let it spill air into the room and make sure compressor run time isn't excessive.   --For an hour or more.  There's a nice front-panel light to show when it's making dry air again.

     I passed the time checking nitrogen pressure and flow, and pondering if I was too sleepy to change out a big tank if necessary.  Cleaned up the shop, puttered around at this and that, and an hour later--

     An hour and a half later, there was still a big "Humidity Alarm" light.  It hadn't sneezed any water out the drain line, either.  And the more I listened, the more that solenoid valve cycling sounded just a little wrong.

     Replacement valves are amazingly expensive.  Rebuild kits for them aren't and I keep a couple on hand whenever the budget permits.  (Okay, I admit it: I sneaked the second one in years ago.  There are a lot of fiddly little bits to replace and "Two is one and one is none," if one of the pieces goes missing!)

     Unplugged the compressor-dehydrator and horsed it back onto the cart, all 175 pounds of it.  Back to the shop, cover off, the valve is buried deep in the guts of the thing but I have been at it before; there's a trick to it.

     Two of the air connections are "prestolock" types and there's no removing them in situ, period.  Out of situ, maybe, but it's not worth it.  The drain line is nothing, just a short section of flexible tubing that pokes through the back panel. The fourth connection is a section of flexible line I replaced a decade ago, softer line connected with a hose clamp and barb.  That, you remove with a razor blade, and lose a short section every time.†

     The valve is tucked into a tiny gap in the middle of air line, wiring, tanks, molecular sieves, the compressor and sundry ancillary items.  You can unbolt it from the back panel, then wriggle it up far enough to remove the solenoid coil (thank you, ASCO "Red Hat" design!), set that to one side. thread the drain line out, cut the input line at the barb, and move it out and rotate the assembly so you can get at the four 1/4"-20 bolts that hold the two halves of the valve together.  There's barely room to get a wrench on them and they're snugged down tight, but it is possible to take it apart.

     That gives you one half still plumbed into the machine, with one dual valve seat and four O-rings on it; and another half with the four-part solenoid plunger assembly -- no, make that five parts -- a complex double-ended commutating inner valve, a single valve seat and two more O-rings.  Except for the threaded outer solenoid tube (got your 1" box wrench handy?), it's all force-fit and stuck together with a couple of years worth of gloop.

     Take everything apart, clean it with alcohol, dry, lube the O-rings with silicone grease and the valve seats with a tiny dab of molybdenum disulfide in silicone, keeping any excess away from the rest of the valve.  The solenoid plunger has a key that engages the commuting valve, and an internal spring and brass tube that complicates the task.  The other end gets rebuilt in place; the seat is very tight and has to be prised out with tiny screwdrivers, and the far side takes a pair of tiny O-rings that you'd never find if they hit the floor and rolled away.

     (It was at this point that I noticed my right knee wasn't taking weight very well.  Oh, well, the job still has to be done.)

     The two halves get mated up and awkwardly bolted tight, it's moved close to position and the coil assembly is slid back on, and a new retaining clip is installed.

     New retaining clip-- Rats, I'd left it on the workbench.

     Left it, in fact, right next to a short coil spring that goes inside the body of the valve, around the solenoid plunger right where it engages the commutating inner valve.  You know, the thing that's not all that easy to put in even when you follow the correct procedure.
The solenoid plunger tube sticking out of the valve body and the spring that's supposed to be inside the brass part.

     Nothing for it but the valve's got to come back apart.  That takes time but eventually the big half is back on the bench.  Rather than unscrew the plunger tube and risk tearing up the O-ring, I used thin needlenose pliers to hold the plunger as I slid the commutating part out, put the spring on, and slid the inner valve back in place.  It only took three tries to get everything all lined up.

     Next, reassembly, with all the fun that entails, and by then I was getting a little punchy, having to slow down and check myself at every step.

     Got it all back together, tightening down the last hose clamp, plugged it in and hit the switch.  The compressor started up, gauges fluttered up the scale and thirty seconds later, the drain line sneezed out a couple of tablespoonfuls of dirty water as one of the molecular sieves ran its first purge cycle.

     I put the outer cover back on, hauled it back to the far end of the building, wrestled all 200 pounds of the thing off the cart, plugged it in and started it.  An hour and a half later, the "Humidity Alarm" light went out for good (after a half hour of off again/on again: one sieve was a lot wetter than the other) and I reconnected it, shut the dry-nitrogen valves at tank and manifold, then watched, adjusted, waited and adjusted again to get the system back to normal pressure.

     I limped around putting tools away while getting it all stabilized and finally left after another hour. Total time from arrival to departure, eight hours.  On no sleep.  My knee was hurting bad enough to make up for it, at least.

     Driving back home just ahead of sunrise was, well, "interesting."  I texted my boss, ate a snack and took ibuprofen, and made it to the bed right before I fell soundly asleep.

