Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Catsears Are Back

      After first spotting them in 2021, I didn't see many last year, but this year the catsears are back at the North Campus.  It's a weed, related to the dandelion but with less-golden yellow flowers, multiple blossoms per stem, and rounded, furry leaves.  Horses shouldn't eat them, but they don't seem to be harmful otherwise, just an unexpected kind of thing that pops up where you'd expect to find a dandelion.

      The variety of flowering wild plants at the North Campus is pretty amazing.  It's mostly an open field, mowed occasionally and allowed to grow whatever it will grow for longer than I've been alive, so it's a pretty good cross-section of native and invasive prairie plants.

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Gashouse Eggs

      Sometimes called "square eggs," it's an egg fried in a hole punched in the center of a slice of bread.  I make mine with rye bread, so they're nowhere near square.

      All it takes is a large juice glass to make the hole and butter to fry it in; it's better to get the butter melted, prepare the bread, then lay it in and turn it over to coat both side.  I let the break cook a little before starting the egg.  I also break the yolks, tear up the removed disc of bread and mix it back in with the egg.  Today, I put some smoked paprika and mild curry powder one side and some freshly-ground black pepper on the other.  There are lots of variations; it's a versatile template.

      It's a quick, warm, tasty breakfast.  I made two and shared with Tam.

Monday, May 29, 2023

Breakfast When I Didn't Shop

      I worked both days this past weekend, and I was coming off ten days with COVID.  I had eggs in the fridge but no breakfast meat, and not much else--

      So, Spam.  Time to rotate the stock anyway.  I diced up a can of the Hickory Smoked flavor and set it to sizzling in the wok while I did some dishes, adding a little pepper and some (salt-free, trust me, this doesn't need any extra) Bragg's herb mix to the pan.

      I had microwave rice, Red and Brown Rice with Kale and Chia, which just means some added greens and a bit more flavor from the chia.  Making fried rice this way, a few extra ingredients can only help.  Once the meat was browned to suit me, I nuked the rice, pushed the diced Spam to the edges of the wok (mopping up excess grease) and added the rice, cooking it over medium-high heat for three minutes, running the heat up a little as I went and keeping it moving.  The meat gradually mixed in as the process went along.  I added a few shakes of mild curry powder and just a pinch of Cajun seasoning.  (Eggs and curry powder are natural companions in my opinion.)

      When I thought the rice was done, I cleared the center of the wok, broke four large eggs into the space, turn the heat up to high and scrambled them with with a bamboo skewer (the tool of choice for this is a disposable chopstick, but skewers work as well and are easier to come by).

      Once the eggs were done enough -- I prefer them fairly dry but tastes vary -- I ran the heat down, mixed everything together, added some parsley flakes and snipped a couple of Piparra peppers into the wok.  And they you have it, a pretty good breakfast.  Tam put Worcestershire Sauce on hers; I added a few drops of Cholula hot sauce.

Sunday, May 28, 2023

Memorial Day

      Just over one and a third million Americans -- military personnel -- have died in all this country's wars from the American Revolution onward.  When the call came, they stepped up and served, and did not come back.  Even now, more died outside of combat, falling to bad food, insufficient medical treatment and communicable illness.  Quite apart from the danger of the opponent wanting to do them harm, military service is inherently dangerous.

      And yet they served anyway, and died of it.  Do not forget them.  Do not forget what they lost.

Do The Homework Before Commenting

      Read the links or run a websearch and read what it turns up.  Otherwise, be quiet while the grown-ups talk.  A couple of comments, so far unpublished, take Dr. Bernard to task for "revealing the rape victim's identity."

      Indeed, that's what she was reprimanded and fined for, and may be appealing the decision.  Except that's not quite what she did, not in the sense of sharing the child's name and address.  Nope, what the doctor did was give the age, approximate location (either directly or by implication), that the child had been raped and how long she had been pregnant.  Neither she nor the hospital thought of that as identifying information and, under normal circumstances, it probably would not have been.

      Circumstances were not normal.  The Attorney General vowed to investigate (and his office brought the case before the Indiana State Medical Licensing Board).  Some pro-life commenters called the situation out as "too convenient," and vowed to unmask it as a fake.  Pro-abortion commenters set to work to prove it was real.  Given enough time and people, digging through court records in likely Ohio venues turned up a match, and at that point, the victim's privacy was breached.

