Tuesday, August 31, 2021

We Lost L. Neil Smith

      Born 12 May, 1946, SF writer and Libertarian activist L. Neil Smith passed away 27 August 2021.  His entertaining books were not only fun but effective introductions to libertarianism, minarchism and anarcho-capitalism, without pages-long lectures. (Paisley hovercraft, dimensional travel and the occasional exploding planet, on the other hand...!)

      The Probability Broach was perhaps his best-known novel and it's just as much fun to read now as it was when it was first published 41 years ago.  You can find it and plenty more of his books here.

      His family has set up a memorial page.

      In recent years, L. Neil Smith and I had drifted apart politically but I never stopped respecting him as a writer and as an effective publicist of libertarianism.  My condolences to his family and to his many other friends.

Monday, August 30, 2021

Eggs Pomodoro, London Broil Pot Roast: Garden Bounty!

      Sunday morning, I made Eggs Pomodoro.  Our tomato plants have started to ripen, and I had a nice, fresh tomato, a big one, one of the green-topped heirloom types.

      I started by frying a couple strips of bacon (lightly peppered) while I chopped the tomato into small pieces, putting them into a bowl as I went and adding a little seasoning to each layer: freshly-ground pepper and onion powder, basil and Italian seasoning mix.

      Once the bacon was done and draining on a sheet of paper towel, I poured off the bacon fat, being careful to leave all the lovely flavorful bits.  Not all the fat comes off but I got nearly all of it.  Then I added the tomatoes.

      I don't peel them or remove the seeds.  I grew up being told that a lot of the nutrition and flavor was in that;* I don't know if it's true or not, but heirloom tomatoes have thin skins that cook almost to nothing.  The seeds essentially vanish.  (Most of the tomatoes you buy at the supermarket have thicker skins so they will survive being shipped. If you dislike bits of tomato skin in the sauce, you'll want to peel them.)

     The tomatoes started simmering away and I stirred it, then lowered the heat and put a lid on the skillet.  I had a small can of tomato sauce in the cupboard; the can is half the height of a soup can, about 6 ounces.  It's about as thick as spaghetti sauce.  I try to keep a can or two on the shelf, right next to the one or two cans of much thicker tomato paste.  They're both very useful and keep well.

      The tomato cooked down in five minutes or or less; I  added the tomato sauce, gave it a stir, and had a taste.  It was a little thin and wanted salt.  I thought about that, snipped the bacon into it, let it cook open a little and had another taste.  It wanted basil and a little more salt.  Basil was easy.  Instead of more salt, I added six Castlevetrano olives, cut up, and that did it.  I covered the pan, let the sauce get good and simmering, then took the lid off, used the spatula I had been stirring with to make a couple of wells, and cracked eggs into them.

      Cover back in place, the eggs cooked a bit and I broke the yolks with a toothpick and stirred them a little.  I prefer the yolks cooked.  If you don't, just leave them be.  I sprinkled a little parsley over everything and put the lid back on.

      When the eggs were as done as I wanted (pretty firm; this is a matter of personal taste), I dished them out and served it with some grated Parmesan cheese.  About as good a breakfast as anyone could want!  (Tam takes hers without egg; I just can't convince her it's better with, no matter how I make the egg.)
*  *  *

      Saturday afternoon and evening were hot.  Steaming.  I had a London Broil thawed in the fridge, a great big chunk of beef that really needs to be slow-cooked.  I had it marinating in a mixture consisting of two tablespoons of vinegar brine from"Jeff's Garden" brand hot pepper rings (the flavor of these takes me back to childhood, not very hot but complex) along with a tablespoon or more of the pepper rings themselves, a tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce, a couple tablespoons of soy sauce and a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar, plus ginger and garlic powder, parsley and za'atar (which is sage and some extras).  I wasn't sure what I was going to do; I was just hoping to intimidate what can be a tough cut of meat.

     I had a couple of large tomatoes from our garden, one "Amish Paste" and one of the green-topped heirlooms.  They needed to be used up.

      Running the stove for hours on a hot afternoon wasn't appealing.  I have a nice little roasting pan for the grill and the grill certainly wasn't going to make the outdoors any hotter.  Around four o'clock, I started setting up the grill, building my usual miniature tower of kindling and lump charcoal in the middle.  I stuff the bottom of it with small, crumpled balls of newspaper as I assemble it.  It's usually a one-match start that results in roaring flames up the middle and falls on its own once the charcoal is well-started and the kindling (in a tic-tac-toe grid) has burned away.

      For roasting, the coals get pushed into two rows each side of the center, and the oval pan goes in the middle.  I oiled the bottom of the pan (a quick wipedown with olive oil is all it takes) and put in the London Broil and its marinade.  I gave the meat ten minutes on a side with the lid on while I cut up a collection of vegetables: the big tomatoes diced small, an onion, carrots, three celery stalks and a large potato (with a shake of smoked paprika), loaded into a big bowl in that order.  Gave the meat another five minutes, then added the vegetables and couple of bay leaves.  (I added a small can of mushrooms about midway through the cooking -- wish I'd had fresh, but they were okay.)  There's a trick to picking the order of the vegetables: add them to the bowl in the order of what needs the least cooking to the most, taking into account the relative sizes you have cut them into.  Then when you put them in the roasting pan, you can just pour them in and it will work out.
Tamara Keel photo
      An hour later, they were cooked and the meat was fork-tender.  The addition of tomatoes had made the broth a deep orange hue and it was a tasty a dinner as I have had.  The vegetable take up the broth and end up remarkably well seasoned without being overpowered.

     I should have taken a picture.  Tamara may have and if she did, I'll ask to add it. (She had taken two!)
Tamara Keel photo
* And Mom and Dad said the same about potatoes; in fact, they told my siblings and I that the skins were the best part.  Unless potatoes have gone green from sunlight, I don't peel 'em.  YMMV, but I even make mashed potatoes with the skins on and they taste great.

