Oatmeal Dregs

April 24, 2014

Last week we talked about Broth Dregs as an oatmeal extender. But maybe you’re looking for something more conventional? Maybe sweeter? What about Trail Dregs?

I make my own trail mix. Alton Brown has a trail mix recipe that includes dried fruit, nuts, and granola, and of course, Alton Brown’s granola is nothing but oats, another kind of nuts, and shredded coconut. Mine is something like that, minus the oats and the cooking. I use roughly equal parts dried fruit chunks (cherries, raisins, blueberries), roasted almonds, and dried banana slices, plus one of those super-expensive metallic packets of roasted coconut flakes called Dang, and small amounts of chocolate chips. I’m currently on a coconut binge, and MJ picks up bags of Philippine coconut chunks from CostCo. The big chunks go in me, and the flakier chunks go in the trail mix.

After I’ve finished off a butter tubsworth of the mix, there’s about a quarter cup or so of the dust and small flakelets and things at the bottom, much like the broken bits and dust you find at the bottom of a bag of potato chips (!….hold that thought!). Just the right amount to extend an oatmeal breakfast. Of course, you wouldn’t use broth in something like this, but milk would work, or maybe some half and half and half — that’s half half and half, and half water. No potatoes.

Setup: 1/3 cup of stone ground rolled oats, a quarter cup of trail mix remnants (take out any whole almonds you find in it, otherwise people will think you’re weird), one half cup of half and half and one half cup of water, salt (yes, it needs salt — it’s oatmeal). Heat the milk to the steaming point and dump in the dregs and the oatmeal. Cook for 10 minutes or so, depending on the exact style of oats. Stir often.

Results: Delicious! The milk and the coconut work well together, and the other bits add little explosions of flavor which are quite good, but hard to clean off the wall.

Rating: *****

TL:DR — Anime I never finished, Spring 2014

April 19, 2014

Some of this season’s anime got off to a late start. Others seemed, seemed, worth a look at two episodes. I know that folks say to watch a minimum of three eps before deciding, but, ya know, that’s 25% of the series. Herewith, the stuff that didn’t make the second cut.

Captain Earth: Giant robots battle in space. Small group of teenagers are the only ones who can handle them. Sound familiar? It’s like fan fiction by someone who overheard two other people talking about Evangelion on the metro, except unlike Shinji, Our Hero has … a boomerang! The robot launch sequence was cool — pilot capsule on top of a bunch of disintegrating totem poles, three (count them, three!) on-orbit gate transitions/self assembly points — it’s like the water bottle stations at a marathon, except you get mecha arms and legs. The battle was … OK. Then we look inside the invaders’ ship and find a blue boy/pink girl Shibuya fashion pair if there ever was one, who start talking about the libido component of the weapons. The fully built robot lands feet-first back at the base and the really boring character development begins (yes, really boring development, really boring character). Question? Will they launch the whole mecha on another Delta V booster from there, let it fly itself back up, or take it apart and drag the parts back up to the really cool assembly gates? The World (-) awaits.

Irregular at Magic High: Magic as an engineering discipline. Boy and his over-attached sister (aren’t they all) get selected for a prestigious national high school. She is good at magic. He … doesn’t do well on standardized tests. Big social gap between magic-users (her) and non-users (him). That’s OK. All the magic-using girls on the Student Council like Our Hero, and want Him to be on the Student Discipline and Bondage Committee with them, while all the magic-using guys do that thing with the dark upper half of the face. So it’s a harem/imouto/pariah’s-progress anime. And the white-and-minty-green uniforms aren’t the worst this season, but they’re among the top two.

The Comic Artist and his Assistants: Based on a 4-koma. Overworked, under-experienced mangaka gets his busty assistant and his equally busty editor to do various perverted things, like boob self-fondling ….. self boob-fondling … self-fondling boobs…. you get the idea … so that he can draw them from life. That’s it. Wash your hands and repeat.


Oatmeal Dregs

April 17, 2014

Today’s oatmeal extender is Dregs. Not the North African tribe, but things at the bottom of things that you’d normally throw away that could be used to add a little non-oatmeal bulk to your oatmeal.

First off is Broth Dregs. Those are the vegetables you cooked in with the beef and bones to make broth, the ones that come out all mushy, and flat tasting. Fear not. The flattest-tasting dregs are still less bland than oatmeal.

Now, when MJ makes broth in our pressure cooker, she normally throws in a couple each of chunked-up carrots, onions, and celery stalks, plus various herbs and spices. These cook down nicely, and end up as a grey goo with chunks of orange. Probably a cup or so. After they’ve cooled down, I chop them up with a big ol’ chopping knife and put them in the fridge. Next morning, I’ll take a couple of fat dinner soupspoons worth — scant quarter-cup, maybe scant(-) — mash it with a fork, and drop it into the broth. You could also just beat it to death with a stir-stick.*

Setup: 1/3 cup of stone ground rolled oats, two dinner teaspoons of potato flakes, one cup of broth, not-quite-a-quarter-cup of mashed up dregs, salt.  Cook for 10 minutes or so, depending on the exact style of oats.  Add the dregs at the beginning and the potato when you take it off the stove..

Results: Delicious! The onion is the most notable flavorant, but the carrot and celery are detectable. If you were making a dinner that involved brothy-stuff, this would be an excellent savoury side dish.

Rating: *****

Next week, maybe something sweeter.

*OK, I tried the stir stick. It works. Wear eye protection. Be prepared to spend the morning unwinding celery threads from the blades

Green Thumb Up My Nose

April 13, 2014

Garden Report for 140314

The weather this week was best described as “brisk”, and I don’t mean like a cup of tea. Highs around 50, lows around 40, with, er…brisk… winds. The greenhouse stays nice and warm and humid during the day, but doesn’t seem to hold heat at night.

On Friday, I went slightly mad in the plants department of our local hardware store. In the tomato section, I bought one each of Early Girl, Best Boy, S-100, Napa Grape, 4th of July, plus one labeled “Rainbow Blend”. I can see that in a seed packet, but I’m not sure what that translates into for a single plant. Probably “your guess is as good as mine.” For the Brassicae, one six-pack each of Cabbage, Brussels Sprouts, and Cauliflower. Plus a single spaghetti squash plant, because, reasons. And finally, three flats of Iceberg Lettuce, in honor of RMS Titanic, which went down with all heads on this date in 1912.

Most of it went into the gardens, but a third of the lettuce, some of the 4ths, the Napa, and the S-100 went up on the deck. I put the Napa in a small container, and an S-100 in one of the hanging baskets.

Then, on Sunday, the madness struck again — two Beefsteak, two Super Fantastic, one each of Glacier, and Northern Exposure. The BS and SF will be split between garden and containers, the Glacier is going into a hanging pot, and the NX is in a smaller pot on the deck.

So, of course, we’re scheduled for 29F tonight. Last time they forecast 29F, it turned out to be 34F. But still, everything is covered up. All the small pots, of things that I’ve seeded, are out in my PRC greenhouse, with a seed-tray warmer inside. I figure that’s all the heat they need.

Here’s what the hops looked like on their second Sunday:

Doing quite well

Doing quite well

TL:DR — Anime I never finished, Spring 2014

April 12, 2014

I took a quick scan through this Spring’s crop of anime. Many, I could reject based on the program description alone. Some seemed worth watching….janai.

Black Bullet: You can just see the production crew sitting around, naming their favorite anime of the past, and arguing what parts of them to clip out and include here. Virus turns people into monsters, ignoring things like conservation of mass and structural engineering. Monsters are hunted by plucky independent company run by incompetent former highschool classmates. Plucky independent company monster hunters include former high school boy and his extremely loli love interest. Former high school boy and his extremely loli love interest encounter laughing-man-masked human who plans to conquer the world, using a virus. Oh, yeah — there are special bullets.

JoJo’s Bizzare Adventure: Murdering slob accidentally saves the life of a Victorian-era rich man and his son. Rich man promises to reward him, but seems to have let that idea slip for the next sixteen years or so. Murdering slob dies and his beautiful-but-evil son goes to live with the rich man and his gentlemanly-but-inept son. They welcome him with open arms, not realizing that the poor are not like the rest of us, Ernest. He starts off by kicking their dog, and promising to take over the household. There appears to be a mask involved. For some reason, the first season was wildly popular. From my standpoint it would probably work better as a Masterpiece Theater series, or maybe an HBO special.

Blade and Soul: Medieval setting, with guns. Protag is taciturn, emotionless, female warrior with a butterfly tattoo on her armpit and the ability to deflect bullets with her knives. She arrives at a small village, which is threatened by the Evil Empire (said empire has also offered a large bounty for the capture of The Girl with the Butterfly Tattoo). The village hires her to do a Magnificent Seven against the imperial threat. She grunts agreement, not bothering to explain the meaning of the word empire, and why God is on the side of the big battalions. The inevitable happens, so she leaves the burning village and heads for someplace with more opportunity and fewer ignition sources. The program gives off a vibe like Grenadier, without the on-the-bounce reloads. Characters are unlikable, story is uncompelling, and Miss Butterfly has a habit of wandering around in sleeveless outfits, wondering why everyone is attacking her — if she wasn’t so fastidious about grooming, people would just think it was a moth and stop bothering her. So far, nobody is wearing a mask.



Cooking Under Pressure

April 10, 2014

I don’t normally do product review kinds of things, but then I don’t normally have my wife come to me three months after her birthday and thank me for her present. What was the product, you ask? It was a Fagor, 6-quart, three-in-one pressure cooker. The brand isn’t important (Amazon carries six different brands), the functions are.

It cooks, it cooks, and it ... cooks

It cooks, it cooks, and it … cooks

In this case, the three functions are pressure cooker, slow cooker, and browner. It’s like a big crock pot with a heavy lid and no ceramics. The browning/slow-cooking functions are nice, but the key is the electric pressure cooker.

To start with, it doesn’t look like one of the old-style pressure cookers, the kind that will get you arrested if you carry one within two blocks of a marathon. A lot of people have an aversion to the traditional steel boiler-waiting-to-explode models. They just seem unsafe. Is there any difference in the structure of the 3in1 compared with the older style? Not really. It just looks safer, like it should have the words “Don’t Panic” written on it in large, friendly letters. Isn’t it amazing what a touchpad on the front will do?

