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.

Thursday, November 30, 2023

There's A Chance...

     There is a chance Google will yank the account I use for this blog tomorrow.  It's not likely, but it's not impossible.

     If it happens, so long and thanks.  It's been fun.

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

I'm Still Here

     Just not blogging much.  You know what I think of current politics, and there's only so much pointing-with-alarm one can do.  TV and movies of my youth led me to believe quicksand would be a far more prominent danger than it has turned out to be, but it also told me that dangerous religious fanatics would reliably be shaggy-bearded, wild-eyed, gaunt, white-haired patriarchs intoning Bible verses in a hollow bass; it told me political extremists would be kooks, bomb-throwers and never, ever gain elective office.

     It was all fatuous nonsense.  Except for the part about quicksand.  We have got problems, and they're coming from newly-emboldened fringes, trying to pass themselves off as the real center.

     Elsewhere, I have been busy with NaNoWriMo (I'm far, far behind schedule) and other writing; but I'm trying to write commercial stuff, which means I can't share it here.  And I am trying to keep up with my job.  My workplace changed greatly right before the pandemic and not, I think, for the better in terms of it being an interesting or engaging place to work.  But it still pays well and offers an excellent benefits package, so I'm sticking with it, enzombified as it now is.

Friday, November 24, 2023

Thanksgiving Dinner

     Tamara and I had a simple meal -- Turducken roll, slow-cooked in a covered pan on the grill with turnip, fennel bulb and apple; mashed potatoes made from scratch (and not boiled); and bacon gravy.

     The turnip, fennel bulb and apple was a great match for the turducken.  There wasn't much room in the roasting pan around the five pounds of birds and stuffing, but it all fit.  I made the mashed potatoes by cooking them in the microwave and mashing them skin-on in a pan* on the stovetop over low heat; ended up using a cup of milk and a tablespoon of water, plus butter, and they were great.

     The gravy?  I started with five strips of bacon, enough to get a quarter-cup of melted fat.  Set the bacon on a paper towel covered plate to drain, and added a quarter-cup of flour to the hot fat to make a roux, cooking over low-medium heat until it darkened.  Then a whole two-cup box of Kettle & Fire Mushroom Chicken Bone Broth, all at once, and I kept stirring and cooking as it thickened, with occasional breaks to snip bacon bits into it.  The end result was as smooth as velvet, rich with umami, and went wonderfully with the mashed potatoes and turducken.
* I mash potatoes in an old-fashioned way, starting by stirring them with a sharp knife, and switching to a large dinner-type fork once they're in small pieces.  It's not the fastest and it takes a little work, but I like the end result.

Thursday, November 23, 2023


     This is a day to be thankful.  And I am -- I'm thankful my boss tolerates my quirks and foibles, and that Tamara does, too.

     I'm thankful things are not worse, which they very easily could have been.  The human race dodged a near one with the coronavirus, and the United States had another close call in the aftermath of the 2020 Presidential election.

     We may yet have troubles; our species has long gotten by on the skin of our teeth -- but gotten by we have, and I am thankful for that.  Here's to keeping on keeping on!

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Failure Modes Of Bad Managers

     It is possible that my experience is not the usual thing.  I have worked for many different managers, both my direct supervisor and the levels above.  My line of work has long featured frequent changes in management.  I've worked for several remarkably good ones, and a lot of managers who were doing their best with what they had.

     The two ends of the bell curve stand out, the great and the abysmal.  The great ones were often inspiring leaders -- but even more often, they were men (and a few women) who would roll up their sleeves and do the work, whatever it was.  Everyone else would pitch in because, really, what else can you do?  There's the boss, hard at work, and what kind of a heel doesn't want to help out?

     The bad managers relied on bluster and bombast, on micromanaging the easy parts and leaving the conundrums for the "little people" to work out.  They were quick to blame their staff for failures, and quick to take credit for successes.  They rarely got their hands dirty.  And they could go on in this way for a long time.  But it never lasted.  They'd either flame out spectacularly in a fit or rage or pique, or they'd fade out, as staff sought better opportunities and they were left with burnouts, time-servers and unskilled weasels as venal as themselves.  The drinkers (and drug users) were eventually overwhelmed by their addiction to the point of not being able to function, at which point any decent person can only feel compassion (no matter how unwilling they might be to continue propping up the bad manager).  Sometimes, an overheard comment or behavior was enough, if the right person or persons hear or saw it.

     Threats, bullshit and histrionics only take a boss so far; built on hot air, fear and fantasy, their efforts eventually collapse, sometimes taking down a department, an enterprise or a government.  The bigger they have grown, the worse the fall.

     You have to wonder how that's going to play out on a national scale, by and by.

Monday, November 20, 2023

Quick Roundup

     Here it is, all you need to know in the shortest time:

     U. S. domestic politics is awful.

     World politics is awful.

     War is terrible.  No civilian non-combatant ever deserves to die, even if they hold truly horrible opinions; however, letting combatants use your basement for their HQ disqualifies you from "non-combatant" status.  Also, bombing hospitals is never a good idea, even when it is.  And war is still terrible.  We should have fewer of them, and smaller.

     Please smile at other people and be nice to them; if you need encouragement, consider that some of them -- probably the ones you like least -- will really, really dislike it if you're polite and friendly.

Friday, November 17, 2023

The U. S. Senate, Red In Tooth And Claw?

     It's been all over the news, all over social media -- junior Senator for Oklahoma Markwayne Mullin offering to fight Teamsters President Sean O'Brien in the course of a Senate committee hearing.  He was chided by his Senate colleague Bernie Sanders, a man never overly concerned with decorum, practicality or even reality, which ought to have been humbling but probably wasn't.