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Bobbi, Rescuer Of Bats -- Yet Again

      It keeps happening to her even after professional bat abatement: our neighbor, the same woman who is fostering the kittens, texted me about eight this morning:  "There's another bat in my house.  Can you come over?"

      I was sleeping in fairly aggressively this morning, but eight was plenty late enough.  I texted back that I'd be there in a few minutes, threw on clothes, found work gloves and a little cardboard box, and walked over.

      She led me in through her kitchen.  "I think it's still on the pie safe in the dining room.  Yes, see it there?"

      I couldn't find the bat, and said so.

      She pointed. "It's at the screen, see?"

      I finally saw it, a huddled shape no larger than a fat mouse.  She had a window screen leaning against the pie safe.  A careful housekeeper with a half-dozen housecats, she does a lot of window cleaning: noseprints add up.  The bat had apparently made its way up the screen and was clinging onto the front of the pie safe.  A furry, reddish-brown body and black wings helped it blend in with the dark wood.

      It was probably an Indiana Brown Bat.  They're an endangered species and this was an annoyed example.  When I put the open end of the box against the front of the pie safe and slid it up from below it, the bat raised its head and set up a chittering that probably should have made my ears burn.  But it let go and dropped into the box; I folded two of the flaps shut and my neighbor and I headed outdoors.

      She's got an open shed extension on one side of her garage.  The roof is almost flat and fairly low.  I set the box on it, standing one end.  When I opened the flaps, sunlight streamed into the box.  The bat did not like this, not one little bit.  It chewed me out again and showed its fangs.  They have an impressive set of teeth and they can open their mouths wide (handy for scooping up dinner on the wing!).  But they're small; it might've been able to get a fingertip but I didn't care to find out.  I turned the box so the inside was shadowed and left the bat to contemplate.  It was scratching behind an ear with one leg while hanging from the other as I stepped away, a pretty impressive feat.

      The neighbor and I chatted awhile, and then I saw motion on the rooftop.  "Oh, look!"

      She turned and and we both watched the bat crawl to the edge of the roof, hop off and spread its wings like a base-jumper hitting the silk.  Unlike a parachutist, the bat gave a couple of flaps as soon as it caught air, picked up altitude and wheeled away between the neighbor's house and mine.  It circled my house and then hers, then took off toward the nearest row of trees, bobbing and weaving as only bats can.

      My neighbor still doesn't know how the bats get in.  Her house is supposed to be bat-proof!  Perhaps it sneaked down the chimney to her fireplace; I don't think she has an anti-bat screen on the chimney-top.

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Internet As Usual

      A quick look around the Internet today finds that all of the politically-fixated regular citizens are every bit as whipped up and frenzied about things as ever, and over the predictable partisan issues in predictably partisan ways.  Tell me how someone voted, and I'll almost certainly be able tell you what bugs 'em the most -- or vice-versa.

      It's good that so many people care so very deeply.  While it is true that there's a pretty good correlation between just how riled up a person is and how far removed from reality their take on things appears to be (and it holds true no matter which of the two big parties they favor), that's a small price to pay the lack of apathy.

      I hope. 

Friday, August 27, 2021

Munchausen's Syndrome By Political Speculation

      People do it all the time.  It's a waste of effort, mental wheel-spinning.  I first noticed it during the Reagan Administration: something awful would happen, or at least something that the person talking or writing about it thought was awful.  They'd describe it and then go on to suppose that in response to the awful thing, or using it as an excuse, the Administration was then going to do something far worse.

      There's never the faintest shred of hard proof for the far-worse-whatever, but it is presented as a virtual certainty.  Oh, yes, there was wickedness in the works...!  But the predictions never happened, or were a nothingburger when they did.

      Nevertheless, the practice persists: "Situation Z is a disaster.  The President is going to declare war/martial law/King's X to take advantage of it/distract people from it...," all very Wag The Dog stuff. 

      Presidents come in for a lot of this kind of talk, and so do Governors and Mayors.  The Speaker of the House, the Majority Leader in the Senate* and the various party leaders are slathered with a bit of it sometimes.  All that is a clue: it is as though they were James Bond villains!

      In real life, a President trying to deal with a situation that has gone off the rails is a lot more likely to hold a press conference (or even a rally).  I'd almost prefer they were capable of Machiavellian maneuvering but the fact is, they're not.  Not a one of them.

      Most Presidents -- and their Administrations -- steer a course between blithe, ill-informed overconfidence and a frantic struggle to keep up with events, with occasional diplomatic set-pieces like G7 conferences serving as breathers.  While we like to think of Presidents we approve of as bold, wise heroes and the ones we disapprove of as wicked evildoers (and in either case, with everything under control), the fact remains that the President of the United States is Just Some Guy.  Oh, he's often (but not always) well-off; he's nearly always well-spoken, or at least very good at speeches to his base.  Some were generals or business leaders -- but there is no career that prepares anyone for the job, the demands and limits of it don't leave much room for major graft or sainthood and in the end, it's Just Some Guy (so far, and I don't think a woman would be any better or worse at it) and whatever kind of staff he could scare up, trying to perform an impossible task.  Events drive Presidencies, not the other way around. Screwups drive Presidencies.  Auric Goldfinger can tunnel into Fort Knox with nerve gas and an atom bomb in the movies, but Presidents have to reply on the unwieldy machinery of government to get anything done, and it's not a precision device.  Most days, they don't even get to decide what to have for lunch.

