Don’t heed the troll

November 23, 2017

Cooper’s Trump’s gift in the way of invention was not a rich endowment; but such as it was he liked to work it…. In his little box of stage-properties he kept six or eight cunning devices, tricks, … and he was never so happy as when he was working these innocent things and seeing them go. Mark Twain, Fenimore Cooper’s literary offenses.


Trump’s main device is distraction. Be it outrageous tweets, or outrageous policy stances, he uses these things to distract from the real dealings of his administration. He has also, as we all know, re-set the boundary for what is acceptable in the the way of crass, boorish, or illegal actions by a sitting President. This has had a significant impact on how I consider his actions.

In the past I might have been concerned with the moral or fiduciary behavior of other Presidents, but Trump has destroyed any boundaries, any constraints, and he’s concentrated on distracting the populace from other, more important things. So, what’s left? What’s important? Actions.

I see two kinds of policy actions showing up in the news these days. First, are what might be called loss leaders — actions he, or the GOP, want to take but which they know will foment a backlash. Dropping the Individual Mandate on ACA might be one of these. They stick this in the tax bill, and if they get it, fine. If they don’t get it, well, it served to distract the Democrats, to soak up news minutes. If it never becomes law, it still served a purpose.

The other kind of policy actions are things they are serious about. Things that will get them more money from rich donors. Things that will get them more federal judgeships. So the FCC is pressing on with a plan to kill Net Neutrality, to be announced over Thanksgiving. And everyone is supporting Roy Moore because, he may be a pedophile, but he’s our pedophile. And, of course, the big tax give-away.

Note how these can work in tandem. Everyone gets together and opposes dropping the Individual Mandate, and meanwhile the tax bill passes. Everyone gets spun up over some tweet, and meanwhile, rich wallets are opening up.

The point of writing this early on a Thanksgiving morning is to give warning. It’s a device. It’s a distraction. It’s a snare an a trap, designed to burn up news cycles and force you into adrenaline exhaustion.

If your Thanksgiving dinner table discussions center on Trump, instead of government policies, then you’ve already lost. Don’t fall for it.

I hate to normalize Presidential actions that would be considered boorish in a hedge fund manager, but the fact is, all that is just Trump being Trump.

What should you do? Pick your battles. Look at Trump/GOP actions that will seriously harm the country and those who can’t fight back. Immigration, federal agency dismantlement, net neutrality, disaster relief failures, tax-so-called-reform in general (not just ACA mods). Call/write your elected representatives about those, not about golf days or whose what he is grabbing. Yes, those are important. No, I hate to say it, those are not as important right now as some other things.

Don’t fall for it. Don’t heed the troll.


Death from Out There

November 21, 2017

In keeping with my growing tradition of giving you something to be thankful for on Thanksgiving, herewith another discussion of death by asteroid, with the good part being, we might never see it coming.

Rocks that pass in the night

On late October, not quite a month ago, the William Herschel Telescope in the Canary Islands picked up an ultra-high-speed object departing the solar system.

Click to embiggen

A2017 U1 is 400m in diameter, long and thin, moving at 25km/second. It’s perhaps 20 times bigger and five kps faster than the Chelyabinsk meteor. If it hit the Earth (choose your own adventure), it would likely dig a crater 7km in diameter and half a km deep, and blow down everything within a 100km radius. If it hit offshore, it would create a 25-50m tsunami. A country/region-destroying impact, but not continental or planetary disaster. That would require that the rock be over ten times larger, and hit at just the right place. Do you feel lucky?

The point is, we never saw it coming. We picked it up well after it had made its turn around the Sun (and ten days after its closest approach to Earth), and it took a couple of days from the time the image was collected until we understood what we had. And if it were headed right at us, there wouldn’t be much drift across successive images to analyze. It would be a nearly stationary object, very like a star, except that it wouldn’t move with the stars.

It could be that the last words our technological civilization ever hears will be an astronomy grad student saying “Oh, shi….”

By their nature, interstellar asteroids are impossible to predict. But even regular asteroids can stay hidden. A recent Hubble Space Telescope galaxy survey just happened to pick up five new ones. They are faint, Main Belt asteroids that pose no threat, and yet they make one think about what might still be out there, waiting, in the dark.

They do everything in threes.


Memories of my youth: Charles Manson

November 20, 2017

So, Manson is dead, and a bizarre chapter in American crime starts to close.

Strange links in a long…ish life. Not many people know that Sharon Tate was an Army brat. She attended the same high school my sister-in-law did, in Richland, WA, and hung out in the various Army recreation facilities there, where a young Second  Lieutenant taught her to shoot pool.

The Army was in Richland because of Hanford Nuclear Facility, and one of their installations was an Ajax SAM complex defending the facility from Russian bombers, and he was there to man the SAM sites.

Thirty years later, I worked with that Lieutenant, now a retired Army LTC. Not sure how that would fit in a degrees of separation game.

That’s not what he said

November 19, 2017

One of the things that gives the press a bad name is their penchant for grabber headlines. It’s not the reporter’s fault. The editors write the headlines, and most editors today appear to be more interested in clicks than accuracy.

Case in point: STRATCOM Commander General John Hyten’s answer to a question at an international security forum in Canada this week. Here’s the way the press presented it:

Slate. U.S. Nuclear Commander Says He’d Refuse to Carry Out Any “Illegal” Trump-Ordered Nuclear Strike

CBS News. Top general says he would resist “illegal” nuke order from Trump

BBC. US nuclear chief would resist ‘illegal’ presidential strike order

CNN. Top general says he’d push back against ‘illegal’ nuclear strike order

CBS broke the news, but has, I think, pulled back on their original headline. Slate is still going with the original.

What he actually said, was:

“I provide advice to the president, he will tell me what to do,” Hyten added. “And if it’s illegal, guess what’s going to happen? I’m going to say, ‘Mr. President, that’s illegal.’ And guess what he’s going to do? He’s going to say, ‘What would be legal?’ And we’ll come up with options, with a mix of capabilities to respond to whatever the situation is, and that’s the way it works. It’s not that complicated.”

You see, that’s his job. Advising the President on the implications of his military actions. Not refusing (that never came up), not pushing back (that implies a policy disagreement), but simple professional advice.

But the press is happiest when they have a top-level bunfight going on, with strong opinions on both sides and everyone rushing to their web page to see what the latest is. Given the current economic situation of the press, I don’t see any way this can be changed.

Just, read beyond the headlines, OK?

Firefox Fail 3

November 18, 2017

Further findings. Here is the earlier stuff.

I am creeping up on the openings limit, and it looks like the new ReloadEvery addon has …. infelicities.

Key question for my cyber lifestyle, How many tabs can I have in the process of opening at one time? We’ve seen that 23 is too many.

This morning I did 4, 5, 6, and 7.  Prior tabs, or linked pages, from earlier opens were still open when I did the next one, except for the last. Everything went well until I hit seven tabs (all comics, Doonesbury, BC and the like). Doonesbury opened, then blanked when the next one in line did, then nothing worked. Reloading didn’t work. I tried opening a new tab from [New Tab], and it crashed and gave me a crash report. Then I could reload Doonesbury. Conclusion: 6 is max for comics, which means I have to limit my intake. Sorry, Devil’s Panties, you are consigned to the single tab directory. Now, the other tab-sets were all news and such, so comic feeds might be handled differently.

The new ReloadEvery addon (recommended replacement by FF), looked like it was going to work well. But it seems to have a problem when reloading if the server wants to reauthenticate or something. Not a problem with manual reloads, nor with the auto reload of the past, but I got a 404 on Twitter, and a blank tab on McClatchy when I went to a 15min reload. Manually setting the reload time to 10 minutes has worked. So far. The trick seems to be to get your reload time inside the reset cycle for the server. Ten minutes is pretty much the lower limit on what I’m willing to accept on Twitter. Otherwise, it just keeps scrolling, and if I wanted a scrolling feed I’d go to a different website. Most other pages I don’t reload, or I manually reload. OK, maybe a election night stream, or the webcams in Spokane when the weather is bad on a school night. The downside is, I have to set the 10min by hand, and I have to keep checking back to see that it took and is holding. Just more of my production time soaked up hand-holding the browser.

So, the much vaunted FF57 performance increase only seems to work if you don’t use it too much. Earlier versions of FF were pretty snappy if you only opened five tabs simultaneously.

Firefox Fail 2

November 17, 2017

Quick follow-up on yesterday’s essay on Firefox 57.0.  The good news is, I found a couple of workarounds. The bad news is, the important workaround didn’t work. And I remain convinced that the marketing department pushed for a linear model across platforms.

Firefox 57 seems to work best when feeding single tabs, and keeping a list of the most recent ones, so you can pop back to them at will. This is the sort of behavior you would likely value on a phone or a phablet, or even a tablet — anything with limited screen real-estate. What they gave up was the ability to open a lot of tabs at once, and then knock them down like ducks in an arcade. Instead, you plod through your bookmarks, one at a time. Assuming you hit the same pages each day, the most recent approach might be useful. I work with lots of tabs across dual screens (and Chromium in the background, for special tasks), and it doesn’t do much for me.

Herewith, the other results.

The big thing for me was multi-tab Speed Dial pages. There’s a Speed Dial replacement in the Addons, and it works great as a Speed Dial, but it broke other stuff. Case in point: once I had implemented it, it always opened up when I clicked on the New Tab [+], and once it was open I couldn’t copy/paste an address into the URL bar. It wasn’t  on the Speed Dial, so Speed Dial wouldn’t process it. I guess (I didn’t try) I could have pasted into an already open page and see what happened then. Another example of Mozilla building for a narrow linear approach to browsing. Minor issue: the tab for the Speed Dial was always labelled Speed Dial, not Speed Dial Start or maybe just Classes or any of the others. I had to click on it to see what it was.

Dropping back to stock 57.0 dropped me back to a single New Tab with 12 panes for favorite, well, recently-used-unless-pinned, pages. And there’s no way to edit it. Your choice is to pin or not pin or delete. And if you delete, FF fills in with the next page in line (AKA next most recently used). So all you can do is keep deleting and hope that something will turn up. I’m sure I can bump up that 12, if I look around, but 50 is probably too many. As an aside, I’m still irritated because I’d just finished building a new Speed Dial with all my medical, insurance, and chemotherapy links. All gone (OK, if I remember the name in the URL I can start typing and maybe get it back).

I found Customize, that will let me put icons on the toolbar and move others around. So now I have Reload back where my hand wants it to be, and I have the Bookmarks pulldown icon to lead me straight there and a book-shaped icon to let me view history and saved bookmarks. Well, the bookmarks it shows are the most visited, AKA recently visited (as in, it lists a 404 screen that I don’t remember hitting more than once).

I tried again this morning to see if there was any improvement in FF performance on many-multiple tabs on a clean restart, and the the answer was Not only no, but not-even. Not only did a multi-tab load (23) die, it brought down any other tabs that were open and loaded. Making breakfast, coffee, and a quick weigh-in on the Wii, didn’t resolve it. All I got was flashing black or white pages. Stuff was there — I could see the link on mouse-over, but it was behind a curtain. I suspect it has something to do with how FF loads the rented banner ads — even when there’s only one tab open, the page will flash, in a messing with your graphics card sort of way, when it’s loading, or reloading WordPress after a [Save Draft], or following a link.

And once I had crashed it with many-multiples, it did the same thing with any new loads, so the whole session was borked and I had to restart. As a follow-up, after some tedious experimentation (thanks, Mozilla), it looks like the maximum number of tabs that can be opening simultaneously is 5-6. So all I had to do is break my morning reading into 5×5 bookmark subdirectories (News, Comix, Concentrators…) and open them one batch at a time.

For the FF57 supporters who say the tradeoffs were to get better performance. Well, I never needed blinding fast screen loads. With that many tabs open, I expected slowdowns. I do see much increased speeds and smaller memory footprints, so far. Back in the day (October) is wasn’t unusual to see FF soaking up 2GB of RAM and having to restart the browser. Of course, a click on the [Startup] Speed Dial tab and I would be back in business.

A quick check gives me the impression that the memory usage problem has been solved. FF57 started out using about 340MB with six tabs open. Running a CNN newsfeed (YouTube) or a Smithsonian video article (Facebook) bumped that up to 370MB, which dropped back down to 340MB, when closed, then climbed up to 400MB while I am editing this, not sure what the driver is, maybe the revision pool. Still, even Thunderbird is taking up more memory now. Is the tradeoff worth it? We’ll see. I have lost a lot of functionality, and I am still irritated that they didn’t ask, but I think I can learn some procedural workarounds that will give me 75% of what I want, at only a 50% increase in time spent. Yay.

