Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Car Trouble

      It started last Wednesday.  I was sitting in my car at a stoplight, in one of two left-turn lanes where two major streets intersect, traffic zooming by on my right and someone with a pretty powerful car stereo thumping on my left.

      I had the local NPR station (the hub of a massive multi-station operation that covers much of the state) droning away; it's one of the few stations that still has top-of-the-hour newscasts.  I usually alternate between them and the Jazz/Classical station from the University of Indianapolis.  Suddenly, there was another visceral "thump," off the rhythm of whatever was playing in the car next to me. Odd.

      The light changed and I started my turn.  My car -- a Lexus RX350, a fourteen-year-old mini RV in decent shape -- was running rough, almost hesitating.  As I finished the turn and accelerated, I looked down at the dash instruments and there were new idiot lights lit up, "VSC" and a flashing "CHECK ENGINE" symbol.  Uh-oh.

      Work was about a mile and a half away, so I drove carefully the rest of the way there. parked and texted Tam.

     She replied in a few minutes: THE INTERNET SAYS IT'S PROBABLY A LOOSE GAS CAP.  CHECK IT.

      There's a relief!  I checked it, loosened and retightened it, and started the car.  No lights.  Whew!

      Then they came back on.  Uh-oh, again.

      Long story short, I drove home that evening with trepidation, found no good news online, and spent Monday morning finding a shop that would look at my car before the end of the week.  A lot of places don't like fiddling with Lexuses (Lexi?  Lexopodes?); the vehicles are like Toyotas except where they're not, and they're not in many ways and parts that are apparently irritating.  Tam likes an import specialists up by Castleton and I have been happy with their work -- but so are a lot of other people; they were booked up.  There's a well-regarded boat and high-end car mechanic not too far from us, the kind of place that thinks of a Lexus the way most shops think of a Chevy, but they were booked up, too.  That left the dealer, and yes, they could get the car in in a couple of days and provide a loaner for the duration.  Well, it's overdue for some depot-level looking-after anyway, so I scheduled that--

      In the scheduling, they run through the signs and symptoms. 
      Dealer:  "A what light?"
      Bobbi: "It says VSC, Victor Sierra Charlie.  And a 'Check Engine' light."
      Dealer: "And you made sure the gas cap was on tight.  H'mm, I need to check something."  Click.
      (A minute later) Dealer: "Is it flashing?  The Check Engine light, I mean."
      B: "Yes."
      D: "Do not drive the car."

      Yes, they wanted me to have it towed. 

      After more calls, I have a wrecker scheduled, a rental car for a couple of days, and a service appointment.

      The replacement dishwasher and kitchen range just got a few more months away.

      The good news: The rental is nice!  Some kind of little VW small-SUV, which turned out to have a third row of seats (small size) hiding when I moved over my bug-out bag and suchlike to the space inside the rear hatch.  The steering ratio is higher than I'm used to and the cockpit is seriously high-tech, but it has that VW characteristic of being pleasant to operate without any serious quirks.

      Next up, meeting the tow truck tomorrow.

Monday, November 29, 2021


     I needed to bore a 7/8" hole in the top of my nightstand, so I could permanently mount the "microphone boom" that holds my Kindle so I can fall asleep reading without breaking my nose.  I've been using the clamp-mount base for years and I keep promising myself I'll make it permanent.

      Okay, down to basement workshop to find tools for the job. H'mm, it's "engineered bamboo," which is like hardwood plywood, so a Forstner bit will be unhappy. I'm not going to risk my century+ old softwood auger bits from Vonnegut Hardware, but here in the "worn-used" collection is an Irwin-type auger bit with a fine-pitch leadscrew for hardwood, and another.... I needed a 7/8" and sure enough, there was one stamped "14." I dug out a small file; couldn't find the special paddle-shaped file for auger bits. A Japanese-type "feather file" was a good substitute, and in a few minutes, I had a nice, sharp bit, ready to go.

      Upstairs, boring with brace and bit, I had to use a small block of wood on the underside of the nightstand top, so the leadscrew could pull the auger bit all the way through, and as it cleared, it struck me what an incredible debt I owe my to Dad and to two men I never met: Eric Sloane and Alfred P. Morgan.

      Mr. Morgan was a prolific writer of "How-To" books, especially for young people. His books were my introduction to electronics and to building things. Mr. Sloane was a tool collector and wrote many books. Both of them illustrated their own work and both were early aviation enthusiasts. And both of them, like my Dad, were very much interested in sharing the whys and hows of doing things. Without them, I would never have learned that old augers are marked by their size in 16ths of an inch or the difference between hardwood and softwood augers; without them, I would never have known how to sharpen a dull auger, or even how to properly bore a hole with a brace and bit.

      Thanks to them, it was a quick, simple task -- and thanks to them, I cleaned up the tools and put them away properly afterward, too.

      None of the three is still around to thank. Two of them have left us plenty of good information. Alfred P. Morgan and Eric Sloane both have extensive Wikipedia entries and many of their books are still in print or available as scans.

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Holiday Transmission

      There's a new coronavirus variant -- or at least new to the people who keep track of them.  There have been a whole lot of news and commentary items discussing it, but the takeaway at this point is that nobody knows much about it.  Oh, the folks in big labs say they are seeing a whole lot of mutations on this one, in locations that may not bode well, but how that might translate into how much trouble the blame thing is for people, no one knows.  We will find out the hard way, because that's the only way there is.

      The coronavirus appears to be getting seasonal, in an odd but predictable way: it has gotten worse during long spells of staying-indoors weather, and ebbed when people are comfortable being outdoors.  The hottest part of Summer in the South saw an increase of cases and as Fall gives way to Winter in the North, cases are ramping up.  Look, I'm not telling you how to live your life, but having your holiday party outdoors around a roaring bonfire is a safer bet right now than cramming a few dozen friends and relations across three or four generations into three small rooms for the better part of a long afternoon.  (It's also easier to toast marshmallows and make s'mores outdoors around a fire, which is my personal preferences showing.)

      Noodling around with numbers, some 59 percent of the U. S. population has been vaccinated and something between 14 and 33 percent of us have had the virus.  That would be a comforting total, if this were a simpler world--  No one is tracking the overlap between those numbers and you can play "choose your own results," trying to find out what kind of immunity last longest and offers the broadest protection against the SARS-CoV-2 virus in all its variations.  All of it helps and past that, a lot of people know a little but definitive answers are not forthcoming yet.

      Just be careful.  There is still no need to panic or scoff (TV and online pundits, I'm giving all of you well-deserved side-eye).  Be sensible in your celebrations.

Saturday, November 27, 2021

That Was Interesting

     So I went back to the main campus of the Skunk Workings yesterday afternoon and evening, helping to fill in for a vacationing co-worker.  My old desk was buried under nineteen months of trade journals, which I promptly threw away.  My spare fountain pen was still there, along with a few hastily-abandoned projects.  Most of them had been made moot by subsequent changes. (And I just realized I left one that I had intended to pick up.  Well, later.)

     One of the strangest things was walking in the formerly somewhat dingy employee entrance and finding the walls shouting at me!  There's an ongoing construction project on the second floor, with the usual mess, mud and clutter behind the building.  Perhaps in an effort to make up for it, the corridors just inside the employee entrance have been brightened up with colorful wallpaper and giant-sized encouraging slogans.  It's cheerful enough, but if you're expecting well-scuffed neutral tan walls, it's something of a shock.

     The one-way halls of the early pandemic seem to have been forgotten.  Mask-wearing is required in shared areas and people were generally diligent about it.  Water coolers and several doors have foot controls -- a simple (but clever) handle for the doors and nice dentist office type pedals for water.  The pandemic capper was when I visited the washroom, to find this sign on every other door:

     It's good to see the Department of Ambiguity is still on the job!

