Thursday, September 30, 2021

Wednesday

      Yesterday, I went rushing out of the house without even taking time to post something.  (Everything I thought about writing would have taken too long.)  I had hoped to post on a break from work, but there weren't any.

      Yesterday, we got the 6.1 meter satellite dish working.  It's been sidelined for years and last month, trying to install waveguide filters,* we discovered a critical part of it had been damaged by falling ice so badly that it was unusable -- and the company that made it, absorbed by a defense contractor that was in turn bought up by a larger defense contractor, is all but unreachable unless you're calling from the Pentagon, with a price structure to match.  The broken part was effectively Unbotanium; it needed to be lightweight, strong, structurally stable, of precise dimensions and transparent to centimetric-band† radio waves.

      It is, as the contractor remarked, "About the biggest six-meter dish I've seen."

      He had been, however, able to clone the part.  What makes that dish so big -- the parabolic reflector is much deeper than a typical satellite dish -- is that is a Cassegranian-feed design.  And this one was worked out to have a very short secondary focus, so short that the secondary reflector is supported a couple of feet away from the end of the feedhorn and held in place on it by an insulating collar -- the piece we found broken.

      Cleaning and removing the remains of the broken collar from the feed tube took several hours.  I had cleaned and polished the secondary reflector earlier, a complex casting with a working surface shaped a bit like a streamlined Lunar crater with a central peak and a pattern of supporting ribs molded on the back.  The feed tube, despite my having capped it with a taped-on trash bag, had gathered a lot of bird nests and litter, so just getting to the point of being able to put things back together took awhile.

      Then there was some back-and forth making sure the L-band† RF was getting to the "doghouse" where it gets turned into light and sent to the main building of the North Campus, where we turn it back into RF and look at it with receivers and spectrum analyzers; after which there was a little more soul-searching as to the best place to be while we operated the dish and tried to find the geosynchronous arc, the Clarke Belt where (most) comsats live. 

      We started trying  to run it manually at the dish.  The easiest way takes one person at the dish and another at the doghouse, close enough that you can speak loudly to one another.  One person steers and the other watches the scope.  Man, it was rough going -- a lot of noise, and the dish barely peaked on it. Then we tried from the main building, but results were no better.  So back to the dish, with everything right at the dish, and a little rewiring, and then --

      Then the contractor took another look at his spectrum analyzer and decided we'd better give up on C-band* and try Ku.  Results were almost immediate after that; we peaked up the dish on a likely-looking bird, adjourned to the main building, rereferenced the magic control system by telling it what arc position we thought it was looking at, and checked by moving the dish to another memorized position.  Success!

      We finished up by going to the satellite most likely to be useful, peaking up on it, and re-rereferenced the whole system.

      Now I can get the fancy C-band filters put in.  The cellphone companies won't leave us alone until they can check it off their list.
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* Because cellphone services are moving into part of C-band.  In fact, they already have.  But hey, we get free filters!  This is especially helpful if there's a cellular tower right in line with where your dish is looking to see the middle of the Clarke Belt.  As in, for instance, at the North Campus.  That's why it was so difficult to get the dish peaked up by looking at the C-band signals from it.
 
† What's with all the names and letters, anyway?  Centimetric waves, millimetric waves, C-band, L-band, X-band....  Blame the WW II Brits for the first; it's how they talked about radar frequencies back then and it stuck.  Right behind them, and extending on into the Cold War, the U. S. assigned letters to frequency ranges (the better to confuse the Axis!) and shared them with their Allies; and then, after that war, picked up a few names at the high end: "kurz" is German for short, as in short waves, and the K-band was itsy-bitsy short waves compared to the others.  Just below K is "Kurz-unter," K-under, the Ku band.  And the X-band radar detector you were so happy to buy, back in the day, was named from Top Secret documentation for a World War-winning technology.  NATO, etc. changed all the letters and bands awhile ago but the older version lingers.  IEEE seems to be hanging on to them.  When it comes to satellite dishes, the modern trick is to look at the satellite frequencies -- mostly Ku and Ka these days, with some C here and there -- but send it off to the receiver transposed down to L-band, around 1 GHz.  It's a lot simpler to pipe around with essentially the same kind of coax and connectors used for cable TV.

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Oh, Happy Day

      Just as dizzy as can be this morning -- and I discovered that I had a forgotten dentist appointment today, an hour before my recently, reluctantly scheduled and much-dreaded m*mmogr*m.

