Thursday, April 30, 2020

Y'know What I Miss?

     I miss salad bars.  They'd already gotten pretty scarce before this pandemic and they're not going to come back any time soon.

     There's a lunch place across from where I work that's got one, but my lunch break is late, they are understaffed and by the time I get there, it's more science experiment than temptation.

     It used to be that no small-town steak joint worthy of the name lacked a salad bar.  It was a necessary component.  They seemed to fade away with the first round of chain-restaurant steak places (Bonanza, Ponderosa, Mr. Steak) and their standalone competitors.  The next bunch (Outback, Texas Roadhouse, etc.) don't seem to have them -- and for my money, the steaks aren't the same, either.

     Some fine, far-off day there will be sit-down chow joints and salad bars again.  Some day.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Oh, For Pity's Sake...

     The "It's no worse then the flu"/"They're cooking the books on the death count" crowd has just about convinced me to leave F*cebook for good.

     Cause of death is a complex thing and like Achilles and the Tortoise, every time you think you've caught up with it, it has moved a little bit ahead: if you've got an pre-existing condition, say COPD, heart disease or extreme old age, and you come down with COVID-19 and develop a severe case, your pre-existing condition is likely to be the thing that directly kills you, months or years earlier than it would have if you didn't have COVID-19.  It's probably going to get recorded as a coronavirus death.

       You can pick nits over defining those stats all day long (and still miss the person dying of a quiet stroke in the ER waiting room, overlooked because the hospital is too overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients), but that's not a useful analysis; the real measure is the raw death rate in an area with a coronavirus outbreak.  All deaths, by any cause; add 'em up and compare to the same period in previous years.  If it's higher, you've got a problem.  We won't have even those numbers for awhile, but we have a proxy: how full are the morgues?  How busy are the funeral homes?  And the answer is, in the hard-hit areas, they're swamped.  That's not something that can be faked, not in a city crawling with newspaper, radio and TV reporters with too much free time and a lot of competitive pressure.

     SARS-CoV-2 is worse than the flu.  A lot worse -- and likely far more communicable.

     Which leads to the other line of addled thinking; I keep seeing, "They say we're all going to get it, so why not open everything back up, catch it and get it done already?

     The problem with that approach is, if we all get it at once in some city or region, you get a replay of New York City or Northern Italy.  Those places don't have an unusually low number of hospital beds per capita; they're about average or even a little better.  Yes, where you live isn't as densely populated as NYC, but on a per-person basis, it's got the same number of or fewer doctors and hospital rooms; on a per-capita basis, it's got the same square footage of grocery stores and big-box stores and other places where you can get right up close and personal with your neighbors -- and whatever viruses they've got.  One percent of Manhattan's population, in one percent of the space, with one percent of the doctors, hospitals and common spaces is not one percent of the problem.  It's the same problem, overworked medical personnel, high death rate and all.

     If you're in a rural area, you do get a break: the spread will be slower.  If you and your closest neighbors (dozens of miles away) are only in town once every two weeks, the virus won't spread as quickly in an outbreak; but given that some infected people are spreading the virus for two weeks before they show symptoms, it will still spread -- and medical services tend to be few and far between in such areas. You'll all end up in the same dinky county hospital and it will be just as busy as Big City General would be, despite the smaller scale.

     That gets us to another problem, one that haunts medical facilities, especially overworked ones.  It's a version of The Sniper Problem: there you are, in an area with only fair cover and concealment, and there's a sniper hidden some distance away.  You have to stay out of sight of the sniper all of the time but the sniper only has to get a clear shot at you once.  It's an unfair contest -- and it is exactly the fight between healthcare workers and a highly infections illness: they have to get PPE exactly right every time, but the virus only has to get through one time.  And it's not just patient-to-provider transmission, but patient-to-patient via provider: hospitals (and other patient-care facilities) can easily become centers of infection.

     So there are good reasons to remain isolated, to restart non-essential commerce slowly and cautiously, and to remain ready to pull back when and where there are outbreaks.

     Many people are saying the risk doesn't matter, that we have to restart the economy to prevent a recession or worse.  Too late.  We're going to have a recession and maybe a depression.  It can't be avoided.  There are going to be economic readjustments and they're going to hurt.  Just getting supply chains untangled from Red China is going to be disruptive, and that may be the smallest effect.

     Our choice is to have a bad economic slump and huge numbers of overloaded hospitals (with all that entails), or to just have a bad economic slump.

     Better buckle up.  It's going to be a bumpy ride -- and lying to yourself about it won't help a bit, no matter how loud you are.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

"...Think They're Better'n Me...."

     Who knows, it may even be true: on the conclusion of the final draft of the Constitution, Benjamin Franklin was supposedly asked by a woman in the crowd what the new government would be.  He replied, "A Republic, madam -- if you can keep it."

     The story does not record her scowling reaction at the great man, saying, "Whut?" and then later denouncing the Constitution to her friends and neighbors as a plot by the intellectual elite against the common man, but the older I get and the more I see of The People, the more likely it seems.

     We are terribly social creatures, gossipy and quarrelsome; we want our lives to be as richly complex as the plot line of a soap opera, filled with secret plans, behind-the-scenes machinations and all manner of larger-than-life heroes and villains.  We want it so badly that when we don't get it, we make it up.

     What stories are you and your friends telling yourselves and one another -- and have you checked them carefully against reality?

     Maybe we'd all better.  Too many people are dying of "It can't happen to me" already.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Burned Out

     I'm burned out on idiots and fools.  From politicians publicly spitballing notions that should only have been shared behind closed doors (if then) to "gotcha!" media that waves shrieking fresh-ink headlines for every gaffe to the contrarian (or possibly just that stupid) half-wits who apparently assume that if the New York Times and CNN say not to drink bleach or disinfectant* (because the President mused on the topic), then clearly the thing to do is to drink bleach or disinfectant.†

     I'm sick and tired being run ragged by a damn virus, and even more so by arguments over the effects of a damn virus.  I don't know how big a pile of corpses or how many unplanned-for filled hospital beds it takes to convince some people, but apparently more dead Americans than died in twenty years of fighting in Vietnam isn't enough.