      Against such a backdrop, borrowing trouble in advance is a futile exercise.  A President may want to get up to awful stuff, but real life keeps 'em hopping.  Speculating about the terrible, terrible things an Administration might do, and bemoaning it as is if it real, is idle nonsense at best.  Every Presidency does bad stuff, some of it quite nasty indeed, and the time to call it out is when it happens.  Haul it out into the light, all the Lewinskys and Nan Brittons, all the Iran-Contras and LBJ shaking his willy at reporters.  It's not pretty, but it's not the stuff of movie-villiany, either.  Watergate is probably as close as we have come, and it was the same kind of tawdry mess, just writ large.  Go back in time and you get things like the sniping and fighting around Thomas Jefferson's Presidency and earlier: just as ugly, but with prettier handwriting, fancier speech and a different wardrobe.

      See them for who they are.  Point with alarm to their bad policies, oppose their politics when your own notions differ, but there's no need for hyperbole or fearful prophecy.  The real world is plenty bad enough and U. S. Presidents are rarely responsible for the worst of it.  They're not saints or heroes, but they're not out to Take Over The World like a Warner Brothers lab rat, either.
* And usually not President Pro Tem.  That job generally goes to the most senior Senator from the majority party, presumably on the theory that he or she won't brook too much nonsense and can muster the votes to make it stick.  Well, it's a lovely thought; in practice, they take one of the Senators most likely to nod off and put them at the front of the room where everyone can watch.

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Back Yard Kittens Come Indoors

     Yesterday morning, about halfway through a series of thunderstorms with heavy rain, Tamara Keel and I rescued four soaking-wet, shivering, crying kittens from a puddle in the back yard. The mother cat was soaking wet, too, but she is a very wary feral that various people in the neighborhood have been trying to catch for years. She may have relocated a fifth kitten before I realized their nest area was flooding and went in after them. She would not have gotten the rest out (and dried off) in time.

      We have been watching these kittens (very carefully, I'd only visited their hiding place three times) for a week and a half. Our neighbor was looking to foster them when they were a month old.

     A huge, old, vine-covered tree across the alley fell in the storm (away from us), crushed a freestanding garage, and pulled the electrical service drop to that neighbor's house almost down.  Our lights blinked.  Tam and I had gone out to the garage to look at the tree from under a roof when I heard really scared-sounding mewing, looked at the gate the kitten nest was on the other side of, and realized there was a big puddle of rainwater under the gate.

      The kitten nest was in a shallow dip and I knew it had to be flooded.  We needed to get the kittens ahead of schedule.  They wouldn't have made it in the heavy rain and standing water.  When I got around to the other side of the gate, a couple of kittens had crawled up into a bush and the other two were in water and weeds, a little higher than the flooded nest.  They were soaked, shivering and crying. I put the kittens in an old sweater in a cat carrier (both from the garage), then carried it to the basement. I put a plastic washtub on top of the dryer, and threw some small old blankets and a couple of T-shirts in the dryer to heat up. With a clean towel in the washtub, I wrapped up the kittens in double-thick paper toweling one at a time and set them together in the washtub. As soon as I had all four done, I started over and by the time that was done they were pretty dry. A dryer-warmed towel and another unwrap and re-wrap with fresh paper toweling stopped them shivering, especially after I put a warmed T-shirt over the top of the tub. Tam was a huge help with logistics for all of that, fetching whatever was needed while I wrangled kittens.

      The dryer top gets fairly warm and I changed out their covers for new ones from the dryer when earlier ones cooled. The kittens huddled up and relaxed. Their eyes are open and their ears are unfolded. They are wobbling around on their feet a little. They may be as much as three weeks old.

      Meanwhile, our neighbor was setting up a largish cage with a heating pad in half of it in her home office and getting KMR (kitten formula) ready. She had some work to finish up, so I kept the kittens warm in their tub on the drier for another 15 - 20 minutes. As soon as she was ready, she called me and I covered the tub of kittens with a newly-warmed cloth and carried them over to her house. They settled in pretty quickly. We draped one of the blankets over the top and two sides of the cage, so they won't be in a draft.

      She texted me a couple of hours later: the kittens had been given formula, been cleaned up and fallen asleep in a pile.

      Here's hoping for the best! One orange and white, one mostly black, one dark tabby and one that might be a dark tortie. I don't know which are boys or girls; at this age, they have only barely discovered that they're cats.

      As of this morning, the kittens are eating well and seem happy in their new home.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Cassandra, 2019

      Imagine you were a Ph.D. head-candler and college professor.  Now imagine you were interested in a particular corner of your discipline, wrote a book about it and it was commerically published, initially to less than stellar sales.

     And then events caught up to your topic....

      Meet Dr. Steven Taylor.*  He's a Psych professor at the University of British Columbia, in Vancouver.  His book, The Psychology Of Pandemics, hit the shelves in October, 2019 and did about as well as you might expect.  (Okay, I might have bought it; but I was fascinated to read an authoritative history of the Bubonic Plague a few years ago.)  Sales have picked up rather a bit since then.

      He's got a blog, too.  From what I have seen of the book and his blog, Dr. Taylor is descriptive rather than prescriptive; he's interested in seeing what real people do in the real world and investigating why they do it.  He's not judging anyone's merit, just looking at their words and actions (and their consequences) as they are.   That's fascinating to me and perhaps useful in making sense of the present mess.

      I'm looking at the Amazon sample of his book now.  It's not inexpensive but it looks like it just might be worth the price.
* A websearch for "Steven Taylor, Ph.D." turns up quite a few.  Several have psych degrees; several have written books.  They are nevertheless not all the same person.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Picking Sides

      Okay, we have lived with this damn virus for over a year and a half now, from the first whisper to the current surge of the Delta variant.

      Delta is hitting hardest among the unvaccinated, and spreading most rapidly in those parts of the U.S. with the lowest vaccination rates.  You can check it on news sources from CNN to conservative local newspapers and TV stations in the affected area, from NPR to Fox News.  Geography doesn't lie.  If the illness was affecting the vaccinated more than the unvaccinated, most of New England would be on fire; they'd be dying on the sidewalks outside of hospitals in Vermont.

      They're not.  The South is bearing the brunt of this.  Maybe hot weather driving people indoors is to blame?  But no; the entire country has sweltered under a heat wave this summer.

