Green Thumb Up My Nose

April 25, 2019

Garden Report for 190425

The weather is warm (lows in the mid-40’s, highs in the mid-60’s) and it’s time to (trans-) plant. Added a couple cuft of potting soil to Section 1. Moved all ten squash/melon seedlings there. Squirrels immediately made it look like a recreation of the Battle of the Somme. I have ordered some gutter guards to protect the plants. Once the wind dies down and the air warms up, I’ll put in some seeds-on-tape: lettuce and carrots.

Section 1. Grid is covering the area where I’ll put some taped seeds

I planned to put the beans and peas and cucumbers in Section 3 (Section 2 is for tomatoes), but the forecast suddenly turned to lows in the low 30’s this weekend, including frost on Sunday night. I’ll leave them in the greenhouse for now.

That’s not trash in the bottom. It’s old icepacks for thermal balance

Meanwhile, I got a new Japanese Maple for the hole out front what was left from taking out the weeping birch.

Only another six feet of growth and it will be useful

With any luck, the cold snap won’t kill the leaves.

The Mueller Report

April 19, 2019

There are two key questions we have to answer in the aftermath of the Mueller report: (1) Is Trump impeachable?, and (2) Should we do it?

First, read this. It’s a six page comic, won’t take you any time at all.

Now.

Is Trump impeachable?

That is, has he committed impeachable acts under the Constitution? Depending on how you interpret them, there are several sets of actions that might fit that definition. Meanwhile, most pro/con declarations at this point are made by people who haven’t read the report, and are mostly based on party affiliation.

To rephrase the question, since impeachment is essentially a political act, has Trump sufficiently irritated enough Representatives that they will use the actions listed above as an excuse to obtain a bill? I think we’d all agree that the answer is yes, and it might even include a few Republicans.

A followup question is, once the bill of impeachment has moved to the Senate, is it possible to get a two thirds majority in favor of removing Trump from office? Given the current structure of the Senate, and given GOP proclivities for supporting almost any policies that Trump wants to impose, my take is that there is zero chance of the Senate voting for removal.

So the answer is yes, he can be impeached, and no, it won’t make any difference to the government. All that will happen is that all other legislative actions will be placed on hold, and Trump might be politically embarrassed. Given that not a lot is getting done right now, and that Trump has proven to be immune to embarrassment, the direct impact is likely to be minimal.

Should we do it?

That is, should we go ahead with the political process set up in the Constitution? This is really a tactical decision. On the one side, there are those who say that we should do it, to place future Presidents on notice that they are not immune to oversight. That if we don’t, we have given up all possibility of holding Presidents responsible for their actions. Their position is that Congress should proceed with impeachment, even though the immediate result might be negligible.

On the other side, there are those who point out that we have an election coming up in 18 months, and that impeachment proceedings will be the one thing that can galvanize the GOP base into coming out in support of Trump (or at least in opposition to perceived Democratic bullying), despite the crimes and misdemeanors uncovered in the process.

On the other other side are those who fear that this would set a precedent for witch hunts after every turnover of power. I suspect this is why Obama didn’t sponsor war crimes trials against Bush staffers. The Republic works best when we all pretend that all members of the government are honorable people, working for the good of the country as they see it.

And here’s yet another view. Impeachment means overturning an election. Are the Presidential crimes serious enough for that?

TLDR — Anime I never finished, Spring 2019 Part 2

April 13, 2019

As we head into the second week of the season, the latecomers and early bloomers start to fade.

Senryu Girl: Socially inept high school girl can only communicate by high speed calligraphating of 17-character messages on short boards. Joins the literature club to improve her writing. Meets standard anime trope #54, bad boy with heart of gold who has trouble communicating. A little too contrived for my taste. In addition, Senryu was the name of a fighter plane in the game Sky Crawlers, so I keep waiting for her to suit up and take off.

Namu Amida Butsu! Utena:  Bishi gods come down to Tokyo. Clueless bishi gods. This has so been done before, with magical swords, and magical historic heroes, and magical drain covers (OK, I lied about that last one, but wait until Summer).

Yatogame-chan Kansatsu Nikki:  Boy from Brooklyn moves to Boston, where everybody talks funny. Sorry. Boy from Tokyo moves to Nagoya, where everybody talks funny. Like the short about Osaka of a few years back, this falls into the “You might be a redneck if…” category.

Nobunaga Sensei no Osanazuma: Is 2019 the year of the ethically challenged teacher? Time traveling 14-year old bride lands in the house of the descendant of the guy she’s supposed to marry, immediately strips off and suggests baby-making. Teacher/descendant has a hard time keeping his hands off the child. Next thing you know, the show will be talking about suppositories. Fortunately, even the uncensored version is censored.

Thoughts on Assange

April 12, 2019

So, they’ve finally dug him out of his hideaway in the Ecuadorean embassy. Actually, due to a change in government, Ecuador decided to hand him over to the UK government.

There has already been a lot of discussion of his case by a lot of people who are a lot better informed than I am. What follows are some thoughts that occurred to me over the years.

Over on Wikipedia (no relation) is a description of the history of the case.

2010 April:  Wikileaks publishes some thousands of State cables and low level military ops message traffic from Iraq, provided by (then) Bradley Manning. Obama administration starts an investigation.