     I'm tired of quack medicine and bullshit pseudoscience.  No, 5G didn't cause COVID-19, and while Bill Gates and I would probably never vote for the same people, he's not a shadowy mastermind plotting to Beast-mark your kids, he's a zillionaire who started to feel guilty about eating imported French PB&J sandwiches off solid-gold tennis shoes in the back of his platinum-plated Bentley submarine, and decided that funding medical initiatives that were likely to result in fewer dead children would make him feel better and reduce his tax payments.  Look askance at his politics all you like; being aghast at the politicians and causes our fellow citizens support is a national pastime older than baseball. Sneer at him all you like -- then tell me how many poor kids your disposable income saved last week.

     I'm annoyed and angry at how few people pay attention to the real stuff the real enemies of this country get up to.  No, China didn't tinker up SARS-CoV-2 and they almost certainly didn't let it slip out of a lab -- but they lied about its communicability, they lied about its impact on their country, and I still have doubts that we're getting reliable numbers.  In their haste to make the West look inept, China has sold (and sometimes given away) dodgy coronavirus test kits and defective medical supplies; they've held up shipments of personal protective gear bound to the U.S.  Russia is even worse; their long-term, invidious effort to undermine public trust in American political institutions has been reaping great benefits from this crisis.  Russia is on no one's side but their own and they are happy to encourage internal divisions in the United States.  They have long seen our political system of opposing parties and factions as a great weakness and they continue to try to use it against us -- every link you post to Russia Today (not free media; it is controlled by the Russian government) or Zero Hedge (very probably an FSB black- or gray-propaganda operation) helps them.  Don't be a stooge!

     Last, I am irked by people who won't do their homework, and just lazily post links that confirm what they already wanted to believe.  My favorite was the headline claiming there are 3.5 million more registered voters than adults in the U. S. -- shocking stuff!  Except, whoops, a little fiddling with search engines turns up 153 million registered voters in the U. S., out of just over 253 million citizens over the age of 18.  The headline is off by over a hundred and three million!  Digging deeper finds the 2017 National Review article that the headlined piece was based on, in which Deroy Murdock found a few hundred dead people had voted and turned up a lot of registered voters on the rolls who were no longer at the address on their registrations -- moved away, abducted by aliens or dead, but also most of them no longer voting.  It's not great, but it's not millions of fraudulent votes either. On a national scale, it's pretty far down in the noise.  Look that stuff up!  You have at your fingertips the greatest engine for finding out that has ever existed, and you won't use it.  I am mystified by the appeal of shiny candy-coated humbug over unvarnished fact.
* Seriously, listen to me.  Their politics are often biased and like any journalists, on any complex or specialized topic they are often working on a deadline from fresh notes about a subject they had only general knowledge about a day earlier, if they even knew that much.  But a large subset of journalists have previously consumed or will drink now anything even remotely potable, especially if it might be intoxicating.  When they tell you what isn't safe to drink, they're right 99.9999999999999% of the time.

 † To be perfectly fair, at least some of the reported and tragically-foolish ingestion of cleaners occurred before the President's remarks and ensuing press furor, presumably as the result of quack medicine and/or unusual religious practices.  Look, I'm not going to tell you how to practice your religion, but as a general rule there's no good outcome to drinking such substances.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Housework Day

     Laundry, kitchen cleaning, a little bit of electronics (because the washer needs to be watched on the spin cycle and my workshop is just a few steps away).

     The afternoon was sunny and warm -- well, warmish, at least -- once the rain was over and I spent some time outside -- not as much as I would like, but there was much to be done.  The air was wonderful!

     After reseasoning my cast-iron steak-grilling pan (darned thing had gotten ugly since last time) and a bacon press that's been in the way for awhile,  I got out the bread machine and looked it over; actually trying it is a project for another day but hopes are high.

     A grocery delivery arrived late in the afternoon  After getting it put away, I heated up some nice ham and bean soup from two days ago, with added fresh vegetables and some mushrooms. Over dinner, Tam and I watched an episode of our current series, Breaking Bad, which neither of us had seen.  We're well into Season Two.

     We had some nice multigrain bread with the soup.  I had picked it up from the grocer's store-baked breads on the sole basis of the crust looking good.  It's pretty dense, but flavorful and with enough texture to be buttered.  It went well with the soup.

     Another pandemic weekend.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Antenna, Repaired

     Earlier in the week, I noticed my ham radio antenna was broken.  It's a G5RV, a kind of "doublet," a long pence of wire, split at the center and with RF fed into it at that point.

     On one side, the wire of mine runs over to a tree and takes a turn (about fifteen feet above ground), supported by running it through a hole in an insulator.  There had been enough motion that the wire wore through!

     Today, I spliced it, with a pulley at the turn, and rearranged things so that it doesn't turn at the splice.

     I'm hoping it will hold up.

     Wrestling the ladder around to the roof and then to the tree was a lot of work and between that and digging up dandelions, I'm worn out.  Made chili for an early dinner and have mostly sat around ever since.

Friday, April 24, 2020


     It's "Don't Take Medical Advice From Politicians" Friday!

     Seriously, don't.  Guam tips over every time you treat an elected official as if he or she knows anything except politics.  Remember, our Federal system was devised so it would survive the kinds of people who get elected, not to exalt them.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Quarantine Food: What Am I Eating?

     This morning, the answer is easy: roast beef hash with a cornmeal crust and an egg baked on top of it.  It's my answer to the increased amount of water and fat in canned hash and it works pretty well.  It's an inexact art: you mix up some cornmeal and flour, possibly with a little seasoning, and sprinkle a layer into the pan before adding the hash. Fifteen or twenty minutes later (most of it covered), you should have well-cooked hash on a nice, crunchy crust and if you had broken an egg on top, it'll be baked all the way through.  Getting the exact perfect, golden-brown crust is a bit chancy and I'm still working on the proportion of flour to cornmeal.