      In the worst-hit places, hospitals are overwhelmed.  Patients are being diverted.  This is one of the subtler ways the virus has killed elsewhere: once the hospitals are full, the rate of increase among the gravely ill can outstrip our ability to get them to a suitable healthcare facility quickly enough to help.  And at that point, a patient suffering heart attack or a severe allergic reaction is in just as much jeopardy as someone with a severe case of coronavirus. The lifesaving care they need is not available in a timely manner. 

      One coronavirus vaccine has received full FDA approval as of yesterday.  You can read about it, including the process they followed, on the FDA website.

      At this point, anyone arguing against the coronavirus vaccines, against measures to limit the rate of spread, or in favor of allowing unchecked spread so "nature will take its course" is arguing on the side of the disease.  On the side of death.  Hey, hold your own opinion, but if you're still on Team Virus after so much has happened, I think you're a fool.

      There's a fight on and it has nothing to do with the usual red-blue political bullshit.  It's the human race against a viral disease; it's people vs. a remorseless, mindless biological robot.

      Pick a side.

Monday, August 23, 2021

Grocery Delivery

     Usually, it works.

      Sometimes it doesn't

      Nice 98-cent refund, at least.

Sunday, August 22, 2021

Kittens, Saturday

      I waited almost a week before checking.  As of Saturday afternoon, the kittens were still in the nest.  Their eyes were barely open and they're  huddled in a pile, keeping warm.*  When my shadow fell over them, a couple of the wiggled around and looked up.  Could that big shadow be Mama?  Sorry, babies.  I'm sure she's not far away.

      There are a couple of saplings with branches that must be moved aside to see the nest.  I moved the branches back into place and let the kittens be.  My neighbor wants to foster them (she has bottle-raised kittens before) but they're still too tiny.

      I wish we could catch their mother, Copper, too.  Kittens are best off with their own mother, who will keep them warm, fed and clean with the sureness of instinct.  She is exceedingly wary of people, so wary that I don't know if even the kittens would be enough of a lure.  My neighbor has far more cat-magnetism than do I and she might be able to entice Copper.
* Kittens can't control their own body temperature until they're a month old.  They need to be kept warm, in a place 85 - 90°F.  Outdoor daytime in an Indiana August is just about perfect, but without Mama in the nest, kittens will huddle for warmth even then.

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Lunatic, Interrupted

      Friday night I worked late and drove home as the moon was rising.  It's nearly full and it was beautiful low on the horizon, a small world hanging there in the sky.

      It makes me wistful and angry to look at it these days.  It's 2021 and the last human left the moon just under fifty years ago.  We got there a few times and we never went back.

      Blaming Presidents and Congress and NASA administrators for this is easy but the public had lost interest.  And if an endeavor doesn't engage the public, it's darned difficult to get politicians to spend money on it.

      Someday, we'll go back.  If we're very lucky, we won't have to get our passports stamped by whoever's already there.

      The Moon sure is pretty.  It'd be prettier with some city lights showing.

Friday, August 20, 2021


      It is more and more difficult to find anything to write about  that hasn't already been beat to death.  Those dead horses aren't going to rise again.  I, on the other hand, need to go get dug in.

      So I will.

Thursday, August 19, 2021

The Night The Air Conditioning Conked Out

      That would be the night before last, passed with fans running everywhere we could run them.  It sounded like the compressor wasn't coming on.

      Yesterday morning, I called the HVAC service company we use (Butler M-K) and they promised to send someone by mid-afternoon.  That's fast for air-conditioning work during the summer in Indianapolis.

      The tech found a defunct motor run capacitor* in the condensing unit.  Yes, it's for the compressor.  And the part was under warranty, too!

      It took the rest of the afternoon and into the evening to get the house below 80°F, but the drop in humidity was rapid and made a huge difference.
* I grew up being told they were there to do a little phase-shifting to get the AC motor started, and called them "starting capacitors."  HVAC guys usually call them "run capacitors," since they make the motor run.  I'm going with the terminology used by the person who fixed the thing.

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Stop, Look And Listen

      Before you share that "The mainstream media won't tell you..." meme or link, check it for yourself!  Maybe it's mistaken.

      For instance, the band Phish, which has a huge following of retreaded Deadheads (and others, and yes, they're Phisheads, of course) had a big three-day concert in Atlantic City, apparently all planned out before the Delta variant really took off. 

      No masks.  No vaccination checks.  They "encouraged people to socially distance."  Like you do at a concert.

      This prompted social media posts about how they were being bad and nobody in the "old media" was pointing it out -- except regional media was all over it, with headlines like "Phish fans pack the beach in Atlantic City sparking COVID concerns" and stories noting, "Phish announced a stricter policy for their remaining summer and fall tour dates," and detailing, "Attendees will have to provide proof of a COVID-19 vaccination or a negative test result. That starts with their next tour stop at The Gorge in Washington later this month."  There's at least one report of a concert attendee developing COVID-19 afterward.

      Oops for Phish (and all of us who were hoping this mess was ending); double oops for the "they're not covering this" crowd. 

      It only takes a few seconds to check before you share.

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

It Was Never Going To End Well

      Take a part of the Old World that lies between practically every empire that ever was (and has occasionally set up its own), a place that has lots of hills and valleys, a place that has had cities wiped out by invaders and has fallen back to stubborn farmers and herders only to rise again, a territory that has been a battlefield as far back as anyone can trace, and send in an army of outsiders.

      We did it.  The Russians had; the British had; one local tribe did it to the rest of the country at least once.  Before them, the Uzbeks stomped in, and before them, Genghis Khan's forces smashed cities and destroyed civil society -- and before that, waves of Islamic invaders had re-civilized the country, shoving aside the already civilized Buddhists and Hindus who had previously brought their faith to the region at swordpoint.  On and on it goes, as far back as anyone can find records to read and archeological remains to figure out.

