Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Protest, Protest, Pick Yourself A...Sides?

     What?  Protests on America's college campuses?  Who would'a thunk it?

     Seriously, if the phrase "campus protest" surprises you, you must have been asleep since, um, pretty much forever.  Young people, exploring the anteroom of adulthood, most of them out from under direct parental control for the first time, expressing strong opinions?  Heavens to Murgatroyd!

     And we are, of course, urged to choose a side by the pundits, talking heads, and everybody's opinionated uncle and loudmouthed niece on social media.  Why, one side is clearly wrong and the other is clearly right, and if only we weren't so blind, we'd see that.  And to prove it, we've got politicians and preachers who were having lunch with crypto-neo-nazis just last week tsk-tsking the dangers of unchecked antisemitism on one side, vs. LGBT protesters for strongly anti-gay Hamas on the other (etc.), and so on and so forth.

     Maybe take a step back.  Dead civilians are an offense to common decency, no matter who they were in life or what their own opinions were, and if there's one thing the ongoing conflict between the government of Israel and Hamas has produced in excess, it's the lifeless bodies of the innocent.  Young people occupying open spaces, shouting slogans at one another, waving signs, getting into shoving matches, graffitiing buildings and dorm-room doors isn't going to resolve it -- but neither is sending in police with shields, pepper spray, clubs and guns to roust them out.  It's probably not even going to do a very good job of clearing out those spaces.

     And while it is very easy to cast all sides as monolithic blocks, it's not useful.  Police vary from reluctant to bored to eager; administrators from distantly sympathetic to intransigent to spineless to fearful.  Protestors?  Pro-Israel, Pro-Palestine, Pro-Hamas, antisemitic, anti-Zionist, pacifists to direct action types to jaded children of privilege, excited to really feel something even if they're not clear what.  And they're all jammed in there, on college greens and parks, inside your TV or phone screen, spinning out soundbites like sparks from a forge. No side is all one thing and if you get pulled in, you're only adding to the noise.

     There are occasional public events where one side is clearly bad; there are a few where one side is unmistakably good.  Most of them are far murkier and this set of protests is typical.  Adding bruised, arrested kids (and professors and whoever) here to the toll already piled up in and around Gaza isn't going to reduce the injury, and history tells us it doesn't necessarily end there.

     It'd be nice to get some functional adulting working on this problem before it spins into blood and PTSD for all involved.  We're damned unlikely to get any in the Middle East any time soon.  I'm not much more optimistic about over here.

Monday, April 29, 2024

Oh, Monday

     Not just oh, Monday, but oh, this week.  My employer, like many, is doing more with less, and I am very much one of the few this week.  Probably one of the least busy, but still more than usual, so I'll be posting when I can.

Sunday, April 28, 2024


     The whole "I have thwacked my shin" saga began with me trying to do laundry and the drive belt in the dryer breaking.  It's been an ongoing part of the process.

     Consumer goods fret me.  The stuff I work on for a living is expected to run 24/7/365 with minimal downtime.  It's often more than a little overbuilt and it's not uncommon to find gadgets that are over a half-century old and still in operating condition.  Documentation is usually extensive, detailed and supplied with the equipment.  Consumer stuff is built to a price; it's as sturdy as it needs to be, but no more.  Bend the wrong thing and you can be a long time putting it right.  Service information is spotty, and frequently "universal," covering several variations and counting on your ability to figure out which one applies.  So I go into it worrying.  It's not my milieu and I will hire professionals when I think I'm getting in over my head.  The people who work on this kind of stuff all day every day can do a much better job of it than I can.

     But hey, this was just a broken belt, right?  Once I had the new belt and installed it, I managed to get a couple of loads of laundry done, but the dryer was running rough.  It was shaking and shivering enough that it knocked the duct loose.  By then, I had replacement rollers, a pair of rubber-tire wheels that support the drum at the back, and so I decided to install them.  The online videos that I found made it look pretty straightforward, pull the drum, take off the E-clips holding the old rollers, pull the wheels and a couple of washers, remove the spindle assemblies (little axles fastened to a base that is held in place by two screws), then install the new parts in opposite order and set the drum back in place, thread the drive belt and close up the dryer.  Fiddly but doable.

     First problem: with the bruised leg, I wasn't very mobile.  But hey, okay, I'd work carefully and take my time.

     Second problem: I didn't have much energy.  I made my first try on a work night and had to abandon the effort with the dryer pulled away from the wall and opened up, the belt unthreaded and the drum removed.

     Third problem, seeing doctors about the leg issue.  That took time and energy.

     Fourth problem: Once I got back on the job, I swapped out the roller assemblies -- and the drum would not go back into place.  It just would not fit.  I tried three times.  It hadn't been that hard to remove!  What was I doing wrong?  I looked at the videos, found some others, and the pros were just setting the drum back in like it was nothing.  I gave it another try.  No dice.  By then I was pretty tired.  I posed the question in an online forum and went to bed.

     The next morning, I had the online writer's group -- an hour of manuscript critiquing with a few people, an hour's break, and then the general meeting with an interesting speaker for a couple of hours.  I napped after that, checked the online forum -- no replies -- and went downstairs.  What was I missing?  I'd left the drum sitting in the dryer and I looked it over: the off-center dark mark around it from the belt, and, near the back, the tan mark from--

     What was that from?  I'd been digging around in the dryer for several days by that point, and had looked over drawings and watched videos, and there's nothing, nothing that bears on the drum at that point.  The rollers run in a little gutter at the very back, where the diameter is stepped down, with a similar section at the front, both pressing against a felt seal, and there's a simple curved support at...  At the...  Front.