     Last night was a simple dinner: some fancy bone-broth tomato soup with grilled-cheese sandwiches.  Yes, tomatoes don't have bones, but chickens do and the stuff was made with chicken-bone stock.  Very tasty, too.  The sandwiches were grilled Swiss on rye, which I think is the ideal combination.

     Night before last, pasta!  Rotini and some of Sunday's sauce, "stretched."   I sauteed celery, white carrots and half an onion in a little butter with a dash of garlic power, then pushed it to the sides of the pan and added a can of diced tomatoes and some spices..  Diced was all I had -- but I also have a potato masher* and it turned them into crushed tomatoes in short order!  Then I added the leftover sauce, which had plenty of meat, and simmered the whole thing together.  Time spent in the freezer had only improved the previous marinara sauce -- the finished dish was even better than Sunday.  Despite having made a big pot of pasta, we each ended up about two or three giant rotini short, to which Tam remarked that she did not remember ever having regretted a lack of noodles before.  The sauce was fine by itself, but adding the texture of al dente pasta made it even better.

     Monday was beef stew: really nice stew beef Tam saw at the neighborhood grocery, seasoned and browned.  Once it was well underway, I sauteed carrots, celery, leeks and an onion with it and then simmered everything in beef bone broth.   It was wonderful and warm -- and even better for lunch the next day.  You can go from raw materials to finished stew in about a half-hour but it's better to cook it low and slow or let it rest after the quicker cooking; give it a couple of hours over low heat on the stove or a night in the fridge and you've really got a treat.

     We're eating well.  Nothing fancy, and all based on a pretty simple list of ingredients, but it's good stuff.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Okay, Today I Have Nothing

     Or not much.  Be good to one another, even when you disagree.  There's a lot to disagree about right now and many of us have plenty of free time to spend disagreeing.

     That's fine.  What's not fine is being a jerk about it.  Treat others as you would like to be treated -- and don't try to jailhouse-lawyer your way around the principle, either.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Opening Up? Closing Down?

     There aren't any easy answers.  A vocal minority is shouting in in the streets and on the Internet, wanting to lift restrictions on non-essential businesses.  Another vocal minority is staging walk-outs and editorializing online about workers at essential businesses being exposed to the novel* coronavirus.  A news company ran a nationwide poll, and nearly two-thirds of Americans are concerned restrictions in their state will be lifted too soon, hastening the spread of the virus; another third worry it might not be soon enough and small businesses will fail as a result.  There's hardly anyone on the fence, a fraction not much larger than the margin of error.

     None of them are wrong.  We're not getting out of this without pain and damage.  People are arguing over what's worse, and arguing with insufficient information.  But get this: there's no "make it didn't happen" option.  We're not going back to normal, not ever; people have died and the ice-cream shop on the corner may never return.

     Being the species we are, we'll find out what we to do the hard way.  Many people are already taking the restrictions and suggestions lightly.  I gassed up my car yesterday and while I'm careful to be gloved and masked, and to follow proper procedure in doffing, donning and disposing, the adjacent gas-pump island was in use by a young woman with green hair, wearing a T-shirt, jeans and sandals, bare-faced and gloveless.  When she was done, she hopped in her nice, recent-model Cadillac and drove off with nary a pause for hand sanitizer.  Which one of us is the outlier, locally?  Not her.

     We flattened the curve and now, cheerful primates that we are, many of us are now looking around, deciding it wasn't so bad after all, and throwing caution to the winds.  If we get a second spike in new infections, we'll know that wasn't such a great idea.

     It is not a matter of nature "learning us or killing us."  Nature teaches us by killing a some of us.  As a species, we learn when people die.  How did we figure out which mushrooms are safe to eat?  How did we learn how to make poke salad that didn't kill us, or prepare rhubarb for pie?  Pokeweed and rhubarb (leaves) are poisonous; you have to know which parts to eat and how to prepare them.  Historically, the only way to learn is by doing it wrong and suffering the consequences.

     "Doing it wrong and suffering the consequences" might as well be humanity's motto.  But we follow it a few at a time -- and the onlookers and survivors learn from the experience.

     We're learning now.  It sucks, doesn't it?
* Novel?  There's a whole multi-book series in this thing.  It will be a long while before anyone wants to read it.

Monday, April 20, 2020

I Suppose....

     I suppose I should link to a collection of interesting articles about the pandemic, and make a pithy comment.

     I suppose I should talk about the irony of people out protesting -- locally and nationally -- most of them unmasked and much closer to one another than six feet apart.  Irony?  Well, they're protesting being forced to stay home, weak masks and maintain social distance, you see, and yet I have not been able to find even one report of protesters being issued so much as a ticket for breaking the rules.  Personally, I am quite comfortable with volunteers running an experiment in virus transmission; I just wonder how their elderly or otherwise vulnerable family members feel about being involuntary participants.  Doesn't that count as an initiation of force?

     I suppose I should do a lot of things.  I think I'll go have a bath instead.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Sunday, Pasta

     The pasta itself was rotini, those interesting spirals that we called "scroodles" when I was young.  The sauce, now--

     Start with sweet Italian sausage, say about a pound; toss a little Italian spices on it and and some fresh-ground pepper, get it mostly browned, drain most of the fat and moisture, then add a leek,* a white carrot and a few fresh mushrooms, sliced smallish.  Sauté that and then add whatever store-bought marinara you like and a small can of diced or crushed tomatoes if the meat/sauce ratio needs adjusted. (Ours did)  A couple of bay leaves, maybe some basil, parsley, rosemary and so on is good, too.  Stir, cover and let simmer.

     The pasta water should be good and boiling by now -- and you salted it well beforehand, right?  Add the pasta, which will take somewhere between seven and ten minutes to cook al dente.  Check the package -- big, thick pasta takes longer than small, fine stuff.

     You do not drain or rinse the pasta; just fish it out with a slotted spoon or pasta tongs, let the water run back into the pan, and plop it into the soup plate (those big, wide-brimmed bowls are ideal).  Ladle the sauce over it and there you go!

     It was delicious.  The rotini were good-sized, and held lots of sauce.