So, as far as I can see, there are no good browsers left. I don’t like the way Chrome does things, and the way it really wants to be Google-centric. It’s on my tablets (except for the even-worse Amazon browser), but that’s as far as I go. Chromium is a somewhat better version, but I still find it clunky. Opera is a rebadged Chrome, with Chinese Intelligence links; Safari is a different God on a different mountaintop, and you use IE or Edge at a threat to your immortal soul.

And they wonder why us old folks keep saying the world is going to Hell.

The Long Farewell: Chemotales 1

November 17, 2017

TLDR: I just completed my first cycle of chemotherapy for multiple myeloma. Two out of three protein tests are in, and they show levels back down in the normal range. The third test takes longer to process. The doctor says that so far this is good.

Key Points:
1. I’m not cured, I’m not in remission, I’m not stopping chemo. This will go on for maybe another four months.
2. It was about as benign a process as one could have and still call it chemo. No hair loss, no bowel issues, no nausea.
3. I am more fatigued, and napping an additional two or three hours a day, and I don’t have the stamina I once had. This cuts down on my office hours, and my willingness to go out in a La Nina winter and take long walks. I’m also cutting my classes a little short. The students are very understanding.
4. Possibly because of all this, I’ve gained 10 lbs.
5. I’m drinking lots of water, and that has to go someplace, and usually it decides it wants to go early in the morning. Very early. And then again a couple of hours later. At that point, I’m awake, if you wonder why you get stuff from me at all hours. Fortunately, I can take a nap later.

1. I have a number of meds that are as needed, for nausea, etc. One of them wasn’t optional. Omeprazole is a daily, to keep the chemos from rotting out my stomach. I missed that until the nurse went over my meds. I’m taking it now.
2. As part of the performance art associated with approval of Revlimid in the US, I have to fill out a questionnaire every two week cycle (No, I don’t share my Revlimid…). I was expecting they would tell me when I was supposed to do the survey, but they were expecting me to get that info from Celgene. So I missed the start of this week’s Revlimid. Fortunately, timing isn’t vital, and overnight shipment (Portland -> Nashville -> Spokane) will get it here by the weekend.
3. they told me they would be giving me a chemical to maintain bone strength, but it didn’t register that they would give it as an infusion (I was thinking, pill), so when they came for me with the needle I climbed on the back of the chair and shrieked and flung latex gloves until the doctor talked me down.

So, we started back at the end of October. My cycle was twice daily pills (I counted four grams worth, no wonder I’m gaining weight), with a weekly short infusion and a weekly pre-short blood draw. Now, they’ve added an every three week long calcium infusion and associated big blood test (the one I just passed) an additional calcium horse pill, to fill in around the edges.

I feel like an astronaut. There’s this tremendous team working for me — doctors, nurses, staff — and I’m just the guy at the top of the rocket. I don’t think this gets enough emphasis. In this fight against entropy, there’s not much that I am doing beyond checking my clock and saying to people, OK, stab me now. Thanks guys.






Firefox Fail

November 16, 2017

So, I come downstairs, it’s 5AM, and I want to do my morning quick surf and maybe fill out a few Found On Webs before getting a start on the day. Firefox needs a restart.

Now, I tend to leave FF open all the time, with one or two tabs on the left hand screen (FoW and other stuff), and six tabs on the RH (gmail, calendar, etc). Usually, a restart will bring them all back. If not, I have a six speed dial tabs, one of which is [Startup], and has all of them in one place. A quick right-click/OpenAll and I’m back in business.

I click for restart. FF goes away. …  …  …  Nothing. No problem. I click on the new icon (looks more like a goldfish) and I get an error. Can’t find a file. I click on the New Tab symbol. Can’t find website. I look at the new, modern toolbar. No bookmarks symbol (there’s one to bookmark a page), no speed dial symbol. There’s only the old + New Tab symbol, and when I click on that I get what looks like a speed dial page but is really a list of things it thinks I should be interested in. Where’s my speed dials? How do I find my bookmarks? Well, at least the Library’s still there.

Hello, Library? OK, it’s that stack of books in the RH corner. Click on it. Menu with a bunch of stuff I’m not interested in (recent websites), but it does say bookmarks. Click on it.  Umm, same-o stuff. Even longer list of websites I have visited but am not interested in right now. Just like the New Tab page. Ah! Down at the bottom of the Bookmarks menu is a Show All Bookmarks, AKA the old Library.

Before I go further, let’s see what I can find out on the Mozilla site. Hmmm. People seem upset. The Speed Dial feature seems to have disappeared. You can get it back, it says here, by doing the FF equivalent of editing the Registry. Two quick Booleans and we’re good. Ummm….no. The edit was easy. The result, unimpressive.

Let me tell you about me and Speed Dial. I fell in love with the idea when Opera invented it a decade or so ago. On FF, I have roughly six Speed Dial tabs — General, School, Systems Administration, Anime, Startup, Japanese. I use them the way some people use bookmark tags. SysAdmin, for example, has my modem access, and ISP web pages, NAS link, etc. Startup has the ten pages I want to have open whenever I sit down at FF. Overall, I have roughly fifty pages that I can get to that way. Not any more.

The new RegEdit SpeedDial has only one tab, and it seems to have been filled in by a random selection from, you guessed it, pages I’ve looked at recently. Mozilla seems to have lost my fifty pages for me.

I have the Library open to the bookmarks screen. It took me three clicks to get there. It represents a third window that FF has open — two screens and the library. I obviously am going to have to reorganize things so that my bookmarks directory looks more like my old speed dial.

So, is there an alternative? Doesn’t seem so. The Pocket feature seems to be a way of organizing pages that I’ve, well, looked at recently, such that I can get to them on my cell phone. Type the web page name into the URL bar? That’s the Mozilla recommendation, but it won’t open multiple tabs for me.

The second problem is, this new versiion didn’t even improve what functionality is there. I will admit that I stress FF pretty heavily. I have a bookmark folder titled MorningPapers, that has 23 pages in it, and I’ll start out by right-clicking and telling it to open all in tabs. It complains, but it does it. No longer.

When I open up all my morning papers, FF just gives me blank screens. Maybe white, maybe black. If I roll my mouse around I can see links, so the page has loaded, but FF hasn’t seen fit to display them. Probably issues with how they are handling inserted ads.

What it looks like is Mozilla has opted to support people with a very linear lifestyle. They want a few pages, they want to look at them one at a time, and they want them available everywhere. If the world had started out on cell-phones, all browsers might look like this. To my mind, this is a step backwards. It’s like the browsers of the 90’s, only with synch.

My main complaint is that Mozilla didn’t seem to ask anyone about this. Someone down in their design spaces, or maybe marketing, decided it would be a good idea to go after the trendy young executives and their phablets, and that’s what they did.

I’m not going to ragequit Firefox. Not yet anyway. There’s really not much else. Chrome? Chromium? That’s about it, and then we’re down to Mosaic. I’ll work on this for a while, seeing if I can get used to the new idiosyncrasies (like, which window gets the new tab when I hit a bookmark in the library, how many tabs can I open at once without it hanging, etc), and then we’ll see.

Meanwhile, if someone wants to fork Firefox into Tanuki 1.0, I’ll give you a look.


November 16, 2017

Okonomiyaki is a Japanese fast food pancake, popular in the Kansai region. Essentially, it’s pancake batter, with chopped cabbage, green onions, tempura bits, and bacon stirred in, with a wide range of toppings, and a sauce that’s more like steak sauce than shoyu. Here’s a basic recipe. And here’s a more detailed discussion.

It was dinnertime. I had some cabbage, some pancake flour, and some pork chunks. I made half a recipe, which was enough for two. Too bad MJ was out. It wasn’t bad, considering that I left out three quarters of the ingredients. Next time there will be more planning, and a trip the Asian market (or maybe something online). I managed to burn one side (5min at medium-high is too much), but the burned bits peeled right off. There were leftovers.

Let’s see what we can do with oatmeal.

Setup: 1/3 cup of stone ground rolled oats, one cup of beef broth, two heaping tablespoons of Okonomiyaki (just under a quarter cup), two dinner teaspoons of potato flakes, salt. Cook for 10 minutes or so, depending on the exact style of oats. Add the Okonomiyaki with about a minute to go (so you don’t overcook the cabbage), and the potatoes right at the end.

Results: Outstanding. I was shocked at how good it was.

Rating: *****

Recapitalizing the Triad

November 15, 2017

I extremely dislike fuzzy thinking and illogical arguments, even when they are in support of things I might agree with. There’s an essay over at Breaking Defense by Rebeccah Heinrichs, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute that exhibits these problems.

It’s about the need to fund a replacement for the current nuclear triad system — ICBMs, SLBMs, bombers. Well, actually, not the triad. Just the ICBM part. The other two legs are alluded to, but the arguments are about the land based deterrent, the GBSD.

Now, there may be a valid need to replace the entire Minuteman force with something new — it’s been a few decades since I paid attention to this — but these arguments don’t convince, partly because the author attempts some sleight of hand with them

The threats facing the United States and U.S. allies today are varied and complex. Great powers are establishing patterns of provocations and demonstrating a willingness to violate international treaties and agreements. Rogue nations with penchants for proliferation have chemical and biological weapons and are pursuing or testing nuclear weapons. Allies on the doorstep of these strategic threats need constant reassurance of the U.S. commitment to the nuclear umbrella.

OK, so, great powers (RU, CN) are being more aggressive. Not in the we will bury you way of the Cold War, but in a sharper elbows, ignore treaties we don’t like (just like the US has done on occasion) approach. Nothing there says we need new ICBMs. Indeed, it probably argues for more carrier task groups. Second, rogue nations (NK) are testing nuclear weapons. So, do we need 400 ICBMs to take out NK, or would a squadron or two of nuclear F-16’s do the job? Finally, our allies next door need reassurance that we will continue to provide nuclear cover. If the question is, will we lend our nuclear F-16’s to protect Japan from NK, that’s a diplomatic issue. If it’s will we lend our ICBMs to protect Japan from CN, well, we might have to think about that, and a modernized ICBM force doesn’t change anything.

So, the next statement.

A key value of America’s ICBM force is its contribution to nuclear stability — the sheer number of missile silos makes it impossible for a nuclear adversary to believe it can carry out a pre-emptive strike against them that will successfully destroy the land-based leg of the triad. Without the ICBM force, however, even small states might be more tempted to consider attempting to disarm the United States by hitting a handful of targets: bomber bases and two nuclear missile submarine ports.

The first sentence is absolutely true, but it applies only to RU. Russia is the only country on the planet who poses an existentialist threat to the US. China can do horrible things to us, but we’d still be recognizable as the USA the next day, and China would be gone. Nobody else counts. Yes, they might hit Guam or Seattle, but that’s not destroying the country.

The second sentence ends up out in left field. Nobody is suggesting we take down the entire ICBM force. And if we did, striking a submarine port would not keep our deployed SLBMs from retaliating.

As it turns out, we’re not just talking about the missiles.

To be fully functional, this system requires more than just missiles. As the only leg of the triad on constant alert, the system is composed of launch facilities, sophisticated guidance systems and secure command, control, and communications

So, it’s not just the ICBM replacement missile. It’s communications systems as well. And new guidance systems that will let us take on a wider range of missions than simple deterrence. Of course, those kinds of upgrades don’t depend on the missile itself, and don’t cost nearly as much as a whole new ICBM system, and don’t require an ICBM replacement.

There are other arguments, and many assertions, in this essay, and none of them are particularly compelling. I don’t actually have a personal opinion on if we should spend $400Billion per year for the next thirty years, but this essay doesn’t convince me we should.

A Leninist view of Roy Moore

November 13, 2017

I am not a Leninist, nor even a Marxian, but in a long career watching the Soviet Union (remember them?), I ran up against their ideas often enough. Here’s how they might look at the Roy Moore case.

The case of Roy Moore presents an interesting dilemma for Democrats and moderate Republicans. On the face of it, he is creepy, in a way that no politician has been able to survive. If this wasn’t the Evangelical South, and a Trump Presidency, and a knife-edge Republican majority in the Senate, it would be, as a Bush CIA Director once said, a slam-dunk, and he’s out. But it isn’t, ’cause they are, so he ain’t.

