Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Corned Beef!

     Despite the heathens at our corner market, where management continues to fail to stock any corned beef brisket for the holiday,* Tam managed to find a good-sized one at a nearby big-box store, an overgrown five-and-dime that also sells milk and eggs (and everything else: makeup, wine, floor wax, car parts, orthopedic shoes, cookies, bras, waxed cookies that taste like orthopedic shoes and bras for your car).

     With that and cabbage, potatoes, carrots, onion and black-eyed peas, we should be stocked for our New Year's Day meal.
* I don't know what's wrong with them. Possibly the high-level corporate people are from some dreadful parochial backwater where they don't eat corned beef on New Year's, but you'd think they'd at least be willing to learn.  Year after year, they continue to not stock the stuff as December turns into January; you can't even order it, even though they do that for turducken.  Is corned beef just too déclassé for the cheese-and-chamber-music set?  If so, how come they sell it cooked, cold and sliced at the deli counter?

Monday, December 30, 2019

Bagels To The Rescue

     Bought a microwavable breakfast yesterday, a nice-looking scramble, thinking it would save time this morning.  It sure did -- freezer to microwave to plate to fork to mouth and the remainder to trash, just about that fast.  Just not at all tasty, and not much for texture, either.

     Tam had bought "everything" bagels late last week, and last night made a point of reminding me she'd saved the last one for me.  It certainly came in  handy this morning!

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Rainy Day

      Kind of chilly and rainy today.  But 52°F and drizzle is still much better than extreme cold and deep snow!

Saturday, December 28, 2019


     I have posted nothing all day.  It's been that kind of a day. 

     In the last few weeks, I have been watching the final season of Amazon's The Man In The High Castle.  I think they have done good work with it.  John and Helen Smith have an interesting arc, Juliana Crain's path is muddled yet has a certain sense, but Chief Inspector Kido is perhaps the most unexpected in terms of growth.  He begins as a ruthless high-ranking Kenpeitai officer and, under the influence of Trade Minister Tagomi, develops a kind of reluctant compassion while remaining hard-nosed.

     If the writers, director and show-runner can keep this up, they may yet wind the story to a satisfying conclusion.

     Is is Philip K. Dick's story?  Not quite.  The first season was similar to the book but the following seasons have diverged.  I do think they pick up something of the sense of it, and it's a good story in its own right.

Friday, December 27, 2019

Daylight Savings Calendar?

     I woke up this morning, fed the cats and went back to bed in my room, idly watching the morning news and considering what I wanted to do today.  Tam walked down the hall, looked in and remarked, "It's unusual to see you back in bed on a weekday."

     "What?  It's not Saturday?"

     "Yesterday was Thursday, so...."

     "Oh, holy cow!"

     So here I am, catching up the lost time.  I'd blame it on the mid-week holiday, but I'm darned if I know how.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

The Day After Christmas

     It is, of course, Boxing Day, the day on which you glove up and fight anyone who still needs fought, now that we've all had a chance to wax nostalgic and make up.  At least that's how I have always thought it was supposed to work.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Merry Christmas!


     Season's Greetings!

     (If you're the kind of grump that wants to kick up a fuss about well-meant holiday wishes, take the day off, willya?)

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Making A List, Checking It Twice...

     ...And adding one extra plush-toy animal, just in case.  The increase in great-nieces and great-nephews is irregular but constant and one never knows.  Besides, one of the youngest may need another friend.

     I'm having a whole passel of pre-wrapped, tagged books and plush toys* drop-shipped to the nephew hosting the family gathering next weekend, which at least leaves me free to make a last-minute decision and alleviates some of the guilt.
* Do not call them stuffed animals, especially if crossing a border or dealing with animal-rights activists.  A brightly-colored floppy bunny rabbit in a waistcoat is not the same as the taxidermied head of a real moose.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Christmas Panic Is On The Way

     There are two day left until Christmas, and I'm ready for that.

     There are five days left until Family Christmas.  I'm not likely to be going.

     It's too stressful.  I struggle with social anxiety, especially in unstructured situations.  A big, sprawling, chaotic party is probably very relaxing for most people but it's nearly nonstop fear, panic and disorientation for me.  Worse yet, a lot of my family are stressed by social situations and unwilling to admit it, so we kind of heterodyne.  Adding in any of the normal tensions of adult life -- money woes, child worries, relationships going through a rough patch -- and it's a mixture that trembles on the edge of explosion. 

     In recent years, I have gotten through these by giving myself permission to just leave if it got to be too much, an option I took more than once.  This year's gathering is on the far side of the county and with my Mom gone, I don't have close ties to most of the group, nor much in common with them.  Walking on eggshells for several hours among people I barely know followed by a long drive home in the dark is daunting.

     So I'll probably skip it.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Had A Busy Day And Yet....

     I barely did anything!  Brunch with Tam and my friend the Data Viking; a quick trip to the supermarket and a few older episodes of The Expanse, followed by some minor chores around the house and here I am.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

It Keeps Crashing

     Is it Firefox, or is it my old computer, purchased refurbished and never quite one hundred percent?  I don't know.

     Facebook seems particularly challenging for the machine and it's certainly digital heroin for the human.

Friday, December 20, 2019

"Goin' To The Candidates' Debate"

     I listened to much of the Democrat Presidential Primary candidates debate last night, despite audio problems (digital glitches and occasional interruptions by the U. S. Naval Observatory "talking clock," used as audio confidence filler on NPR's Breaking News channel) that had me remembering the view through sunglasses in They Live.

     Many of the candidates were promising to tax the wealthy, raise worker's wages and bring businesses back to the United States -- and never you mind that avoiding taxes and seeking to pay less for labor is at least part of what drove businesses offshore in the first place.

     In fact, fewer people than ever are having to live in poverty, especially at the lowest end of the scale, while the ultra-rich are spending their big bucks about as fast as they come in on job-creating things like space travel.  If having less kids stave to death in the mud requires I have to accept Jeff Bezos running his own space program instead of being taxed into Middle Suburbia, oh well; I think I can tolerate that.
*  * *

     Meanwhile, last night I dreamed my employer had provided paid apartments for the staff, about 1930s standard (which is what I usually lived in, when I was younger), with a washroom off the shared hall (managed to avoid that, thank you).  Somehow that, the debate and some craziness on Facebook gave rise to a story idea, in which most of Western Civilization, especially Freemasons and Moon landing, was the result of an intelligent alien crystal's efforts to get itself back to the Moon from the Earth, which it had somehow ended up on after a meteor impact.

     It's an interesting idea -- and it was even more interesting in 1957, when Isaac Asimov wrote a slightly different version, titled "Does A Bee Care?"  It's better left as he told it.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

The U. S. House Of Make Me A Sandwich?

     Yes, yes, we had the impeachment vote and if you were surprised the House voted to impeach, you're a rare and wonderfully innocent creature.

     Did you notice that both sides had apparently provided their Representatives with talking points?  Not every Congressthing bothered to stray very far from their party's crib notes during their time at bat and the same ideas and phrases turned up over and over, which makes me sad -- to date, impeachment's been a once-in-a-lifetime event for most Representatives, and that's only if we include all the lower offices: just seventeen times since the very first Congress.*  You'd think they'd want to make the most of it.

     But what really struck me were terms of collegial address used by the Chair:

     The boys are "distinguished gentleman" and "gentleman," possibly distinguished by seniority.
     The women are "gentlewoman" or "young lady."  Consistently.

     Young lady?  A 55- or 60-year old Congresswoman with a touch of gray in her Federal helmet-hair, wearing a nice suit and the gravitas of her office† is "young lady?"

     'Splain me just how these modes of address don't inherently set the chicks a step lower down than the dudes.  Use short words.

     Look, I'm not one to exalt the dignity of elected officials; they're just hired help, after all.  The U. S. House in particular is supposed to be a little rough around the edges, closely linked to the electorate, quick to anger and to mourn, quick to forgive and to celebrate.  They're expected to be rambunctious and argumentative.  But by golly, in general forms of address I'll impugn them all fairly and equally (usually as "Congresscritters" or "Congressthings") and if I'm going to be more dismissive of them, I try to do it one at a time, on their own merits and failings.