     All we had on the side was an olive assortment: a few Castlevetranos, Kalamatas and a caperberry.  That's all we needed.
* Leeks are muddy things and a bit awkward to clean up.  I rinse them off as much as possible, chop off the root end as close as gets the fused-together part removed, then split them lengthwise and rise out each half.  That does the trick and you can chop them up small with ease.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Saturday: I Grilled!

     It was good weather for it and tomorrow might not be, so I got the grill out and did a couple of steaks over hardwood charcoal with hickory chips.

     It was wonderful! 

     Baked potatoes and quick-steamed Brussels sprouts on the side, a fine evening meal even when keeping socially distant.

Friday, April 17, 2020

You Know What They Call A Pandemic In Sweden?

     They call it the same as anywhere else.  Those stories your friends are sharing about how "Sweden hasn't done social distancing, and they have a lower (or the same) rate of infection as we do" are, you guessed it, wrong!

     Looks like the virus has been late to arrive in lovely Sweden, and good for them, but it's there now, it's been there awhile, and looky here at a few quotes from the official guidelines:

-Limit social contact and keep a distance from others in public:  Binding recommendations issued on April 1st require everyone in Sweden to limit their social contact and keep a distance from others in public.      The new guidelines state that every person in Sweden must "keep a distance" from others in indoor and outdoor locations such as shops, offices, museums, libraries, and waiting rooms.


-Work from home if possible:  The Public Health Agency has advised everyone who can do so to work from home, and for employers to offer employees this option if at all possible, even if it is not the norm.

     So, hey, kids, the Swedes are doing what everyone else is doing. It took me a couple of minutes to run this down, and that included a quick chase through Snopes that wasn't productive.  Yes, they're not cracking down quite as harshly at many other countries in Europe; much like the U. S., the government is asking people and companies to be responsible and they're complying.  It's not "business as usual" in Sweden.

     Do your homework. Slacking off, sharing shiny memes, you might as well be be outside smoking for all the good you're doing -- except at least then, the damage you do would be limited to yourself.

     Sourced here.  More information here.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

2020: The Year Without

     1816 was "The Year Without A Summer."   Tamara and I have been calling 2020 "The Year Without...."  Without toilet paper, without a warm spring, without bicycle riding (well, not much of it so far), without dining out, without daily excursions to the grocer's to see what might be good.  It's the year without close contact, where waving at your neighbor across the street is fine but getting close enough to chat feels risky.  It's the year without hamfests, antique radio swapmeets or gun shows, a year without trips to the used bookstore or classes at The Indiana Writer's Center.  (However, IWC has moved classes online!  Most of the benefits plus my own coffee, so that's bearable.)

     Thinking it over, I wondered, What about the Marion Easter Pageant?

     It's a big deal.  Other than a break during World War Two, Marion, Indiana has held a huge Easter Pageant ever year since 1937.  Performed by amateur actors in Marion's Memorial Coliseum, it's an ecumenical Easter story without narration or dialog, told entirely though music and otherwise-silent actors.  The Coliseum has a large pipe organ, the all-volunteer orchestral and singing talent is remarkable and the experience is moving.

     Marion, Indiana is also one of this nation's epicenters of stubbornness.   It's not a city that embraces change.  So I wondered what they had done in response to the coronavirus stay-home order.  Defied the authorities, perhaps with references to kicking money-changers out of the Temple?  Pointed out that the cast, choir and orchestra had been rehearing together since the first of February and livestreamed the performance without an audience?

     Nope.  However reluctantly, they stood down and provided an alternative: The entire performance was recorded in 2003, and it's available on YouTube

     Had I known, I would have shared the link on Easter Sunday.  Even as a crusty old agnostic, I think it's an impressive production and all the more so for being entirely amateur.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Everybody's A Weeble

     Egg-shaped and weighted at the bottom, they were a popular children's toy.  "Weebles wobble but they don't fall down."  Push them and they rock wildly, then end up as upright as they were before.

     They're also a model for normalcy bias, a cognitive leaning that is usually not a problem: we expect things to go on in the same way as before.  Usually it does, but when it doesn't--  Even when things go badly wrong and the floodwaters are rising or the fires are approaching, many of us, possibly as many as seven out of every ten, want so badly for events to be unremarkable that they will come up with plausible-sounding reasons not to worry that are entirely unjustified.  Many a small Indiana town that has never been struck by a tornado has a local legend about "the bend in the river" or "the lay of the land" that causes any tornado to skip over.  Alas, that's not how it works, and every tornado season is another pull at the slot-machine lever, with the possibility of a free flight to Oz -- or to Palm Sunday.

     Normalcy bias can be especially appealing when we don't have a lot of data.  In uncertainty, the entire spectrum of cognitive biases* come into play, and we often end up deeply entrenched, believing what we want to believe and defending it against all comers -- even when they have new information.

     This morning, I went hunting for information on antibody tests for COVID-19.  Unlike the nasal or throat swabs, these are blood tests that show if you have ever had the virus.  They're still getting started in most countries; China has had one longer, but they don't seem to be sharing results and even if they did, they don't have a good history of honesty about this illness.  What I can find is highly preliminary.  Small-scale testing of the general population in various countries is reported as resulting in numbers that vary from a high of 50% of the tested having antibodies for the virus to as low as 18%.  The numbers don't correlate well with known cases, active cases or death rates: there isn't enough data.

     Worse yet, nearly every report I could find was using the numbers to support some proposed course of action or another and hadn't back-linked to the source.  There was no way to tell just how cherry-picked the data might be.

     I could call up my own cognitive biases and spin you a tale of how things will play out -- but I won't.  I don't know.   We're in for a long haul through uncharted territory.  Keep your wits about you -- and watch out for cognitive bias on the part of others and even more so, your own.
* The linked chart and the article it comes from are worthwhile and sobering reading.  How many things do we believe that aren't necessarily so?  --And how sure are we?

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Eating What's Available

     There's a bread machine in the basement.  We've got the raw materials for baking.  I need to clear a spot for the machine on the counter and see how it works.

     There's one piece of naan saved back to make myself a sandwich for lunch.  We were low on fresh vegetables, bread and meat,* so Tam went to the grocery yesterday.