      Should'a stood in bed.  Instead, I have rescheduled the dentist.  I don't mind going to the dentist.  I almost like it.  But the other?  No.  Just no.

Monday, September 27, 2021

Crazy Level: Very High

      Having grown up in the 1960s and 70s, with the long Vietnam War playing nightly on every TV set and the occasional domestic explosion of a random big-city building, FBI office or DoD facility serving as counterpoint, various riots and protests a constant undercurrent, I thought I was immune to surprise at the politically-based imbecility of my fellow Americans.

      I was wrong. 

      The wrongness haunts me, with a sense of floating unreality that dogs my days and confounds my nights.  I struggle to find engrossing reading, ideas worth writing, anything, anything at all other than look at the news or the crazier blogs.

      And it's all enmeshed in this damned pandemic, which we still have not got shut of.  Maybe in late Fall or early Winter?  Maybe?  --Barring yet another mutation, maybe.  Barring further craziness that helps to spread it.  Barring the too-early, self-defeating return of hope.  And maybe that last pitfall is the most maddening part.

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Sunday

      Sunday wasn't much better than Saturday, except it included computer problems.

Saturday, September 25, 2021

I'm Exhausted

      Today's been a low-effort kind of day and I think it will stay that way.  I'm worn out.

Friday, September 24, 2021

Watching In Horror

      Tam puts it better than I could have: "I'm watching people go crazy in real time."

      American politics has become toxic.  I have pretty strong opinions about a lot of it, but I have even stronger opinions about not getting threats via comments.  It's pretty much the same impulse that prompts me to avoid dangerous locations and situation not in spite of but because I carry a gun.  Trouble one avoids is the best kind of trouble.

      I just wish more people thought that way about current politics instead of racing one another to the abyss.  Last one in's a rotten...egg?

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Gathering Flowers

     Gathering flowers with a camera, that is.  One of the nice things about morning walks is that you can put together a "virtual garden" as you go.






Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Keep On Staying Okay, Please

      Stay okay wherever you go:

      Even after you push the button to make the silhouette man walk thataway.

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Update On The Kittens

      Our neighbor called me Sunday.  She'd bought a larger cage for the kittens, with closer-set bars, but the darned thing was a flat-pack and somehow, the wrong parts had gotten interlocked in shipping.  Could I help?

     I could and did.  I'm no great shakes at that kind of puzzle but we managed to unsnarl it and set the cage up.  This provided a perfect opportunity to play with the kittens as we transferred them to their new quarters.

     Photographs were difficult.  Kittens are kinetic!

     As soon as they had some toys, they were bouncing around, playing, climbing and mock-fighting one another.
     The yellow and white kitten sat still long enough for a quick portrait.

     They're scrawny but healthy.  They get one warm bath a day.  They're drinking water and eating soft food, though they're still getting some kitten formula, too.

Monday, September 20, 2021

Sunday, September 19, 2021

When Is A Sailor Not A Sailor?

      There's a fair amount fuss and foofraw in the media and online about the Inspiration 4 crew, just back from a three-day mission in Earth orbit: do they qualify as "astronauts," or not?

      "Astronaut" is not like "Able Seaman" or getting certification as an aircraft pilot.  You need to be be serving as a crewperson on a spacecraft that crosses into space.  That's 50 miles for the U.S. and 62 miles (100 kilometers, the von Kármán line) for everyone else.   That's it -- but the catch is that "crewperson" designation.  If you were defined as a "spaceflight participant" in the FAA paperwork, you don't get astronaut wings.  You might get honorary wings -- at the FAA administrator's discretion.

      Some of the coverage has been unduly snarky.  The crew is about perfectly lined up to trigger everyone: a cheeky billionaire (and amateur jet pilot), a pale and slightly chubby IT guy/space geek, a crewcut female African-American CAP pilot*/analog astronaut/Ph.D. and STEM popularizer, and a bubbly 20-something physician's assistant who knew very little about space travel before she was tapped for the mission.  If you were looking for something to be irked by, at least one of them has probably got it.

      Some media reports (looking at you, CNN) have characterized the mission as a "joyride."  Never mind that no one has done this before (or that Dr. Proctor made it to the final set of cuts in the NASA astronaut selection process); never mind that taking four people, giving them six months of training and sending them off to orbit is positively ground-breaking.  If you want to paint the mission as "rich white guy buys way to orbit," you can.  (You do have to ignore the fundraising aspects, which put more than the mission cost into the coffers of St. Jude Children's Hospital.  I guess that's easy for the sniffily inclined.)

