Sunday, December 31, 2023

2023 Waltzes Away

     The year is ending in waltz time.  Have a look at the calendar: today is 123123.  Can't say this year's got much to dance over, other than the COVID-19 pandemic receding to a persistent hazard, especially for those still avoiding the vaccine.  We're a lot better off now, with effective treatments, but the damnable virus is here to stay, right next to the flu.

*  *  *

     Politics remains a worry.  Gone are the days when I could poke fun at the tail-chasing ineffectiveness and occasional dangers of the Federal government, secure in the knowledge that it would all work out in the end, while keeping legislators, the Executive branch and a wide array of bureaucrats busy and out of worse trouble.  Nope, they've managed to screw that up and now I watch 'em warily, waiting for them to find a new next shoe to drop.  It turns out they have as many as a centipede, and the current crop of office-holders hurls them with heedless abandon.

     I'm not impressed.  All systems of government are bad, compromises we make to avoid the necessity of having to go to war with the next city over, or those awful people down the street, but some are a lot worse than others.  Ours has been one of the least bad for a long time, and a good many people appeared to be trying to make it even less bad.  A lot of them have given up; some of them (ahem, Republicans, mostly, though the Dems have still got a Senatorial Menendez to yeet) have decided they'd prefer it to be even more bad.

     It's got me voting regularly -- voting against crummy candidates and incumbents, mostly, rather than for, but I'm certainly not going to pass up the opportunity to chime in when so many people are pushing for autocracy and the mailed fist.

*  *  *

     With all this talk of waltzes and hard times, the Boswell Sisters offer something different, close harmony and a willingness to fiddle with tempo and key that reminds me our country -- our fellow citizens -- can manage chaos pretty well.  Sometimes brilliantly.  We may get through this yet.

     See there? Some good things have come from Louisiana. It's not all Kingfishing.

Wednesday, December 27, 2023

Bright Moon

     The Moon was shining through high, mottled clouds last night.  I tried a few photos with my phone but it doesn't have the lens for for the job.

     It still annoys me that there aren't any city lights up there.  Let alone a hotel.

     Tam and I have been watching For All Mankind, the Apple TV alternate history in which the Soviet Union beat the U. S. to land the first man on the moon, setting Alexi Leonov down between Apollo 10's close-enough-to-touch dress rehearsal (yes, that really happened) and the Apollo 11 landing.

     In the series, the USSR space program's Chief Designer Sergei Korolev survived instead of dying during surgery in 1966.  Maybe he hadn't been sent to a gulag and worked over in the alternate universe; they haven't said.

     The series takes real social issues of the day (it starts in 1969 and by the start of second season, it's up to 1983) and lets them play out against the background of ongoing, competitive Lunar explorations, a working Skylab supported by Space Shuttles as originally planned, and a Cold War that may be teetering closer to the brink than the real one ever came.  If you get all hot under the collar about DEI, it may not be your cup of tea; if you didn't live through those years or study recent history, you may have a little trouble keeping up.  But the series, so far, is a great example of how to tell a thrilling hard-SF story, character-driven and full of moments that carry what the late Sir Terry Pratchett called "narrative inevitability."  There's a lot of promise and a lot of payoff.

     It brings back the excitement I remember from the Apollo years.  We were landing on the Moon!  Giant rockets were thundering into the sky!  I still remember the family vacation when were traveling up an interstate nearly on the other side of Florida during an Apollo launch.  Cars began pulling over and stopping, and so did we, to watch the huge rocket making its way, a pillar of flame climbing heavenward.

     Highly recommended, especially if you enjoy a good story.  Alas, in the end, it is only a story.  The Russians never got there.  We didn't stay on the Moon.  There's no hotel.  Yet.

Monday, December 25, 2023

Conversations With The Robot

     Along about noon-thirty today, the sun was shining and it was warm, or warm as November goes, which is pretty darned good for the last week in December.  The forecast as of last night was kind of wet.  I've got a pork roast marinating in the fridge and this and that to cook with it.  I was wondering if it was a better stovetop or grill project, so I asked the robot:

     "Alexa, will it rain today?"