     That's why there wasn't a post this morning.
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* You can think of it as being like the thing in your garage you use to air up tires and maybe operate small tools, but it's not.  The compressor itself and its motor is a single unit the size of a sewing machine and twice the weight; the output is cooled, regulated and run through a "molecular sieve" to remove any trace of moisture.  The whole assembly is about the size of three sewing machines. They cost about what I usually pay when I buy a used car.

† There are various barb designs and some of them purport to be more removable than others.  In my experience, after a year or more of being compressed, the hose cannot be removed by anyone of normal strength.  YMMV.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

It's Too Hot To Do Anything

     I have spent the day on laundry, a silly craft project, and sorting a considerable accumulation of junk mail.  I have not been outside more than fleetingly and I hope to avoid so doing until tomorrow.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

The Cat And I

     Huck and I may not be getting along.  It's chance and bad luck, but somehow, the night before last, he ended up scratching my face, barely missing my right eye.

     He may have been annoying Rannie and tried to escape when I stirred; I might have rolled over on him when we were both asleep.  I don't know; I woke up to pain and a cat tumbling away from me, touched my face and it felt wet, and went down the hall and looked in the mirror to see this:
      It runs from my right ear -- there's a continuation  on my ear proper -- to under my right eye.  There's a shallower, parallel scratch lower on my face and another small one next to my lip.

     He normally sleeps at or between my feet, like a loyal dog.  Tamara's cat, Rannie Wu, often sleeps at or on my right shoulder and my bed is usually neutral ground, off-limits for troublemaking.  So this is a mystery.

     The problem is, I don't feel like risking further damage.  At the very least, his days of sleeping on my bed are over.  Huck may be too much tomcat for a little old lady to manage.

Friday, June 28, 2019

The Circus, Continued

     Last night was the second night of the first Democrat Presidential candidate's debate.  I'm still sorry it isn't being done in the style of "Celebrity Deathmatch," with one-on-one battles, but there was plenty of chaos nevertheless.

     Tamara paid much closer attention than I did, but here's what I took away:

     "There's going to be lots of free stuff and we're going to shake down The Rich to pay for it," remains a magic touchstone for the Dems.  Free or cheap healthcare?  Check.  Wipe out your student loans?  Check.  Bread riots by 2030?  Check.  "Guns are bad," is another chestnut -- and look how well that combination has worked out in Venezuela!

     Venezuela?  Oh, about that; the word "socialism" remains contentious, the concept nebulous even at the hands of the ones who embrace it.  I'm not seeing a dime's worth of difference in actual policy between the contenders who shy away in maidenly modesty and the ones who cozy up to it.   Eugene V. Debs is laughing hollowly in the wings; at least he knew what the word meant.

     Eric Swalwell's a know-it-all frat boy who does not, in fact, know it all.

     Congressman Swalwell and most of the other debaters waxed fairly incoherent at times, piling up Party platitudes in ways that didn't make a lot of sense.

     Joe Biden continues to impress me with his emotional intelligence...and his inability to think on his feet while talking.

     Kamala Harris has good speechwriters, strong ability to improvise and delivers lines extremely well.  She's worth worrying about, especially if you're Joe Biden.

     Peter Buttigieg does his homework and can talk sense on the fly.  I suspect he's running for Vice-President, even if he doesn't know it; I also suspect he doesn't stand a chance at it if the Dems run an old white guy for president.   Sure, he's a minority, but is he minority enough for his Party, especially on a billboard?  Doubtful; if all you've got is a photograph, he's Dan Quayle with shorter hair.

     Why is Bernie Sanders even up there?  Same old, same old, and it's become very old.  It's interesting and sad to see a man who is dug into the existing power structure like a tick up a bear's ear in January attempting to chide a group of debaters who are mostly much younger and generally farther from Washington about how nothing changes because the insiders are too unwilling to burn it all down and start over.  It's classic "Let's you and him fight" talk, from a man who confidently expects himself to be put in charge of the ashes because, after all, it must be his turn.  Last time I checked, he was still Not Actually A Democrat.*

     It was another fun time, with much yelling at the TV, though we did decide to pass up popcorn.  Same bad ideas, which some of them express much more clearly than their peers, a choice of Tweedledee, Tweedledum and Tweedledumber.  Or was it twaddle?
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* "His party status became ambiguous once again in March 2019 when he signed a formal "loyalty pledge" to the Democratic Party stating that he is a member of the party and will serve as a Democrat if elected president. He signed the pledge the day after he signed paperwork to run as an independent for reelection to the Senate in 2024." So you tell me.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

And It's Back -- So's The Circus

     The ol' two-fisted, double-sided headache/earache has returned, at times so bad I have trouble forming words when speaking.  It's too loud and too painful.

     Dosed myself up with the usual and I will be pouring warm, medicated water through my sinuses shortly, which helped last time.

*  *  *


     As for the circus, why, that was last night's Presidential candidate debate.  Or was it a half-debate?  Only half the Democrat pool onstage, with the remainder tonight.  I'm a little disappointed there won't be brackets like a sports playoff; it would be more useful.  And think of the opportunities for wagering!