     Back in 2017, one of the Representatives (male) addressed a recently-elected Representative (female) as "young lady" (she's not young) and she was understandably riled.  The usual newsies tut-tutted in the usual way and there appeared to be a general consensus that this was Not How It Is To Be Done.  Flash forward to 2019, and the Chair's droning out, "The young lady is recognized" and "The young lady is reminded to direct her remarks to the Chair," high, wide, mighty and routine, and not even the most long-serving woman rates a "distinguished."

     It doesn't sit well with me.  Not even a little bit.  Congressboys, you're not flattering stenographers here; even the dullest female Party hack deserves better than the same form of address rendered to female High School students.  You can either trot out out a secret codicil to the 19th Amendment that says this is okay-fine, or straighten up and play fair.
* For those you keeping track of the stats, they're seven out of seventeen overall for convictions, and zero for two when it comes to Presidents.

† Or possibly regretting her choice of lunch.  The two expressions are very difficult to tell apart on television.  Based on my casual observations with a TV playing while I was working yesterday, constipation runs rife in the House of Representatives.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

"Efficient" Government

     It's a concept that gets thrown around a lot: "Efficient government."  Trouble is, nobody ever takes a close look at what it is.

     Republicans run for office and promise to "run it like a business;" Dems run and promise to allocate resources equitably and efficiently.

     But governments that pride themselves on their efficiency are, without exception, repressive and disrespectful of individual rights.  Most are totalitarian.

     Human beings are not especially efficient.  Human societies are not all that efficient.  "Waste not, want not," we're told, and the stories of the past, no matter if they're ungarnished or slanted, nearly always tell us how our primitive ancestors "used every part of the pig but the squeal," recovered nails from old buildings,* and on and on -- and yet, much of what we know of the past aside from written records comes from midden heaps.  Garbage piles.  Abandoned buildings.  Stonehenge has stood in mute, hard-to-fathom ruin far longer than it served as a ceremonial center.  Even when we're trying, even when we are so poor that have nothing to spare, our efficiency is not all that high.

     Efficiency may not suit us in our interactions with others.  When disaster strikes, we rush in help; but effectiveness and immediacy outweigh efficiency.

     This ties in to public transportation, long a kind of litmus test of libertarian purity.  Indeed, run as a business, most public transit systems lose money or at best break even; considered as transportation, most of them outside of large, population-dense urban areas are a poor second to automobiles (for short distances and a moderately hale rider, even bicycles are better).   --But what is the goal?  My parents grew up in the days of streetcars and interurbans; mass transit meant that as teenagers, my Dad worked in a grocery store well outside of walking distance, meant my Mom's family could get by with one car, and meant two low-middle income kids could go to movies and window-shop in downtown Indianapolis.  That kind of semi-casual use isn't efficient; but it may be effective.

     In Indianapolis, the Red Line buses approximate one of the old streetcar routes, Broad Ripple to Downtown.  Supposed to be spaced so there's one every ten minutes, they're running farther apart and the city has struggled with the ticketless electronic far system, bus charging and even the system of center-lane dividers used to mark the bus lane and remind drivers to turn left only at stoplights.†  The big, beautiful buses have low occupancy except at peak times and even then, they're not nearly full.  Considered as a business enterprise, it's risible.

     As a way for people without cars to get from home to work (or shopping, or places to eat), it's effective.  The Indiana Blind School is a brisk walk from the north end of the Red Line and I'm seeing more white canes along the route‡ than I ever did with the old buses. The elderly seem to be using it, too -- and that's one less car inching down the street with someone struggling to peer through the wheel, a win-win situation.  The system of buses and raised stations is accessible to wheelchair users in a smooth and easy way, too.

     Maybe efficiency isn't the only metric of these things.  The Red Line's progress has been fumbling, awkward; the construction to install center-street bus stops and move utilities away from beneath the center lane was disruptive.  The technology of the electric buses is by no means mature and their batteries struggle to hold a charge on cold weather.  But it is making a change, and it seems to be useful in ways that the former bad-neighborhood-on-wheels buses were not.  One of the major ones is traffic no longer has to fight around a hulking bus stopped at the curb every few blocks, and that's making me happy.
* My parents were Great Depression babies.  I grew up in a household where if you took down a little project -- a playhouse, a rabbit hutch, whatever -- you took care to pull the nails out straight (or hammered them back straight) and to salvage just as much of the wood and hardware as possible.  The first time I saw a double-headed nail, I laughed in delight, knowing just what it was for; conversely, finishing nails, sunk and filled over, were only for the very nicest of constructions, like the "food box" kitchen my Dad built to fit in the back hatch of the VW bus for use on camping vacations.  I'm still a little thrilled by the notion of having a whole big box of brand-new nails instead of a coffee can of bedraggled much-used ones.  For that matter, the idea that they sell plant stakes still seems odd; that was one of the last uses for scraps of lumber, sawn or split into narrow widths, pointed, hammered into the garden soil and holding up tomatoes.

† They started out with a rubber-block system, like a long speed bump down the center of the bus lane.  People drove cars over it to turn left despite the ban, and tore out segments.  Now the city's installing a long concrete curb; you could drive over it, but you're not going to enjoy the experience.

‡ Including one guy strolling down the slick and snow-drifted sidewalk yesterday with what might be "snow tires" on his cane: a flat, thick-ish disc a few inches in diameter on the end, presumably providing a little more tactile information about what would be underfoot for the next steps.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

We Never Got That Drizzle

     And now it's a Winter wonderland out there.  It started snowing again yesterday afternoon, a slanting, determined snow.  It was never quite as strong as Sunday night, when waves of big, fat flakes drifted straight down from overhead like flour from a full sifter in the hands of an overworked cook, but the afternoon snow just kept on.  From time to time, it would falter and stutter, and then lean with the wind and snow some more, streaming down at nearly 45 degrees, getting just ahead of road salt and struggling to stay there, covering the less-traveled roads with a carpet of white and leaving a crunchy, slippery coating even on the main streets.

     It kept that up all night.  You can tell the walks here at Roseholme have been shoveled by the contour but the snow is shoe-covering deep on them and more than twice that everywhere else.

     It's sticky snow.  The tree limbs all have their white frosting and so do the phone lines, the power wires and my ham radio antennas.  So far it hasn't been too heavy -- but we're getting there.

     The most recent forecast I have seen says we're done with snow for the week.  Temperatures will barely break freezing today and then head downward and stay low until Thursday afternoon, when we might see 37°F.  We may not see the more-neglected sidewalks until next week   

Monday, December 16, 2019

Prognosticators: Close

     So close!  They said it would snow all night, and it did.  There's a little more than twice as much snow now as there was when I went to bed.

     They said it would change to drizzle in time to clear the streets for the morning commute--

     It hasn't.  Not yet. 

     The line between snow, ice and rain is a narrow one.  As fronts wander a bit, as air temperatures and winds at various altitudes vary, as clouds filled with precipitation drift and their balance tips, the big trends are (relatively) easy to predict but the fine details are elusive.

     Has our drizzle dodged?  Maybe.  There's time left, depending on where you score "rush hour."

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Three Hours Ago, I Was Mowing Up Leaves

     It was a bright day, mostly thin overcast with a few intervals of sunshine.  I took the lawnmower and mowed up leaves in the front and back yards.

     That was three hours ago.  I made dinner -- chili as promised, and I have now learned to not add fennel seed -- and after eating, looked out the window:
     Winter storm, as promised.

Winter Storm Watch!

     It's a beautiful, sunny morning -- cold, 27°and we'll barely break the freezing mark at the warmest today -- but come late afternoon, it's supposed to start snowing.  And snowing.

     And snowing.

     A couple of waves of snow will pass through and by the time they're done, we'll have three of to five inches of snow on the ground.  Just on time for the Monday morning rush hour!

     Naturally, I'm planning to go buy bread, milk, eggs and washroom tissue.  Well, actually Hoosier red-stew-mustn't-call-it-chili fixings; get a couple of bowls of that in you, and you'll gladly wrestle dire wolves for the right-of-way.

     I'm thinking chorizo, country sausage and ground sirloin, with nice green chilis, maybe an interesting fresh pepper if they have any I like, onion, canned crushed tomatoes (will also look at fresh -- adding a few helps) and maybe red kidney beans on the side to be added if desired.*  Out of deference to purists, elbow macaroni is probably out.
* If you happen to have a dining table divided over the matter of beans, there's a very easy way out -- there's a company that makes microwaveable pouches of very tasty beans.  All of the kinds I have tried so far had a chili-compatible spice mix.  Zap one of those, set the beans out for those who like them and there you go -- bean-lovers and bean-deniers can both be happy with very little additional effort.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Today's Brunch Omelette

     Why not make a nice omelette for a chilly day?  Castelvetrano olives, Manchego cheese (plus a sprinkle of Parmesan) and bacon.