2010 November: Assange accused of sexual assault in Sweden. Assange claims the US government put Stockholm up to it so they could get him out of the UK and into a more extradition-friendly country. The details of the case are murky, but could certainly be interpreted that way.

2012 August: Assange jumps bail, takes refuge in extradition-free Ecuadorian embassy.

2016 Summer: Assange, having been confined to the embassy for four years so far, starts publishing emails from the Clinton campaign. I suspect his primary motivation is revenge on Obama and Clinton. He’s striking back with the only weapon available.

2019 April: Assange is removed from Ecuadorean embassy, and that same day the US unseals an indictment against him. It’s a simple charge of attempting unauthorized computer access (“using special software, namely the Linux operating system”). Nothing political. Nothing about freedom of the press. No reason for the UK to not agree to extradite him.

So, what happens now? My guess is that, once he is in US hands, additional indictments will be issued, for things like treason and espionage and assisting a foreign power. This will raise serious issues of freedom of the press, immunity of foreign nationals to prosecution for breaking local US laws while not in the country, and so forth, but by then he’ll already be in jail and doing hard time for the duration of the trial and whatever sentence they can make stick.

Whatever you think of Assange personally, and what little I know is unfavorable, this looks like one more step in the process of restricting the press in this country.

 

Scallop Oats

April 11, 2019

We had scallops the other night — package of big, frozen sea scallops. We thawed them as per instructions, then baked them in a broiler pan in the toaster oven. When they were done, there was a couple of tablespoons of the liquid off them in the bottom of the broiler pan.

Meanwhile, I’d cooked some small shell pasta in chicken broth (about which more later). I mixed a cup of this broth with the scallop liquid and used it for my breakfast oatmeal.

Setup: 1/3 cup of stone ground rolled oats, one cup pasta-scallop broth, 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. Add shred cheese if you like.

Results: Very good. A little salty. Most definite seafood flavor despite using only two tablespoonsworth. I had not planned ahead on this, otherwise I would have put some water in the bottom of the pan. As it was, a good portion of the scallop water browned itself to the bottom of the pan.

Rating: ***

Memories of my Youth: The perils of AI

April 10, 2019

My Ph.D. is in Systems Science, which deals with the ways that things work together. As part of my studies I got to work with some really neat tools. The dissertation was about building a neural net supply chain management system using a neural net AI control concept originally developed as an autopilot for a single-stage-to-orbit hypersonic vehicle. It doesn’t get any cooler than that.

Neural net controllers work best when they’ve been properly trained and to properly train them you need input/output data for the “plant” they are controlling. Where to get the data? In particular, where to get the data when the system you are trying to control doesn’t exist yet? Enter simulation.

I built a discrete event simulation of a multi-layer supply chain, including both the inventory and the transport costs. In order to get a wide range of values, and to help design the system structure, I used another AI technique called a genetic algorithm to optimize the whole operation. See what I mean by cool?  Here’s a picture

Playing with all my toys at one time

Unfortunately, I made an error. The GA was developing policies for re-ordering products and passing them back to the simulation. The simulation would run by applying those policies, and report out the total cost at the end of the run. Buried in the simulation code was a set of decision rules about how to apply the reorder policies. But there was an error in the decision rules, one that rewarded inappropriate actions.  The GA, having no sense of ethics, or even common sense, noted that error and began to exploit it. Policy sets that were obviously bad were coming out with high scores and taking over the population. What to do?

Well, the what to do is, go into your simulator code and track down and fix the error. This let the system operate in an appropriate fashion and come out with usable results. There’s a lesson here — if you leave a loophole in your programming, your AI will find it and exploit it to achieve the goal you gave it.

People who talk about runaway AI often think of killer bots wandering the streets, shooting people. That makes for exciting graphics, but it’s not the real problem.

Who would you like to kill today?

The real problem comes when an AI has the ability to interact with the world, and modifies the world to suit its own goals. Elon Musk talks about a strawberry-picking AI that works to cover the world with strawberry fields. Or think of a stock fund AI that decides the best way to make money is to buy defense stocks, and then start a war. Or an AI that shorts a bunch of stocks, and then causes a market crash.

Nobody knows why the market crashed that day…

So, twenty years ago, my little AI project stumbled upon a problem that is likely to be at the center of AI research for the next twenty.

TLDR — Anime I never finished, Spring 2019 Part 1

April 8, 2019

Some horses fall at the first fence. Some anime don’t make it through the first episode. Not that they’re bad, as such, but that they are too too obviously not of interest to me, personally.

Amazing Stranger Tiny humanoid space explorer lands on Earth, only to end up purchased as an anime character figurine. A true teen flick, because it’s too mature for kids, and too stupid for adults.

Hitoribocchi no Marumaruseikatsu Socially inept grade schooler enters middle school, tries to make friends with her entire class because her only friend, now attending a different school, said she’d dump her if she didn’t. Doesn’t realize that if she makes just one good friend in the new school, she doesn’t need the old one. Or maybe I’m just not into middle school anime.

Why the hell are you here, teacher? That’s what I want to know. Another season, another set of inappropriate student-teacher interactions (are suppositories the new thing?). Harsh sound track, too much shouting, stupidly contrived situations. Doesn’t rise to the intellectual level of Domestic Girlfriend. Twelve minutes is twelve minutes too long.