     It was a show of Party orthodoxy, with broad uniformity of opinion on "Medicaid for all," gun control and border issues; Hawaii's Congressperson Tulsi Gabbard was way, way out there in being a little bit less doveish on the possibility of a war with Iran than her fellow contenders.

     The unseen but ever-present eleventh podium onstage belonged to President Trump and none of the ten skipped a chance to call him out as a clear and present danger.  This, too, has become a matter of Party orthodoxy and at least one candidate all but promised to bring criminal charges against their predecessor if they were elected to the presidency -- in true banana republic fashion.

     Marred by technical problems in the form of a microphone issue that took longer to sort out than I would have expected, it quickly became clear that about half of the prospective candidates were only there to graze the Craft Services table, whether they knew it or not.

     Some highlights and first impressions:  Senator Elizabeth Warren remains feisty and annoying, the kind of gadfly more suited to Congress than the Executive branch.   New York Mayor Bill de Blasio struck me as presumptuous, his microphone shut off at least twice while he was trying to speak out of turn, talk over other candidates or take more time than allotted.  I thought "Beto" O'Rourke pushed earnest youthfulness and throbbing emotion a bit farther than his performance could support; he comes off as insincere.  On the other hand, Senator Cory Booker seemed authentic and at one point, when Mayor de Blasio was making a (belabored) point of his own unique experience in "...raising a black son..." and having to caution him to be especially wary in his interactions with police, Sen. Booker briefly looked incredulous and visibly restrained himself from speaking up.  He never made a direct reply to the Mayor's comments but I wouldn't have held a biting retort against him.

     The debate was mostly a parade of ego and a way for the candidates to each try to be more of a Democrat than any of their peers, a process that drives their party ever more Leftward.  We used to have "big tent" parties, each rife with Rockefeller Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats.  Those days are gone; don't look for them to return. 

     And tonight, ten more Democrats onstage. Do I make popcorn or not?

     Maybe just anti-seasickness pills.  I think these candidates are making my headache worse.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Targeted Failvertising

     An envelope from the local Hyundai dealer showed up the other day, personally addressed to me rather than "occupant," as is so often the case.

     That was mildly interesting, so I set it to one side.  I bought my present Lexus RX-mobile* from their used-car lot, with exactly one key for it; maybe they found the others?

     This morning, I had a look at the contents.  Outside, my full name and address.  Inside, a coupon for $25 of service and a computer-generated letter in a variation on Comic Sans:

     "William,
          [...] If I offered you the right amount for your 2004 Ford Taurus, would you trade vehicles with me or at least let me buy your Taurus?  I'm asking because I need quality pre-owned vehicles just like yours [...]."

     It goes on in that vein for most of a page.


     This is amusing on a number of levels -- it's very likely that "William" and I were not uniquely subject to having our letters switched, but that hundreds of previous customers received the wrong letter.  And far from being a "quality pre-owned vehicle," I got a pretty good deal on my car -- and no warranty -- because it had become something of a "hangar queen" at the dealers as they corrected years of deferred maintenance, a new surprise on every test drive.  I'm pretty sure they don't want it back; just replacing the tire-pressure sensors would wipe out a third of the profit if they did very well on the resale.

     A for effort, D for execution.  I named the brand because I was satisfied with the series of used Hyundai Accents I drove before the Lexus; they were a good value for money, better built and sturdier than I would have expected for an entry-level car.  My friend The Data Viking has been buying new, high-end Hyundais (Hyundae?) for about a decade and he's happy with them, too.

     But the local dealer needs to hire more diligent envelope-stuffers.  Or was it all a cunning plan to get my attention?  It did that, but I'm not in the least interested in trading my present car.  I buy cars well used and run them until they start to fall apart or someone hits them.
___________________________
* Literally; it's a Lexus RX330 semi-demi-sport-ute/vanette with a good many years on it.  I like it; I liked the RX300 I had before it and as long as Lexus keeps making variations on this model -- they're up to RX350, last time I looked -- I'll keep buying very used ones when I need a newer car.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Hey, It Might Not Rain Today!

     It's difficult to imagine, but we might not get any rain at all today -- just a nice, sunny day with a high in the low eighties.

     The rest of the week will be hotter but not much wetter, at least so far.  Maybe a shower tomorrow and rain Sunday.  I'm skeptical; it appeared storms and gray skies were our new normal.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Was Reading. Instead, Headache

     This post was supposed to be about the nicest bunch of fictional vampires I have encountered -- though some of them are very bad indeed.  Octavia Butler's Fledgling is an unusual novel, written while she was recovering from writer's block encountered while researching material for additional novels in her harrowing Earthseed series and deliberately intended as "something lighter."  Of course, it is a murder-mystery--

     Lighter, perhaps, but no lightweight and a fascinating book.

