Sunday, October 31, 2021

Writing Advice From An Exasperated Expert

      A promotional video for the latest effort from Wes Anderson* has Bill Murray reading from "The Theory And Practice Of Editing New Yorker Articles" by Wolcott Gibbs.

      "...Theory And Practice..." is a real article, written in 1937 when the magazine was, in fact, burning through a series of fiction editors.  Whatever else they get up to, New Yorker consistently offers well-written prose, fiction especially.†  So the idea that such an article existed caught my attention.

      The guidelines apply as much to writing as they do to editing, and the piece includes a particular gem on the overuse of adverbs: "...a writer who can't make his context indicate the way his character is talking ought to be in another line of work."  There's more to it than just yanking every word ending in -ly!

      At four pages, it's just a little too long for a tattoo -- but the general good writing advice in "The Theory And Practice Of Editing New Yorker Articles" is certainly worth a few drumbeats.
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* The film is either brilliant or impenetrable.  I do not believe a work can be both, though the same work may be one or the other for different people.  Tamara wants to see it and -- circumstances permitting -- I may go along.
 
† Sadly, the overwhelming editorial loathing for Donald Trump during his Presidency made the magazine unbearably tedious for me -- not because I was a big fan of Mr. Trump (I can't stand him) but because I was already seeing more than a sufficiency of the then-President on TV and online.  New Yorker's combination of sniffiness and hyperbolic partisan humor was in excess to that surfeit and, worse, consisted of far more icing than cake.  At least Cato the Elder was content to merely end every speech by declaring "Carthago delenda est;" he didn't lead with it and thread it through every topic.

Saturday, October 30, 2021

Sidebar Changes

      "Blogfriends" has been added to the sidebar.  This is to help make clear that I do not endorse the dangerous, foolish and/or crazy notions that have swept the country and the blogosphere in recent years, and which infest my former blogroll to a degree that saddens and worries me.

      No, I'm not going to lecture you on pandemics, public health, the manner in which elections are conducted in the United States or even on the dangers of fomenting riot or insurrection when the normal processes of our free country don't give you everything you want.*  I will tell you if you buy into the crazy and find yourself having to do your business in a hole in the back yard and haul bottled drinking water from the relief center sometime in the next five years, and not as the result of a natural disaster, you will have no one to blame but yourself.

      Civilizations bend quite a ways before they break.  Working to break them is not a winning ploy, no matter how appealing apocalyptic fantasy may look to you.
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* Read carefully.  I'm goring more than one ox.

Friday, October 29, 2021

Might As Well Go With It

      It's another cold and rainy day.  I think I'm just going to enjoy the rain, and hope for sunshine over the weekend.

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Too Much Crazysauce

      I keep trying to wall off the fscknuttery and it keeps on oozing through the cracks, vaulting over the top and burrowing up from beneath.

      Too darned much.  Too darned much.  I'm not gonna wade into it today, not even to disprove, mock and dismiss.  You're determined to jump off the cliff and try to fly by flapping your hands?  To breathe water?  I don't care.  Try not to bleed on the bystanders.

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

"No Ice Today"

      You used to turn that part of the X-divided ice-company card upward if, by some amazing good luck or careful management, the block(s) of ice in your icebox were doing fine and you weren't going to need any.

      Americans need a "No BS Today" section of their media-delivery card; we need to turn it upward in the front window and nail it down.

      Now, I'm not talking about not getting any partisan content.  If your idea of a good time with the evening news or the afternoon opinions is a steady diet of "Look what those horrible-awful politicians from The Other Party Are Doing," and "Look what those foolish or wicked voters in That State That Leans The Wrong Way are up to," and so on, why, you ought to be able to get it -- but it should be real stuff; nothing made up, nothing weakly sourced, nothing finely calibrated from distorted facts and pure fiction to make the worrisome vein in your forehead begin to throb.  Your buddy who Photoshops fake "Fact Checks" and his counterpart who dreams up fake "facts" would both have to content themselves with posting their grubby masterpieces only on their own refrigerator doors, not the public Internet.

      Of course, we won't get that and if we did, most people all across the political spectrum would howl in outrage that it was all lies, lies -- filthy, terrible lies.

      But I can dream, can't I?

Monday, October 25, 2021

Rain, And Rain, And -- Would You Believe? -- Rain

      That's what it did yesterday.  It rained.  Then it would stop awhile and ponder, all overcast and cold, and having given the matter due consideration, it would rain some more.

     By evening it had tapered off, but overnight storms boomed through and gave me the most peculiar nightmares, mostly about waiting in line for the washroom and then discovering there was an even longer line for the human-specific facilities once you got past the door.*  I blame the varying rain, from drizzle to downpour -- it never entirely let up until about alarm-clock time.