     Yes, I'd spent a day trying to install the drum backwards.  The front and rear openings are not the same diameter.  The tan mark should have been at the front, where the simple support carries the drum.  I had taken the drum out, turned it ninety degrees and set it down on a laundry basket and then, the next day, lifted it, turned it ninety degrees more and set it in place backwards, confident everything was a-okay.

     Every trade has its tricks, but they all have one in common: pay attention to what you are doing and put things back together the same way they came out.  I hadn't.

     After cleaning the little gutter with rubbing alcohol, Q-tips, paper toweling and elbow grease (there was a lot of lumpy residue stuck in it from the old rubber tires), I lifted the drum out the front of the dryer, turned it one hundred eighty degrees, and it set right back in place nice as could be, supported by the new rollers and up against the rear seal.  I rethreaded the belt, lined up the front of the dryer, fastened it back into place, and lowered the lid onto its clips.  The drum turned smoothly by hand.

     That was late last night.  I went upstairs and made dinner, realized I had misplaced my work gloves, and spent an anxious several minutes thinking I was going to have to open up the dryer again before discovering I had put them on top of a small shop vacuum cleaner.

     This morning, with Tam looking on, I hooked up the exhaust duct (with a new elbow to move it away from the power cord -- I've been disliking that for years) and gave it a test run, without heat and then with heat.  So far, so good.  I've run one load of laundry through it and there's another one tumbling as I type.

     Maybe it's fixed.  We'll see.

Saturday, April 27, 2024

Compression, Time, Rest

     All the above on Saturday, plus...the online writer's group.  That's not physical activity, but it wore me out nonetheless.  I napped in the afternoon, puttered around, had a little dinner, looked at television and went to bed.  As of Saturday night, my left ankle was not nearly as swollen but the bruise is still tender and aching.

     Television: Tam and I watched Ted Lasso all the way though over the last several weeks and enjoyed it.  I started not knowing much, and between "sports comedy" and "former Saturday Night Live Comic," my expectations were very low: sophomoric, mean humor, probably gross humor, slapstick--  Instead, it was as kind-spirited a sitcom as I have seen since The Dick Van Dyke Show or maybe Andy Griffith.  Oh, there was a little slapstick, seamlessly part of the story, and one zillionaire was pure caricature; but it was a darned good series, and left me better-disposed towards my fellow humans.

     We're now watching Three-Body Problem, in which at least some humans don't acquit themselves quite so well.  It's fascinating, and said to be heavily adapted from the original.  It's slightly old-fashioned, slightly Campbellian save-the-world science fiction and I can see why the books managed to break out of their home market, China.

Friday, April 26, 2024

Wasn't That Fun?

     There I was yesterday, with a distressingly swollen and tender shin, lurid bruising extending down to my foot, concerned I might have cracked the bone....

     I made an appointment at the closest drive-through doc.  We've got one in Broad Ripple again, and they've been businesslike and easy to deal with, the couple of times I've gone there.

     They got me in quickly, checked my temperature, blood pressure (just fine -- the "white coat syndrome" that used to overwhelm the good effects of my blood pressure medicine at any doctor's office is doing better these days), and had a look at my leg.  There was a fair amount of cogitation on the part of the doctor and nurse.  The conclusion was that it was a sure-enough clot, and maybe rather more than might be expected from the accident as I described it.  (I fell up the basement stairs and took the edge of a sturdy step right on that shin.)  My left ankle was over twice as big around as the right.

     The thing to do was to get an ultrasound -- and to go do so at an ER.  I expressed doubt at going to the hospital over this.  Say "stroke risk," and they bring out the fancy toys, much excitement, high cost--*

     Oh, no, says the doc, not that.  Go to one of the standalone ER/urgent care combinations.  They're quicker anyway.

     So I did.  The closest place was halfway across town, a long drive with me thinking all the time how very interesting it will be if the big blob breaks loose and fries my brain, right there along Westfield Avenue or one of the crowded east-west numbered roads in the hundreds, where the northern suburbs have just continued Indianapolis street numbers past the county line.  Got there with skull contents intact, boiled same slightly stuck in traffic gridlocked by dog-in-the-manger drivers and eventually checked in and got led back to a comfy exam room forthwith.  Physical exam followed: "Yes, yes, probably a hematoma, but.  Um, that's pretty far down on your calf, in front.  The big veins are around back, and they're branched out and skinny that far down.  I guess I see why they sent you but the risk is low.  It's not that kind of clot."

     Sonogram next, to confirm there were no chunky bits up where they'd make trouble.  X-ray after that, and hey hurrah, the bone's okay.  But there is a big, ugly splotch, a hematoma right on the bone, almost certainly under the layer of tissue normally next to the bone.  "That's going to be a long time going down, weeks and weeks.  And it's gonna hurt the whole time.  Normal recommendation is compression, but as you already observed, it'll be painful."

     He was talking about socks with that last line.  I usually wear knee-high compression stockings; I'm an old lady on blood-pressure meds that make my ankles swell.  The fix is easy, cheap and supposedly good for you, but I hadn't been able to wear them for a couple of days.

     The doctor's conclusion was that I wasn't at any risk of a stroke from that clot.  It was going to stay right where it was, slowly being nibbled away by the normal process of healing, and it was going to remind me it was there the entire time, all day and all night.  I'm not a fan, but it beats having my brain scrambled by leaps, bounds and miles.

     I took today off, to elevate my calf (also recommended), complain online, and, ouch, wear compression stockings.  I peeled a set on last night and they can darned well stay on all day today.  I'm in no hurry to slide anything over the big bruise again until I have to.
* It also bugs me that you jump the triage line in a hospital ER with this kind of thing, at least for the initial diagnosis, and I worry that they're going to be poking at me and my stable situation when someone gets wheeled in, smashed up after an auto accident or whatever.  I have been that person and I don't want to be the reason they have to lay there bleeding and hurting before anyone gets around to them. 