The timer function and the pre-programmed rice cooking cycle are also big plusses. I gave one to my niece as a graduation present, and she uses it all the time at grad school — for cooking rice. Why? It takes six minutes to cook rice in this thing using the pre-set (20min for brown rice), with no danger of spillover. I haven’t done a side-by-side taste test with a Japanese rice-cooker, but it tastes pretty good to me.

Then there’s the broth. This is what has MJ all a-twitter. Figure 45min to an hour, including all prep time. While the meat is browning, you can wash, peel, chunk whatever vegetables you want to use. Add the water, vegetables, herbs, and salt. Set to 30minutes (the LED starts counting down when the pressure has built up to the correct level), and that’s it. Go spend the next half hour working down your aperetif collection. Makes about six cups using the manufacturer’s recipe. You could go higher, but be careful of the volume constraints on pressure cookers — you don’t want to clog the small thermal exhaust port. The broth is superb. I’ve been using it pretty much straight up for my oatmeal. What kind of broth? All kinds. Beef, chicken, pork, ham hocks (which tastes different from plain old pork). All done using the cheapest cuts of meat. We haven’t had a bad batch yet. The meat and vegetables have almost all the flavor cooked out of them, of course, so if you are making this for stew or soup, you want to beef up your second echelon.

Then there’s cleanup. The cooking container is an insert, so it’s like washing a big pot, and very much not like washing a massive old style pressure cooker.

Cons: It takes up a hefty chunk of counter space (but you can get rid of your rice cooker, your slow cooker, and your other slow cooker). The 6-quart thing is a lie, unless you are slow-cooking. Getting the lid tight is a little fiddly, but one learns. There are some things that are not recommended for pressure cooking. Read the manufacturers instructions, and pay attention to the side-markings.

Green Thumb Up My Nose

April 7, 2014

Garden Report for 140307

The weather this week was typical NENW springlike — cold, blustery, rainy. Not weather for gardening at all. The coming week will be warmer, with highs brushing 70, before hitting 32F the next night. I have a small PRC-built greenhouse for the back deck, but of course it’s open at the bottom, as is the deck.

Nothing much to report. All the squash and tomato seeds sprouted indoors. The lettuce sprouted in the garden. The hops sprouted on the south side of the house. There’s a total of four plants like this:

The First Hops of Spring

The First Hops of Spring

I’ve moved my container of lettuce up from the basement grow-op to the deck. It never gave us more than a sprinkle of home-grown leaves down there. We’ll see how it does with proper sunlight.

I plan to spend the coming week repotting the new squash and tomatoes. Next weekend I’ll seed the second tranche of lettuce into Section 1.

Girls und Panzer — the OVA

April 5, 2014

Before I get into the OVA, let me post another GaruPan trivia item, one that shows — again — the production crew’s insane attention to detail. Remember back in Episode 2, when The Instructor dropped in and flattened the headmaster’s car?

The Headmaster's Potato Chip

The Headmaster’s Potato Chip

The car, I am told, is a Ferrari F40, one of only 1300 ever made, and probably worth in excess of two million dollars today.

In comparison to that piece of trivia, the OVA comes across as, well, trivial. It consists of six, twelve-minute shorts, featuring Our Girls:

(a). At the beach, a pretty mild fan-service short, highlighted by a “history of swimwear”, including Roman- and Special Forces-styles.

(b). Camping in the Japanese National Tank Training Area. Highlight is a discussion of field rations of the world. Turns out, everybody’s field rations are better than ours.

(c). Dancing the ankou dance in front of various Ourai landmarks. Lackluster animation, and uninspired choreography. OVA’s often skimp on the animation budget, but this is one place where it was important.

(d). In of the better ones, featuring a tour of the ship, in which we find out that the crew are also high school girls, and that the Student Council is in charge of running the whole ship. The tour includes a look at a scale model

The Ship

The Ship

and things like the hydroponic gardens, tended by yet more high school girls. One wonders where they keep the boyfriends.

The Garden

The Garden

(e). The other good one, it shows what happened to Akiyama Yukari and Matsumoto Riko (“Erwin”) when they went on that reconnaissance in the snow in Episode 9.

(f). The victory party, where the different teams do skits, including songs, magic acts, Swan Lake, Power Rangers, and impressions of the other crews. The highlight is probably the Hippo team’s reenactment of “Little Women”.

Team Competition Big Hidden Talent Tournament

Team Competition
Big Hidden Talent Tournament

There will be at least one more Girls und Panzer entry here, because the movie (which will include details of the battle against Anzio Academy) is coming out this summer, as is the GaruPan Game, destined for the Sony PlayStation Vita. Which raises the question, do I want to spend $200 for a console so that I can play a single game? Don’t be silly. It’s GaruPan. The real question is, do I go for the bare bones game, at $70, or splurge for the Special Edition, at $100?

My full set of commentaries on GaruPan can be found in Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Girls und Panzer: A Study in Command, Girls und Feminism, and Girls und Panzer — the DVD.

Wednesday Wii

April 2, 2014

First one of these in a long time.

Our Wii console died after 2018 days on the job. Pretty good, I guess. The failure was mechanical rather than electronic — it wouldn’t read the disk, but it worked fine off of stuff saved to the SD card. Unfortunately, you can’t save the game itself (in our case, the “game” is Wii Fit+), you can only save the data — Nintendo is deathly afraid of piracy. What to do? Well, we did what we always do when we need something in the gaming line. Off to GameStop!

There, we got a replacement console. Brought it home. Plugged it in. Works fine. Except.

This card cannot be read by this console

The card in question being the SD card whereon we’ve saved 2018 days of data, plus our lovingly crafted Mii’s. Five and a half years of work down the drain.

Yep. Nintendo did it to us again. Whatever their “upgrade” process, it left early Wii SD cards unreadable. This is the same company that puts “system updates” on all their new games to break the latest unlocking techniques. That thinks it’s OK to put a large glob of heat-retentive plastic on top of a chip to keep it from being accessed and jailbroke. That uses draconian regional locking so that you can’t play games from overseas, games that will never be offered in the US.

I’d like to say that we should boycott any company that engages in these restraint of trade practices, but they all do things like this, in some way or other. I’m not even sure it’s possible to pick a “least bad” company out of the pack — as in pack of hyenas.

Do you wonder why I’m in favor of Open Source?

Pilot’s Love Song – the Anime

April 1, 2014

Toaru Hikuushi e no Koiuta Finale — I was right, Isla turns out to be the Golgafrincham B Ark.

Rain Shadow Effect

April 1, 2014

The Pacific northwest is a good example of the rain shadow effect. Wet winds sweep in from the ocean, are pushed up by the mountains, and drop all their rain. Land in the shadow of the mountains remains dry and arid.

This effect can be seen elsewhere in the world. Here we see a green area, where the northeast winds are pushed up by the high ground. Land to the southwest is dry.

A perfect example of the rain shadow effect in the Middle East

A perfect example of the rain shadow effect in the Middle East

Green Thumb Up My Nose

March 31, 2014

Garden Report for 140331

Starting my garden preps. Planted assorted lettucoi in the warmest part of Section 1. Put covers over sections 1 and 2. I’m going to scratch in some dolomite limestone, to see if I can get more calcium available to the tomatoes, et al.

Started two racks of seeds. First one is mostly tomatoes: Crimson Cushion, Marglobe, and Red Cherry, with one row of Sugar Pumpkin. Second one is old squash seeds from last year: 8-ball, Delicata, and Buttercup, most of which aren’t in at the seedlers yet. If they don’t sprout by the time the tomatoes do, maybe this years will be available. Also started one of the shallow windowsill style containers with radishes for MJ.

Moved the containers into position, and started filling them with the remnants of the Municipal Compost. I’ll be topping them off with potting soil, but there’s no rush. I won’t be putting anything out for another month. Also moving all the downed leaves that I haven’t done anything with over to the SE corner, where I’ll cover them with the soil I dumped out of last year’s containers. I’ll let that rest until Spring ’15 before I re-use it — 18 months should be a reasonable rest.

On the south side, the hops are already showing their heads. Each place I planted one, now has six or eight new stalks. I might not have to buy any this year.

THE PLAN, if you remember from last year, is:

Section 1: Lettuce and spinach and chard (oh, my). Plus some early peas. I”m dividing it into four or six sections and will plant one section every month.

Section 2: Tomatoes and squash. Going for bigger tomatoes, since mine have historically been smaller than advertised. Maybe it’s the NW weather

Section 3: Brassicae. No kale. Maybe leeks. Maybe beans. Maybe Santa Maria beans.

Section 4: Permanently in strawberries and asparagus. I’m taking out the blueberries. They want acid soil, and the rest don’t. There’s some asparagus at the N end of Section 1, which I may try to dig up in the Fall and transplant here. Or not.

Containers: Tomatoes. Maybe some Asian beans.

Ground Cover: The not-officially-a-garden area that has some ornamental something or others. Last year I put pumpkins there, and got a couple of big ones. This year I’m going for smaller pumpkins, as well as buttercup squash.

MH370 and trash in the ocean

March 28, 2014

With more refined data, the search for MH370 has moved northeast by 700nm, and has sighted new debris. The Malaysian MoT has said that ocean drift means the debris sighted “could still be consistent with” the earlier debris fields. That’s not particularly credible, given the source and the fact that the search has been shifting to the SE to track the currents.

The drifting search

So, what does this mean for the Southern Ocean? It means that in any two or three areas, chosen more or less at random (random from a selection of the water standpoint, not geolocation), you can expect to find upwards of 500 pieces of flotsam that are visible from orbit.

French environmental satellite: three holes in the clouds, three patches of trash

The Ukraine: Lessons for Iran, North Korea, and others

March 27, 2014

The Ukraine (UA) became independent of the USSR in 1990, and inherited the third largest stock of nuclear weapons in the world, including mobile and silo-launched ICBMs, long-range bombers, and over a thousand cruise missiles. In 1994 they signed the SALT II agreement, and by 1996 they had given up all their nuclear weapons. In return for this, they got the Budapest Memorandum, which Wikipedia summarizes as follows:

Before voting on accession, Ukraine demanded from Russia, the USA, France and the United Kingdom a written statement that these powers undertook to extend the security guarantees to Ukraine. Instead security assurances to Ukraine (Ukraine published the documents as guarantees given to Ukraine), given on 5 December 1994 at a formal ceremony in Budapest (known as the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances), may be summarized as follows: Russia, the UK and the USA undertake to respect Ukraine’s borders in accordance with the principles of the 1975 CSCE Final Act, to abstain from the use or threat of force against Ukraine, to support Ukraine where an attempt is made to place pressure on it by economic coercion, and to bring any incident of aggression by a nuclear power before the UN Security Council.