      But let's back up: midmorning Sunday, fresh from a bath, I went to the basement in a warm robe and sandals, bearing an armload of laundry, only to discover there was a bit over an inch of water at the lowest point of the floor.  Yes, the backflow valve in the floor drain, iffy at best, had once again closed up during heavy rain.  I wielded the plunger with hope, and went back upstairs to finish drying off, put on clothes and boots, and set up the portable sump pump.

      At the jeans-and-top point, one of the widgets up at the North Campus conked out, sent me a text, and I had to get on my computer to take a look.  Or try to -- the super-secret looking-at server was coughing up hairballs and it took a long time to get to the machine I needed and actually see some readings.  Which were...not normal.  Not shut-down awful, but messed up.  Commercial power had failed and the site was on generator-- Until it wasn't, and the machinery went into a another worrying power-up recycle.

      By the time I got that sorted out and returned to the basement, nearly an hour later, my plunger work must have taken effect: the water had drained away and the floor was drying.  I went around outside and checked the downspout extensions, just in case.  Sure enough, two of them had been knocked askew by our neighbor's lawn service.  They don't mean to, they just don't notice, but I don't always catch it before the next rain.

      Some excitement!  I did finally get a few loads of laundry done.
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* Places like Deep Space Nine and Babylon Five must have the most confusing constellations of little silhouettes marking the public washrooms --  "Let's see, there's a Vogon, a Vulcan, Mimbari, Hani, Elvish, Eddorians, Ents, Kzin, Rull, and is that supposed to be a human woman or a poorly drawn Lovecraftian Old One...?"  

Sunday, October 24, 2021

To Whom It May Concern:

      I would only take medicine intended for fish as a desperate last resort, and you should do the same.  Especially with a class of illness where present best practices call for finding out the cause before commencing treatment.

Gather Ye Rosebuds While Ye May

      Okay, fine -- the weather's cold, dark and blustery, there's a heap of laundry and a pile of incomplete prospects nagging me, I have a headache and my back is pillar of pain.  Nevertheless, we have fresh English muffins, fine Irish butter and imported* blueberry preserves and I am enjoying them together with fresh coffee.  Don't know I will have another one next, or polish off the last of the everything† bagels

      There's always a little sunshine hidden somewhere, or at least the promise of it.

      Oh, the title?  It's from a poem.
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* Domestic would be just as good, as long as it's the real deal and it usually is.  Blueberry preserves are apparently so difficult to fake that just about any brand you find will be genuine.  I love them.  I loved blueberry syrup as a child (alas, the mass brands went more and more inauthentic as I grew up) and as an adult, blueberry preserves are a wonderful, nostalgic treat.
 
† They're the best bagels, if you ask me, with poppyseed bagels in second place.  Given what I have written, you'd think I'd like blueberry bagels, but they usually don't have enough blueberries to matter and I prefer my bagels savory.

Saturday, October 23, 2021

Exhausted All Day

      Tired all day and did very little -- breakfast, one load of laundry, supper.  And now I'm going to bed early.

      There was a little excitement remote-managing a power outage at the North Campus about mid-morning, but mostly I'm still recovering from the week before last.  It was almost too darned much.

Friday, October 22, 2021

Getting Back To Routine

      Which means getting back to various levels of "fire drill" associated with security.  The North Campus has had a lot of benign -- or neutral -- neglect in terms of what hooks to which network, and the blocks from which internal IP addresses are assigned.

      Meanwhile, Corporate IT has unfurled their battle flags, put on the white gloves and commenced system scans, and they're not happy.  Nope, it's not dust on the server racks or tarnish on the few remaining "Intel inside" stickers, it's a general laxness of defenses, breaches in the (fire)walls and a sloppy mixing of personal machines, company machines and thumbdrives and SD cards found in gutters and public washrooms.  They've run pen testing ops and awakened afterward to find themselves covered in Sharpie-drawn amateur tattoos from head to foot.

      All of which means that I have got to get myself in gear, get cleaned up and out the door, and go help our local IT guys pull in new network cables and find spaces for better kinds of managed switches, while the most vulnerable systems run in splendid isolation from the Internet.  Y'know, I love the 'Net, but when did we decide that every last darned thing from the computers running essential business equipment to the breakroom refrigerator needed to be on the World Wide Web?

      But we did, and if we want to keep some kid from Kiev holding the last Reese's Cup hostage while his big brother's pirate band raids the payroll accounts and all our personal data, we're gonna have to harden 'em up.

      Fix bayonets -- advance!

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Slow Shipping?

      There's an interesting article about Pacific shipping snarl-ups at BBC.  Some simplistic memes have been circulating; the reality is (as ever) more nuanced, if equally disappointing.

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Overheard

      The radio is playing a newscast:

     "...life spreads in different ways.  For example, seeds are spread by birds.  But that's not what happened to the hippos in South America."

      Me: "What?  For pity's sake, in what world are hippos spread by birds?  And what can I do to make sure I never, ever go there?"