      But once he and his fellow spaceflight participants have shown it can be done, there's nothing keeping Purdue or MIT -- or General Atomics -- from chartering a Dragon and sending up three or four researchers with a lab-ful of experiments to keep them busy.  Will they be astronauts?  I don't know.

      I do know that wings or not, official or not, I'll keep calling the Inspiration 4 crew astronauts.  They have indeed sailed the starry sky -- and come back safe and sound to tell their tale.  Wings aren't any use in vacuum anyway.
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* I have said this elsewhere and I will say it here: back when I knew people in Civil Air Patrol, they tended to get handed pretty tired airplanes and were expected to do serious SAR work and the like with them.  It tickles me to see a CAP aviator in the pilot's seat of something as state-of-the-art as a Dragon, no matter how automated it is.  About darned time.  And on the topic, FWIW, male pilots outnumber women pilots about eleven to one; for the Shuttle, the ratio was roughly forty to one.  A woman who flies spacecraft is a rara avis indeed.

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Friday, September 17, 2021

The Handmaid's Tale

      Margaret Atwood has always been a bit sniffily assertive about not writing science fiction, so much so that even Ursula K. Le Guin (who quite happily wrote science fiction, SF that sold well and was a literary success) gently took her to task over it from time to time.  As a result, I hadn't read any Atwood, since I find most "mainstream" fiction dull and pretentious.  If she was going to insist that was what she wrote, I would respect her claim by not reading it.

      But a copy of The Handmaid's Tale showed up at the used-book store, there was a Hulu series that went multiple seasons (of which Atwood said "it could have been worse."  I haven't seen it), and I thought I might as well read it.

      It's well-written.  Atwood's world-building is good, and her "what-if" is pretty obviously "what if a Christian sect went as far as or farther than Islamic extremists in rebuilding society?"  You get one unquestioned assumption in SF and I'll give her that even though she disdains SF.  Starting from there, she throws in declining fertility rates in Western countries (a true thing, though probably more related to affluence and the enormous decline in infant and child mortality*) and gets...what she gets.  It's a disturbing future.  It's intended to be.

      The story is told non-linearly, in two interwoven, discontinuous narratives with an afterword.  Her villains commit their worst villainies offstage; onstage, there's rather more "banality of evil" and, worse, the deliberate weaving of it into everyone's lives.  The weakest part of the background is the neo-Puritan religion, a consciously distorted Christianity; she does her best to never treat it in more detail than her viewpoint character could know.  While I'd like to tell you it's completely implausible, it isn't.  There are women alive today who have been in the thick of something only too similar, in Afghanistan and the former "Islamic State."  It does require a number of precursors or pressures that the real world hasn't got.  Published in 1985, there are scenes and elements that today seem dated -- as happens to all fiction.

      It is an entertaining book, not a screed; the characters are no better or worse than they are, all ordinary, all trapped even if they wove the snare.  As SF, it holds up well.  Alas, Ms. Atwood doesn't want to be on those shelves with the robots and rayguns, spaceships and time travelers.  Like Le Guin, I can understand (and resent) the impulse, but I'm not quite sure I can forgive her leaving James Tiptree, Jr. and Joanna Russ alone out there with the slavering aliens.  After all, she knew how dangerous it was.  She spent an entire novel saying so.
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* We don't realize this, but it's true; my father, born in 1927, lost three siblings in childhood (of ten total), two before he was born, and his family was not atypical.  Having small families is a luxury of the (relatively) well-off and healthy.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

The Antlion

      Leaving the house a couple of mornings ago, after nearly a week with no rain, I looked down at the raised flower bed in the front yard and saw something I'd never noticed before.

     The flower bed has been empty this summer.  Despite good intentions, I never got around to populating it.  But something had -- something that made tiny, conical craters.  They seemed familiar; I'd seen them before, but where?

     Memory came though at last: these were antlion dens!  Or hunting lodges, or traps.  Ant traps.  I had never known any lived in Indiana.

      I tickled the slope of one pit with a blade of grass.  Nothing.  Tried another.  Nothing.  (It turns out some antlions will play dead, if whatever is in their trap doesn't feel sufficiently antlike.)  I tried a third, very gently.