Marx and Lenin and the early Socialist thinkers have something to say about this. They call the problem one of contradictions. Like the existence of great riches and great poverty under capitalism. At some date, those contradictions will advance to the point that they bring the system down, and it will be replaced with something else. Here’s Lenin (The Heritage We Renounce, 1897):

The enlightener believes in the present course of social development, because he fails to observe its inherent contradictions. The populist fears the present course of social development, because he is already aware of these contradictions. The “disciple” [of dialectical materialism] believes in the present course of social development, because he sees the only earnest hope of a better future in the full development of these contradictions. The first and last trends therefore strive to support, accelerate, facilitate development along the present path, to remove all obstacles which hamper this development and retard it.

Stripped of its unreadable munge, it says that the person who really understands the system will push to accelerate the contradictions, to bring about the new order.

The GOP is a sick parody of its former self, interested only in gaining and holding power. We could see that throughout the Obama administration. In the midst of the greatest economic collapse since the Great Depression, their only objective was to make him a one-term President. They seriously damaged the country and ruined the lives of millions of Americans, all for the goal of power. And once they took office, their total policy stance was, if Obama did it, we can undo it. What’s needed is a way to restore proper balance to the American political scene, and to do that, the GOP as presently constituted, must go.

But in order for that to happen, it has to happen from inside the party itself, and that has to be driven by a grass-roots demand for reform. And the only way for that to happen is if the party, as constituted, is subject to a total repudiation at the polls. And the only way to do that is for the GOP become good Marxist/Leninists — by, you know, electing and seating a sexual predator as a Senator for the year before the 2018 elections.


Veteran’s Day 2017

November 11, 2017

I’ve retweeted this on The Twitter, but I thought I’d put a less ephemeral link up here.

Stonekettle Station is a retired military blogger of roughly my generation. He was Navy, I was Air Force. I had the same relationship to Robert Heinlein that he apparently had — a formative voice on what it meant to be a military officer.

Starship Troopers is about two things — responsible citizenship and how you prove it, and a celebration of the lifers, the guys who stayed in the military because the ethos and culture fit well with who they were. At 22 years, I guess I was one of them.

Many people dislike the novel, because of that celebration. They call it militaristic, as if military service turns people into fascists. It doesn’t, and you rarely, not never, find the hard-core right wing types among the career ranks, and very rarely among the officer corps. What it does do is give you an abiding distaste for war, and a profound distrust of politicians, both things we could do with more of.

This is Stonekettle’s take on the matter, this Veteran’s Day. It should be required reading for all those who never served and want to understand those who do. I pretty much agree with everything he said.

Almost a month ago, David Brin wrote (not for the first time) about the war on the professionals, including the military. And now, we see Trump attacking his professional Intelligence Community while overseas, meeting with a foreign leader. In DaNang, VietNam. My old stomping ground. Something ironic there.



The Long Farewell: Köpfen fährt

November 9, 2017

Which is bad German for “brain trip”, as in, my brains went on one — nothing to do with gas.

Tuesday night was scary and embarrassing. I got halfway through my lectures, and drew a blank. I would look at a slide, and I couldn’t figure out what it said. It felt like my eyes were skittering around the slide, never landing on any actual words. I couldn’t read the slides, and I couldn’t think of anything to say about them. Horrifying.

After abut ten minutes of this, I gave up and sent the students home early. My intent, for this weekend, is to add enough notes to make up for the lack of a lecture.

I talked to the onconurse, and she was mystified — it was a brain problem, not a vision problem. Well, it turns out, I think, that what started it was a vision problem.

Have you ever looked at a bright light and had the memory of it hanging around your field of vision, a big blob of color? Have you ever had the blob appear as a line, or rectangle, sometimes pulsating? I have (particularly since the cataracts), and this appears to be an example, only bigger.

So, at some point I apparently glanced into the projector, and got at least one large, and possibly several small, optical artifacts. They were big enough to cause severe blanking of the visual field. If I looked at a digital clock that said [12:35] I would see 2:35], with no indication that the first digit was there, even if I knew it. The rest of the visual field was equally shattered. Imagine reading a typewritten script, where the typist was missing a finger. The lack of any visual clues is what made the situation scary. It was as if my blind spot had expanded to cover most of the field of view, and it wasn’t obvious that this occurred because of projector flare — it might have been getting too close to the projection screen, or a bright spot on the computer.

It was very strange. I’d look at the slide on the PC and I wasn’t picking out words — it was mostly spaces. I could see more, but not a lot more, on the screen, and I just couldn’t integrate what I was seeing, couldn’t come up with the story line for that slide.

There’s a photoshop technique called fake cheesecake (don’t google it, you’ll just get recipes and porn), where you take a perfectly respectable picture of ladies in modest bathing suits, and lay a screen over it with strategically placed holes that covers the suits and just reveals the skin, and makes them look nude. It was like that, but less sexy.

Not being prepared for that kind of a problem, my brain decided that it just couldn’t read any of it, and refused to cooperate. It took an hour or so of experimentation at home to figure out what the problem was. Thursday night went much better, since I knew what to avoid.

A friend later suggested the possibility of a stroke, but given that I had no trouble talking or driving or, when I got home, reading, and since a more direct explanation exists, I shan’t worry about it.

UPDATE: So, it’s a new Tuesday night, and wouldn’t you know, I walked into the classroom and had much the same reaction as before (only at a much lower level, and I was ready for it). It’s a poorly lit lab space, with a number of bright point sources, which may have something to do with it. Next week, sunglasses!





November 9, 2017

Pinquitos are a small, pink bean grown only in the Santa Maria Valley of California. Sometimes you can find a can of S&W brand pinquitos in the supermarket, but usually you have to order them. Being a dried bean, they last a long time — we are still using up the many poundsworth that we brought back from our last trip to Santa Maria, maybe ten years ago. Under the best of conditions, they can be a tough bean, but we’ve found the best way to cook them:

  1. Do the usual wash thing (although ours have been remarkably clean)
  2. Put a cup of dried beans in the multi-cooker, cover with a couple inches of water, and pressure cook high for 30min. Let cool. No salt or other additives.
  3. Check to see that you still have a goodly depth of water, and then switch to slow-cooker-high, for another four hours.
  4. Meanwhile, cook up whatever additions you want — onions, garlic, meats, etc. Salt this to taste.
  5. When the four hours are up, decant through a strainer, mix with the mixers, BBQ up a tri-tip, and enjoy.
  6. Oh, yeah. SAVE THE WATER

We had about a cup and a half of beanwater left over. I decided the best way to extend it would be to mix it 50/50 with a box beef broth. That would give me three breakfasts to play with.

Setup: 1/3 cup of stone ground rolled oats, one cup of broth (50/50 bean and beef), two dinner teaspoons of potato flakes, salt. Cook for 10 minutes or so, depending on the exact style of oats. Add the potatoes at the end. If it looks a little sloppy, add another teaspoon of potato flakes.

Results: Outstanding. Tastes like refried beans. Cheese helped. You can do this with regular canned beans, but I’d like to encourage everyone to try the pinquitos.

Rating: *****

You had one job…

November 7, 2017

One electoral year ago, Donald Trump won the Presidential election despite trailing in the popular vote, because he won 304 votes in the Electoral College. Some people have a problem with this.

There have been a number of calls over the years for the abolition of the Electoral College. Recent ones have been by Democrats, and of course were opposed by Republicans (who have managed to use the EC to elect two Republican Presidents — generally agreed to be the two worst Presidents in modern history — despite losing the popular vote). On the one hand, Democrats have argued that the EC is outmoded and that election results should depend on the will of the people. On the other hand, Republicans have argued that (although I can’t find any evidence of this) the EC was in the Constitution to protect the rights of the smaller states.

My argument is that the Electoral College should be abolished because it has proven incapable of doing its job.

Michelle Goldberg: I think we’re learning that the Constitution may, in fact, be a suicide pact. It’s a source of constant astonishment to me that the country has handed over the means to destroy civilization on this planet to an unhinged lunatic who lost the popular vote and was installed with the aid of a hostile foreign power. It’s such an epic institutional failure that it calls everything we thought we knew about this country’s stability into question


As the Mayor of Charlottesville, Virginia said (almost a year before the marches), the reason the Electoral College was created was to keep people like Trump from becoming President.

It’s all there in the Federalist Papers #68 (emphasis mine):

The process of election affords a moral certainty, that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications. Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity, may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first honors in a single State; but it will require other talents, and a different kind of merit, to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole Union.

The problem is, the Constitution was designed at a time when states were more or less insulated from each other by distance and communications limitations. It was hard for a person with talents for low intrigue, etc., to become popular nationwide. Now, from a communications standpoint, we’re all one country, all one village.

In addition:

Nothing was more to be desired than that every practicable obstacle should be opposed to cabal, intrigue, and corruption. These most deadly adversaries of republican government might naturally have been expected to make their approaches from more than one querter [sic], but chiefly from the desire in foreign powers to gain an improper ascendant in our councils.

The trouble is that, over the years, changes to the EC process at the state level have done away with the capability of electors to influence the election. Many states now require the elector to vote with the will of the majority of the population of that state, or face a fine. Indeed, electors who break this rule are called faithless.

This flies directly in the face of the original intent, and I’m surprised those laws haven’t been declared unconstitutional:

It was equally desirable, that the immediate election should be made by men most capable of analyzing the qualities adapted to the station, and acting under circumstances favorable to deliberation, and to a judicious combination of all the reasons and inducements which were proper to govern their choice. A small number of persons, selected by their fellow-citizens from the general mass, will be most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to such complicated investigations.

The argument that electors should be restricted to voting for whoever got the most votes in their states is actually a strong argument for awarding the office based on the  national popular vote. And in any event, if all the electors are is a rubber stamp for a state’s Director of Elections, then they could be replaced with a rubber stamp. One you don’t have to use very often.


Nothing to see here, folks

November 6, 2017

So, that’s a wrap. It was Texan on Texan, domestic dispute, an armed society is a polite society. No bigger story than Texans being Texans, and characterized by a standard Texas phrase: Some guy just shot up the

Horrific? Yes. But you voted for this, Texas. You (and by you, I mean probably three quarters of the adults in that church*), voted for the laxest gun laws in the country, the poorest enforcement, and a medical system that makes it all but impossible for most of your people to get help for mental (or, indeed, any other medical) problems. Your votes, for politicians, laws, taxes, were one long march to Sutherland Springs.

You voted for a government that could say that their thoughts and prayers were with the victims, and by the way, the way to prevent future occurrences is more guns in church.

You have your reasons, and your principals, and you went into this with your eyes wide open, knowing it could happen because that’s the way you built it. If you build a road through your fence and you don’t install a cattle guard, your cattle will get out. If you build an uncontrolled intersection across a freeway, you have to expect traffic accidents. If you build an unregulated fertilizer plant in the middle of town, you have to expect that one day it might blow up and flatten the community. If you allow unregulated access to guns, you are going to get gun deaths.

This isn’t a Second Amendment issue. This is an issue of fact. The Constitution allows you to own guns, and Texas law and culture interprets that permission such that ownership is both widespread and uncontrolled.

You own this, Texas. You designed the system and you, even now, fiercely defend it in the face of known and demonstrated dangers, saying that your Texas way of doing things trumps dead kids and shattered churches and decimated communities.

It’s yours, Texas, so don’t bitch.

* 72% of the county voted Republican last election, and the other 23% were probably western edge spillovers from San Antonio.

Chrunchyroll gave me herpes – update

November 5, 2017

A update to the original.

Here, finally, is an official announcement. It’s on the Ellation website, not CR, and the only surface timestamp is 4 November. CR superuser asharka (not a sysadmin, just some guy) shows “datePublished”:2017-11-05T01:12:32.

The CR pointer to it doesn’t actually appear on the Forums home page, but it’s stickied to the top of the internal pages.

Crunchyroll gave me herpes

November 4, 2017

But I got over it.

Crunchyroll, the anime streaming service, just went through a DNS hijack attack, and I fell for it. If I’d been using Windows, likely I’d have been toast. Thanks, Linux.

So, late last night, the entire staff of this $100 million company with a million paid users, took the phone off the hook and went to bed.

After 9 hours solid, their German staff woke up to find that they had a problem

which they then passed along to the head office.

What was happening was that a DNS hijack was redirecting traffic to a server in Russia, which was downloading a malicious Windows .exe file. If you tried to sign in, you got a splash screen and an auto-download.

This is where I came in. I couldn’t get past that screen, but I figured it was just CR being CR, so I finally said screwt and let it download. I figured it would just save the .exe and I could go about my business. I told you I have Linux, not Windows, yes?