      Yes, I get it; the story of Pablo Escobar's pet hippopotamice has been told and retold so many times, and grown so much from the simple tale of a druglord's private zoo gone out of control, but still--  Let us please, please leave the mighty Roc safely in mythology, where I don't have to arrange to carry a machine gun every time I leave the house.

      Also, "Dope Hippos" is one of the best names for a trip-hop or acid jazz band ever.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

The Truth

      Humans are argumentative primates.  Oh, sure, like our distant cousins the bonobos, we just love a good make-out session -- but when you come right down to it, we are more quarrelsome than our other distant cousins, good old Pan troglodytes, the common chimpanzee.  There's nothing we enjoy better than a good fight, preferably preceded by lots of name-calling.

      Dig back as far as you like in the written (or painted on walls, chiseled into stone or pressed into soft clay) record and it will be there; follow legend and myth and you will hear it: someone inveighing against the lousy character and worse actions of their neighbor, rules for settling dire disputes, even curses; move up a level and you'll find mottoes and stories of the horrible awfulness of those people over the next hill, or across the river, or in the next kingdom, how they lack virtue, eat the wrong things, smell funny and look bad.  Oh, how we loathe!  How we have always loathed!

      To be President of the United States is to have, on average, about half of the people in the country disliking you, no matter who you are, which party's banner you ran under or even how good you are at the job.  Plenty of people were ticked off at George Washington when he was President and it's gone downhill from there (arguably, so have Presidents; but even one Cincinnatus is a miracle).

      We argue with our neighbors; we look askance at people who are different from ourselves -- but we're equally willing to feud with a sibling.

      The truth is, we're not very nice.  We have to work at it.  Most of civilization can be thought of as efforts to finds ways to get people work together without too much fighting -- and historically, one of the most effective ways to do that is to find some other group your group can all fight with, or at least despise.

      So it when seems that people are just too awful, that Those Others are trying to keep you and yours down because they plain don't like you?  Yeah, well, welcome to the club, just like everybody.  The wonder and miracle is that we are able to get along with one another as well as we do.

      Human beings stand at the tipping point.  All of the time.  Every day, we can make things a little better or a little worse.  Every dawn, every corner we turn, is another opportunity, another set of choices.  You can be a miserable SOB or you can try to get along.  Neither choice is right all the time; but the best outcome is when everyone involved tries to treat one another decently.

      We don't always manage to.  Sometimes we can't.  Look for those times when you can. 

Monday, October 18, 2021

Hurry, Hurry

      Rushing off to work to try to make up for lost time, so any blog post will have to wait.

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Spam Hash -- And Hash Ideas

      I made Spam hash this morning.  I keep a few cans on the shelf and you do have to use them up and buy more; a typical can is good for at least two years.

      Spam is looked askance at these days, due to the salt.  You can buy the low-salt version, or you can put the salt to work.

      All you need is a large baking-type potato (I was over 21 before I really grasped that there were any other kinds; growing up, we kept a bag of big Idahos in a cool, dark corner cabinet and used them for everything from baked to mashed to fried).  Dice it about a quarter-inch or a little bigger, season it with whatever appeals -- but no salt! -- and start the diced potato frying over medium heat in a high-walled skillet with a little oil.

      I used some smoked paprika, onion powder, za'atar and a hint of garlic powder, and a couple of teaspoons of extra-virgin olive oil and butter.  It's best to get the butter melted and well-mingled with the oil before adding the potatoes; you let them brown, shove them around, and let them brown some more.

      While that's going on, uncan a brick of Spam and dice it up about the same size.  Once the potatoes are well underway, a process that takes about as long as the time it takes to dice the Spam, add the meat and continue with the browning and rearranging.  There's a trick to it, but you'll catch on; it's got to sit long enough to brown before you push it around, but not so long it burns.  Adjust the burner temperature if it won't brown at all, or browns too quickly.

      Once the potatoes are done and the Spam is browned, you can push it all to the sides of the pan, turn up the heat a little, and scramble a couple of eggs in the middle.  Once they're as done as you like, mix everything together and turn off the heat.

      I served it up with a little grated Italian cheese and Truff hot sauce.  Tam took hers with Worcestershire sauce.
*  *  *
      While I was sick last week, I was hungry but didn't want to have to cook much.  Tam had bought some Italian-seasoned panko breadcrumbs (hoping for fried green tomatoes from the last of our patch.  Alas, we missed them) and I had a can of corned beef hash.  So I tried putting down a generous layer of breadcrumbs, adding the hash on top, smoothed out, and an egg on that.  It worked very well indeed.

      Thinking about it in hindsight, I wondered if rye breadcrumbs were a commercial product.  Alas, no -- but it's not especially difficult to make your own.  I might even try smashing up rye Wasa crispbread.  Add the hash, and a dollop of sauerkraut on top, and serve with Thousand Island or Russian dressing: a ruben-in-a-pan!

