Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Dirty Pool

     Recently, an ad agency working for a gun-control advocacy group tricked former NRA President David Keene and firearms-rights author/researcher John R. Lott into giving a graduation speech to 3,044 empty chairs, a number chosen to represent students killed by firearms who would have been graduating -- a stunt being reported in glowing terms in the advertising community.

     While I am very much in favor of people having their own opinions and beliefs, and being free to promote them (as long as they do not advocate harming others) even when I strongly disagree with their position, this is shoddy behavior.  Disagreement is normal, acceptable; deciding those with whom you disagree are fair game for dirty tricks is not.  Cheering on such behavior is reprehensible.

     This con job is right down there with the selective editing and trick questions used by "Project Veritas" to push their agenda.  It's not honest, nor is it effective debate.  It's not right, no matter who is doing it or how noble they believe their cause to be.

     The ends do not justify the means.  Period.*
* This is very much of a piece with my strong belief that persons who have been arrested, even for heinous crimes, ought not be treated any more harshly than any other prisoner while awaiting trial.  Dealing fairly and squarely with people is a measure of your morality, not of your opinion of theirs.    

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

More Nope

      In an America in which people have politicized the germ theory of disease and push muddled misunderstandings of how vaccines work, some mornings it's not possible to find a topic to write about that won't result in heaping mounds of behind-the-scenes acrimony.

      At this point, we're in the "is the monster dead or playing possum?" stage of the pandemic, and some of the incautious characters are going to get savaged if the thing's merely lying low.

      The Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2 has got a sub-variant of its own, and it could be especially ugly.  Or not -- but we're only going to know when the music builds to crescendo and a scaly tentacle unexpectedly lashes out at the prom queen, the High School football center and the skinny math geek, all shaking a failing flashlight. Will they survive?  I don't know -- I wasn't willing to roll those dice and frankly, I think this movie stinks.  We're nevertheless stuck in it until the credits roll, sometime in 2022 unless the unvaccinated manage to breed a really nasty variation on the virus that we can't keep a lid on.

      It's raining soup and bowls are free.  You can be in the movie or come join the audience.  It's your choice.  We're all going to have to see it play out either way, but one of them's a lot higher risk than the other.

Monday, June 28, 2021

A General Principle

      My general objection to the antics of the media is not that they are hard on politicians, but that they don't give all of them -- and their subject-matter-experts! -- the same level of scrutiny.

      The notion came to the forefront of my thoughts over the weekend, watching some pundit or wonk being interviewed on CNN about former U. S. Attorney General William Barr's recently-reported statement on the 2020 elections.  (The original piece now seems to have been buried.)  Her comments came down to "Weaksauce" and "Why wait until now?"

      Her "weaksauce" opinion is subjective; persons holding (or who have held) high office generally avoid terms like "bullshit" when speaking for the record.  When they do not, my experience is that watering down the strength of their opinion is the precise opposite of their intent.

      Her other notion, though, is simply wrong.  It took me about ten seconds to type in search terms and come up with an AP story from December of this year: Disputing Trump, Barr says no widespread election fraud.  Barr didn't hold back (nor was he the only one); he didn't wait.  Accusing him of having done so is ignorant if not disingenuous.

      I'm all for people having their own opinions -- but those opinions are not of any value if the person expressing them hasn't done their homework first.  The public record is not a secret and requires no reading between the lines; we know what Mr. Barr first said about claims of fraud in the 2020 Presidential election and when he said it.*
* Some commenters will use this as a chance to say, "See why we don't trust the media?"  But in fact, I used the media to check the media.  Commentators and SME's speak off-the-cuff and often with partisan intent (conscious or not).  In general, I trust the media to not screw up general accounts of widely-reported events and interviews with public figures: I keep the broad outlines in mind and double-check anything that seems askew or too-neatly confirms my own opinions, and I try to work back to things that were observed by multiple reporters and other people.

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Vacationing By Television

      They are places I shall probably never visit -- but thanks to television and a charming hostess, I can see them on television: Penelope Keith's Hidden Villages is a series of programs originally shown on the UK's Channel 4.  Several of the streaming services offer it.

      Each episode takes you to several villages -- not cities or towns! -- in a particular area, with general views and visits to sites and person of interest.  Produced with the eye's-view naturalism the Brits do so well, they are a refreshing change from the stress and rush all around us .

      Tamara returned today from a month-long house-sitting assignment.  The present messy state of air travel had left her jangled and annoyed.  Over dinner, Ms. Keith showed us Cumbria, with particular attention paid to the the Lake District, unhurried and pleasant.  It was time well spent.

Saturday, June 26, 2021

Bad Idea

      It probably serves me right.

      The eye surgeon's office was upfront about it: they were going to dilate my eyes.  And they can provide transportation, at remarkably low prices.

      "No thanks," said I, "Your office is only two or three miles from the North Campus and I have two sets of sunglasses.  I'll drive myself."