      Success!  The antlion began flinging sand toward the end of the grass stem, a tiny, frantic handful at a time!  I didn't want to wear it out, so I stopped.  I never caught sight of the insect's mandibles, which are pretty impressive, spiky implements that will handle even our largest ants.  The antlion's chubby body is a kind of natural ghillie suit, fuzzy-looking and able to keep it hidden and well-anchored.  They're the larval stage of a flying insect; they can spend a couple of years safely hidden, making ants tumble to their waiting jaws, before forming a coccoon and emerging to live for a few months as a good sized, dragonfly-appearing critter.

      And the sand-throwing?  While it's entertaining to think of it as analogous to man hunting rabbits with handfuls of flung gravel, what's really going on is that digging out sand at the bottom of the pit allows the sand along the sides to fall, carrying the antlion's dinner with it.  The bug is just tossing that sand up to the edge of the crater, not at the ant. 

      Out in my front yard, tiny sarlacs lie in wait.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

I'm Frustrated

      We're in a slow, steady race with the virus now.  The infection rate is up and down, but overall vaccinations are slowly increasing in a linear ramp.

      Barring another easily-spread mutation, the U.S. may get into another trough of low coronavirus infection rates about wintertime.  Maybe; I'll wait and see.  I've lost any optimism I once had about this mess.

      Here's the "excess mortality" chart, all causes of death, with 2020 and 2021 overlaid on prior years back to 2015.  Make up your own reasons why it's so much higher for this year and the previous one -- and take comfort that the curve is getting closer to what it once was.  I'm not going to debate you.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Monday, September 13, 2021

Power Outage

      A little after 9:00 last night, our power went out.

      I had gone to bed early.  Tam was up, reading a book on her iPad.  So when the power went out, it didn't make much difference.  She always carries a flash light.  I always have one where I can put hands on it -- on my nightstand, in this situation, and not hidden in a drawer but right on top, between the phone shared and the clock/radio (probably a sure mark of a Boomer).

      As the minutes ticked on, Tam deployed lightsticks (to aid in navigation and give the home that "there's someone in here" look) and I put a high-efficiency battery lantern on the towel shelf in the washroom.

      Trying to get to our power company's website with my smartphone to check on the outage, service was weak and creepingly slow.  Tam reported the same on a different carrier.  Out the front and back windows, the city was dark as far as we could see.  There was decent sky glow from the direction of downtown but not so much to the east, north or west.

      The closest cellular tower is at a substation several blocks away.  From the evidence, there was a problem there or on the incoming feed to it.

      My smartphone eventually got a connection and pulled in the map.  The power company uses symbols -- green discs for small outages, orange squares for larger ones, yellow triangles for small neighborhoods and black diamonds for power interruptions that hit 2,000 or more customers.  We had a full set: a scattering of green, an orange square over on Keystone Avenue, and a funny symbol near the substation.  Zooming in eventually showed it was a black diamond over a yellow triangle.  At least 2,500 customers out.  It was big.

      Power stayed off off the next two and a half hours.  Holden Wu decided to guard the doors, going from front to back and flopping down in "draft excluder" mode in front of of whichever door Tam or I was near. Huck kept watch in my room, peering out the window.

      This morning, local TV reported someone had crashed their car and taken out a pole for a major power line along Keystone Avenue, knocking out power to more than 14,000 homes and businesses.

      Do you know where your flashlights are?  

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Here Are The Real Numbers

      Indiana is a solidly conservative state.  We've got a Republican Governor and the GOP has had a supermajority in the State Legislature for many years.  The Director of the Indiana Department of Health is appointed by the Governor.

      So when they share this graphic, you can be confident that there's no partisan bias to make the numbers look any worse than they are:

      Want to stay out of the hospital?  Get the vaccine.  Want to improve your chances of survival?  Get the vaccine.  I'm not the boss of you, but the numbers are plenty clear.

Saturday, September 11, 2021

The Life Of A Toadstool

      Both of these are likely to be members of the amanita family and may be one of the varieties known as the "Destroying Angel."  That name's a hint: don't eat them.

      They look like set pieces from a fantasy film.
      That one didn't last long.  It stood nearly a foot tall and the cap was gone a few days after I took this photograph.

      This one, on the other hand, stood...

      Got mowed around....

      Grew....

      And fell.