The Rising of the Shield Hero This is the second cour of an anime that started last season. Average non-otaku guy is shanghaied into an isekai world where he is promptly doublecrossed by the local royal family, which sours his outlook on everything thereafter. Obtains a couple of cute female non-human slaves, who promptly fall in love with him and try to improve his attitude. It’s working, and it’s a halfway decent anime, until the start of the secound cour, when he gets doublecrossed again. Can you say “Perils of Pauline”? Can you say “Jumping the shark”?

I was wrong … they’re bad.

Kotobuki: Parts of it are Magnificent

April 4, 2019

Think of it as Girls und Panzer meets Porco Rosso.

In another dimension, or astral plane, or something, exists a world named Ijitsu, that looks a lot like Australia — mostly howling wilderness. It used to have an ocean, but a wormhole of some sort opened up, destroyed the oceans, devastated the countryside and dumped a lot of military technology (including every type of Japanese WWII fighter), plus curry, rice, and pancakes, onto them. This all happened courtesy of the Yufang, who appear to be alternate timeline Japanese.

A town like Alice

Now the people of Ijitsu live a hardscrabble existence in a scattering of tiny outback towns, tied together with zeppelin flights and bepestered by air pirates. The six girls who are part of the Kotobuki Squadron* fly escort off of one of the zeppelins, fighting off the air pirates and making sure their cargo, or passengers, make it through safely.

Carrier based aircraft

Unfortunately, there’s a shadowy organization, the Brotherhood of Freedom Union, led by Isao, the mayor of the biggest city on Ijitsu, a guy who can smile and joke while ordering the destruction of entire towns, and who wants to exploit any new holes that appear and use that technology to take over the world. The Union employs dozens of fighter units and is systematically intimidating all the small towns to join up. The Kotobuki Girls are not really interested in this. As with Firefly, they just want to find a job, find a crew, keep flying. Of course, they get dragged in, end up as part of the big final battle, and are instrumental in destroying a newly opened hole and the death of the mayor.

Girls at war

Got that? Good. Now ignore it. The heart of the anime is the flying, and everything else is just an excuse. Every episode has a multiplane dogfight, and every dogfight is of heart-stopping intensity. Along the way we get to see all of these WWII fighters in action, plus some machines that never made it into the sky on our timeline — the Kyushu J7W1 Shiden, of which only two were ever built, and the Nakajima G10N Fugaku heavy bomber, only ever seen on the cover of model airplane boxes.

The bomber that never was

I suspect that Director Mizushima is doing what Miyazaki was unable to do in The Wind is Rising, celebrate the warplanes of WWII without having to insert an extended apology for Japan’s role in the war. Even though he ended the film before the start of the war, Miyazaki was still criticised for not saying enough about it. But if you have Japanese fighters shooting down Japanese fighters on an alternate world on an alternate timeline there’s no way you can be guilty of glorifying the Pacific War, right?

George and Betty

Meanwhile, we have the Kotobuki Girls. Each of the six has her own personality and her own reason for flying.

Come as you are

They are portrayed in 3DCG, and are not quite ready for prime time — their faces are stiff, and their movements seem more like those of marionettes. Be that as it may, they are all individuals, and you find yourself rooting for them in all of their fights.

Fight’s on!

And the heart of the series is the dogfights. You see the action from all sides, and from inside the cockpit. You hear the clang of bullets hitting metal, and you hear the creak of that metal stressed to its limit.  At the end of every episode, I had a bad case of the leans, from following the planes as they pulled g’s.

Another kill for Kotobuki

The ending is a magnificent swirling fight in and over the capital city, and under the newest hole. Parts of it make you think of the trench run in the first Star Wars.

Turn right at the next intersection

In the end, Kotobuki sacrifices their zeppelin to close the hole,

They’ll never catch this dirigible!

the good guys win, and fly off into the sunset.

All’s right with the world

From a flying standpoint, anime artist’s license excepted, I have two complaints about the air battles.

First, it’s too hard to tell what’s going on. All of the fights are big, multi-plane furballs,  presented as a series of vignettes featuring one-on-one engagements (sometimes with a saving intervention), but there’s nothing that gives a good view of the overall structure of the battle. In Garupan, you always had the feeling that you knew where everyone was and that you knew how the fight was rolling out. Not so with Kotobuki. Now, air battles are notoriously hard to follow. You dive in, you engage an enemy, and suddenly you are alone in the sky; or an enemy jumps you, you dive away from them, and when you recover, the fight’s move on. But usually there’s some preliminary structure — “You draw off the fighters, you go after the bombers” — even if it breaks down on contact.

Which brings me to my second complaint about the flying. There’s no sign of any real teamwork. In WWII, the US developed a number of leader/wingman concepts, which gave us a significant advantage over the Japanese, even though our fighters were outmatched by the Zero, one on one. In Kotobuki, everyone piles in on their own, and if they see a chance to help a team-mate they will. That’s good team spirit. It’s not good team work. As a result, The Kotobuki Girls are protected mostly by plot armor.