      And so I did.  The afternoon was thickly overcast, which was a help.  Wide-brimmed hat, dark clip-ons on my new glasses and the big, dark, side-shield over-glasses they supplied after surgery.  A little dicey getting to the car, but once inside...  Well, not great but certainly workable.

      Wide-dilated eyes have a very shallow focus: only a narrow range of distances will be clear at any given time.  (It's the exact opposite of a pinhole camera.)  The eye drops tend to freeze the muscles that change your focus, too.  The way to deal with this is to keep your eyes moving, so you build up a clearer idea of the details.  Heavy stop-and-go traffic is actually a help: your main attention is on the car in front of you.  That's exactly what I was driving in; I made it back to the North Campus just fine.

      The inside of the building there is painted and floored in light, neutral colors and very well lit.  Really, extremely well-lit.  Post-dilation, it looked to be well past that and right up to OMG ARE WE DOING SURGERY ON THE SURFACE OF THE SUN?

      Okay, shades drawn, lights off, I can cope.  I've been using one of my own laptops (a MacBook Air, a useful little machine and a good match to my older Windows Surface Pro) for e-mail and other simple tasks.   With the brightness down to the very lowest setting that doesn't turn the backlight off, the screen was comfortable to look at.  I got to work and made good progress on a current project.

      As time passed, things in the darkened building were getting clearer.  And the computer screen was starting to give me a headache--

      I didn't ask what they'd used in the eye-dilating drops.  Atropine -- one of the gotcha chemicals in Belladonna or Deadly Nightshade -- is still a common ingredient.  It's safe in this application.  Like any drug, full effect is reached some time after administration and then it tapers off.  And this stuff isn't quick: it reached peak two or three hours after they used it on me.

      It was still tapering off when I left for home.  Hat, clip-ons, sunglasses over them, at least it was still overcast.  But the clouds didn't go all the way to the horizon and the setting sun was starting to peek under them from time to time.  Well, my car's got sun visors.... 

      I set out for home.  It turned out the evening sunlight wasn't too hard to take.  Not great, but workable.  The headlights of oncoming cars, on the other hand--

      Each light source made a big, fuzzy, four-armed star.  I am both nearsighted and astigmatic; the astigmatism became markedly worse in early adulthood and the first indication was that light sources at night started turning into fuzzy, bright balls, sometime with star rays.  New glasses fixed it.  Now the effect of the dilation was making my astigmatism different!  Not enough to obscure things, but it was unexpected.

      Next time, I'm taking the afternoon off -- and I'm not doing my own driving.

Friday, June 25, 2021

Eye Exam

      Today, I have a short appointment with the eye surgeon to find out how my recovery from cataract surgery is going, and if I'm ready for an exam to determine my new prescription. 

      The glasses I got shortly after surgery are a stop-gap; vision usually changes as your eyes heal.  It's obvious I'll be needing bifocals again, which I had expected.

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Did He Miss One?

     (Note: if you're still of the opinion that the outcome of the 2020 Presidential election was determined by voter fraud, cheating or tampering with the totals, this blog post and linked article isn't for you.  It barely intersects your worldview and I'm about as interested in debating you as I am in debating a Methodist and an old-school Unitarian about the Trinity.)

      A few days ago, I linked to an interesting opinion piece that suggested the U. S. political culture is divided not into two halves, but four quarters.  The writer, George Packer, did a good job of supporting his contention, too.

     Of course, for every pundit claiming the sky is yellow, there's another one saying it's violet.  Or that Mr. Packer has overlooked an entire demographic--

      And there they are: Eric Levitz has discovered working-class Democrats.  Yes, they do exist, and while I think the group contains far more "swing" voters (many of whom probably voted for Mr. Trump in 2016 due to a combination of feeling he was on their side and because he wasn't Ms. Clinton*) than he appears to, they're certainly the forgotten voters, just as much as their Republican counterparts -- and possibly more fickle.

      It's fun to slap red and blue paint on every issue and every voter, but that's nowhere near the whole story.  Elections, especially Presidential elections, are often decided by fairly narrow margins.  The people way out at the extremes show up in the headlines, but it's the fat center of the distribution curve where the vote is won or lost.  Candidates, parties and pundits would do well not to ignore them.
* The power of negative voting is often overlooked, but the effect of, "Oh, hell no, anybody but that person," votes is significant.  While it's very satisfying to have a candidate who infuriates the other side, the problem is that they also can infuriate voters who might otherwise have been on your side.

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

It's Typewriter Day!

      Or one of them, anyway.  The Europeans have their own, on 30 April, for their guy who invented one.  The nice thing about holidays is they they're very rarely either-or.

      Ours -- and the world's -- celebrates the day Christopher Latham Sholes and his partners were first granted a U. S. patent, 23 June 1868. 