     Our local grocer has marked spaces at every service counter (deli, bakery, butcher) and checkout; they've put up transparent "sneeze guard" barriers at the checkouts, and have plenty of reminders up.  Still, not everyone is willing to go along and Tamara returned frazzled.

     Some selections were slim while others were fine.  No paper goods except a few boxes of facial tissue; a good assortment and quantity of produce and the meat counter was well stocked.  But bread?  Don't even ask about bread.  There were, however, bagels.  Not the store-made ones, and not the brands we usually buy -- but Dave's Killer Bread makes bagels and there they were, including the "everything" version.  Perhaps shoppers were put off by the backstory, I don't know.

     An everything bagel made for a fine breakfast with coffee, juice, bacon and egg.

     There is a lot of food on store shelves in this country, and more behind it in the pipeline.  There will be shortages, but farming is "essential work" in most states now and food processing is getting that way if it isn't already.  Just like our neighborhood grocery, they're having to work out new ways of doing things -- but they will.

     In the meanwhile, we all need to work on eating what's available -- and on not whining.
* There's at least a month (longer if we ration it) of canned, bagged and dry-storage food in our pantry, but we're in no hurry to dig into it too deeply other than to eat whatever is approaching the "tastier before..." date.  We're not in urgent need of paper goods yet, either, but we're keeping an eye on what's in stock.

Monday, April 13, 2020

A Tasty Reprieve Breakfast

     Sure, I'm still coughing, sneezing and I get winded taking the basement stairs too quickly, but I almost certainly don't have The Plague.  I'm counting that as a reprieve.

     We'd be out of bread, except -- thanks again, Mom and Dad! -- I grew up in a culinarily-adventurous household and have continued the tradition.  Amazon Fresh and Whole Foods delivery had no bread worthy of the name -- that gluten-free stuff is more like a hair shirt for your dinner table -- except people had overlooked delicious naan!  It's Indian (as in the nation and subcontinent) flatbread, a nice, savory wheat bread with a good texture.  Thicker, softer and more textured than a tortilla, it toasts nicely and I have discovered it makes one of the best bacon-and-egg sandwiches I've ever had.  With a few Castlevetrano and Klamata olives on the side, cranberry juice and fresh-ground coffee (Tanzanian Peaberry this morning), it's a world-class breakfast.

     Today's a day for resting and catching up on dishes and laundry.  My doctor has set up another telemedicine appointment for tomorrow morning, and she and I will decide if I should go back to work.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

I Have A COLD.

     According to the test I had Saturday, I do not have COVID-19.  It's just a chest cold.

     I don't think I have been happy to have a springtime cold before, ever.

Coping With Coronavirus/My Drive-Through Test

     While people yell at one another (50% pro, 45% con and 5% who wish they'd just shut up) over the Federal government's response to the coronavirus pandemic, 72 percent of us think our State Governor is doing a good job(PDF), and it's right across the board: 76% of Democrats, 73% of Republicans and 67% of independents think their Governor is doing the right things to deal with the situation.

     Here in Indiana, the State government holds daily press briefings, hosted by the Governor, with the State Health Commissioner, Dr. Kris Box, ten feet down the table and assortment of other State department heads present as needed, either at keep-away distance in the room or via videoconference.  They take questions from the Press afterwards, too -- reporters are only virtually present and reminders that, "You have to unmute your own microphone" come up every time, but the whole thing works better than anyone would have expected and after an hour or more, you're left with the feeling that you know what the State of Indiana is doing at present and what they're working on getting done in the future.  (For example, demographic data about people with COVID-19 has been sparse; they're improving it and sharing the results.)

     The State has leveraged private industry and welcomed volunteers; there's an active homegrown hand sanitizer industry now, distillers and hair-spray manufacturers who are turning the stuff out at cost or free for first responders.  They've enlisted local laboratory facilities, too, and that brings us to my experience.

     Last week, I started having worrisome symptoms -- a mild fever, sinus congestion, upset stomach, rattly lungs and a cough that felt like it ought to be bringing up a lot more than it was.  I took time off work, found enough to do remotely that I worked from home one day, and then I started getting really fatigued and even a little short of breath if I was very active.  So I called my doctor (as told earlier) and she decided that I did need to be tested for the virus.

     This is a testing system run by a local biomedical outfit with its own labs, running a testing system that didn't exist two weeks ago and operating at a pace that accommodates hundreds of people a day at a minimum.  The company has never been in the business of mass testing; they just happened to have the space, the talent and the lab facilities.  They whole system has been invented on the spot.  Presumably the state had some general plans, and presumably the company was aware of them -- they're the kind of resource that emergency-response planners like to have on tap.  But the details?  It's all wet-paint fresh!
*  *  *
      The testing requires a physician referral (on letterhead, with license number) and online check-in; you are e-mailed a confirmation number, an arrival time and instructions that include a reminder that you must arrive with a copy of the e-mail and a charged cell phone.

      The reason why becomes obvious once you drive to the end of the check-in line, past signs reading “FLASHERS ON. DRIVE SLOWLY. KEEP WINDOWS UP. REMAIN IN YOUR VEHICLE.” It’s a long wait filled with one or two car-length advances to the first check-in station, but eventually a half-dozen cars are waved to the curb by a half dozen masked and gloved volunteers, each one with a hands-free headset, holding up a laminated sign that reads “CALL ME AT NNN-NNN-NNNN.” You have to verify your appointment by letting them read the number from your printed-out or cell phone display. I had mine on a full-sized iPad, zoomed in on the necessary lines – and a paper backup, just in case.

     That station sorts out the testees (there’s a small group of asymptomatic volunteers, who get additional testing to help build the pool of data) and tags everyone’s car, and then it’s back in line for a long inching drive to the next check-in, past more signs, “REMAIN IN YOUR CAR. KEEP WINDOWS UP. SLOW.”

     Slow it is, leaving plenty of time to read a longer sign: “To conserve N95 masks, testers will be in a higher level of PPE than necessary.” Interesting, since everyone so far has had only procedure masks or bandanna masks.