 

Preflight check

From a drama standpoint, if I have one complaint, it’s that the action is all bloodless, at least on the Kotobuki side. Josh Whedon once said that if you have a fight and nobody important dies, people just say “Oh, look. They’re shooting.” That’s the way Kotobuki is.

Despite that, I’d still call it magnificent.

*Kotobuki, 寿, A Yufang word meaning good fortune, congratulations, or long life, but we don’t find out about that until the end.

Green Thumb Up My Nose

April 3, 2019

Garden Report for 190403

Meteorological Spring seems to have arrived. The snow has melted, and I can dig in the garden again, but it will be at least a month before the soil warms up enough to plant stuff in.

Only two thirds of my seeds have germinated and been repotted, but that turns out to be a good thing, since I don’t have room for any more pots. All of the melons and about half of the peas failed. I might try again when the weather warms enough to transplant the existing pots and free up some room. Of course, by that time the garden centers might be getting in their plants.

Bought a couple of small planters (24x6x4″) to grow greens in. Once they germinate I’ll put them on the back deck. Meant to plant them to different kinds of lettuce but I grabbed the wrong packet and planted one with chard. This is my first test of seed tapes. Should have something to eat by the end of May.

Once the rain stops I’ll put down some fertilizer in the garden and give it a couple of weeks to work in. I’d been feeding each section through the compost well, but I think I need to do more.

How long has this been going on?

April 1, 2019

All professors complain about students slacking off in class. Most students don’t. Many do. There’s even a electrophoretic distribution across the seating chart. The Hermione Grangers all sit up front. Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, they pay attention, take notes and ask good questions. Back in the back are those don’t care, don’t want to be there, and aren’t real sure why their parents are making them go. They all have their laptops open (I’m following your lecture slides, prof, and I need to sit back here because that’s where the power plugs are.) Those are the ones who look at their screens and laugh when I haven’t made a joke. In the middle are the ones who are texting on their phones. I know who they are because they are staring at their crotches and smiling.

There’s a body of opinion that we are seeing the results of the electrification of our lives. Everybody lives for their instagram, pinterest, and facebook fix. It’s a 21st Century phenomenon. Maybe not.

Here’s a 14th Century drawing of an academic lecture. Note the distribution of attention: eager students in front, disinterested students in back. Student at the end of the second row consulting their Kindle.

Picture taken from a tweet posted by Stuart Wrigley 

Domestic Girlfriend: A well-done anime about stupid people

March 31, 2019

Domestic Girlfriend (Domesutikku na Kanojo) is predicated on a set of ridiculous coincidences. High school boy has the hots for one of his teachers (as often happens). He also pulls a one night stand with a HS girl he met at a karaoke party (and where were those girls when I was in HS?). Shortly thereafter his widowed father re-marries and brings into the household a divorcee with two daughters — an older one who teaches HS, and a younger one who goes to karaoke parties. Spoilers follow.

Meet your new family

The inevitable happens, and the boy starts an affair with his teacher-sister. Twelve episodes later the inevitable also happens, and they get outed. Meanwhile, he’s trying to kickstart a career as an author. Meanwhile, the younger sister is developing feelings for him.

At the end, the older sister has to quit her job and move to a different school to avoid a scandal, despite which they still have feelings for each other. Meanwhile, the younger sister declares that she is going to go all out to win his heart. Also, he wins a writing prize.

On the good side, studio Diomedéa handled the story very well. This could have been treated as a harem romcom, or as some sort of operatic high drama. Instead, it was more like a soap opera, and I say that as a good thing. What was bad were the people.

Let’s start with Hina, the older sister. She’s in her second year as a teacher but she still has the mannerisms of a student — flirting, slapping the boys on the butt, getting drunk in the evening. Unable to control her emotions, and despite being quite aware of the suicidal consequences, she enters into a relationship with a student maybe five years younger than her, and ends up having sex with him (BTW, in the course of the anime we find out that she previously had an affair with a married man, who she thinks about when masturbating with her bedroom door open, so there’s a pattern here). In this case she is incredibly lucky, and when they get caught she just gets shunted off to a different school, presumably in a different prefecture. In the real world such actions would get her jailed, or at least fired and barred from teaching for life. Her life is going to be a series of bad decisions, and there is no way she should be a teacher.

That’s “Hina-sensei”

Then there’s Natsuo, her underage paramour. Like many high school boys he thinks with his crotch and has zero concept of what the word consequences means. Whether it’s attempting to kiss Hina when she’s drunk and unconcious, grabbing her in the school hallway or at a festival, or concocting a story to cover his visits to her apartment without coordinating with the guy he’s using for cover — twice — he demonstrates zero ability to think beyond the end of his dick.

Yes, we’re at school, but no-one will notice if we duck down like this

At the end of the last episode he claims he still has feelings for Hina but does nothing to reject sister Rui when she gets physical. He’s the kind of guy who is likely to have his head turn up in a school bag.

Maybe she overpowered him

Finally, we have younger sister Rui. Same age as Natsuo, member of the same HS writing club (once she changes schools), made a straightforward and unemotional decision to lose her virginity with a casual meetup. Shy and retiring, she has the most rational and straightforward personality of the bunch.