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Early Results Are In

      A few responses to my self-test on the subject of hypocrisy have arrived.  So far, they indicate that respondents believe it is perfectly okay to say one thing and do another yourself -- it's only damning when someone else does so, especially if they are someone of whom you disapprove.  (I'm not immune to this myself.)

      How interesting.

Monday, June 21, 2021


      There were a couple of items I was thinking of blogging about, but you know what?  One is simply contentious and the other, well, the other will fuel the worst kind of tinfoil-hat speculation instead of the careful consideration it deserves.*

      Some days, I just don't much feel like poking at scary things with a stick.  Especially if I don't have anything constructive to add to the discussion.  People are already way crazier than I ever expected.  Why add to it?
* Here's a hint for the latter: Sir Arthur C. Clarke covered the general topic in two of his Tales From The White Hart stories, "Big Game Hunt" and "Patent Pending."  There's a fellow at Columbia University making good progress on it right now.  It's a very deep rabbit hole and tinfoil is not going to help.

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Everybody Under The Microscope!

      This article about our current politics is uncomfortable reading.  The writer doesn't come at it from the same angle I do -- and he's upfront about that -- but nobody's corner of the present political divides is spared and none of them come off as shining examples of the way forward.

      His analysis of the big picture looks pretty close to me.  It's certainly worth your time to read it all the way through.  Even if you decide he's off-base, it's a good look into another person's perceptions of where we are and how we got there.

Two Questions

      If you are one of those people who believes hypocrisy to be an especially damming sin, I have two questions for you.

      Please read and answer each one to yourself before proceeding to the next.  Be honest.

   First Question:
      Do you believe it is important to respect and obey the laws of our States and nation?

   Second Question:
      Do you always drive at or below the posted speed limit?

     Man, some mornings I just hate having to look in the mirror....

Saturday, June 19, 2021


      Spent the day doing laundry and cleaning up around the sink.  Tomorrow, I'll see how confident I feel about the plumbing project.

Friday, June 18, 2021

A Reminder

      It's reminder time again: while I do encourage comments, not all of them get published.  In particular, comments that I think are overly inflammatory, combative or invidious will not be published.  Comments making unsupported claims will not be published and may be mocked.  Obscure comments will be investigated and anything I can't figure out (oh, guess!  This will be such a surprise) will not be published.

      And comments that simply repeat talking points from online, cable or over-the-air pundits and opinionaters?  Those don't get published and are likely to result in an invitation to go read some other blog.  Especially when it's miserable, wormtongued undermining of confidence in the institutions, Constitution and conventions of our country.  I can't prove some of those nasty little frat boys and desk-pounders get checks from Vlad and Xi's governments to sow poison -- but if they were, what would they be doing differently?

      Be mindful of who you're following uncritically.  None of them have your best interests at heart.

      P. S.: if you couldn't hold your own in a one-on-one fight with an enlisted person serving in our armed forces, you don't get to talk smack about them to me.  Go try it at a bar popular with service members near a military base.  See how that works out for you.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

They've Got Me Outnumbered

      The dishpan thing works okay -- but it's a lot of work.  Having a cat who is intensely interested in the process of carrying a dishpan full of partially rinsed dishes to the water source and bringing them back fully rinsed makes it even more work.  Holden Wu is definitely a member of the Underfoot Wu family.  I've cut way back on the amount of cooking I do.

      I'm hoping to buy plumbing parts Friday and do the work Sunday.  Between then and now, I'll do a better investigation of the source of the leak and modify my plans accordingly.

      Tam was unable to get to the lawn and I can't run a mower or weedwhacker yet.  (All that vibration is too much.)  I admitted this to our neighbor by way of apology, and she promptly offered to have her lawn guys take care of the front yard!  That's when you know you have a good neighbor.  They showed up and had it done in a half-hour this morning.

      There's still so much to do and I'm not done adjusting to the changes in my vision.  Sometimes it seems like I spend all my time scurrying with a tidal wave arching over me, barely managing to stay ahead.  Tonight's job is trash-gathering and litterbox-changing, so we'll be ordering out for dinner.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

We've Got 'Em Outnumbered

      In case you are wondering, there are about two and one-third Americans for every one Russian, so in a fair fight, we can whup 'em easy.

      Small wonder Gospodin Putin acts antsy: he's out of his depth and he knows it.  You can fuss all you like about the current (or previous) Commander-in-Chief, but U. S. Presidents don't win wars; we don't even let them declare wars.  It's the boots on the ground that do the winning and the supply lines that keep them winning.  Better fed and better supplied citizen-soldiers have a long history of winning over tough professionals -- often not with any great brilliance of plan or elegance of execution, just the long, difficult, ugly slog. 

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

The Bug-Lady. Also, Plumbing

      Behold, the Bug-Lady:
      After cataract surgery, they've got me wearing tape-on eye shields when I go to bed.  They protect my recently operated-on eyes, mostly by keeping me from rubbing them while half-awake.  I'm supposed to wear them every night for at least a week -- two days to go.