     Around a corner and into a parking garage, where another group of volunteers are working in pairs, one holding a sign, “KEEP WINDOWS UP. CALL ME AT NNN-NNN-NNNN.” He waves me in and to a stop; his partner, working at a table in the background is the one who answers the phone, confirms my magic decoder number, name and birthdate, sticks a quick-printed label on paperwork, and hands it to the guy who’d had the sign. He adds the paperwork to a bagged test kit, tucks it under my windshield wiper and takes the sorting tag off my car. Meanwhile I’ve been told to wait for him to gesture me on to the testers, who “...look like they’re wearing space suits.”

     I can see them up ahead, working at two groups of three test stations, wearing supplied-air hazmat: a simple “space helmet” with a large, clear visor and one-way exhaust valves, a back-closure Tyvek gown and gloves that go over the cuffs. It’s a clever solution – the HEPA-type filter in the air unit on their back will last all day, the headgear is nearly foolproof, and all they need to do between tests is remove the gloves and put on a new pair.

     Soon enough, it’s my turn and I'm waved out. There’s a dedicated traffic director for the test stations and a big sign, “TURN OFF ENGINE.” The tester smiles as I pull up and as soon as I turn off the car, she takes the test kit from under the windshield wiper, removes a sealed vial, and gestures for me to roll down my window.

     “Hello, I’ll be testing you.” Her voice has an unfamiliar musical lilt and she radiates friendliness. She holds up the vial. “This has a long swab that I will run up each nostril for three to ten seconds and it will be uncomfortable. It may make you sneeze or cause your eyes to water.” She hands me the remainder of the test kit. “In there are tissues and paperwork. See the label on the vial? The same number is on your paperwork, with directions how to get your test results. It will take one to three days, the lab is getting faster, but there is a number to call if you don’t get results in three days.”
She’s got the swab out by then. “What I need you to do is lean towards the window and tilt your head back...”

      I comply.

     She says “Good...” and leans forward, swab at the ready, a tiny bottle brush that is acutely uncomfortable as it goes up my nose, and is no less so when she moves to the other nostril. But it’s quick enough and she bottles the thing back up with another smile. “Okay. Now just wait for the man with the sign, and you can put your window up.”

     I thank her – I’ve been saying “Thanks” quite a lot, every one of these workers is a volunteer and there’s a small army of them – and wait for the fellow with Stop and Go signs to get our group of six lined up and out the exit.

     It’s all ad hoc. The streetside signs are the largest size you can print on a good office printer and the “CALL ME AT...” signs are just 8.5 x 11 pages in page protectors. There are lot of high-visibility vests in evidence, but in a wide assortment of hues, styles and conditions. Everyone in low-level protective gear appears to have brought their own or chosen from an assortment – and the whole thing runs like clockwork. People are nice. They smile. The testing setup is cardboard boxes on folding tables – but it’s well-organized.

     We’re a more-competent species than some of us like to think.

     I’ve got a day or three to wait before I know if this is just a dire pollen season or my own Encounter With The Virus, but it’s easier to face after what I saw on the drive-through testing line.

By The Way

     I ordered a bottle of Castlevetrano olives from a popular online retailer and I admit, I didn't pay much attention.  Hey, Castlevetrano olives, delicious, buttery, what more is there to say, right?   True enough; it's too bad about the pits, but that's the only way you can get 'em.  There was supposedly some reason why they wouldn't make it through the machinery without bad bruising.

     About that...

     What I ordered turned out to be pitted Castlevetrano olives!  Every bit as delicious and about five times as handy for cooking. 

     The day they arrived, I used a few in salmon patties* in celebration.  They worked wonderfully well.

     This morning's omelet included two strips of bacon, a couple of slices of Manchego cheese and five Castlevetranos. It was every bit as good as you might think.
* Salmon patties are a Depression-era treat which, now that I am grown up, I have realized was one of my mother's "backup" foods.  Canned salmon has a relatively long shelf life, and the basic recipe is just one 14.5 oz. can of salmon, drained (but save that liquid until the patties are formed), a half-cup of crushed saltines and an egg.  You mix it all up, add some of the can juice if needed to keep the patties from being too dry, and brown them in a little olive oil, bacon fat or whatever.  You can add seasoning (pepper, sage, parsley, a little garlic, whatever), chopped onion, celery and/or olives, or replace the fresh onion or celery with onion powder, dried celery or celery seed, and a little Worcestershire sauce or lemon/lime juice isn't remiss.  Other than the can of salmon, it's all staples, stuff you should normally have in the larder all the time.  If your meal planning comes up short, there it is, ready to be the main dish.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Heigh-ho, Heigh-ho, It's Off To [Undisclosed Location] I Go

     Gotta say, I'm not looking forward to this.  There's a lot of paperwork and proving of bona fides involved and there will be even more at the test site -- all contactless until the last step, which is the part that I am told isn't fun. 

     The telephone screener/intake person was interesting.  Obviously working from home and struggling a little bit with the software, she apologized for being a slow typist.  "I'm not very quick at this.  Normally I do research," she said.  "I'm a scientist."

     My screener was a Ph.D.

     There's a whole knot of biomedical research, manufacturing, support and hospitals downtown, in a broad arc that sweeps from the granddaddy of them all, the vast Eli Lilly* complex, and curves northwest to the hospitals and related establishments on and around the IUPUI campus and then swings northeast to the collection of huge buildings that comprise Methodist hospital.  The hospitals are busy and crowded; Lilly's got one division working on COVI-19 treatments and their insulin section is obviously essential.  But everybody else, if their work wasn't essential, got sent home and their PPE was given to be used by people working with the infected and possibly infected.

     That leaves a huge pool of talent trying to work from home; if the bulk of your work is in a lab somewhere, there's a finite amount of paperwork to do, and after that--  Well, after that, it seems, there's still work to be done, even if it's not in one's usual line.  I wouldn't be surprised to learn a lot of the people collecting and collating data for the Indiana State Department of Health are drawn from that same group.

