Monday, May 31, 2021
-- A yearly annoyance are the chirpy, well-meaning people, from TV morning-show hosts to nice folks at the supermarket, who make a point today of thanking veterans and current military personnel for their service. Oh, there's no harm in it, and it's a good thing to think the people you can; but this is a day for those who are beyond thanks, for the ones who went and did not return. They are too easy to forget, a heavy price paid in blood and lost potential.
Saturday, May 29, 2021
Friday, May 28, 2021
Go to Settings to activate Windows"
Just a little watermark. Microsoft tells me it happens (though not exactly why it would happen without having made major changes to the computer, which I have not). And activation should be a snap -- the computer's got a "digital license" stored inside, plus the Product Key sticker. Running the Troubleshooter even gives me a handy-dandy button to click that should Fix Everything.
But is my copy of Windows 10 legit? This is a refurbished computer, purchased through Amazon but done by some small vendor. It would be an odd thing for it to have been smoked out only now, after several years of use, but not impossible.
So this could be fun. For a given value of "fun." I'm going to noodle around a little more and decide if I want to pull the pin right now or not.
Thursday, May 27, 2021
Sturgeon's Law And The Recommendation Engine
It may be the intersection of two things: recommendation engines and Sturgeon's Law.
Recommendation engines? The do great things when you're looking for a film or TV show to stream -- Netflix or Amazon Prime Video or whoever has been keeping track of what you've been watching, and provides a whole category of "things you might like." The more you watch, the better those suggestions match your tastes.
Well-- Musical acts (for instance) get sorted pretty severely. To get onto the machine's to-be-recommended to people who like X, Y and/or Z list, they've got to be objectively good. Untalented acts never break that threshold. Unskilled musicians never break the threshold.
That "threshold" is where Sturgeon's Law comes in. The law itself cautions that "90% of everything is crap." One of the origin tales has Theodore Sturgeon on a panel of judges reading short stories submitted for publication at a science fiction convention; the slush piles are high and the material is, well, not so great. One of the judges sets down an especially bad example and says, "Most of these stories are crap!"
Sturgeon agrees, "Sure. But ninety percent of everything is crap."
That's one version. James Gunn remembers something both kinder and more pointed.
Music is pretty well sorted for quality. Films and movies, for me it's close but not great; there's a lot of chaff to sift through. Book recommendations from the smart software are even more hit-or-miss.
But head off in a less mass-audience direction and things get strange fast -- and that's a problem. My Hidden Frontier stories rely on playing fast and loose with history; the FTL drive is independently discovered at least three times and stolen twice, and some of that happens during WW II and just after. It only takes one video or web page about "WW II flying saucers" or the post-war Byrd Antarctic Expedition to end up with some very strange stuff coming up next, entirely ahistorical and often pushing offensive political ideas or worse. And letting those play just points you at even weirder and crazier stuff. When people say, "It must be true! I researched it on the Internet," that's the kind of "research" you can end up with: 90% of those recommendations point to utter crap.
The software can only work with what's there. Flood the topic with crazy, conspiracy-theory stuff and made-up revisionist history, and where do the recommendation engines aim you? Yep -- right at it. Get two layers in and you're in Crazytown.
Be mindful of it. It's a bad neighborhood.
* As an experiment, I started with "Six Underground," got Zero7 after that, then a Chet Faker video I'd never heard but enjoyed (not what it first appears -- there's narrative depth there, also considerable degree-of-difficulty points), followed by Talking Heads "Psycho Killer" and White Stripes "Seven Nation Army." The Rolling Stones are up next. It's pretty good guessing.
Wednesday, May 26, 2021
Our Political Class, At Their Near-Worst
Oh, my dear heavens. It's important to remember that these are the people who, as kids, spent much of their time campaigning for Student Council and arguing over minutia if they won; the kids who schemed and conspired to become Prom royalty or spent endless hours practicing so they could lead the jai alai team. The one thing many of them never did was study the dull, boring stuff like math, history, geography or science, and they certainly avoided Shop and Home Ec.