*  *  * 

      After washing dishes in the kitchen sink last night using water hauled in big bowls from the tub spout -- two days worth, and I did a lot of cooking Sunday -- the leak is strongly correlated with using the tap in the kitchen, but not with running water down that drain and it doesn't appear to be dripping when the tap's not running.

      This is relatively good news.  The previous homeowner did his own plumbing, with a fair degree of competence but a complete unawareness that you can't intermix soldered copper and threaded galvanized-iron pipe, despite the existence of simple adaptors.  Run water through it and there's some electrochemical activity between the two metals; the iron pipe rusts at an accelerated rate, the copper goes green early, and eventually it forms pinholes and weak spots.  There's one of his mixed-metal improvisations under the sink, with a shutoff valve that feeds both the sink and (still defunct) dishwasher and the iron portion is rusting.  (There's a right way to do this when you have to, a "dielectric union" with an insulating material between the copper and iron.  But it's best avoided unless you have no other choice.)

      Up top, I have a "coronavirus improvisation:" the actual spout of the faucet had developed small leaks early last summer and I gave it several wrappings of self-amalgamating tape rather than replacing it -- the shutoffs are iffy, one of them being part of the rusting assembly, and I wasn't confident I could identify the right flexible jumpers for the replacement fixture and I didn't feel like having a plumber in just then.  But it leaks, pooling around the base of the faucet and running into the sink basins. I'm not confident it's not trickling down the plumbing connections inside the cabinet, every so slightly, and I'm just not finding it.

     The solution to both of these is to replace the whole thing. Th pipes that come up under the sink are 1/2" copper.  I can buy "SharkBite" push-on fittings (which I have used before) and replumb the shutoffs, distribution and end sections where the hoses for the replacement faucet screw on.  I already have a replacement faucet and I have replaced them in other houses in the past, though it's been a dozen years or more.  I will probably have to buy a small collection of parts and a new "basin wrench," a wonderful specialized tool that helps with the hardest part of the job. 

     I ordered a cheap video borescope that should arrive soon, so I can check in the hidden area between cabinet bottom and floor and see if there's anything lurking there without having to do a lot of drilling and sawing.  And just in case, I ordered some inexpensive plastic washpans: if I'm going to have to use water from the bathtub spout to wash and rinse dishes anyway, I might as well sit on the floor, put washpans for wash/rinse/drain in the tub and do dishes there, and not be slopping gallons of water on the floor.  Yes, it's awful (and I plan to be using paper plates and eating takeout dinners until I fix the kitchen sink), but it should do for awhile.

Monday, June 14, 2021

Today, Possibly, Eyeglasses

      If all goes as planned, I should be able to get some temporary glasses today.  At least that's the hope.  I can't get much done without a better solution than the expedients I have been using.

     UPDATE: got them!  The optician's staff warned me, "It may take some time to adjust to your new glasses."  I walked out with them on under my dark post-surgery-issued sunglasses and started to smile.  I stretched out my arms in the middle of the shopping mall parking lot, turned around slowly and chortled with joy.  I felt like Charlton Heston, watching the lovely film of nature as Edward G. Robinson is being euthanized, seeing trees, flowers and wildlife for the first time and exclaiming, "I never knew!"  It was that big a difference.  I have not seen this clearly in decades.  

     The glasses are from a Lenscrafter's franchise.  They were quick, efficient and completely in tune with my desire to pick from lens and frame combinations they could make that day.  They had them done in less than an hour; I went to the nearby Target and kind of dawdled shopping, figuring it would take however long it took.  Instead, the optician sent me a text saying the glasses were done, well before I had reached the checkout.

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Bad Timing

      From the "Oh, Like I Needed This" department: I went down to my basement ham-radio setup to while away some time while the laundry ran, only to find a slow drip of water had started, apparently not long before. There were just a couple of drops of water on a typewriter awaiting repair, and a little more on the cardboard box it was in. The James Millen Co. VFO under it was dry. All this was sitting in my well-used office chair.

      I figured it was a one-time thing, from scrubbing my hairbrush in the kitchen sink right before (horrendous, it was). My hamshack is under the kitchen -- not a great location, but it was a cozy spot next to the stairs, handy for antenna feeds because it's near the center of the long axis of the lot and it was already wired for power.

      I went to the other side of the basement, moved laundry from the washer to the dryer and when I returned, water had been dripping on the chair.

      So the chair is outside drying now. Investigations in the basement aren't revealing any spraying pinholes or iffy connections in the pipes or drain and a search under the sink doesn't find any dripping water -- but there's a hidden area from the bottom of the sink cabinet to floor level, the "kick" about 4" high. The previous owner did a lot of his own plumbing, with a carefree disregard for the intermixing of copper and galvanized-iron pipe. This has made for problems in the past and there may be another of his copper-iron-copper unions hidden in that kick space.