Friday, September 10, 2021

9/11; COVID-19

      The twentieth anniversary of 9/11 is all over the news and the Web this morning.  As ever in recent years, I'm of two minds about this.  It is a date of somber significance, and we did go after the men responsible (and got most of 'em, too).  But the reaction expanded the scope and power of the federal government in dangerous and alarming ways; it fueled prejudice at home, jingoism and nation-building outside our borders, and mired America in our longest, fourth-longest and sixth-longest wars.

      And what did we do on 7 December 1961 or 15 February 1918,* anyway?  24 August 1834 seems to have passed without notice, yet it was the twentieth anniversary of a truly terrible event of profound national significance.  Nevertheless, 9/11 remains a solemn marker, the day many of us first realized how thin the walls were; rank it with the attack on Pearl Harbor, 22 November 1963 or the last two weeks of October, 1929 as a devastating jolt.

      After each of 'em, most Americans pulled together to deal with events.  People speak warmly of those times, almost longingly despite the awful circumstances--

      --And yet here we are, a year and a half into the coronavirus pandemic, more divided than ever.  President Biden spoke yesterday, outlining a series of steps to fight COVID-19, most of them well within the power of the President (expect the courts to get rung in on the ability of OSHA to require employee vaccination and testing at any business employing a hundred or more people, and won't that be fun?).  Pushback has already begun along partisan political lines, some of it hyperbolically overwrought.

      We have a common enemy.  It's a blind biological robot, not some old guy in a suit with a fancy office and a 24/7 job.  It's not your neighbor, masked or maskless, vaccinated or not.  It's not your mayor or Governor.  It's a damned virus, and the sooner we can get it under control, the sooner we can get back to having political arguments over things that matter instead of embracing crazy nonsense.

      I'm not holding my breath.
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* Admittedly, we had other worries then, up to our necks in a World War and, all unbeknownst, on the very threshold of the devastating influenza pandemic that would be officially marked as beginning early the next month.  Stars and Stripes for that date features an interesting headline: "AMERICA DROPS POLITICAL GAME TO WIN THE WAR."  Make a note that; the notion will resurface later.

Thursday, September 09, 2021

Wednesday, September 08, 2021

So, I looked At The News

      I even looked at the commentary.

      You know what?  I'm going for a walk.  People won't be any less crazy when I come back but I'll feel better.

Tuesday, September 07, 2021

Fun, Gus?

      Tamara and I have been taking morning constitutionals through our neighborhood.  The sights are many and wondrous -- the majority of our neighbors have front gardens filled with plants and flowers.  A few remarkable for the amount and variety they have growing.  There's art to be found, and fountains.  Wonderful old (and new) architecture, a Little Free Library or two, a "Take one or leave one" table of plants and vegetables and even a Dog Toy Lending Library at sidewalk level, consisting of a basket filled with tennis balls and other dog-friendly playthings.

      Lately, a pair of absolutely improbable toadstools have appeared in two different front lawns.  Like something out of fairy tale.  Our neighborhood had always had the usual assortment of striped toadstools that grow in little "villages," clusters of ground-growing fan fungus that looks like (but almost certainly is not) oyster mushrooms and so on, but these are singular: pallid white, a little shaggy, they stand arrow-straight, nearly a foot tall with a domed cap perhaps four of five inches across.   They look more like a decoration than a real toadstool. One had vanished by the next day; the other has been slowly flattening the cap like an unfurling umbrella.  They might be False Death Cap mushrooms (non-poisonous but bad-tasting, and who wants to risk it?) or the ominous-but-accurately named Destroying Angel death cap.

      I'll add a photo or two as time permits.

Monday, September 06, 2021

Not-Laboring Day

      Blogging is a bit too much like work in a time where the once exuberantly gonzo Rolling Stone pulls a tyro mistake by giving in to confirmation bias and not making the one darned phone call that would have saved their bacon, and where the folks on the opposite side who have been groovin' on their own flavor of misinformation fueled by confirmation bias like a Big Boy steam locomotive hitting a heavy grade are chortling at the splinter in the other side's eye.

      Wrong is wrong, pernicious nonsense is pernicious no matter who utters it and I am in no mood to give anyone any slack.

      Ranting doesn't help; I'm in a fine mood to climb up a big heap of high dudgeon and hold forth, but in the end, it's just more yak (and not even the useful, beast-of-burden kind).

      So I'm taking the day off.