      So the United States went there.  Did we expect a different outcome?  The Russians were sent packing; the Brits barely got in.  Alexander the Great (had I left him out?) marched through, charmed and/or intimidated the locals, and left a ruler in place whose successors eventually swapped the bothersome border province to an emerging Indian empire for vows of chumship and a player to be named later, and that's about the best exit anybody ever managed.  History, geography and luck for good and ill has been breeding cantankerous and tenacious people in Afghanistan since before there was any history there.

      Staying was hard but we stayed for twenty years, doing what we thought best.  Better (and better-informed) pundits than I have analyzed those polices and strategies, and none of them are very impressed.

      Leaving is harder, and harder still on those who worked with us.  The Taliban's taken most of the country as I write, succeeding in part because we were propping up the existing government more than we realized.  Any local who worked with, or worse, for us and who hasn't got out is effectively dead as soon as the Taliban finds them; people with essential skills may last longer but don't count on it.  Every time I see or hear a reporter live from Kabul, I want to tell them to get out immediately, especially the women.  The news media in-country is treating this as a spectator event.  The Taliban don't believe in spectators.

      There's a lot of domestic political hay being made over this; that's politics-as-normal.  Take it with a grain of salt: both Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump promised during the 2020 campaign that they were going to bring the troops home ASAP, possibly as early as May.  It was never going to end well.  There's no good path through this maze.  Once you have reached the point where the occupied country's ruler has fled, presumably with whatever he could grab, the mess is non-recoverable: the exit not a cause, it's a symptom.

      And so here we are.  There are moral debts to pay but the price may be too high.  The price of not paying them may be even higher.

Monday, August 16, 2021

I Have Folded Space

      No, wait, maybe I built a desktop tensegrity structure:
      Pretty neat, hey?  This is a snap-together block structure similar to the world-famous colorful blocks.  It will capsize -- there really should be three stabilizing chains -- but it's as simple a demonstration of the principle as I have found, and the price was right.

      Besides, it looks amazing!

      (Tamara will have more info.)

Sunday, August 15, 2021


      This afternoon, I found five or six kittens huddled together in a nest, in a hard-to-get-at spot south of my garage.   Four or five dark ones and one yellow and white.  I was clearing serious weeds and bushes and they started to cry when I was six feet away.   Their eyes aren't open yet.

      The location made me pretty sure it was another litter from the feral munchkin calico known as "Copper."  She's had a kitten nest in that corner before.

      I got a ladder, hoping to reach over and open the gate (this is before I found the nest, only heard it), but the old lock is stuck.  When I put the ladder up and started carefully working my way back to the nest, Copper came dashing out past me.

      After a quick look and a phone conversation with my neighbor, we decided they're too tiny to hand-raise yet.  I worked on the tomato patch, and fifteen or twenty minutes later, Copper climbed over the fence and froze when she saw me.  I moved slowly away with my back to her and used my phone camera to watch over my shoulder.  She crept along the fence top until she had put a hanging plant between us and watched for a long time before sneaking out of sight towards the kittens.

      She'll probably move them as soon as she feels safe doing so.  We may be able to get them once they're older.   Copper herself has been too wild and wily to be caught for several years now.

Saturday, August 14, 2021

Eyeballs Syndrome

      Someone mentioned in comments to Expert Syndrome that surely Hollywood (and other media) stars, business CEOs and similar types suffer a version of it.

      Not quite; they have mastered a skill (or fallen into it) but I think what causes them to believe their opinions are worth sharing are all the eyeballs on them.  If the actor's any good at their craft and chooses roles in things that do well, plenty of people are looking; successful CEOs are lauded by their peers, the business press and often that trickles over to the popular press as well.

      And they think to themselves, "My thoughts and ideas must be wonderful: look at all the attention I'm getting!"

      Yeah, no.  The things that make for a good actor don't necessarily mean that person is wise or insightful. They only mean they're a good actor.  Likewise, doing well running a business may mean a person is smart -- or perhaps they're just lucky.  Or even (hello, Enron) that they are remarkably crooked.

      In the moment, there's no way to know for sure.  Fame only means a person is famous.

      Many of the famous fail to understand that.

Friday, August 13, 2021

Expert Syndrome

      There's a problem that afflicts skilled tradespeople, engineers and those working in the professions (science, medicine, law): Expert Syndrome.

      We know one subject.  We know it well -- really well.  We have spent years learning it and years successfully applying our knowledge and skills.

      And all too often, we assume that transfers to other areas.  After all, we have mastered A Difficult Thing.  Picking up others should be a snap, right?

      Nope.  We have forgotten how to be ignorant, what it's like to have to learn new vocabulary and concepts.  We don't see the limits of our knowledge.  Outside our specialization, we are often worse off than the novice who comes to it understanding they know nothing.

      In dealing with the pandemic and what measures I choose to take (or even urge others to take) in response to it, I have tried not to rely on my skilled-trade* background and instead look to a couple of other areas of experience:  my very limited and hasty training to do hazmat work in a basic "moonsuit" and  full-face filter mask, and -- of all things! -- arguing about gun control.

      Gun control?  Yep.  The data is generally lousy.  The correlation between changes in laws and in behaviors is low to non-existent.  The temptation to cherry-pick stats and substitute anecdote for statistics is enormous.  The noise level from all sides is outrageous.  To make any real headway at all, you have to step way back and even then, one's conclusions are unsatisfyingly general.

      It's a lot like public health, though public health measure are often a bit easier to quantify and some changes do result in positive, traceable outcomes.  But neither subject lends itself to traditional research design; the "research subjects" are real people living real lives and you don't get to set up "control groups" or isolate one experimental group from another.  Conclusions are general, even hazy.  There are things we know that work on a macro scale and yet tragedies continue: there are no perfect answers or methods, nor would compliance with them be perfect even if they were.