And thus we get Congressthings worrying Guam might flip over, advocating for the unlimited printing of paper money or claiming a voluntary, free vaccination program is akin to the Holocaust. It's cringeworthy, and made even more so by partisans wanting to claim that A) what their guy or gal said wasn't really that outrageous and it was really parody besides, plus B) have you heard what the other side's idiots have said?
Yeah, no. I've seen the clips. These nitwits mean it when they threaten to nationalize an oil company or shrug off deadly civil unrest as no big deal. Furthermore, there is no Grand Compensating Balance of damfoolishness: what conservative witlings say is not cancelled out by what liberal witlings say, and vice versa: it's additive. Idiocy on the part of elected officials just piles up, higher and higher, dumber and dumber, like the dung-heap under a garderobe.
Pretending you don't notice the smell doesn't make it go away.
When you vote, no matter who you vote for, I beg you: check their record (especially public utterances) and don't vote for idiots. Whatever else you do, we have got to start sieving out the ones who are only getting in on ideological purity and other people's money. I'm starting to miss LBJ and Spiro Agnew pretty badly; they were many things, a lot of which were negative, but at least they weren't nitwits. No matter how happy a politician's positions and attitudes may make you, if they're ignorant or stupid, once elected they will do more harm than good. We can't afford it.
Tuesday, May 25, 2021
Do Dandelions Grow On Your Planet, Too?
At least, not until yesterday, when I went on a walking inspection of the grounds and outside equipment at the North Campus.
Nice, sunny weather, freshly mowed grass along the lanes sprinkled with dandelions. Dandelions, but something was off. They seemed paler than usual, more a light lemon yellow than sunny yellow. I took a closer look and had to look again, and then at other examples: every plant had multiple flowers on a single stem. I shivered. There were several stems on each plant, like a normal dandelion, but the flowers were wrong and the more I looked, the wronger they got. The leaves were hairy and rounded, and a darker green.
Dimensional portal? Wrong planet? Nope. Catsears.
Hypochaeris radicata, if you want to get technical about it. A relative of the dandelion. The common name is because of the leaves, furry and with a rounded point, like a cat's ears.
I have never seen them at the site before but we've got them now, and plenty of them. They're all over the U.S. and you might not notice they were anything but regular dandelions, out the window of a moving car.
Monday, May 24, 2021
Off To The Doctor, Again
Sunday, May 23, 2021
I spent the height of the pandemic avoiding any in-person contact that wasn't strictly necessary and the garden wasn't. So it sat, weedy and unhappy-looking.
The weeds came back in force this year and decided I'd had enough. I'm vaccinated, the pandemic appears to be receding, and -- best of all -- the pile of chipped-stump "mulch" in the back yard has been sitting for a couple of years. The stuff at the center is pretty fair dirt.
So Sunday, I spent the afternoon weeding the raised back back to bare earth (and weed-barrier ground cloth, the existing layer of dirt having become pretty thin). Then I hauled three wagonloads of mulchy soil around from the back yard. It still needs a couple more, and probably four bags of garden soil, and then I can see about filling it up with wildflowers and maybe a few fancier ones. This keeps the bees out of trouble, too -- otherwise they like to hang out around the front porch, hoping the hostas, mint and catnip will bloom. (We have even more mint this year. It co-exists with the catnip and they're not difficult to tell apart.)
Saturday, May 22, 2021
Speaking Of Being Out Of Shape....
Yeah. Maybe tomorrow.
* MeTV, one of the over-the-air "little networks," has brought back Saturday morning cartoons. Thank you!
Friday, May 21, 2021
The bicycle ride there and a longer one afterward left me pretty exhausted. I have missed being in shape, too, and it's going to be a much longer journey back to that than it was to brunch.
Thursday, May 20, 2021
Thumb Repair, Step One
Longer-term, there was some pain and swelling, and my thumb developed a kind of "detent," a click in the motion as I bent it at the knuckle. I figured it would go away over time, and told my doctor as much at a routine appointment a few days later when she offered a referral to a hand specialist.
It didn't go away. It got worse, and affected my grip. I started using my left hand more, but that thumb has some arthritis from an old injury, and then I had two thumbs aching, keeping me awake at night.
So I did the grown-up thing, and told my doc I'd better see the hand-doctor after all. It was another two weeks wait for that, but yesterday, the man had a look.