      For right now, I'm going to keep an eye on it. If I have to drill some holes and saw out an access opening in the bottom of that cabinet, I will -- but not four days after cataract surgery, not unless I absolutely have to.

      The fun never ends.

     UPDATE: The dripping appears to have slowed markedly overnight.  For now, it appears to be strongly correlated with running water from the tap in the kitchen sink, which I have avoided doing this morning while continuing to use the drain.

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Not Supposed To Read?

      You might as well ask me to stop breathing as ask me to stop reading.  Sure, I can hold my breath for a little while.  I can give up reading for about as long.

      Immediately after eye surgery, it was moot: I couldn't focus well enough to do much reading.  Shouldn't read, can't read, vision not really good enough for television -- what to do?

      Radio, of course.  The present-day offerings of music, talk-show irritainment* and sports; there's just not much there that appeals to me.  NPR has some good interview shows, their short top-of-hour newscasts are first-rate† and This American Life is a delight.  But it's not like a book.  You have to be there for it (mostly -- This American Life is extensively archived online).  I read fiction for entertainment.

      Recently, I've been reading Michael Connelly​'s "Harry Bosch" series and watching the TV adaptation.  The books are award-winning and Connelly's plots are first-rate.  I think the remixing and reduction/combining in the cast of characters done in adapting the series for television has improved it.  Being able to look back over nearly twenty books and reknit the long arc is a second chance few writers receive, and the writer's room for the series treats the source material with respect.

      The "Bosch" books and TV series are both the kind of crime fiction known as a "police procedural," following a case through the workings of law enforcement.  One of the oldest examples is Jack Webb's Dragnet.  Most people remember it from the TV series (if they remember it at all) but it began as a radio series, with slightly more relaxed acting style and the same stories-from-real-cases approach -- and the radio version of Dragnet is available online!  The thirty-minute episodes are essentially novelettes and Webb's docudrama approach to storytelling holds up well even now.  And if I fall asleep listening, I don't nap though an entire audiobook and have to scrub back frantically to figure out where I left off -- a self-contained half-hour story with a break in the middle is pretty easy to pick up on and start over.

      The same site has plenty of other classic radio shows, too.

      My eyes continue to heal and I am trying to readjust to not being severely nearsighted.  I can use the computer without eyeglasses now, though it feels strange to do so.  I have to sleep with taped-on eye shields (you dare not rub your eyes) and I'm supposed to wear my old eyeglasses‡ or a pair of disposable safety glasses (pretty ripply; I need to find my good safety glasses) during the day.
* Tamara's coinage for the widely popular kind of political commentary that leaves listeners annoyed if not outright enraged.  It's not to my taste. 
† Yes, yes, readers will tell me it's all slanted.  Certainly NPR are great fans of government-as-helper, but you know that going in and it mostly affects what they cover and not how they cover it.  When it comes to reporting the meat and potatoes of news -- wars, natural disasters, the fussings of legislatures and heads of state, they do fine.
‡ It turns out that layering a pair of +1.25 cheaters over my old glasses comes very close to giving me normal vision.  That should tide me over until I can have temporary eyeglasses made Monday.  A full eye exam and new glasses are several weeks away.

Friday, June 11, 2021

Cataracts, Day Three

      Yesterday, the eye doctor did my right eye.  They load you up with Versed, which starts erasing memories as it wears off.  So about all I can really recall about the surgery itself is that the nurses and eye surgeon were nice, and the entire process was smooth, professional and felt unhurried.

     That last thing is no small accomplishment.  It's essentially a production line; patients are tightly scheduled and their process of evaluation, preparation, surgery intake, surgery and recovery shows every sign of careful time-motion analysis -- but analysis by an actual eye surgeon, someone who knows how long things ought to take, and why you ought to add ten or twenty percent extra time.  As a result, waiting rooms aren't crowded, patients don't spend a lot of time in them (and the longest waits are after you've been given dilating eye drops and they're taking effect) and everything just keeps moving.  (In fact, the firm is owned by an eye surgeon.)

     As a (almost certainly intentional) side effect, it's as good a cure for worry as can be had: everyone you deal with is relaxed.  They're not fighting the clock; they know patients will arrive and move though the system in good order.  That level of confidence comes though clearly to the patent, or at least it did to me.  Every single person you interact with begins with a name/birthdate check, and the same eye surgeon who does your pre-operative check (and pen-marks your face next to the eye they're working on*) does your eye surgery.  It appears they run in batches of five or six (or more), with at least that many prep positions outside dual operating rooms.  There are a pair of nurses per patient (and possibly pair of positions), timed so that nobody's hanging around waiting and nobody's trying to juggle more work than they can manage.

     This is a profitable specialty, and one that is highly reputation-driven.  The two factors appear to have resulted, for this practice, in a remarkably well-run end result.

     As for me, I am now less nearsighted.  My vision is still sorting itself out and I'm definitely going to need new glasses, but I think it'll be workable.