Thursday, April 25, 2024

Skipped A Day

     While working on the dryer, with frequent trips up and down the basement stairs, I fell.  Tam and I are convinced one step is slightly off, because it's easy to trip about two-thirds of the way up those stairs.

     Whatever the reason, I took a worse fall than usual, going up the stairs.  Caught my right foot and fell forward, with plenty of time to get my hands up -- but I banged my left shin against the thick step, good and hard.  They are open steps, without risers.  I slammed my shin squarely into the two-inch-thick step and it was extremely painful.

     But I have fallen there before.  You pick yourself up and keep going, right?  So I did.

     I didn't sleep well the night before last.  Couldn't get comfortable.  Kept waking up.  It was my shin.  Yesterday morning, I soaked in hot water with Epsom Salts and got dressed, wincing at the pressure of my knee-high sock on the bruise, gathered together everything for the day -- and realized I'd run out of steam.  Just nothing left.  I was maxed out on OTC pain meds by that point.  I ended up calling in sick and feeling like a whiny nitwit about it, but I was wiped out.  I rested most of the day and managed a quick trip to the grocery that evening.  I made supper with big plans for after, but fell asleep in front of the TV instead.

     My shin is just as painful today and the bruising is most visible well below the impact site, with colorful markings along the inside of my foot around the ankle and heel.   I think I'd better go get a professional opinion -- it's probably nothing, but I'm not getting any younger.  Or, apparently, any more graceful.

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Automat Soup

     Last night, after wrestling with the dryer for a lot longer than I realized,* I found myself hungry and with limited time and resources to do anything about it.  There were a couple of sandwich-sized slices of deli ham in the fridge, but I'd had a ham and egg sandwich for breakfast....

     There was a microwavable rice-and-beans pouch in the cupboard, good brown rice and black-eyed peas, and the maker called it "Hoppin' John" on the label.  Why not give it a try?  I snipped up the ham while the rice and beans were nuking, and mixed it all together in a bowl with a dash of Cajun-style seasoning.  Not bad, but it needed something.  I gave it a generous shake of dried onion flakes and a dash of hot water, but it was still not quite right.  A big dollop of Heinz Chili Sauce (just revved-up catsup) did the trick.  That was when it hit me: I'd just reinvented Automat soup.

     See, Automats -- coin-operated cafeterias, where you paid for each item as you went, unlocking little windowed compartments, a nickel in the slot for a sandwich, a nickel for a slice of pie, and so on -- generally had free hot water, condiments and crackers.  For the price of a cup of coffee, you'd end up with an empty mug, a spoon and fixings for rough tomato soup: ketchup, hot water, salt, pepper and saltines.  Dinner!  (You could pull the same trick at a regular cafeteria, too, though it was best done when they were too busy to notice.)

     Good ol' "red lead" didn't make the greatest tomato soup in the world, and it doesn't make prize-winning Hoppin' John, either.  But it wasn't bad, it was quick to make and the price was right.  Tam had already gone to off to sleep by then, so I can't give you a second opinion.
* The dryer works now, though it runs a bit rough.  And a test run smelled slightly of burned hair.  I vacuumed the dryer out while I had it open (so much lint!), but there's always some you miss and it inevitably ends up in the wrong place.  We'll have to keep an eye on it.

Monday, April 22, 2024


     Weekends are for laundry here.  Tam does hers Friday, I do mine Saturday, and Sunday is for catching up and washing big items -- towels, bedding, etc.  Or that's the general intent.

     I'd run one load of wash yesterday and had a second one in the dryer, with a third just starting in the washer.  Just T-shirts and not too many, a "catching-up" batch.  I was doing other things upstairs when I heard something in the basement go, "Thump."  After that, the dryer seemed quieter.  Odd.

     Once I'd reached a stopping point, I went down to check.  The dryer was humming along, but--  I opened the door.  The dryer did not slow to a stop.  It didn't have to.  The drum wasn't turning.  Uh-oh.

     The classic clothes dryer is a frustratingly simple device.  A single electric motor runs a blower that moves air over the heating element (gas or electric) and, via a long belt, that same motor turns the drum.  If the blower runs but the drum doesn't turn, the belt is broken.  Oh, it might be other things; at least one end of the drum is supported by two or more small wheels, and they can jam up; but that usually breaks the belt.  It's the simplicity that makes them frustrating: parts count is down to the minimum and after you have opened them up for service, it can be tricky to put them back together.*

     After some research in how to open up the dryer (easier than I thought) and replace the belt (not so easy; you take off the front and work around the now partially unsupported drum), I unplugged it, opened it up and had a look: yes, the belt is broken. I ordered a belt and some wheels.  The belt should arrive today, so I'll try that first.

     Meanwhile, I filled up the clothesline with T-shirts and washcloths, and ended up bringing them inside after sunset to finish drying indoors.
* There's no margin for being half right.  The kinds of things I work on for a living come with detailed drawings and a lot of them will run at least a little when partially disassembled.  Consumer goods are not that way.

Sunday, April 21, 2024


     There's been a box of cornbread mix in the cupboard for quite some time.  The oven in my old-but-not-antique gas range is questionable at best.  It's not usually a problem for me, since I enjoy cooking on the covered grill; roasts and curries and holiday turducken or corned beef work out well in a graniteware pan over hot coals.

     I haven't tried to bake in the grill.  Breads are tricky and home baking was a high art until the introduction of thermostatic controls*.  There are ways around it -- most breads and small cakes can be microwaved, though you don't end up with much in the way of crust.