"Oh," says he, "We see this a lot. The tendon swells up after an injury and starts sticking in the little tunnel it runs in. It's like a cable that runs over pulleys. It comes from muscles in your forearm, up the carpal tunnel, and on into your thumb, and that's where it's sticking. It's called 'trigger finger.'"
In fact, the the little "jump" in motion feels a lot like the break of a trigger. Treatment consists of two stages: first, they shoot you up with -- I think -- cortisone or some corticosteroid. About half the time that's all it takes. If that doesn't work, they do a little outpatient surgery in which they go in and open up the passage in your thumb for the tendon, and that's got a 90% or better success rate. (That's got to take the surgical equivalent of watchmaker's tools.)
They numbed me up and gave me the shot, leaving my thumb bloated and no more sensitive than a block of wood. The numbness had mostly worn off by this morning, the residual pain was gone by noon. It still has the "trigger finger," but much less, and the specialist had said the pain would go away first, and the clickiness would take some time to fade, if it was going to. I have another appointment next month; if things get better, I can cancel it. If not, we'll try the surgery.
The hand specialist was quick, competent, and had the kind of self-confidence that inspires trust: been there, done that, happy to fix one more.
Wednesday, May 19, 2021
Yet Another Day
Tuesday, May 18, 2021
Rain or shine, there's something I have to do: a robin has started to build a nest atop the back yard light, a barnyard fixture just under the back gable. The original light was a mercury vapor type; when the ballast failed, a close look at the barnyard-grade wiring job and the condition of the fixture convinced me to replace it with a modern CFL: just as much light for a fraction of the power. The first two replacements were short-lived* but the third is going on four or five years.
But none of them were designed to hold a bird's nest on top. She's no structural engineer: the current effort keeps falling apart once it gets too large for the available support. I need to get the nest cleared away before the robin lays eggs.
* Electrolytic capacitor failures. Possibly low-grade counterfeit components; an industrial spy stole an (incomplete) electrolyte formula from a well-regraded Japanese firm many years ago and ever since, fly-by-night component makers have flooded the manufacturing supply chain with inexpensive lookalikes that have a fraction of the life of the honest ones. I thought about replacing the bad parts but the remainder of the construction was extremely budget-driven, the kind of house of cards that is just going to have one failure after another and which tends to fall apart if you mess with it too much. The present light is from a farm supply retailer, cost about twice as much and has so far lasted four times as long.
Monday, May 17, 2021
(Yesterday also marked my first visit to Target in more than a year! Still much as it was, though they do appear to have all-new and frequently-washed shopping carts, a change I would have been delighted with even before the pandemic.)
This morning, I fried three strips of bacon and afterward, a nice amount of maitake mushrooms in a little bit of bacon grease. I'd already made omelet batter with a couple of large multi-grain crackers, crushed with Italian seasoning blend and then added water and beat three eggs into it. And I'd diced a heaping tablespoon of Bellevitano cheese.
With the bacon and mushrooms draining on paper towel and the burner turned down to low, I poured the batter into my Always pan -- the non-stick surface is great for this -- and offset it a bit so one side would cook first. Once it had started to set, I added about half the cheese on both sides, followed by half the bacon. Half of the mushrooms all on the slow-cooking side after that, then the rest of the bacon and cheese and the remainder of the mushrooms on that. Folded the faster-cooking side over with my nifty omelet-folding spatula,* centered the pan over the burner, and finished the delightfully-fat omelet in a few iterations of turning it over until moth sides were a nice golden color and the filling was bubbling at the edge.
The result was even better than we expected. Tam and I both found it required no additional seasoning. We'll be having this again!
* I am generally skeptical of single-purpose kitchen tools but these large, asymmetrical soft-edge spatulas are perfectly suited to the job of folding an omelet, much better than any other method or gadget I have used.
Sunday, May 16, 2021
I've read some of the books. It's interesting how the eponymous lead character has been updated -- a Vietnam War vet in the books, a Desert Storm and Global War On A Noun veteran in the TV series. The plots are interesting, too; the books are tightly plotted, often with several narrative lines interweaving, and so is each season of the TV series -- but the TV version takes a Mixmaster to the books, picking and choosing among parts of several for each season's arc. Generally this is all to the good, updating the stories and adding complexity. A ten to thirteen-episode TV season nicely accommodates a novel's worth of story.