      I'm going to have to try it.

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Glasses, Better, Breakfast, Dinner

      Picked up the new eyeglasses after work and what an improvement!  This pair is from the lenses-while-you-wait place.  With my (relatively complicated) lenses, the wait is about a week but that's pretty fast compared to my eye doctor; the pair from them will take another week or two.  (And then I'll A) have a backup and B) have my prescription and eye measurements on file at two different places.  My experiences after cataract surgery have reaffirmed that this is pretty much essential for me.)

*  *  *
      So far, the combination of yogurt and probiotic pills seems to be helping with Keflex side effects.  Not perfectly, but it's helping.  I am far less fatigued than I was and have only had a couple of chill/fever cycles in the last twenty-four hours.

      The particular kind of plain yogurt Tam found is flavorful but very mild, and worked well with a little salt and pepper.  So last night, when I made pasta, I planned on trying the yogurt with or in it.  (In fact, I like it well enough that I may even try some of their flavored varieties.)

      The pasta was simple, a bit less than a pound of ground chuck and a bit more than a quarter pound of sweet Italian sausage (a dash of salt on the beef when it went in and a little garlic powder over all after draining), browned and drained, and then a small white white onion sauteed until it started to go translucent, followed by a few fresh king oyster mushrooms and an entire container of chanterelles, a rare treat Tam found at the market.  Each ingredient gets pushed to the sides of a deep skillet* before the next is added.

      While the king oysters and chanterelles got acquainted, I put water just shy of half-way in a glass two-cup measuring cup, slated it lightly and stuck it in the microwave for two minutes.  (Not a meat-eater?   Look into King Oyster mushrooms; they have a nice flavor and texture and work well in pasta sauce in place of meat.)

      Then the sauce -- I had a 24 ounce jar of Botticelli Tomato, Porcini Mushroom & Truffle Pasta Sauce.  It costs about three times as much as the big brands; it tastes about six times as good, though, so for an occasional treat, I'll indulge.  I poured that in and stirred everything together.

      The water had boiled, so I took the cup out and added about three-quarters of a cup of fregula, a small, ball-shaped pasta that is toasted when it is made.  Then it put it back in for a minute, keeping an eye on it and stopping the microwave if the threatened to boil over.  Once it was done, I tipped a bit of the water down the drain, and used a little more to rinse out the pasta bottle and pout it into the now-bubbling pan of sauce (at nearly six bucks, I want all of it!).  The fregula followed it into the pan; I put the lid on, sent to vent steam, and set a timer for a dozen minutes.

      With everything set, I took a minute to snip a couple of piparra peppers into it the sauce.  (This is cheating; they're a Basque treat.  But they're mildly spicy and good.)  You could add a teaspoon of capers instead -- or even in addition.

      Twelve minutes later, it was mostly ready; I wanted the pasta a little softer (get a spoon and have a bite to decide!), so I gave it three minutes more.  The pasta thickens up the sauce even with the added water and the result is a kind of ragu, quite suited to eating with a fork.  Fregula is a good alternative to other kinds of pasta and I am very happy we gave it a try.

      Tam and I enjoyed our bowls of the pasta with some grated Parmigiano Reggiano, and of course, I had a little container of plain yogurt right there.  I added a teaspoon of it to my pasta, mixed it slightly and had a taste: delicious!  This should not be a surprise; tomato sauces with yogurt in them are popular in some kinds of Indian cuisine.   But as someone who is normally not a big fan of yogurt, it was nice to discover just how well it worked with Italian food.  I suspect I could use it in place of sour cream in chili and stroganoff.

      This makes enough pasta that I have frozen the remainder for Sunday dinner.  Might add sauteed vegetables. 

*  *  *
      Breakfast today was indulgent.  We have some thin-sliced ham left over from grilled ham and Swiss cheese sandwiches earlier in the week (with great tomato soup, and don't let the "organic" and "low-fat" labelling dissuade you, it's good stuff, best I have ever had from a can).  So I put a little fancy olive oil and butter in a pan, fried a couple of broken-yolk eggs, and warmed up some ham slices.  Flip the eggs as soon as they're firm enough, blot gently and lay a warm ham slice on top; a couple of minutes later, when the egg is firm, flip again, blot again, add a slice of Swiss and another warm ham slice.  Serve on or between toasted rye bread, and there's no need to butter it, there's plenty on the ham.  I put a little parsley and black pepper on the eggs as they cooked.  Quick and tasty!  --Be warned, the mixture of extra-virgin olive oil and butter is addictive.
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* Yes, the Always Pan.  They don't give me anything for talking them up, and they have a tendency to get way behind on orders.  Lead time was six weeks or more the last time I checked.  It's a good pan, better when on sale, and if you order it online, do so from their website (linked above), fromourplace.com. I'm still longing for their big stewpot but it's a pure indulgence, so I can't justify the cost at present.