Got that? No guarantees from anyone. Assurances that aggressive acts would be brought to the attention of the UN. They gave up their nuclear weapons and got promises in return, promises that (for good geopolitical reasons, as we’ll see in a later essay) have turned out to be empty.

What lessons are to be learned from this? The big one (other than the usual that diplomats lie, and countries don’t keep their word) is that if you aren’t a nuclear power, you don’t get no respect. If UA had kept even 10% of the almost 3000 warheads under their control, scattered amongst the various delivery systems, do you think that Russian troops would be on the ground in Crimea today, with 50,000 of them massing on the UA’s eastern border? Of course not.

The world is watching. And some countries are watching more closely than others. What lessons have North Korea and Pakistan and India and Israel drawn from this? Don’t give up your nukes. Ever. What lessons has Iran, and any other aspirant, drawn from this? If you don’t have a force in being, you get invaded. I’d say that, whatever the ultimate resolution, one of the outcomes of the Crimea Crisis — perhaps soon to be the Ukraine Crisis, perhaps with the possibility of becoming the next European War — is that the cause of global non-proliferation has been set back fifty years.


Malaysia Airlines flight MH-370 and the terrorist threat – Wrapup

March 24, 2014

So, I think we’ve found out as much as we are going to about MH-370, at least for the next year or so. We know very roughly where it went down. What we don’t know is why. All the potential terrorist links so far have turned up dry. Current theories include passenger intrusion into the cockpit, incapacitating fire on board, and pilot/crew suicide. To sort these out a theory has to deal with three sets of events:

1. the communications shutdown and departure from planned flight path at waypoint IGARI.

2. the apparent keeping to airways track through three waypoints

3. the subsequent turn south.

Waypoint navigation

UPDATE (I’m backtracking to include this here because I don’t think it needs its own entry): We shouldn’t be too hard on Malaysia for its lack of forthrightness with the press and the public. As an Australian defence official said, somewhat plaintively, “It’s just a little country.” Yes, it sprawls over the South China Sea, but its government is one of those post-colonial dens of bureaucracy and administrative rigidity so common outside the first world. It doesn’t have enough of an educated elite, in enough of the right places, to handle an international circus like the one that descended on it two weeks ago, let alone deal with a major accident investigation, terrorist investigation, and a search and rescue mission that covered a third of the globe. Yes, it could (and did) ask for help from a lot of people, but I suspect it’s not sophisticated enough to even use the help properly.


There remain many question before we can judge what the most likely chain of events was.

One question is, if the crew was incapacitated by a fire or something similar, why did the aircraft return to waypoint navigation north of Sumatra? I can see a pilot dialing in a preplanned emergency airfield. I can’t see the system overflying that point and making two 90+ degree turns at waypoints if the pilot were incapacitated.

Another question, if it was headed northwest, via airways, why did it turn due south? Given the time and place, this strikes me as a suicide move. A capable pilot, most likely (but not certainly) the cockpit crew, flew the route indicated, set the autopilot and….then….what?

I don’t think we’ll ever know. If we find wreckage, all that will do is confirm the crash location — at sea. Our chances of finding the black box are exceedingly slim, and I doubt it will tell us anything. The cockpit recorder only runs for two hours before recycling. I suspect that tape holds two hours of silence, followed by the stall warning horn.

My worst fear is that it will contain two hours of the sound of passengers pounding on the cockpit door.

Keyhole from scratch

March 24, 2014

Here’s how it’s done.

The dogs also helped.

Someday, future archaeologists will puzzle over these family-associated ceremonial sites.


March 20, 2014

If it’s liquid, it’s fair game for oatmeal, amirite? Earlier, MJ had made some cream of asparagus soup. It used home-made chicken broth, half and half, and chunks of asparagus. I believe the original recipe called for taking a blender stick to it, but we liked it just as it was.

Next day, I sneaked into the fridge and liberated half a cup of the liquid (a couple chunks of asparagus came along for the ride), and topped it off with another half-cup of commercial beef broth. I used beef broth because it needed to stand up to the asparagus flavor. I left out any salt because the soup itself had a certain saltiness.

Setup: 1/3 cup of stone ground rolled oats, two dinner teaspoons of potato flakes, a half-cup of beef broth and a half-cup of cream of asparagus soup, salt only if you need it.  Cook for 10 minutes or so, depending on the exact style of oats.  Add the potato when you take it off the stove..

Results: Pretty good, if you like asparagus. As with the soup, it could stand a handful of crunchy bacon sprinkled on it.

Rating: *****

Malaysia Airlines flight MH-370 and the terrorist threat – 5

March 19, 2014

Yes, the Malaysian government, et al. have been withholding information.

According to a BBC report (that no-one else seems to have picked up on yet), we do have hourly pings from Inmarsat, and they show the aircraft flying more or less due south. The theory now is, essentially, that the aircraft turned west after its last waypoint, flew to the vicinity of Grand Nicobar Island (that small dot just off the northernmost point of Sumatra), and turned left.

Satellite range ring (from blue dot), and
6hr40min flight time from last radar contact (red dot)

Back to the map (originally from a contributor to the blog Luchtzak Aviation, thanks Luke). Flying due north or due south at this point does us a favor from a geometry standpoint. Rather than crossing the Inmarsat arcs at an angle, the signal would sit on the same arc for a while. I don’t have the tools or the time to mark up this map, but you can imagine from looking at the one arc we have, how successive pings would tend to stay on the same arc.

It gets better. The aircraft was north of the equator, and so a southerly track would stay on the arc longer, as it passed abeam of the satellite position. Also note that a southerly track from Grand Nicobar (nothing significant about the island, it’s just a good reference) would hit fuel depletion at about the same time as the last detected ping. A northerly track would not, and would require that the aircraft would have to do some maneuver that would have it on the northern arc at fuel depletion — that maneuver would be apparent by the fact that it crossed different ping arcs.

So, the theory that best fits all the facts right now is that the aircraft shut down its communications, flew via waypoints to somewhere NW of Sumatra, turned south, and flew until it ran out of fuel.

Malaysia Airlines flight MH-370 and the terrorist threat – 4

March 18, 2014

I’m keeping the title for continuity’s sake, even though there’s not a lot to indicate a hijacking of any kind.

Here’s the latest “Startlingly Simple” theory — fire, smoke, crew turns back to an emergency airfield and then are overcome. It’s been criticised because the radar track shows the aircraft hitting waypoints, which means the autopilot was still on. What would it take for it to be true?

1. Less than total electrical failure. I have no idea where the ACARS and transponder equipment (or cabling is). Could a fire destroy those and not the autopilot?

2. Misidentification of the radar track. Originally, they weren’t sure it was MH370, but then decided, on no known evidence, that it was. If it was not MH370, the fact that it was hitting waypoints doesn’t matter.

3. Misidentification of the Inmarsat pings. Not sure how likely this is. We are using the satellite signal for something it wasn’t designed for. Could the ID’s be mixed up? Digits transposed on data entry? Angle data be off due to satellite-aircraft geometry?

There’s a report out of the Maldives of a low flying jet. I’m not sure the Times of India, quoting a Maldivian news website, quoting a fisherman, makes for a reliable source. The time is close to the Inmarsat contact, but the location is way off. It is, however, more or less directly west of the airfield at Pulau Langkawi, and the last known location of MH370 just by a couple thousand miles. UPDATE: Maldives AF denies the story.

Picture Stories From Earth: The Pentagon

March 18, 2014

Here’s a nice overhead shot of The Pentagon that popped up this week on imagery site Daily Overview (click this link for a bigger version):

The Pentagon

I worked there for almost a decade, and enjoyed every minute of it. This view shows that it’s really just one, three-mile-long single-corridor building, folded in on itself like a big concrete five-ring protein. Make it five stories high, with two basements (and a mezzanine basement), and you have over 17 miles of corridor, any part of which is accessible from any other part in about ten minutes of brisk walking.

The rings are lettered A-E from the inside out. I worked on the first floor of D-ring, just inside upper right hand face of the pentagon shape. Daytimes, I’d ride the bus, and come in through the entrance on the lower right side. Night shifts would see me out in the wilds of North Parking, walking through the dark and cold (or dark and mosquitos) the half-mile to an obscure entrance just off the left hand side of the apex of the pentagon.

The 9/11 airliner hit the lower left side, next to the modernistic parking lot. The repairs were so good, you can’t tell from the rooflines where it was.

The inner park area is planted with grass and sixty-year-old trees, and is a very pleasant spot to take a break and sit on one of the benches. It’s called ground zero, because we figured that’s where the first Soviet warhead would hit. And the little pentagon-shaped building inside the pentagon-shaped park inside The Pentagon? The one at the exact center of ground zero?  That’s a hamburger stand.

Malaysia Airlines flight MH-370 and the terrorist threat – 3

March 16, 2014

So, here’s the map someone should have posted two days ago:

Satellite range ring (from blue dot), and
6hr40min flight time from last radar contact (red dot)

This is from a contributor to the blog Luchtzak Aviation. Not as good as Aviation Herald for hard news, but it did have this map. If all reports are accurate, a big if, the aircraft was last located in the vicinity of the intersection of those two curves.

Both India and Pakistan have denied that the aircraft showed on their radars, and said that if it had — a skin paint with no transponder — it would have been treated as hostile. But the major defenses of India and Pakistan are against each other, and I would not be surprised if the Indian radar coverage looking south from Bangladesh was spotty and poorly monitored. As for the India/China border, India is looking north, and as far as I know, we have yet to hear from China (NSA might know, depending on how many assets they can spare from monitoring Congress).

US officials are reported to believe that the aircraft crashed into the Indian Ocean somewhere on the southern track. That’s a technical possibility, but it’s logically inconsistent with a well-planned highjack that was last detected flying north. In order to reach the IO portion of the track, without being re-detected by Malaysian or Indonesian radar, the aircraft would have had to fly northabout of Bandar Aceh and then turn south. Unless they have classified data, like sonar of the crash impact, or DSP satellite IR detection, I’d be inclined to discount it on logical grounds.

We still don’t have an error band on that ping. Is the ‘corridor’ 50 or 500 miles wide? And I have yet to see any reporting on additional pings. You’d expect at least one per hour, and if we have even one more ping it would be immensely helpful.