     Still pretty much the same old place,  though emptier and a little sadder these days.  I started my career in a part of my line of work which had been much larger, and facilities showed it.  I moved to a different segment of the industry, which was bustling at the time.  It appears I'll reach retirement much as I began, in the grand remains of a prior age.  Here's hoping it lasts long enough for a graceful exit.

     The changes in my workplace make writing I Work On A Starship stories a bit more of a challenge.  Increasing automation and improved equipment will tend to shrink the technical and operating crew of the USAS Lupine, too -- not as much or as quickly, of course, thanks to the sheer size of the starship and the essential nature of the geekery, but it's still inevitable.

Friday, November 26, 2021

Gotta Work

      The nature of my employment is such that we're lucky to get any holiday off.  The day after?  Nope. Oh, there are rare exceptions; corporate largesse for the day after Thanksgiving has come along once or twice, and I think we got New Year's Day once -- in the past thirty-plus years.

      Today is not one of those days off.  I do get to start my day a little later than usual.  And, for the first time since April of 2020, I'll be down at the Main Campus.  With...people.  I have not set foot inside the place for the past eighteen and a half months, so that's going to be a bit of a hurdle.  There are a lot of new faces (the Great Resignation hit us, too) and I'm not all that comfortable even around people I know. 

      To add insult to injury, there's something wrong with my car.  Day before yesterday, it suddenly started running rough and lit up a pair of warning lights that Tam tells me frequently mean the gas cap has come loose (she looked it up).  Unfortunately, mine has not.  So it needs to go into the shop, and sooner rather than later.  I may have to beg Tam to ferry me to and from today.

Thursday, November 25, 2021

I'm Thankful for Good Friends -- And For Turducken!

      I'm thankful the past few years haven't been worse, too.

      The food this year-- 

     Modesty forbids waxing too ecstatic, but this year's turducken was a good one.

     Cooked in a lidded roasting dish over hardwood charcoal, with diced turnip, apple, parsnip, a little carrot, a red onion and a fennel bulb added at about the halfway point. Several bay leaves atop the turducken, just for fun.

     On the side, fresh mashed potatoes, bacon gravy made from scratch, and mixed fancy mushrooms cooked over the charcoal in an open pot, with onion, fennel and carrot (since I had more than fit the roaster).

      This turducken was turkey, duck, chicken...and spicy cajun sausage to fill the gaps! The bacon gravy went especially well with it. Cooking it with an apple and fresh root vegetables ensures it comes out moist and flavorful.

     Details:  The turducken got two hours and forty-five minutes; turnip, apple and parsnip went in after about an hour, carrots, onion and fennel followed at the ninety-minute mark.  I use indirect heat: start the charcoal, and once it has caught, rake it into two rows, one on each side of the grill.  Put the grating in and set the oval roaster on it, centered.  I use an inexpensive meat thermometer to check, and this bird reached 190 degrees inside!  Plenty done, even for sausage. 

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Cold Morning Before Thanksgiving

      Let's all think happy, positive, reality-based thoughts!

      For a damn change.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Threats? Really?

      Tsk, tsk.  So 1938. Or perhaps so "guilty by reason of wearing eyeglasses." Same, same; brute nitwits try to outvote math with fists. Not how that works, here in civilization, and you haven't managed to push that over.

Monday, November 22, 2021

Oh, I Get Letters

      But the letters don't have cites, or, in one case, they have half-arsed cites to derivative data.  So they'll get refuted but not published.  This may lose me some "near-fans."  I don't care.  This blog is a hobby, not a business, and the reward is getting up every morning and doing some writing instead of laying in bed, staring blankly at the Stupid Human Tricks in the morning TV news.  That people may (or may not) read what I write afterward is a fringe benefit for me and a lagniappe for them; it's not the point of the exercise.

     A commenter with a predilection for using ALL CAPS for emphasis* wants to know if I am a "genetic virologist."  Since no such specialty appears to exist, I couldn't be one.  What I am, is a techie and a writer.  I have been on what we used to call The World Wide Web since text-based interfaces, "Lynx" (and others) for the Web,  "Pine" and "Elm" for e-mail, "tin" and "trn" for Newsreaders, back when e-mail and Usenet News were much more interesting parts of the Internet than that dorky web-thing and we searched with Archie, Gopher and a few others.  I remember Inktomi and AltaVista, which came along shortly after I got a computer that had a color display and that looked at the Web with a "browser."  I was pretty good at telling BS from real data, and at times hung around with some of the smart-alec Netizens who liked to confuse the newbs.  (That was real fun, back before the Eternal September washed it all away in a flood of cluelessness.)  My work just happens to call for extreme reliability from the critical widgetry -- as I have mentioned recently, 99.9% uptime would be considered a dire failure.  So I am interested in things like reliability and large numbers.  I was the last of the slide-rule generation in High School and gave up scientific notation and three-significant-digit accuracy in college with great reluctance and (on the part of both me and my professors) ungraciously.  Plus, I like reading what might be called "geek history," histories of science, technology, medicine...epidemics.  And I read obsessively.

     So I have been around.  I know bullshit when I encounter it.  Large numbers don't impress me.  I have some idea of the technological path the human race has taken to get where we are today.  No "genetic virology" required.

     With that out of the way, I'm going to do some link-heavy 'splainin'.  The links are to sources I believe to be relatively unbiased.  None of them are to commentary-heavy sites, either Left or Right.  As much as I am able to do so, they are to factual data and solid sources.  Or at least they link to good sources themselves.

     Let's dig in.  The chickenshit† propagandists of vaccine hesitancy‡ are very fond of using VAERS, the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, a joint data-gathering venture of CDC and FDA.  They take reports, and present the raw data; as I write, over 195 million Americans are fully vaccinated, just over 59% of us.  It's a huge pool and some of them were going to die, for a huge number of reasons, with or without the vaccine.  (Excess mortality graphs comparing year-to-year or year-to-average are useful for understanding this.)  Or as they tell us, "When evaluating data from VAERS, it is important to note that for any reported event, no cause-and-effect relationship has been established. Reports of all possible associations between vaccines and adverse events (possible side effects) are filed in VAERS. Therefore, VAERS collects data on any adverse event following vaccination, be it coincidental or truly caused by a vaccine. The report of an adverse event to VAERS is not documentation that a vaccine caused the event."  It's raw data, and has to be sifted by persons with actual medical training.  If a site is just crunching the numbers, it's still raw data.  VAERS-reported deaths (and other negative outcomes) are not necessarily caused by vaccination; to date, there are five deaths definitely known to have resulted from vaccination.

     On Facebook, I pointed out to a vaccine skeptic that the vaccine was "safer than driving on the roads."  I tend to challenge people to cite sources there, too, and he fed me a dose of my own medicine:  "Prove it!"

     I would not have made the claim if I weren't just about certain it was true.  I used Wikipedia for the traffic death rate; for this kind of thing, their numbers trace back to dependable sources. U. S. traffic death rates have been declining in recent years. Taking the U.S. traffic death rate per 100,000 people per year gives us a higher rate than picking the most recent year, and it's 12.4 deaths per 100k.

     To be fair, I started with raw VAERS death reports, even though health care providers are required to report any adverse event after vaccination, no matter the probable cause. The Nebraska Med article gives 14,506 deaths as of 2 Nov 2021, with about 223 million total vaccinations, of which 193.5 million count as fully vaccinated. That works out to 6.5 deaths per 100k in the vaccinated population, and 7.5 deaths per 100k in the fully vaccinated pool.