       This is fairly subtle.  The medical profession has guidelines, the hospital has written policies, and it is irrefutable that without the initial information, no one would have known where to start looking.  But the information the doctor made public did not, in and of itself, identify the victim.  The Indiana State Medical Licensing Board has made their decision and, barring a successful appeal, there the matter stands.  Just don't oversimplify it.

      And don't ignore the tragedy at the heart of the dispute.  There's a ten year old girl who has already been through far more than any child should, and who still has a lot to get though.

Friday, May 26, 2023

Weaponizing Government: Only Bad When It's Not Your Side?

      The basic facts aren't in dispute: after Ohio's near-total ban on abortions took effect, the family of a ten-year-old rape victim from that state sought and obtained an abortion in Indiana when the child became pregnant as a result of the crime.

      This kind of detail rarely makes the news, a tragic footnote to lurid coverage of the arrest and subsequent trial.  But with the overturning of Roe v. Wade, abortion was in the spotlight and when the Indianapolis Star ran a story about the effects of the Supreme Court decision in early July 2022, Indiana OB-GYN Dr. Caitlin Bernard was among the doctors they interviewed.  She provided no more information about the case than I did in the first paragraph, but was further quoted in remarks critical of impending changes in Indiana law affecting abortions: "It’s hard to imagine that in just a few short weeks we will have no ability to provide that care."  She hard sharper words later on social media.

      Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita has shown a keen interest in culture-war issues in recent years (perhaps with an eye to higher office) and was quick to get into the fray.  After initial news reports and Presidential comment, there was talk of the case being "too convenient" and possibly made up.  Once the case was confirmed, Mr. Rokita pledged to investigate, alleging irregularities in reporting the incident to proper authorities.

      The Attorney General's efforts resulted in a hearing yesterday for Dr. Bernard before the Indiana Medial Licensing Board on allegations that the doctor had failed to report child abuse, was unfit to practice and had violated patient privacy laws.  After fourteen hours, the Board found she had reported properly (readily verified from hospital records), was indeed fit to practice medicine, but had publicly shared too much information about the patient.

      Whatever your opinion about abortion, it seems clear the Attorney General was responding in a partisan manner to the doctor's freely expressed and far from illegal opinions -- and that should not be something that gets a person brought up before their professional licensing board, accused of unfitness to practice in that profession.

      So when you speak of "weaponized prosecution," here's an example.

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Take A Powder...

      ...And try adding it to the batter to make it rise.  People will fight over anything, but who knew baking powder had prompted many pitched battles?  The stuff's a step up from baking soda plus something acidic plus keep a move on, which was itself a step up from earlier and more skill-dependent methods.  Baking powder is one of the items (along with readily-controllable ovens and a few other moving parts) that took high-quality baking from an arcane craft practiced by professionals to a home activity; my paternal grandmother, who used silverware spoons and an earthenware mug to measure and cooked with wood and later kerosene stoves, had a huge advantage over her predecessors and baking powder was a big part of it.

      The people who gave her that advantage fought among themselves in battles that went from boardrooms to advertising to whispering campaigns, and along the way funded everything from a series of Arctic expeditions to cookbooks* to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway -- no, I'm not kidding; there's a direct line from the "500" Princesses to Clabber Girl and the connection persisted until recently.

      Of course, this much drama has prompted a book, and I'm adding it to my to-be-read list.
* Calumet, Rumford, the aforementioned Clabber Girl, single-action Royal and WW II-era newcomer Bakewell Cream are search terms if you're looking for home-baking cookbooks.  My Mom was a lifetime Calumet user and I scarcely noticed the other brands for years.

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Still Not Feeling Great

      Coming back from this thing has been a long, slow trip.  I continue to feel better -- but not better enough.  I wake up not too bad, but run out of energy and have to have a nap.  My temperature still goes up and down, and it takes careful attention to remain hydrated.

      This is frustrating.  I haven't had a decent supper in a week.

      P.S. Certain commenters still appear to be of the opinion that my blog is a debating society.  It is not -- and now that I have added them to my spam filter, I won't even see the nonsense they write.

Monday, May 22, 2023

"My Guy?" Really?

      An unpublished commenter referred to the incumbent President as "your guy."  Yeah, no.  He's a reasonably competent politician with whom I disagree on a number of substantial policy issues, who is not frighteningly bugnuts.

      "Not frighteningly bugnuts" sounds like a low bar because it is a very low bar, one that through most of my life, most American office-holding politicians and viable candidates for office (though by no means all) could clear easily.  The majority of today's GOP incumbents cannot, and their unsuccessful candidates skew even more sharply that way.