Friday, October 15, 2021

Better, I Hope

      Now on the "eat your yogurt, take your probiotic supplement" phase of taking the strong antibiotic.

      Tam actually found a brand of plain yogurt for me that tastes like cottage cheese; most varieties have a sharp, metallic flavor (to me) that I dislike but this stuff is tolerable.  I suspect it's akin to the way cilantro tastes great to some people and like soap to others.

      Now if one of the two places making new eyeglasses for me would would get them done soon, I'd be in better shape.  There's nothing quite like being ill and having not-great vision at the same time.  I've doctored up an old pair of distance-only glasses with stick-on bifocals lenses, but they're not as good as the real thing.

     On the up side, I have found some guides to the Belter language from the TV series version of The Expanse.  It's got considerable differences to the version in the books.

Thursday, October 14, 2021

You Can't Get There From Here

      Okay, quick recap: I'm sick.  I'm sick with what I initially thought was a UTI, but the addition of coughing and sneezing made the overall symptoms a good fit for COVID-19.

      So I tested myself at home: no COVID.  Those tests aren't a hundred  percent accurate, and they're a little more accurate at proving a person who has the virus does have it than proving that a person who doesn't have it, indeed does not.  (There are four possible results, so it's tricky to understand the odds.)

      Therefore, I went and got a professional test, both the quick one and PCR.  Still no COVID.

      This process spanned a weekend and I was miserable the whole time.  Temperature up and down, no energy, shortness of breath with exertion (and sometimes while just laying down) and so on.

      Wednesday, yesterday, I checked with the quick clinic -- no appointment needed -- and drove up there.  The sign on the door said to call in for screening before going in.  Okay, that's been SOP for over a year.  I called.

      I still have the symptoms listed above.  I reported them honestly.

      Intake nurse: "I'm sorry, we can't see you here."

      Bobbi: "But I had the vaccine months ago and I tested negative yesterday.  At this clinic.  PCR."

     Nurse: "It doesn't make any difference.  With those symptoms, we can't see you here."

      Bobbi: "But it's probably a UTI."  (At my age, they require tests for that.  This requires you to, surprise, actually go inside the doctor's office.)  "Where can I go?"

      "I don't know."

      I started to get annoyed and immediately reconsidered that reaction.  You can't blame them.  This is triage 101 and it works that way for good reason.  I was laughing in frustration as I said goodbye.  Still, it sure would have been nice to have known that before I went up there.  (In hindsight, it probably should have been obvious.  We all want to be the exception -- and none of us are.)

      My insurance provides access to a telemedicine service and they have been helpful in the past.  I called them when I returned home, had a quick appointment that included a short lecture about the current best practices for diagnosing UTIs in old women (it's a pretty recent change) and ended with, lo, a prescription that may actually help.

      Still running a low fever but I have hopes for improvement.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

I Aten't Ded

      Also, it's not COVID.  So I'm off the to instaclinic to find out what it is, now that I know I won't be dragging the pandemic through their door. (They have a different door for that, in a different building.)

      Gee, this is fun.  At least it's cooler outside, which makes having a mild fever more bearable.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Still Miserable

      But let's be real: I'm uncomfortable.  I'm not gasping desperately, like a fish out of water (or a fisherman under it).  My temperature is up and down, chills giving way to feeling overheated; but I have had a high fever in the past and this ain't it.  Dizzy, sore, coughing, sneezing: yeah.  And I'm just wiped-out tired.  But I managed to do a sinkload of dishes this morning, for all that I was slow at it and had to have a lie-down afterward.

      Driving is a challenge.  It was a six-mile round trip to get tested yesterday afternoon and I would not have wanted to do much more.  My responses were slow and I had trouble judging distances and timings.

      Waiting on test results.  My working hypothesis is it's a minor flu bug or runaway collywobbles or something equally embarrassing.   It's got me sidelined nevertheless.

Monday, October 11, 2021

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Better, But...

      Still not a hundred percent.  I keep running out of energy.  This after sleeping most of the last 48 hours.

      Saturday, I decided to do a rapid-type home COVID-19 test;* I was ticking all the boxes except my senses of smell and taste were (and are) okay.   These tests are pretty good at telling if you are sick, a little less accurate at telling if you aren't, and (well, duh) the sicker you are, the better they work.

      It's an interesting procedure.  If you ever did any of the experiments in your childhood chemistry set -- or the lab work in High School Chemistry class -- it'll be a snap.  It's easier than coloring your own hair.  Last step, apply the nasal swab to the test strip in the recommended manner and wait fifteen minutes.  Tick-tock, tick-tock....

      Test says I don't have the pandemic bug.  I may have something else.  (Maybe it's the hipster flu -- "an obscure virus, not a lot of people get it."  More likely, some kind of bog-common cold.)  Or possibly I do have a very mild case -- but that "still able to taste and smell" thing augurs otherwise.