Sunday, September 05, 2021

Cooking: One Pan Pork Chop Dinner

      Pork is remarkably affordable compared to beef those days.  I like it.  Tam is more skeptical, pointing out that it can be much too dry to suit her.  So I normally cook it in a covered pan with some kind of sauce.

      Typically, I'll marinate pork and cook it with apples and onions, then add whatever is on hand -- carrots, celery, turnips, potatoes, bell peppers, tomatoes, mushrooms.

      Yesterday, I had a couple of nice bone-in pork chops, about an inch thick.  I was clean out of apples, and when I went to make the marinade, realized I was out of balsamic vinegar, too.  What to do?

      Start with the marinade: the goal is something flavorful and a bit acidic, with a touch of sweetness.  I dissolved a teaspoon of table sugar* in a tablespoon or more of white vinegar† and went looking. A quarter-cup or less of soy sauce, a hefty addition of Worcestershire, a couple of tablespoons of Iwashi fish sauce (garum, more or less), a dollop or two of Truff truffle-infused hot sauce...I was going to use a little lime juice but what I had was very old.  There was some good oil and vinegar-based Italian salad dressing in the fridge, though, and I put in about as much as the soy.  Ginger powder, clove powder, smoked paprika, garlic powder and parsley flakes -- when it was all together, I had nearly a cup of liquid.  I poured it over the chops in a freezer bag and let it sit in the refrigerator for eight hours, turning occasionally.

      A little more than two hours before dinnertime, Tam had been to the grocery.  She picked up balsamic vinegar and mustard.  I mixed a couple of teaspoons of sweet orange marmalade and Dijon mustard with a tablespoon or so of the balsamic: a little sweetness and hotness does pork a world of good.  The pork chops went in a lightly-oiled frying pan‡ and the marinade from the bag went over them, then I added the mustard and marmalade mixture on top of them.  I put the cover on, set the heat to medium until it was hot and turned it down to low for an hour.

      An hour later, things were coming along nicely.  I turned the chops over, tasted the sauce (if you don't taste what you are cooking, how can you know what it might need?), and added a very small can of sliced black olives and a small can of diced mild chilis.  I let that simmer another fifteen minutes while I looked over the vegetables.  I ended up stacking another burner grate to keep the pan simmering but not boiling, which you sometimes have to do on a gas range.  (Electric ones will usually go lower).

      I diced up three-quarters of a nice red onion and added it, followed by a carrot chopped small and a couple of stalks of celery, likewise cut up.  (Also three whole caperberries, just for fun.)  Then I cut a largeish potato into rough cubes 3/8" to 1/2" on a side and added them all around the meat, put the lid back on, and let it cook for an hour until the potatoes were soft and had taken up the sauce.  The potatoes are a more certain guide than the clock.

      The potato is also part of the trick to this.  That's a pretty strong sauce, after all -- but the potatoes will mellow it, and end up better for having done so.  Turnips and even apples will do this, too, but the potato is the champion.

      The finished pork chops were moist, tender, dark and flavorful.  The vegetable mix was really good.  Best served with plenty of the sauce over both.

      One pan and a measuring cup for mixing the marinade, one cutting board, a knife, a fork and a spoon (I did baste the up side of the pork a few times during the first hour).  Add in the dishes for dining (a couple of shallow white-glass pie plates, knives, forks and tumblers) and that's very little mess for a nice supper.
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* I use Sugar In The Raw, but about the only things I use sugar for are coffee and oatmeal.  If I baked, I'd keep white sugar and brown sugar on the shelf and there is no reason why either one couldn't be substituted.
 
† White vinegar is something you should just have.  My Mom would add cider vinegar to that list as well, and it would have been better here.  The white's about as harsh as it gets (and is very handy for cleaning!), so use it with restraint when cooking.  (There's a list of cooking staples that I know but have never written down, which I guess I absorbed by osmosis as I was growing up.)
 
‡ Having inherited a lot of Mom's wedding-gift and 50th Anniversary-gift RevereWare, getting out the less-used pans can be heart-tugging.  The smaller of the two skillets had been dropped so long ago that I'm not sure I remember it.  The handle chipped and some of the hardware that held it on was lost.  Dad had replaced the original bolt and Chicago screw with a longer screw and hex bolt.  Every time I use that pan, I am reminded that it has been that way longer than I have been cooking.  I could replace it with correct hardware, but I'd rather have the memory and a solid bit of repair work done by my own Dad.