      Fix your nutjob problem, GOP.  Fix your authoritarian problem or get used to making AOC look like a reasonable, deal-making politician because your gang is so far gone into crazyland that they'll argue up is down, hot is cold and whatever the Great Leader says must be true and real even when it is not.

      Neither the Democrats or the Republicans were ever "my guys," but at least today's Dems are, at their worst, just wrong.  The GOP's present worst is delusional, mad for the raw exercise of power, juggling nitroglycerine and snickering when people flinch away.

Test At Day Five

      I get dizzy if I move around too much or too quickly.  I'm pretty puny; the basement stairs are an effort that leaves me winded.  Despite that, my symptoms are much less worse than they were earlier.  I'm taking my Paxlovid, sleeping more and eating a couple meals a day--

      So I'm on the mend, right?  I ran another test this morning, expecting to see I was clearing the virus.

      Nope.  Two lines.  I've run the blamed things a half-dozen times since they became available, making sure colds were just a cold before returning to work, and they always were.  Until now.

      Still sick.  A positive test is not necessarily a hard NO on going back to work under current company rules,* but add in how I feel and I'm not going anywhere today.  Tomorrow?  I don't know.  I hope to feel better tomorrow.
* Most of my work time even now is spent miles away from others; if I needed to be around them, guidance calls for masking up, keeping one's distance and minimizing together time during recovery.  YMMV.

Saturday, May 20, 2023

Story Problem

      Amazon has generally got the delivery thing all worked out.  The Sears & Roebuck of our age, that funny online bookseller has grown up to sell everything from questionable "sales partner" imports to fine goods.

      All I wanted was paper toweling.  The super-duper giant economy size had a considerably lower per-sheet price than the six- or four-roll pack, so I got the big one.  The total was high enough that they offered free overnight delivery, so I took it; we had two rolls left in the cabinet, but better safe than sorry.

      Yes, Amazon knows delivery.  They rarely screw up.  But when they do....

      I'm home, isolating with COVID.  It's the latest-greatest version that starts with scratchy eyes and pretends to be a Spring allergy until you realize it isn't.  Tam already had it (a milder case, earlier onset, pretty typical of us and respiratory viruses) and is keeping her distance from people.  This morning, Amazon sent my paper toweling next door--

      To our neighbor, presently in a long and difficult respite from major health issues.  She's got about  the strength of a kitten.  Her part-time caregiver apparently hauled the box inside as she left for the day.

      Neighbor cannot carry the big box out the door, down the steps, across both lawns and up the steps to our porch.  I dare not expose her by going inside her house.  She can't even shove it out the door by herself, not and wrangle five cats at the same time.  Even Tam visiting is a significant risk for her.  It's like the puzzle with the farmer trying to cross cross a river in a tiny rowboat with a fox, a chicken and a bag of chicken feed, only with no solution. (What the dickens is the farmer doing with a live fox, anyway?)

      I called Amazon and after a frustrating online chat with a robot, got a human being.  I explained the problem, with only a short -- and genuine -- coughing fit.  She put me on hold, came back, and put me on hold even longer, returning to tell me in delightful subcontinental tones,* "I can place the order again."
      I was skeptical, "And I'll be charged again?"
      "No, nooo, there will be no further charge."
      "That'll work.  When will it arrive?"  I started coughing again.  Sheesh.
      "Are you all right?"
      Hack, cough, "Yes, just sick."
      "Please take care of yourself!  The replacement should be there Sunday."
      Conversation concluded with the usual calls-can-be-recorded ritual, her asking if the situation had been taken care of in a satisfactory manner and me being effusive in praise -- nobody told her she'd have to listen to me coughing off-mic when she clocked in today and being nice about it counts as above and beyond in my book.

      So, yeah, they do have that delivery thing worked out.  Even when they screw up.
* For clarity, enunciation, being neither too fast or too slow, and for comprehension across multiple dialects, "Bombay Welsh" ranks very highly with me.  With Amazon, once you (finally) get through to a human being, you're usually dealing with someone highly motivated to resolve problems with the least amount of customer annoyance, and that's always a good thing.

Friday, May 19, 2023

Enough Already

      Another night of temperatures well over 100 F, from which I wakened damp around 3:30 this morning and began the hour or two of feeling not-too-awful before plunging back into chills and silliness.  I have been changing from a summer-weight cotton nightgown to winter flannel under a sleep sweater before the chills hit, and back to the lighter gown when my temperature rises.