So far, we have zero information on the “terrorist” side of the equation.

Malaysia Airlines flight MH-370 and the terrorist threat – 2

March 15, 2014

And so, as soon as I write a post pooh-pooing the terrorist threat from stolen passports, it turns out the plane was hijacked by….someone. As of today (Saturday morning), Malaysia is still saying it might not be a hijacking, but my definition of that term includes the crew absconding with the aircraft, so it’s a hijack.

Based on the news announcement in Aviation Herald, INMARSAT has tracked the ‘pings’ from their system to two ‘corridors’, one in the Northern Hemisphere, and one in the Southern.

What we have is what I think the navigators call a rhumb line, based on time delay of the receipt of the signal by a single satellite. That’s why they can’t tell which hemisphere the plane was in, but given that they were hitting waypoints headed north, they’re probably in the northern ‘corridor’. If they’d had an additional satellite in view, they’d be able to see where the two lines crossed. However, we do have a second rhumb line — the flight time to the last location.

Here’s an earlier WaPo map, before the ‘corridors’ news release, showing how far the plane could have flown from the last point of contact. Now, the plane broke contact at 17:22Z (01:22L), halfway between Malaysia and Viet-Nam. At that point it had about seven hours of fuel remaining, depending on flight regime. The last skin track, over the Andaman, was an hour later, at 18:15Z (02:15L), headed north. The final INMARSAT contact was 00:11Z Mar 8th (08:11L), or six hours later, which would have been very close to the fuel exhaustion time, and 6/7ths of the way to the edge of this map. That puts them in the nearer -stan’s. If they landed anywhere short of that, they would have to have left the electronics on for a while, which is unlikely. I just have trouble believing they flew across India and Pakistan undetected.

Malaysia Airlines flight MH-370 and the terrorist threat – 1

March 13, 2014

The best ongoing reporting on the search for the missing aircraft is from the website Aviation Herald.

One of the interesting side notes is the case of the stolen passports — two Iranian men used stolen passports to board the plane enroute to the Netherlands via Beijing. There is no evidence that they were terrorists. In fact, they appear to be freedom-seekers fleeing an oppressive government.

It is “much easier to get a stolen passport than most people think”. Some 10,000 passports are lost or stolen every year in Thailand alone. Perhaps a third of the people who board aircraft around the world, do so without their passports being checked against the Interpol stolen passport database.

So far as I know, no airliner in the last, say, five years, has been hijacked, blown up, or otherwise interfered with by terrorists using fake passports. This makes me ask the Fermi question, about alien intelligences: “Where are they?”  If it’s so easy to do, where are the tens, hundreds, nay, thousands, of sweaty jihadistas who want to blow up airplanes as a political statement? No, they don’t have a very good chance of boarding a US-bound flight, because we do 100% checking, but that wouldn’t keep them from attacking aircraft of friendly countries, or aircraft enroute to friendly countries.

Could it be that the threat is not nearly as high as DHS/TSA wants us to believe? That they are pumping up the threat just so they can keep us in line and their budgets growing? Surely not.

Oatmeal Dashi

March 6, 2014

More experimenting with dashi (だし, 出汁 ), the seaweed/bonito broth used in most Japanese cooking. The symbol (出汁) for dashi is a combination of two kanji: 出, which looks like two stacked mountain symbols, means to go out, or departure (I’m leaving for over the mountains), while the 汁 symbol, which looks like it’s saying “water for ten”, means soup. So, soup you eat before going out.

I noticed that while all the dashi recipes have you remove the bonito flakes, to give a clear broth, there’s lots of uses that don’t require that. Since limpid is not a word one usually associates with oatmeal, I decided to add the bonito to the oatmeal, instead of to the dashi.

Setup: 1/3 cup of stone ground rolled oats, one cup of water from a quart jug in which a slab of kombu seaweed has been soaking overnight, two fat pinches of bonito flakes, salt.  Cook for 10 minutes or so, depending on the exact style of oats.  Add the bonito about three minutes before you take it off the stove.

Results: Very good. Mild-tasting, with just enough fish flavor to offset the bland. You can spice it up with a drop or two of soy sauce, but be very sparing.

Rating: *****

Cauliflower Oats

February 27, 2014

The other night, MJ made a cauliflower ‘risotto’ off of a recipe from Sunset Magazine (a magazine is like a paper blog that only gets updated once a month). To oversimplify, you run a raw head of cauliflower through a word food processor, then cook it in a small amount of broth and thicken it with cream and panko. The result looks more like cream of wheat than a rice dish, and it tastes almost, but not quite, totally unlike risotto. Having said that, if you don’t think of it as risotto, it tastes really good. Of course, there were leftovers. Even I can’t eat half a head of cauliflower at a single sitting.

Setup: 1/3 cup of stone ground rolled oats, two fat dinner teaspoons of cauliflower ‘risotto’, not quite one cup of chicken broth (the cauliflower still has liquid in it), salt.  Cook for 10 minutes or so, depending on the exact style of oats.  Add the cauliflower just before you take it off the stove, so that you don’t overcook it.

Results: Cauliflower gets stronger as it gets older, and the cauliflower taste dominated this dish. It needed an offsetting flavor, so I sprinkled on some crispycrushed bacon that was hanging out in the fridge. I might do it again if and when we do the fake risotto thing again, but I’m probably not going get in line at the local cauliflower market early of a Monday morning.

Rating: *****

Collateral Damage

February 16, 2014

Collateral damage is a military term of art, a shorthand way of referring to unintentional damage inflicted during military operations. So, a taliban is in the next room, shooting at you, you throw in a grenade, and, in addition to killing the taliban you also set fire to the wallpaper. A machine gun is set up inside a compound, you drop a bomb on it, and you also kill the owner of the house and his family. The Al Qaida number-two-man in Afghanistan is attending a meeting, you hit it with a Predator drone, and find out later it was a wedding party and you now have two clans and fifty cousins declaring blood-fued -feud against the US. Collateral damage, as horrific as it can be, is accepted under the laws of war, as an inescapable side effect of combat operations. The requirement is that you take reasonable precautions to minimize it, and that the level of damage is commensurate with the objective of the action.

In 2013, Edward Snowden decided that many actions of the US government and the Intelligence Community were illegal and unconstitutional, and that the only way to bring those crimes to light was to release a large number of documents for public scrutiny. Although the government has so-far successfully prevented a wholesale judicial review of their practices, some of them have been declared unconstitutional (although not by the Supreme Court), and others have been changed — a tacit admission that they were impermissible under US law. This is good. American government actions are well into the shadowy corners of despotism, and sunlight is the best way to cleanse those corners.

Snowden claimed that he made a serious effort to minimize the collateral damage of the documents, and that he gave them only to western journalists. However, in addition to causing public, congressional, and judicial review, the revelations have had, or are purported to have had, a harmful effect on other parts of the US. Things like loss of sales for cloud computing companies, increased counterintelligence operations against the US by the allies we spied on, and admittedly dubious claims of damage to US national security.  By my reading of the situation, this counts as acceptable levels of collateral damage, given that the counter-terrorist mission of NSA has never done squat to protect us.

There’s a point to this discussion. Snowden was incensed that we spied on Americans, and others, and his actions may have made it harder to spy on those others, any others. And it may well be that various foreign governments will now take the steps they should have taken years ago (’cause we aren’t the only ones with good collection systems), and make it harder to do our collection against them, and other others. If NSA had not been so secretive, if they had been more sensitive to the issues of Constitutional law, if they had asked their lawyers “what can we do to stay within the law” rather than “what can we do to get around this pesky law”, then they might not have provoked Snowden, and they might not have suffered so much collateral damage.

The NSA tells no tale; but even as bulk collection was the foundation of their wealth, so also it was their destruction: they delved too greedily and too deep, and disturbed that from which they fled, Despot’s Bane.’ #MT: Tolkien, Fellowship of the Ring

Oatmeal Tapenade

February 13, 2014

Tapenade is French for chopped olives and capers and anchovies in olive oil. Of course, today, we carry that a lot further. I mean, if it’s worth doing at all, it’s worth overdoing. So this jar of Green Olive Tapenade and Dip has chopped olives, tomatoes, bell peppers, carrots, onions, mustard, and assorted chemicals (some of which appear ahead of the edibles on the list). No anchovies. But even without the anchovies, it’s worth a try for breakfast.

Setup: 1/3 cup of stone ground rolled oats, two dinner teaspoons of potato flakes, one cup of beef broth, one fat dinner teaspoon of tapenade. No salt, because the tapenade gives you 220mg.  Cook for 10 minutes or so, depending on the exact style of oats.  Add the tapenade at the beginning, and the potato when you take it off the stove.

Results: Very…tapenadoise. The green olives came through superbly, overwhelming the oats and broth and potatoes. Exciting, if you like that sort of thing. I think it’s an acquired taste, and have listed it as an experiment that doesn’t have to be repeated.

Rating: *****

Cold and dry and, well, cold

February 7, 2014

While there’s lots of places with colder weather, we seem to have spent the last couple of days setting records for cold here in the Cheney, WA, area.

If I am reading this WeatherSpark output aright, our temps have been continuously below the previously recorded minimums for at least 48hrs.

That pale grey line is the minimum measurement for that date and time

That pale grey line is the minimum measurement for that date and time

We’ve warmed up, mostly because it’s been snowing.

Cold and dry and foggy

January 28, 2014

My favorite wxblog recently talked about how dry the West is this month, compared with a year ago. The one constant? Low clouds in the Columbia basin.

Can you see my house?

That’s not unusual for this time of year in the NENW. What is unusual is how long it’s dragged on, and the impact on our temperature variations.

I don’t know when it’s been this unchanging grey for this long. Here’s a screenshot from WeatherSpark, showing the official temperatures in the Spokane area. Left hand side-show the typical cold-night/warmer-day pattern you’d expect. Right hand side shows the same thing, now that we’re forecast to move back to more unsettled conditions. In between? Eleven days of 28F +/- 4F. And in the middle is a week of 27F+/- 2F.

Temperature variation, 13-29 January 2014

Temperature variation, 13-29 January 2014

It feels like we’re living in North Korea.