     The cornbread mix microwaves well enough, but I wanted to do something different.  Can't you make cornmeal pancakes?

     Of course you can!  A little more milk and some melted butter, and there you go.  I cooked up a batch this morning, golden brown and slightly crumbly, and when it comes to rising pancakes, I think they're better than the all wheat-flour version, a little sweet (as the boxed cornbread mix tends to be; modern people put sugar in it, having no idea how to make proper cornbread) and full of flavor.

     It's a nice change from the usual.
* You can bake bread in a clay-dome oven, fireplace-side oven, or a cast-iron wood or coal stove, and plenty of people did.  But it's a skill with a long learning curve, especially judging and maintaining the correct temperature.  Both of my grandmothers would have grown up learning how to run a cast-iron stove with an oven, the latter addition patented in 1867, a decade or more before either of them was born.  They adopted improved stoves eagerly. (Unlike an earlier generation; Mom spoke of her grandmother's irritation at her grandfather, who would mark up the wood-stove blacking by flipping slices of potato onto the sides of it, to stick, sizzle and fall clear when cooked! Caught on a plate, the proto-chips were a treat for him and his grandchildren.†)  Later versions of those stoves included a dial thermometer in the oven door, but a number of methods were used to check temperature from early on -- the boiling point of water at 212°F gives you a low oven, and the ignition temperature of paper, 451°F (a number made famous later) a high oven.  While my covered grill offers the same air-and-damper controls as a cast-iron range, it has far lower thermal mass and is difficult to refuel while burning.  --Oh, I'll try some day, just to see how it goes.  The kitchen is a workshop with a highly-developed set of tools, prosaic though it may appear.
† So what's in stove-blacking? Plumbago -- graphite, that is -- lampblack -- which is carbon -- and a binder, like fat or paraffin grease.  Tasty!  I don't suppose small amounts of pencil-lead and carbon are all that immediately bad for you, but the state of California has probably already checked and found they are carcinogenic.

Saturday, April 20, 2024

The Mysterious Door

     It wasn't so much the door that was mysterious.  It was the way it kept opening uncommanded.  About a month ago, the overhead garage door here at Roseholme Cottage kept opening itself for no reason.

     At first, I thought it must be old leaves, caught in spiderwebs, fluttering in front of the floor-level safety photocell that keeps the door from closing on objects, people and other critters.  I cleared out the corners and checked if breaking the beam would open the door when it was fully closed and in "lock" mode.  Nope.

     And yet it kept opening.  There's a green led in the middle of the big "open" switch on the hard-wired control panel, and it flickers in a particular way when you have the remote opener disabled.  I finally noticed that while it was indeed flickering, the speed of the flicker had become very different.  Odd.  There are three buttons on it, a great big one with a led to open and close the door, one to turn the lights in the opener on and off, and one to lock out the remote.

     Our control panel has been missing the cap on the lockout button for years.  When I bought the house, the previous owner warned me to "be careful with that panel.  They're fragile, and really expensive to replace."  So when the button popped off, too worn out to stick back on, I just used the tiny switch it had actuated -- carefully.  Maybe I had broken it?

     I went online, identified the make and model of our opener, and priced out a replacement control panel.  They were not expensive.  And they're connected with only two wires, to light up one led and perform three functions.  This seemed like something that could go wrong.  So I bought one.

     The thing showed up and I looked it over.  The parts count was very low: three momentary switches, two capacitors, one resistor, one light-emitting diode.  It kind of makes sense; I can think of a couple of ways to do what they're doing with those parts and there's probably an even simpler answer.  But whatever; I shut down the power,  took the old one off the wall (a bit tricky) and installed the new one.

     When I plugged the system back in, the led flickered the right way, the garage door opened on command, and after a week of careful watching and unplugging it when away or asleep, it hadn't randomly opened.  Weeks later, it still hasn't.  I'm hoping it's solved --but I'm going to go have a look before I click on "Publish."

Friday, April 19, 2024

I Just Realized

     I haven't yet weighed in on the most recent iteration of the many trials of former President and promoter of conspiracy theories, Donald J. Trump.

     Hunh. How about that.

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Nota Bene

     If you're going to write as if you slept on a thesaurus, you'd better not hit a single wrong note.  Use the right word, not one that smells vaguely like the word that ought to be there.  Remember, Mr. Roget is not big on nuance; that part is up to you.  If all the words in that great big heap on the page meant the exact same thing, most of them wouldn't exist.  Those puppies might be in the same litter but they've each got their own set of spots.

     One of Lester Dent's characters from "Doc Savage" is known for his fondness for feature-length words.  Dent had great fun having the character apply them in a slightly askew way around everyone except Doc -- presumably because he knows Doc wouldn't tolerate being BSed.  Unless your name is William Harper Littlejohn and you're confident you can get away with BSing the people you're nattering at, stick to using plain old everyday words.

     They work just fine.

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Elon Musk And The Car Biz

     Much has been made of the floundering-at-best Tesla Cybertruck, of layoffs at Tesla, top management bailing out, and so on.

     We're used to having relatively stable big car companies; Japanese automakers were disrupters in the 1970s, with Korean ones in their wake, but the dust settled and there were still just a few names making cars.  You could set your watch by them.  And that's how it has always been, right?  That whole Tesla messiness, it's an outlier, isn't it?

     Wrong.  Here in Indiana, I grew up among the remains of the first --and second -- generation of car makers, and of ideas that came and went.  Driven a Stutz lately?  Ridden in a nice, luxy Haynes?  A zippy Apperson?  Jay Leno produced a segment showing off his 1920s steam car, a gorgeous piece of sophisticated engineering that made running a steamer almost as simple as a gasoline-engine car, and in quiet comfort.  Indianapolis once had an entire fleet of electric taxis loaded up with lead-acid batteries.  Gone, all gone; step down the row, past name after name, and marvel at the Tucker, come and gone in the blink of an eye, with a tang of shady dealing hanging in the air.