      Whatever.  I'm not so weak or spaced-out that I feel unable to do easy housework, so I'm starting there.  Maybe I'll feel better later.  Maybe I'll feel worse.  Either way, it'll be indicative of something.
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* Instacart put a test from a nearby drugstore on the front porch within 45 minutes of ordering it.  Our corner grocer uses them for delivery, too.  I tried that a few times back when things were awful, and they have never given me cause for complaint.

Saturday, October 09, 2021

I'm Ill

      Exhausted, dizzy, disoriented, uncomfortable, chills, a bit short of breath, sinuses drippy, coughing without producing much.  I thought it was a UTI and allergies, and stayed home yesterday.  Today...  I don't know. I need to go get tested but I haven't got the energy.

      I haven't been running a temperature, so I am still inclined to think it's nothing special.  Got to find out nevertheless.

Friday, October 08, 2021

"Yellow Flecks"

      Pretty -- but don't touch!

      They get flatter and duller as they age.

      There may be a few of the classic red amanita mushrooms near the group these were in.  The examples I found were older, unflecked and flat, but very red. 

Thursday, October 07, 2021

Last Survivor In The Roach Motel

      Many years ago, I rented an apartment in a college town here in Indiana.  We have a lot of them, medium-large towns, back then with plenty of industry in addition to the school.  The 19th Century natural gas boom had been good to Indiana even outside the Trenton Gas Field, and when it faded out (years too soon, due to wasteful exploitation), a lot of large Victorian-style homes ended up subdivided into inexpensive apartments.

      Old houses, cheap-to-shoddy apartment conversion, inhabited by college students and the lowest-paid factory workers: they were generally rife with cockroaches.  My apartment was, so much so that I kept underclothing in the refrigerator.*  I also set out sticky-trap "Roach Motels" in a vain attempt to control their numbers.

      That kind of bug-trap has an interesting end-state with roaches: by the time they are full, it's standing-room-only for the head and front legs of many dead roaches, with one or two fat, intact living ones remaining: stuck in place, they have eaten one another up.

      With that example in mind, let's talk about phone companies; the phone company, in fact.  Mr. Bell's big company, though he was out well before they became American Telephone and Telegraph.  The present company of the same initials is not a direct successor: Congress took aim at the telephone monopoly many times and broke it up in 1982, resulting in a passel of regional "Baby Bell" companies.  One of them, a bit fatter and more ambitious, began to gobble up the others and by 2005, ate up what was left of the original AT&T.  The last living roach in the Roach Motel, they looked around for new worlds to conquer and got themselves into the cable TV and satellite TV businesses, an "MVPD," a conduit between organizations that produce content and people who consume it.  Then they bought up a few of the content producers, too.

      It's a sticky line of work, lawyer-heavy, involving large sums of money and a lot of contracts between many different parties. (I have to tread carefully here: yes, it's that sticky.)  Starting up a new (non-over-the-air) channel is a fraught time, and when they sit down with the various legal teams from the various MVPDs, talks may go in interesting directions.  And because these are sensitive negotiations, don't go looking for any recordings; Bell left the phone company in part because he was spending far too much time in court and far too little in the lab.  Contract talks generally share only a final agreement in public; anything else that comes out of the process is hearsay and usually means nothing in court.

      So when a new, right-leaning cable news channel was formed and went to get itself on various MVPDs, things may have become interesting.  The newswire Reuters has done a lot of digging, and is sharing what they found. What it may mean is open to interpretation, and AT&T is pushing back, so make up your own mind -- but remember that no matter who you root for in the Punch and Judy show, the puppeteer benefits. 

      Or, in this case, the MVPD.  And the corporation that owns it.  (Which, at least partially, AT&T no longer does.)

      The last roach in the trap gets pretty fat, and sometimes they get their feet unstuck.  Where do they go from there?
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* When I moved out after a couple of years, everything except for me and the cat received a thorough spray-down with roach killer and sat outside for 24 hours.  I pulled the drawers from desks and dressers and hosed it all down with bug-killer.  All clothing, bedding and towels moved to the new place by way of the laundromat.  It worked, too.

Wednesday, October 06, 2021

Sick?

      After managing to walk around the block with Tam this morning, I found myself increasingly dizzy.  At present, maintaining control of an office chair is about my limit.

     It may be allergies.

     Having to use a back-up pair of glasses that only have distance correction isn't helping.  My vision keeps changing as my eyes heal after cataract surgery.  At least a week until I get glasses in my most recent prescription.

Tuesday, October 05, 2021

Almost Certainly Edible

      Yesterday, I stopped just inside the gate of the North campus to check out what I thought was trash -- big, white pieces of something on the grass, some distance from the lane.