NSA as an autoimmune disease

January 26, 2014

An autoimmune disease is one where the body’s defenses turn on the body itself, where the various mechanisms for attacking intruders and disease mistake healthy tissue for diseased intruders. Some, like Type 1 Diabetes, attack organs that perform useful functions. Others, like ALS, and Multiple Sclerosis, attack the nervous system that ties the different parts of the body together.

Various of the NSA programs seem to fit this description. I’m not talking about the mass collection of American communications data that the President’s Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board recently declared both unconstitutional and useless. That’s a topic for another rant. No, what I’m talking about are their various actions to make the Internet, and all electronic communications tools, insecure and unsafe.

The Internet is one of the most marvelous, if not the most marvelous, creations of the hand of man. It stands beside the space program in its sheer technical brilliance — and I speak as someone who grew up watching satellites being launched from his back yard. It has created new industries, enabled people with innovative ideas to compete in the marketplace, and tied the world together in a way that was inconceivable a mere thirty or forty years ago. It was designed as an open system, based on trust, and for the last decade and more, the NSA has worked to destroy that trust.

Consider their efforts to put backdoors in both hardware and software, to promote weakened crypto. Part of their efforts went into suborning the various cryptographic standards bodies in such a way that NSA personnel had full control over their actions. Even such organizations as the Internet Research Task Force’s Crypto Forum Research Group are co-chaired by NSA employees*. Other programs solicited zero-day exploits from US firms like Microsoft, or purchased them on the open market.

What this all amounts to is no less than attack on the basic infrastructure of global e-commerce. It’s as if you could no longer trust the road signs on the Interstate, or you found that an unknown number of overpasses had been wired with demolition charges. As others have pointed out, obscurity is no substitute for security. If there is a vulnerability in the system, be it one that was introduced by NSA or one that NSA found out about and didn’t tell anyone, sooner or later someone else (the Russians? Chinese? Mafia?) will find it and exploit it. Will we find out about it? Probably not, because the exploit will hide behind the NSA screen. Only an exceptional set of circumstances (as with the 2005 Athens Affair) would let the cat out of the bag. Now, maybe this won’t destroy the Internet. It will merely make it untrustworthy, incapable of securely handling financial transactions. Think of it as having just a mild case of multiple sclerosis. Thanks, NSA.


*The effort to oust this particular employee failed because the group chairman said that a mere co-chair had no powers. I’d respond by pointing out that there was a reason that the most powerful man in the old Soviet Union was the mere Secretary of the Communist Party.

TL;DR — Anime I never finished, Winter 2014

January 20, 2014

I watched a lot of anime over the MLK weekend. I also dropped a lot of programs. Here’s a representative sample.

The Three Sisters

Onee-chan ga Kita: Mother remarries and now there’s an older sister, who thinks her new little brother is incredibly cute. If you flip the genders, it’s incredibly exploitive, but older girl -> younger guy is evidently more acceptable than older guy -> younger girl.

Recently, My Little Sister is Unusual: Little sister is intermittently possessed by the ghost of a girl who died of unrequited love, or something, and who proceeds to molest and abuse and embarrass her, while attempting to seduce her older brother. Dropped before the end of the first episode. Maybe if she was an older sister…

Pupa: Older brother serves as meat farm for monstrously transformed younger sister. People harsh on this one because they had read the somewhat grue manga and were expecting a well-done 26min bloodfest. What they got was a well-done 4min of stills. If this was a contest for artful manga compaction, it would win first place. As it is, and ignoring the manga and the expectations, ….meh. Some things work in the four-minute format. This isn’t one of them.

Flying Psychos

The Pilot’s Love Song: Some people like it, but my one-sentence summary is: Society solves its social problems by putting all of its emotionally crippled aristocrats on a flying rock named the B Ark Isla and telling them to look for the end of the sky. Based on the previews, I was expecting 26min of tilt-rotor diesel-punk flying-boat porn. What I got was 4min of bad flying embedded in 26min of bad emoting. Flying technology has Morse radio but no DF, top gunners turret — for a rifleman. Flying school sends up students to learn formation flying in groups of 25, air to air gunnery with no ground training, flying in cloudy conditions without basic instrument training (AKA “trust your instruments, Luke“), extended over-water operations with no navigation training. That’s quite a bit to pack into four minutes. I’ve stopped watching the story and have resorted to fast forwarding until airplanes appear. I might even stop that.

What Am I Watching?
(for those who care)

Second half/second seasons of Silver Spoon, Chunibyo, Golden Time, and Log Horizon. Also watching Hozuki no Reitetsu (bureaucrats in Hell); Witch Craft Works (gormless boy protected by expressionless witch, in high school); Nisekoi (Raku Montague and Chitoge Capulet pretend romance to prevent gang warfare outbreak, in high school); Magical Warfare (two boys and a girl fight evil wizards while learning magic, in high school); Seitokai Yakuindomo (boy becomes student council vice president at a formerly all girls — yes, high school. Finds out they talk just as dirty as boys). Everything with “high school” in the description is likely to be dropped, except maybe Seitokai.

UPDATE: Yes, dropped Nisekoi and Magical Warfare. Too generic. Too contrived. As a self-proclaimed connoisseur of childhood girlfriend secondary characters, I’ll miss Onodera san. WCW is worth continuing, if only because of the ‘rich bitch’ ED, with its quintet of tortured witches.

Girls und Feminism

January 19, 2014

Last year, on Altair & Vega, there was an interesting feminist critique of Girls und Panzer. In that essay, author the_patches takes the show to task for false feminism.

Gendering the sport of tankery in this manner takes something from the province of men and boys and places it in the hands of girls and women–at least when compared to our social norms. The show plays on a subtle inversion of how we normally align gender roles. Since waging war is currently considered mainly the province of men, the idea of high school girls doing it implies an upending of the social order and therefore seems progressive. But it really isn’t.

While that certainly is one way to look at the feminist structure of GaruPan, I’m not sure it’s the best way. I agree with the_patches that the recruiting film, and remarks made in the anime make it clear that the social order has not been upended. Because of that, and despite the fact there is a certain amount of gender-symbolism-poaching going on, GaruPan isn’t really carrying that kind of a femininist message.

Hard to get more phallic than this

Hard to get more phallic than this

Instead, I’d like to think of the feminism of GaruPan as the basis of a gedanken experiment in an alternate approach to sports and team building and leadership.

GaruPan asks what a competitive team sport would be like as practiced by a gender with a more balanced testosterone/serotonin ratio. The use of tank combat as the target sport is brilliant, because anime about the more traditional sports brings a lot of baggage along. Those sports already have female teams, and most of the anime about them (not that there’s a lot) deal with the issues associated with women playing known sports in a man’s world. Since GaruPan is about Sensha-Dō as a sport, nobody in the audience has any preconceived ideas about what the rules, tactics, and ethos might be.

So what we get is a particularly womanly way of doing things. Onna-Dō, if you like. Tank teams are more supportive of each other from the start, for example, without the need for any chest-bumping male bonding rituals. There’s none of the samurai swagger of “I’ll go out and sacrifice myself for the team“. In fact the arc that has the Napoleonic arrogance of Kachusha clashing with the overconfident arrogance of the Ōarai team (yahoo!) is the one they come closest to losing.

In the end, Girls und Panzer doesn’t have a strong feminist message. But a core theme of the anime is an idea a boy’s team is most likely to overlook: “Sensha-Dō isn’t war, it’s a sport, and the tanks would be sad if we forgot that”.

My full set of commentaries on GaruPan can be found in Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Girls und Panzer: A Study in Command, and the DVD.

NSA: The more things don’t change

January 18, 2014

…the more they stay the same.

So, here’s Obama’s speech. And here’s some commentary, and some commentary and some commentary. (UPDATE: here’s a belated commentary from Greenwald, and a line by line analysis by The Reg). Now, it’s my turn to do some commentary, on one specific part of the speech: bulk collection and storage of American communications data.

As far as I can tell, nothing much has changed, or will. Bulk collection and storage of phone call data will continue, despite the NSA-acknowledged fact that it hasn’t contributed squat to national security. I’d like to say it’s unconstitutional, but the government has worked very hard to prevent any associated cases from going to court. They say because of national security reasons. I say it’s because they’re scared spitless that SCOTUS will break up the party.

What the President proposed was that the data be held by someone other than NSA (this is in the speech, not in the official Presidential Policy Directive, PPD-28). That doesn’t pass the laugh test. Who would hold it? AT&T? You know, the communications monopolist that has spent most of the 21st Century profiting from illegal deals with NSA? Sorry, formerly illegal deals. A “third-party” company? One staffed by ex-NSA-ers because those are the only people with clearances? One that is beholden to NSA or DoD for the continuation of their contract? One that doesn’t have the status of government agency, and therefore can’t do lots of things that would protect this data from outsiders?

To my mind, if we are going to keep this data, then NSA are the best people to keep it safe. But, of course, none of these proposals can keep it safe from the US government and the intellectual and moral heirs of people like Richard Nixon and J. Edgar Hoover. That’s the main problem and that’s why safeguards were built into the Constitution.

Quite aside from the constitutional issues, what makes this so tragic is, we have no idea what other collection and analysis efforts are being stifled because all the resources are going into haystack maintenance. Even a massive organization like NSA is resource limited. There’s never enough analysts, linguists, database administrators, to do all the jobs that need doing. In the past, NSA has been accused of cherry picking — sitting on an easy target and then flipping through the requirements list until they found a line item that would justify it. It looks to me like that’s what’s happening here. Bulk collection of phone call and Internet data is easy — just pay the telcos to siphon it off for you. Collection against overseas communications that aren’t from Angela Merkel is presumably harder. Why waste time on the hard stuff when you can get 100% coverage of your US targets?

Oatmeal Extenders

January 16, 2014

It’s the dead of winter, it’s time to talk about ways of making a bigger, heartier, oatmeal breakfast without adding, you know, oatmeal. Something to keep you warm while shoveling that six inches of global warming off your drive. And once again we have our choice of bland or exotic.

Bland: A staple of the mid-America, mid-century dinner was succotash, beloved covered dish of many a church social. Standard succotash is corn and lima beans, but the other day MJ made something special — corn and carrots and peas and onions. Extremely delicious and close enough. The carrots, by the way, were from the garden; the last of the Winter Harvest Crops, and the corn was a traditional fresh-from-the-freezer variety. None of your stick-to-the-teeth garden corn like we produced this year. Despite the starchiness, I still added the potato flakes to thicken it. I thought about using corn flakes, but decided against it.