     Rates worked out as (14506/[223*10^6])*100000 and so on -- my arithmetic could be in error but I don't think so. Those are absolute worst-case numbers. There's no need to go any farther: it's already safer to get vaccinated than to drive (or ride in a car).

     The actual number of genuine vaccine-caused deaths will be somewhere between 5 and 14,506.  Taking the very worst-case numbers for the vaccine, it's still a bit over 1.65 times more dangerous to go driving than to get the full-course COVID-19 vaccine.

     So, my ever-so-cautious vaccine-refusal propagandists, let me ask you a question: do you drive?  Do you ride in cars?   On the public roads?  My heavens!  The risk!
* Blogger's comment window supports simple html, using I and /I for Italics on and off, B for bold and U for underline.  You tell the text editor it is a command by enclosing the letter or /letter in angle brackets, the "less than"/"greater than" symbols above the comma and full stop.  All caps is "shouting" in text and when used frequently, it's essentially an attempt at brow-beating.  I react poorly to this.  Very poorly indeed.  Ask my EE profs, who kept on having to have those three-significant-digit-answers for so long, no matter how loudly they shouted.  Most frickin' electronic component values are only within ten or twenty percent, after all.
† Keep telling me all about the risks of the coronavirus vaccines using the most ooga-boogiest of boogyman-type tales, and it's pretty obvious the real problem here is that you are scared -- and scared of being snickered at over it unless you can get enough other people to go along.
‡ Nevertheless, I don't give a flip if you, personally and individually, get the COVID-19 shot.  Do or do not.  It's the BS-based fear-mongering and trying to talk others out of getting their shots that irks me.  Vaccines only help get a disease under control if sufficient of us get them.  True of measles, true of polio, true of smallpox, true of SARS-CoV-2

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Let's Just Talk

      Readers and would-be commenters, if you are going to send me a "just asking questions" comment expressing deep and severe doubts about mRNA vaccines and making claims about problems in earlier mRNA-based drug trials, you're going to have to cite your sources.

     When I write articles that make factual claims, I include links to the source material.  That's not just decoration; I'm backing up what I say and I try to pick sources that link back to their source material.

      When I get comments that make factual claims, I plug them into a search engine.  If it comes up dry or it all I get are links to political commentary without cites, your comment does not get published.  You're just repeating rumor.

      Medical researchers have been monkeying around (in some cases literally) with mRNA-based drugs for over thirty years.  There are indications they can be useful against cancer, and (among other things), there's big money in that.  We know mRNA is fragile stuff; it breaks down rapidly and one of the challenges was figuring out how to hold it together long enough for it to be of any use as a vaccine.  This limits the long-term effects: if the stuff's gone, it's not going to do anything to you.  (Again, sorry, homeopathy is sheer and utter bullshit, a way to remove money from the gullible.)

      You are not a special snowflake and neither am I.  Get your COVID-19 shot or don't, and either way, stop whining.  If mRNA gives you the collywobbles and you still want a vaccine, get the Johnson & Johnson.  And once again, stop whining.

      Vaccines only help to get a disease under control when enough of us are vaccinated.*  The brave volunteer; the patriotic answer their country's call.  If you want to turn tail and run instead, take your damn white feather and go, in the full knowledge of your cowardice and refusal to pitch in.   P.S., Canada's not taking this batch of dodgers.
* Being "pretty sure you already had it" or doing some Aaron Rodgers-type woo doesn't count.  Nobody's got time to hold your hand and pat you on the head for your special unique wonderfulness.  This thing has killed over 780,000 Americans as of this morning.  That's more of us than died on both sides in the Civil War plus World War One.  Hey, sure, it probably won't kill you, just your grandparents, your parents, your uncle or aunt, your boss or the fat guy who owns the company you work for.  Are you okay with that, or would you like to help stop it? 

Saturday, November 20, 2021

Let's Talk About Vaccines

     If you were born in the United States after 1955, you grew up in a country where polio was no longer a looming terror, where smallpox was gone and other preventable diseases were on the wane.  You grew up in a country that was rapidly achieving herd immunity against a wide range of dangerous diseases.  I suffered through mumps and chickenpox; my nieces and nephews did not.  Measles and chickenpox were rare when I was a child and have become even more so.

     We live in a part of the world remarkably free of the endemic diseases that once stalked it.  And vaccines have played an enormous part in that (measles, for instance) -- so large, and so widely touted to schoolchildren in simplified form that we think of them as almost magical shield against illness.

     But that's not how vaccines work.  The miracle is that these diseases are no longer circulating, or are barely circulating.  That's why nobody you know has had smallpox; that's why in all my life, I have only met one person who'd had polio.  Vaccines are a huge part of how we reached this point -- but they are not a perfect shield.  Effective vaccines greatly reduce the number of exposed people who actually get a disease, and the severity of the disease in vaccinated people who nevertheless catch it.   This then allows the traditional measures of quarantine and containment to work really well; ideally, it results in eradication of the disease.

     Commentators and reporters all across the political spectrum -- conservative, liberal, or trying hard to be neutral -- also grew up in the same lovely, mostly disease-free world, hearing the same stories as children about how vaccines ended most of the terrible diseases humanity once had to endure.  Except for HIV/AIDS, which primarily affected groups that have only the same overlap with journalism and political punditry as they do with the general population, the people we read and listen to have no more experience with pandemics and early-stage vaccination programs than the rest of us.  So we end up with talking heads online and over the air who tell us how the coronavirus vaccines will save everyone (if they're in favor of them) or (if they're opposed to them) that the vaccines must not be all that great since they do not, in fact, entirely eliminate the disease.  It's largely a matter of signalling political affiliation, not science.

     Well-intentioned people like a commenter to one of my recent posts then write, "I am deliberately calling this an injection and not a vaccination. Vaccinations prevent you from catching a disease and spreading it. At best this injection offers a very limit immunity from catching or spreading COVID-19, at best it make the course of the illness less severe. When you have to redefine a word to find your results you are lying."

     Nobody redefined anything.  No one is lying.  The things you learned in grade school Health were greatly simplified, stories for children.  Vaccines greatly reduce the likelihood of infection, which in turn reduces the spread of disease.  They have always worked this way.  They are not a total barrier to infection and transmission.  Some work better than others.  The graphs for measles before and after vaccines (linked above) show a dramatic decline.  On the other hand, the influenza vaccine has to be reformulated every year, based on a best-guess estimate of the strains that will predominate, and the effectiveness of flu shots varies from as low as 10% to as high as 60%; maybe it's not that great, but it's still less risk of catching the flu than you'd otherwise have.*  The coronavirus vaccines are all more effective than the best flu shot; the mRNA vaccines available in the U.S. are as effective as the measles vaccine and the Johnson & Johnson inactivated-virus vaccine is nearly as good.

     Vaccines work in the same way and just as well as they always have.  We have had it soft.  We grew up in a world that had the sharper corners rounded off.  Looks like they might be growing back.  Maybe it's time to grow a tougher skin in response.

     Diseases do not have politics.  Vaccines do not have politics.†  Anyone playing politics with the pandemic does not have your best interests at heart; they've just found a really good string to pull on, and they'll yank you around as much as you will let them get away with.
* What, the flu is "no big deal?"  Maybe for you; it tends to knock me flat, and once you reach 65 years of age, the risk of a negative outcome goes way up.  Even a ten percent reduction is helpful if you're in a high-risk group, considering that one's life is at risk.
† I haven't talked about government mandates; the courts are fighting that one out.  As a general rule, in the United States the public health agencies closest to you -- city, county and state -- have the most power over you.  So there may be Federal overreach in the OSHA-path vaccine mandate.  It's irrelevant to me -- I took action on the basis of my personal health, not what the Great White Father in D. C. wanted me to do. 