At times the basic setup is a little too pat; Harry Bosch is a veteran detective who has little patience with bureaucracy and the self-protective nature of LAPD. It is largely redeemed by his personality (Bosch has much in common with Philip Marlowe and Travis McGee) and background, plus a well-rounded and believable cast of supporting characters who provide an excellent sense of team interaction. The whole thing is a cut above the usual "TV cop show."
While carefully plotted, the books at times show evidence of having been written in some haste -- occasional once-through-the-typewriter stuff, minor continuity and research fluffs. The TV series does not; continuity is consistent and settings are always spot-on.
Saturday, May 15, 2021
Friday, May 14, 2021
Bean And Mushroom Soup With Ham?
I was going to reheat leftovers last night; I had some nice chili left from earlier in the week and some rice with green pigeon peas and andouille sausage from even earlier, and I was going to thaw them out and put them together, along with some gourmet-type mushrooms that needed eating. Thursday night is "trash night" and we usually have takeout, delivery or simple leftovers.
But in the freezer, I found not two but four unlabelled freezer bags of somewhat doubtful provenance, all plausibly chili or the rice mix. I wasn't sure what was recent and what was, perhaps, lingering from much earlier. I try to clear the freezer weekly, but at least two of the four were a mystery, and I didn't know which two. I had not bothered to label or date any of them. Oops.
After a moment of panic -- I didn't have any meat thawed and it was getting late to wrangle a pizza (Bazebeaux gets busy fast, what with Bebop and WB Pizza having closed) -- I improvised.
Any more, I always keep at least one big ham steak in the freezer. They're a prime ingredient for Hoppin' John, which I will happily eat weekly (Tam's good for about every other week) and they keep well. Being somewhere between a half and three-quarters of an inch thick and vacuum-sealed in plastic, they thaw enough in a few minutes under warm water to cut into cubes. Rather than make something we have often, and needing to use up those mushrooms -- oyster and maitake -- I went digging through the pantry and happened on a can of Westbrae Natural Organic Chili Beans, No Salt.* Despite the name, it's just a can of good-quality assorted beans, no seasoning -- and they're serious about the "no salt" part. That's important if you're starting with a big slab of ham: it's got plenty of salt for the dish.
I opened, rinsed and diced the mostly thawed ham, and peppered it in the pan. While it cooked, I chopped up and added a few baby carrots, most of a yellow onion and three stalks of celery (I saved back some raw onion and celery to add at the table; this is one of my favorite parts of home-made bean soup). Once the vegetables were well along, I washed, cut up and added the mushrooms and cooked them a bit. (They cook quickly). Then I added the can of beans, liquid and all, with parsley and a dash of garlic, covered and simmered for ten minutes. A little water cooks out of the rinsed ham, fresh vegetables and mushrooms, and between that and the beans, that's all you need. It makes a fine stock.
The mushrooms (and there were rather a lot) added a wonderful depth and complexity to the flavor. They beans did not overwhelm the other ingredients but complimented them. Tam added some hot sauce to hers and I sprinkled raw onion and celery on mine, which adds flavor and crunch. With or without the extras, the dish was flavorful and quick to make. More "ham, mushrooms and beans" than "bean soup," it hit the right notes for a slightly chilly evening.
* The link is an example; it would take a much larger household than mine to rate buying them by the case! OTOH, canned beans are often highly salted, so a salt-free version is good to find.
Thursday, May 13, 2021
Me: May have to work from home for days due to a 1950s septic system.
I'd complain but in perspective, it's pretty trivial. It'd be even more trivial if they hadn't trimmed all the lower limbs off the pine trees around the building at the North campus. It's not like we don't have a shovel up there. But they did and there's housing and/or busy streets on all sides of the site, so.... Nah.
Wednesday, May 12, 2021
My tooth will be looked at Friday afternoon, or sooner if it starts to hurt. There's no ETA on the drains.