Yeah, that relationship

When Natsuo executes a standard anime trope and inadvertently walks in on her in the bath, she simply says “You’ve seen me already”, instead of screaming and throwing things. Her major flaw is getting romantic feelings about Natsuo, despite his obvious chasing of her older sister.

The rest of the cast is mostly good people, who help Natsuo out probably more than he deserves: best friend from middle school, gay yakuza coffee shop owner, only slightly creepy writing club advisor, shy girl and flirty girl who both fall for Natsuo (maybe it is a harem anime). Their parents are typical good parents (atypical for anime), concerned about their children and willing to sacrifice to make sure they are happy. Yes, OK, there’s also the totally pointless and irritating American transfer student. Is this the way we look overseas?

You sometimes hear an anime described as a trainwreck. This is an anime about a trainwreck, about how two flawed people imperiled their lives and futures.

Close the drapes, damnit!

The story is handled well. The ending is not as solid as it might be, but that’s because the source manga is ongoing. Judging from descriptions of the source the ending is probably the best possible, under the circumstances.

If you like well-written drama that doesn’t involve mechas, spikey hair, or lots of shouting, and you don’t mind having to read three layers down in the character list to find someone relatable, then you’ll probably like this anime.

Retirement at 90, Part 1

March 29, 2019

No, not waiting until 90 to retire, waiting for 90 days to blog about what retirement is like. Does that title count as clickbait?

This is not an early retirement as some folks would have it. I’ve been eligible for Social Security for years. But it is earlier than I planned*.

And it’s not at all what my previous lifestyle transitions were like. When I left the military, I already had a job lined up in industry. When I left industry, I was already enrolled in a PhD program. Before I finished my dissertation, I had been hired at EWU. This is the first time I have left one career field without having a firm idea of what I’ll be doing next. Fortunately, throughout my many careers I’ve been selfish and lazy enough that transitioning to a life of selfish laziness should not be a problem.

Herewith, a breakout of what it felt like each month after retirement

The first month feels like any other vacation. Final wrapup of duties. Maybe a vacation trip — in this case, a ten day cruise. My weight goes up because, hey, a cruise. So far, it’s just another Christmas Break.

The second month is when the cognitive dissonance sets in. I have this feeling that I have to be doing something — prepping lectures, rewriting syllabi, correcting homework, something — but of course I don’t have anything like that. It’s not a case of feeling useless, as many retirees reportedly do, it’s a case of not yet having figured out how to restructure my time.**

http://www.sheldoncomics.com/archive/020427.html

Unstructured time

Now and again I get an email from a student — We miss you! The other profs are mean to us! I refrain from getting involved. I’m going to stop by the office at some point, but I’ll hold off for a while. Student sobbing should trail off as the current generation graduates and the new ones never heard of me. Kindof like sticking one’s hand in a bucket of water.

I spend way more time on the computer than I ever did when I was teaching MIS, hitting reload on my 200 345 RSS feeds, reading lots of things I would never have wasted my time on earlier (Air Canada pilot orders 23 pizzas to Halifax-bound plane stranded on tarmac). The tendinitis in my mouse hand is back, so to get away from the computer I start binge-watching One Piece and Sailor Moon on Crunchyroll, and re-reading classic novels like That Time I Was Reincarnated as a Slime. My weight goes up because I’m not spending two hours a day walking back and forth in front of a class, waving my arms, and because, hey, all that food is just sitting there in the fridge. I can’t go jogging (OK, walking) because Spokane is still shivering from a six-week-long cold snap where the windchills are in the minuses and everything that isn’t buried in snow is covered with ice.

What I really want to do is get back to my research (and learning Python, and learning Japanese), but to do that I have to be able to get to my desk and my desk is piled high with books and papers. I’d put them away but to do that I’d have to be able to get to the various bookcases, which are blocked by stacks of coats and backpacks that I need to find space for in the closets, boxes of books from my office and old computer gear that I need to find space for … somewhere else … and papers that I need to put on my desk so I can organize them.

Meanwhile, various tasks cut into my time: patching the hole in the bathroom ceiling where the leak came through last summer, doing my taxes (This year I’m going to be early, dammnit!), upgrading my wife’s computer from Ubuntu 14 to 18, and all the rest of the twenty years’ worth of deferred housework. Since I’m not really a household chores sort of guy it takes an effort, and a strong will, to motivate myself to do these things and hey, they just released the latest episode of The Magnificent KOTOBUKI.

Actually, I’m not getting a lot of that stuff done, either. Mostly, I seem to be frittering away my time. By the time I’m done with surfing, reading, napping, kitchen, and anime, the day is over, and where did it go? I seem to be caught in a basin of attraction, one that’s not really sustainable.

By the end of the third month, things have begun to settle down. I no longer feel I have to spend an hour on the computer the very first thing, so that I get the latest MIS news for my students (I don’t have any students, remember?). So I can make breakfast, and do my various neck and back exercises (see ailments) before I stroll into my office. I’ve got a timer on the computer that tells me to stop and stretch every 20 minutes, and to go take an exercise break every hour. It turns out that I have a couple of neck exercises that take three minutes to run through — just the right length of time to steep a cup of tea.

Outside, the days are noticeably longer (but not yet long) and the weather is definitely warmer (but not yet warm). This gives me a chance to start walking again.