Friday, November 19, 2021

Booster; Unpublished Comment

      Yesterday, I got a COVID-19 booster.  This morning, I'm pretty achy and drifty.  Added to my sore shoulder, it's no fun at all.  If my reaction is like the aftermath of the second shot back in April, it'll take a day or a little less to get through.

*  *  *

      The vaccine and boosters for it remain contentious and at this point, if you have decided that's something you want to avoid, nothing I can say is likely to change your mind.  I wish you good luck, because it is now nearly certain that people will either get the vaccine or the virus, if not both.

      However, there's a difference between making your own choices for preventative medicine and falling prey to BS, woo and quackery.  As a general rule, any "lone voice shouting in the wilderness" is probably alone for good reason.  When it comes to modern medicine, the boring, mainstream opinion is right just about all the time.

      So when a comment came in consisting of links to the Thalidomide tragedy and the Tuskegee Experiment -- which were among the things I was obliquely referring to in mentioning a past history that has driven modern rules, laws and medical ethics that put human testing under a harsh and unforgiving microscope -- I was wondering just what the commenter was after saying.  His third link told me: it led to a report by an osteopathic physician who is infamous as "chief spreader of coronavirus misinformation online," alleging a whole host of spurious claims about the SARS-CoV-2 virus, vaccines for it and Dr. Anthony Fauci.

      The overwhelming majority of osteopaths (D.O.) are darned good doctors, with a tendency to be a bit less full of themselves than the average allopathic physician (M.D.).  In the U.S., they get their medical training at medical schools accredited by the same body that accredits all other medical schools.  But there is a little bit of woo to the discipline: it also includes a 19th-Century notion of the treatment of illness by bodily manipulation.  Not every osteopath does this; many (probably most) study it in school and never think about it again.  But any time you encounter a high-profile osteopath hawking "alternative medicine," it should warn you that there may be more flash there than substance, and you ought to keep one hand on your wallet.  In the case of the fellow linked to (you can find him by searching for "chief spreader of coronavirus misinformation online," by the way), he has a long history of pushing homeopathy (utter bunkum), alternative medicine (usually useless) and questionable dietary supplements long before the COVID-19 pandemic.  He was also spreading the false claim that regular vaccines cause autism, and appears to still be doing so.  He has shifted his wild claims into high gear during the pandemic.

      If he told me the time, I'd check my own watch.  This is not someone you should trust -- and certainly not someone from whom you should take medical advice.

      Have your own opinions.  But don't fall for grifters.  Exciting, world-shaking news that will set the famous low and raise up crazy notions is nearly always spurious, so much so that you will come out ahead if you always bet that it is.

Thursday, November 18, 2021


      Yesterday, I put together a set of shelves that I had cut, routed and sanded the previous weekend.  Yesterday was predicted to be the last warm day for some time and the flat garage floor is an excellent workbench.

      Assembling a set of my typical shelves once the parts have been prepared is about like assembling flat-pack furniture: it's all there, ready to go.  Glue, pipe clamps and wood screws, with a big wooden mallet to encourage reluctant parts to line up.  I often load up a couple of battery or hand-cranked hand drills, one to make holes for the screws and another with a Phillips screwdriver bit to drive them.

      This time, I didn't.  Some of the shelves were thinner, "patchwork" boards, and it's safer to drive the screws by hand.  I used a Yankee push-type screwdriver, a good compromise between speed and control.

      I didn't have a lot of time to spare.  Tam pulled her car out and I set to work, and in just over an hour, I was standing the assembled set of shelves so she could pull back in.  Having five good pipe clamps help; I can have one shelf clamped in place, glue setting, while I glue and clamp the next, then go back, put screws in the earlier one to hold it, and start on the next shelf, moving clamps as needed.  You just have to keep moving.

      Four screws per shelf, sometimes with an extra if the wood is uncooperative.  They are mostly there to hold it all together while the glue sets; finishing nails will often do, but working with inexpensive boards, it's better to have a little more holding power.  The screws go in pretty quickly, a few quick shoves with the driver --

      But that's not something I do every day.  I was pushing myself, and when I left for work, I could feel some pain in my right upper arm.  It didn't get better at work; instead, it kind of settled in my shoulder.

      This morning, it hurts quite a bit to raise my right arm above shoulder level, or to try too awkward a reach.  I have irritated my right shoulder joint and now I'm paying the price.   So I'm off to go soak in Epsom salted bathwater, and here's hoping it helps.

      The shelves were looking pretty good last night.  I hope I am able to install them this weekend.

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Of Vaccines, Masks And Influenza

      My post about why I trust the COVID-19 vaccines gathered one chin-stroking comment from a fellow who opined the drug companies were "overconfident, just like NASA was in the Challenger disaster."

      This hits close to where I live; understanding the reasons for engineering failures are a big part of my job, where 99.9% uptime is considered a horrendous failure.  Knowing why things fail, and how the cultures of engineering and management can contribute to the problem or prevent it, is vital.  IEEEs Spectrum magazine had some early articles looking at the sold-fuel rocket booster (SRB) failures and what engineers did to tell their bosses there were serious concerns.  Physicist Richard Feynman did a brilliant analysis of how the Byzantine layers of managers and administrators between booster contractor Morton Thiokol and NASA's launch executives obscured risks* that should have been a screaming red flag well before that tragic launch.

      The thumbnail version is that engineers at Morton Thiokol were well aware there were problems with the SRBs, specifically the performance of the O-ring seals between sections at low temperatures, and were doing their best to communicate it.  On the day of the Challenger launch, they made a concerted effort -- and it ran headlong into a layered culture that downplayed risk at every step ("Those guys always overstate this stuff by a factor of 10; I'll just cut that down to 5x and pass it on to the next level," very quickly sweeps significant concerns under the rug after a few iterations.)  Bad data leads to bad decisions; an excessively-hierarchical structure makes correcting bad data difficult if not impossible. Throw in "launch fever" to get a high profile mission underway and....  Tragedy.

      In contrast, medical research is relatively "flat:" once you get to the level of drug researchers with degrees, they fight like a houseful of teen-aged sisters, both within their organizations and then between those companies, labs and universities.  Once it reaches human testing, test results are shared -- published -- and analyzed; the testing itself is subject to sharp scrutiny.  Bosses don't get to filter risk calculations.  And this does not happen because the people, companies, universities and government agencies involved are such lovely, public-spirited people; it happens because they are competitive and suspicious of one another.  (Then there's the whole shameful legacy of "human testing," which informs current ethics, law and procedure for such things.)  If NASA had six competing contractors making SRBs, and the hope was that most people in the U. S. would get a Space Shuttle trip, do you suppose things might have gone a little differently?  If every country with the resources was building and flying Shuttles, and jealously analyzing the ones built by others?

      Tl;dr: there's no parallel between the Challenger disaster and the COVID-19 vaccines.  And one of the non-parallels is that 60% (and rising) of the U. S. population is a whole lot more people than the grieving survivors of the astronauts killed aboard Challenger by a horrendously-lousy system of administration.  Piss off enough people and there's nowhere to hide; all NASA and Morton-Thoikol had to worry about was being dragged in the Press and investigated by Congress.  The stakes at risk if they screw up are much higher for Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson.

*  *  *

      On masks: they are most effective at the source, not the destination.  Despite having been vaccinated (and I'm scheduling a booster), I continue to wear masks in shared indoors spaces away from home.  I always wear a mask around people who are required to wear a mask around me: the checker at the grocery store has to wear his or her mask the whole shift, while customers breeze through, breathing on 'em all day.  It's a very small effort for me to wear a mask for my half-hour or forty-five minutes of shopping, and protect the checker, butcher and stocker from whatever bugs I'm exhaling.