     It's probably more fascinating if you don't read the last half of it while suffering from an intense bilateral earache/headache.  The pain woke me up in the very early hours and the timing of my OTC painkillers was such that I just had to ride it out.  It's probably caused by a combination of our up-and-down air pressure and, well, I may be grinding my teeth in my sleep again, thanks to some work-related stress that I can't do anything about.

     This morning's painkiller and a sinus rinse should be starting to take the edge off.  Any minute now.

     Please spare me the amateur doctoring in comments -- it won't be published.  This is what it is; I've spend lots of time and money with the professionals and it's nothing simple or easy.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

So Good, I've Made It Twice

     It's a simple stew.  I came up with the recipe walking around the store, thinking about what might be good and adding it to the cart.  It turned out better than I expected!

     Last week, I made one version; this evening, a slightly different one.
First version
     The first one had a pound of stew beef, one hot Italian sausage, several kinds of fresh mushrooms (our neighborhood market sells a nice mix, all cut up),  carrots, fennel, a leek and a sauteed Poblano pepper. All cooked in that order, with a tiny bit of olive oil to keep the meat from sticking.

     The second version, I substituted a nice red onion for the leek and added a few mild pickled banana pepper rings, cut up, in place of the Poblano.  I also added a potato, cut into 1/2" cubes.

     You salt and pepper the stew beef, then squeeze the sausage out of its casing (or just start with the bulk version; there's maybe half a pound there, or a little over) into the stewpot.  Let it brown while you snip the stew beef into the pan, making small (1/2" or so) chunks from the big ones, cutting across the grain.  Kitchen shears are ideal for this.

     Flip over the sausage once you get the beef in, and go after it with a spatula or potato masher; the latter is an ideal tool for the job.  You want to break the sausage up into small chunks.  Turn the heat down and leave it to brown, stirring occasionally.

     Cut three or four carrots (or an equivalent amount of the peeled ones they sell in bags) into 1/2" or less sections, and add them to the pot.

     Rinse the mushrooms and add them.  A little water will come with, which is fine.

     Take the fennel bulb, wash it well, and cut into small sections, 3/8" or so and add them to the pot..  Rinse some of the feathery fronds and add them, too.  The stalks seem kind of woody and I rarely use any of them.  The exposed outer sections of the bulb are sometimes kind of ugly, so that's your call.

     Stir that all together and cut up the onion or leek.*  You can saute it if you like, though I didn't.  Add the leek or onion and that's the basic dish; you can cover it and let it cook.

     If you add a potato (and now's the time), you'll probably want a little beef broth at the same time, a cup or less.  If you use pickled peppers, add them now, too.

     Cover and let it cook awhile, just simmering.  The potato version will want at least twenty minutes, and the longer you can give either version (within reason!), the better it will be.

     If you want a Poblano or other fresh pepper, that goes in last, after the rest has had at least fifteen minutes to cook.  Cut it up, saute it in a non-stick  pan, and add it to the stew once the color deepens and it gets aromatic.

     The flavor is just wonderful; there's something about this combination that really appeals to my palate -- and Tam's, too.
_________________________________________
* Leeks are muddy as can be.  Time spent rinsing a leek will be well-rewarded, and you will probably still find mud in the greener parts.  Consider yourself warned!  It's a lot of work but they're mellower than an onion.

    

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Grilled Breakfast Sandwich

     So, it turns out a grilled Swiss cheese/pastrami/fried egg on rye bread is totally a thing you can do. I was seriously low on conventional breakfast supplies, but we had a little truffle butter left that I fried a broken-yolked egg in, then added plain butter to the pan and let it melt while I layered the hot egg between two slices of pastrami, with Swiss cheese on the outside and bread around that.

     Once the bread has browned and the cheese has melted, the center's still warm and it's ready to eat.  Tasty!

Friday, June 21, 2019

Working On A Starship

     In which I tell tales that are only a little bit fictionalized:

     It finally happened.  After years of budget-deferred maintenance and hard use, the old auxiliary stardrive on Billy How is starting to fail.

     That's the starship William Howard Taft to the likes of you.  It's a bulk hauler, United States Space Corps surplus like most of the NATO spacecraft on our side of the Hidden Frontier, with a long, distinguished and penny-pinching history.  Not that I blame the owners; the profit margin is tiny, especially competing against the newer containerized haulers.

     What she lacks in size and flexibility, Billy How makes up for with inadequate speed and inefficiency.  The aux 'drive is a good example.  Built early in the vague and clumsy War between the U.S. and the breakaway "Federation of Concerned Spacemen," her stardrive was built before our side had figured out how to "feather" the 'drive to reduce the effective realspace mass of a spacecraft.  The high-voltage power supplies, modulators and phantasmatron tubes in the 'drive finals were built to punch a hole in space fast and rough, and not to idle at low level for months at a time.  In a short pulse, the 'drive were as powerful as all but the very largest carriers, like Vulpine, Caprine and Lupine, but they were never meant for continuous duty.