     Maybe Tesla's one with them, and all it'll leave behind is a robust charging infrastructure and collectibles.  Maybe it'll have a few ups and downs, like Ford did; the big, dominating car company was his second or third try.

     Elon Musk is mostly a money and PR guy, and a little bit an idea guy.  He didn't start Tesla or SpaceX or Twitter, he bought into struggling enterprises and they will rise and fall however they do, in part due to his input and in part based on their staff and management.  It's fun to muse on the great Captains of Industry who forge the future -- but there are a whole lot of ships sailing that sea under a great many leaders, a whole horde of forge-fires flaring, and most of 'em aren't gonna run the entire course.  We only know who the big ones are in retrospect.  Haynes and Stutz and all the rest helped to build an industry and it wouldn't be what it is if they hadn't been there.  The foundations of the future are built on a lot of crushed dreams, but they do keep on piling higher.

     Someone's got to pioneer the rear view mirror; someone's got to try out hydraulic brakes or stick a Diesel engine under the hood, boil up steam or make one of the thousands of efforts at electric cars.  Even the companies that first apply the ideas that last do not necessarily thrive themselves.

Tuesday, April 16, 2024


     With the U. S. Supreme Court set to take up the question of just how actively obstructionist a person needs to be before the behavior rises to something that counts as "obstructing an official proceeding,"* I was reminded yet again of my longtime friend, a lifetime moderate Democrat, who was horrified when one of his family members and their spouse were arrested for actions in the Capitol on 6 January 2021.  "I don't know how they got so brainwashed," he told me.

     The answer is that they didn't.  Nobody put them under psychological or physical duress and worked on their opinions.  No one deliberately "love bombed" them, whisking them away from their established connections in a sea of overwhelming positivity.  From rioters to graffiti-scrawling kids, from crowds shouting down their foes to people trying to break heads or break into government buildings, from Right to Left and back again, all of these individuals have agency.  Nobody brainwashed them.  They did it to themselves.  They freely chose their opinions -- and they freely chose violence.

     Violence carries a price, both personal and societal.  Participation in violence will mark you -- yes, even if you're the perpetrator.  And perpetrating violence quite often begets official violence in return.  Maybe you won't get shot by a cop, or bopped over the head (or painful joint) or pepper-sprayed or proned out with force; you're still likely to experience arrest, jail, criminal charges and a fine and/or prison time.  And those things will happen as the end result of choices you have made.

     That's the way it is for grown-ups.  You don't get to blame the other kids.  You don't even get to blame whatever handy-dandy group label you've picked, no matter how good their graphic artist might be.  You did it, not your T-shirt or sleeve patch.  You did it, not your Great Leader or Big Idea or long, painful history.

     I'd love to tell you that bad choices are the result of broken homes, cheap hooch and bad companions, but that fact is that little J. Random Citizen is still in charge of their own actions.
* Someone else can try reading those tea leaves; I gave up relying on the sober legal scholarship of the Justices outweighing their partisan and/or personal interests at some time over the last couple of years, and boy, do I ever miss that confidence.

Monday, April 15, 2024

An Ancient Dilemma

     Those of us who have had outside cats, or barn cats, or have fed ferals know that many cats regard snakes, especially small to medium ones, as A) great fun; B) a dire and traditional enemy; or C) all of the above.  And you you will find yourself, from time to time, with a cat in one hand and a snake in the other, trying to decide which one to let go first.

     You're not alone:

     Yes, that's the real deal.  Of course, the ancient Assyrians put together an entire legend, with gods and lions and serpents, but I think the story behind it is pretty obvious. (And speaking of legends, the "holding back the cat while accepting a pizza delivery" statue dates from dim, ancient 1987.  I still love it.)

Sunday, April 14, 2024


     The cover of "Holly Holy" I posted day before yesterday was reminding me of something else, just a little.  It wasn't until this morning that I picked it up: it has some structural similarities to theme from The Mandalorian.

     The TV theme goes off in its own direction, picking up cues from big-orchestra Western theme music, (like "Old Trails" from Gunsmoke); and that leads to another interesting performance from a smaller ensemble: Pink Martini's "Andalucia."

     Play them one after another -- you decide in what order -- and you've got an interesting set, perhaps something for my "Wrong Elevator" music format.


     Here's an interesting blog about the history of Indianapolis -- especially the quirky, obscure, oddball parts that are hard to suss out.

Friday, April 12, 2024

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Bricking Up A Non-Existent Loophole

     The "Gun Show Loophole," as commonly understood, doesn't exist.  If you have a Federal Firearms License (FFL), you've got to run a federal background check and keep proper records no matter where you're doing the selling.  It doesn't make an iota of difference if you're selling them across the counter at a brick and mortar store or off a folding table at a gun show.

     If you are buying and selling firearms as a business, you've got to have an FFL, period.*  The BATFE has long had considerable discretion in deciding just who is trading in arms as a source of income and who's a hobbyist, swapping or selling the occasional firearm.  The Feds rarely go after the guy at a gunshow with a table full of uncommon or specialized examples unless his behavior is particularly egregious; it's a bit arbitrary but in recent years, this has worked without excessive friction.  (The person selling guns out of their trunk on a streetcorner [etc.] is a whole other thing, and deliberate edge cases like 80% receivers -- so-called "ghost guns" -- operate in an area of considerable legal jeopardy and contention.)