      And for me, these are things I'm not an expert in: I know that I don't know much, that I need to look things up, that there are people who know more than I do, including the ones I think are wrong.
* People who do what I do in my business are generally called "engineers."  Most of us are not Certified Professional Engineers and very few have even a B.A. in Engineering.  We're technicians.  It's a skilled trade.

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Are You Certain?

      I'm still struggling with the notion that this is all just some second-rate simulation out of a bad imitation of a Philip K. Dick novel.  Maybe I've been in a coma since late 2019.  Maybe the Earth was wiped out by a meteor and this is what we got instead of a proper afterlife.

      But nope.  This is real, or as real as it gets, and no matter how crazy it all seems, we've got to deal with it.  Or at least I do.  You may have other options.  An awful lot of people seem to think they do these days.

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Two New Things For Dinner

      It's pasta in tomato sauce, so (for me, at least) it was a can't-miss experiment.

      Our corner store started carrying a "Truffle and Tomato" pasta sauce.  Anything with truffles as an ingredient will catch my eye; I love 'em.  I'd like them more if they didn't cost so much, but the Sanremo brand sauce was reasonably priced (better than what I'm finding online).  I bought a bottle awhile back and I've been waiting for a chance to try it.

      Another food that got my attention was fregula pasta: like tiny dumplings or oversized, rough-textured couscous, it gets roasted a bit when it is made.  Most recipes have you cooking it right in the sauce or soup.  Cooked, each noodle is about the size of a kernel of maize.

      Ended up with both the tiny noodles and the fancy sauce in my larder and gave it the usual treatment: some sauteed vegetables (half an onion, celery, half a green bell pepper, all diced small), some nice king trumpet mushrooms cut up to match and a little ground meat (beef, because I found one more frozen-for-later).  Veggies and mushrooms saute first, then get set aside while the beef (with a pinch of salt and some Italian seasoning mix for luck) gets browned and well-drained (and drained again).  I added vegetables, etc. to the meat, poured the sauce over that, rinsed the bottle with a very small amount of hot water and poured that on (it'll steam away -- I used to use a tiny bit of good chianti).  I also started the electric teakettle, because I'm sneaky.

      Covered the pan and let it come up to bubbling.  Once it looked happy and kept simmering even when stirred, I added a guess at enough pasta to the center, and a little more (maybe a quarter to a third of a cup total?), and then sloshed a little boiling water from the kettle over it to give it a good start.  That steamed up nicely; I stirred everything together, gave it a one-over and covered the pan again, setting the heat so it would just simmer.  The Always pan (no, they still don't pay me) has a kind of adjustable vent, which I set wide open so the excess water would go up in steam. 

      Fregula are tough.  The bag said 14-17 minutes in water.  I gave it ten, looked it over, fished one out to bite and let it go it four more, which seemed to do the trick.

      The end result was thick, really flavorful, and just about addictive.  The truffle flavor came through without being overpowering and the fregula made it toothsome and held the sauce together.  If you like pasta but struggle with long noodles or the wiggly short ones, give it a try!  As for truffles, well, either you like them or you don't, and you're either willing to pay extra for 'em or you aren't.  Or you're like me, and truffle-flavored things are an occasional treat.  Purists may object to the extras I add to the sauce, but it's how I grew up eating spaghetti.*  YMMV and there's nothing wrong with having the other components of the meal on the side instead.
* I don't think we had marinara-type sauce with anything except spaghetti noodles when I was a child.  Lasagna was an occasional special treat.  Elbow macaroni went into Midwestern chili and mac'n'cheese, and plain rotini (or, rarely, other short shapes) with salt, pepper and butter was pretty common at dinnertime. 

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Rice Boston Would Have Banned

      I like "dirty rice."  A kind of cajun pilaf, it's got rice and vegetables and meat -- and seasoning.

      Monday, Tam was working, so I used up the last of the ground beef I had frozen making my own version -- I sauteed half an onion, some carrots and celery, then set it aside while I god the ground beef with cajun spices, a little chorizo seasoning and some extra smoked paprika for luck. 

      With the beef cooked and drained, I added the vegetables back in, plus a small can of green chilies, a can of gandules -- green pigeon peas - and a microwaved bag of "Carolina Beans and Rice," consisting of blackeyed peas, rice and some spices.  Stirred it up, let it simmer and there (with a dash of soy sauce and a dash of Worcestershire) was my supper.

      Supper and a half, or maybe two-and-a-half.  I froze the leftovers for later.

      Tuesday was later.  I sauteed the rest of the onion, a little carrot, celery, a huge Hatch chili and half of a green bell pepper.  I had a couple of hot Italian sausages and not quite a pound of sweet (mild) Italian sausage; cooked and drained, it's not quite as much as you'd think.  Added the thawed leftovers and a small can of corn, looked it over and added a small can of tomato sauce.  It pretty much filled my Always pan, a big, deep, non-stick skillet that is just right for this kind of thing.  I let it simmer with fresh basil and a couple of bay leaves before announcing dinner was ready.

      Tam made her bowl of the stuff vanish in record time.  Not a whole lot of rice in the final mix, but plenty of flavor!  It's not really anyone's regional cuisine, more of a vaguely-Southern* mix of "what works with rice," and it certainly did work out fine.
* Except for the celery, probably.

Monday, August 09, 2021

It's Not Just Me

      The latest coronavirus uptick has me ready to go stand in the backyard and scream.  It won't help much but it can't hurt.

      Affecting the unvaccinated far worse and in far greater numbers than the vaccinated, the Delta variant is pretty good test of how well the coronavirus vaccines work.  They work well; if you've had the shot, you're less likely to fall ill from the virus and far less likely to be very sick if you do.  But that's the only good news, since even if you're only a little sick, you can spread the Delta variant far more readily than any of the others, even if you've had the vaccine.