*  *  *

      Maybe younger people don't remember this and older ones have forgotten, but before flu shots were widely available, flu season was when people's elderly relations died.  COVID-19 is on track to go endemic, just as influenza did, especially after the 1918-20 pandemic.  It was not, however, something to shrug off after 1920; it just wasn't overwhelming on a worldwide scale.  Bear that in mind; "no worse than a bad cold" for you might still be fatal for the person you to whom you pass it along.
* And not just the SRBs.  Having found a management-structure problem that gave NASA decisionmakers ludicrously-low risk estimates for the SRBs, Dr. Feynman looked into the liquid-fueled main engines on the Shuttle and found the exact same thing: engineering estimates of MTBF were routinely inflated by the multiple levels of bosses between the slide-rule/pocket protector engineers who designed and built the engines and the NASA administrators who gave the go-ahead to fly the engines.  Small "adjustments" at every level added up to give unrealistic information to the people who most needed accurate data.  This kind of under-the-noise-level wishful thinking is exactly what the clunky structure of FDA evaluation is intended to check for.

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Self-Defense Advice

      The best defense is the defense you never have to use.  Minding one's own business is a very old principle, often forgotten and rarely taught -- but if you don't go looking for trouble, you are a lot less likely find it.

      John Quincy Adams said as much at the nation-state scale, but it applies to individuals as well.  Being aware of the existence of monsters and being ready to stop them when they present a threat does not require you to go hunting them up.

Monday, November 15, 2021

Why I Trust The Coronavirus Vaccines

      The reason I trust the coronavirus vaccines -- and why issues with the Johnson & Johnson and AstraZenica vaccine were addressed promptly -- is not a matter of simple faith in science or wanting there to be a solution to the viral pandemic.  Nope.  Nor is it a matter of having much trust in the Federal civil service, which seems to run to "C" students and paper-pushing plodders, at least in the lower ranks.

      You see, the U. S. is at something around two-thirds vaccinated by now.  If the vaccines were doing horrible, horrible things to people, or if they do so in the future, that's over two hundred million Americans and the number is steadily increasing.  Two hundred million pissed-off people is plenty more than you'd need to find enough ready to string up drug company executives and researchers along the side of the road, one per lamp post.

      The people who work in and run the pharmaceutical industry are sufficiently smart.  They can do math; they can read history.  They know what's at stake, and how thin a shield Federal immunity would be under such circumstances.

      And yet they're not worried.  They're not setting up isolated, walled redoubts or buying private islands.  They haven't got private armies.  I've checked.

      Therefore, they are confident the vaccines are safe and will remain safe, or as safe as any other vaccine, anyway.  And that, I trust.  People have varying levels of civic virtue; their morals may be high or (alas, more likely) low.  But you can count on their interest in self-preservation one hundred percent.  Nobody wants to end up swinging from a light standard along the freeway, contemplating their own entrails.

Sunday, November 14, 2021

It's Snowing

      Snow was coming down pretty steadily the last time I looked.  Indianapolis has its first snowfall by 23 November, on average, so this isn't entirely unexpected, but still.  Snow?  Already?


Saturday, November 13, 2021

Pork Chops, With...

      Pork chops, about ten cherries, an apple, fennel bulb, parsnip, celery, carrot, red onion, red and yellow peppers, purple and white potatoes.  It got fresh mushrooms after this...

     Started with two pork chops and a quarter-cup or less of soy sauce-balsamic vinegar marinade that had garlic, ginger, ground cloves, black pepper, za'atar and parsley.  The meat, apples and cherries got two and a half hours over low heat; everything else was added after it had an hour or a bit more except for the mushrooms, which went with a half-hour left.  Tender, moist pork, lovely broth, tasty vegetables.

Friday, November 12, 2021


      I...kind of forgot to post anything his morning.  Huck the cat had his regular veterinarian checkup and shots today, I had a terrific headache, and gusty winds brought down a branch on the roof....and off it the to ground.

      The headache remains, my cat has almost forgiven me and the branch lays pretty much where it fell.

      I have been reading Joachim C. Fest's 1973 biography of Adolph Hitler and the more I read, the more worried I become: evil times enable evil men. 

Thursday, November 11, 2021

Veterans Day/Armistice Day

      Today is the day we honor veterans -- anyone who has served in our armed forces.

      The choice of day is instructive. It's not the day of a famous battle, of a great victory or a hard-fought defeat.  Strictly speaking, it's not even the day an enemy surrendered.  It's the day the combatants stopped shooting one another.

      As a civilian, I suppose I have always thought the main job of servicemen and women was to kill the enemy.  But the day we picked to honor them was the day they didn't have to.

      Just wars are not fought for blood or even glory.  They have clear goals, foremost among them the resumption of peace.  That's the job of soldiers, sailors and aircrew; war is simply how they get there.

      "Si vis pacem, para bellum." "If you would have peace, prepare for war."

      To all of those who served, to all of those who prepared for wars and all those who fought wars, my profound thanks.

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

N.B. (Nota Bene)

      I don't know exactly who needs to see this, but for the record: Julius Caesar didn't save or restore the Roman Republic, he destroyed it.

      Arguably, it was tottering already, but Caesar put the knife in and by the time his buddies in the Senate shanked him in return, it was already too late.

      The United States doesn't need a Caesar.  We could use a few more Catos -- and I don't mean another think-tank.

Tuesday, November 09, 2021

I'm In!

      So, nothing too odd so far with Blogger.

      I have a nasty headache this morning, the same one I have had since yesterday.  Maybe it's the change of the seasons?  Even with OTC pain reliever, it makes me kind of short-tempered.

      It helps my temper that the duvet (and cover), which went on my bed for the first this Fall on Sunday, is seriously cat-magnetic.  They slept with me all night, nestled into soft hollows at my side. They were napping on it when I left for work yesterday, too.

      Tam found my missing garage door opener yesterday.  It had tumbled from its special pocket in my purse when I was getting groceries out of the back seat of the car, and fallen precisely into the hand-grab area of the armrest in the door.  The interior of my car is kind of light tan (probably something like "champagne" in the description) with dark brown accents.  The door opener is dark brown with tan buttons.  I had not thought to look in the armrest -- and the opener was so well camouflaged that it was not going to catch my eye.  Maybe I should paint the case a bright color.   Yesterday morning, Tam decided the missing remote needed a "fresh pair of eyes," and she was right; it took her about thirty seconds to look where I had not.  What a relief!

Monday, November 08, 2021

Just In Case...

      Google is making some changes to their log-in process tomorrow.  There is a chance I may lose access to this blog.  If so, I'll start over with a new title.

It's About Time To Face Reality

      We are shambling towards a third year of the global SARS-CoV-2 pandemic with -- possibly -- some kind of an end in sight, and it's time for people who have lurched to the fringes to start rejoining the real world.

      I'm not talking about your uncle who thinks the Mon landings were faked, the "chemtrails" true believer in your office at work or your moonbatty cousin who won't let her kids get any vaccines and thinks crystals will heal.  Those folks staked out their claims to nutjob territory long ago and most of them have figured out how to interact with the rest of the world in a mostly-harmless way.

      Nope, I'm talking about the people who continue to claim that COVI-19 is fake, or no big deal, the people who keep searching for excuses to not get vaccinated (and sharing memes about it on social media).  I'm talking about the people who continue to claim the pandemic just a cover or excuse for some vaguely-defined "them" to get up to some nebulous but nefarious wickedness.