      I made tea and toast for breakfast today, about the limit of my culinary abilities at present, and sat down at the computer.  I got one bite of toast before the youngest cat pulled down the plate, bringing it and both slices of buttered rye bread to the floor.

      He is in temporary exile and I am enjoying a few Ritz crackers instead; I wasn't up to the exhausting complexity and length of time it takes to make two more slices of toast.  Neither one goes nicely with my sore throat.  I'd try oatmeal but not until I feel well enough to wash some dishes.

      Back to bed.  COVID sucks.

Thursday, May 18, 2023

After Three Years

      I spent three years dodging it.  I've had two or three maybes when I felt sick enough that I ran the test and came up okay.  When this cold started, I discovered my saved-back test kits had expired, so I ordered another one.

      It arrived last night but I felt so bad that I was too clumsy to use it.  This afternoon, I felt good enough to try.  It's a little science experiment -- prepare the card, take the sample, apply the sample to the card and start the clock.

      Tick-tock, tick-tock....

      Bingo.  Two lines.


Sick, But Better

      After a lousy night with needling pains in every joint, dull aches in every muscle and a high-enough temperature that I probably could have slept in snow, I woke up sneezing, with a sweat-damp nightgown.  Now I have chills and the fountains of my sinuses remain unceasing. but the pain's down to a dull ache.

      Back to bed, I think.  I hardboiled an egg and made some toast for breakfast, and it just about wore me out.

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Whoa, Sick

      It probably got me Monday, either at work or the store.  Maybe even the doctor's office, though they're all still masking up (voluntarily).  Or possibly even earlier; I was sneezing off and on all weekend, and blamed allergies.

     Tuesday, I woke up with a scratchy throat and gargled some warm salt water, figuring I must have been snoring.*

     By the end of the day, I was dizzy and aching all over.  After I got home, I started having chills and went to bed early, wrapped up in a flannel nightgown and blankets, shivering in the 74-degree air.

     I woke every few hours last night, and this morning I'm still flamboyantly sore (hey presto, you're ancient!) and sinus-struck, though not as chilled.  Big fun!  I'm eating breakfast now and will run a coronavirus check soon, just to make sure.  It's not like the course of treatment is especially different.

*I'd like to tell you that I snore as delicately and charmingly as a cat. I'd like to, but I'm told on the blessedly rare occasions when it strikes, my snores can be heard all the way down the hall and sound like someone trying to cut green wood with a dull handsaw.  It's been known to wake me up, after which I lay there trying to parse the awful sound that ended before consciousness had fully flooded back.

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Why Make Sense?

      My link to Will Saletan's lengthy examination of U. S. Senator Lindsay Graham and his evolving relationship with former President Donald Trump has resulted in a couple of critical comments.

      One wonders about the piece, "...reading like an autobiography," questioning how Saletan can possibly know so much about the Senator's opinions.  The answer -- as pointed out in the text -- is that Graham is a tireless promoter, who is happy to work the political talk shows and make public appearances.  He's as close to an open book as you'll find in modern politics.  The man rarely shuts up.  It's what made him such an illustrative subject.

      Another condemns any praise of Graham as shameful, calling him a "RINO [expletive]."  I'm not sure what praise the commenter finds objectionable.  When I looked up the Senator's Wikipedia biography, it was obvious he'd been a hard worker in the Navy's legal department and I made a point of mentioning it; Will Saletan speaks highly of Graham's initial criticism of Mr. Trump.  In a remarkable example of the problem with organizing a political party or movement around a person instead of principles, today's GOP defines a "RINO" as any Republican insufficiently supportive of the former President.  This hardly describes Lindsay Graham's current publicly stated opinion; he's MAGA all the way.  It goes to show the brittle nature of such an arrangement: any politician without a sensitive finger to shifts in the Trumpian wind may find themselves out in the cold.

      Maybe that was okay for Stalin or Mao or the court of Louis XVI of France, but it's not the way we've done things in this country.  The GOP once had a large enough tent that there was room within it for Nelson Rockefeller, Richard Nixon and Barry Goldwater, and the Democrats across the aisle frequently demonstrate a degree of internal disagreement that borders on chaos.  All of 'em in both parties nevertheless used to operate with a bedrock faith and credence in the basic institutions of our government, no matter how much they disagreed among or between one another, no matter how heated debate became.

      It's not like that any more, and one side is a lot more screwed-up than the other.