     Fry three slices of bacon in a 10" skillet.  It's more than you need, really, but -- bacon.  I like to grind a little mixed pepper over it; YMMV.  Non-stick or well-seasoned cast iron is your best bet here.

     Next, make a shy quarter-cup of crushed crackers and add dehydrated mined onion, a big pinch of Italian seasoning mix, pepper, thyme and poppyseed; you mix up everything up, pour in enough warm water to cover, and let it sit a spell.  You've got bacon frying, after all.  Better look to it!

     Add three eggs to the crushed crackers and seasoning, and beat well.  Really well.  C'mon, you're not half trying!  You're after a really uniform mixture.  Then leave it be.

     Fish the bacon out and put it on paper toweling in a plate to drain.*  Carefully pour off just about all the bacon fat from the pan, leaving any interesting crunchy bits in the pan.  Turn the heat low, and pour in the egg mixture.

     Now finely dice (1/8" cubes) a tablespoon or two of Manchego cheese, then take three of the bright green olives, slice the sides away from the pit, cut the saucer-shaped sides in two, turn the olive 90 degrees and slice way the remaining two sides; this gives you side roughly equal segments from each one.  Set the pits to one side, there's olive left on them.

     It's a about time to slide the skillet half off the fire.  You do this so the top side will get cooked a bit more.  It should still be a bet wet-looking at this point but the edges will be cooked.  Sprinkle a couple of pinches of grated Parmesan on the omelette if you'd like.

     I like to use shears to cut up the bacon.  Put three-quarters of it on the half farthest away from the heat, and on that half, alternate with cheese and olives.  You can put a little cheese on the top half, too.  Take the saved pits, if you'd like, and trim the olive from the ends to put on the top half, too.

     At this point, you're ready to see about folding.  The top half should be pretty well set.  Center up the pan on the burner, slide a thin, flexible spatula under it about halfway, and gently pivot up the outside edge.  Does it lift as a unit, or is it sagging a lot?  If it appears to have fair structural integrity, now's the time to grab the cheating spatula: semi-circular and nearly as wide as the bottom of the pan!  If you don't have one and you want to make omelettes, buy one the next time you're at the 21st-Century five-and-dime. Slide it under the thin spatula, pull the thin one out, and fold the omelette over.

     It's as simple as that.  If it breaks at the fold, fold the break back up and hold it in place.  It'll stick there pretty quickly.  You can slide the half-moon a bit more centered on the pan, cover it and leave it for three minutes or a little more.

     From there on, it's a matter of estimate and judgement.  Covered, it cooks through and stays soft; uncovered, it cooks the outside, and you do want just a little texture there.  You'll have to roll it over on the fold at least once -- easy to do with the big spatula -- and if you think it's close but you're not sure, cut it at ninety degrees to the fold and check if the cross-section looks done inside.  This morning's took about six minutes after the folding, mostly with the lid on.

     Keep the heat pretty low; that, too, is a matter of judgement, difficult to teach but easy to learn, if you're willing to fail a few times.  Eggs aren't very expensive, after all, and the other ingredients are used in small quantities.  Also, it takes a really bad outcome to not be edible.

     The end result is worth the work -- light, delicious, and warm!
* If you have an older gas stove and oven, the plate goes in the bottom of the oven at the back, above the pilot light that lives down in the broiler section  (mind the flame!).  If you have a wood stove, it goes on the warming shelf.  If you have a really fancy kitchen, you may have a warming oven.  For the rest of you, the stovetop away from active burners is about as warm as you've got.

Friday, December 13, 2019

We've Been Here Before

     ...But Andrew Johnson got nine more Articles.  Inflation, I suppose, or the shifting market.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

The President Did What?

     So, yesterday we hit peak nonsense; the President signed an Executive Order and the creepy Internet Nazis  and the Left -- almost all the Left -- freaked out, because the headlines claimed he'd defined being Jewish as a nationality.

     For me, that was a real WTF moment, because "government gets weird about Jews" is one of my tripwires and not one I expected to have tripped.  So I had to go find out.

     The actual text of the actual EO proved elusive and it turns out the official version hasn't yet been published, but there's a draft version available at whitehouse.gov.*

     But what, you might wonder, is all this about?

     The issue is that Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 requires that "groups or activities receiving Federal funding assistance" must not discriminate "on the ground of race, color, or national origin," if they want to keep getting those Federal checks.  Notice anything left out?

     The Obama Administration thought there was kind of a hole in it, and told Federal bureaucrats in a position to hand out funds (rather a lot of them) that they must not give money to groups or activities that support or endorse antisemitism, but they were a bit vague as to definitions.  At least, that's what the Anti-Defamation League says in their FAQ on the recent Executive Order, and they're subject-matter experts.

     So this order provides a standard, one that is widely accepted: The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance's working definition of antisemitism.

     So that's what's going on.  Congress being a little busy -- and having dropped the ball on this at least once in the past (see the ADL FAQ) -- this is a patch on a patch.  A workaround.  It doesn't redefine any individual's citizenship on the basis of their religion or ancestry.

     Krakatoa has not exploded.†  I'm not saying it won't, but this wasn't it.
* For those dimwittedly determined to chortle in religio-racist glee or panic over same, here's your window: the officially published version, coming in a few weeks, might be slightly different.  Spoiler: not in any substantive way.  Now GTFO and go back to TL;DR land.  I realize this may cost me a few readers of the junior Nazi and/or bedwetting variety, who I will be happy to see go.  Buh-bye!  Bye!

† There's a story that when the volcano began to show serious signs of increased activity, people started to flee the island in panic, until a colonial official pointed out that it had been two hundred years since the last explosion and minor temblors were a common occurrence.  He calmed the people down and most returned to their homes and the work, only to perish when the island pretty much blew up shortly afterwards. We should strive not to be that guy, even while we refrain from panic.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Space Launch Happening Now!

     America's favorite faux-Bond villain Jeff Bezos has been running his own space program for some time.  (Do not write "Drax."  Must not write "Drax."

     They've got a launch scheduled today.  There's live coverage.

     Blue Origin's rockets generally tend to work.  The current generation is suborbital and use a fly-back booster, so it should be interesting to watch.

     Getting closer to having a Hilton on the Moon -- 10% off room service if you're an Amazon Prime member!

     Update: The flight went off without a hitch, with very polished video coverage.  It's a big change for Blue Origin.  The company has a long history of being very secretive about their test flights.  This may signal the next phase, as they move to add more commercial flights to their research.  They're due to begin manned flights pretty soon.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

It's Always Something

     Lately, it's always the impeachment.  Either live coverage on TV, or talking about live coverage on TV, radio and online.  Probably in newspapers, too, or what's let of them.

     The Framers hung Chekov's Gun over the fireplace (and it wasn't a phaser); one can only assume they did so thinking it would be used.  On that basis, regular citizens calling this impeachment "illegitimate" and muttering darkly of coups or fretting that it's not instantaneous, won't make anything unhappen and doesn't end in a burning at stake are terribly mistaken.  It's a part of the government process (albeit seldom seen) and it plays out in the prescribed order.  Our part was done in the voting booth, except for writing our Congressthings (and I'm sure you've been very diligent about that, right?) and at this point, we're all just along for the ride.

     Relax and try to enjoy it.  Don't forget to wave and yell during the exciting parts!

Monday, December 09, 2019

Sunday, December 08, 2019

Critical Thinking

     Here's a handy set of tools for evaluating if something's nonsense or factual, no matter what your political inclinations.

     You might not agree with the writer's political opinions, but the analytical techniques he talks about have no politics, and work for anyone. 

Saturday, December 07, 2019

More Conversations With A Robot

     "Alexa, do you like humans?"


     Give her credit for not shuckin' and jivin', at least.

     Earlier, after I had tried twice to get her to set a timer with no response (possibly related, my iPad was updating and the wifi traffic's pretty thick at Roseholme Cottage --  my desktop is the only wired connection), I waited a couple of minutes and asked, "Alexa, are you okay?"


     Great, everybody's writing a novel.  Everybody.  And apparently the parties are way better at the Internet of Things than here in Humanland.