     I had been skeptical of the people telling me about yellowing vision and all the depth of color I would see afterward.  Surely not me -- I was seeing colors just fine!   Um, about that?  You were right.  I had no idea.  Whites are brighter, colors are deeper, shadows less impenetrable. Gas flames are a shade of purplish-blue that I don't think I have ever seen before!  I'm going to need stronger sunglasses for outdoors, too.  Why, we haven't had summer sun like this since I was a teenager (or so it has seemed).
* I'm told that the simple step of marking the area to be operated on, universally adopted over the last 30 years or so, has made a huge difference in "Oops, not that side" surgical mistakes.  Yes, in hindsight it seems like a no-brainer, but it hadn't been SOP and by the time someone's all prepped and draped in the OR, who and where is not always obvious.  Ditto the practice of always verifying which patient you are in every interaction -- it might be annoying, but it's enormously helpful in making sure you don't get the treatment intended for someone else, or vice versa.

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Cataracts, Day Two

 OK, I had the first cataract surgery yesterday. It went well. As people told me the colors of things have changed a little bit: a golden veil has been lifted from the world. My eyesight has changed in that eye, so I'll need new glasses after the second one is done and some time has passed for things to settle down. I'm not supposed to be reading much so I am actually dictating this and it's not going to get the usual editing job. You may notice that line spacing is different. My thanks to everyone who has offered helpful advice and support throughout this.  I'll be leaving in about an hour for the next round of surgery on my other eye.

Wednesday, June 09, 2021

Well, Here Goes

      Off to the eye surgeon in a couple of hours.  I may have a report later.  Or I might not.  I'd probably have to dictate it to Tamara, and she's fighting deadlines at present.

Monday, June 07, 2021

Modern Geekery

      For the radio amateurs among my readership, here's a nice little kit: the Nouveau 75 QRP AM transceiver

     It looks like an interesting radio for the price. You're probably not going to work the world with it, but it might be fun.

Sunday, June 06, 2021

Closer To The Deadline

      The nearer I get to the date for this cataract surgery, the less sanguine I am about it.  My expectations appear to have been unrealistically rosy and while it's better than it used to be, outcomes are still not all that great.  And I can't get much in the way of straight talk from the cataract surgeon's office.

      Unless I am really impressed by high-quality information on my first visit to the surgeon, I'm probably only going to get the worst eye done.  It's my non-dominant eye and if the results aren't that great, well, it's not seeing all that great right now, either.

      A decade ago, they were supposedly five years away from a nice, soft drop-in replacement for one's natural lens.  It looks like that never happened.  I am disappointed by this.  The things they are putting in people's eyes instead scare me: small, odd-looking....  Just not comfortable with the idea.

Saturday, June 05, 2021

Food, Home And Away

      Or "Away and Home," because we started with takeout.

      One of the few good effects of the pandemic is that nearly every place that serves food will make it to go.  Root & Bone expanded to Indianapolis several months before the great upheaval.  Tam and I had wanted to eat there, but indoor dining was shut down for months and the location is a little out of the way.

      Memorial Day shifted our night before trash-pickup day, when we usually get take-our or delivery for dinner and spend the time saved emptying wastebaskets and cleaning out the fridge.  I decided it was a good day to try the place.  It turned out to an excellent idea!  The food was marvelous.  I had the Braised Short Rib "Meatloaf," which was amazing, the nicely-seasoned meat falling-apart tender, and Tam tried their Bacon Board, very rich thick-cut bacon, house-made pork rind, cheese, picked, and pickled peppers and onions.  She loved it.  I got a side of butter beans, in case we were still hungry (nope -- portions were generous; my dinner came with mashed potatoes and asparagus) and because they're a bit tricky, delicious if the kitchen crew is paying attention and much less so if they're not.  The beans surpassed my hopes, smoky and flavorful, tender and not bitter.  By present standards prices are good, especially for the quality and quantity.  I found indoors to be slightly too loud (a happy, officially-reduced-capacity crowd) for my aging ears.  They have a nice outdoor dining area, so we'll plan on an in-person visit soon.

      Saturday was an at-home day; laundry and a little gardening for me, lawn-mowing for Tam.  Dinner was succotash (small red beans and tender white corn, seasoned with a little garlic, black pepper, parsley, cilantro* and the least hint of chili powder) and grilled ham and cheese sandwiches.

      They were not your usual grilled treat.  You see, I had bought truffle butter earlier in the week; I worked overtime last weekend and could afford to splurge.  It makes fabulous steaks; I made thin-cut ribeyes with it Wednesday.  There was plenty of the fancy butter left.  Starting with thin rye bread, I layered a slice of Black Forest ham, a slice of Swiss cheese, another slice of ham, cheese, and ham.  The meat and cheese slices are thin enough that it's not -- quite -- excessive.  Grilled in a frying pan over medium heat in truffle butter until the cheese is melted and bread is crunchy-toasted, the end result is warm and wonderful.  You can use plain butter and I usually do, but this was extra-special.
* Neither one of us tastes soapiness in cilantro.  Some people do.  It's genetic, not learned: either you do or you don't, and if you do, nothing's going to change that.  Use it with caution and always tell people if you did. 