Sunday, May 14, 2023

Back On The Rack

      Every time I use the roasting rack in my fancy cookpot, I become more fond of it.  Friday, I encountered a massive pot roast at the grocer's.  Once he was out of the way--

      No.  It was a real pot roast, not a figurative one, tipping the scales at 3.8 pounds and priced to move.  I picked up a turnip,* carrots, celery, fresh mushrooms, a good-sized potato and an onion to replenish the stock.

      Saturday afternoon along about two, I fried a couple of strips of applewood-smoked bacon in the bottom of the pot.  Once the bacon was underway, I sprinkled the pot roast with coarse kosher salt, pepper and some garlic powder.  Once the bacon was crisp and draining on paper towel, I browned the roast very thoroughly on all sides in the left-over bacon fat, adding to Italian mix seasoning.

      Once the roast was browned, I set it out and drained the excess fat, being careful to leave any solid bits.  I added a couple of cups of water, brought it to a boil, and poured in a sachet of dehydrated bone broth powder.  I stirred it thoroughly, set the rack into the pan (the top of it was well clear of the broth), put the roast on it, layered the bacon on top of the roast, put the lid on, set a timer for an hour and went to do other things. (I set another timer for three and a half hours; this is one of the handy things about having a sessile robot in the house: all you have to do is ask.)

      An hour later, I peeled the turnip, cut it into large chunks, sprinkled a little garam masala on it and dropped it in.  I added three bay leaves, one with the turnip chunks and the others on top of the bacon.  I set another hour timer.

      After that, I added the potato, also cut in large chunks, with a little pepper and smoked paprika, followed once the pot was steaming by the carrot, celery and onion.  I took my time preparing and adding each ingredient.  My "existing stock of onions" turned out to be one well-sprouted and one gone a bit moldy, so it was a good thing I'd bought another.

      At about the two and a half hour mark, I added the mushrooms.  They were pretty big, so I cut them into largeish sections.  A half-hour later, I had a look.  Everything looked done and a check with the meat thermometer showed the roast was cooked.  I set it on a big cutting board, drained the broth into a grease separator, and poured the separated broth back over the vegetables.  The meat was tender, with a well-done end for me and a rarer end for Tam; it sliced up with only a little falling apart.

      The end result was flavorful.  The slow-cooked potato had taken up the flavor of the broth and the other vegetables were singing harmony.

      There were leftovers enough for two gallon-size freezer bags, each holding dinner for two or perhaps three.
* Some of you look askance at turnips.  You're missing out; they're spicy and complex.  I can see a certain skepticism of swedes (rutabagas), which are a lot milder and usually coarser, but turnips are darned good, especially in stews and soups.  Either one will do anything you can do with a potato, usually with a bit more verve.  Oh well, all the more for me!

Saturday, May 13, 2023

Weekend Read

     I admit it: I underestimated U. S. Senator Lindsey Graham.  I took him for an earnest striver, a perpetual "B" student struggling to keep up with the cool kids, always a few steps behind and short of breath.  I was wrong.  To his credit, his academic credentials are solid and he's put in years of good work as an Air Force lawyer.  On the other side of the ledger, he's got piles of the kind of ambition that Senators are made of, and he is more than willing to strain at gnats while swallowing camels whole in pursuit of partisan politics.

     A man like that can be made -- or unmade -- by circumstances, and Senator Graham managed to be right there in the fray as Donald J. Trump entered Republican politics and made it -- and, eventually, the Senator -- his own.

     Will Saletan of The Bulwark has done a deep, deep dive into Lindsey Graham's political arc, following him step by step from 2105 to the present and it's sobering reading.

     One vital takeaway: Trumpism is not conservatism. It's authoritarianism.  Mr. Trump's fans at home and abroad like to paint all of his critics as "liberals," usually with a touch of insulting embroidery around the edges.*  The Bulwark is quite emphatically not a liberal website; the staff consists of conservatives, neo-cons, non-Trump Republicans and an occasional libertarian-leaning type, and you'll sniff about in vain for a whiff of New Deal/Great Society/Clintonian/Obamaesque folks there.
* Hoping, I suppose, for a steam-out-the-ears reaction, which they're not going to get from me.  I'm an old-fashioned libertarian: while I'm perfectly happy if gun-toting drag queens get married and smoke pot, if knuckle-dragging Neanderthals stand up a stone circle and howl away at the solstice or if  Joe Sixpack and family enjoy an ordinary church-on-Sunday life in the suburbs, and so on, I don't think it should be state-subsidized. If that happens to make steam come out of your ears, well, it's a free country -- steam away!