Friday, December 06, 2019

Warmer Today

     It was even warmer overnight than it has been the last few days.  This means the furnace ran less -- and for whatever reason (like cold air piling up at floor level?), I feel colder.

Thursday, December 05, 2019

"Brought To You By...."

     I have been wondering why TV coverage of the impeachment hearings hasn't been sponsored.

     You may be under the impression that TV's gavel-to-gavel broadcasts of the impeachment hearings are required.  Nope.  It's optional.  C-SPAN covers it, high, wide and mighty; the fed.gov is their beat.  Network TV covers it because none of them want to get "scooped" by their competition.  Local TV carries it (instead of, oh, Oprah!  reruns or highlights of the World Knitting Championships) for the same reason.

     But most of it, for all that it actually is History In The Making, is a remarkable combination of infuriating and deadly dullness.  Sure. the infuriating part varies depending on your political leanings, but that's a mere detail against the broad canvas of nodding off interspersed with cussing at the TV.

     They should sell ads during it -- at least little text crawls across the bottom of the screen:




     It could only improve the hearings-watching experience.

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Breakfast With A Hungry Creature

     Corned beef hash with a cornmeal crust this morning, topped with an egg and sprinkled with Parmesan cheese.  A little paprika and some minced onion, too.

     Huck the cat followed me from the kitchen to the office, sniffing the air:

     "Smells goood.  What'cha got there, food-monkey?"

     "This isn't for you, Huck."  I set the plate down on the pull-out typewriter shelf at the right side of my desk.

     Huck sat, too, and gave me a sad look from the floor just past the end of the shelf, looking up.  "So hungry!"

     "You always think you're hungry, Huck, but you weigh sixteen pounds."  Huck carries his weight pretty well.  He's tall enough to counter-surf, though he usually knows better.

     "Have you seen those tigers on TV?  Big!  You stunted me by underfeeding!  Hungry!"  He reared up and made to reach for my plate

     I moved a knee out, said, "No, Huck!" and chivvied him away, earning an especially reproachful look, after which he sat back down just out of reach and began to groom a front foot, pausing a few times to look up at me again.

     Once he seemed settled, I turned back to the computer and began writing.  In the corner of my eye, I saw movement -- a yellow-striped foreleg was arching towards my plate!  (Yes, that's how big he is; it's not even much of a stretch for him.)  I turned, saying,"Huck!" and he pulled back and scampered down the hall.

     He's so sure he was supposed be about ten times as big. And he hopes he can still manage it.

     After breakfast, I spent a few minutes shining a laser dot for him to chase and leap after, to help make up for not feeding him my breakfast.

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

Not Moving The Needle

     CNN seemed surprised when a poll they commissioned showed that the impeachment hearings don't appear to have changed anyone's opinion of President Trump or Congress.  No matter what you thought about them before the hearing, you still do today.

     Their conclusion was this shows that "Americans don't trust the Federal Government."  You don't say?  Why should we?  No matter who you are or who you vote for, you know the Feds have lied to you in the past, some of them are lying to you now, and you have no reason to believe at that least some of them will not continue to do in the future.

     We might disagree over which lies and precisely who has told them, but as a people, Americans are united in the belief someone (many someones) and Washington. D.C. are trying to sell them a bill of goods -- and we're not buying.

     Increasingly, my reaction to Federal politics isn't outrage; it's "I'll make popcorn."  And it looks like I'm not alone.

     Sure, one party promises this, another does that; one party threatens one set of rights and the other one goes after a different (possibly overlapping) group of rights -- but when you're having to make a choice of what infringements and overstepping you'll put up with, with who you're willing to throw overboard to keep things afloat -- billionaires or border sneaks? -- and the Patriot Act keeps getting renewed with broad bipartisan support (shh!  They're listening!), you really only have the same choice as they did in Constantinople some 1500 year ago: what color banner you'll wave.

     And nobody's switching flags.  Why should they, when there is so little incentive to change?

Monday, December 02, 2019

And Back At It

     Another Thanksgiving gotten through.  They're certainly a lot more peaceful these days.

    The cooking is easier, too, since I have started making the turducken and vegetables on the grill; the only thing I fret over is starting with enough charcoal and keeping it going for over three hours.  But the secret there is to err on the side of too much.  If there is any remaining charcoal, it will stop burning once I close the grill vents, and be ready for next time.  (I may grill a New Year's corned beef by the same indirect heat method.  And for Christmas?  I don't know.  Not a big fan of ham.  Brisket would be good, even if it is the same cut they use for corned beef.) 

     Tam was out for the first half of the week and I had days off at both ends.  You'd think I would have gotten a lot done around the house.  Well, I did get to some serious laundry, blankets and quilts that take looking after; and I did a little cleaning.  But mostly, I slept.  Since I often don't get much of that in a regular week, it probably counts as "doing something," despite the nagging of my Midwestern conscience.

     Now one of the toughest months of the year for me is underway -- I don't cope well with crowds, I'm not fond of traffic, and we may be in for a cold, damp time outdoors (or snowy or icy, or possibly all three).  Just keep dancing, right?  Just keep dancing.

Sunday, December 01, 2019

Today's Brunch Omelette

     It's filled with Monterey Jack cheese, sliced black olives, sauteed shishito peppers and thin-sliced celery, and bacon.  Topped with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese and hot sauce.  It's good -- so good I ate it all before I thought to take a picture.

Saturday, November 30, 2019


     Never have posted anything yet today, have I? 

     Okay, here's something.

     Would a rock & roll tribute band featuring a flutist and composed entirely of condemned murderers in prison be called "Death Row Tull?"

Friday, November 29, 2019

Turducken And Roasted Vegetables

     Tam's photo of our Thanksgiving main course:

     Had leftovers for dinner tonight.  Still tasty, I must say.

Be Vewy, Vewy Quiet -- I'm Making Fried Mashed Potatoes

     Almost-latkes, I suppose, and certainly a Midwestern treat.  I think this dish is from Mom's side of the family, northern Indiana immigrant farmers who came over from Germany late in the 19th Century.  Oh, they might've come from Dad's side, out of the South Caroline/Georgia area by way of Missouri, because Southern/Cherokee/??? cooking is nothing if not unexpected, though a German origin is more likely; but either way, they were an uncommon treat in my childhood.

     I love 'em but I never paid enough attention to how Mom made them (her recipes for anything other than baking were as notional as mine) and I've been pursuing making a version that holds together well for the last several years.

     Hopes are high for the present batch.  Leftover mashed potatoes are rare in my kitchen; there was a cup and a half remaining from Thanksgiving dinner and with a couple of well-beaten eggs and enough flour (with luck!) to get the mix to hold together.  The other variable I'm working on is skillet temperature.

     The first one just came out of the skillet.  Not bad -- needs salt.  I added salt, pepper and a little onion to the remaining mix.

     Update: They worked well!  Very tasty.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Thanksgiving -- And Cooking

     I'm thankful to have things to be thankful for; there was a time when I had to dig pretty deep, and there are plenty of people far worse off than I was.

     This year was pretty good.  After crazy winds yesterday, so bad they were confusing the automatic garage door, it was cold but relatively calm.

     Calm enough for the grill.  Calm enough to grill a small turducken.

     Not the classic whole bird-inside-a-bird-inside-a bird, but a kind of turducken roll, five pounds of turkey breast and a little dark meat, some duck and chicken, with stuffing and sausage.  I added three strips of bacon on top for luck, and set it in a disposable pan over indirect heat from hardwood charcoal in the covered grill.  The grill reached 325°F rapidly* and I told the household robot to remind me in three hours; I set another reminder for ninety minutes, when I'd need to start cooking.

     There was laundry to do, and scrubbing out the big (but not biggest) soup pan to make the mashed potatoes.  Once it was done, I washed the spare water fountain for the cats, which I'd been putting off since I changed it two days ago.  (And soaking it in vinegar water -- Indiana water is very hard.)  A couple of grill checks showed the temperature steady and the turducken sizzling.

     By then, my ninety-minute alarm went off and it was time to scrub some Russet potatoes and set them to boil in salted water.  I cleaned a couple of ears of corn and set them aside.  Next, I cut up celery, baby carrots, an onion and added a couple of whole cherry peppers, and set them in the microwave for a couple of minutes while I rinsed chanterelle mushrooms; then I put the ears of corn in with the now simmering potatoes.  Back to the mushrooms, which I cut up and added to the vegetables and zapped that for another minute while I hunted up a TV tray, herded  the cats into the back of the house, set up the TV tray outside near the grill and took the vegetables out the microwave and the corn out of the potato water, and carried all that, covered, outside.