     Senator Mullin and Teamsters boss O'Brien have been sniping at one another for months; I don't expect them to be great pals, not the former owner of a big, open-shop plumbing company* and union guy, not a Republican Senator and a labor boss: they're natural antagonists.  However, politics is the tool we invented so we don't have sort matters out by knocking one another over the head, and I do expect a United States Senator and the President of a national union to avoid actual physical conflict, even while being about as lousy to one another as they can manage.

     The Teamsters are proud of their roughneck image -- but even they have had to admit that might doesn't necessarily make right.  I damned well expect a U. S. Senator to understand it.  Tolerating this sort of behavior is a very poor sign for the present course of the GOP.  Senator Mullin citing as precedent pro-slavery Representative Preston Brooks beating anti-slavery Senator Charles Sumner with a cane after Sumner had spoken harshly of slave owners in 1856 does not speak well of him -- the incident is generally understood as the one of the precursors to the Civil War.  The Senator also mentioned President Andrew Jackson's overly-pugnacious behavior, which is shaky ground indeed; Jackson's legacy is at best, mixed, and his temper is more infamous than admired.

     I don't expect Senators -- or even U. S. Representatives -- to engage in hand-to-hand combat or feats of strength.  That's not what I'm paying them to do; it's what I am paying them to avoid, and to manage the conflicts that would otherwise lead to violence.

     This bully-boy nonsense is strictly for the funny papers.  Or the history books, brown/silver/black shirts and all.  (Can you name the countries where each group sullied the public streets?)
* The plumber's union is a big one, one of the surviving 19th Century American Federation of Labor craft unions,† and historically, they're known to be quite touchy about jurisdiction.
† In contrast to the younger, scrappier Congress of Industrial Organizations unions.  They're long merged now, but while an AF of L craft union organized workers in skilled trades, the CIO (splintering from AFL in 1935) organized entire establishments, from the sweepers to the top of the hourly pay scale.  There was no love lost between craft unions and industrial unions for twenty years, but by the mid-1950s, they remembered they had a common enemy and got back together.

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Just In Time For Christmas

     I've got it: the hot new toy.  It's a Tesla Cybertruck in the style of the "Transformers" toys, only when you transform it, it's a dumpster, complete with flames shooting out the top!

     Yeah, that thing isn't being welcomed with open arms by anyone anywhere besides the fanniest of fanboys; it's coming up short in terms of styling, fit and finish, and the basic necessary functions of a working truck, and that's before you consider the seething sociopolitical mess the lad at the top keeps dipping himself into.

     I miss the days of geeks who stuck to geekery and business types who immersed themselves in the accumulation of wealth while avoiding visible involvement in politics and most scandals.  You can point out it was often plenty rotten under the surface, and you'd be right; but at least there was a surface over the worst of it.

Sunday, November 12, 2023

Kerosene Stove

     My paternal grandmother cooked on a kerosene stove.  She preferred them.  She would have grown up with wood-fueled cookstoves and a kerosene stove is a lot less bother to use.  The first good kerosene stoves started showing up when she was a young bride: in the very early 20th Century, John D. Rockefeller, eager to find new markets for oil distillates, helped fund efforts to develop improved kerosene stoves that resulted in the "Perfection" long-chimney burner, in which the flame never touches the pots and pans and the long path produces better combustion.  Unlike earlier, pressurized, Primus-type oil stoves, the fuel is gravity fed and a simple wick adjustment controls the temperature.  (The controls on a Primus stove are something of an art.  Similar pressurized white-gas Coleman stoves are considerably simpler, thanks in part to the more-volatile fuel.)

     It would have been a pretty wonderful device at the time.  The Perfection  design worked so well that it is still being made.

     The timeline fits well with the now-demolished brick house my grandfather built for his growing (and eventually large) family.  She would have had a modern kitchen and the kerosene stove would have been the centerpiece.  (I don't know if the house had a matching water heater, but they were certainly available).  Along with city running water and a nice icebox, it would have been very much of the times.  (Ice was cheap and easy to come by for a long time; I don't know if the family ever had a monitor-top refrigerator or if they kept the older technology through WW II.  Mom's family had natural-gas refrigerators by the mid-1930s, when her father worked for a southern Indiana company that made them.  When my father bought a used but upscale travel trailer in the late 1970s, Mom was delighted to discover it had a propane refrigerator.)

     Despite the 19th Century gas boom -- or perhaps because if it -- early gas stoves had an iffy reputation for safety.  Lacking a pilot light and with valves that were easy to turn on by accident, asphyxiation and explosion were definite hazards for the first gas ranges.*  A kerosene stove might leak, but that wasn't much more of a risk than kindling.  They were popular for many years.  I'm told my grandmother kept using hers well into the time of safe, modern gas and electric ranges, until she was finally convinced to replace it with an electric range a few years after my parents married.
* My first apartment, in a turn-of-the-century building in a town near the center of the Indiana Gas Field, had a minimalist cast-iron stove, bracketed to the wall.  Two burners, no oven, and all of it right out in the open.  The valves were quarter-turn types with 90-degree handles, and the landlord supplied wooden kitchen matches.  Handle horizontal was off, handle down was full on: not exactly fail-safe.  It sat next to a sink made of folded and soldered sheet zinc, mounted on similar cast-iron brackets -- and a modern refrigerator, dating from at least the 1950s.  That last item was a relief.  I'm not sure I would have been up to hauling blocks up ice up three flights of stairs and by the late 1970s, nobody was delivering.