      Knock it the hell off, wouldja?  In the U.S., the pandemic has now lasted from the Administration of a widely-disliked Republican President to the Administration of a widely-disliked Democrat President.  Both guys (each well past the age at which normal men have relaxed into retirement) got into office as Hobson's choice, had a moment in the sun, and settled down to what most modern U.S. Presidents enjoy: public disdain.  Congress has shrugged and junketed its way from a slim majority for one party to a slim majority for the other -- and has at no point been especially cooperative with even the President from their own party when it came to essential legislation.  If the pandemic had been a part of some dire plot, we would have seen it by now.  Instead, it's just the same-old, same-old, except with face masks and more remote voting.

      It's a world-wide pandemic; every country that can make or lay hands on vaccines is vaccinating people as quickly as they can, from Costa Rica to Norway, from Australia to Russia, no matter the system of government or economics, friend or foe, they're all doing the same thing.  This would be A Clue.

      Coronavirus vaccines clearly and obviously work, and if you haven't had yours yet, it's time to go get it.  The reported side effects are mild, and most of them can be treated with over-the-counter painkillers.  The worst effects hit a far smaller number of people than would have suffered lasting harm from the COVID-19 virus had they not been immunized -- and at this point, it's a statistical certainty that you're either going to get vaccinated or catch the virus (or, yes, both, and if so, you will be far better off if you were vaccinated first).  Yes, both natural and vaccine-created immunity does wane over time; how much, how quickly and if one is better than the other is still unclear, though there is strong evidence that the mRNA vaccines provide broader and longer-lasting immunity.  They are not perfect; no vaccine is.  Public health is a macro-scale endeavor, and modern civilization has successfully fought many infectious diseases with vaccines that were much less than 100% effective.

      If any of this was part of some vast conspiracy, it must be that nobody involved had even a tenth of the competence of Ian Fleming's mother.* 

      I get it -- it's fun to feel engaged, it's fun to feel outraged, it's fun to have villains to hiss at and heroes to cheer.  The reality is far duller, armies of doctors and nurses and annoying gray bureaucrats, most of them just putting one foot in front of the other, getting though the days one at a time, shots and patients and long hours.  But we are getting through this; nobody has "taken over" anything.  Pretty much the same old phony-baloney politicians are muddling their way through the same old phony-baloney jobs.  We have buried far too many people while the ill-informed screeched at one another on social media.

      It's time to stop kidding yourself and roll up your sleeves -- or one sleeve, anyway.  Come back. Reality misses you, and wants you to return.  Just slip in at the back of the room; nobody's going to razz you for admitting you might've leapt to a conclusion or six and have now realized it could've been a bit too much.

      And that goes triple if you're an NFL quarterback.  Sheesh!  Kids look up to those guys.
* This is too good to explain in detail.  She may have been the model for "M" and the better Bond villains.  Let us just say the elder Mrs. Fleming was subtle, highly competent and (at least socially) dangerous to cross.

Sunday, November 07, 2021

Adapt, Improvise, Ovecome

      Tam and I really like oxtail stew.  In this time of high, odd and variable beef prices, oxtail has been relatively stable -- when it can be found.

      Around the middle of last week, our neighborhood grocer had some nice, meaty oxtails.  The long cooking time means it's not a dish for a work day, but I bought a couple (along with plenty of stew beef) and put them in the freezer.

      I thawed them for Saturday.  Cooking is easy; just salt and pepper (and a hint of garlic for luck) on the meat and a dab of olive oil in the pan to carry it until the fat on the oxtail starts to render.  I added the stew beef soon after, and go after it with kitchen snips to turn and divide; the pieces were about twice the size I wanted.

      You want to get the oxtails well-browned on all sides.  While that was happening, I took my time peeling and cubing a very large turnip, and sprinkling it with smoked paprika; then in it went, and I covered the pan.

      I was doing laundry and working on a small project in my room (adding a coathook for empty clothes-hangers on the side of the furniture I built last week), and just peeking in on the meat.  Between the turnip and the meat. there was a lot of liquid in the stewpan.  After nearly an hour, I added more vegetables: a nice red onion,* three stalks of celery, a couple of large carrots, and several small potatoes from a bag of white, purple and pink potatoes (call it one larger potato's worth).  Still plenty of liquid in the pan, so I stirred it up and went looking for the next ingredients.

     There are a lot of ways to make oxtail stew.  I usually add crushed tomatoes and beef stock, resulting in something akin to Knorr's oxtail soup (apparently sold as "Tomato Beef Soup" in the U.S. these days, because people here don't understand "oxtail").  I was sure I had crushed tomatoes on the pantry shelf -- don't I always?

      No, I didn't.  Plain tomato sauce, yes.  Plain tomato paste, yes.  Pasta sauce... H'mm, butter and carmelized onion, no....  Tomato and truffle?  Oh, why not?

      I checked with Tam, to see if she'd be okay with it:

     "I trust your cooking judgement implicitly."

      Okay.  No pressure, then.

      The stock looked pretty good and I didn't think it needed any help; I added the bottle of marinara, rinsed the last of it out with a little water, stirred it and put the lid back on for fifteen minutes of slow simmering.

      Five minutes in, I pulled out one of the two big oxtail sections to start taking the meat off.  While it cooled enough to handle, I got a tablespoon and had a taste of the sauce, a little stew meat and a bit of celery and onion.  It was....

      Amazing!  Oxtail is very high in umami.  So is truffle.  Tomato works well with both and the combination was marvelous.  The long, slow cook time had left the stew meat soft and juicy.

      Getting most of the meat off the oxtail bones took closer to twenty minutes, at which point the aroma had wafted through the house and Tam was all but hovering. 

      It was really good.  We went back for seconds! (Not huge seconds.  There was enough left over to to freeze for later.)

      Over dinner, we watched a couple of episodes of Inside Job (NSFW!) on Netflx, a very funny animated show if you take your conspiracy theories with a side of parody.  Well, more of a main dish of parody, plus dessert.
* I buy whatever kind of onion is cheapest, and that's usually red or white, occasionally yellow.  I think the red ones have a more complex flavor.

Saturday, November 06, 2021

Can't Find It

      Arrived home last night to discover I didn't have the garage door opener remote.  My purse has a pocket that just fits it, and it's normally either there or in the center console of my car.*  I hadn't used it Friday morning because Tam and I left at the same time.

      Thursday night, I had messed around, bringing in a new piece of home-made furniture for my room along with my briefcase and lunchbox.  I'm pretty sure I put the opener in its special pocket then.  Friday morning, I managed to capsize my purse in the back seat of my car, dumping out my cell phone and a pen.   Repeated car and garage searches haven't turned it up.  It might have fallen out at work; the noise level at the North Campus is so high that I wouldn't have heard it.   If it doesn't turn up at home, I'll go up there and check.

      This is annoying.  I started using the former flip-phone pocket of my purse for the garage door remote after misplacing it a couple of times; I gave up the flip-phone when AT&T started to become restive about me walking around with a 3G cellular phone and making noises about sticking me with some ugly replacement.  The cheapest iPhone was a much better option, and integrates seamlessly with my other Apple devices.

      But it doesn't help at all with finding that darned remote.  It may be time for a garage door system.
* The center console only at work, where I'm parked behind locked gates.

Friday, November 05, 2021

And Then I Kind Of Hacked My Own Work

      Yesterday provided those moments of happiness and terror associated with thrilling adventure or, perhaps, opera.

      In the course of what should be a routine, even cut-and-dried kind of task, that's not really a good thing.  It was only supposed to be an address change on a critical piece of equipment at the North Campus.  My last-chance (or last-but-one) emeritus laptop booted slowly and took a long time to settle down; the version of Java it had on the shelf was even older than the device I was connecting to wanted, but upgraded smoothly and displayed the login screen.

      Which wanted a password.  The factory default didn't work. 