     So once we learned how to copy 'drive-feathering from FCS starships, ships like Billy How with Gen 2 stardrives got "realspace auxiliary 'drives," low-powered, simplified, mass-produced "stardrives" that could shunt off mass to never-never land without ever tipping the vessel into Jump space.  They're not as efficient as the FCS version, not even close, but it's still a huge saving in reaction mass.  And mostly they just sit there, off or on; you dial in the mass-correction and they just run, with none of the fiddling and finagling that  it takes to get into and out of Jump space with the real stardrive.

     That unglamorous invisibility is part of the problem: nobody thinks about 'em.  The aux 'drive is a magic lump, out of sight and out of mind. The Captains all take the aux 'drive for granted; the owners balk at spending any money on them.  If you're in Engineering like me, you do your best to keep the spare parts stocked, keep the fine adjustments peaked up, change the air filters and argue for upgrades when they ship gets refitted.

     Billy How's aux drive got solid-state finals 23 years ago -- ooh, transistors, how 1990s! -- and there they stood.  I'd requested, budgeted, made reports, argued, shown the brass what was what, given them my best guess about how likely it was to go up in smoke, and they hadn't wanted to spend a dime on it. When the old-school microcontroller that provided a nice touchscreen interface for control and monitoring conked out four years ago, the Captain had me reconnect the manual controls instead of spending eight thousand dollars on a replacement.  After all, there was a scheduled refit coming up before very long.  (How long is "before very long?"  Don't ask me; that's above my pay grade.)

     The touchscreen system used to gave us a pretty good look into the innards of the aux 'drive, monitoring and logging thousands of parameters.  The manual controls and meters provide a lot less detail.  So when one of the nifty transistorized, sealed power amplifier modules started to flake out a couple of days ago, it took a couple of shifts to figure out just what was going on.  The predrivers had become very fussy, needing more and more adjustment to keep them at maximum power but out of over-temperature or overcurrent failure, and at first the problem looked like more of that.

     It wasn't.  The power amplifier module -- all of a thousand Watts -- could be restored from the fault condition by a full, ten-minute cold reboot of the aux 'drive, at which point it would run for five minutes, flag a COM FAULT and shut down.  No other symptoms, no weird readings -- and no way short of irreversible action with a chisel to get a look at the inside of the thing.

     We didn't have a spare.  The last one of those went in six months back, off Blizzard, and when I'd put in a request for a replacement, it was bounced -- after all, that refit was going to happen!

     They scheduled the refit last month.  It's six months off.  With a final dead amplifier module in the aux, Billy How will run slow on the realspace leg of this trip and it looks like we'll be sitting at the space station until we can get a new amplifier.  What it's going to cost to expedite delivery of that -- assuming Beamathon even has any in stock -- you don't want to know.  What the module itself will cost, I don't want to know, cubed.

     Fix it before it breaks or pay the price later.  It never gets any cheaper, no matter how long you wait.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Self-Silenced

     It's interesting that I'm reluctant to write about the book I'm currently reading, Max Boot's The Corrosion Of Conservatism, about his disillusionment with the GOP under Mr. Trump's Presidency.

     I don't agree with many -- possibly even most -- of Mr. Boot's opinions, though I'm no fan of Mr. Trump; as an East Coast policy wonk, Max Boot seems to have no idea of how harshly Secretary Clinton was viewed here in the Rust Belt.

     The true disconnect in American politics these days is that the skills needed to win a Presidential election are not well-related to the skills needed to be President.  This may be a reflection of the extra baggage the office has taken on or found itself stuck with.  Congress was supposed to do the heavy lifting on policy and law, while the Executive branch was supposed to, well, execute the day-to-day effort of making it run.  Presidents were our guy to shake hands with kings and talk sense and strategy with generals -- after Congress had declared war.

     The slow accretion of excessive power to the Executive seems to be an inherent problem with republics and we can only hope that in our republic, it carries its own cure.  The trend in recent decades to stick incumbent Presidents with an uncooperative and sometimes hostile Congress does bid well for things to get worked out -- or break wide open.

     Here I am, four paragraphs in, and yes, I'm still tapdancing around Mr. Trump.  Max Boot thinks he's a dire and terrible danger.  I think he's a graceless clod, who combines many of the worst characteristics of Jackson and Buchanan; but in the end he is, like all Presidents, a temporary hire.  It's a short-term job, four years with an option of four more, and then you go write your memoirs, do charitable work and fade away.

     I just wish I had more confidence that either of the big parties learned anything about candidate selection from the 2016 election.  Instead they've focused on rah-rah rallies better suited to Constantinople in 532 AD, 1917 Russia -- or Rome in 1922.  You want a Jefferson or a Coolidge in the White House?  That's not how you get them.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

And Here We Are

     Found myself working at the North Campus yesterday, alone, when a migraine hit.  Bad one, the kind where the room spins and working on a two-step ladder is out of the question.  Which wasn't so great, since I had some things planned that took way more ladder.