     Gun sales are regulated.  They have been probably all of your life; the Federal Firearms Act of 1938 introduced the requirement for dealers to be licensed and the system was revised and made more stringent under the Gun Control Act of 1968.  The NICS "instant check" began in 1998.  You may dislike these laws, or question the constitutionality of some or even all of their provisions, but they're what we've got and if you own guns, you have almost certainly filled out a 4473 form and had a background check run.  Like it or not, it's routine.

     All that background is explaining why I was looking sideways at the radio this morning when a newscaster said the Biden administration had "fixed the gun show loophole."

     Yeah, no.  That's how it's being sold to low-information audiences, which I am sorry to say includes a lot of news coverage.  That's not what it is.  Like most such things, you can go look in the horse's mouth, and what's in there are...horseteeth.

     The fact sheet linked above explains the long-standing reality I covered in my first paragraph: location doesn't matter, the rules apply, and it's been that way all along.  The remainder of it takes the "considerable discretion" BATFE already had and gets more specific about just what constitutes acting as a dealer and not a hobbyist, what differentiates selling some items from a collection from being a dealer, and so on.  It appears they're going to be looking very narrowly at the ability of a former FFL to sell off their last inventory, which was already legally messy, and it concludes with some press-release talk about other efforts to enforce existing law and exhorts Congress to do more.

     It's not a nothingburger, but if you were looking for red meat, you'll have to look pretty hard.  It's a self-goal for an election year and no doubt I'll be getting glossy ads from the usual suspects about "gun-grabbers" from one side and "keeping our kids safe" from the other.  These changes do neither.  They're minor, and the main people who will be affected are the non-FFL traders with a gunshow table full of semi-random assortments of guns, show after show after show; and I've got to tell you, probably half of those folks were already on the hook with BATFE, serving as bait to catch far worse offenders.

     I suppose in a world where the political Right is peeing all over their shoes with craziness about abortion (and contraception, et Comstock cetera) that is mostly going to motivate voters to push back, cosmic balance requires the political Left to find an issue that only plays well in their own echo chambers.  This is certainly one, but there's far less to it than shows up in the headlines.
* Hobbyists who collect odd, unusual or historical firearms that the law defines as "Curio & Relic" guns are eligible for their own special FFL; they are not dealers, but the license lets them buy, sell and swap their collectibles with other "C&R" licensees without running afoul of Federal regulations.  The record-keeping is somewhat onerous -- but a serious collector is already keeping track, so....

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Change Is The Only Constant

     When I moved to Indianapolis over forty years ago, the city was a wonderful place to do electronics.  Small computer-supply stores were all over, Radio Shack was ubiquitous, and there were multiple parts suppliers serving industry and the TV repair trade.  Graham Electronics downtown; RaDisCo on the near West side; ESP (Electronic Service Parts), King Electronics and Meunier Electronic Supply all East of downtown; Broad Ripple had a Heathkit store, and a few of the nationwide suppliers like Hamilton/Avnet had offices or even stocking locations scattered around town.

     Over the years, it faded away.  Graham was the first, sometime in the late 1980s or early 90s.  The Heathkit store closed when the parent company went under.  ESP was family-owned and the next generation wasn't interested; they served mostly the repair shops and that business was fading.  They closed over twenty years ago.  King Electronics held on for a long time, selling TV antennas, tools and classic radio parts along with the full line of modern components, but things dropped off after the 2009 digital TV change over.  In 2020, Meunier Electronics, a full-line stocking distributor with a magical showroom of odds and ends closed.  Radio Shack is long gone.

     There was an electronic surplus joint in town, too.  Milo Associates, Inc. (later MAI/Prime Parts) was in an old company office off Millersville Road when I first came to Indianapolis, with a small sign and not much publicity.  My co-workers at the radio station took me there, explaining "that guy has everything!"  They did, too -- logic ICs, op-amps, metal-film resistors, monolithic-film capacitors, stacks of defunct GRiD laptop computers, a zillion different control knobs, a few shelves of ancient test gear and old ham radio equipment, and on and on, all crowded onto rows of tall shelving or stacked on the floor.  They became my "source of last resort," and often first resort, too, a place where you could go in and lay hands on the actual stuff.  They moved a few times over the years, always in search of the lowest rent, and ended up in a drafty pole barn on Michigan Road.  Business fell off; they started selling repair parts for the heating and cooling trade, mostly as a middleman, but kept the electronic stuff, selling off the existing stock.  By the time the pandemic began, they were the last electronic parts place left in town.  I was there either right before March 2020, or during an early lull later that year, and picked up some parts for work and some "just in case" stock for my hobby supplies.  I stayed away during the pandemic.

     Yesterday, I thought to stop by after a dental appointment.  Their website was still up, mostly a line card and contact information.  I've got a project at work that needs some specific connectors, and it's always interesting to wander the aisles.  There were more cars parked in front of the shabby old building than I've become used to seeing over the last decade, and I perked up.  Maybe business was picking up!

     The glass door has always had dark film on it, I pushed it open -- on a vast and mostly empty room, with a workbench at the far end and power tools scattered around.  Men were working, and a guy in a vest and hardhat near the door asked, "Can I help you, Miss?"
     "Probably not.  I was looking for the business that used to be here."
     "Oh, they left."
     I thanked him and left, too.

     Later on, I called the number on their website and a familiar voice answered,  "Prime Parts."
     "Hey, it's Bobbi, from the TV station."
     "How ya doing?"
     "I'm okay, but where are you?"
     "Oh, we're just doing the HVAC parts now.  Been out on the far East side for a couple of years."
     "No electronics?"

     So that's that.