Inside, I’ve set up a table in the Sun Room for seedlings, preparing them for hardening-off in the cabinet-sized greenhouse on the deck. I’m also attacking the various household chores during those 20 minute breaks. It’s a slow job, but things are getting done.***

I still haven’t made any progress on my research and learning.

Since I do have all this time, and since MJ is still busy six days a week with dog training and dog judging and music directing, I get to do most of the cooking. So my weight is going up. Since retirement it’s been going up by about a pound a week.

Next time, we’ll look at the future, and the past.


*I retired because of my health. Not that I’m unhealthy on a day to day basis, but because I can’t be sure what it will be like, day to day. Quite apart from the whole multiple myeloma thing, I find that entropy is beginning to become a factor: high blood pressure, bad back, bad neck, bad hips (bursitis), bad knees; various eye issues (including early indicators of age-related macular degeneration, so I’ve got something to look forward to); gout. Gout? I don’t own a big enough home to have gout.

Of course, the big problem isn’t the ailments, it’s how to pay for them. Retirement has shuffled my health insurance and reduced my options. Plus, the new MyChart system at the local hospital doesn’t seem to be able to bill the insurers properly, and they don’t seem to have figured out what my new status is.  I am paying more now, and getting more things rejected. Part of my now-copious spare time looks like it will be spent fighting MyChart and Medicare and Tricare. So far, every visit has required that I work my way down the chain, again.

Looks like one of the constraints on my overseas trips and dakimakura purchases will be how much of my discretionary income gets siphoned off to pay bonuses to the stockholders of Celgene.

**I sent this comic to a recently retired friend, ex-Army, hard charger type. He said he showed it to his wife, and he thought he’d have to call 911, she was laughing so hard.

*** If a man says he’s gonna do something, he’s gonna do it, and it don’t do no good you go reminding him of it every six months.

Back to the Moon? Not so fast, Mr. Cavor

March 28, 2019

Vice President Pence has told NASA that Trump wants the US to return to the Moon within five years. I sincerely doubt that will happen. I don’t think Trump expects it to happen.

This announcement falls into the category of cynical political ploy, and there is a long history, long in modern media terms, of US Presidents playing the space card as a way of grasping for support from the tech industry and all the astronaut wannabes out there.

Back in 2017, after Pence’s first call to return to the Moon, the Washington Post listed all the times since Kennedy that various presidents, all of them Republican, had used that call as a propaganda device. Only Obama had resisted the temptation, saying “We’ve been there,” and suggesting more useful and achievable objectives, such as an asteroid landing.

There is an old project management theory that says your resource options for building a new system are are: Quality, Speed, and Cost, and you get to pick two of the three.

Going to the Moon is hard, and if you want to do it without killing too many people, you have to have the best quality people, processes, and equipment possible. That leaves you with making tradeoffs between the other two factors.

Speed is political. When Kennedy announced the Apollo Program in 1961, he gave NASA until the end of the decade — eight years — to accomplish it. Trump has decided that it has to be done in five. By the way, the five year limit is interesting. That’s about the amount of time that Trump has left in office, assuming the Trekkie vote helps him win in 2020.

So the factor that has to give is cost. We want a really high quality system really fast. Actually, that should read really, really fast. That’s going to cost a lot. More than the original $100B (in today’s money) that Apollo cost. Where’s the money to come from?

Keep in mind that we already have a record federal deficit, thanks to Trump. The DoD is asking for a record amount of money, not just to make up for the maintenance we didn’t do while we were pissing our resources away in the Middle East Wars (you would have thought they’d have learned from VietNam), but to completely restructure the force to meet modern adversaries with totally new classes of modern weapons. We still have a critical infrastructure problem, and the states that form Trump’s base are continuing to sink into irrelevance and unemployment, with severe drug and healthcare issues. Oh, and Trump wants to spend an additional $5B on that wall.

Enter Congress. There are two kinds of Congressional committees, those that deal with laws and policies, and those that deal with money. If a policy committee approves a $5B program, all they have done is voted for a $5B box. It’s up to the appropriate appropriations committee to fill it with what they think is an appropriate amount of money, not necessarily $5B worth.

Now, the appropriations committees are constrained by overall goals decided upon by the leadership. They can’t exceed their guidelines, but they can move money around within their areas of responsibility. And NASA falls under the United States House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies. It’s a Related Agency. So is the Social Security Administration. Spending on highway infrastructure is part of Transportation. So, question for the class is, which would you rather do, fix the potholes on I-5, help Grandma buy her cancer drugs, or go to the Moon while Trump is in office? Note that this is an issue no matter which party controls Congress, which is probably why nothing got done after Pence’s 2017 speech.

So, no. We’re not going to be back on the Moon in five years, and probably not in ten. The call for a new Moon Program is the equivalent of a real estate developer putting up signs claiming that a new light rail station will be going in, Real Soon Now, right next to the development he’s selling houses in. It’s a science fiction pipe dream, right up there with The Second Men in the Moon.

Green Thumb Up My Nose

March 21, 2019

Garden Report for 190321

It is officially Spring, and the season begins.

The seeds are started!
In the background, the garden awaits!