Tuesday, May 11, 2021
Last Friday, I was going to make chimichurri flank steak with vegetables. I had flank steak -- but no chimichurri. So I faked it:
Parsley, garlic, a little olive oil... I had marinated the flank steak in a small amount of balsamic vinegar and togarishi salt, and I added to some za'atar seasoning, bay leaf, soy and fish sauce to the pan.
It was tasty!
Monday, May 10, 2021
Yesterday afternoon, it appeared to have stopped raining, so I nipped out for a look. It was chilly and overcast. I was wearing short sleeves and there was the strangest sensation on my arms....
It was sleeting. Tiny sleet. Pinprick sleet, each slushy little drop ice-cold and stinging. I went back indoors.
We had freeze warnings overnight and our neighbor's roof was sparkling with frost this morning, but at least the sun's out.
May in Indiana! I've seen nicer ones so far. There have been good points -- the North Campus has plenty of red-winged blackbirds, a few cardinals, the usual red-tailed hawks and at least one pair of kildeers, long-legged, golden-tailed and fretful. They're best known for faking a broken wing to lead you away from their nest. If you're going to be isolated and shivering, you might as well do so in what amounts to a bird sanctuary!
Sunday, May 09, 2021
I Have Not Posted Today
Saturday, May 08, 2021
Towards A Universal Morality
True or not? An anthropology discussion turned into a research paper, in which the authors assert -- with examples -- that there is, in fact, a "universal human morality."
Yay, hooray, the lion will lay down with the lamb? Not so fast; it's a very human set of behavioral rules; they're not without overlap and can even, at times, contradict or conflict with one another:
1. Help your family
2. Help your group
3. Return favors
4. Be brave
5. Defer to superiors
6. Divide resources fairly
7. Respect others’ property
There's plenty of range for heroism, individualism, group action and tragedy in all that. There are a lot of ways it can go wrong. But it's a start. You've got this much in common with the other guy, even if he is a jerk or a fool.
Friday, May 07, 2021
Thursday, May 06, 2021
An Interesting Wikipedia Article
I would argue that any time you find yourself wildly enthusiastic about a politician, it's a good idea to take a step back and analyze just what it is you like -- ideas, policy, personality? Something less tangible, an expiation of guilt or a vicarious feeling of power?
For that matter, if a pol rubs you the wrong way, figure out why. (Decades ago, my father took a particular dislike to one of Indiana's U. S. Senators. While he disapproved of the man's politics, it was the Senator's smarmy manners and condescending attitude that riled him the most. Even in an angry near-rant, was always careful to distinguish between the Senator's having a repulsive personality and his espousing of halfwitted or damaging policies.)
Politicians play on your emotions to get the votes that put them in a position to play with your money. It's important -- indeed, vital -- to use more than emotion in deciding which of them you will vote for.
* I am not suggesting equivalence; they are very different men with very different personalities. But their Presidential campaigns and terms illustrate two approaches to the same pitfall.
Wednesday, May 05, 2021
Tuesday, May 04, 2021
Posting On Politics?
Invidious commentators espouse no coherent point of view, preferring to stoke and manufacture outrage, while letting their viewers, listeners and readers take what they shovel out as a substitute for actual news.
Against such a background, I have little to say, and doubt it would do much good.
Monday, May 03, 2021
Unexpectedly Weighted Covers
Holden, however, sometimes put his own Wu-cat spin on the behavior: every so often, I find my covers firmly anchored on the non-wall side of the bed. If the bedspread and blanket shift enough, he will make himself a cozy bed in them on the floor, partially rolled up in the covers and tucked under the edge of my platform bed. He'll usually disentangle without too much complaint if I need to reclaim the covers, often as not relocating to the mattress.
This is the same fifteen-pound tomcat who still likes to nap in the small, puffy-cuboid enclosed bed I bought even before he was home with us. He nearly exactly fills it, and snores away happily with his head just inside the little circular opening, a cat-hatch barely wider than his whiskers.
When we adopted him, we were looking for another tortoiseshell cat like Rannie Wu. Instead, we found an equally idiosyncratic cat, large enough to more than keep up with Huck. I'm glad we did.
Sunday, May 02, 2021
Heads Up, Pan On Sale
There's a code phrase for the sale price at the top of the page the link goes to, or there will be as long as the sale is running. I don't get anything for posting the link.