Setup: 1/3 cup of stone ground rolled oats, two dinner teaspoons of potato flakes, one cup of broth, a fat dining tablespoon of Succotash a la MJ, salt.  Cook for 10 minutes or so, depending on the exact style of oats.  Add the SMJ at the start and the potato when you take it off the stove..

Results: Most excellent. I think the onions are what did it for me. And the corn. And nothing stuck to my teeth. We still have a pint or so of the SMJ, left over from the church social, so I’ll be having this a couple mornings in a row.

Rating: *****

Exotic 1: Well, there’s exotic and exotic. Last time we talked about this we used shiritake noodles, which are exotic. Today, well use ramen noodles, which are merely exotic. Why ramen noodles you ask? Why not? They’re readily available, they crumble nicely, they add the bulk that we want in an oatmeal extender, and they’re not something you’d normally eat for breakfast unless you’re a college kid. Let’s take half a serving. That’s one quarter of a standard Top Ramen noodle pack. Their noodle slabs break nicely in half, and somewhat less nicely in half again. This isn’t about ramen flavoring, so we’ll just go with grated cheese.

Setup: 1/3 cup of stone ground rolled oats, one cup of chicken broth, a quarter slab of ramen noodles.  Cook for 10 minutes or so, depending on the exact style of oats.  Add the noodles at the start. The way they absorb water, you shouldn’t need any potato thickner, but have a response team standing by just in case.

Results: Didn’t quite work. I think the noodles absorbed too much of the stock too early, so the oatmeal didn’t have enough to cook in. The oatmeal didn’t break down the way it’s supposed to, so I ended up with a mix rather than a meal.

Rating: *****

Exotic 2: So, let’s try again. This time, we wait until three minutes before the end of the cooking before we add the crumbled ramen noodles. That’s the amount of time they’re supposed to cook, and the oatmeal will have had a running start on them.

Setup: 1/3 cup of stone ground rolled oats, one cup of chicken broth, a quarter slab of ramen noodles.  Cook for 10 minutes or so, depending on the exact style of oats.  Add the noodles at the seven minute point, or three minutes before the timer goes. Add potato flakes to fit in the interstices.

Results: Better, but it still didn’t quite work. There was more liquid, and the oatmeal was done properly, and the potatoes did their best to make the blend, but I still ended up with a mix rather than a meal.

Rating: *****

Support your local non-Democrat … the Brin Plan

January 14, 2014

As I said in an earlier post:

We have a deeply divided political system right now. Part of that is due to gerrymandering — drawing political districts so the opposing party has an overwhelming majority in a very few districts and a powerless minority everywhere else. …

What can be done to fix this? … Let’s start with the primaries. David Brin has an interesting proposal – if you are a gerrymandered minority, simply register as a member of the majority party, and vote for the most centrist of the contestants. Admittedly, this may require you to choose between Attila-the-Hun and Timūr-the-Lame, but it does give you an effective choice, better than the one you have now.

Brin has a good idea. He goes into greater depth here but doesn’t give some of the information you need to operationalize it. This essay will help.

One way to estimate the degree to which a given state or district is divided is to use the Cook Partisan Voting Index (PVI), a measure of how far the voters lean towards one party or another. Obviously, in a heavily partisan district, it’s almost impossible for a challenger from the other party to win, so the challenge to an incumbent comes from someone further from the center — yes, he’s Republican, but is he Republican enough?

How can you tell if you live in a gerrymandered state? Take a look at the PVI for your state’s districts. If you have two or three districts that are R+7 for every one that’s D+15, you’re gerry’d. A good example is Michigan, with 9 districts averaging R+4, and 5 averaging D+19. A more balanced state might be one like next-door Iowa. It has a total of four districts: D+4 and D+5, +0, R+5. If the divide was due to simple geography or demographics, you’d see something more like Washington state, which has a strong Red/Blue divide along the crest of the Cascades, separating the urban West (D+11) from the agricultural East (R+6).

In a highly partisan state the policy positions don’t get decided along party lines, instead, they get decided by divisions within the dominant party. That being the case, the only way you can influence those positions is by being a voting member of that party, and voting in that party’s primary. This means you have to start thinking politics early in the year, not just in September or October. In heavily red districts, the election is essentially over by late summer. Come November, the only thing getting decided is Municipal Sanitation Officer, and the referendum on Outlawing Poor People.

The idea of voting to influence the Reds is more important this year than ever. The few Republicans who were adult enough to push back against last fall’s government shutdown and threatened default will be subject to well-funded attacks on the right by Tea Party absolutists who believe you have to destroy the government in order to save it.

Of course, it doesn’t matter if your state is Republican-gerreymandered, or if you have the bad luck to live in a Republican enclave in a Democrat-gerrymanedered state, or even if you just happen to live in a district that’s natrually Republican. All that’s really important is that your distirict be safely red, say R+6 or above. Having said that, you’re more likely to be living in a red district if you’re living in a red state. Here’s a list of the top ten Red states that (as far as I can tell) hold meaningful primaries. I’ve left off states where the candidates are determined by party caucus, even if there’s a beauty-contest primary as well.

State Primary
10 TX 03/04/14
13 WV 05/13/14
12 NE 05/13/14
13 KY 05/20/14
14 AL 06/03/14
10 SD 06/03/14
8 SC 06/10/14
22 UT 06/24/14
19 OK 06/24/14
12 TN 08/07/14

Note that Texas holds its primary as early as May. Note also that Texas has some of the most anti-Democrat (and anti-democratic) voter restriction legislation in the country, so you need to start prepping now to have the proper ID and registration and so forth. Most of the rest vote in May or June, so you’ve got some time left, but do check on the voter ID requirements.

Once you have voted for your Republican in the primary, you can go on to vote for the Democrat (assuming there is one) in the national elections in November. That will let the politician know there’s more people on the left that he could be picking up votes from. My thought is, the only time you wouldn’t do this is if the Democrat is an obvious nut-case (free marijuana for all and defund the police!). People who vote for nutters like that are what used to be called Yellow Dog Democrats (I’d vote for a yaller dog, if’n he was a Democrat). Those kinds of folks are unpersuadable, and your Republican isn’t going to wast time on anybody who votes that way. You want to be plausibly persuadable, to make it worth his while to moderate his stance in order to get your vote.

Brandied Oatmeal

January 9, 2014

My New Years Resolution is to abandon all attempts to use booze in my breakfast cereal. The two previous efforts were Irish and Scotch whiskies. Both were meh. This one kept up the tradition. It was actually a Cognac, which everyone knows is just a brandy with a better marketing department.

Setup: 1/3 cup of stone ground rolled oats, two dinner teaspoons of potato flakes, one cup of beef broth, two tablespoons brandy, salt.  Cook for 10 minutes or so, depending on the exact style of oats.  Add the brandy at the start and the potato when you take it off the stove.

Results: A strong mediocre. Once again, you can tell it’s there, but knowing that it’s there doesn’t do anything for you, except to crowd your brain with information you don’t need.

Rating: *****

They say that no experiment is a failure if it leaves a big enough crater, but this one is just whimpering out. It may be that hard liquor has a place in oataku-land, but it will have to be as a minor player, adding nuance to something else. What something else? Give me time, I’m sure I’ll think of something.

Hmmm….maybe if I just poured it over the oatmeal once it’s in the bowl.

Medicare for all

January 4, 2014

A recent online article in Newsweek made the interesting claim that “If everyone in the U.S. was on Medicare, the savings would move the federal budget from deficit to surplus.”

Being a military brat, and career military after that, I’ve spent my whole life in a “single payer” environment. I loved it. These days, as a Medicare-eligible, TRICARE-eligible, working civilian with employer-provided health insurance, I’m in much the same situation. I think that’s pretty good, as well, except that the paperwork has grown, from zero, to WTF? I found the quality of care from the military doctors to be as good, or better, than I’m getting now. Doctors are doctors.

The article started me thinking about what it would cost to extend the US military health care system to the rest of the population. I did some very quick, very sloppy, digging around. I found numbers and estimates (about half Wikipedia and half official handouts) of annual costs that are more-or-less comparable. Here’s my summary:

US Military, including reservists, dependents, etc: 10 million
US DoD Medical Spending: $53 billion

VA-enrolled Veterans: 10 million
VA Medical Spending: $50 billion

Total People: 20 million
Total Spending: $103 billion

Average Spending Per Person: $5150

Average US Medical Spending Per Person: $8000

Even if I’m off by as much as 50%, extending military health benefits to the entire population would still be cheaper than what the “free market” has foisted on us. And zero paperwork. Of course, that might impact recruiting.

So, yeah. Medicare for all, and maybe something better.

New Year’s Day Oatmeal

January 1, 2014

I haven’t had an oatmeal post since last year, so I thought I’d share a new one, special for New Year’s Day.

We have a new tradition in the Oataku Family — noodles for New Year’s Eve dinner. A traditional Japanese New Year’s Eve includes soba noodles — long, square edged, buckwheat noodles. Being long, they are a traditional symbol of long life, and therefore auspicious. I guess we could have had pumpkin vines and done the same thing, but, traditional.

Unfortunately for tradition and auspiciocity, MJ broke the noodles into shorter, forkable bits, so I guess we’re in for a lot of short, forkable lives. Start by chopping and browning half an onion. Then add the shattered noodles, and just enough beef broth to cover. Simmer until done, 5 or 6 minutes. Thicken with a tablespoon or so of sour cream and let cook down. Most excellent.

At dinner time, control your urge to eat the whole thing and lick the pot. Save out a quarter cup, and soak overnight in the fridge in a cup of beef broth and oatmeal.

Setup: 1/3 cup of stone ground rolled oats, quarter cup of soba leftovers, one cup of broth, salt.  Cook for 10 minutes or so, depending on the exact style of oats.

Results: The concentrated beef/onion flavor from the dinner was spread out over a relatively large amount of oatmeal, which made it a little bland; but that might be what you want on the first morning of the New Year.  A splash of soy sauce helped.

Rating: *****


December 31, 2013

So, being lazy, last week I just pointed to a recipe for Verylongnameinvolvingeggnog oatmeal. That wasn’t very helpful to those of us without steel-cut oats, or whose medications contraindicate any breakfast preparations involving heavy equipment. So, herewith, a recipe based on two weeks of experimentation, which I was going to call Verylongnameinvolvingeggnogandrolled oatmeal, but which I just decided to call OatNog.