Friday, June 04, 2021

Rescued Another Bat

      At least I got the poor creature back outdoors.  Early Wednesday morning, our neighbor texted me before I'd even had a chance to make coffee:

      There's another bat in my house.  Can you help get it out?

      I texted back that I needed a couple of minutes, then brushed my teeth, put some clothes on, grabbed my leather work gloves and selected a small cardboard box from our (copious!) stock.

      A little background: our neighbor likes cats a lot, and she's usually got at least a half-dozen, living in comfort in her spotless house.  A row of well-maintained litterboxes in her finished basement ensure the house lacks the usual aroma and a nice collection of toys keeps them entertained.

      If you're a bat, her house is Hell: her cats are convinced that a flying mouse that wants to hide is the best toy they have ever seen.  And yet her attic has been unusually attractive to bats; for years, she averaged one surprise bat every twelve months.  Last year, the bats apparently set up an aerodrome in her attic.  They were getting into her house almost weekly until she hired a humane bat-abatement expert, who sealed up every point of entry but one, where he installed an exit-only flap.  After several days, bats were no longer tempting the cats or scaring her, and had presumably found new homes.

      But now one was back.  When I arrived, she told me one of her cats had carried it up from the basement and set it down on the floor at her feet, whereupon it had scrambled to the nearest vertical surface, attained some height and launched itself to skitter about.  It had found the kitchen clock and scrambled behind it.

      "I'm pretty sure it's still there," she said.

      I set the small cardboard box down on the counter, open, and asked if she had a sturdy chair.

      She was ahead of me.  "I have stepladder right here."

      We set up the ladder and I gloved up and climbed up.  Lifting the clock from its hook revealed a small brown bat, huddled tightly into the hollow body of the clock, giving a strong impression of a creature who is hoping this is all a terrible dream.

      I tilted the clock so the bat was cradled in it like fruit in a bowl (they're pretty awkward and slow on a level surface) and stepped down to the floor..  With the clock over the box, I gave the outside a few taps.  Nope.  The bat wriggled like a small boy who doesn't want to get out of bed and wrapped a wing over its head.  It might as well have muttered, "I don't wanna!"

      Turning the clock all the way over and tapping it, right on top of the open end of the box, resulted in a reluctant departure; I moved the clock out of the way and closed up the box, trying to avoid leaving a bat-sized opening.  It might not have mattered.  The little bat was trying to crowd itself into a corner, obviously hoping the nightmare would end soon.

     After a short discussion, I carried the box to a small tree near the street in her front yard.  The bat was not at all interested in leaving the box -- opening the top, turning it over above a group of branches and shaking did nothing at all to convince it to decamp.  We ended up wedging the box between three branches, open and upside down, so the bat could leave in its own time.

      Bats are generally beneficial animals. They devour mosquitos, which is enough to make me like them in and of itself.  They're not very strong and most U. S.-native bats are small animals.  Indiana's bat population has been suffering badly from White-nose Syndrome, so every bat matters.  I like being able to help even a little.

Thursday, June 03, 2021

A Reminder

      Just because you like what a website, newspaper or network is saying, just because it resonates with you, that doesn't mean it's true.  That doesn't mean it's unbiased.

      The Ad Fontes Media Bias Chart remains the most accurate set of ratings I have found.  They sort news and opinion outlets on both bias (Left/Right) and accuracy/reliability (on the vertical axis).   You'll find most of the major U.S. networks and newspapers high in accuracy and Left of center to a greater or lesser extent -- about where I'd rank them.

      Epoch Times and Gateway Pundit are way out to the Right -- okay, they are -- and way, way low in reliability.  That unreliability is a problem: they publish things that are of dubious provenance.  Things that are poorly attributed, not well-supported by the facts or the experts and possibly even made up.

      Political bias is one thing; everyone's got an opinion and they're entitled to it.  But while you get your own opinion to have and to hold, you don't get your own set of facts.  And if you feed yourself a steady diet of non-factual "facts," you end up off in cloud-cuckooland, believing six impossible things before breakfast.  It may be great fun or at least a great comfort, but it's a dangerously bad set of tools for coping with the real world.  Sooner or later, that path will leave you stranded in fantasy with no way back and a surplus of anger.

      Things don't get better from there.

      Seek media that makes you a little uncomfortable.  Cross-check the claims that bug you.  Cross-check the stuff you like.  Don't just follow one guy's website, linking to itself.  Go back to the source material whenever you can and then check that the source is real and reliable.  Don't assume everyone who smiles and agrees with you is your friend.