     Looks like there a smallish hobby-parts place in Indianapolis near Park 100, and if you want anything else, well, there are still plenty of suppliers who can ship it to you in a few days -- as long as you know exactly what you want.  Digi-Key and Newark, Mouser and RS-Online (formerly Allied) are still there, online and over the phone; Antique Electronic Supply has parts for the old stuff (and there's a smattering of tube-audio enthusiast suppliers, the best of whom are very good), and between McMaster-Carr and the electrical-supply wholesalers, the bigger items aren't hard to come by.  But if you want to go somewhere and comb through bins of parts, hoping for inspiration?  Better find a hamfest.  And good luck with that.

Tuesday, April 09, 2024

Indescribable Light

     The chaos at work was well-managed and I managed to take several trips outdoors during the eclipse, including all of totality.

     The reports are right: it's difficult to describe.  It's moving.  Well ahead of totality, the light takes on otherworldly feeling and the sky darkens.  Even at totality, with a couple of planets visible, our sky remained a deep blue, with the shadowed side of the Moon the only true black, the wispy solar corona slowly waving around it.

     I'm happy I was able to see it.

Monday, April 08, 2024

Eclipse Day

     Here we are, eclipse day.  It's a work day for me and I have no idea what kind of chaos I'll be walking into.

     Online, some people have been telling one another that there's no need at all for special sunglasses to look at the Sun before and after totality, occasionally citing their religious faith in justification (or claiming the sunglasses are some dire plot) -- this, in a world that includes poison ivy and deadly mushrooms alongside many beneficial plants.*  I'm not here to argue theology or debunk lunatic conspiracy theories; a bright light will harm your eyes and the Sun is the brightest natural light we get on Earth.  If you're in the path of totality, I am given to understand you can look at the eclipse once the Sun is fully covered, at which point the corona is too dim to be seen through eclipse glasses, but you'll need those glasses to find out when it's safe to peek.

     Emotionally, logically, I'm still where I was during the pandemic.  I'm not the boss of you.  Don't want to wear a mask, don't want to get a vaccine, won't isolate?  Fine -- don't come crying to me when you get sick, don't come crying to me when you infect those around you.  I saw skeptical friends and professional acquaintances die.  I couldn't save them.  I can't stop people damaging their eyes by staring at the Sun, either.  I still sure wish you wouldn't, but you're not a starfish trapped in a draining tidal pool.  You've got to choose to save yourself.
* Or, if you like your examples mixed: Pokeweed or inkweed grows wild in most of the country, and will make candles, good ink, or -- properly picked and prepared! -- delicious greens or kill you quickly and painfully.  (The stems and attractive dark berries are the most poisonous part.  I'm told the tender young leaves must be boiled and drained multiple times to be eaten with any chance of safety, and I've never been tempted.  There's a knack to it and if you get it wrong, the best outcome is you end up in the hospital.  Get kale or spinach instead, or turnip greens.)

Sunday, April 07, 2024


     Rode my bicycle to brunch with my siblings this morning, chatted for a couple of hours, spent a few minutes in a nearby bookstore on my way home -- and sat down for "just a minute" when I got home.

     Woke up two hours later, still sleepy.  No, not the stress of hanging out with my closest relatives.  I haven't been on my bike much this year.  Nor do I spent much time in crowded, noisy restaurants.  Since the pandemic began, I barely go out to eat.  Once the risk was down, the prices were way up.  I like my own cooking just fine; I'm not as fond of doing the dishes, but it's a fraction of the price.

     So, okay.  I clearly need to get more exercise -- and perhaps practice being around people more, too.

Saturday, April 06, 2024


     Does it really count as agoraphobia when you have a migraine so bad that just looking out the window at the beautifully sunlit lawn makes you wince away?

Friday, April 05, 2024


     The headline says that people who only get their news from an ideologically aligned source  -- Fox News or MSNBC, in particular -- aren't well-informed on actual news.  Viewers of the Sunday-morning political-interview shows do better; the people who listen to NPR newscasts do better still.

     But the statistics accompanying the story show that even the best-informed are batting below .500 on their knowledge of current events.  That's not great.

     When I worked in radio, I absorbed five minutes of network news every hour, mostly by osmosis. Back then, five radio networks and two wire services were providing short hourly newscasts, and the majority of stations ran them.  What CBS, NBC, ABC (in four or five versions!), Mutual, NPR, AP and UPI offered was a Cliff's Notes version of the first draft of history -- but it was current, fact-based and largely personality-free.  Five minutes (or less) doesn't leave time to be anyone except a newscaster.  It left me well-informed enough to ace news quizzes -- and I rarely paid particular attention to the newscast; it was a five-minute break from playing records and commercials.

     There's a whole lot of personality out there and no matter who you are, one of them is probably focused on the stuff that gets your blood boiling.  Try and get yourself some news, too.  You need some greens to provide what all that red meat fails to give.

Thursday, April 04, 2024

The Opposite Of...Working

     The sober advice of our history assures us, "That government which governs least, governs best."*  The old joke points out that "Con-gress is the opposite of pro-gress."

     The 118th Congress, currently sitting, is trying to run the experiment in the real world at full scale.  It's not going well.

     Like it or not (and I often don't), Congress has to crank out a vast number of routine bills to keep the Federal government paying what it owes, fulfilling international treaty obligations, coming through on whatever it has worked out with individual states of the union (and smaller civic units) and so forth and so on, right down to keeping the lawn mowed at all the various Federal facilities.  The 118th is barely managing that.  The House and Senate have been pretty good at introducing all manner of  "stunt" bills favoring special interests, slamming disfavored causes, groups and persons, and at making impassioned speeches, often to nearly-empty chambers.  They've been diligent about using their various kinds and sorts of committees to haul in public figures from business, politics, sports and show business, and alternately praise them and make them sweat.