Seeds planted include: pie pumpkin, five kinds of squash (acorn, delicata, spaghetti, summer, buttercup, plus three kinds of Zucchini), cucumber, three kinds of melon (crenshaw, honeydew, canaloupe), peas (snap and sugar), kohlrabi, and yard long beans.

I also have tapes for radish, pak choi, leeks, onion, chard, carrots, and lettuce. Interestingly, most of the lettuce tapes (ordered off Amazon) come from Poland.

It will be another four weeks before the seedlings are ready for transplant, and maybe another six before I can get a pick into the soil.

Evolutionary computation and the Cambrian Explosion

March 17, 2019

Science news site LiveScience has an interesting article on animals of the Cambrian Explosion. The question they ask is, “Why do these animals look so weird?” Their answer is that the older an organism is, the more changes life on Earth has had to adapt to since the organism appeared. This is accurate as far as it goes, but it doesn’t address the underlying structure of the evolutionary process, and why they look that way in the first place.

Let’s see if this approach will work

Evolutionary computation is a broad field dedicated to applying concepts gleaned from Darwinian evolutionary theory to the development of useful computer programs. The main processes are Recombination and Mutation, to generate diversity, and Selection (AKA survival of the fittest), to maintain evolutionary pressure. You mix and match some diverse population, sort them by fitness, and kill off the least fit, rinse the blood off and repeat. Since this all happens inside a computer, it is not nearly as red in tooth and claw as real nature is.

But in order for all this to work, you need to start with a diverse population. How do you do that? Well, the standard computational approach is to generate a population at random, without any thought to how well or poorly any individual may do. Most, probably all, of that first generation are seriously unfit for the task you have set them. That’s OK. The selection process will give you the best of a bad lot, and recombination/mutation/selection can take it from there. But that first generation is going to look seriously weird.

Jump back half a billion years or so, to the pre-Cambrianites, and you find a bunch of single-celled bacteria, with here and there a soft-bodied multicellular confederacy. There were many, probably thousands, of different species, all of which look pretty much the same in the fossil record but which were actually quite different, with different tools available for experimentation. And then something changed.

Two somethings, to be simplistic about it. First, the climate warmed, due to geological changes. Second, one species of bacteria, cyanobacteria, stumbled on how to use light and carbon dioxide to provide themselves with food, releasing oxygen as a waste product. On the one hand, oxygen was toxic to a whole range of organisms, but on the other hand, it was an amazing power source, if you could harness it. Selection pressure just got intense.

That selection pressure, combined with a wide range of new ecological niches made it possible for life to start a whole new era of evolutionary development. And what life started with was a large, diverse, one might even say weird population, ready to line up for fitness testing.

So the answer to the LiveScience question isn’t just the long time between us and the Cambrian, it also has to do with the diverse, let’s try anything approach that life takes at the beginning of a new era.

Wildlife in Cheney

March 11, 2019

You know the weather’s been inclement when the deer come into town to forage. Right at sundown yesterday we had eight does and one buck eating the grass under the trees at the end of our block.

As long as one walked quietly and didn’t pay attention to them, they didn’t spook. Finally, a dog started barking, and they strolled off down the street.

Of course, some people take this as a bad omen.

Anime Preview: Spring 2019

March 11, 2019

Unlike others, who use knowledge of the source materials, close observation of the previews, and who actually read the press releases, I’m going to base mine on just the title and the cover art.

First, let’s say what’s not in here. Sequels and continuations of stuff I didn’t like before (Million Arthur, Bogipop) shorts and kids stuff (Isekai Quartet, Cinderella Girls ), movies and OVA’s, and anything with Fafner in the title.

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

Shoumetsu Toshi: I bought this Vespa secondhand, from a girl with a blue Rickenbacker 4001 left-handed electric bass guitar

Carole & Tuesday: If only we knew someone with a Rickenbacker 4001 left-handed electric bass guitar, our trio would be complete

Konoyo no Hate: My father is a werewolf

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

Hachigatsu No Cinderella Nine: Heisei baseball girls

Mix: Reiwa baseball girls

Kono Oto Tomare: Stop this sound

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

Jimoto na Japan: The return of Elvis

Aikatsu Friends: Magical Girl Magicgirl

Sarazanmai: The wave Hokusai never painted

Oatmeal Dashi

March 10, 2019

I have written about using dashi in oatmeal a number of times in the past. The dashi used was either home made, from seaweed and bonito, or it was home made, from crystals out of a jar. According to a recent cooking article, the go-to staple for busy Japanese housewives is dashi-inna-teabag. You just heat up two cups or so of water (600ml to be both metric and exact), throw in a bag, and simmer for five minutes. The result is a very mild broth.

The dashibags I am using are the Yamaki Katsuo and Kombu Dashi Pack (Bonito and Kelp Soup Base Bag)1.9oz, available from Amazon, $5.48 for a sixpack as of this writing, or just under fifty cents a cup. It took almost exactly a month for them to arrive from Japan, so don’t wait until the night before.

Setup: 1/3 cup of stone ground rolled oats, one cup broth, half a teaspoon of soy sauce, salt. Cook for 10 minutes or so, depending on the exact style of oats.

Results: Very good. Very mild. Too much soy sauce. Try it without the shoyu first and then add it drop by drop.