      It sucks.  It makes sense; we already knew that a fraction of vaccinated people might still fall ill, and from early on it was obvious that the vaccine greatly reduced the bad effects of the virus for most of them.  But nobody counted on a variant that left you with a nose full of the bug even while you felt good enough to be up walking around, sneezing. 

      I had been hopeful that things might get back to normal by this Fall.  I'm not as optimistic now, and some changes may be lasting.  I won't be surprised if outdoor dining and masked retail workers are an ongoing trend for the next few years, no matter what happens.

      As for what will happen over the next few months, I don't know.  The UK saw a rapid rise in infections followed by a rapid drop in them and that's the best-case scenario.  But there are plenty of other variants chasing Delta and the U.S. still has a large unvaccinated population where the worst bugs can fester and spread.  I hope things don't get worse.  I am pleased to see that there hasn't been a spike in deaths corresponding to the increase in infections; medical science knows a lot more about treating cases now and the most vulnerable are also the most likely to be vaccinated -- but that's small comfort to families who have lost loved ones.

      Take whatever precautions you are comfortable with; I'm not the boss of you.  Just understand this thing isn't done yet.  Dammit.

Sunday, August 08, 2021

No Succe∫s At Typographic Hi∫tory

      "He leapt into his Ford Model T, engaged the starter and floored the accelerator pedal once the engine caught...."

      Would that be okay?  I mean, electric starters were a popular addition to the Model T, and they still are. (Something something avoiding broken hand, wrist and arm something.)

     But while there are three pedals on the floorboards of the Model T, none of them are the throttle.  Any writer who did his or her homework should know this.

      Looking farther back into history, there's something even more ubiquitous than Mr. Ford's Tin Lizzie: the "long s," as in the heading of the original, official-record version of the Bill of Rights, "The Congre∫s of the United States...."

     That funny-looking penultimate letter in "Congre∫s" isn't an "f," it's a "long s" as distinguished from a "short" or "round s" and there were distinct rules for using it.  Using the wrong version in the wrong place would have struck the eye of a literate person of the time as jarringly off.  Unlike an "f," a long s either lacks a crossbar or has only the left half of one.  (Printers in the United States, a forward-looking place, were among the first to drop it and how futuristic that must have seemed, right up there with Mr. Webster's spelling reform.)

      An historian should know this.  Yet I read, just past the title page of a scholarly work about the events and politics of the the early U.S. that produced the Alien and Sedition Act and ultimately tested and strengthened the robust protections for freedom of the press, this notice:

    "To avoid a needless distraction for contemporary readers, I have removed the eighteenth-century convention of using "f" for "s" when quoting from period publications...."

      They did what?  The hell they did!

      Okay, the long s is a di∫traction.  We're not used to it anymore.  Take it out.  But for pity's sake, take it out in the full knowledge of what it is!

      It's not too much to ask.

      Other than that, the book is engrossing reading and the writer appears to have gotten the historical facts right.  It's just typography that trips him up, as far as I can determine.  I'll have a book report about it by and by.

Saturday, August 07, 2021

New New Glasses

      Have you been keeping count?  These are my third "new glasses" since cataract surgery:

      1. A pair very shortly after surgery that were meant to be temporary; I knew going in that my eyesight was going to change as my eyes healed.  They made a remarkable improvement nevertheless, especially compared to the old-glasses-layered-with-reading-glasses I was using to get around.  I got them from the nearest Lenscrafters franchise and the optician there did the exam.

      2.(A)  A pair a month (and a week) after surgery, when my usual optician did a full eye exam and determined my new prescription.   (The office used to be part of Ossip Optometry, a local chain and a very good one.  Steady growth had them at 36 locations and three years ago, the second and third generations of the art-loving* Ossip family merged with MyEyeDr.)  The eye doctor I have been seeing there for over a decade is careful and thorough.  I'd been having increasing difficulty keeping the images from my eyes in registration -- the left was rotated a few degrees with respect to the right.  The exam revealed that the prismatic correction I'd had since High School (and had needed less and less of) was going to need an increase -- probably a sign that both eyes were now equally clear, since my left eye had the most serious occlusion prior to surgery and I hadn't been using it much.
         (B) I like MyEyeDr. nee Ossip but the lens supplier they use is  s l o w.  So I ordered bifocals, then took my shiny new prescription† over to Lenscrafters, hoping for single-vision glasses that day.  Nope -- prisms take specialist attention.  They had to send out for the lenses instead of making them in-house.  Still, it only took a week and I had new glasses that worked very well.  (The efficient little onsite lens workshop is a marvel these days, with a lot of automation and a single skilled tech working in an area about ten feet square.  My temporary glasses didn't have a prism and were ready in forty minutes!)

      3. Three weeks after the exam, my new bifocals arrived!  I'd been becoming more and more frustrated at having to look over my glasses (and often close one eye) to read or do fine work, so it's been a pleasure to no longer have to.  Insurance paid for these lenses and about half the cost of the frames.

      This leaves me with a workable spare pair (the single-vision glasses) and I can have my prescription "glacier glasses" sunglasses and the frame with temporary lenses upgraded as finances permit.  Both Lenscrafters and MyEyeDr. have given excellent service and I am happy with them.
* The Ossip billboard in Broad Ripple was legendary!
† At least in Indiana, eye doctors are obliged to give you your glasses prescription, with no quibbling.  It wasn't always this way; in 1977, when  a heavy lens fell out my glasses and shattered while I was at college, 30 miles from my parents home where I was still living, it took begging and tears to get them to read my prescription to a local lens shop in order to have an emergency lens made so I could drive safely!  These days, nobody blinks if you ask for your prescription, though most opticians with an in-house eyeglasses shop don't volunteer it.  It's certainly a lot easier to have things changed or repaired if you get your glasses where you have your eyes examined -- but you are not obliged to do so.

Friday, August 06, 2021

Not So Happy Morning

      Yesterday was...disappointing.  Exhausting.