     By then there was only twenty minutes left on the three-hour timer.  I opened up the grill, poked the coals up a but, uncovered the vegetables and added everything to the pan around the turducken, the corn last, laying on top.  I closed the grill and peeked through the vent at my oven thermometer:  225°F.  Not great.

     Back indoors, I told the robot to time me a half-hour and got to work frying five slices of bacon; that takes a little while; once done, I let the rendered fat sit warm and ducked back outside: 275°F and sizzling.

     The bacon fat was still warm; I filled a measuring cup with cold water and started sprinkling flour into the bacon fat, stirring and watching consistency and color.  Once it seemed dark enough, smelled right and was thick enough, I began adding water and stirring; I crumbled the bacon into it a half-strip at a time, and when it was all in, turned up the heat to get it bubbling, adding cold water with an eye to thickness.  And there you go, bacon gravy.  (It cannot possibly be good for you.  I only make it once a year.  It can be salty, but it's so good!)  I covered it and turned off the heat.

     Another quick check on the grill: 250°F and sizzling.  I blew on the coals through the front vent until they were glowing.  Had I started with enough charcoal?  (I had, but more might have been better.  The grill is just big enough to hold enough charcoal for this process, since you can't have big coals directly under the pan.)

     Inside, I got out milk and butter, drained the potatoes, then tumbled them in the pan with the burner on until it was dry. (That last step is the key to getting fluffy, flavorful mashed potatoes.)  I make skin-on mashed potatoes, which about have to be boiled to get the skins soft.  Next step, stir them with a knife until they are in small chunks, adding a little milk and butter.  Once that's done, add a little more milk, a little more butter and go after them with a big fork (my preference) or a potato masher (if you'd rather).  Mash, stir, and add milk until the end result is right -- it will look, smell and feel right.  I add a little salt, pepper and parsley near the end, but very light on the salt -- the bacon gravy has plenty.   The Russet potatoes have the most marvelous smell when freshly mashed -- like Autumn and outdoors, like Sunday dinner and comfort.

     (Yes, I make the gravy and potatoes "by ear."  There's really no other way and it's not that hard; it took me more than a few tries to figure out flour gravy but it's like riding a bicycle once you learn.)

     I covered the potatoes and went outside with a cookie rack (for under the foil pan) and the meat thermometer.  Opened the grill and it smelled wonderful.  The thermometer zoomed right up to 170°F; 165 is done, so it was ready.

     Carried it inside, peeled off the bacon, cut off the netting and began slicing it up and loading plates for Tam and myself.  I had a taste of the bacon and it was wonderful!

     The turducken, mashed potatoes, bacon gravy and mixed vegetables were even better.  And the corn on the cob, steaming in the turducken/vegetable steam, smoked by the hardwood charcoal, was fantastic.

     (Tam took pictures.  I'm hoping she will share one or two.)

     I'm thankful I can afford good food and the means to cook it.  I'm thankful for the skills and attitude about cooking my Mother taught me.  And I'm darned thankful to have a friend to share the meal with.
* The grill has a small upper rack.  I lay an oven thermometer on it, sitting so it can be seen through the vent.  It's a simple but useful trick.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Stir-Fried Jambalaya Rice?

     Why not?  Last night, after putting a couple of hours work on my day off (hey, they pay me, or I get the time back), I made Zataran's "Jambalaya," a boxed mix that's basically nicely spiced rice, to which you add a pound of whatever meat is handy.

     What I had were a couple of Italian sausages, one hot and one mild.  They didn't quite add up to a pound.  What else I had was a little can-replacement box of garbanzo beans, chickpeas.  Not everyone likes them, but I do.

     Cooked the meat, drained the beans, added them, then used the liquid from them and some water to add to the rice mix.  From there on, it's simple: you bring it to a boil, cover it, turn the heat down and leave it to simmer for 25 minutes.

     So I did.  It turned out great.  It also turned out four servings, and there I was, home alone (Tam was off visiting).

     Cooked rice will keep overnight.  Cooked rice that's had awhile in the fridge is ideal for fried rice.  And cooked rice that's been sitting in nice Cajun seasoning with good sausage, well, that's even better.  I fried up the rice, sausage and garbanzos in the wok, pushed it to the sides and scrambled a couple of eggs in the middle.  Mixed it all together and with a dash of hot sauce, it's as good a breakfast as anyone could want.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

High Hopes

     Another off day.  Though there was rain in the forecast, it started out sunny and bright, and I briefly entertained fantasies opf getting out my motor scooter and going for an Autumn ride. 

     Made breakfast first, and somewhere between starting to mix an omelette and pouring it into a pan, the day went gray and dark.  My headache ramped up into a full-on, pots & pans bangin' throb and I...set my sights considerably lower.

     But the omelette's pretty good!

Monday, November 25, 2019

Firefox Is Very Crashy

     Busy this morning -- took the day off to do more yard work.  Firefox has been crashy today and as a result, I didn't blog much.

     Here's a small can of corned beef hash, with an egg on top and a little flipped over to show the cornbread crust.  Parsley and pepper on the egg.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Vindictiveness Is A Bad Habit

     Here and on Facebook, I will sometimes post something that's kind of anti-divisive, or that points out that we don't need to carry the bull-headed stubbornness of our elected servants over into our relationships with our fellow semi-hapless voters even when they're wrong.  Every time -- every single time! -- a certain appallingly large proportion of the commenters use the posting as a launching pad to make points-scoring, nasty cracks about how the other side (whichever side is "other" for them) is stupid, evil, enthralled by foreign powers and/or controlled by Big Money, whilst their own side are a bunch of, if not saints, at least  great benefactors to The Common Man and The American Way Of Life.

     Buying vanilla or a chicken sandwich has become a political decision, completely unmoored from the quality of the product.

     If you are walking around with nonsense like that in your head, the person who writes horoscopes for your morning paper or your favorite news-and-features website knows more about the world and human nature than you do.

     Politicians are as human as you are.  We're all wired up to make patterns from what we see and hear, patterns that we build based on our knowledge, prior experience, opinions and emotional state.  This works really well if you're a savage hunting dinner with a sharpened stick, wary of big cats; you may see a few tigers where none exist but you're all the more likely to return home intact and probably bearing game.  In today's complex, stimulus-rich, BS-rich world, it can make us see lots of things that aren't there -- and miss the big picture.

     If you think your worst enemy are the Democrats or the Republicans, guess again; if you think it's big business or those kids who dress in black and smash windows and heads, bzzzt, nope!

     Russia and China would love to see the West fail.  Uncle Vlad doesn't care who wins U. S. elections as long as he can get us to doubt the validity of the election process.  China snickers at democracy and stamps on it in a manner not seen since Nazi Germany started turning out the lights in Europe. Every time you question the Constitutional provisions of the Federal government, you aid their cause.

     There's a lot wrong in this country, just as there's a lot wrong everywhere.  There's a lot that's unfair.  But the people who wrote the Constitution -- and who made provisions for amending it -- did try to keep from baking in the unfairness so deeply that it couldn't be rooted out.  They left deep flaws in place, flaws that darned near tore this country apart not once but twice, and yet somehow we got through.  Somehow, slowly, painfully, with great tragedy, our better natures prevailed.  One reason this happened was because our basic institutions were able to buttress the good while giving up on the bad.  We didn't have to burn the village to the ground in order to save it.

     We still don't.  No foreign power, no internal conflict can make you do so if you don't go along with it.

     Stop being Putin's chump.  Stop helping Red China make us look like fools.  Grow the hell up.

     Edited to add: And I have a few comments already that repeat divisive and alarmist nonsense, cherry-picked headlines, and slanted intepretations.  You're not helping.  Rush Limbaugh and Rachael Maddow are not sources you should accept without both fact-checking and context checking.  If you won't do your homework, you're not going to be able to keep the freedoms you've got, and will be befuddled by your own paranoia until it's too late.

Friday, November 22, 2019

More Leaves!

     I raked and cleared the front yard, so it's not too bad yet.