     I took another look out the window.  Sunshine.  Green grass and birdsong.  I don't know how the old boy managed to land and take off in that sleigh overnight.

     "Alexa, are you high?" 


     "Alexa, when. Is. It. Going. To. Rain?"


     "It is not, either."

     I made myself a snack and puttered around the kitchen.  About 1:30, the first few raindrops fell and it's spattering down pretty steadily now.  Looks like it'll be stovetop Hoosier pork vindaloonie for Christmas.

     Starting to think the robot lives west of town, out by the airport, where the weather first hits the county line, and she's mainly worried about her risk of rust if she goes outdoors.

Happy Holidays!

     And if you don't like the generic, one-size-fits-most version, well -- too bad.  I want to wish maximum cheer to the largest number of people, and it is my earnest wish that each and every one of you will take it in a way consistent with your own culture, beliefs and traditions, and not be a sourpuss about it.

     Life is too short to keep on Scrooging yourself.

Sunday, December 24, 2023

Christmas Eve

     Here we are, Christmas Eve.  We got this far and that's something.

     I will not, this day, hector you about politics.  Not even the most positive developments of recent days are anything to celebrate, at least in my opinion; they are points we should never have reached, blots on the timeline that shame, guilt, character or the censure of wiser peers once would have prevented.

     So to hell with that.  You are only the boss of you and I am only the boss of me, and we should each proceed with hope and the firm intention to take the long view and do the right thing, rather than give way to dark fantasies of despair.  The year's longest night is behind us.  New hope is born and surely there are brighter days ahead.

Thursday, December 21, 2023

Not To Grinch, Here

     Nope.  I wouldn't want to diminish anyone else's enjoyment of the holiday season.  Humans have been celebrating getting through the longest night of the year for about as long as they've been keeping track of the seasons, and the layer upon layer of religious and civil celebration this time of year has accumulated is truly a marvel.

     Dark days and long nights are hard.  True when you're a skin-clad hunter-gatherer, true when you live in the 21st Century with a talisman in your pocket that connects to the whole world, faster than thought.*  We darned well ought to have a celebration.

     But I've got to tell you, it's a sucky time of the year for me.  I get short-tempered.  I feel a lot of stress.  And it's not helping that my employer's yearly employee review process starts in mid-December, with an essay-type "Justify Your Continued Existence" form due by the end of the month, followed by three to four months of waiting for the process to grind through the system and come back to you.  The whole thing is designed for upwardly-mobile employees, with the benign intent of discovering ambition and talent -- a great idea for the young but frustrating when you're 65 and have been firmly told you're never going to get any higher on the ladder.

     Other than my siblings, I have no close family left.  The big holiday gatherings ended as my mother's health faded and I find that I miss them, stressful though they were.  I stopped marking the season at home decades ago; my house is cluttered enough without trying to shove in a fire-risk tree and cat-poisonous flowers and my life is cluttered enough without pressure to feign a holiday spirit I do not feel.

     I wish you a Merry Christmas and/or Happy Holidays.  I wish myself a successful endurance of the worst time of the year.
* And we've got the social media to prove it.

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

...The Supremes....

     Nope, not the singing group that propelled Diana Ross to stardom -- we should be so lucky -- but the United States Supreme Court, which as near as I can tell, is going to have a busy docket of Donald Trump and Trump-adjacent cases for 2024.

     I know what I have concluded about the man's actions; I know what the January 6 Committee concluded.  Now it's the Supreme Court's turn.  I'm figuring they'll focus on narrow technicalities, not sweeping principles; this Court has shown itself willing to stand up to the guy a little, but they haven't been overly spineful and Justices Thomas and Alito appear to be in the pocket* of our home-grown right-wing oligarchs.  I wouldn't mind that, except those selfsame oligarchs are Team Trump, not Team Institutional Republican-like-my-parents.  The rest of 'em, who knows; Chief Justice Roberts doesn't like rocking the boat (not, usually, a terrible quality in a Chief Justice), the Trump appointees have not shown a huge inclination to dance with the guy that brung 'em† and the left-leaning Justices parse the law at least as carefully as any of their peers.