Well, I’d forgotten about how helpful Linux can be. No sooner had the DL started than WINE fired up to install it in its own separate sandbox. And about five seconds into that, WINE crashed. That’s not unusual, with weird software packages that don’t follow the standards. You know, the kind you’d get from outfits like CR, who took five tries to get their new Roku interface approved.

People have tried to install viruses under WINE before. What usually happens is the sandbox fills up and WINE aborts it. Here, it didn’t even get that far, which saved me a lot of trouble.

When I went back to the website, still clueless, I got their standard Site Down, we’re working on it screen

That went on for a couple of hours.

Meanwhile, I bitched about it on Twitter

and got informed

Meanwhile, smarter people than I (not at CR) were working on what went wrong.

And what was the much-vaunted team of shinobi doing to keep their million paying users informed? They were retweeting other people’s postings

and showing two hours of pre-canned ads on what you should be watching.

Finally, they were back up, and gave us a typically uninformative all clear.

Meanwhile, this incident unleashed a storm of complaints on the forums, plus some interesting technical discussions of how badly broken CR security is. Yes, the login is encrypted,

but once you are past that, everything is in plaintext.

..and there’s a horde of other problems.

Crunchyroll is notoriously bad about keeping users informed. The most you get is a sorry about that, we’re back, tweet. I guess when you are a $100 million oligopolist brand of a wholly owned subsidiary (Ellation, very interesting, worth reading) of a holding company (Otter Media) of a media conglomerate (AT&T/Chernin Group), you don’t have to worry about these things.

It’s enough to make one switch to Anime Strike.

And there’s an update.

About that election

November 3, 2017

This is just a quick post to remind folks that we are talking about a number of different issues WRT the 2016 election, and sometimes they are not easy to keep apart. I’ll have additional links later.

  1. Agents of influence, AKA Russian trolls poisoning the media discussion. Appears to be confirmed by reliable sources
  2. Direct Russian interference: Russian hackers breaking into the DNC computers and offering their take to the Trump campaign. Did they do it? Did they make the offer? The jury is out on the first one, and while some Trump campaign staffers are under investigation for lying about their contacts, there’s not yet solid proof that anything was offered or that the contacts themselves were illegal.
  3. Indirect Russian interference: Russian hackers breaking into DNC and other Democratic campaign sources and releasing edited versions to the press. Those press reports picked up by the GOP campaign. Apparently confirmed.
  4. Insider dump (or Russian covert operation) of DNC data to Wikileaks, which released it. US has characterized Assange as being in the pocket of the Russian Intelligence Services. I think it’s simpler. Obama and Clinton got the Swedes to trump up sexual assault charges against him so they could extradite him to the US and try him on espionage charges for the Chelsea Manning leaks. Assange declared war back, and did everything he could to damage Clinton. Getting Trump elected was a side benefit.
  5. Clinton taking over the DNC unfashionably early in the primary season, and milking them for all she could take. Note that this is qualitatively different from any of the above. It’s not normal (and if Trump had done it, what would they have said?), it’s probably not ethical, but it doe’s not appear to be illegal. I’ll have more to say on this in a later post. And a later update shows a second agreement that kills most of the non-ethical aspects.

What’s in a Name?

November 3, 2017

Some decades ago, when I was paying more attention to the industry, there was a minor bunfight in the writing community over the the terms SF vs SciFi.

SF is what writers do. SciFi is what SF writers sometimes call themselves.

Naming is important, because that’s the label a community displays to the outside world. It establishes what George Lakoff would call the frame, which defines the discussion. Because of this it is important not to accept an opponent’s label, because then you are arguing on their terms.

A good recent example is the label Alt-Left. It was originally a centrist descriptive about those on the far left. It then got hijacked by the Alt-Right apologists to provide a frame that allowed for a false parallelism (both sides do it) and demonisation (they’re coming right at us!), and then conflated with the term AntiFa, which is dedicated to direct action, and has a longer history of real organizations behind it, dating back to before WWII. This is a gift to the Alt-Right frame any opposition as violent anti-capitalists. We had an Alt-Right back in the 30’s. It was called the German-American Bund.

Here’s a suggestion. The Alt-Right is portrayed as “powerful, vicious, steeped in neo-Nazi ideology, nativist white supremacy…” That’s not wrong, but it’s incomplete. My reading of that definition is … Nazis. The Alt-Right are Nazis, are proud of the term, and only use the Alt-ernative because all civilized outlets would otherwise ban them. This is not a violation of Godwin’s Law, because that’s about an egregious insertion of the term into an otherwise unrelated discussion.

So, if the Alt-Right are Nazis, what about those who quite rightly oppose them? How should we frame them? What historically accurate name could we give them, that would not evoke false parallelism?

What about Americans? That would include my father and my uncle and all those members of The Greatest Generation who fought and died to prevent Nazis from taking over the world.

Americans. Good name.

TLDR — Anime I never finished, Fall 2017, part 3

November 2, 2017

Sometimes anime are not bad, they just don’t hold my interest. Somewhere around mid-season I wander off and don’t come back. Herewith a few of those:

Elegant Yokai Apartment Life: Not bad, but I thought it had a reasonable closure at the end of the first cour, and couldn’t think of a reason to continue. I kept it in my queue for a while and then gave up on it.

Kino’s Journey: I watched much of the first season, back when, and had the same opinion: the show has a little too high of an opinion of itself. It’s like one of those artsey foreign movies you watched back in college. Pretentious.

Blend-S: A one-trick pony, and that one not very interesting

Code:Realize: What did I tell you about anime with Code: in their names? Just couldn’t get interested in cute guys doing cute things with steampunk. Must be my finger-length.

And then there’s a couple of others that are not new this season but which I tried because various reviewers seemed to like them. Various reviewers are apparently not within three standard deviations of my demographic.

Yuki Yuna is a Hero: Girls in a middle-school Hero’s club become actual magical girl heroes and protect the Earth while passing all their tests. Importance of ともだちがい and がんばって and clap if you believe in かみさまs.

Tenchi Muyo: AKA 天地無用, which can be variously translated as No Need for Tenchi, or this side up, depending on context. Since most of the episodes are titled No need for xxx, that’s probably the preferred reading. Tenchi is a typical ultra-dense protagonist who manages to have a bevy of beautiful space aliens fall in love with him.

The Long Farewell: Just shoot me now

October 26, 2017

So, at age 73 I am facing problems I thought wouldn’t be an issue for another 10 years. Multiple Myeloma is relatively rare — 0.8% of all new cancer cases worldwide. Being rare, it is also expensive. How expensive? One of my meds is the thalidomide cousin Lenalidomide. The raw price for enough pills for a single 14-day dose cycle is $8,700.

The cost problem arises from the fact that, although the drug has a generic name, the manufacturer, Celgene, has a monopoly on its production (as Revlimid), and can charge what they want. As far as the last 20% of price hikes is concerned, Celgene said in a statement that pricing decisions reflect a therapy’s value. i.e. what the market will bear.

My treatment will involve at least six cycles, or $52,000. However, that’s before insurance coverage kicks in. The trouble is, it’s hard to figure out the insurance copay. Here’s my ongoing Revlimid saga

23 Oct:

Letter from WA Rx Svcs approving the drug. To be supplied by Walgreens Specialty Drugs

24 Oct:

  1. Call from Walgreens saying there was a $175 copay. I was surprised, because we have three layers of coverage: Uniform, Medicare, Tricare. Called them back. They said Medicare doesn’t cover it, and they don’t have a contract with Tricare. Suggested I call the manufacturer and ask for a co-pay card.
  2. Called Celgene patient support. They are out for a two day beach party. Got a patient support specialists name and left a voice mail. They swore blind they’d call back on the 25th.
  3. Checked the Tricare site. They say they cover Revlimid with a $24 co-pay. They also said they have a contract with Walgreens.
  4. Called Walgreens back. They are Walgreens Specialty Drugs, not Walgeens Retail Drugs. Revlimid would be available at a $24 co-pay if the retail stores had access to them, but retail doesn’t have access to Revlimid. This is starting to sound like a Monty Python skit.
  5. Called Rockwood Cancer Center. They are busy. Left a voicemail.
  6. Called Uniform. They said it has to be filled through Wallgreens
  7. Called Wallgreens. Paid. They’ll get it to me tomorrow.
  8. Called Rockwood. Canceled voicemail. Set up appointment for Thursday
  9. Off to local Rockwood for blood draw, because the system hasn’t got enough of it out of me yet.

25 Oct:

Revlimid shipment came today — a sign-for FedEx shipment that left the manufacturer in Portland, Oregon, yesterday, and travelled to Spokane via Nashville, TN. One $8,700 bottle with 14 pills and a biohazard sticker.

26 Oct:

No callback from Celgene yet, and further research indicates that “co-pay cards” are only for those without some form of government insurance. Which is totally understandable.

Went to the clinic and started my chemo, but that’s another story.


Drugs, particularly speciality drugs, are not treated like other medical expenses. For most stuff, my work insurance picks up most of it, and what they don’t get Medicare gets, and what they don’t get, Tricare covers. With drugs, everything is in these individual silos, and WA Uniform works with a different set of providers than Tricare does, and what you pay is based on your point of entry into the system.

So, our point of entry is Uniform Insurance, and they only deal with Walgreens, and they want a $175 co-pay. The issue isn’t the money, as such, after all, others have it much worse. The issue is, we didn’t find out about the actual cost and the actual provider until it was ordered, and I don’t see any easy way we could have found out.

The next question is, what will happen when I lose employer insurance after I retire next year? Am I going to have to spend days on the phone again? Does the fabled Tricare $24 co-pay really exist? There’s an outfit called Accredo, that evidently has a contract with Tricare, so that might work out. Unless, you know, it’s Accredo Retail.


What’s the plural of Singularity?

October 22, 2017

The Singularity is the point at which all the change in the last million years will be superseded by the change in the next five minutes — Kevin Kelly

One of the problems with discussing The Singularity, is that there are a number of definitions of the concept. It started with the idea of exponentially improving machine intelligence (AI), then added an associated technology growth, and ended with a biotechnology explosion and human-machine hybridization. So, which one are we to use? Or, can we use any of them? Is The Singularity real?

In a recent essay on the Singularity Web Log, the author raises an issue that challenges the very basis of The Singularity: the claim that technological growth is logistic, not exponential. The difference between the two equations is a limiting term. For example, take population (N) growth over time (t). Population grows at some rate (r).

Exponential:   dN/dt = rN

Logisitic: dN/dt = rN * (K-N)/K

where K is some physical limiting factor, in this case, carrying capacity (see the article for a nice graphic).

Unfortunately, at this point, the essay wanders off into mysticism — K doesn’t matter because that’s a physical, not a machine intelligence concept, the map is not the territory, the machine is not the brain, my imagination is better than your imagination.

So, what about this K thing? Is it really not a limiter on machine intelligence? Is AI really not grounded in the physical world? Stated like that, the obvious answer is, of course it is. And to the extent that it is, it is limited by some definition of K. For the purposes of our discussion, K can be considered an outgrowth of the difference between electrons and molecules, to use Nicholas Negroponte’s phrase. Molecules are heavy, take up space, and are expensive to move. Electrons are essentially free, and can be moved anywhere almost instantly, and almost for free. Shifting publishing from paper books to e-books (still a work in progress) totally changed the dynamics of the industry. This electron/molecule dichotomy is what drives our discussion of K.

Take the most basic definition of The Singularity: that soon we will have the ability to build an AI that is better at designing AI’s than we are. At that messianic point the growth in AI capabilities will become exponential and we cannot foresee the ending. The trouble is, there’s a difference between the concept of a really strong AI and the implementation of the concept. An AI is implemented as computer code running on computer chips. Can this super AI¹ design AI², the next generation of chips and software exponentially faster than humans can? Of course it can, that’s the basis of The Singularity. Can we then retool a $5billion wafer fab to produce those chips for AI² exponentially faster? Can we manufacture the motherboards that will accept those chips? Build arrays of servers and ship them and install them at server farms around the world before AI³ comes down the pike? Perhaps AI¹ can show us how to do it faster, but exponentially faster? For The Information Singularity, K is the interface between the conceptual world and the real world.

When we take the next step, from The Information Singularity to The Technology Singularity, we run into the same K. AI² might be able to design better batteries and lighter cars, but actually building them takes time. And retooling takes time, and those times are not likely to be reduced nearly as fast as the designs are improved.

And finally, the biotechnology, human hybrids, new human race singularities are likely to be the slowest of all. Yes, we will be able to modify DNA to give us healthier bodies, computer-friendly brains, and two additional primary colors, but biology will not be rushed. As the old programmer joke about bringing in more staff on tardy projects goes, it’s like putting nine women on the job so you can produce a baby in one month.