Thursday, May 11, 2023

Once More Unto The Breach

      Here we go again.  It's 2020 all over again, with just a hint of 2016.  Presidential-election politics, and Donald Trump especially, has become an astonishingly-sharp Shiri's scissor.

      If you're much of an online person and you have a wide-enough circle of friends -- or you just can't keep yourself from reading the comments* -- you've seen it already in the reaction to last night's CNN "Town Hall."  People critical of Mr. Trump were horrified, many of them citing his mockery of E. Jean Carroll, which elicited laughter from the largely-GOP audience.  And on the other side? The laughing audience.  (She's a Hoosier, by the way.)

      Depending on your personal filter, which side of the "scissor statement" you're on, it was utterly awful or an absolute lark.  There's not much "meh."

      One side of the equation tells me the CNN event showed the man as he is: crass, sexist, racist and ignorant, and who'd want that?  The other side reports their guy was back in the saddle again, and they're thrilled to see it.  The man incites the worst attack on the U. S. Capitol since the War of 1812, undermines the foundations of our system of government, and gets cheered for it.

      I don't get it -- well, I suppose I do; there's an element in the human heart that loves destruction and loathes whatever stands through storm, fire and centuries, just as there is an element that builds and preserves.  Sometimes the thirst for wrack and ruin wins out; to a bored and well-fed people, it looks like fun.  You can tell them it isn't, but until they've got to dig through garbage for food and use a shellhole in the back yard for a bathroom,  they'll cheer it on nevertheless.  Some will keep on cheering it on after things fall apart.  (And heavens help us if the current debt-ceiling brinkmanship goes sour; take that sated, destruction-hungry audience, stick 'em in a depression or deep-enough recession, and they'll vote to flip over the tables out of sheer spite.)

      In 2024, which will triumph, Constitutional order or autocracy?  Snip, snip.
* Never read the comments.

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Pasty, Pudgy, Ill-Nourished

      The problem with what passes for "news media" these days is the same kind of thing as the problem with snacks.

      You could have an apple or an orange, a handful of nuts, even some plain popcorn -- but the shelves are full of chips and candy bars and pastries with an amazingly-long shelf life, all nicely wrapped up and ready to go.  Why mess around rinsing off a kumquat or peeling a tangelo when there's Sugary Goodness™ just waiting?

      Likewise, the news used to be readily available in columns of dry text with the occasional map, chart or monochrome picture, thrown on your doorstep with the ink still damp every morning (and evening, in the larger towns and cities).  Or you could get it in five-minute chunks at the top or bottom of the hour, read by a professional with one eye on a stopwatch and the other on the entire world, a few concise lines for war, flood, fire and pestilence with a heartwarming "kicker" at the end unless they ran out of time.

      Mostly, what you got was news, because they had neither time nor the column-inches to deliver much else.  Oh, there was editorial content as well, on its own page or in its own time slot and clearly marked.  That's not to say the news content was entirely unbiased; the providers had to fit it into the available room, they had to pick what would lead off the newscast or the front page, and everyone involved was human: every news story is a story and every story has a point of view.  They had to stick to the facts; lies took too much effort and the competition would pick them apart.

      But it was fresh fruit and vegetables, and no ranch dressing.  The rise of 24-hour news stations, first on radio and then on cable TV, meant there were vast amounts of time to fill.  The Internet made for unlimited "pages" of newspapers -- and as newspapers put themselves behind paywalls to make up for lost revenue, plenty of new websites emerged to fill the gap, free for nothing but a mish-mash of weird ads onscreen.  And a lot of it was the junk food of news.

      I loved the "newswheel" format, a never-ending succession of newscasts, stories updated as they happened, but it was labor-intensive and the ratings plateau at "meh" unless there's a war or worse going on; newsreaders don't build a strong following the way "news personalities" can, nor does a quick look at what's going on in the country and around the world bring out strong emotion in the manner that hammering away at a few hot topical issues will.  And if that necessarily erodes the distinction between news content and opinion content?  Too bad -- look how well it sells soap and cars and so on!

      And so now we have channel after channel, website after website of attractively-packaged fluff with a long shelf-life, loaded with addictive notions, filling but not nutritious.

      Eat too much junk food and you get fat.  Consume too much junk news and you'll get fat-headed.