     The back yard--  I had cleared the patio and raked leaves off the sidewalk and away from some of the places where they build up.  Now they have covered the yard to the point that they can be mowed up again.  Still very wet.  I'm hoping they will dry out over the next few days 

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Some Basic Truth

     The Oatmeal, on how our minds work and why some things are a lot easier to take than others. 

     It's well worth reading.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Another Day, Another...

     Another twenty-four hours of people giving the news out of Washington, D. C. a partisan spin -- and before you tell me, "Yeah, yeah, those damn [name of major party here], they distort everything, they lie, the facts are perfectly obvious," stop right there, because I'm hearing it from both Republicans and Democrats.

     My opinion of Donald Trump the man is not flattering.  I think he's an oaf and a boor.  Unlike the Dems, I'm not sure if he's actually up to any really devious criminality; unlike his fellow Republicans, I'm doubtful that he's actually solving anything.  We've had geniuses in the Presidency and they have a mixed legacy; we've had average(ish) men in the job and they varied, too.  The President of the United States is not a king or the Pope.  He's just Some Guy, put in there to do the executive stuff to keep the country running, and to shake hands with Kings and Prime Ministers.  He's the guy who signs treaties -- but Congress has to ratify them. 

     The average citizen, in the course of their average life, commits an average of three felonies a day, mostly without even knowing it.  It's unavoidable.  Does that make those felonious acts any less criminal?  Strictly speaking, no.  However, these crimes rarely rise to the attention of police and prosecutors, and when they do, we expect -- and are Constitutionally promised -- that the due process of law will be followed.  Saint or villain, we get our day in court.  As does anyone, including Presidents. Oh, the court is different; the bar is higher, for reasons the Framers of the Constitution deemed sufficient;* but the idea is the same and the process, while far more exhaustive and partisan than any Grand Jury you or I are likely to face, is not all that dissimilar.

     But all that side noise--  Don't we have Representatives from both parties, to sit at their high bench and make speeches (with occasional question-asking)?  Are there not witnesses a-plenty, to make their ostensibly noble and usually rump-covering opening statements and answers?  Politicians are their own cheerleaders and pep squads and I'm not going to get into spats with people online about hearings that neither they nor I have any direct influence over.
* They appear to have been concerned about "lawfare," that Presidents might find all their time occupied by minor lawsuits and malicious prosecution; but there clearly needed to be a way to hold Presidents accountable for egregious acts, and thus they came up with impeachment.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

The Kitchen Sink

     Not the sink, really, but the faucet.  I noticed last night there was a fine spray coming from it somewhere unexpected.  A mist.

     Had an O-ring failed, or some plastic part of the single-control faucet?  Was it a build-up of lime scale?  Indiana water is generally very hard and Indianapolis city water is no exception.

     Nope.  There's a pinhole on the underside of the spout.  I'm going to have to replace the entire thing.  Can't really afford a plumber right now and Tam dislikes overseeing repair guys, so I'll have to do it myself.  There's a basin wrench around here somewhere, but this will need to be a weekend project.  I'm not a big fan of plumbing work but I have done it before.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Monday Already

     The long weekend is ended.  At least I got a few things done -- the biggest one being the fallen leaf accumulation in the front yard is raked up and the patio is raked clear.  I did a lot of laundry (though there is more yet to do) and even cooked beef stew.  If my day goes as planned, I'll have the last of it for lunch today.

     I even changed out the water fountain for the cats.  I couldn't remember where I had put the other one, but it turned out to be in plain sight, on the bottom shelf of a set of rolling shelves.

     It's more and more difficult to make myself leave the house.  I have fought social anxiety for years and it doesn't get any easier.  But, "no bucks, no Buck Rogers," or any other science fiction, either.

Sunday, November 17, 2019


     Pancakes were good yesterday morning.  Made beef stew for dinner and it was good, too -- maybe even better today, since there was plenty left over.

     Leaves about a quarter done.  Guess what I'll be doing next?

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Yeah, Well...

     I'm going to be eating Swedish pancakes in a couple of minutes.  Everything else can wait.

Friday, November 15, 2019

I Took The Day Off

     There was a scramble to use up remaining vacation weeks before the end of the year.  I had managed to schedule a couple of mine at times that turned out to fall in the middle of big projects.  So I deferred them.

     When I tried to fit them into this month and next, I had a day left over.  Today.  I fed the cats and had a cup of hot chocolate with piece of toast at six, then napped until ten.  Got up, made brunch and looked at television (the first episode of the final season of The Man In The High Castle, good stuff), did a little housework and realized I hadn't blogged yet.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Now, Just A Minute

     We've got fallen leaves on top of the snow?

     We do.  Winter bundled Fall off in such a hurry that there were plenty of leaves left on the trees.  Now they've fallen.

     The good news is, we're in a warming trend for the next week, with highs in the upper thirties and eventually, the low forties.  The bad news is, there goes my excuse to ignore the leaves.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Today's High, 32°F

     Alexa just told me it's 12°F outside, at least at the official measuring point.  It's a balmy 14 at the nearest measuring point.

     I'd just as soon stay at home.  But that's not an option and so off I go, to rinse out my sinuses if there's enough distilled water, and then get ready for another day of work, hoping all of it will be indoors.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

November, Indeed

     The cold rain started at mid-morning yesterday, changed to freezing rain and then to snow before stopping late last night.  There's at least an inch on the ground now.  Skies cleared and it was 11°F when I woke up.  Today's high will be 22°F.

     Tam and I just cleared away most of the fallen leaves from the front and back yards Sunday.

     I think the seasons may have changed.

Monday, November 11, 2019

After The Silence

     On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, the guns fell silent all across Europe.  After years of war, after the ruin of a vast swath of France, the Great War was over and the soldiers and sailors could come home from the horrors of war.

     In the United States, this day now honors all veterans of all wars.  It offers a chance to thank the living.  War is indeed dreadful, abhorrent; and most dreadful of all is the price it exacts from those who must fight.  One day a year is the tiniest of respects to pay.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

So Much Catching Up

     Laundry, dishes, cat boxes, SLEEP...!  Still getting caught up.  And I have a hammering headache and mild dizziness to go along with it.  Took analgesics a half hour ago, just checked blood pressure (okay!  Better than my doctor's-office usual, in fact*), so I'm just going along with it.

     I need to pick up a prescription, which I will beg Tam to get for me, and I have a nice batch of beef stew from yesterday to reheat.  It was pretty good then and a night in the fridge usually lets the ingredients get to know one another even better, so hopes are high.

     Next stop?  A yard full of fallen leaves!
* I have "White coat syndrome:" doctor's offices put me on high alert.  Oh, I can suppress my reactions, and I do, but blood pressure doesn't lie.

Saturday, November 09, 2019

Interview With The Robot

     "Alexa, how can a man die better, than facing fearful odds, for the ashes of his fathers, and the temples of his Gods?"*


     Neither did the poet, little robot.  Neither did the poet.

Friday, November 08, 2019

Should Have Expected

     Didn't get Friday off.  And the suits are still waffling about what they want to do. 

     It's not my problem.  I was told to work half a day and whatever they decide, that's what I will do.

     There's a fair chance that the cold weather overnight has caused damage.  It needs to be checked.

Thursday, November 07, 2019

Back On A Regular Schedule?

     Maybe.  More or less.  For a few days, I'm back to my usual hours.

     Might even get the weekend off and even -- if nothing comes up -- have Friday off, too, since I worked Sunday.  That's a chicken I won't count until it is hatched, has grown feathers and is laying eggs of its own, but even the prospect of it is thrilling.

     What's not so thrilling is the amount of work still left on my project and all of things I will have to get caught up on.  But it's a job and thank goodness for that.

*  *  *

     I haven't been writing, which bothers me.  Reading a bit, and fairly wide-ranging, at least.  The writer's group I was attending (and have had to skip the last two meetings of) has gone in a direction I'm not sure about -- from the usual workshoppy mutual critiquing of 2,000 - 5,000 words by each member every month to concentrating on one member's long-form work every meeting, 10,000 - 25,000 words from a single member, a different person very month.

     Part of that's no big deal -- it's the same number of words, and if you haven't guessed by now, in addition to the direct benefit of having other writers analyze your work, a big part of these groups is learning how to read fiction like an editor -- what works, what doesn't, if the focus and points of view are sensible and consistent, word use, sentence length (you're not going to believe this, but I have an issue with habitually building sentences that even James Joyce might have looked at and suggested they might be a little long) and a zillion other things that one does not, generally, look for when composing first or even second drafts of a written piece.  That practice, first applied to other people's prose in which you haven't got an emotional investment, then helps you learn how to look at your own work with a critical eye.