      Uh-oh.  It's lazy of me, but for anything not connected to the public internet or in-house network, I routinely keep the default password.  No matter how carefully you document changes, there is always the chance you'll be hit by a bus and the next tech who has to work on the thing won't be able to find the set of manuals you used, or won't be able to read your notes, or won't think to look for them.  There are ways around that.  Posting login information on devices that are generally inaccessible is one method, and all the better if there's a door or cover that has to be opened to get at the network port or serial connection; but even those have the potential to trip someone up or are security holes.

      So why would I have changed this one?  Think, think--  Oh!  The passwords (there are three levels of access) are global: the "admin" login on the configuration port is the same one used for the (not as powerful) port used for monitoring and control!  But...what was that password?  That one, we'd posted on the back of the clipboard the operators used for their on/off-duty logs -- but we don't have local operators these days and the clipboard was miles away if it even still existed.

      But hadn't I come up with a strong mnemonic for that password?  Oh dear, whatever had I--  It came to me in a striking image,* just as I had intended.   I tried that password and I was in!

     The changes I needed to make weren't huge.  A new IP address, gateway and domain server to get the device on the new, more-secure (and harshly tested) company network, some minor alterations, and it was time to hit "APPLY CHANGES."

      Oh, right.  It's very Linux-y.  A mouse-click, the screen blanked--  And the touchscreen on the front of the device went out!

      There's always a funny feeling when your blood pressure spikes, your pulse begins to race, and a few seconds tick slowly past before calm memory reminds, "It does this every time, you know."  It's been a dozen years since I had to make any changes to this device.  Sure enough, after about thirty seconds, the screen lit up with text and it talked itself through the reboot process, scrolled a few jillion lines by and settled on, "RECALIBRATE TOUCHSCREEN? [YES] [NO]."

      That trap was horribly familiar.  The right answer is NO.  Tell it yes and it shrinks the display to a postage stamp and you're done until you can get the manufacturer's tech support into the machine, either in person or by plugging the powerful front-panel configuration port into a dual-NIC computer with the howling masses of the public Internet on the other port, which is, of course, a never-do-this kind of thing.  You'll never guess how I know....

      The screen came came right up after NO.  I connected the normal control and monitor port to the LAN and proceeded to remote into the computer at the far end and move it to the new IP addresses almost routinely; it took a little reassurance that it was okay (it's really not) to run the Java applet that duplicated the touchscreen display.

      That was more than enough drama for one day.  It's not supposed to be an exciting job.
* Nope, no hints.  It's a lousy password anyway, for a reason I have no intention of explaining.

Thursday, November 04, 2021

And Right Back At It

      So, I have spent a lot of the past three days trying to connect to a old device.  You have to get in via a specific network port, and it needs an outdated version of Java.

      Three different computers, each running different iterations of Windows, haven't been able to get in. The application crashes. I'm down to the last one, an elderly Asus Eee with Windows XP.  The battery was flat yesterday and it was a bit flaky, so I charged it and did a little housekeeping.  This is my last option with software and hardware readily available, things that I own.  (It's barely okay, since the widget I am connecting to is not yet on my employer's network and is a dedicated microcontroller not running a common operating system.)

      I know of workarounds for Flash but a top-up for my Java....  They're not common.  I have some leads.  I suspect we're going to have to buy something, and by "we," I mean not out of my pocket and not running on a computer I own.  Given that company machines are -- quite properly -- locked down six ways from Sunday, it's liable to take negotiating with Corporate IT as well.  Maybe I can finally beg an official laptop, though I'm more likely to find myself stringing temporary network cables across the floor.

Wednesday, November 03, 2021

Palpable Ignorance

     Sometimes we don't know what we don't know.  Sometimes we don't want to.

     The fatal shooting on the set of the film Rust has provided a long train of examples of this.  They fall into two categories:

     One is obvious to anyone who has much experience with firearms at more than the most casual level: a lot of people in the film, news and related businesses have no clear idea of how firearms function, what the various parts of a revolver are called, and what they do.  From reporters who don't know enough to ask enlightening questions to pundit who launch off on tangents to an Assistant Director who apparently called a gun cold when he didn't even know the name of the spinny thing where the cartridges go, there's a lot of ignorance, much of it masquerading and knowledge.

     That lack of knowledge is one of the ways tragic accidents are enabled.  If you don't know how the thing works, you have zero business handling it in real life -- or telling other people how it ought to be handled.

     The other flavor of ignorance is about acting and the visual recording* of fiction.  Acting is a form of play, akin to the impromptu scenes and scenarios that children create with a few toys and costumes, with toy vehicles or dolls.  It's not "for real," but it can be very serious -- and a professional actor has to make it look real.  There's a lot of trust involved; the stereotypical acting exercise has one person deliberately falling backwards into the arms of one or more people who they cannot see, and relying on those people to catch them before they come to harm.

     Actors stage blood-soaked, deadly scenes -- and then the shout comes, "Cut!" and all the casualties get up and swarm to the Craft Services table for a snack, joking and gossiping.  The bottle broken over an actor's head is safe(ish) sugar "glass" or (more likely) a modern safe-breaking plastic; the baseball bat one actress bashes another with is painted foam rubber.  Nobody dies dead on a movie set.  Actors expect that.  And "actor time" is expensive; everyone else can be replaced, but once a part has been cast and there are scenes in the can, the production needs that face, that body, that way of moving.  You want the main actors in their role and concentrating on it, not bored, tired or cranky (or, heavens forbid, stoned).  You really don't want them injured -- especially since scenes are often shot out of narrative order, all the shots at one set or location get done before moving on to the next.  So the leads are pampered; lighting and camera angles are set up using same-size stand-ins with the same complexion and hair color as the actor.  This is not because those actors are inherently special, it's because they're costly if not impossible to replace.  It's a rare movie star who does much in the way of setup or even stunt work.

     Actors come to the set expecting everything will be laid out ready for safe play.  They expect everyone will go home safe after the day's production is done.  They are, in fact, about as responsible as kids with cap guns, dolls and toy trucks.  Every day, actors on stages, sets and locations do things that would get them or others arrested, injured or killed if done in the real world -- and they expect to do them safely.  They can't flinch or balk.  They are expected to trust.

     Add those two (or is it three?) kinds of ignorance together, plop in a generous dollop of distaste for the actor involved, and you get to where we are today, or where I was this morning, watching an online interview in which a reporter who didn't know what questions to ask was interviewing attorneys who were not present at the scene about precisely what happened, and getting replies as muddled at her questions while scurrilous comments about the actor, director, armorer, politicians and Hollywood in general scrolled alongside.

     You can't fake a working revolver that has to have the parts moving; you can fake the cartridges when the camera is looking into the muzzle, but whatever you use for that has got to provide the projectiles nestled in their chambers in the cylinders.  The simplest way is to load real bullets into empty brass, with either discharged primers or none at all -- and the only way to check for safety is with a close, detailed, intelligent inspection of every cartridge in the cylinder.  It's a job for a specialist -- the set armorer or gun wrangler.  If you're not a "gun person," professionally or on a hobby basis, you won't have the least idea what to look for.  Most actors are not shooters; there are a handful of exceptions but in general, they're about as likely to have detailed knowledge about guns as a demographically-comparable group of plumbers or accountants.  Sure, in a film with guns in it, their job is to look like they know what they are doing; and in a film about nuclear physics, the actors have to look like they understand that, too.  Nevertheless, they can't help with the Manhattan project.

     It's easy to sneer at people or classes of objects you don't like.  It's easy to dream up reasons why they are despicable.  It's a lot more difficult to realize that bad outcomes are not always a direct result of inherent badness or dislikability.