I won’t go into a blow-by-blow description of the discovery process. It would be like Edison publishing a book titled “Nine Thousand More Ways Not To Make A Light Bulb“. What I found was, the thick nog didn’t absorb very fast, so the rolled oats didn’t cook properly if one just dumped eggnog and water into the pan. I was up to fifteen minutes, and the oats were still as flat as if they’d been run over with a metal cylinder. As with last week’s recipe, you have to let it sit overnight. You don’t need to slow cook it, but you do need to long-soak it. There’s also an issue with balancing the nog/water ratio. Once the nog has been absorbed, you are a little short on water for the cooking process. A little, not a lot.

Setup: 1/3 cup of stone ground rolled oats, half a cup of eggnog, half a cup of water, plus a couple of tablespoons for makeup, fat three-finger pinch of dried, sweetened, cranberries, salt. Mix all the ingredients the night before. In the morning, top off with a tablespoon of water, if you think it needs it. Cook for 10 minutes or so, depending on the exact style of oats. Warning: you have to stay close and stir often, as this recipe will thicken fast and stick to the bottom of your non-stick pot.

Results: Very good. Rich and creamy.* Festive.

Rating: *****

*Note: It isn’t necessary with this recipe, but I found that one way to make the rather thin eggnog you buy in the store a little richer is to add a shot of flavored non-dairy creamer to the glass. I use Nestles Italian Sweet Cream.

Other People’s Oatmeal

December 25, 2013

Being lazy in these pre-post-Christmas/Boxing Day hours, and since we don’t have any dustbinmen to gift, I’m linking to a recipe what I found on the web. Haven’t tried it yet*, but I’ll say this, I’ve never seen so many modifiers in a recipe title.

Herewith, Overnight, Slow Cooker, Eggnog Cranberry Steel-Cut Oatmeal…. (Burritos? Lasagna? Help me out here).

If I posted this at my usual time, you wouldn’t be able to have it ready for the Boxing Day Hunt Breakfast, so I’m scheduling it for early Christmas evening, when you’re wondering what to do with all the leftovers. This will help, but you’ll still need to find a use for the turkey.

*I am a little reluctant to use my only slow-cooker for a recipe that says you have to grease the pot, otherwise “You’ll need a hammer and chisel to get the slow cooker clean”. I mean, this is breakfast, not Igor Bars. Plus, I don’t have any steel-cut oats.

How many plots has NSA foiled?

December 23, 2013

TechDirt reports that both Judge Richard Leon, and the The President’s Review Group appear stunned at the lack of evidence for the “54 plots” that NSA has been telling us for half a year now that they have prevented.

As I’ve said before, I’m not stunned. I’m just surprised they didn’t go whole hog and shoot for a higher number.*


*Sorry about the quality. Best I could find.


December 23, 2013

Headline-mongering websites are all yelling about how NSA paid RSA to install a backdoor into their products. There’s less here, and more, than meets the eye.

The news broke when Reuters published an article on how NSA had paid RSA $10million to make the NSA-developed Dual Elliptic Curve algorithm the default random number generator in their BSafe crypto tool. The article does not say, but this was presumably in 2005 or 2006.

In response, the various Internet news sites began running headlines along the lines of RSA took NSA money to put a backdoor in BSafe. Headlines like this gain lots of hits, but are somewhat misleading.

RSA responded by saying:

RSA, as a security company, never divulges details of customer engagements, but we also categorically state that we have never entered into any contract or engaged in any project with the intention of weakening RSA’s products, or introducing potential ‘backdoors’ into our products for anyone’s use.

This is as careful a case of lawyerly wording as you will see until NSA issues its next denial. Notice the “never divulges details of customer engagements” statement. This is a reasonable policy for a security company, but it shouts that they did take the money. But also notice the “with the intention of weakening” statement. Nothing they did was intended to weaken their product.

My take, which is only alluded to in the various reports, is that NSA, at the time a trusted player in the crypto field — after all one of their missions is Information Assurance, and they regularly provide advice to the private sector — approached RSA management and said they felt strongly enough about secure communications in these post-9/11 days that they’d gladly provide an additional business reason to use the algorithm. So NIST supports the algorithm. NSA is pushing it. And RSA already (they say) made the decision to use it back in 2004. That $10million is just found money.

In other contexts, this is called social engineering. You convince the target that the action you want them to take is the action they want to take. No, not in other contexts. In exactly this context: an evil-doer wants to exploit the gullibility of a trusting person in order to get them to install malware to their system. So, the headlines should say: NSA dupes RSA into installing malware. Or something like that.

By the way, this isn’t the first time that NSA has been under fire for having too much influence on commercial crypto security. Back in the late 1980′s and early 1990′s, before Osama scared us all over a cliff, people were already questioning their actions. RSA will likely take a major business hit because of this, and neither they nor any other security products firm will be free of the taint of NSA manipulation for years to come.

A Tuna Oatmeal Christmas

December 19, 2013

We had open-face tuna salad sandwiches the other day, just the fare for cold winter lunches. As chance would have it, there was some of the tuna salad mix left over. We make a very simple salad: canned tuna, mayonnaise, sweet dill pickle chunks. None of this  “lemon zest, lemon juice, olive oil, capers, olives, red peppers…” stuff for us. I did the usual baseline oatmeal (using plain water) then added a fat teaspoon of tuna salad.

Setup: 1/3 cup of stone ground rolled oats, two dinner teaspoons of potato flakes, one cup of water, teaspoon of tuna salad, no extra salt, no potatoes.  Cook for 10 minutes or so, depending on the exact style of oats.  Add the tuna at the very end.

Results: Very good. Very tuna-y. Needed more pickle. Think of it as hamburger helper for tuna.

Rating: *****

Girls und Panzer – The DVD

December 18, 2013

My full collection of commentary on GaruPan can be found in Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, A Study in Command, Girls und Feminism, and the DVD

UPDATE: I thought I’d enhance the value of this entry by listing the three Garupan DVDs I’m aware of. None of them is perfect.

1. Cheap Malyasian copy that claims 12 episodes (and numbers them that way) but really is just the first ten episodes from Japan, plus the two fillers (5.5 and 10.5) renumbered. CON: Episodes 11 and 12 are missing. PRO: It’s the only one with Katyusha.

2. Cheap Malaysian copy of all 12 regular episodes, as aired in the US. CON: the Katyusha minute has been cut out.

3. Official US release of all 12 episodes, with better subtitles and corrected animation. CON: Katyusha has been replaced by a minute of generic music. This is the one I describe below.

So, here’s our penultimate antepenultimate Garupan entry (bit of social commentary to follow, and I’m still waiting for the OVA). I got the full-up US version of the DVD from Amazon last week, and just now marathoned it. As you might expect, it’s very close to the Crunchyroll streamed version, but there are some interesting differences in the details. There’s no great narrative flow here, so I’ll just give you an unsorted list.

Visually, it looks a lot better on the bigger TV screen than on my monitor. One drawback to this is, the CG-ness of the tanks is more obvious (particularly when anime figures are integrated), but after a while, you don’t notice. Other effects are enhanced — the snow explosions look better, as does the snow kicked up by the tracks. Small animation errors have been corrected. The national match is now the 63rd both times you see it (instead of 63rd one place and 74th the other). After the match with Saunders, one of the Rabbit Team was left out of one of the shots in the streaming version, but appeared in the following close-up. She’s in both shots now, but not very well done.

The sound is about the same, although in spots it seems more subdued. That might be because I’ve been listening to the full symphonic soundtrack so much.

Translator’s notes have been added, and I was right about the “any old iron” call in Episode 10. Also in Episode 10, they explain that katsu (カツ, cutlet = fried, breaded chicken/pork/etc) has the same pronunciation as katsu (かつ, to win), which is why all the chicken puns for the Student Council, and why everybody’s eating fried, breaded something.

Translator’s fluffs: In Episode 11, the STuG III is told to aim at the Lange next, the Lange looking like a bigger Hetzer. Actually, what the Japanese says is onii-chan, or “it looks like Hetzer’s older brother”. Interestingly, the English dub gets it right. In Episode 10, when the hall monitors are preparing their poster, it doesn’t just say “how to support your team“, as the DVD would have it. A Japanese friend of mine gave me some of the translation I mentioned in an earlier entry. It also says: “no booing, no flash [cameras], no costumes” — more like what you’d expect the hall monitors to write.

The Katyusha kerfullfle: As I mentioned in an earlier essay, the original program broadcast in Japan included a one-minute segment of the Pravda team singing Katyusha as they drove into battle. That minute was cut out of the Chrunchyroll stream because of the idiotic copyright status of the song in the US, which is different from the rest of the world. They haven’t solved the copyright issues yet, but the DVD version makes a valiant attempt to patch the hole. They include the edited minute, but with generic moujik music. They even went so far as to edit the characters so that their mouths didn’t move, because there’s no singing. This makes for a creepy ten or fifteen seconds of motionless facetime. I guess that’s the best they could do under the circumstances.

Extras: Nothing much. Clean openings and endings. Japanese trailers and ads.

Pulled Oats

December 5, 2013

MJ made a large batch of pulled pork, which we’ve been grazing on for the last few days. It’s a little spicy, but it tastes good over rice or an english muffin half, so why not over oatmeal? Some of the sauce was pooled in the low spots, so I scooped up a bunch of that, plus whatever shards came along with it, and dumped it in my morning oatmeal. Recognizing, of course, that this kindof undermines the whole low cholesterol, healthy fibre reason for eating the stuff in the first place.

Setup: 1/3 cup of stone ground rolled oats, two dinner teaspoons of potato flakes, one cup of broth, large glop of pulled pork sauce, with associated meat fragments, salt.  Cook for 10 minutes or so, depending on the exact style of oats.  Add the potato when you take it off the stove.

Results: I’d eat it again. It needed the salt. I didn’t overdo it on the meat, so it wasn’t very noticeable. The spices came through just fine.

Rating: *****

Catastrophe Theory

November 28, 2013

There is a sub-branch of the study of dynamic systems called Catastrophy Theory. Despite the name, it doesn’t deal with earthquakes and tsunamis. Instead, it deals with situations in which perturbed dynamic systems don’t revert when the perturbation is reversed (OK, yes, earthquakes and tsunamis can do that). Raising the price of public transport might well trigger a drop in ridership. Returning the price to the original value might not cause ridership to return to its previous high.