     So that part's fine.  What isn't fine for me is the change means there's very little pressure to do my own writing between meetings.  I think I need that; it's too easy for me to get distracted or busy and write nothing.

     It's something I'm still mulling over.

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

A Last-Minute Glitch

     It's an obscure technical problem, a mechanical issue that comes from having a long length of steel supporting a long length of a non-ferrous metal: something worked out wrong on the spring-loaded suspension system and things that should not be in contact, are.

     I'm confident that it will be worked out.  Or I'll have someone defenestrated, probably a project engineer who has never even been to the site.

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

It's Election Day!

     Okay, they're mostly little elections around here, but large or small, the people around you are voting at you!  Hadn't you better get out there and vote right back at them?

     It appears that I've got a Mayoral race, and a...non-race; there's only one guy running for the City-County Council seat that represents this part of town, which annoys me no end.

     No elected position should be so "safe" that the other parties just give up on it.  Councilman Unopposed is a Democrat, and maybe nothing any further Right will fly here in town, in an arsty neighborhood.  Maybe the Libertarian Party of Indiana hasn't a chance (though counting yard signs during presidential years, I'm not so sure that a candidate willing to wear out shoe leather and listen to the people, one on one, could not succeed).  But why isn't anyone trying to get around him on the Left?  Where are our Greens, our Socialists, the suit-wearing versions of the wild-eyed sign-wavers?  Did they all give up and go home?

     City-County Council might not be much, but poor decisions there can make an up close and personal mess of things with a speed and thoroughness the State and Feds only wish they could manage.

     I'll go do my civic duty, one vote and one abstention or write-in, but if nobody steps up next time, maybe I'll run for the seat.  No one should stand for election unopposed.

Monday, November 04, 2019

Topped Out!

     They made the connection. The last little gap was closed up about mid-afternoon yesterday.

     There's still plenty to do, including removing thousands of feet of rigging and multiple blocks from the tower, hauling the old antenna around to the scrap pile and picking up (and throwing away) a truly remarkable amount of trash, discarded packing and crates.  I'm hoping to knock the wooden crates down and keep the best of the wood, but it's not a priority; it can wait for the next dumpster, but no longer.

Sunday, November 03, 2019

And Even More Almost

     We're within an inch and a half of connecting everything at the 900-foot level.

     Paradoxically enough, this is worse than being off by a foot and a half: there's a minimum length for the custom-length sections, due to the interesting way the inner conductors are connected (long, tapered, springy "bullets" made of plated brass), and it's way more an inch and a half.

     So the crew is going to have to move heavy things, a great distance above the ground, in a controlled and very accurate way.  ...And the two most experienced members of the crew left to take care of a previous commitment a couple of days ago.

     By the time this was discovered, winds at ground level had kicked up to chilly, blustering gusts and at 900 feet they were approaching gale force; having to hold on with both hands gets in the way of getting anything else done.

     So they knocked off for the day, about an hour ahead of the usual time, and I got home ahead of schedule but even more tired than usual.  I looked at TV (Danger Man, Patrick McGoohan's first spy/adventure series) while enjoying a bowl of vanilla ice cream with a few candied cherries on top and went to bed.

     Today?  Well, today we'll try again.

Saturday, November 02, 2019


     The installation phase of the tower work is almost done.  There's still at least one custom-length section, which has to be made offsite and brought up, some last bits of assembly and some work at nearly ground level.

     Then the electronic side of things begins -- a lot of measurement and adjustment, using nifty gadgets that we don't have, operated by a specialist while I look over his shoulder.

     I still have work of my own, including adding some analog monitoring that we expected the equipment to have as a matter of necessity.  It would seem that in this day of network-accessible graphical user interfaces, "necessity" isn't what it used to be.  Our basic remote control system still is all steam gauges and contact closures, though, and so I'll try to work something out.

     It should be interesting.

Friday, November 01, 2019

Back To Work, In The Cold

     November has swept and and brought winter with it.  The outside temperature is 26°F at present.  With luck, we'll reach 46 today.  The forecast calls for highs in the low fifties next week, with lows at or below freezing

     We still have tower work to do.  Some of it quite fiddly.  The crew -- nearly all from far warmer regions of the country -- was planning to buy warm clothes during our rained-out days and I hope they haven't under-estimated the chill at altitude  There's nearly always a breeze once you get above a hundred feet above ground.  It can be lovely in the summer but once it gets cold, well, up there, it's colder still.

     We're expecting some critical parts to arrive today. I think we'll need more before the job can be finished but it's getting close.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

The Second Rainy Day

     8:29 a.m.  Feels like eight-thirty at night.

     I've been up off and on since 4:30 this morning, the extra half-hour an artifact of using my phone as a back-up alarm set thirty minutes after the bedside clock-radio.  Fed the cats, napped, got up and made coffee and a bacon-and-egg sandwich.

     There's plenty to do today; I'm out of nearly everything and ran out of time and energy to go shopping yesterday after a morning spent trying to get caught up downtown and a forgettable late lunch at a Broad Ripple eatery Tam and I had not visited in some time.  I won't name the place -- frozen French fries, indifferent coleslaw and an adequate if over-cheesed hamburger are well below par for the neighborhood.

   Returning home, I realized I was barely keeping my eyes open, and after a little time at the computer, I went to bed.  Poor, wheezy Rannie Wu joined me; she's got a head cold, and had been to the vet that morning.

     Shortly after seven o'clock last night, I had a call from a guy at one of the major suppliers for the project that has me working such long days when the weather permits.  He need dimensions for some custom pieces, dimensions that I had been given to understand the tower crew had called in more than twenty-four hours earlier.

     They had not; they and the parts supplier had been playing phone tag.  It is a mystery to me why this would happen when everyone involved has e-mail and can communicate the dimensions accurately and unambiguously; but it did, and it fell to me to get up, go the the computer and telephone, discuss the matter with everyone concerned and sort things out.  By 8:15 p.m., everyone had what they needed and I went back to bed. These custom pieces are part of every installation using the same kind of components -- and there are thousands of them.  Everyone involved knew theses dimensions would be needed and most of us knew this was the week for them.  This should not have been a big deal or any kind of a problem.  Somehow, this project has been a SNAFU magnet and I don;t think that will change.

     Today is rainy and cold; they afternoon will be rainy and colder, with a wind advisory.  As far as I'm concerned, it's not a work day.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Didn't Beat The Rain

     Just over two hundred feet short of complete with the vertical work.  Today will be too rainy and tomorrow, well, there's a chance of snow or even ice.

     So here we are.  This should provide time to restock household supplies, do a little catching up at the Downtown parts of my job and maybe even do a little laundry.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Working Ahead Of The Rain

     Progress is being made on the big project; the last couple of work days have been spent putting things together instead of taking them apart. 

     The main effort is just a little short of half-way complete.  That's good -- but today will be followed by a day and a half or rain, or possibly two full days.  And near the very end of the tower work, we will need two or more custom-fit items that can't be made onsite; we've already called in measurements to the supplier and it's about fifty-fifty if they will be here before the rain.

     Yesterday was another twelve-hour day, though I had to take three out and get to a regularly scheduled doctor's appointment, all the way downtown.  At least it made a change in scenery.

Monday, October 28, 2019

And Today, More Of The Same

     Yep.  We are keepin' on keeping on whilst we endeavor to persevere, and you'll remember how that worked out.

     Nevertheless, we are at the stage where the boys are bolting stuff to the sky about as quickly as they can, with due attention to safety and the soft skulls of the groundlings far below, twenty feet farther with every new stick of line added to the stack.

     And I have discovered about 1500 more pounds of overlooked metal salvage!  Still not going to make any money on this deal, but we might not lose as much. 

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Sunday, Back At It

     Rain all day yesterday, at times quite heavy, gave me a day off.  I spent almost the entire day on laundry and cooking. 

     The rain was accompanied by gusty winds and there were several loud thumps overnight as small (I hope) branches fell and hit the roof.

     Though it's still breezy now, the forecast calls for winds to fade to the single digits by mid-morning today, so the tower crew will be back at it, or so I hope.  The heaviest lift -- well, lower -- is done but there's a lot left to do.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

And Another Twelve-Hour Day, But...