     Meanwhile, several local distillers and a hairspray manufacturer are turning out home-grown hand sanitizer for first responders; that leaves more of the usual commercial product available for you and me, and keeps the people in the police department, the fire department, paramedics and others a little safer.  Their exposure is higher than just about anyone's (except that nice person running the cash register at your local grocer's or big-box five-and-dime, don't forget him or her) and they need that alcohol-laden goo.

     This is how a city functions when things go sideways; this is how all our cities are functioning, as best as they can.
* Lilly, it should be noted, is to the patent protection of medicines what Disney is to copyright.  And that's something to ponder.

Friday, April 10, 2020


     The doctor -- my doctor -- saw me over the phone this morning.  She called in some prescriptions and put me on the list to get a letter that will let me, as an essential worker (and people thought I'd never amount to anything!), get tested.

     Haven't seen the letter yet, which should trigger an e-mail notification when they file it online; her office staff is mostly working from home, too, so they're not as quick as usual.

     If the test is positive, then I'll be essentially out sick for a couple of weeks.

     Meanwhile, I'm in bed, with the cats and the TV and computers.  I had to dig out the Microsoft Surface Pro that usually lives in my briefcase for the doctor's appointment: according to their website the digital doc stuff is only tested and known to run on Firefox or Chrome and I didn't feel like being a test case for Safari.  My desktop machine is cameraless; I don't routinely use one and it would just be another point of vulnerability.  But they're handy on the portable devices and a fat rubber band blindfolds them if needed.

Thursday, April 09, 2020

Sadly Plausible

     Online ad seen today:

     Yeah.  And in the right order, too.

Wednesday, April 08, 2020

Still Home

     Felt better when I first woke up but it didn't last.  Still coughing.  Moving too quickly makes me dizzy.  Sat down at the computer to try to do some work e-mails and I kept nodding off.

     So I made breakfast instead.  Omelettes don't call for much of a rush, especially if you assemble all the ingredients ahead of time.

     I started by putting some cornmeal (maybe two tablespoons, or two and a half), a pinch of salt, some fresh ground pepper and Italian seasoning in a 2-cup measuring cup and added about as much warm water as there was cornmeal; gave it a quick stir and set it on the back of the stove to soak and ponder.   I chopped up some carrots and celery, then fried a strip of bacon, planning to set aside half the bacon for Tam.  While the bacon was sizzling, I chopped up a bit of the cooked brisket from Liter House ad added it to the vegetables.

     Once the bacon was done, I set it on paper towel to drain, poured off most of the bacon fat, and added the vegetables and brisket to the skillet.  We just opened up a wedge of Manchego cheese yesterday* and it seemed like a good idea, so I cut a couple of slices from it and diced them, giving the veggies and meat a stir from time time.

There's a half-strip of bacon at the left, hiding under the vegetables and brisket.
     Next up, how 'bout that batter?  I cracked a couple of eggs into the cornmeal and water, and beat it with a fork until it was a consistent lemony color, then beat it a little more (it's difficult to go too far with this; you really want to agitate it and make it ready form new bonds).  The vegetables were translucent and the brisket was nicely recooked by then, so they went on the paper towel and the omelette batter went into the skillet.
All the light-yellow spots are Manchego, in various stages of melting.
     I offset the pan over the fire for the first part of cooking when I make omelettes.  That ensures the half I'm going to flip up gets cooked, the "hinge" stays flexible and the down side doesn't get over-cooked.  I sprinted about half the cheese on the batter once it was underway, skipping a strip across the middle.

     Once it looked about right -- starting to get a little dry on the top of the half over the fire, or just shy of that -- I added the meat and vegetables to the less cooked side along with the rest of the cheese, flipped the cooked side over it, pressed down along the join, and centered the pan up.  I put a lid over it and let it go for three or four minutes, flipped and did the same, flipped again and gave it a couple of minutes uncovered to get both sides equally done.  (I don't like 'em wet.  YMMV.)

     It was delicious.  I'd show a photograph of the finished omelette, cut in half so you could see the filling, but I was pretty hungry by the time it was done and it didn't last that long.
* I opened up the Manchego the previous day as a topping for brisket hash, which was about as good a version as I have made: dice Liter House brisket and a couple of nice Yukon Gold potatoes diced to match, topped with Manchego and a fried egg: tasty!  

Tuesday, April 07, 2020

Out Today

     Wasn't feeling so great this morning, so I called in in sick.  I'm working alone in a locked building in secure enclosure in the middle of nowhere, and I'm not going to take any chances.

     Yesterday morning, I was getting ready for work and my pajamas fell on the floor right inside the (closed) door of my room.  I looked down and realized they were vanishing through the gap under the door!  The new cat Holden had been in the hallway, noticed motion, and decided the thing to do was grab whatever that thing was.  I laughed and laughed -- and then realized I was starting to black out.  Managed a soft landing on my knees, got my head down and was only out for a flash, but it was startling.

Monday, April 06, 2020

Running Late

     You see, we ordered out for Sunday dinner, and our order (a whole smoked beef brisket: food for several days!) included green beans -- and something called "hash browns casserole."  (Liter House has converted to carryout, with as good a contactless pickup system as I've seen and including some basic groceries and household supplies.)

     The casserole is hash browns with onion and a little this and that, baked slowly with milk and a dab of butter: you end up with something akin to mashed potatoes and very tasty it was, too.

     We ate a little less than half, which meant this morning, there was a bit over a cup of cold mashed potatoes in the fridge.

     Waste not, want not: the recipe for mashed potato cakes take two and a half tablespoons of flour and one egg per cup of potato mixture.  I mixed it together, made a batch of four, added more flour and made two more batches.

     It takes time and the cooking is kind of fiddly -- you can't flip them until they've browned.  But oh, so good, especially with a slice of bacon on the side!  (Of course I had a little bacon fat in the skillet to fry the potato cakes.)

     But now I've got to run to catch up.

Sunday, April 05, 2020

What I Did Today

     Today and yesterday, in fact: I messed around setting up my ham station.  Having decided I need a 1:1 balun -- a kind of RF transformer, used to connect unbalanced (ground-referenced) equipment to a balanced device (like my G5RV antenna) -- I found a ferrite toroid core that seemed likely, wound two interwoven 12-turn coils of #14 house wire on it (as much as would fit), and looked around for an enclosure.