     Is the President an Officer of the United States?  (Historical debate on the 14th Amendment and Chief Justice Roberts say very different things.)  Is whipping up a crowd to go break into the Capitol and send Congress fleeing in an effort to disrupt the tally of Electoral College votes an insurrection?  Is there a lawyerly way to weasel out of making the kind of decision that results in credible threats to one's personal safety?  We'll find out, in the next exciting episode, same time, same channel!  It's just a pity William Dozier isn't around to narrate it.  And that it's real life and not a campy farce.  Burgess Meredith chewing up the scenery would be a relief.
* These two aren't looking great, ethically, and it makes me sad.  Maybe we should do the Baskin-Robbins free ice-cream thing with Supreme Court Justices: pay em so lavishly no zillionaire can bid high enough to influence 'em.  But there's always some damn thing you can buy a person with....
† Nor should they, or any other Justice, either.  It's a lifetime job at excellent pay (despite Justice Thomas's complaints) and they are supposed to be paying attention to what the law says, not what the President who picked them would like.  How any Supreme Court Justice can have trouble getting a loan to buy a house (etc.) is a mystery to me; it's not like they're at risk of getting laid off or fired, or left behind when the Court is moved to a right-to-work state to reduce labor costs.

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Hear Hoofbeats, Expect Horses

     It's rarely zebras.  And outside of zebra country, in places where herds of horses have run for centuries?  It's not going to be zebras.  It's not going to be moose.

     In Europe, they've been staging nasty wars for centuries.  One country or another starts to get stroppy and the next thing you know, there's a problem and unless it is addressed promptly, it festers and spreads.  Napoleon, the Central Powers, Hitler, that stuff you read about in school, it's just the tip of the iceberg.  From at least the Seven Years' War onward, they've been only too happy to let their wars spread.

     The present conflagration is Russia's invasion of Ukraine, but anyone who thinks it will stop there has been whistling past history's graves.

     Congress -- specifically, the U. S. House of Representatives -- has stymied American funding to support Ukraine's war effort.  They say they're concerned about the U. S. border, which today's Republican party likes to claim is "wide open."  (It's not, and I'd like to drop a random group of Congressbeings into Mexico to make their way home via unofficial channels so they can encounter the Border Patrol and find out for themselves.)  That's their excuse for holding money for Ukraine hostage.

     Right now, the conflict in Europe is as cheap a fight with Russia as we're ever going to get: a chance to use up aging military supplies, find out how our stuff holds up against what Russia has under real-world conditions, and do so without spilling a drop of American blood.  Or we can do what the House seems to want -- hang back, complain it's not our fight, and let Mr. Putin succeed in his efforts to regain the former Soviet empire.  Sooner or later, those efforts will bump into NATO.  In the Baltics, in Poland, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia (even Finland, and ask the Finns if they remember their last few Russian wars), NATO and Russia stand toe to toe.  And on the far side of Russia's vast expanse, the People's Republic of China is following Putin's transgression of international norms with great interest; having absorbed Hong Kong, the only thing that that keeps them from reaching for Taiwan is the sure and certain knowledge that the free world is watching.

     Russia's invasion of Ukraine is not an outlier.  It's not a zebra.  It's a horse -- the first of a herd of horses that, if not controlled, will surely trample Europe and leave ruin across the world.  We can stop it now, before it spreads, or we can, once again, wait until our backs are to the wall and wage a terrible, uncertain struggle to try to put matters to rights.  Those are the choices.  And if WW III comes, nobody will give a damn about refugees sneaking across the border.

     I don't know if Congressional Republicans are cynical and self-seeking, cowards afraid to stand up to a demagogue, accelerationist religious nutjobs, outright traitors or some combination of all four, and I don't much care.  They're shambling towards another World War and they don't seem to give a damn about the long-term consequences as long as it plays well to their base -- a base whose sons and daughters will be sent to fight and die when the war they are unwilling to avert blossoms.

     Why did it take so long for Europe to cooperate against Napoleon?  Why didn't the civilized world kick the props out from under the shaky alliances that fueled WW I?  Why wasn't Hitler brought to an end when he was only a ranting politician with odious ideas?  Why didn't we stop Putin's aggression when we could?