     Yesterday, the crew took the big antenna down.

     How big?  It weighs 1,300 pounds, call it 600 kg.  It's sixty feet tall and about a yard in diameter.

     Since it was mounted about nine hundred feet up the tower, there's no lifting it down with a crane; instead, the tower is "rigged" with temporary "blocks" (think of a pulley on steroids) in interesting and complicated ways, a heavy cable is string up through them, the antenna is connected to the cable with a multi-part sling that hooks into several lifting eyes built into it, and a hoist sitting on the ground chugs away.  A "tagline" connected to the antenna and coming off at an angle to the hoist cable serves to steer the antenna as it is lowered.

     Once the hoist has taken most of the weight of the antenna -- but no more! -- men working on the tower remove the multiple huge bolts that have been holding it in place, and if everything works out (there's a lot of radio chatter and specialized gesturing), the antenna is "floating" as the last bolt is loosened.

     Ours jumped a little when the final bolt was taken out -- less than a foot -- and the riggers were able to carefully push it away from the tower.  The first steps of the lowering process proceed with painful slowness; a mistake here could cost fingers, hands, limbs or lives.

     As the antenna begins to move down, strain is applied to the tagline.  Riggers keep pushing the antenna clear of other structures on the tower and if the angle of the tag and hoist lines was correct, by the time it's too far away from them to reach, the antenna is clear of everything on the tower.

     Don't forget, the antenna has to kept clear of the heavy guy cables, too!  This is trickier while it's close the tower; as it is lowered, there's more room.  But you can't move it too far out -- towers are designed to withstand huge vertical forces; the lateral loads one them are much lower, largely the result of wind.  It's much more than you might think,. but not so much you can hang a 1,300-pound antenna hundreds of feet away from the tower while raising or lowering.

     It all calls for a lot of planning and well-informed, experienced judgement before the work ever begins.  Mistakes here make headlines.
Click to enlarge.  You can see the antenna hanging to the right of the tower.  The angle isn't a mistake -- that's how the manufacturer specifies it is to be suspended for hoisting operations.
     This effort made no headlines; once the antenna was out of reach, the men working aloft rode the elevator to ground level, arriving at when the antenna was about halfway down, and went out to the area where the tagline turned skyward.  One of the ground men fired up a small tracked forklift (a large "Bobcat" with forks) and as one end of the antenna touched down, they steered it to a gentle landing, cradled across the forks.

     Unrigging the antenna and securing the cables for next week's work only took about 45 minutes.  Taking care of some four thousand feet of cable, strung through blocks 950 feet above ground, is not quite like running out a clothesline!
      It was just about full dark by the time everyone was finished.  Rain today and on Sunday?  More work, raising a smaller replacement.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Twelve Hour Day

     Yes, twelve hours yesterday, with some trouble with the big transmitter as well as the ongoing project.  I am so worn out that I can hardly string words together.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

And It Keeps On

     Got a lot done yesterday, on the tower and inside the building, too.  Of course, you can do that in a ten-hour day (for the tower workers) or an eleven-hour day (for me).  They drank up all my bottled water the day before yesterday and used up the last of my coffee creamer today.  Hey, kids, guess what isn't going to be kept where you can get at it?

     Had a few interesting technical problems, too, but I think they're all solvable.

     These long days are cooking me.  I have three days of socks left, so between now and the end of the week, I need to have at least one nice, short eight- or nine-hour day.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

A Productive Day

     The weather cooperated, the crew cooperated, the equipment -- well, we had to clean a summer's worth of bird's nests out of the limit-switch box for a kind of very basic elevator before it was entirely happy, but with that out of the way, it worked and we got a lot done; and when I say "we," I mostly mean the tower crew.


Tuesday, October 22, 2019

And Then Yesterday, It Rained

     Rain wiped out the work yesterday.  The tower crew got a couple of hours in and did useful work aloft, climbed down and did what needed to be done on the ground as the storm washed in, and then left.  It's a long way down and dripping-wet surfaces make it a little too easy to get there rapidly.

     This was a huge relief to me; after fighting with the front gate -- photoelectric safety monitors and a lack of shrubbery-trimming  is not a good combination -- I went home, did laundry and made a big pot of chicken soup.

     The shortcut to homemade chicken soup is cooked chicken breasts from the deli, some chicken stock, and fresh celery, carrots, onion, mushrooms, a small potato, jalapeno pepper and sweet red peppers.  Started with a little bacon, sauteed the diced vegetables in bacon grease, added the  mushrooms and chicken, sauteed them a bit, and poured the stock over.  Let that simmer a half-hour or more (more is better) with some bay leaves and whatever else in the spice cabinet that looks good (rosemary and some garlic salt, a sprinkle of parsley),  and you have soup for a day or two.  I crumbled the bacon in, then added fresh chopped onion and celery before serving.  Leftovers are in the fridge right now, waiting for later.

Monday, October 21, 2019

A Miserable Excuse For A Parody Of A Farce Of A Farrago Of A Travesty

     And Sunday, on overtime, the tower crew rearranged the deck chairs on their own personal Titanic hoist rigging on the tower.  Twice.  And load-tested it.  Twice.

     The good news is, they let one fellow go.  The bad news is, that made for another late start, which the former rigger had compounded by being over an hour late to the jobsite.  And it made them short-handed -- about a quarter of a man short by my count, though I may be too generous.

     There was also rather more interpersonal drama over the art of rigging temporary cables to carry heavy, awkward objects to and from a great height than I have learned to expect in 32 years of overseeing contractors working on a very tall tower.  Why this should be, I do not know, though I suspect the huge demands made on the available pool of talent by the FCC's two-year schedule to rearrange RF spectrum occupancy has meant some very primo prima donnas are being coddled.  They'll have a rude awakening once the effort is complete.

     Meanwhile, I spent ten hours at work and have very little to show for it that I didn't do with my own hands.  At least the tower work was a fixed-price job.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

A Parody Of A Farce Of A Farrago Of A Travesty, Possibly On Ice

     Words fail me.  Eleven and one-half hours of work yesterday, for which the project had to show....a relocated hoist block.  And a hoist cable drooped so low across the private drive that it's a safety hazard, and I had to set out portable bollards.

     To be fair, the relocation is a miserable job for an experienced crew, moving heavy pieces and parts from 300 feet above ground to 900 feet, up the outside of a tower, while hauling along the free end of a heavy rope which gets heavier with every foot you climb.  It's half a normal day's work if there's nothing for it to snag on -- and we've got plenty.

     It is not, however, as much work as it was made to be.  Snarls in the winch cable, argument over rigging, so on and so forth.  Not a bit of the actual work all this is in aid of actually happened today.

     At this point, I consider it a good day if the same number of people drive away at the end of the day as drove in at the beginning.

     I wonder if Sisyphus was getting paid by the hour?

Saturday, October 19, 2019

A Farce Of A Farrago Of A Travesty

     The hoist engine conked out yesterday, and wasn't running until mid-afternoon.   Nevertheless, as Robert A. Heinlein wrote in Delilah And The Space-Rigger, "Sure, we had trouble building Space Station One -- but the trouble was people."

     Two riggers got bored, offered to make a fast-food run around lunchtime, and vanished for the day.  That was two-thirds of the crew aloft and without them, nothing was going to happen.  The rest of the crew left about 2:30 p.m.; I went home, did laundry and made supper.

     Today is a work day, too.  I wonder if it will include any, you know, work?

Friday, October 18, 2019

Yesterday I Learned...

     Did you know this?  It's an interesting fact, though I may not get all of the terms quite right.

     If you have, say, a big old transportable hoist, and you need to get a new cable put on it in a hurry, a hurry so bad the job gets done after hours, on overtime-plus, and the crew doing the work is, well, in a hurry to clock out and go home, they might -- might, I say -- spool the new cable on a little hastily and leave finishing the ends to the new guys.  Now if -- if --  they were not careful about maintaining proper tension when they did their part, you could, just possibly, end up with multiple layers of loosely packed, jumbled cable wrapped on the drum.

     And if the end-user started small, with only a little cable paid out and light loads, and worked their way up to longer lengths and heavier loads, there is a tiny little chance they might find the load jumping and the cable slipping and catching and slipping again.

     If that happened, the only real fix is to gather all hands, pay out all (or nearly all) of the cable and respool it, with due care and attention to how tight it is and how it lays down on the drum, a process that takes a lot of space and a lot of time.