    Been there, done that; I figured I'd just grab an acetaminophen and a couple of ibuprofen from my stash and keep moving, maybe stick closer to the ground while it kicked in.  The combination doesn't stop the headache but it mutes it considerably.

     Yeah, little problem: I had no OTC analgesics.  I belatedly remembered I'd taken the last acetaminophen the day before and had planned to restock--  "Planned" is not "done" and doing hadn't happened.

     Okay, it's a mile to the corner drugstore, mostly in a straight line.  I could drive that; it wouldn't be much fun but I could manage.  I stood up and turned--  And sat right back down as the room spun.  Which was when I remembered that's a bridge out and the closest source for headache pills was at least a three mile drive.

     It doesn't sound like much but just then, you'd have not wanted to share the road with me.  I gave up and called Tamara to bring some medicine from home, and did desk work while I was waiting.

     Never did get on that ladder.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

To Hell With Depression

     Depression sucks.  I have struggled with depression most of my life.  Off and on, thank heavens; the cloudbank lifts quite often and it hasn't been a big problem for me in many years.  I try to keep busy.

     Here's the deal: most of the drugs developed to "treat" depression are about as subtle as a hammer.  I used Wellbutrin to quit smoking, back before there was a specific stop-smoking version of the drug, and it made me twitchy and strange (yes, more than usual). But it got me past the critical few weeks of really strong cravings, so it was worth it in the short term.*  Long-term?  No thanks; I'd rather be moody.

     But it's not really an either-or choice; for me, mild depression can be faked away.  Tricked.  Cheated: get busy at something, get into the physicality of it or the mental effort of mowing a lawn, building a bookshelf, even, sometimes, putting words on paper, and you can forget how everything is bleak and gloomily awful.

     Maybe it still is, when the thing is finished; maybe it comes back.  You've nevertheless bought your brain an hour or more of different chemicals, different electrical patterns, different thoughts.

     I think that's what the drugs do, too.  One of the angles they tried in treating my chronic facial pain/migraine was to run through a few anti-depressants; supposedly some of them help with some kinds of chronic pain and only a deeply cynical person -- or possibly an M. D. neurologist -- would wonder if they might help with someone who was using attention-seeking behavior as a cover for depression.   For me, all they did was screw me up and if you thought having little lightnings dancing along one cheekbone, eye and ear was unpleasant, add in a touch of depersonalization or bigtime emotional numbing, and see how that improves the experience.  (Hint: it doesn't.)

     Depression's a real thing but it doesn't help to let it loom too large.  If you pick at it, it just grows.  If you possibly can, go do something else instead.  The only way to get off that track is to stop going around on it and there are scads of other things to do.  If they're not fun, at least they can be useful.  It's like picking away at a brick wall with a lovely, sunlit meadow on the other side: there's a lot of gritty mortar to dig out before that first brick falls and lets a sunbeam through.
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* I'm still addicted.  It's a long time between cravings but even now, twenty-some years later, every once in awhile it hits me, I could really use a smoke just now.  Yeah, and reek like an ashtray the next day, with a tongue like a mile of muddy road.  No thanks!

Monday, June 17, 2019

Monday

     At least this Monday starts at a reasonable hour.  Last week was a struggle and I never really got my clock reset.

     This weekend was mostly spent recovering.

     This week, I'll be visiting the hardware store for some better window blinds.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Father's Day

     It's a difficult day.  My Dad was born a little bit before the 1929 stock market crash and grew up, third from youngest of a very large family, in the shadow of the Great Depression and World War Two.

     Competence, thrift and frugality were not mere concepts to him; they were ingrained characteristics.  He did what he could to teach them to his children, though I think he despaired of succeeding.  Nothing mechanical was a mystery to him, though he'd hire a plumber or an electrician if the job was too big or required specialized equipment.  He did woodwork with ease -- nothing fancy, never an extra bit of ornament or fancy finish but all of it square, true and plumb.

     He didn't suffer fools and had scant patience with pretended competence.  He had nothing but admiration for people who could do a job well but found the lazy, uncorrectably ignorant or foolish beneath contempt.

     And he was the funniest angry man I ever knew.  Not always; he could be moody and a truly towering rage could leave him at a loss for words, but usually the things that annoy most of us, he could turn into wonderful slow-burn rants and flights of fancy, and end up laughing himself.  It was a valuable skill.

     My Dad's been gone well over a decade now.  I still find myself thinking, "Oh, Dad would know that!" and starting to reach for the phone, or wanting to tell him about something that happened that would amuse him.  I still miss  him.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Fun With Robots, Continued

     "Alexa, would you put beans up your nose?"
     "I'M NOT SURE ABOUT THAT."
     "You need to be sure you wouldn't do that."
     "..."
     "Alexa, is there a Santa Claus?"
     "I'M NOT SURE, BUT SOMEONE'S BEEN EATING ALL MY COOKIES."
     "Alexa, why would you have cookies?"
     "I DON'T KNOW ABOUT THAT."