     You want the answer to the Fermi Paradox?  I suspect any civilization that rises high enough to reduce itself to rubble eventually manages to, and never quite gets far enough ahead to establish a foothold off their planet before they've exhausted the available resources.  Exhibit A is presently on tour in Ukraine, driving a T-90 and carrying some kind of AK variant, crapping out landmines and cluster bombs as it goes.  And Exhibit B can be found in Congressional offices, pretending the oceans are impassable moats.

Monday, December 18, 2023

The Clumsies

     It hits me from time to time, usually indicating a sinus or inner-ear infection: the clumsies.  I have never fully recovered from the cold that laid me out in October.  There's a variant of the common cold making the rounds that lingers for a hundred days or more, and that appears to be what I picked up: a couple of weeks of intense symptoms, trailing off to a mildly productive cough, sinus congestion, sneezing and an occasional bout of chills.

     I began the weekend with a headache the usual over-the-counter nostrums wouldn't cut.  By late Saturday, I was a little dizzy.  Sunday, I couldn't stay balanced if I leaned over -- or merely closed my eyes while standing.  Sunday night, I had a definite list to the right and when I laid down, the room wanted to spin.  I had to aim for the left side of a doorway to go through the middle!

     This morning, I started out with sinus irrigation, which later resulted in remarkably loud and complex eustachian-tube squeaking (like hearing chords played on balloons when you blow your nose; 0/10, do not recommend) and the dizziness is much reduced -- but I've got the clumsies.  Nothing is where I reach.  Frying an egg for breakfast, I managed to trail egg white across the stove top, drop the toothpick I used to break the yolk on the floor when trying to throw it away, and catch the handle of the tiny one-egg skillet* with my thumb, knocking it off the burner.  Fortunately, the fire was off and I hadn't used much olive oil.

     After a couple of days of compensating for loss of balance, as it returns, I'm askew.  I don't have much kinesthetic sense or proprioception anyway, and lacking the sure sense of position and motion that good dancers or gymnasts have, it's easy to trip myself up.  I'll have to move slowly, carefully and with forethought for the next day or two.

     And Tam's going to have to tolerate hearing, "No!  Uh-oh!  Dammit." from the kitchen until I get recentered.
* These little gadgets are both cute and handy.  I have a round one that just fits a large egg, and a square one that will fry three half-strips of bacon or a single egg.  Or, I suppose, one slice of French toast or a lone-wolf pancake.

Friday, December 15, 2023

One Step At A Time

Large as it is, this thing is a third the size of what it replaces.

     At my work, there's an important piece of  "middleware" that dates back to 1982.  It connects between a late-2010s video switcher and mid-1990s camera control units, and it's the gadget that makes a red "tally" light come on at the front (and elsewhere) of the active camera.

     You'd think this would be easy.  You'd think this would be standardized.  You would be wrong.  For example, the switcher is happy using any voltage from 5 to 18 Volts to run the red lights.  The camera control units want to see 24 Volts.  Well, five of them do.  The sixth camera is CCUless, and it didn't come with any sissy red light on the front, either.  It did come with a fancy track system and a fancy remote control setup, and so far, it hasn't injured anyone.  Barely.  It has whacked into the other cameras a few times, occasionally hard enough to do damage, but that's another story.  Today's story includes my having to build a red light for it when it was first installed.  There was no time to order anything, so the tally light was pieced together from odds and ends -- a plastic parts box, an old pilot-light jewel, a high-brightness red light-emitting diode -- and it is driven directly from the 24-Volt signalling system.  That takes more current that merely letting a CCU know you'd like it to turn a light on.

     The old system used a card cage holding several huge, hand-wired circuit boards, carrying 1970s digital logic, unobtanium sealed relays, and lots of other parts you either can't get or no one would use for a new design.  It was built using a mixture of wire-wrapping and soldered stripboard, the latter a way to make a printed circuit board without any of that tricky designing or messy etching.  It's entirely undocumented, and powered by what looks like a 1960s Western Electric DC supply, mounted upside down on a rack panel.*  And just to make this more interesting, it is installed in a row of racks in a cul-de-sac off the main rack room, about thirty feet away (and around a corner) from all the things it connects to. (In fairness, it's close to where the camera control units and video switchers used to be -- in 1982.)