So, it looks like the heart of K as a limiting factor on The Singularity, is time. The Information Singularity will cause computations, or rather, computation-driven decisions, to be made in exponentially less time. But the real-world instantiation of those decisions will still take place in Real World time. What makes this a true constraint on The Singularity is that time is a fundamental concept. The very heart of The Singularity concept is exponential time. If the application of information to molecules has to take place in Real Time, then, like the speed of light, our approach to The Singularity will become slower the closer we approach it.

Now, there is one bright spot here. In the equations above, N was population. In our calculations N would be rate of change of information processing/technology adoption, etc. So dN/dt measures the change in the rate of change over time (and should probably be dT/dt/dt, where T is technology).

The essay I’m quoting from takes a doom and gloom message from an exponential rate of change vs logistic equation rate, because the: “overarching and obvious scenarios are: dramatic change, or relative stasis.” No, they are not.

If the Logistic Theory is correct, the rate of technology change, technology adoption, will at some point level out. For tens of thousands of years, humankin faced essentially zero rate of change. The next thousand years was just like the last. Then things started changing. New technology appeared at such a rate that the next century was clearly better than the last. Then the next decade. Now, we are at a point where, if you wait two years, cutting edge technology will be wildly different. And if we’ve just rolled off the exponential part of the Logistic Curve and onto the flat, that’s the way things will stay — every two years we’ll see major changes in our world.

A fast, steady increase in technology may not be as exciting as a never-ending exponential, but at least you’ll be able to say that some part of your four-year college education is still valid when you graduate.

Memories of my youth: bugs

October 22, 2017

When I was a lad, and Eisenhower was President, we lived in Northern Virginia, Quantico, to be exact. Since we didn’t have cable, there was nothing to do of a Sunday afternoon but pile in the non-airconditioned family car (a Kaiser, as I recall), and take a Sunday drive through the countryside. When we got back, the windshield would always be covered with bug spatters, big and small and many.

Some decades later I was stationed in DC, and lived just north of Quantico, maybe ten miles from my former home. No-one had time for a Sunday drive in our modern times, but we’d sometimes find ourselves driving through that same Virginia countryside on our way somewhere. When we got home, our windshield would be … pretty clean. I won’t say that the occasional entomol didn’t come to a sticky end on our glass, but that was a relatively rare occurrence.

Now I find that we are not alone, but are more alone, or something. A study in Germany found the same thing, only over a much shorter time span. Something is causing a drastic drop in flying insects, and there are just not enough windshields out there to account for all of it.

TLDR: Anime I never started

October 14, 2017

Sometimes you don’t have to watch even the first episode. Sometimes you happened on the first volume of the manga. Here’s two.

Inuyashiki: From the creator of Gantz. Actually, that tells you all you need to know. Old guy and young punk are reincarnated as robots. Old guy becomes superhero. Young punk becomes supervillain. Much bloodshed and dismemberment, most of it gratuitous. I dropped the manga after the first volume.

King’s Game: Normally a slightly racy kids game. Whoever is ‘king’ gets to tell the others what to do (“kiss the person to your right”). In this one, everybody is out to kill everybody else, because some ‘king’ made that decision. I don’t even…

This is why one reads manga.



The Long Farewell: I Aten’t Ded*

October 12, 2017

When last we saw Our Hero, he’d contracted a case of the myelomas, and was worried about his future. We pick up our story early on Respect for the Aged Day.

Right before school started I was subjected to some more tests: a full body MRI and a Bence-Jones protein test. The MRI went about as expected. They put me in a pair of too-small/too thin hospital pants, tied my feet together like I was headed for a medieval burial, strapped me into a cold, narrow tube (like I was headed for a medieval burial), and spent half an hour pulsating my body with x-rays and magnets. If I didn’t have cancer before, etc…

The Bence-Jones test was easier. All I had to do was pee in a bottle. For 24 hours. I handed in the almost-full jug, and the tech remarked that some people had turned in two of those. My response was that some people had the oddest hobbies.

Due to scheduling issues (my trip, the MRI, his trip), I couldn’t meet with my oncodoc until this week. The news was mixed

  1. Bence Jones showed low levels of proteins (but not zero)
  2. X-rays showed three small spots on the mid-spine**
  3. Bone marrow showed trisomys on chromosomes 9, 11, and 15

By a strict definition, I have moved from smouldering myeloma to officially having (possibly indolent) multiple myeloma, with the trisomys pointing to a possibly more aggressive version.*** My oncodoc thinks I’m a borderline case (I would still be smoldering if it wasn’t for those damn spots), and seriously considered continuing a watchful waiting stance. His conservative nature overcame that, however, and I start a standard MM chemo regime as soon as the insurance paperwork clears. The paperwork is important, because the drugs (Revlimid, Velcade, and dexamethasone, AKA rev/vel/dex) can run in excess of $100K/year. Fortunately, it looks like insurance will cover most of that.

The fun drug is Revlimid (AKA lenalidomide). It’s an improved form of thalidomide, which means I can’t be within ten feet of a pregnant woman (fifteen feet if she’s downwind), or three feet of a woman who might become pregnant.

So now I am set for a six month regime of one pill a day, ten pills once a week, and one shot a week. Side effects include constipation and diarrhea, fatigue and insomnia, dry, sweaty skin, and mood swings that have nothing to do with the fact that I’m playing a game with Death and he’s already bought Park Place, Boardwalk, and all the railroads.****

What does all this mean for my chances of seeing the return of Halley’s comet? Based on a 2012 (i.e. 5 years old) study the median survival time with my cocktail of “novel drugs” is ~7 years, roughly. So, 7 years! Yay! Not so fast Gosset. Median says half survive longer, but half don’t make it that long. It’s like my stats students. They get mad when I tell them that half the class is below average. On the bright side, my oncodoc seems to think that I’ve got a good chance of beating the seven year mark, since my priors look reasonably good.

On the not-so-bright side, I still have a theoretical ~10% chance of not making it to Christmas of 2018.


*Title is a Terry Pratchett quote.

**The only part of my back that doesn’t actually hurt

***On the other hand, there’s at least one journal article that says trisomys might indicate longer survival chances under certain conditions. I shall have to ask.

****Actually, it’s hyperactiveness, that wears off after a couple of days. So on the one hand I can take it before the weekend and will calm down before my next class. On the other hand, it might cause people to say “Well, he’s finally getting some work done.”


Sweet PotatOats

October 12, 2017

Back to commercially prepared sweet potatoes. MJ had a bag of Alexia Waffle Cut Seasoned Sweet Potato Fries in the freezer. Heated in the oven as per instructions, they taste like a failed attempt at BBQ flavor chips. I wonder how they’ll do in oatmeal?

I thawed out three or four of them, and chopped them up. The waffle cut helped. Heated them an extra 5 minutes in the clove-heavy broth (since I didn’t oven bake them), then added the oatmeal.

Setup: 1/2 cup of stone ground rolled oats, one cup of broth, about a 1/4 cup of chopped sweet potato fries, salt. Cook the potatoes for 5 min, add the oats and cook for 10 minutes or so, depending on the exact style of oats.

Results: Started out as meh, but improved as I ate them. For some reason the oats were a little underdone and needed some time in the hot cup to finally cook. Flavor was most unlike the original fries, but still a little peppery. Might try actually baking them first. Surprisingly, they didn’t mush up like the previous batch did, and ended up looking like chopped carrots.

Rating: *****

Mahōtsukai no Yome: The tragedy of the librarian

October 11, 2017

The Ancient Magus’ Bride: Those Awaiting a Star, the story of Hatori Chise, and how she came to be how she is, has another story embedded in it: the story of Miura Riichi and the promise he couldn’t keep.

The OVA mainly looks at Miura as the Librarian of the Forest, who protects Chise in Episode 1, and lends her books in Episode 2. In Episode 3, tragedy strikes.

It turns out that Miura isn’t a person at all. He’s a ghost, a spirit (although he doesn’t know this), who died perhaps 70 years ago.

At that time, he was a student, studying in the home of a rich family with a beautiful daughter, Mayumi. She is to be part of an arranged marriage, and gives Miura a book (春惜しむ, Haru Oshimu, roughly To Lament The End Of Spring), saying she wants him to return it to her, and that by the way she really likes reading the last page of a book.

The next thing we see is him running through the woods, at night, with the book. He is evidently desperate to return it. Unfortunately, he trips in the dark, and falls down a steep embankment, impaling himself on a branch at the bottom, and don’t you just hate it when that happens?

We go from a dark and stormy night to Miura standing outside the Library, book in hand, shirt clean, with no sign of impalement. An indeterminate amount of time later (“I have no idea how long I’ve been here”), we have the events of episodes 1 and 2. Miura is killed by the dark fey, and the library is destroyed. But before he dies, he gives Chise the book and asks her to return it to Mayumi.

Chise finds Mayumi, now an old woman, Niikura Mayumi , waiting to die in hospital. She returns the book, and Miura has kept his promise. However, that’s not the tragedy.

The last page of the book had a hand-written note: Wait for me on the final platform. What are we to make of this? My interpretation is that she was in love with Miura, didn’t want the arranged marriage, and was planning on eloping with him. I admit that’s a lot of meaning to infer from a short statement. It would be useful if she had given him a little more information, like Pack a lunch.

So, the tragedy we don’t see is young Mayumi, waiting at the train station, wondering what happened to Riichi, until her parents arrive to drag her off to a loveless marriage. Despite that, she seems to have made the best of it, with a married daughter, and several grandchildren. One wonders what would have happened if he’d thought to take a cab to the train station. But that would make it a whole other story.

How to find my blog

October 9, 2017

Evidently, the query pholich sex video amrican works pretty well. Since I don’t do sex videos, it must be the pholich, or maybe the amrican. I’ll have to include more of those.

Memories of my youth: The Yom Kippur War 2

October 8, 2017

The war started in early October, 1973. The US made the decision to support Israel with arms shipments, and because of the pace of the war, those shipments had to be airlifted.

Initially, the Military Airlift Command coordinated the movement of US weapons and munitions to east coast airfields, where El Al cargo aircraft would carry them to Israel. That system was soon overwhelmed, and the US decided to fly support directly to Israel, via an intermediate stop in the Azores.

By mid-October there was a constant stream of C-5 and C-141 transports flying across the Atlantic and all the length of the Mediterranean. Of course, the Russians were still running their support flights to Egypt. That meant for a portion of the flight we were sharing the same airspace and ATC frequencies.

An interesting feature of the Russian interaction with the ATC system was that one aircraft, probably the only one with a decent English speaker, would transmit flight data for a number of aircraft flying behind them, all using Aeroflot call signs.

MAC aircrews, being the innovative people that they are, would copy these transmissions and pass them back to the MAC Command Post, giving us useful information on the level of Russian activity.

At one point, a Russian pilot read off a string of position reports faster than the MAC crew could copy them down. When he finished, the young Captain co-pilot mashed the transmit button and said “Aeroflot 1234, could you repeat that list, please.” The Russian, who had no idea he wasn’t speaking to ATC, did so.

Everyone had a smile on their face that day.


Memories of my youth: The Yom Kippur War 1

October 7, 2017

It was early October, 1973. I was newly assigned to the Military Airlift Command’s Indications and Warning Center at Scott AFB, Illinois. I was fresh from a four year tour in Europe and had just finished checking out in the duties associated with the Center. Basically I&W is the discipline associated with looking at various indicators that a country might be going to war, and warning the decision makers about it.

It was about three days before the start of the war. That would make it the 2d or 3rd of October. I was sharing the night watch with a more experienced analyst. We were shuffling through the reams of messages that every center gets — 99.9% about normal day to day activities. There was one report that a Soviet transport was headed south over the Mediterranean, towards Egypt. That was nothing new. Egypt was a Soviet client state at the time, and transports were always overflying Yugoslavia, down the Adriatic, and turning left somewhere south of Greece. They were coordinating with the European Air Traffic Control system, just like all aircraft, military or civilian, and anyone could watch them transiting the various air traffic control zones.

Fifteen minutes later there was another report. That’s OK, they just crossed into a new zone.

Fifteen minutes later there was another report. That’s interesting. All three reports were for different aircraft. Fifteen minutes later, there was another one.

Before too long, there was a parade of Soviet An-12 transports, fifteen minutes apart, all the way from Yugoslavia to Egypt. This was definitely news. You don’t commit that level of airlift unless there’s something big going on. It is, as they say, an indicator, but of what?