Saturday, September 04, 2021

The Pie Trap?

      Imagine, if you will, people so distempered as to inveigh against the physiological and philosophical dangers of pie.

      The mind fair boggles.

Friday, September 03, 2021

Lies, Damned Lies And Evaluating Sources

      A pernicious meme presently circulating claims that though the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine has received full FDA approval (and its very own name, Comirnaty), people are still getting only the EUA version, "because only it is shielded from legal liability."

     This is, in a word, untrue.  The Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act gives the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services the power to shield any "countermeasures to diseases..." from liability.  It was first used, according to their own website, back in 2016.  In the case of the novel coronavirus, that protection from liability is extremely broad: "any antiviral, any other drug, any biologic, any diagnostic, any other device, or any vaccine, used to treat, diagnose, cure, prevent, or mitigate COVID-19, or the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 or a virus mutating therefrom, or any device used in the administration of any such product, and all components and constituent materials of any such product."  That covers every vaccine and anything else doctors might try.*  Even the ones with FDA approval.

     One of the more reputable checking outfits dug into this and they have a complete article, beginning with the origin of the misinformation and replete with links back to original, authoritative sources.  Yes, I'm sure it's "tl;dr" for a lot of people, but if you want the facts, you're going to have to do a little reading.  An image or two with with some pithy lines over it in the "Impact" font is fine for a snicker but reality requires greater detail.

*  *  *

     A word about sources and news sites (and "news") sites: on a popular social media site, a fellow posted a link to a story at a highly partisan site and asked me what I thought about it.  The story was well askew from what I knew to be true; I judged it to be arrant bullshit from the headline and first paragraph and said so.

     He thought that was wrong of me.  "It can be easily disproved at the FDA website.  I thought you'd look it up and take it apart.  I used to think highly of you."

     You can imagine just how crushed I was at this news.

     These are busy time for pernicious rumor and inflammatory fantasy.  The present day is rife with quackery and political opportunism.  As a result, I don't trust any website or TV channel purporting to give me the news -- but I trust some far less than others.

     I have linked to the Ad Fontes Media Bias Chart many times.  It usually gets comments, about how some network or newspaper is actually farther Left than the chart shows, or more reliable or whatever.  But I'm not nearly as interested in the absolute position of any entity on the chart as I am in their relative positions.  The vertical axis is reliability; the horizontal axis is political alignment.  From the first, the chart has formed a rough inverted V: the more partisan a source is, the less reliable it becomes.

     That's no more than human nature.  If you believe strongly in some political viewpoint, you're going to look for items that support it and pay less attention to things that refute it.  But at news and commentary websites, it can spin very far.  And it affects how I evaluate what I see online.

     If a relatively unbiased source tells me something, it's worth looking into to see if it's true.  That holds especially true if it is unexpected or unusual -- but even more so if it fits in too neatly with what I already think I know.

     If a biased source tells me something unexpected or unusual, it's almost certainly a waste of time to chase after.  If they tell me something that runs counter to my understanding of events I have been following, I will often dismiss it out of hand. (If an unusual thing is genuine, it will rapidly climb up the slope of truthworthy news sites: they are all ravenous for content.)  If "American Thinker" or "Occupy Democrats" claim water is wet or the sun rises in the east, it's worth checking -- because if they agree with an obvious, well-accepted idea enough to feature it, some source with less bias may have found evidence that it isn't so.

     This is not an especially comfortable or comforting way to approach news, analysis, commentary and opinion.  There are few things more pleasant than reading and nodding along to a well-written article that agrees with one's own pet notions and worldview.  Unfortunately, there are also few things less productive, or more likely to be the first step down a garden path of links into one's own algorithmically-tailored "reality."

     Check what you read.  Look for links to informative background.  Mind which sources you take seriously.  You don't need to shovel an entire pile of manure to know that it stinks -- but you do have to do a little digging from time to time.
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* If you have been eating horse paste or sheep wormer or whatever and your doctor told you to do so, you're not going to be able to sue him or the County Co-Op where you bought it.  If you did so on your own accord, while it's not under the PREP umbrella, the fine print on the container still probably says something about "not for human use."

Thursday, September 02, 2021

So...

      I had some thoughts about what to post today, but Firefox is being very crashy and I need to work that out.

Wednesday, September 01, 2021

The Good Old Days

      Remember when this was the height of raving lunacy?

      Good times.  Good times.