Wednesday, June 02, 2021

Watching And Waiting

      When news about a possibly more-transmissible COVID-19 variant came out of Vietnam, it caught my attention.  So far, it looks like a combination of of the undesirable characteristics of two other strains, both of which are susceptible to the immunity created by the vaccines presently available in the United States.  So it's bad news, worse news if you happen to be in Vietnam, but not of immediate personal or local concern to me.

      By this point, in most places in the U.S. if you haven't been vaccinated, it's because you can't be, won't be, or are waiting to see if the vaccine makes people break out in fuzzy purple spots.  New cases are declining and people are increasingly able to get back to the way things were before this mess hit.

      New variants are of wider concern to me, though, and they should be to you.  Viruses are sneaky.  They mutate and  evade vaccines.  One way to stop that (or at least slow it way down) is to keep the virus from spreading.  If you've got a virus storming unchecked through a large, dense population, there will be a larger amount of mutated versions.  The virus only needs to get lucky once.

      Vietnam appears to have a grotty little one-party communist government with a lousy record on human rights.  Nevertheless, we need to get 'em vaccinated, Party members, peasants and internal critics alike.  Them and all the rest of the world.  C'mon -- we wiped out smallpox, we darned near wiped out polio, and we can knock this new bug out, too.

      The sooner and quicker COVID-19 gets eliminated, especially in those parts of the world where people have no choice but to live close together and work side by side, the fewer nasty surprises the human race is going to get from it.  The whole planet is connected now; a virus that does in an ox-driver in a bucolic backwater can ride the train with his neighbor to the capital city and hop on an airplane with a diplomat; next thing you know, it's climbed aboard a cabdriver in your home town and he's pulling up to the curb just in time to take you to the five-and-dime -- or a wedding.  Tick-tock.

Tuesday, June 01, 2021

But Gee, What If We Fight?

      Nitwittery abounds when people try to predict the future -- and knowing a lot doesn't seem to help.  Hand humanity a new technology or idea, and people will take it and figure out things that the inventor never intended.  (Mass production lines give you cheap cars.  Cheap cars give you drive-in theaters and carhops and eventually, drive-through fast food.  Cars with bench seats give you kids making out in secluded locations.  This gives you all sorts of aftereffects.  And so on.  But who saw all that hitched to the first Model T?)

      Space travel has its own predictors of the future, back as far as Jules Verne and then H. G. Wells, and plenty of engineers not long after.  Fill your tank with Cavorite and settle the Universe!  The softer sciences were on that train, too (we can probably lay attracting their attention more at Mr. Wells's door than M. Verne's).  This (eventually) results in think-pieces like "Why We Should Think Twice About Colonizing Space."

      Tl;dr?  That's okay.  The upshot is that the fellow who wrote it worries we -- and/or our institutions -- will mutate and this will result in distrust, wars and general awfulness.

     There are a couple of problems with this line of thought -- first, we've already done just that and learned to cope (however badly).  Second, it's straight-up racist.

      Yeah, yeah, I know, overused word, et cetera, et cetera.  It still means something.  The central thesis behind "We Should Think Twice..." comes crashing down here in the United States when you turn on your radio to listen to the jazz station while you drive your German car past the Japanese grocery store on your way to the Italian restaurant while remembering the wonderful French pastry you enjoyed at breakfast (and that's just in my neighborhood.  Yours may offer even more choices).  Yes, we fight -- we also raid one another's fridges.  If you can drink milk as an adult without discomfort after, some of your ancestors were milk-sucking mutants who drank from their herd animals instead of making cheese -- and lactose tolerance is a trick our species has worked out at least twice, in multiple places, with several different creatures, from goats to camels to cattle.  Humans don't all look alike.  Our cultures vary.  This does not doom us to nothing but an endless succession of wars: we trade.  We marry.  We steal -- er, "appreciate" -- one another's music and cuisine, fashion and religions.  

      Our descendants might do the same thing in space?  Well, so what.  Space is vast and travel is slow.  Barring someone figuring out how to cheat at physics (unlikely but humanity's full of surprises), interplanetary war is iffy and interstellar war is damned near impossible.  Sorry space-opera fans: it's too far to go, especially when you have a whole solar system right at home, full of sunlight, water (there's ice all over the place), metal and other useful material.  In space, we're more likely to be insulated from one another by distance and more likely to swap low mass, speed-of-light-transmissible songs, books and ideas than raw materials.  And the more widely humanity spreads through the universe, the more likely there will be people around to do the swapping.  Maybe they'll be blue-skinned, live on sugar water and smell terrible -- think what a nightmare monster you'd be at the court of Tiglath-Pileser, any of 'em, with your Raybans, Spotifty-blaring iPhone and crazy-tall height compared to most of them.  And that's before we get to what you're wearing (you left the house in that?) and how odd you'd smell to them.

     Let's get out there and make new homes in space.  Plenty of other people will stay home.