      Close-up, they appeared to be puffball mushrooms, the giant kind, one gone a bit random in shape and several more nearby, including two in the skull-to-basketball size range.

      Puffballs are generally safe to eat (proceed at your own risk: I am not an expert!) and even tasty, though most sources advise peeling them before cooking, especially the larger ones.  Nevertheless, I passed these up: they were right in the middle of a big patch of yellow-brown mushrooms.  The yellow ones in more sheltered areas had caps flecked with brighter yellow-orange: Yellow Patches toadstools,  Amanita flavoconia.  And yes, like most of their relatives, quite poisonous.  When I got back in my car and drove to the building, I realized we had a lot of them, in all the recently-mowed sections of the field.  The weekend rains must have brought them out.

      Those big white puffballs are very probably okay to eat, but I'm going to pass them up.  I don't like the company they're keeping.

      Photographs later, as time permits.

Monday, October 04, 2021

It's Good, But...

      I am enjoying a store-bought cornbread muffin for breakfast.  More of a cupcake, really, and quite competently made: nice texture, plenty of flavor.  But it's sweet.  Almost a cupcake.  They put sugar in it.

      Mom was a Northerner, born and bred; she took Yankee magazine* for years.  Dad's father's people had hailed from Missouri.  His mother was part "Cherokee or something," which counts for exactly bupkis with the Cherokee Nation (they make the reasonable point that tribal membership is as much about continuity of culture as who your ancestors were, and require stringent proof of descent as a first step after which, well, they'll get back to you.  Or not) and her cooking was quite Southern.  While the flour up North is different, cornmeal is cornmeal, recipes are recipes† and she made cornbread that certainly did not rely on sugar for any hint of sweetness in it.  Mom learned from her to cook foods my Dad enjoyed, and home-made cornbread from her kitchen was distinctly different from any mix.

      The stuff from the store is good, but it's not like home-made -- all the more reason I need to buy a new kitchen stove.

*  *  *

      I made a kind of goulash last night, very much without measurement, starting with a flank steak marinated for a few hours in my usual mixture (soy sauce, bit of lime juice, balsamic vinegar, Worcestershire, a dash of hot sauce, tiny bit of sugar and ginger, garlic) with added paprika and parsley.  I was hoping to use turnips as the main root vegetable but all the grocer had along those lines were some huge, ungainly rutabagas.  I like them, but they can be tough, and cutting one up very nearly requires a hacksaw.  I managed to get it peeled and cubed with a large kitchen knife (mind your fingers!) and gave it a nice dusting of paprika, za'tar, and a very small amount of ground cloves and nutmeg before adding it to the pot shortly after starting the meat.

      After fifteen or twenty minutes, a parsnip followed, along with a red onion, a small fennel bulb, carrots, celery and the last of the mixed purple and white fingerling potatoes, cut into discs.  I take my time with the vegetables and did other tasks while I was adding them, so the last of the potatoes went in at least a half-hour after the parsnips and I followed up with some fancy fresh mushrooms.  Thirty minutes after that, I snipped in three pickled Spanish peppers with some heat to them, and the whole thing bubbled along under low heat until the meat had been cooking for about two and a half hours.  I had to add enough bone broth to cover all the vegetables but the natural broth was the bulk of the liquid.

      I removed and sliced the meat, and served it up almost like a pot roast with plenty of broth; it would have been just as good had I diced the cooked meat and added it back in as a stew.

      It was tasty -- but it should have included some kind of fresh peppers.  The ones in the store just looked too tired to me.  Nevertheless, a fine treat and one I will make again this winter.
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* A nice little magazine.  As far as they are concerned, "Yankees" are from Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont; the rest of the North is somewhere else.  It's full of history and country living with a very large dash of seacoast and seafood and can make even a Maine winter sound charming and cozy.
 
† Except when they're not, exactly. My  maternal grandmother came from the cooking tradition in which an old mug plus a tablespoon and teaspoon from from the everyday table service were as much "measurement" as anyone could want.  Her first cooking stove with a thermostatic oven control came along long after she was a woman grown, and probably burned kerosene; gas or electric arrived in her kitchen much later.  Much of her cooking was done in a way that appeared magical to onlookers.   My mother's family background included a lot of northern Indiana immigrants from Germany and a wonderful tradition of baking (which generally calls for careful measurement).  The collision of kitchen cultures resulted in far more synthesis than disagreement, thank goodness, but anything that got written down was likely to be in Mother's hand and not her Mother-in-law's

Sunday, October 03, 2021

How Soon They Forget

      Channel-surfing documentaries, one of the surest signs of my own age are the anachronisms that have already started to creep into even serious media.