We had seen a lot of activity in Egypt. They’d been making deployments along the Suez canal, but they did that a lot. They’d call up reserves, run an exercise next to the canal, and send everybody home. We hadn’t seen a lot of activity in the USSR or Eastern Europe, nothing that would support the idea of hostilities there (besides, you don’t start a war in Europe by airlifting stuff to Egypt). Since the Russians were close military advisors to the Egyptians, they’d likely be the first to know if Cairo was planning a major action. Were the Russians providing emergency military aid to the Egyptian army, or were they pulling their own people out? At this stage, there was no way to know.

We packaged up everything we knew, and asked the Operations Officer to wake up the Vice Commander of MAC, a three star general. We briefed him in his living room, with him in his bathrobe and pajamas. He needed to know, because if a Middle East war broke out again, MAC would be on the hook for delivering American aid to Israel. This was our official warning to the decision maker. He was not only warned, but he knew he had been warned.

Then we went back and prepared the morning briefing. The next day, CIA came out with an estimate that said the activity along the canal was exercises or nuisance probes. We got yelled at, but stuck to our guns. Forty-eight hours later, the war started.

Because of our warning, MAC had a three day jump in preparing for the command to start an airlift to Israel.


TLDR — Anime I never finished, Fall 2017, part 2

October 6, 2017

Three up/three down – the off-puttingness continues. This started off being a potentially busy season, with twelve anime that I was considering watching. Fortunately, seven of them blew up on the pad. So far.

The first two in this listing could easily be swapped and few would notice the difference.

1. Dies Irae: Godlike beings fight grotesque monsters for obscure reasons during the latter days of the Third Reich. Too much shouting, fighting, and dismemberment for me. Later episodes will, I think, shift to modern day Tokyo. It won’t help.

Everybody wants to be Wolverine

2. Garo – Vanishing Line: Grotesque hero fights even uglier monsters, assisted by his talking motorcycle. Too much shouting, fighting, and dismemberment for me. This is not a Kino spinoff.

I guess they forgot that modern cameras have a ‘red eye’ setting

3. Taisho Mebiusline Chicchaisan: The title is longer than the episode. Country boy and his sword come to Tokyo to study and get away from the grotesque spirits of the dead that only he can see. On his first day there, he gets turned into a chibi figure. Nobody notices. First episode was about three and a half minutes longer than it needed to be.

They just happened to have a yukata his size


TLDR — Anime I never finished, Fall 2017, part 1

October 4, 2017

There are some anime that are so off-putting that there’s no reason to invoke the three episode rule. Here’s three four that fell at the first fence.

1. Sengoku Night Blood: Young woman is whisked into an isekai by a wonky smartphone app. Said world turns out to be filled with bishies who are historical figures who are vampires. We good? She may or may not be rescued by a talking tanuki who isn’t Shimogamo Yasaburō.

2. Black Clover: Remember how Tanya the Evil was raised in an orphanage and used her magical abilities to claw her way to the top? Why don’t we have twins, raised in an orphanage. One is calm and competent and is gifted with the way to the top. The other, the protagonist, is an incompetent, unmagical, spiky-haired loudmouth who plans to shout his way to the top. With a first episode like this, everyone who watched it thinking it was the second season of Honey and Clover is sure to be captivated!

3. Juni Taisen: A collection of twelve psychopaths, representing twelve different families of psychopaths, representing twelve psychopathic interpretations of the twelve signs of the Chinese Zodiac, takes part in a psychopathic death match anime. It’s like Fate/Stay Night with worse costuming and no cute girls.

4. Urahara: Three girls in a dress shop fight to keep UFO’s from stealing Japanese culture. Squeaky voices. Kids book style backgrounds. Best part was Rito-chan coming to work on a skateboard. Then a Japanese expat from America, who appears out of a giant nursing bottle, turns them into magical girls, who can fight for justice and the nihongo way.

Did I mention there was a talking tempura shrimp?


Green Thumb Up My Nose

October 1, 2017

Garden Report for 171002

Warm for most of the week (mid-upper 70’s), with a cold front blowing through on Saturday. Now the forecast is for highs in the low 60’s and lows in the high 30’s. Of course that doesn’t matter, because this is the week I closed out the garden.

A few years ago we bought some wire shelves at a going-out-of business sale. We didn’t need them as shelving, but they made excellent anti-squirrel mats. I could plant seeds and keep them protected until they were big enough for a cloche. This year I tried using to protect some newly planted carrots. Of course, with this year’s lack of weeding and general neglect, a lot of other stuff grew up around them, but they seemed happy with their cover. On Wednesday, I thought I’d lift the shelving and let them grow a bit more. Surprise! They came up with the wiring! Part of the reason was they are a stubby variety, and didn’t have much of a hold on the dirt. (Click pix to embiggen)

I’ve invented a mechanical harvester


Vegetable Count Weight
Total Total
*includes 2.4kg of smalls tomato  55  4000  73 198 21.3*
cabbage 5 0.72
cucumber 9 1.9
 4 1400  350 14 4.2
zucchini 4 2.5
1 550  550 3 2.9
carrots 10 250 25 10 0.25
Final Grand Total 33.8

This time last year we had a grand total of 23kg. In 2015 it was 45kg, and in 2014 it was 47kg, and in 2013 the total was 38kg. So not the worst year, but not nearly the best, either.

I can remember when we had six boxen like this

Note that one of the summer squash (in with the tomatoes) is long and curved. One of my squash plants produced only this kind of fruit. It’s like a Tromboncino, except that wasn’t what it said on the tin.

I now have to start thinking about next year.

My third trip to Japan: Lessons Learned and Recommendations

October 1, 2017

Not much that is new this trip. Mostly a reaffirmation of what the previous two trips had taught me.

  1. Japan Rail Pass is your friend. As I write this, it’s $250 for a 7-day pass, or $35 per day. Given that a two-hour trip across the width of the country is about $100, you can see that it’s a bargain. You have to order it while in the US, and they FedEx an authorization you can use to get the pass at your first major JR station.
  2. You don’t have to activate your JR Pass when when you pick it up. I spent the first part of the trip upcountry, where the pass was invaluable in getting around. It ran out on the last two days, but by then I was in Tokyo, and could use the PASMO. PASMO or Suica don’t save you any money, but sure save hassle. On the other hand, if I was going to spend the first part of the trip in Tokyo, and leave from Kansai or somewhere, then I’d hold off on activating the pass
  3. In Tokyo, use a PASMO, or Suica card to get around. They are cash cards — you put cash on them at any kombini, and then just flash the card to ride the metro or buy lunch. This keeps you from having to fumble with the JR ticket machines or ending up with pockets full of change.
  4. Bring money. As in, cash. All my hotel charges were paid for through online booking, and my major purchases in Tokyo were on the credit card, but almost everything else was at places where it was easier to pay cash (or put cash on your PASMO card). I left home with $1000 in yen and a PASMO with $18 on it, and came home with $30 in yen and $14 on the PASMO.
  5. Get a pocket wifi hotspot. The same company that does the JR Pass will rent you a hotspot for for less than $10 a day. Turn it on, stick it in a pocket of your cargo pants, and hook up your tablet. You have on-line map and translation service all day, if you pay attention to your batteries. Send it back before you go through outbound security at the airport, because there are no mailboxes past them.
  6. Smaller hotels are nice. And they’re cheap. All my hotel rooms were smaller than cruise ship staterooms. There was room for the bed and the desk and the TV, but you couldn’t do your radio taiso exercises in them. This is fine, assuming you don’t plan to spend a lot of time in the room, and since you are in Japan, why would you?
  7. In Tokyo, you don’t have to stay in the center of town, but you should stay next to a train station. Off-rush hour prices were only about $3 per trip to get three stops away from Tokyo Station, and it did wonders for hotel pricing. Of course, in the provinces, the train station is the center of town.
  8. Early September is still too hot to walk around most of Japan. Say, anything south of Sendai. And the humidity numbers match the temperature. My next trip I’m going to shoot for early October.
  9. My experience is that ramen restaurants are usually the take-a-ticket kind, that what we would call family style restaurants expect you to pay the cashier, and that real, formal, sit-down restaurants expect you to call for the check.

My third trip to Japan: Day 09 and final

September 30, 2017

On the last day, I had half a day available for fun before I had to head for the airport. Well, Tokyo Tower is within walking distance of the hotel, so let’s start there. But first, breakfast! (Click pix to embiggen)

Time for a typical Japanese breakfast

And now off to the tower! We go through a gate.

and then past a hotel swimming pool

and walk up a very steep hill, to the tower

I forgot to take a pic from outside, so here’s one from the web

Tokyo tower is 100m taller than the Space Needle, but has been dwarfed by the Sky Tree, which is almost three times as high. The view is pretty nice, though.

I think my hotel is between the blue sign and the yellow sign


Taxi home (that hill was steep), quick nap, and then grab the monorail to Haneda. I no longer had a Japan Rail Pass, but the PASMO card works pretty much everywhere in Tokyo.

For trains that were introduced in 20014, the monorail was certainly shaky and rattly.

Haneda was quite nice, and the security processing was fast and efficient and friendly, not like some countries usa that I could mention. My main complaint was that the sliding walkways were not working.

People are on the slideway, but they are walking

And so, the trip comes to an end. I board a moderately comfortable jet (not as good as a shinkansen, but it’s American, so one must make allowances), and head off across the ocean.

On our way

Do I have any regrets? Anything I wanted to do but forgot? Yes, in fact there’s one:

Twenty minutes from my hotel

I think I could have seen this from the Hamatsuchu Trade Center building, except for the fact that the building you see — the “Diver City” building, isn’t that cute? — is in the way.

What’s with these anime endings?

September 29, 2017

The season just ended will go down in history as the Endless Summer. As in, the summer with no proper endings.

I admit I haven’t watched every anime in the Summer of 2017 — there were roughly 25 new series, of which I watched about seven all the way through, so something less than 30%. Of those seven, five (20% of the total) ended without resolving a major plot component. Admittedly, most were slice of life shows, with few dramatic arcs, but even in 2013’s Non Non Byori, the end of the first year of school marked the end of the first season. Most of these were just, unsatisfactory.

Show Ending


Episode 11 left us hanging, with no idea how the romantic triangle would resolve. Then Ep 12 was a fanservice onsen romp.

A Centaur’s Life

This is a slice of life show, but there are several threads left hanging as the last episode was devoted to dungeon game fanservice and arm wrestling

Tsuredure Children

Not exactly a slice of life, it followed the romantic travails of almost a dozen different couples, and managed to end in the air, with a couple of couples romantic issues unresolved

Aho Girl

The last episode of this slice of life show could have been stuck in anyplace after Episode 1 and no-one would notice. And in case you hadn’t figured it out, Aho means idiot.

Restaurant to Another World

Slice of life cooking show that ends with a heretofore unexpected link between the restaurant and the other world. One which doesn’t change anything.

In Another World
with my Smartphone

Finally, something approaching an ending. Our Hero gets the girl. In fact, he gets all the girls. Everyone in the harem agrees to share him. No word about the sex-starved android.

Magical Circle Guru Guru

The only other one with a proper ending is the one based on an 8-bit game. Our Heroes win through in the end, the kingdom is restored, and the Mage is off on another adventure with her Hero.

My third trip to Japan: Day 08

September 29, 2017

This is my day in Tokyo, so of course, it’s predicted to rain, and nothing opens until 10:00.

But the Ueno Museum opens at 9:00, so I’ll go there. It’s just a couple of stops past Tokyo Station and Akihabara, so I can work my way back from there.

On the way, I see this kid on the subway. Student, headed for school, so he’s at least six years old. On the other hand, the backpack is almost bigger than he is, so he can’t be much more than six. (click pix to embiggen)

Free Range Kid

He’s unaccompanied, riding the busiest metro line in the world. Got off at Tokyo Station, the busiest and most complex train station in the country, possibly the world. American helicopter parents would have a fit if this happened in the U.S.

Got to Ueno, only to find that the museum, like everything else, opens at 10:00. No matter, I’ll just stroll around.

The museum has some nice statuary. I can’t get to the front side, so this is the best shot I can get.

I’m sure the front is more modest

Statues of dead royalty. This one was famous for subduing the various samurai rebellions at the start of the Meiji Restoration.

Prince Komatsu Akihito

Yet another shrine to the leader who united all of Japan

Tokugawa Ieyasu Shrine

And some nice Buddhist temples.

Kaneiji Pagoda

Finally, it’s time for Akihabara!