      I am not as young as I once was and even the small amount of physical work I did yesterday -- climbing ladders, carrying various heavy items, outdoors on a hot and humid day -- was a sharp reminder.

      Sharper still was the discovery that at some time in the past, a large piece of falling ice (or perhaps an air-dropped bear) had struck the end of the feed assembly of the six-meter (call it twenty feet) satellite dish we were working on.  It's a Cassegrain-feed antenna, built with the secondary reflector supported from the end of the feedhorn assembly by a truncated cone of RF-transparent plastic, with a heavy fiberglass cloth cover clamped over the thing to protected it from sunlight, weather and insects.

      Heavy, opaque fiberglass cloth: there's no knowing what's underneath until you have trouble finding any satellite at all on a dish that should bring 'em in screaming-hot and go to find out why.  And then when you give the dish another look-over, you notice the feed cover is a lot more wrinkled than it used to be.

      The cover came apart when we tried to remove it.  There was almost nothing left of the critical plastic piece underneath it.  Any nicely RF-transparent plastic structurally rigid enough to support something like the secondary reflector is also a little brittle and forty years of seasonal temperature swings only makes it more so.  The manual has no detailed drawings of it and the manufacturer was swallowed up by a large aerospace/defense contractor many years ago, which was in turn bought by an even larger (and more secretive) defense contractor and....  Well, good luck finding out if they still make or provide parts supports for their steerable Earth Station dishes.  Over the phone, I couldn't even get them to admit there was such a thing as geostationary satellites.

      And that was what I did yesterday.  That and not picking up my new eyeglasses.  Perhaps I'll be able to get them today.

Thursday, August 05, 2021

Happy Morning

      Moderately happy, anyway: my new eyeglasses are here!  Might not have time to pick them up today, since we have some Unexpected Satellite-Dish Work, adding filters to keep 5G cellular signals (and some other folderol) out of the C-band receive system.  (Not only are we not using those giant dishes to listen to your phone, we don't even want to know the phone signal is there!)

      The satellite dish work is long overdue and with any luck, will dovetail with getting the darned thing back into better shape; this particular six-meter steerable dish has been "lost" (it doesn't know what part of the geostationary arc it's looking at, it's just parked) for a couple of years and we should be able to get it re-referenced as part of the process.  Figuring out what you're looking at in the sky has become more and more difficult as digital signals have displaced analog ones: there are a lot of different modulation systems and nearly all are encrypted.  Finding a satellite is only the beginning; learning which one it is can be slow going.

Wednesday, August 04, 2021

Home Made Sloppy Joes

      Sloppy Joe mix in a can is cheap and easy.  It's what I grew up eating and I never gave it much thought.

      I have ended up with a lot of ground beef in the freezer and decided to use up some fresh vegetables by making Sloppy Joes from scratch.

      There's nothing much to it; I sauteed a chopped onion, a couple of large carrots diced small and a couple of stalks of celery, then added a large tomato chopped up and some basil and a little black pepper.  Set it aside and browned a pound of ground beef, draining off the fat and oil, and adding a little sage, paprika and chili powder, then a small can of tomato paste and a large dollop of ketchup (actually "chili sauce," sold with ketchup and really a better version of it*).  I omitted the usual green bell pepper and put in a couple of tiny slices from a hot pepper that I had beheaded and tasted by touching the cut end with a fingertip and tasting my finger.  Hot!

      And then I made a terrible mistake.  Tam came through the kitchen and I offered her the hot pepper, "It's too hot for me but you may like it."

      She grabbed the pepper, popped it in her mouth, got a soft drink from the fridge and went back to the office.   About two minutes later, she came back to the kitchen, said, "I won't need any dinner," and stuck her head under the kitchen-sink faucet with the cold water full on.  This was...unexpected behavior.

      She kept at it for several minutes, occasionally making strangling noises.  She finally got cooled off enough to say, "I'd've been better off just using pepper spray."  The pepper had been way too hot to eat whole.  Major fail on my part and I apologized profusely -- but there's nothing much you can do.  Water works as well as milk and she had plenty of it.

      I encountered both of the tiny slices of the hot pepper in my Sloppy Joes and they were indeed hot.  Not overwhelming, smothered in meat, tomato sauce and vegetables, but a little hotter than I would have preferred.  Tomato paste works really well in controlling the thickness: add water until you're happy with it.  It was very flavorful -- but it would have tasted a lot better without the guilt of having fed my friend a pepper that was too hot even for her.
* Both Heinz and Red Gold make a version of this kind of chili sauce; I have used it in place of ketchup for years and highly recommend it.   Brooks Rich & Tangy Ketchup is very similar, or at least it was back when it was my preferred ketchup-like condiment.  All three have the mild sweetness you'd expect from ketchup and little to no heat.

Tuesday, August 03, 2021


      Better this morning, though I don't know why.  Whatever I had yesterday -- Despair?  Allergy flare-up?  Acute ennui?  Exhaustion from the small amount of yard work I accomplished over the weekend?-- kept me in bed asleep most of the day, achy and unfocused, suffering chills.

      About 2:30 this morning, I woke up with a blanket on top of the quilt (and vague memories of Tam looking in to ask how I was and me saying I was freezing) and two cats on top of the blanket, a bit too warm.  At last.  I pushed the quilt and blanket down (but not so far as to annoy the cats) and drifted off to a deep sleep.

      If I knew what I needed to do to avoid going through that again, I would.

Monday, August 02, 2021

So I'm Sick

     Not sure what's going on.  Killer headache, disorientation, dizziness.  No fever, no sniffles worse than the usual summertime allergy baseline.  But I'm not entirely here. 

Sunday, August 01, 2021

From One Place To Another

      So, I'm looking at the Candy Wrapper Museum when a nifty premium offer on a Zero bar wrapper sends me off searching for The Whizzer toy steam engine...!

      What a marvelous world we live in.