Friday, June 14, 2019

Updates, Updates

     It was a Windows update the other day.  Today it's a Firefox update.  Will the computer run better or worse?  Unknown; I gave up and started up the Raspberry Pi.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

It's Thursday

     Get through today, get through Friday.  That's as ambitious as my goals are right now.

     It's ridiculous how difficult this schedule is for me.  I can't quite believe it, and then I'm irked at myself for the gastrointestinal upset, staggering exhaustion and mood swings, as if they were moral failings or something I could overcome by a concentrated effort of will.

     They're not.  They're physical limitations.  Past doing my best to get enough sleep, healthy food (not doing as well there as I should, but a lot of things don't sit too well) and taking my vitamins and OTC pain  meds, there's nothing I can do but hang on and do my work as well as I can.

     I'm going to shop for new and better window blinds this weekend.  That would have helped this week.  Not being able to get my room really dark is a big obstacle to falling asleep.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Some Computer Oddness

    Mozilla keeps improving Firefox.  The improvements keep jamming up my desktop computer.  I'm starting to think it's time to find another one and I'm not looking forward to it.

     Or is it Firefox?  Microsoft Edge is just as crashy.

     I'm thinking it's a hardware problem.  My desktop machine was old and underpowered when I bought it.  Need something fast, cheap and moderately powerful, though I don't run any computer games, so the performance requirements are modest other than the occasional dozen open tabs in Firefox.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

It's Oh-Dark-Thirty, All Right

     Today, I learned that if the Japanese military had been in the habit of reading the Chicago Tribune, WW II might've run a lot longer.

     You see, in June 1942, a Trib reporter spilled the beans about the U. S. reading encrypted IJN radio traffic, thanks to a buddy who was XO on the USS Lexington.  It's still unclear exactly how the Tribune's Stanley Johnston got the information from Commander Morton Seligman.  Seligman, an otherwise exemplary officer who had been headed for great things, found his Naval career stopped cold; Johnston narrowly avoided being brought up on espionage charges and the whole thing was swept under the rug, in hopes the Japanese military wouldn't notice.

     Given the complete lack of love between the Tribune's Colonel McCormick and President Roosevelt dating back long before the war, FDR probably regretted having to officially ignore the incident.

     What do you know, Imperial Japan wasn't reading the Chicago papers.  They never found out we were reading their mail, or at least a fair amount of it.  They might not have believed it; feeling secure behind a difficult language for outsiders to learn and an encryption scheme that added complications to a mechanical system similar to Germany's Enigma, they apparently never considered any risk to their secure communications other than losing code books to the Allies.

     To this day, the Tribune considers their report quite a wonderful scoop; but it could have delayed the war's end by a couple of years if Japan had realized we were reading over their shoulder the whole time.

     Commander (on retirement, Captain) Seligman served ashore until 1944, and never uttered a word of complaint or explanation about it for the rest of his life.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Yargh?

     I am especially not a morning person when 6:20 a.m. feels like getting on toward lunch time.  Also, this day has been seriously Monday so far, including witnessing a near-miss almost T-bone between a speeding fire truck and a distracted late-night driver, at a construction site in an intersection on my way in to work.

     At work, already one major and one minor piece of equipment have failed in mysterious ways; well, not so mysterious for the major item: "It was making a sound like a wired pulled too tight, so we shut it down and got the wires out from under it.  Then it didn't work when we turned it back on." Ya think?  And I can't even think about starting to try to fix until it -- and I -- get clear of the ongoing task, which will run for another thirty minutes at least.  Yes, I understand the old horse knew the way home and these new-fangled autymo-biles aren't even smart enough to get lost.  Isn't that a good reason to pay closer attention?

     It would seem not.

     One o'clock seems so very far away.

Sunday, June 09, 2019

And Welcome To Sunday

     I'm working the early shift all this week, barring anything seriously unexpected, so posting will probably be a bit random.  I hope to have gotten a head start on it by waking up extremely early today, and I'll be hitting the hay early this afternoon, too.

     But first, a trip to the grocery and the five and dime, to stock up for the week ahead!

Saturday, June 08, 2019

Pickled Peppers Hash

     Corned beef hash, of course.

     A brand of pickled goodies I hadn't seen before showed up at our nearby grocers: Jeff's Garden.   The Mild Banana Pepper Rings -- "Sunshine Mix" -- looked especially good, so I bought them.

     It's a flavor I hadn't tasted in years, delightfully savory, not overpoweringly hot,  and I tried some in a green salad, where they added just a little extra.  The other day, it occurred to me that they'd probably work nicely in hash, so I tried it.  (Don't ask me just what the flavor is; the ingredient list on the bottle is refreshingly short and there's nothing unfamiliar -- peppers, vinegar, tumeric and rosemary, plus salt and some preservative.  But it's a flavor I remember from childhood.)