Tuesday, May 09, 2023

And There's Another One! And Another!

      Political news these days is like standing on one side of a canyon, watching busloads of children driven by fools plunge over a cliff on the other side, one after another in an endless succession.

      It's horrifying.  It's ghastly.  And after a while, you start to burn out.  It's no less terrible but they just keep coming.

      I have about reached the point where I can't keep on pointing it out, "Look, there's another busload of innocent children going over the edge!  This time, it's on fire!"  Especially when so many of the other onlookers are cheering it on.

Sunday, May 07, 2023

Linguistic Patrol: I Don't Know Who Else Needs To See This...

      ...Other than that guy at Atlas Obscura, but tenable and tenuous are not synonyms or even different forms of the same word.  They have, in fact, very nearly opposite meanings.

      I swear, you turn your back on a perfectly good language for five minutes, and the kids are spray-painting stuff all over it; only about ten percent of the additions and modifications come anywhere close to art.

      Look it up -- especially if it feels like a clever turn of phrase.  English steals words from all over, fools around with their meanings without due regard to origins and pays very little attention to fiddlin' details like inadvertent near-twin antonyms. 

Saturday, May 06, 2023

The Blame Game

      Some days, I swear I'm gonna go Sledgehammer Barbie on a recalcitrant piece of electronic equipment.  User-hostile support only makes it worse.

      We've got a gadget that takes a bunch of meter readings and status indications (off or on?  Okay or acting up? and so on) and hands them off via a network connection to a number of distant locations, while outputting on-off commands from the same locations.  A lot of companies make them.  Over 40-odd years, I have installed four different models from four different companies and worked on at least six varieties.  It's not unusual to total a couple of hundred "channels" of telemetry, status and control.

       The details of how they interface with external hardware vary and I have learned to always build a connection panel; barrier-type screw-terminal blocks used to be standard but the last couple have used "Eurostyle" connector blocks and crimp-on ferrules, a combination that works well with solid and stranded wire in a wide range of sizes.  The reason for this is that with one exception, every last one of them has used some quirky, high-density connection system for inputs and outputs.  They are awkward to change connections on, especially without disturbing other connections, and most accommodate only a few sizes of wire.  So you set things up so you only have to make the difficult connections once and all subsequent changes are made using something simpler and easier to get at.

      The most recent such device has jumpers (with SCSI-bus obscure high-density connectors at each end!) from their devices to panels with custom 110 blocks, a punch-down, insulation-displacement connection developed for telephony.  They are compact, secure and extremely reliable -- if you use the one exact right kind of wire (#24-26 solid) with the right kind of insulation and the proper spring-impact tool to shove it into place and trim off the excess.  So I did; I bought 25-pair telephone wire, put the 110 bit in my punchdown tool and wired the 110 blocks out to Eurostyle blocks, where I was able to connect the mad array of different wires that go to all the widgets this thing has to talk to.  I followed the proper color code for 25-pair cable, making the wiring relatively easy to follow -- despite the OEM having installed their color-coded 4-pair 110 blocks backwards, so each group of four is marked in ascending numerical order but color-coded for pairs 4, 3, 2 and 1.  (That's brown, green, orange, blue, for those keeping track at home.)

      This same device turned out to have a software "gotcha:" if you followed the instruction manual in naming, setting parameters, calibrating and assigning each channel of the interface device, that channel would become "invisible" to the other end.  There's a hidden command level to make it visible again (by entering all the information again) and end-users cannot access it; only factory support can make those changes.  The manual doesn't tell you that, so if you're me, you set the system up and check it before handing it off to factory support -- or you try to check it.  I spent a month messing around with it, trying to figure out what was wrong, before I admitted defeat.  The manufacturer was cagey; all they'll say is, "The manual is out of date," but they won't tell you anything more.  In four and half years, no updates to the manual have been forthcoming.  It looks like they just don't want us in there.

      As a result, when we make changes or have trouble, factory support has to be involved.  So when the network connection with one of the devices became unreliable and we'd eliminated other causes, they sent out a new device, (supposedly) ported all the settings from the bad one to its replacement, and once that was done, I moved the connectorized jumpers over.

      Half of the indications were wrong.

      The first question from factory support, working remotely: "Will you check the punches?"  Yes, sure.  I reminded him that I had not changed that part of the system in any way, got out a meter, checked and reported back.  All was as it should be.  I already knew that.  When I installed this system, I did so in parallel with the one it was replacing, and left it running.  The old system has a nice interactive computer display of all the relevant parameters, essentially a web page of geekery.  At least I think it's nice -- probably because I laid it out and did all the fiddly work to set the appearance, calibration and colors.  It was still okay.