     We know who pulled the trigger, but past that?  Someone brought live rounds onto a movie set.  Someone loaded a live round into the revolver.  Someone who was responsible for checking did not check it properly.  Who are those someones?  I don't know, but I have confidence that local law enforcement will find out, if anyone can.
* A lot of people still say "filming" and a lot of productions do go to film in the first generation.  Others spool right to digital storage.  I'm hoping nobody is shooting on videotape these days, but it's not impossible.  But at some point between the set and your screen, these days it is stored and transmitted as bits.  So I'm going to use the generic term "visual recording."  Sound may come along, or it may get dubbed in later; sets and locations are full of extraneous noises and we'd probably all be surprised at how much dialog is looped in later, along with all the Foley work, other effects and music.

Tuesday, November 02, 2021

Better To Talk About Dinner

      I was going to do a little think-piece on how we probably get the Congressional representation we deserve.  Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's district undoubtedly has a majority of eat-the-rich, socialist-leaning voters with no patience for detailed economics; Marjorie Taylor Greene's voters most likely dote on conspiracy theories and their vision of old-time family values.  You and I might consider one group or another (or both) a pack of howling fools -- but they showed up and voted; presumably, if the people of those districts wanted someone else, they would have shown up and voted for them.  (I haven't looked at turnout in their elections but the people who stay home on election day are usually sufficient to swing the results, especially in down-ticket contests.)

      Over in the Senate, Democrat Joe Manchin represents West Virginia -- but only so long as he also respects coal.  The tiny state is not only a top exporter of coal, they're a top exporter of coal-fired electricity.  His party might be fuming at him, but that's not going to change the reality.  In an earlier day, stymied Senate Dems would have hunted up a squishy Republican or two and horse-traded for votes to get around their recalcitrant Senator, but that (and its other-sided counterpart) is out of the question these days, especially for high-profile legislation.

      That was what I was going to write about.  But what's the point?  People will just yell at me that AOC and/or MTG is Teh Debbil, a cause and not a symptom; that Manchin is a traitor or a saint instead of a guy who wants to keep his nice Senate job with its office and junkets and perqs.

      So instead, I'll write about supper last night.  I was hungry, chilled and short on time.  I didn't want to get too many pans dirty.  Pasta sounded good; I figured on sausage, mushrooms, some fresh vegetables and....

      And what?  I reached the grocery store parking lot, still thinking.  This was about the right season for the store of have prepared zucchini in the vegetable case.  I still had some tiny fregula, tiny pasta that does most of its cooking in the sauce.  Maybe they'd work well together.

      Sure enough, they have some nicely-cubed zucchini with diced red bell pepper, shredded Parmesan cheese and quite a lot of finely-diced garlic, in a microwaveable tray.  I picked up a small red onion, some fresh celery (having used up the last at home) and one each hot and mild cased Italian sausages.  Maitake mushrooms (Grifola frondosa, sometimes called hen-of-the-woods) looked good and they had Sanremo pasta sauce -- not the "Truffle & Tomato" version I was hoping for, but the regular Marinara version, which turned out to be outstanding. 

      At home, it's a simple matter to squeeze the sausages out of their casings, brown and crumble them, and drain most of the fat before pushing it to the edges of the pan and sauteing the onion, a large stalk of celery and the equivalent of a large carrot (all diced) in the center, followed by the mushroom.  (Most recipes will have you do the vegetables or the meat first, remove it and set it to the side to be added back later.  If your timing is good, you can avoid this -- the sausage should be almost done before you get it out of the way and add the vegetables.  If it browns a little more on the bottom, that's fine -- but don't burn it.) 

      Meanwhile, I had boiled about two-thirds of cup of salted water in a 2-cup Pyrex measuring cup in the microwave, added the same amount of fregula, and given it a couple of thirty-second spins with a rest between them.  Keep an eye on it -- it will boil over in a trice!

      The mushrooms were done enough, so I poured the sauce over the contents of the pan, used a little hot water from the fregula to rinse out the bottle into the pan (you can also use a little Chianti), drained most of the rest of the water off the pasta and stirred it into the pan.  A little extra water won't hurt -- it boils off.  I put the lid on the pan, turned to vent steam.

      All of that was about fifteen minutes of steady work.  The pasta takes at least fifteen minutes to cook, so cleared up my work area (cutting board, knife, various kinds of trash and vegetable leavings).  I added a little basil and parsley to the sauce and gave it another stir, set up places for supper, and nuked the zucchini; it takes four or five minutes.

      Serving is simple: put a layer of the zucchini mixture in the bottom of a bowl and ladle the sauce over it.  It's thick and rich; the summer squash moderates the sauce and spicy sausage.  One bowl of it is more than enough for a chilly Autumn evening.  The smaller-than-pearl pasta remains a favorite; it's not overwhelming but adds body and a subtle flavor.

      Total time from setting out the pan -- I used the deep, non-stick Always skillet -- to serving was under forty-five minutes.  I did have to chase Tam out from in front of the fridge at one point; the narrow galley kitchen at Roseholme Cottage is best visited at the door to the dining room, conveniently near the stove and sink.  But she'd entered to get a soft drink and stayed to discuss politics -- notions like House districts getting the kind of lunatic they deserve and what the Dems were going to do about Senator Manchin, and so on.

Monday, November 01, 2021

Welcome To Monday

      Hooray, they've picked up the trash this morning!  Or at least that's what it sounded like; for all I know, a car-smashing robot waddled down the street, quietly crumpling parked vehicles into compact cubes which it proceeded to ingest.  But it certainly sounded like the trash being picked up.

      This is significant, since it was supposed to be picked up Friday morning.  But better late than never.  The city's trash-collecting contractor for our area has been running shorthanded (and, according to rumor, struggling with truck problems: their maintenance shop is short on staff, too) since last year and as a result, they've been playing a kind of "neighborhood roulette" as they shuffle drivers and routes.  Every week, some part of Broad Ripple and SoBro gets their trash picked up one (or more) business days late.  I think two working days is far as they have ever fallen behind, which is commendable.  The pay's relatively good, the hours aren't terrible -- but it does call for skill: maneuvering a massive truck through narrow residential streets with curbside parking and picking trash cans from among the parked cars with a big hydraulically-operated claw is tricky business.  It's not a job you can fill by waving twenty-dollar bills at people down on their luck.
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      I buried the last of the tomatoes yesterday.  Having been so very sick as the growing season drew to a close, I ended up with about a dozen tomatoes much too long on the vine.  We grew them on the slight mound of dirt and wood chips in the back yard where hackberry tree used to stand, and I have been digging holes in it and burying damaged tomatoes (and sometimes ash from the grill -- the soil's relatively acidic) in them all along.  So I dug a much larger hole and gave the last tomatoes a proper send-off.  There's some basil and what I think is thyme still growing; Tam planted them and we'll see how well they fare.

      The tomato plants were gifts from one of my nieces, extras left when her tomato starts succeeded beyond her expectations.  I planted them thinking in terms of the spindly tomato plants we grew in the vegetable garden at my childhood home -- mostly cherry tomatoes, never very tall.  What grew in the back yard were big tomato bushes; by mid-summer, they were well ahead of the efforts Tam and I made to support them, and growing much too close together.  They provided plenty of tomatoes nevertheless, and enlivened a dull summer.
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      Thinking over the past twelve months, I realized I have very few memories of last winter.  It was a lousy, stressful time for everyone; I didn't do much but work and worry (and cook).  The winter began with discovering the furnace needed to be replaced and that was followed by the dishwasher conking out.  The furnace replacement was rush-urgent, but come December, I will have been washing dishes by hand for a year.   I would still really like to replace the dishwasher and the stove, but it will probably have to wait.