Pilgrimage site for all otaku

Even though I was early, there were still long lines outside of the stores.

I’ve been here since 8AM, how about you?

In addition to all the anime merch, they also have activities, like a Cat Cafe.

Cat Cafe (above Carl’s)

It’s hard to see, with all the window glare, but there are climbing posts and so forth. I didn’t go in.

Went back through Tokyo Station. Opened during WWI, bombed during WWII, restored in 2013.

In the old style

Had lunch at an otherwise unremarkable Raman stand.

Nice lunch, helpful customer

The lady in the background, just a customer, felt that I was not getting served fast enough so she got up and came over and poured me some water and then the waitress came running. The waitress might have been confused because I did not notice that it was the kind of restaurant where are you pick your food off of a vending machine Style panel at the front and bring the ticket in.

Take a ticket here.

I should have known better, since I ran into the same thing in Kobe, three years ago.

Got back to Hamamatsuchu late on a misty afternoon. Amazing how Tokyo can go from hot and sticky to cool and clammy overnight.

Napped, and watched baseball (only now, on my last night, did I realize they had a baseball channel on the hotel TV), and went out for a late dinner.

Amazing how many Asian restaurants there are in Japan. This is the third one I walked into this trip, thinking it was a traditional Japanese restaurant, only to find it was a traditional Chinese restaurant.

Dragon out front should’a told ya

It had traditional Chinese cabbage wrapped ground beef. Traditional Chinese sliced asparagus with shrimp.

And traditional Chinese smokers at most of the other tables.

Walking back through Hamamatsuchu District of Tokyo between 8:30 and 9:00 of a formerly rainy weekday night was an interesting experience. The restaurants and bars were starting to disgorge their groups of workers who had gone out for a night of solidarity drinking (nominikeshon). The gender proportions seem to be about three or four men to each woman, all the men dressed in their standard white shirt and dark tie, the women in their semi-standard office lady attire. Now and then looking through the blinds one could see some poor slob still sitting at his computer pounding away trying to get his work done in time to come back tomorrow and start all over again.

Once it got late my impression was that most of the vehicles on the street where taxi cabs. A quick check at a stoplight showed about 2/3 taxicabs and 1/3 something that look like private vehicles but there were a couple of possible company vans there.

Tomorrow is my last day. I’ll do something fun in the morning, then head out for Haneda in the afternoon.

Oatmeal Stroganoff

September 28, 2017

This is in the tradition of Rachel Ray’s famous deconstruction cooking. Beef Stroganoff is essentially braised beef with added sour cream and other tasteyizers, like onions, and mushrooms, and dill. I had some pretty good beef broth — good broth is expensive, when you consider the recommendation is 1lb of meat for 1qt of water — so I thought I’d try it.

Setup: 1/3 cup of stone ground rolled oats, one cup of broth, two heavy shakes of dried dill, two heavy shakes of onion salt, a couple of leftover mushrooms (chopped),one tablespoon of sour cream, two dinner teaspoons of potato flakes, salt. Cook for 10 minutes or so, depending on the exact style of oats. Add the potatoes and sour cream at the end.

Results: Pretty good. Reminds one of stroganoff made with hamburger. Needs to be a good strong beef broth.

Rating: *****

My third trip to Japan: Day 07

September 24, 2017

Woke up early (6AM). It was raining so I bought an umbrella at the front desk. That makes three umbrellas I have bought in Japan — one per trip. Then I walked over to the train station and found it wasn’t raining all that bad.

A nice trip through the heart of Japan

Caught the train from Hamamatsuchu to Tokyo. I was an hour and a half early but I wasn’t sure what the crowds would be like at that hour. Ate breakfast in a little pho restaurant in the station. Big bowl of broth with lots of bean sprouts and some cilantro and a couple of fish balls. Then I went up onto platform and hung around and watched the shinkansens take off and land.

Always busy

There are multiple kinds and some of them look like they’re going 100 miles an hour just sitting on the ground. I was particularly impressed by a two-story shinkansen which is called the Max.

Big Max

My train was an older one with narrow seats and less legroom. Do you hear that, American airline companies? It’s the older trains that have narrow seats. The new ones have big wide seeds with lots of legroom. Despite that, it was a pleasant couple of hours. The weather along the route was sort of typical Portland spring: misty rain — never too much, you could get around in a hat without needing an umbrella.

Got to Niigata and couldn’t decide what I wanted to see. On top of that, I couldn’t find some of the things that I thought I had found on the map. So gave up and went to their famous Bandai Bridge.

Had the cab driver drop me off so I could walk across the bridge. I looked around and decided that the wise move would be to eat lunch in a nearby hotel (on the left in the picture). That guaranteed I’d be able to get a cab afterwards.

The hotel had a snack bar. The snack bar people said they had a Japanese restaurant upstairs so I went upstairs and into the restaurant. It turned out to be Chinese. I finally found the Japanese restaurant stuck in between the Chinese restaurant and the maid Cafe. Maybe it was a bar, not a cafe, but it had maids.

Lunch was a fairly nice tempura platter featuring a couple of everything — vegetables, peppers, fish, roots, sweet potato, potato potato, and so forth.

Taxi back to the rail station, and looking at my ticket I found that I was actually schedule on a Max heading back from Niigata to Tokyo but that I was on the first floor. One of my fellow passengers on the outbound train had said that the Max is nice if you are on the second floor but on the first floor you can’t see anything. So I talked to the Japan Rail people and it took them only two minutes to switch me to a second-floor window seat and it was nice viewing all the way.

Soon we were headed out through the Niigata suburbs

And the local rice fields

They go through some really long tunnels to get to and from the coastal mountain range but other than that it was wide flat rice fields. It reminds me of East Anglia except that they were growing rice instead of sugar beets. Got back to the hotel before 5PM.

That’s a 334km trip in two hours, including 8 stops, so 167km/hr, or 103 miles per hour — thank you, Japan Rail. One way fare, with reserved seat, ¥10,370, or just under a hundred dollars, but for me the amortized cost was just over $30 — thank you, Japan Rail Pass.

At 7PM it was still raining, and I decided to just nip next door to the local pizzeria and have another Japanese Pizza. It may be closer to the actual Original Italian Pizza before Americans decided to pile everything including the kitchen sink on top of it.

Their baseline was a thin pizza crust, not quite as crisp as we would have it, but with a pretty good rim on it with a thin layer of tomato sauce and a very small amount of cheese and then to that depending on the kind of pizza that you wanted they would add perhaps a teaspoon of garlic chunks spread around, or a teaspoon of basil leaves and so forth. And so a 9 inch pizza, which was their small pizza, was really more like heavy hors d’oeuvres than a real pizza. Which is why I ate two with no problem. They were about $8 each and $8 each for the glass of wine (Spanish wines direct from Spainland with the languages in Spanish so I can’t give you any details). I won’t say I impressed  them with my eating ability but I will say that the chef ran out and gave me a souvenir pound cake slice in plastic wrap as a going-away present.

A good base for a real pizza

Green Thumb Up My Nose

September 24, 2017

Garden Report for 170925

Official end of summer. A few days of rain broke our dry spell (Seattle set a record for dry summers)  and now we are in a cool day/cooler night pattern (mid 60s/mid 40s and they’re starting to report wind chills). Warming trend forecast.

Harvested nothing. Maybe next weekend, after the warmup.

Meanwhile, this looks to be the year that nothing grew, or grew without producing. Not container plants:

Texas Buttercup. All hat, no cattle

Pink Brandywine, the same.

And not the garden

All the squash that isn’t Summer.

Starting to close out the various bits of garden and the containers. I’ll get the dirt dumped on the dug-up plants in time for composting.

Vegetable Count Weight
Total Total

tomato 143 14.7
cabbage 5 0.72
cucumber 9 1.9
10 2.8
zucchini 4 2.5
2 2.4
Grand Total 28

This is ahead of last year’s total at this time (~20kg) but nowhere near 2014’s 40kg.

Oh, well. There’s always next year.

My third trip to Japan: Day 06

September 23, 2017

The room is a little bit bigger, and it has a double bed. Where my last hotel had one skimpy pillow this has 5 pillows: two regular pillows, two of the memory foam types, and one that’s kind of a log which looks like it would be useful in keeping my femur straight.

Decided that my plans for the rest of the trip were to take brother John’s advice and go down to the Kamakura shrine in the morning and then come back and do something interesting and local in the afternoon. Tomorrow I will go to Niigata on the northern coast, just because I can, and because that’s my last day for using Japan Rail. And then Thursday will be spent wandering around downtown Tokyo and Akihabara and buying anime souvenirs.

The trip down to Kamakura was about an hour, and rather than take the local train and then walk a half mile uphill, I did the better part of valor and took a cab right to the entrance.

Tokyo to Kamakura

Walked around there a bit, by which time once again the heat had gotten too much for me (upper 80’s with upper 80’s humidity). (click pix to embiggen)

Big Buddha

So I bought some marron-flavored  ice cream (marron is a French culinary name for chestnut) and some souvenirs, and took a taxi back to the rail station. This time I rode the train all the way into Tokyo Station to buy the shinkansen tickets for tomorrow. Japanese local trains are nothing like the shinkansen — they rattle, they creak, they rock back and forth, like an old (but clean) city bus. They are moderately uncomfortable but they are cheap and convenient and everywhere.

Got back a little after noon or maybe one, and just as I got home the hotel staff and couple of workers came up to run a roto rooter in the drain spout on the floor of my bathroom. This is a typical Japanese bathroom with a drain in the floor because you shower out in the middle of the floor in the bathroom, and once you are washed and clean, you get into the tub full of hot water. So it’s like the Japanese have a hot tub in every home.

Sorry, sir, planned maintenance

After they left, I napped for a couple of hours. Went out and found an eyeglass place that would fix my reading glasses lens; it just needed tightening on the screw. This was in the local World Trade Center building, which on the 39th floor has a sky view section with two expensive restaurants and then above that a place you go in and pay $2 and walk around for a panoramic view of the whole city. You can see the Tokyo Skytree (tallest building in Tokyo), Tokyo Tower (former tallest building), and Roppongi Hills, which is a expensive upscale shopping district.

Tokyo Tower and Toranomon Hills

I bought some souvenirs at the top of the tower including a JAXA baseball cap. JAXA is the Japanese Aerospace eXploration Agency, like NASA.

Good view of the shinkansen tracks

Came back down, went to a local curry place called Coco Curry, near the hotel. Bar seating. English menu. Build your own off the menu . I had a chicken curry a little spicier than I like, with a sauce that was not as thick as I make it.  They had canned Kirin beer only.

CoCo’s chicken curry

Anime Preview Fall 2017

September 22, 2017

Time for my semitraditional anime Fall Preview.

I base these on just the title and the cover art, unlike others, who use knowledge of the source materials, close observation of the previews, and who, you know, actually read the press releases,

First, let’s say what’s not in here. Sequels to stuff I didn’t like before (Himoutou, Classicaloid), kids stuff (Yuuki Yuuna, Time Bokan), movies and OVA’s, and anything with idols in the description.

WILL WATCH: The title or the cover art is properly enticing, so I definitely will watch at least the first three eps.

Kini no Tabi: A boy and his motorcycle

Mahoutsukai no Yome: Magical eland traps girl in web of thorns

Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou: Moeblob road trip

Kujira no Kora : Girl sells sex toys to her friends

MIGHT WATCH: The cover art is not too off-putting, so I might watch it.

Two Car: two girls, one motorcycle


Boku no Kanojo: Who will be the next Aho Girl?

Dies Irae: hobbies for your basement

Konohana Kitan: young fox girl is forced to work at her grandmother’s hot spring

WON’T WATCH. The cover art and/or the title tells me more than I ever wanted to know on the topic.

Imouto sae Ireba Ii: writer tries to create Abbey Lane as a real girl

Infini-T Force: Power Rangers help shrine maiden

Osake wa Fuufu: Wakakozake meets I Can’t Understand What My Husband Is Saying

Dog Mansion: old man learns the art of team breakdancing

Junni Taisen: when gravity fails

Vanishing Line: motorcycle with a gun

…and 33 more that didn’t even make the “I won’t watch” cut.

My third trip to Japan: Day 05 (revised)

September 19, 2017

Up and breakfast (click pix to embiggen)

Fewer but bigger

then pedestrian bridge across the rail yard and onto the subway.

Oops. Not that car.

When I got off the train, Osaka Castle was still far away.

It’s a long way, but there’s a Mos Burger right behind me

It’s laid out a lot like Himeji Castle

I started in the lower right hand corner

I passed the outer moat,

Outer moat

and got as far as the inner moat before my legs, hips, and heat control system failed.