     I started thinking about a replacement system shortly before the pandemic disrupted everything.  When I came back, the particular part I'd chosen (a versatile DIN-rail-mounted solid state relay) had gone obsolete.  I found an adequate replacement and started over.  It's all DIN-rail stuff: inexpensive, standardized and upgradeable.  (Of course, the 1980s original was, too, by the standards of the time.)

     Once I had the thing built, I had to trace out everything the system connects to -- it has a few other jobs, too obscure to describe -- and where all the wiring ran, and then work out how to transition to the new version in stages, in the short intervals when the cameras and other equipment wasn't in use.  And how to do so in a way that made no irrevocable commitment to the new system: we wanted to put it in and let it run for a week or more before jumping off the cliff. (Okay, for "we" read "I."  I have a deep-seated aversion to the high-wire act; if you don't leave yourself a clear line of retreat, you're liable to end up like George Armstrong Custer.)

     Yesterday, I finally moved the camera wiring to the new interface.  I had three hours.  Getting it all moved and tested took two and a half hours, working by myself.  The wiring was buried under years of cables and trying to coordinate with a helper would have taken longer than sorting it all out by myself.

     So far, it's been working through two long news blocks and a half-hour segment for late night.  Here's hoping it will still be okay when I arrive today.
* The power supply includes an added neon blown-fuse indicator that blows the fuse if you replace it while the supply is on, thanks to a poor choice of socket.

Thursday, December 14, 2023

Yeah, Hi

     Just reading the news and shaking my head.  Comment seems redundant.

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Shaghala Baghala

     "Shaghala baghala" was making the rounds on social media the other day; it is claimed to be a Swahili term that means "chaos," or perhaps, "the usual chaos," in the sense of "SNAFU" or "Same stuff, different day."

     A quick web search supports the "chaos" meaning, and adds a few other words that also translate to "chaos."  And I had to follow up on that.

     It turns out there's a reason beyond simple widespread use that makes Swahili or Kiswahili one of the better-known African languages: it's a trading language, and one that, like English, is only too happy to borrow words and concepts from other languages.  There's a lot of Arabic, German and English in the language, mapping successive waves of trading partners and colonizers.*  And like English, you can speak Swahili quite badly and still make yourself understood.  While the language has a complicated (but fairly regular) grammar, "Settla," or "settler Swahili," simplifies person, tense and type down to an approximation of English or Romance-language grammar and adds personal pronouns that are normally indicated by prefixes; the result isn't elegant but it's adequate for grocery-shopping or sharing directions.

     Swahili is a dynamic language.  It's going to be around.  From Star Trek to The Expanse, you'll find bits of it all through SF, tumbling through the shaghala baghala of a hopeful future.  It takes a flexible language to surf chaos and not fall.
* Some colonizers are worse than others; the quaint notion of "uplifting the savages" is thoroughly and rightfully discredited, but if you're stuck with 'em, the story of the Askari Monument in Dar es Salaam is illustrative of the difference between bad and worse: the Imperial Germans put up a statue of their colonial Governor, one hand on his hip and the other on his sword, while at his feet, a kneeling African soldier covered a dead lion with the German flag.  After WW I, the Brits took over, took down the statue and replaced it with one of an askari in action, bayonetted rifle thrusting forward, in honor of the local troops who served the UK during the war.  A mere symbol?  Sure; but symbols carry meaning.

Sunday, December 10, 2023

Lighter Fare

 To the tune of a well-known Steely Dan song about a very different kind of consumable:

Orange Marmalade

While the toaster ran, you worked by morning light
Those tasty dawns so right
You were the best in town
Just by chance you crossed the butter with the jam
You turned it on the world
That's when you turned the world around

Did you realize
That you were a Sous Chef in their eyes?

On the hill the stuff was laced with saccharin
But yours was never thin
Everyone stopped to stare at your technicolor breakfast slice
Every early bird had your number on the wall
You must have had it all
You'd make pancakes on a dare and you'd make 'em so nice

Could you see the day?
Could you feel your whole wheat fall apart and fade away?