     I didn't have much, and then I found my collection of old tea canisters.  That worked.

     The coil is sandwiched between two 1/8" Garolite* plates held by brass screws (one headless) into a ceramic insulator; another, shorter insulator is threaded onto one end and fastened to the bottom of the box.  The lower plate has two corners clipped so the wires from that side can get to the terminals.

     There's a trick to working with such thin metal.  You can drill it, but it's risky -- even with a backing, it can catch and tear.  A better bet is to mark hole centers with a sharp awl and use a Roper-Whitney punch,† which will center up on the awl-made dimples.  Careful work with a hand reamer or chassis punch will enlarge the holes if necessary.  Small holes can just be punched with the awl, especially in places the punch wont reach.  (The lid does fit square, when properly seated.)

     My little SWR analyzer says it's not terrible on  the 80 meter ham band and not bad on 40 -- the ferrite I used was supposed to be good through 30 MHz, but the match starts getting worse and worse by the 20 meter band.

     Checked it with the RME-45 receiver and Millen "Junior" transmatch and it works okay, slightly better signals with it between the antenna and the matcher.  80 meters was a jumble of noise this afternoon.  Just went down (10:20 p.m.) and turned on the receiver; as I tuned past 3885 kHz, a voice came out of the speaker: "Hello, Bobbi!  C'mon Bobbi..." 

     That got my attention, as you might expect.  I dodged the slow-rate tuning back and forth a little, and he came back on, "[callsign], this is [other callsign], c'mon, Bobby, if you're not there I'll just call CQ, CQ, CQ , this is [othercallsign] and remember, people, don't buy coax jumpers, you build your own.  CQ, CQ, from [other callsign], c'mon..."

     So I wasn't hallucinating.  And I was certainly glad I'd made my own coaxial jumpers!

     Next step, rebuilding the transmit/receive switch and moving the DX-60 transmitter over to the new shelves.
* As close to Bakelite as you can get now.  McMaster-Carr stocks it in a variety of sizes and shapes.
† Mine is actually a Whitney-Jensen, an earlier model with a few minor differences.  These useful little devices are widely available used. Plugging the name into a search engine brings up a lot of listings at online auction sites.

Saturday, April 04, 2020

Cooped Up? Vacation From Your Desk!

     BBC has a delightful collection of "Places That Don't Belong," geopolitical anomalies all around the globe.  Many of them were hard to find or difficult to get to even before we were all staying home -- but you can visit them online!

     I may have to plug my Raspberry Pi into one of the big TVs and go on a tour.

Friday, April 03, 2020


     I don't have much for today.  Just try to be nice -- socially distant doesn't need to mean socially rude.

     Supposed to rain here this weekend.  I hope they're wrong about that.

Thursday, April 02, 2020

And It Keeps On

     Being poor sucks.  I've been poor.  A couple of times, I have been so flat broke, I didn't know what I was going to do next.  You get through it, but I lived on a diet of ramen and hot dogs, of store-brand canned soup, where the occasional can of corned beef hash is a treat and restaurant food, even drive-through junk, is reserved for holidays.  I learned to mend jeans and to keep work clothes just for work; at home, old jeans and a T-shirt or a nightgown and robe was good enough.  There were better times, too; but they never lasted and there was no counting on them.

     When I first went to work at my present job over thirty years ago, the improvement in food I could afford was an unbelievable bounty; they handed out $30 grocery-store gift certificates at Thanksgiving and every Christmas, the company parked a freezer truck at the back door and handed out boxes of hard-frozen meat: two or three steaks, a nice ham, over five pounds of high-grade goodness.  It was remarkable; I started cooking again and slowly got to where I didn't feel as if going out to a dinner where someone else wasn't picking up the check was a frivolous waste of money

     Dealing with what coronavirus worries are doing to grocery-store shelves feels like being poor again.  I tend to focus on what's available, what I can make work for multiple meals, what I can safely store for later.  Just like decades ago, I worry about next week and next month.

     Of course, I'm not alone.  Most people are feeling this, and a lot of them didn't start with the stock of food and supplies Tam and I have on hand. 

     It's normal to fret a bit in times like these.  That doesn't make it better but maybe it makes it a little easier to bear.

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

So, It Occurred To Me...

     ...All over the First World, children who have been picky, fussy eaters are being told, "Well, that's what we've got, so eat it or go hungry."

     I take this with the slightly malicious glee of a spinster aunt, reminded of my mother's story of  staying with one of her much-older sisters for a couple of weeks one summer.  This would have been some time between 1938 and 1941; Mom was grade-school age and her sister was out of college, working, and not yet married. 

     Times were hard, money was tight, and if you think the wage differential between men and women is significant now, it was far more so then.  Mom was the very youngest, and accustomed to having her own way.  Her sister lived in a small apartment, downtown in a fair-to-middling southern Indiana city

     One day, lunch was chicken noodle soup, bread and butter, and milk.  Mom had decided after a few spoonfuls that the soup was not to her liking.  She ate her bread, drank about half her milk, and looked around, complaining that she was hungry.

     "Well, then, finish your soup."

     "It's awful."

     "I see."  A streetcar bell clanged outside the window.  "Oh, there's the trolley!  Go have a look!"

     Thrilled as only a child can be by such a connection to the wider world, Mom rushed over to the window and watched as the trolley car stopped, passengers got off and other got on, and the motorman dinged the bell and sent it trundling away away.

     Her sister said, "Come back and have your milk, and you can go play."

     Mom returned to the table, picked up her suddenly-full milk glass, and chugged it -- realizing, too late, that the glass was now half-milk, half chicken noodle soup.  Raised too polite to spit it out, she finished her "milk," and took the lesson to heart -- or at least well enough to heart that when she had children of her own, she made sure we knew what might happen.

     My siblings and I all learned to finish our soup.

     Perhaps a new generation of children is learning to eat what's set before them -- a lesson that may have wider implications than just at mealtime.