     But by any yardstick, they haven't been getting much actually done.  The House can barely keep a Speaker -- and the Speakers, so far, have barely been able to keep things moving.  The Senate is somnolent.  Congress keeps dilly-dallying their way right up to the last minute on budget bills, and blasting one another over the horse-trading it takes to get even that far.

     So all that government governing least has led to way too much free time to stage impromptu clown shows, mischaracterize and attack the other two branches as well as (nominal) friends and foes in their own branch, and generally behave like frat boys and sorority girls with an open bar and a napping chaperone.  If that's best, we may be better off shopping for the Kirkland Signature version instead; at least it will have a smaller price tag.
* Except it kind of doesn't assure us.  There's no evidence Thomas Jefferson, who usually gets credit, ever said it.  Nor did Thoreau; he came close but he was quoting someone else, and they (anonymously) put it, "The best government is that which governs least," a subtle difference.

Wednesday, April 03, 2024

The Problem Is...

     It's not just that the future is stupid -- c'mon, we already knew that.

     It's that the future more and more looks to be irredeemably stupid and incomprehensibly cruel, cocooned in vast numbers of people and institutions eager to make excuses for whatever they can't manage to cover up.

     There is no shortage of blunt instruments, both real and metaphorical, and a profound lack of anyone with the blacksmithing skills necessary to wield them for anything constructive.

Tuesday, April 02, 2024

Making The Right Choice

     Going into WW II, it was RADAR time, and everyone knew it.  Watson-Watt and his team get a lot of well-deserved credit for demonstrating the principle and dreaming up the hardware, but people had been messing around with various forms of "radio ranging" for quite some time even then.

     It was obvious early on that higher frequencies -- meaning shorter wavelengths -- gave better resolution.  It's like the "pixels" that make up a video display: for a given screen size, more and smaller ones give you a better picture than fewer larger ones.

     So with all that knowledge and experience, why on earth did Britain's Chain Home radar warning system use shortwave radio frequencies?  The antennas were immense, clusters of towers hundreds of feet tall, separate sets for transmitting and receiving, far too large to be pivoted for scanning.  The operator didn't get a nice plan position indicator display like modern weather radar, just a screen with a series of "pips."  She (and it was almost inevitably "she") had to turn a large knob to line up an indicator with a pip to get direction, then flip switches and go through the same process again to get altitude -- and even then, she wasn't done: bearing and altitude gives you "slant distance" and you need to do a little trigonometry to plot the location on a map, going from polar (bearing and distance) to Cartesian (X,Y) coordinates in the process.  Only then can anyone to begin to do something about the incoming threat.

     The hardware was mostly haywire, jack-leg, kludged.  The transmitters were based on a BBC shortwave broadcasting design, uprated for higher power and with an improvised pulse generator; the radar receivers were built from readily available, consumer-grade parts.  When the British coast was lined with radar stations, they were found to interfere with one another and the UK fixed that by using the country's power grid to synchronize the stations, each one in turn operating in its own fraction of a second.

     Chain Home was manpower-intensive (mostly womanpower): operators, calculators, runners, collators, technicians to maintain the cantankerous equipment, riggers to do the same for the antennas, and a network of filterers and map-plotters to turn the data from all the stations into a cohesive picture of incoming bombers.  It started out as a massive kluge and they just kept adding on.

     The system was, in the words of one of the men who helped design it, "third best."  What it had going for it was that it was a thing they could build then and there, mostly using what was already available.

     The very best system ("which might never arrive" according to the same expert) would have required the invention of entirely new hardware.  The Brits eventually did just that, with the cavity magnetron and scanning antennas matched to plan position indicator displays, but it was a long time coming.  Even second-best had a long development timeline.  They went with what they knew worked, with what they could manufacture without major invention.

     Once it was up and running, they applied inventive skills to making it work better.  "Fruit machine"* analog computers automated the process of calculation, correction and coordinate conversion, letting a single operator and a wall of electronics replace five or six people.  The complex process of integrating the information and directing fighters called for remarkable innovation in command and control -- innovations that the Germans never worked out; indeed, the lack of that structure in the U. S. military doomed the detection of incoming Japanese airplanes at Pearl Harbor to an historical footnote instead of a striking example of a successful early warning.

     The Brits slapped together little more than junk to build Chain Home.  It was barely good enough for the task at hand, especially early on -- but it was just good enough, and they learned as they went.

     It was the right choice.  Germany built sophisticated radars, more slowly and without developing the mapping/directing infrastructure to make good use of them: wrong choice.

     There are tradeoffs between good enough and quick enough, and knowing how much weight to give each one can make all the difference.
* That was the nickname for the thing.  It had a nice, big "go" lever like a slot machine for the operator to pull once they'd got the range and altitude information into it.  The console looks like a radar crossed with a pinball machine, installed in a telephone exchange by workers in a hurry to finish -- but it did the job.

Monday, April 01, 2024

Another Lazy Weekend

     Yet another weekend in which I did nearly nothing -- caught up on laundry and dishes, cooked a meal on the grill.  I tell myself I'm tired; I tell myself the increasing arthritis in my knees and hands is reason enough to vegetate until warmer and less windy weather comes along.

     There's truth in that, but it is increasingly obvious to me that the larger issue is burnout.  After five years or a decade of history that feels more and more like being strapped into a deranged roller coaster with my eyelids held open, I'm all screamed out.  I'm overloaded by horror.  Terror attacks, a pandemic that shattered my faith in the good sense of the average citizen, politics that took the ruins of that faith and plowed it under with radioactive salt, bombs and missiles raining down on a modern, civilized country and more terror spurring an even worse response: it's overwhelming.

     I don't know what our planet's variegated crop of neo-barbarians will break next.  I do know it will be precious and probably irreplaceable.