Get along, get along, orange marmalade
Get along, orange marmalade

Now your foodies have all left you and your bread
Your breakfast friends won't spend
This life can be very strange
All those early-riser freaks who used to eat the stuff
They snort marshmallow fluff
Some things will never change

You are obsolete
Look at all the oatmeal in the street

Get along, get along, orange marmalade
Get along, orange marmalade

Clean this mess up 'cos it's just a source of strife
Those jam spoons and the knife
Just get it all out of here
Is there more in the jar?
Yes, there's more in the jar
I think the people down the lane know who you are

'Cause the man is wise
You are still a Sous Chef in their eyes

Get along (get along), get along, orange marmalade (get along)
Get along, orange marmalade

Friday, December 08, 2023

Whatever You Know About Middle-East Conflict Is Probably Wrong

     But you're not alone in that.  Whatever I know is probably wrong, too.  As near as I can tell, whatever anyone knows about the big picture or the deep (or even recent) history is likely to be wrong, incomplete or biased.

     Fewer dead noncombatants would be an improvement.  Fewer people traumatized, hungry, thirsty and homeless would be an improvement.

     More dead people would not be an improvement.  Anyone calling for wiping out this side or that side isn't really wanting to make the situation better.

     The dead have no national identity.  Corpses have no religion.  History stopped for them when their life ended.

     I can't fix it.  I don't have any clever suggestions.  But the news pains me.  And it pains me even more that while one side looks better to me than another, the governments, would-be governments and militant groups, from the best to the worst, are all standing in and shedding far more blood than is sane.  When the best hope isn't much of a hope at all, it's difficult to believe anything will ever get better -- and easy to understand how the people in the middle of it fall into nihilism and destruction.

Wednesday, December 06, 2023

Um, No

     I could swear the local news told me this morning that Republican Representative Patrick McHenry, announcing he will not run for re-election, said he would "serve out the remainder of his four-year term."  I'm really hoping I misheard.  That's not how House terms work.  Congressperson McHenry knows that, and if I heard it correctly, there's a news producer out there who does not.

     Meanwhile, the Texas GOP has shied away from banning their party members from associating with N-zis, neo-N-zis and antisemites -- that would be people like, say, Nick Fuentes, who's apparently been doing the Texas Two-Step with a big right-wing political consulting firm in the Lone Star State.  Look, if your party can't even slam the door on Holocaust deniers, it's not much of a party.  Tensions are running pretty high down there, especially in the wake of the attempted impeachment of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, and it's anyone's guess how that's going to work out.

Tuesday, December 05, 2023

It Appears To Be True

     The saying circulating on social media is the real deal: In Norway, one way to respond to "How's it going?" is to say you're "Up and not crying."

     It may be a low bar, but it's a worthwhile state.  Especially at this time of the year, with the shorter days and stressful holidays, being awake, on my feet and not weeping is about as good as it gets.

Monday, December 04, 2023

Things I Have Learned

     - Super-fast Internet doesn't make my well-aged computer any faster.

     - There were combat-sized dust bunnies under my desk, despite frequent exploration by long-haired, dust-friendly Holden Wu.

     - The Phone Company now runs glass right from the pole to the modem in your house, or at least they do around here.  While the tech commented that the fiber is "kinda brittle," he treated it with no greater caution than phone techs treat copper, and the SC connectors only required a simple cutter and crimper to install, not a slow, high-skill fusion splicer.

     - Strange New Worlds is the most Star Trek-y Star Trek since the original series.  We just finished the second season, with Carol Kane standing out delightfully as the ship's new chief engineer.  While there are some plausibility issues with Captain Pike's Enterprise, starting with impossibly lavish quarters compared to TOS, it's a return to telling good space-opera stories with clear heroes and villains, handwaving its way through the science, and shunning the ponderous, self-impressed dignity that can afflict the franchise.  It's good fun.  TOS characters are beginning to show up one by one, and with a known endpoint for Captain Pike's arc, there's a chance the series may segue into, well, let's not get ahead of ourselves....

Friday, December 01, 2023

Still Here

     Still here so far, and expecting a Phone Company person later this morning to install faster Internet, since what I have is now obsolete.