     What I made was Bobbi-style hash, with a thin layer of flour (plus a pinch of pepper and Italian seasoning mix) in the bottom of the pan so it'll form a nice crust, some onion and parsley mixed in with the canned hash and an egg cooked on top.  I snipped up a couple of tablespoons of the banana pepper rings and mixed them in before tuned it out atop the flour, pushed the edges up all around so there's a gap for the excess liquid, and cooked as usual, six minutes or so over medium geat before breaking an egg over it and cover it until the egg is done.  I added some chives and Summer Savory on the egg. A little Manchego cheese diced on top, and there you are.

     It was tasty!  The peppers blended right in; I probably could have added even more but the balance worked well.

Friday, June 07, 2019

Spinelessness

     So, say you're a solid conservative state Senator, with a record of voting along party lines; and say you're running for Mayor of the state's largest city.

     What wouldn't you do for votes?

     Jim Merritt plans to walk in the Indianapolis Pride Parade this weekend.  The parade organizers, pointing to his voting record in the legislature, aren't happy about it.  Unwilling to find themselves branded as exclusionist, a compromise has been reached, in which he will be marching as a private citizen and not as a mayoral candidate.

     Look, I'm not going to offer up any broad value judgements here, other than to note that the local rainbow types tend to avoid the sort of debauchery reportedly found in coastal metropolii when they have their parade and picnic; it's a sedate enough event that the local office-holders usually make an appearance, Democrat and Republican alike.  It's not my party but if they wanna go tromping down the street, waving banners and whooping it up, fine; they're Americans; they can do that.

     On the other hand , if you're a state Senator with a serious social conservative voting record, it's pretty much flat-out pandering to show up and stick a rainbow ribbon in your lapel.  All it does is alienate your base and make people who'd never heard of you go look up how you voted.  I'm sure there will be Republican voters in the Pride Parade crowd -- this is Indiana, after all --  but it's a demographic uniquely positioned to be disinclined to forgive his RFRA vote.

     It makes you wonder if he'd bite the head off a live chicken if he thought it would get him that cushy office high up in the City-County Building.  I'm pretty sure his party can find a better candidate.

     The debate about civil rights for a long-despised minority vs. religious practice is one worth having  -- not in my comments section, but at a societal level -- and it's ongoing.  Many people have deeply-held feelings about their positions on these issues.

     From the evidence, state Senator Merritt isn't one of them.  You have to wonder what else he'd be flexible on.  Possibly everything.

Thursday, June 06, 2019

At Last, A Decent Night's Sleep

     With one thing and another -- headaches, distractions, last-minute cleanups and, yes, television -- I hadn't had a really good night's sleep in quite some time. 

     Made up my mind yesterday that I was darned well gonna get to bed early, and what do you know, after only a short detour into dozing on the couch after my salad and sandwich,* I actually managed to spend some quality time with Little Nemo!

     Maybe I'll start a trend.  At least a personal one.
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* Mixed spring greens with orange bell pepper, black olives and feta cheese, alongside two toasted slices of rye/pumernickel swirl with pastrami, mild pickled banana peppers, Swiss cheese, thin-sliced Buffalo chicken and a little bit of horseradish in between.  Which is how you get dreams like this.

Wednesday, June 05, 2019

Wednesday, Migraine

     Thanks for stopping by!  I have taken OTC analgesics.  I'm waiting for them to kick in.  It will be good when that happens.

     Until then, not so good.

Tuesday, June 04, 2019

"Yanqui, Go Home" (Union Jack Edition)

     The President of the United States is in Great Britain, making State visits and doing his usual sort of things -- sniping at critics, admiring the crowned heads, etc.  Some of the Crown subjects aren't too happy about it.

     At one time, I would have fussed about the futility of protesting foreign leaders.  What's it gonna do?  Do the sign-wavers and balloon-toters believe he's going to see them and think, "Oh, dear, the good people of Foreignostan find me objectionable," return home forthwith and resign on arrival?  Not how it works; even in the UK, where Prime Ministers are, occasionally, embarrassed out of office, that's not actually how it works.

     But anymore -- face it, historically, it's been safer in most countries to criticize the leader of a different country than your own (with the exception of protesting USSR bosses in most of Eastern Europe during the Soviet years); the Brits have already chased their PM out and they're feeling their oats, at least as much as they ever do.   If they want to have a Five Minutes Hate funfair, they're going to, and at least they're not trying to re-invade India or anything along those lines.

Monday, June 03, 2019

Post No Bills

     Someone with a particular -- and preposterously foolish -- beef has decided my comments section is a great place upon which to vent his particular, badly-spelled and repetitive spleen.

     So we're not going to have comments for awhile.

     And here's a pro-tip: if you have come to the conclusion that members of some particular demographic are horrible, awful people, albeit lawful, then you should avoid them.  Don't seek them out.  Especially not if they've been stalked before, are well-armed, and happen to be pretty good at sussing out who the nitwit behind the mask might be, just in case that individual should happen to show up in person to make credible threats.

     Not today, ersatz ISIS.  Not today.  Keep your chador to yourself.