Inner moat

I had taken a Bufferin before I left, and that seemed to help, except there were a couple of long stretches of multiple steps to get up to the castle and that kind of did them in; the legs don’t want to do stairs anymore. Plus the right hip started hurting and then after a while the left hip started hurting and then the heat started. So like many invaders beforehand, I made it across the outer moat and up to the gates on the inner moat and then gave up.

The Great Gate of Osaka

Unlike other invaders I was able to take a taxi back to downtown Osaka about noon. Napped until 2PM, which is a shame because I’m paying $20 an hour for that extension on the room. Ah, well, it gave me a chance for a late lunch

Late lunch

Off on the shinkansen, into the early dusk (the Japanese for dusk is purple yellow dark).

The rice grows right up to the factory fences

It will be a three hour ride to go 500km — just over 100mph, including time for stops at Kyoto, Nagoya, Yokohama, and Shinagawa.

Osaka to Tokyo

We shall see what the temperature and my legs are like there. It would be a shame if I spent the whole 4 days laying on my back in the hotel room.

Had a nice bento on the train.

Kansai regional specialities

It was relatively easy to find the train from Tokyo Station to Hamamatsucho Station. And then it all went pear-shaped. First of all I managed to pop the lens out of my reading glasses . Then, I couldn’t get a reliable GPS signal in the Hamamatsucho Station labyrinth, so it had me walking South and insisting that that was North and it took me about half an hour to find my way out of the train station. Oh well it could be worse. It could be raining.


So three blocks in the rain and I finally found my hotel. It has a typical third-tier Japanese hotel entrance, which is to say it could be confused with a decorative feature on the building. Right next door was a nice little pizzaria, where I had a late night pizza. And so to bed.

My first meal in Tokyo

WordPress Issues

September 18, 2017

So, WP has decided to do something to my formatting. I think it may have something to do with them sticking two ads in at the end of my last Japan post. Now, the top half of the previous gardening post is double-columned with the Japan post, and the bottom half is below the ads. And everything below that has lost formatting, but only on the first page. Not sure what’s going on here. I managed to fix things by combining my last two garden reports and deleting Day 05 and the last garden report, then reloading Day 05. No idea what caused it. As NSA says “Regret Inconvenience”

Green Thumb Up My Nose

September 17, 2017

Garden Report for 170918

Summer enters the endgame. No rain for almost three months (we are scheduled early tonight, which would make it 83 days, and then more rain through the rest of the week). Highs in the upper 80’sF, cooling to the mid 60’s. Lows in the upper 40’s to low 50’sF.

Made a harvesting pass midweek, with another on Sunday. Ten Lemon Boy’s (1.0kg) and 21 others (1.5kg). Lots of greenies still on the vine. Harvested the second bush buttercup, to free up resources for the final one, and I see there’s two or three more making a dash for it.

Starting to close out the various bits of garden and the containers. I’ll get the dirt dumped on the dug-up plants in time for composting.

Vegetable Count Weight
Total Total

tomato 31 2770 89 143 14.7
cabbage 5 0.72
cucumber 9 1.9
10 2.8
zucchini 4 2.5
1 980 980 2 2.4
Grand Total 28


My third trip to Japan: Day 04

September 15, 2017

After another interesting Japanese breakfast (click pix to embiggen),

No natto

I walked over to the railway station, took one last look at the castle,

Last look at the castle

and got on the shinkansen for Osaka. Half an hour later I was there. 92km in 29 minutes, including a stop at Kobe — not quite 120mph. The shinkansen are absolutely tremendous. I will have a whole esay on them later.

At the Himeji Shinkansen

Met my former student Ayumi with no problems. Like all Japanese women she dresses like she just stepped off the cover of Glamour magazine. We took the train from Shin Osaka to plain old Osaka Osaka station and went to a nearby electronics store where I spent about $100 on games and manga. We then had lunch at a place that served the traditional Kansai cabbage and egg pancake called Okonomiyaki.

Cooked at your table.

Got back to Shin-Osaka about noon and of course I was dragging; not just hip pain but back pain and heat exhaustion as well. We picked up my backpack at the train station where they have coin lockers all over the place. They are not like the US, but they do have rules.

Forbidden articles in paragraph 5

We then headed over to the MyStays hotel, about a quarter of a mile. In typical Mario fashion, we found that my reservation was in the other hotel. I am booked into the MyStays hotel in Tokyo but here I am booked into the Shin-Osaka Station Hotel. After that bit of embarrassment we turned around and walk back another half-mile to the new hotel, tucked out of the way down a side street and hidden well enough that they had to put up a sign.

Go back! You missed it!

Here it is!

The room is about the same as all the other rooms. They have free water and a little jacket and such for you to wear around the room, with a note that you should not wear it outside of the room; interesting, because in Himeji they had the same sort of thing only they encouraged you to wear it outside the room. Since I was about four sizes too large for the Japanese clothing I just wore my regular stuff.

Yet another typical Japanese travel hotel room

Towards sunset I went back over to the Shin-Osaka station for dinner. On the way out, I talked to the front desk about extending my stay four hours tomorrow, which they were glad to do — at the rate of $20 an hour. Since I was likely going to be exhausted by that time I thought it was a pretty good deal.

It was still warm out — lower 80s– and humid. I ate at a nice little restaurant called Tamago to Watashi, which is Japanese for The Egg and I.

Tomago to Watashi

Their speciality was Omurice (omelet over rice) and it wasn’t bad, but not as good as the ones in the Gourmet Girls anime.

Omurice Curry

It came with a tasty custard, and a small jar of what looked like cream for the custard, but was actually ranch dressing for the salad. Consider yourself warned.

My third trip to Japan: Day 03

September 14, 2017

Today is the main Conference day. I had a presentation at noon (well, in the 10-12 slot) and the welcome is at 9 or so. Up early and another typical Japanese breakfast, this time with natto — fermented soybeans — and also the Japanese equivalent of hushpuppies, miso soup with fat noodles, rice with natto, lotus root, fish, cabbage, and cabbage rolls. (click pix to embiggen)

Breakfast, Day 3 Chopsticks pointing to natto.

They look like standard baked beans, but have an earthy, chemical taste to them. They came with two packets of sauce, that the serving lady said should go on the natto. Unfortunately, they were soy and mustard, which somewhat masked the flavor. So I still don’t have a good idea of what natto tastes like by itself. Having said that, I’m not partial to it.

Natto and rice

Taxi to the Con, because I don’t trust me on the bus. Of course, the driver had no idea of how to get to the place, even with help from Google Maps. Plus, he drove with the apparently typical disregard for cyclists. Still, I got a look at a part of Himeji I probably would not have otherwise. The city appears to be mostly suburbs, with no major arterials. At least, none that he could find.

The Hyogo University Engineering School has a nice facility, with that overgrown look that all subtropical schools seem to have. Even in the rainy NW, when you cut the grass, it stays cut, for a while, at least. I can understand why all those post-apocalyptic anime show downtown Tokyo overgrown just weeks after the disaster.

Convention venue, with banner

Inside smells brand new, as if some furniture still has the bubble-wrap on it. Chairs are the auto-stow variety, and horribly uncomfortable.

The very clean poster session room

Self-stowing chairs


The Mie University contingent was there. Good to see some familiar faces. Asami Yonekura gave a presentation that extended the one she gave at Mie last year. My presentation went over well, as well, judging by the number of questions.

Our friends from Mie

Best pic I could get. She moved around too much.

Rode the bus home. Didn’t take any longer than the taxi did.

Himeji bus. Much like busses in the US. I hogged the elderly seat

Afterwards, we went to the Con dinner, in an old, traditional, saki brewery. Really interesting ancient wooden building and a fascinating production process. Too bad it was too dark for pictures, and the process descriptions were all in Japanese.

Big dining hall.

Walked home, which was probably a mistake. First, I missed Asami Yonekura getting a finalist certificate for her presentation, and second, it was a longer walk than I thought.

Asami shows off

I got just over 10,000 steps, including about 2,200 that night.

Memories of my youth: Shaking hands with Napoleon

September 13, 2017

Well, shaking the hand that shook the hand.

In 2009, when Freeman Dyson came to Portland to give a talk at ISEPP, the Institute for Science, Engineering and Public Policy, he told a story about Napoleon Bonaparte.

It seems that after Napoleon invaded Russia in 1812 and succeeded in capturing Moscow, there was no-one to surrender the city to him. All the officials had fled. Being the sort of person who needed public validation of his actions (much like our current President), he arranged a fake surrender. In the surrender party was a young girl, a child, who presented him with a bouquet of flowers. He solemnly shook her hand.

Many, many years later, the old woman who had been that child, shook the hand of Freeman Dyson’s young  grandfather. Dyson, over the years, had, of course, shaken his grandfather’s hand many times. As part of the ISEPP ceremonies, Dyson shook hands with Terry Bristol, the President of ISEPP.

And I shook Terry Bristol’s hand.

Five handshakes from Napoleon to me. History isn’t as far in the past as one might think.

My third trip to Japan: Day 02

September 11, 2017

This was a free day (the Con reception started that night). I decided, because of how hot it was the previous day, that I would not try something adventurous like taking the train down to Hiroshima but instead I went up to Himeji Castle. That was a good idea poorly executed. (Click pix to embiggen).

Yonder lies the castle…

Up about 6:00, rode down in the first elevator I’ve ever seen that had its own toilet.

Stop and sit a while

and had a typical Japanese breakfast — lots of small plates with egg and salmon and mackerel and squash and dashi-with-noodles and … you get the idea.

Breakfast: everything from soup to fish

I started walking to the castle just as the Sun was rising. The start point is a nice little garden on the North side of the Japan Rail station.

From the station crossover, you can watch the morning rush hour unfold, as the castle keeps watch.

It’s about a 30 minute walk in the cool of the morning. Everything was closed of course. In Japan they seem to keep banker’s hours. Things don’t open too early and if they’re not restaurants they don’t stay open too late. The main street leads right to the castle. It’s wide, and tree-lined. Some of the ambiance was ruined by extensive roadworks that dug up the sidewalk, tore out the hedges, and left the local dryads with nowhere to live for a while.

Nowhere to hide

The castle grounds are very very large — a 1.5km perimeter, and a 600m walk from the Sakuramon Gate to the foot of the central keep.

You enter at the Sakuramon Gate, near the bottom, and walk to the castle, near the top

Looking off the bridge at the gate, I saw what looked like a ninja attack. It was actually members of the JSDF who volunteered to help trim the tangled vegetation on the walls of the moat.

Ninja attack!

The castle opened at 9AM, and a volunteer guide took me around. Actually, she took me around the outside. One problem was my bad hip — I had walked a couple of kilometers to get there, and another kilometer or so around the grounds, and my hip didn’t like it.  The second problem was the castle construction.

No, not the rocks

This is a castle that was designed to be hard to get into and so everything around it is steep steep ramps steep stairways you walk up a steep ramp and then you get on a steep stairway and then, you’re in the basement.

By the time I got out of the castle, it was 90F, and I was in no shape to walk another two kilometers home, so I got a taxi, went home, and took a three hour nap.

I woke up hungry and found that the temperature was down to a more bearable 85 degrees. It was humid and breezy and felt like a storm was coming in (but it never did). I walked over to the Japan Rail Mall for dinner.

I considered buying some omurice — omelet over rice, a Japanese favorite — but it was being made for the bento boxes they sell in the grocery store, and I wanted to eat out, not in the room

Bit of a production line here.

I ended up in a restaurant that served traditional Japanese food like dim sum and bin-bin bap and sweet and sour pork.

Dark and sweet

Had a nice glass of Asahi beer to go with it and stopped off at the company to buy another couple cans to take to bed with me

While I was in the shopping mall, I came across a bakery that sold, among other things, melonpan. Pan is the Japanese word for bread which they stole from the French. Melonpan is essentially a big sugar cookie with a a softball sized lump of soft white bread covered with a sugary coating on top with criss cross network pattern carved on it. It looks like a melon and so that’s why it’s called a melon pan. I bought a couple to have with the beer.

Soft bread on a sugar cookie

Real melons, real pricey

By the way, real Japanese melons are extremely pricey. The photo is of a pair in the vegetable aisle of the shopping mall grocery. Keep in mind that a yen is roughly equivalent to one US penny, depending on the current trade balance.

My pedometer shows I got exactly 15000 steps in today. 8000 was the walk to the castle 3000 was the walk around the castle, and the rest was wandering around the JR shopping mall