      I suggested that perhaps not all of the settings for the individual channels had been ported over from the flaky device to the new one.  I cannot see those settings; after the debacle of the original setup, I don't have a computer at the site able to access the system at that level, since anyone making the slightest change, even by accident, will make it "disappear" from the other end.  Factory support wanted me to re-check the punches.  I sent him a photograph of them, and followed up another set of measurements.  If you use skinny probes with sharp-pointed ends, you can check directly at the contact terminals of the 110 block, affirming that the electrical connection between the wire and the block is okay.

      The factory tech was assuming we had punched whatever kind of wire we had directly into the block.  This is a known source of intermittent trouble -- and it's why I used genuine telephone-type wire to run from the 110 block out to a more tolerant kind of connection.  It's a lot simpler for their tech to blame me -- "The punches/grounding/jumper settings must be messed up." -- than dig back into the individual channel settings of the device, with multiple parameters to be looked at and possibly reset for each one of 96 channels.

      In the end, I moved the plug-in jumpers back to the original device and -- what a wonder! -- all of the readings went back to normal, just as if the punches, grounding and jumper settings were okay.  We'll have another go at it next week.

      I am hoping the next attempt will not involve a round of mutual finger-pointing.  I'm more than happy to show my work.  So far, the factory has not been.

Thursday, May 04, 2023

Spoke Too Soon

      Back pain is ramping up again, after a day of only moderate effort.  I do not recommend this.

Wednesday, May 03, 2023

Better -- Also, The WGA Strike

      After spending nearly 36 hours in bed with occasional recourse to a heating pad, I'm feeling much better.  Not a hundred percent, but I can draw a deep breath, sneeze and even turn my upper body without a spike in pain from my lower back.  The dull ache has faded -- not gone but much, much less.  Considering that at one point Monday evening I went to lean over and reach out from a seated position and ended up crashing over on my knees, this is a considerable improvement.

      I'm going to spend some time lightening my purse and briefcase.  There's a lot of odds and ends in each -- useful, most of it, but not all of it needs to be lugged around every day.

      One source of weight: I carry two small laptops -- an old Surface Pro (much heavier than you'd expect) and a MacBook Air (which is indeed lightweight) -- and the only reason for the Surface these days is that my employer has never managed to come up with an old laptop or desktop on a cart to do the control interface for a number of devices we run at the North Campus that don't have control panels and only occasionally need to be got at.  They have their reasons: proper security requires official company computers must have current, updateable operating systems and protections and if they can't, they are discarded.  But it's inconvenient.  It appears that a Raspberry Pi will do what I need and satisfy the security gurus, so I may be able to retire my personal Surface and ensure anyone filling in for me will be able to get at the virtual meters, knobs and buttons.

*  *  *

      On Twitter and elsewhere, many writers have proclaimed their support of the Writer's Guild of America strike.  WGA are the boys and girls and etc. who write scripts for TV and film; their last agreement with the people who make such entertainment predates the Golden Age of Streaming by over a decade and as a result, they aren't seeing much of the gold.  The issues are complex, the sides are far apart and I hope you're got some older programs in your to-be-watched queue, because it looks like they'll be a while sorting things out.

      As for me, I can proudly proclaim that I have not been writing screenplays for more than 60 years and I expect this trend to continue.

      "Writing is writing," I suppose, but screenplays diverge considerably from other forms of fiction -- and are sold differently, too.  If you write a novel or short story and a publisher "buys" it, you effectively lease it to them, retaining copyright for later sales. A screenwriter doesn't get to do that; turning a screenplay into a film or series takes a whole lot more creative work from other people once the writer is (mostly) done, so the screenwriter receives a paycheck and (maybe) a piece of any "residuals," rerun money (and that's a big part of what they're striking over), but does not hold copyright.  No few talented writers of printed fiction have gone off to Hollywood (and related locations) and burned right out.

      "Scabbing" at screenwriting might not burn a writer out, but it'll burn a bridge: the WGA bars membership to any former scabs.  Harsh?  Yes.  And that's Hollywood.

Tuesday, May 02, 2023


      My back was aching through last week and got a little better on Saturday.  I spent about an hour gardening, and Sunday, I felt worse.  Monday, things got worse all day,  I left work early and today it has been pretty bad so far.