      One biopic made extensive use of audio tape recordings made by the subject -- interviews and dictation, high-quality, probably on reel-to-reel tape.  And the documentary often used images of tape spooling past the heads of just such a machine to accompany the audio.  Except for one thing: it wasn't magnetic tape.  It was white plastic "leader," used at the beginning (and occasionally end) of a reel of tape to ensure silence and protect the magnetic coating of the actual tape.  It was distracting to hear a voice from the past as plain leader rolled over the tape heads....

      Elsewhere, the subject of a biography graduated first in her class at law school and won a scholarship to Harvard Law's post-grad school, hooray!  Except for one little problem: she did it well before 1950, when that institution finally decided that perhaps us distaff types might be capable of reading for the law.  So she was sent a (polite, give them that) letter of rejection, which was shown on the screen in an over-the-shoulder view of the typewriter as the letter was typed, beginning, "Dear Ms. ...."
      Um, no.   Extremely no.  Feminist Sheila Michaels, though she did not quite invent the title "Ms.," was one of the first serious promoters of it.  Ms. Michaels pushed that boulder uphill from 1961 to 1972, when Ms. magazine hit newsstands* and the U. S. Government Printing Office allowed as how the prefix was acceptable for government documents.  Even at that, using "Ms." carried a faint whiff of brassiere smoke well into the 1980s or even 90s and the easy way out for a woman working among men as an equal was to simply avoid honorifics.  This might not avoid every instance of superglued toolbox locks or "interesting" edits to one's posted licenses, but it helped.
      A pre-1950 letter from a notably stodgy law school would have used "Miss" and been downright sniffy about it.
      These days, "Ms." is invisibly mainstream ("Mx." has stolen the social-critic spotlight, a can of worms with a purple label that we'll leave on the shelf†), so much so that it passes without notice -- even where it should not. 

      If you're making a documentary set within the last, oh, hundred or so years, it'd be pretty cheap insurance to have some old people look at it before the final edit.
________________________________
* Gee, remember newsstands?
 

† I'll leave it be other than to note that I will happily use whatever prefix people want to apply to themselves.  It's a harmless drop of oil for the gears of social interaction.  There's plenty of sand in 'em already, and plenty of nitwits trying to pour in more.  I'm not going to make them grind worse.  If someone wants to be "Mx. Smith," or "R. Daneel Olivaw," I'm going along: I am not the boss of them and I'm not the prefix police.  Is it attention-getting to use an uncommon prefix?  Sure -- just like wearing an expensive bespoke suit or having bright-green hair.  Is there some law against wanting to attract attention?  It's a thing humans do.  Not all humans do it, but think of the unwanted attention they're sparing the rest of us!

Saturday, October 02, 2021

rot8000

      Remember ROT13?  Wellll....

      籑籮籵籵籸簵 籽籱籲籼 籱籮类籮 籲籼 籪 籽籮籼籽簷

      Go plug that in at rot8000.com and see what you get.

Friday, October 01, 2021

Facts, Checked

      On Facebook last night, I stumbled over someone repeating a particular claim about Our Federal Government ginning up to do something vaguely snoopy and nefarious.  It seemed familiar -- hadn't I read a debunking of it a few days earlier?

      So I looked it up.  The inflammatory post turned out to have used the same example as "Infowars" had.  The truth was more nuanced: the Feds were talking about maybe possibly doing something kind of similar, though not quite as invasive or sneaky.  That seemed interesting, so I posted a link to where I found it: Politifact.com, a reputable fact-checker that always lists and links to their sources, so you can follow up for yourself.

      The responses were depressing.  "Liberal bullsh-t."  "Mostly false, so that means it's true."  And so on.

      No, look, facts don't have a political bias.  Politifact and Factcheck.org have been quick to call out President Biden,* his Administration and Congresspeople when they talk through their hat or make up their own "facts."  And when they post a piece about it (or anything else), they show their work, links and all, and favor primary sources.  It's the opposite of rumor and hype.  Politifact often includes a paragraph explaining why they gave a particular rating to an item as well.  I don't think they're entirely right every time -- but they make it easy for me to go look for myself.

      The Internet's oldest fact-checker (Snopes) started out as essentially an entertainment site and they can be pretty opinionated at times; these newer outfits, along with Tegna's online and on-TV Verify effort come from a journalism perspective and are making a good-faith effort to rigorously and transparently apply high ethical and sourcing standards to their work.  I don't always agree with their conclusions in every detail, but they're right most of the time and they always bring more light and less heat to the topic at hand.  In a media landscape flooded with opinion, they are working to unearth and share facts, not partisan politics.

      It's nice to read and watch news and current-affairs commentary from people whose opinions agree with our own, but it's more useful to get tools for telling the difference between pleasant nonsense and uncomfortable reality.
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* Since about a year into George W. Bush's Presidency, it has been my policy to refer to politicians and other public figures by name and title, or by full name, especially on first mention.  I respect the office, if not always the individual holding it.  I don't use nicknames and avoid the bare last name on first use.  This does not indicate any particular regard; I was just tired of BS.