Similarly, Chaos Theory talks about basins of attraction. A chaotic system will tend to move unpredictably within one region, or basin, but if it stumbles upon the right path it might well flip over into a different basin, whereupon it will start moving unpredictably within that one. Attempting to retrace the steps most likely won’t return you to the previous basin because of, you know, chaos. One of the concerns about climate change is that we might drive the Earth’s climate into a new basin of attraction, one that is stable, but inimical to human civilization.

Both of these have some of the attributes of a one-way function. Chaos Theory because finding your way back is so hard, Catastrophe Theory because retracing your steps brings you somewhere else. Think of being on the edge of an overhanging cliff. If you walk towards the cliff long enough, you fall over the edge. If you turn around, once you hit bottom, and walk back the way you came, you don’t end up on top of the cliff, you end up underneath the overhang. Returning to the top requires that you walk the long way around.

Getting hit by a modest sized asteroid is like that. Or a comet.

Over on Next Big Future is a chart showing the threat posed by various sizes of asteroids, should they hit the Earth. Imperial College, London, has a handy calculator, plus a 2.5MB pdf document, providing a little more detail. The ICL simulator is quite a bit more sanguine than is NBF. Their description of a 500m diameter asteroid impact reads like a largish nuclear warhead strike, while NBF considers it a civilization-ending event. Let’s agree that nobody is sure how big of an asteroid strike is needed to cause civilization to collapse, and that we can only guess at the likelihood of that happening within the lifetime of our current civilization. That’s not the problem.

The problem is this. Modern civilization is a one-time event. If it goes away, it isn’t coming back.

Think of what a civilization-ending impact might be like. If a sufficiently large asteroid (or comet) hits in the Pacific Ocean — the most likely event — everything on the Pacific Rim disappears in the super-tsunami. Or maybe it lands in Siberia (the last two did), so we get world-wide firestorms. Wheatever happens, the materials thrown into the atmosphere will likely give us two or five or ten years of nuclear winter. Everybody starves. Well, everybody in First World Europe and Asia and North America. Equatorial peoples are the most likely to survive. Even if there are enclaves in the First World, they’re not likely to include a particularly wide range of technology skills — they’ll be tinkerers, not engineers. I’m not going to go into detail because that’s not what I want to discuss. I’m assuming an impact big enough to destroy all but a fraction of modern civilization while allowing a biggish chunk of humanity to survive. How big of a rock is that? You decide. You want more detail? Read Niven and Pournelle‘s 1977 book Lucifer’s Hammer, then turn it up to eleven.

The question is, what happens when the majority of the survivors of a global catastrophe get knocked back to at best an early 18th Century mode of existence (and at worst an early 8th Century mode), mitigated by a dwindling cache of manufactured goods and a vague memory of what is possible? It took us 250 years to go from the technology of colonial America to our current 21st Century position. Can we do it again? In 250 years? Not likely.

You see, modern civilization is energy intensive. Cheap energy intensive. Which means petrochemicals. The reason it’s so hard for us to give up our oil dependency is that oil is the only resource that checks all the boxes for energy density, transportability, and so forth — here’s a pair of comparison tables from Do The Math.

More to the point, the movement from a society dependent on 18th Century technology to one that wears 21st Century technology on its wrist requires an enormous amount of energy. So, solar panels can provide energy, but where do we get the energy to go from steam engines to a wafer fab for solar cells? Access to today’s coal resources requires the ability to dig tunnels a thousand feet beneath the ground, or to remove the top thousand feet off a mountain. Most of today’s sources of oil now require high-tech methods to access and process them. Can you spell deep ocean drilling? Hydraulic fracturing? Cyclic steam stimulationCombustion overhead gravity drainage? The few remaining sources of post-impact easy oil are likely to be used up heating the homes and powering the cars of third-world locals, until those resources are also gone. I’d be off on a rant about the last peasants using the last of the oil, if I weren’t pretty sure that at the same time the last Americans and last Europeans weren’t burning the last books, to keep from freezing.

This is not even a rant about our using all the pre-impact oil. That’s a sunk cost. We thought we had good reasons for doing what we did, at the time we did it, and now we are where we are. This is a warning that we only get one shot at creating a viable space-based civilization, one that’s independent of planetary resources, and dispersed enough to keep us safe from the real dinosaur-killer rocks that are out there. I’m not the first to raise this issue. I think that Niven and Pournelle actually did that, thirty or forty years ago. I’m just taking advantage of recent events to casually drop the idea into our Thanksgiving dinner conversations.


November 28, 2013

Here it is Thanksgiving morning, so why not do something Thanksgivingish for breakfast? We found an unopened jar of Dickenson’s Premium Cranberry Relish at the back of the cupboard, and it was only a year past its sell-by date. Since I’m pretty sure that the only reason today’s chemo-processed foods get mould on them is that it grows on the dust that collects after they’re opened, I figured it would be OK. If you want to know what it tastes like, think of it this way: when they say cranberry relish, what they really mean is chunky style cranberry sauce, plus various festive additions.

We didn’t have any turkey broth (this being pre-, not post- turkeyprep), so I used a field expedient: 200ml of chicken broth, then enough beef broth to bring it up to one cup. Doesn’t taste like turkey, but it tastes like a more robust chicken, so that’s OK.

Setup: 1/3 cup of stone ground rolled oats, two dinner teaspoons of potato flakes, one cup of broth, big sloppy dinner teaspoon of cranberry relish, no salt.  Cook for 10 minutes or so, depending on the exact style of oats.  Add the potato when you take it off the stove..

Results: Very good. I’d say this is going to be a holiday staple, except I notice that the first thing listed on the ingredients is high fructose corn syrup, and then they list cranberries.

Rating: *****

Diffie and The Troll

November 26, 2013

Not a rock band.

Whitfield Diffie is something of a legend in the public key crypto field — best described as an obscure corner of an otherwise arcane art form. Recently, he was brought down to West Texas to testify as an expert witness in a patent trial: Newegg vs patent troll TQP Development. TQPD was claiming that Newegg violated their patents on combining SSL with the RC4 cipher. As in any patent trial, much of the discussion revolves around prior art, in this case of public key encryption, and whether or not the patent was a valid one. My take on this whole game is that the US Patent Office examiners are incompetent bureaucrats, mostly concerned with getting their quotas filled, and so the only real examination of patents these days is in court.

There ensued a soon-to-be-classic exchange, which appears in almost every word cloud in the blogosphere this week:

“We’ve heard a good bit in this courtroom about public key encryption,” said Albright. “Are you familiar with that?”

“Yes, I am,” said Diffie, in what surely qualified as the biggest understatement of the trial.

“And how is it that you’re familiar with public key encryption?”

“I invented it.”

Diffie’s testimony was so powerful that Newegg rested its case, without calling a witness on potential damages. That, as it turned out, was a bad idea, since the troll-friendly folks of Marshall, Texas (who have turned exploiting our broken patent system into a cottage industry), decided that the patent was good, and Newegg had infringed it, to the tune of $2.3million. Newegg is, of course, appealing.

But that’s not what makes this case interesting to me. What makes the case interesting is what’s revealed by TQPD’s attempts to discredit Diffie. They raised the issue that he didn’t really invent public key encryption in 1976, that the invention was made by Ellis and Williamson between 1969 and 1975. Diffie countered that their work was circulated in a secret memo in GCHQ (the UK equivalent of NSA), and that nothing was made public until after Diffie’s presentation at a world-wide conference. I draw two conclusions from this:

1. NSA and GCHQ are no friend of the Internet. They are willing to keep techniques hidden for almost a decade, techniques that, when independently invented, turned out to be critical for the development of Internet commerce. Corollary: Nothing that NSA and GCHQ says about the Internet can be trusted.

2. As with most things in the software field, when the right time comes, a problem and its solution will be in the air, floating around, discussed in universities and tech companies around the world. If not Ellis, then Diffie. If not Diffie, then someone else (who didn’t know what to do with it and sold it to TQPD). Corollary: The idea of awarding a patent for the solution to a problem that is obvious to the skilled practitioner, once that problem comes into focus, is ludicrous.

Oatmeal Brie

November 21, 2013

There are many reasons to want to celebrate — an unexpected raise, birth of a child (someone else’s), escape from a parking ticket — and one wants to think ahead about what sort of celebratory breakfast might be appropriate. In our house, the proximate occasion was the arrival of a substantial wheel of brie, thus serving as both celebratory reason and celebratory breakfast in one. It was a real wheel, not one of those assemblages of tinfoil triangles. Of course, we ate most of it in the traditional fashion — on dainty saltines with glasses of Late Harvest Riesling in our other hands. A few moments of celebration, and then off to work. When we got down to the end of the wheel (an interesting philosophical concept in itself), I Spirited Away the last of it to have with oatmeal.

Setup: 1/3 cup of stone ground rolled oats, two dinner teaspoons of potato flakes, one cup of chicken broth, one-quarter cup of brie, chunked.  Cook for 10 minutes or so, depending on the exact style of oats.  Stir in the brie when the timer goes, and add the potato when you take it off the stove.

Results: Outstanding. Just the thing to serve guests the morning of a wine and cheese wedding, preferably one involving redwoods. Put the brie in late early enough that it melts, but not so late early that it fondues.

Rating: *****

TL;DR — Anime I never finished, Fall 2013

November 16, 2013

Two more anime slide off my radar. Neither are bad, as such, just not compelling.

Gallilei Donna (Galileo’s Girls): Three greatN granddaughters of Galileo are pursued across a frozen and dying Europe by ruthless energy barons, duplicitous Italian police, and ultra-fashionable sky pirates, while they search for clues to his inheritance, whatever that is. The writers appear to have read too many Dan Brown novels and have taken the art form to heart — plot holes, contrived discoveries, hidden meanings and all. I can put up with a lot of anime logic, but there are limits. I lasted five episodes, primarily to watch the flying goldfish mecha.

Gingitsune (Silver Fox): He’s a ten foot tall invisible fox in flowing priestly robes, she’s a middle-school priest-descendent shrine-maiden, and the only one at the shrine who can see him. Started out as a slice of life program about their relationship; tried to add drama with a depressed and rebellious teen-age boy (is there any other kind), who is also a priest-descendent (forced to leave his shrine for excessive slouching or something) and has his own invisible fox, said fox being an immature, scared, bratty chit of an 80-year-old. I didn’t drop it so much as I wandered off and left it laying somewhere.


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