Rating: ****

MH370 Timeline

March 9, 2019

On the 5th anniversary of the loss of MH370 over the Indian Ocean, Aviation Week has released a slideshow-style summary timeline.

We have good IFF and radar tracking of the initial stages of the flight

And we have limited, but telling, automated communications data of the rest of it.

What we don’t have is a good idea of exactly where the aircraft went down, but debris drift simulations agree with the general area shown by the communications analysis.

One thing we do have is enough debris pieces with serial numbers to rebut any claims that MH370 went down anywhere else (e.g. Cambodia).

Given the remoteness of the location and the difficulty of searching the depths of a rugged seafloor, it’s likely that we won’t have any further developments, and MH370 will go down as another one of aviation’s mysteries.

Upgrading my wife’s computer

March 8, 2019

We are not a cutting-edge family. Yes, we have more computers-per-room than most, and yes, we install patches as they arrive, but we don’t buy new ones very often, and we tend to hang on to one version of an OS until forced to upgrade. For example, we bought a new System76 Sable all-in-one for my wife four years ago, and we ran Ubuntu 14.04 on it until last weekend. And thereby hangs a tale.

It was getting to the point that the PC was acting funny, and it was having trouble talking to the printer — all the pages came out blue, so maybe it was sad — and I decided to bite the bullet and install an upgrade while she was away on a four day AKC judging trip.

So first, I backed stuff up, just to be sure. I backed up the /home directory, and then I backed up the /usr directory. This took all day. Why? Not sure. My LAN would start out transferring data at 12MB/s, then slowly slow to a slow 300KB/s. I thought it might be fighting with the TV or one of the other PC’s for packets, but unplugging stuff didn’t help. I finally got everything transferred to our NAS drive and decided I’d look into the speed problem later.

The next day, just for suspenders and belt safety, I followed the instructions for backing up Firefox, Thunderbird, and Opera (yes, she still uses Opera). Time to upgrade!

Not so fast, Babbage. The original install is old enough that the Software Updater doesn’t show an <Upgrade> button any more. It just gives a message box saying that updates for 14.04 ended two years ago. I tried various paths (System Settings, Toolbar/Software, …) but they all ended with the same less than helpful message. It did have an <OK> button, but didn’t have one that said <Not OK>. To the Interwebs!

It seems I have to go to Software & Updates and change my Updates settings to have it check and install new updates immediately. Didn’t work. Also, while fiddling around with it, I managed to put 18.04 on the Ignore list. To the Terminal!

When all else fails, you can always type the commands directly into a terminal window. The trick is to find out what to type. A half hour or so of wandering through the various forums gave a command that looked like it might be what I wanted. Sure enough, it opened up the repository and downloaded the update. Another half hour of watching the terminal scroll all the thousands of files that are part of Linux, it was done. I rebooted, and found I had myself a new, clean, fully updated Ubuntu 14.04. WTFO?

OK. Stay calm. Steady, the Buffs. Let’s try the Software Updater again.

As my brother would say, Yreka! It has an <Upgrade> button! I click, and away it goes. Another half hour of watching install messages scroll up faster than I can read, a simple reboot (typing in her password for the 800th time), and now it’s really done.

As an added bonus, nothing got overwrit. I don’t have to backfill on her various browser accounts. All her other software seems to be in place as well, although the Mahjong game she plays seems to have different rules and interface.

One noticeable difference between hers and mine is that her version of 18.04 is running Ubuntu/Gnome 3 while my three year old Wild Dog with Ubuntu 18.04 on it still has Unity. I presume that has something to do with the update cycle, and I must say I think that Unity works more like I think.

All’s well that ends well. Now I just have to think of a way to get myself a new PC.

 

10th Anniversary of the Blog

March 5, 2019

The Found on Web blog is ten years old today. In that time I’ve published almost 1,300 articles (just over 10 per month), which pulled in just over 67,000 views (about 50 views per article). They generated over 87,000 comments, of which 500 were real, and the rest were spam.

The most views were on August 10th, 2015, at 106, mostly from people reading my various Girls und Panzer essays. As for individual essays, High School of the Dead (1865) maintained its position atop the leaderboard, followed closely by Garden Gantt (1855) and Anime Worth Watching for Winter, 2015 (1492). Two others topped 1,000 views: Nisemonogatari (1107) and Picture Stories From Earth: Seawater Farms (1104).

HSOTD was described as a fan service train wreck, but I liked it. I suspect most people didn’t come for the well-handled storyline. Garden Gantt is a garden scheduling spreadsheet. Anime Worth Watching includes the ever popular Shirobako, and Nisemonogatari has the infamous little-sister-and-toothbrush scene. I suspect that Seawater Farms is a popular student paper topic.

As for the future, I hope to be writing more, and better. We’ll see.

 

 

When algorithms go wrong

March 3, 2019

Here is the latest lead image for “Self Help Books” on Amazon

Evidently, they have a fairly broad idea of what “self help” means

Green Thumb Up My Nose

March 1, 2019

Garden Report for 190301

My Spokane area garden guide says I should direct-seed peas today.

… as soon as the soil can be worked …

Memories of my youth: Scud Hunting

February 27, 2019

It looks like the government is showing renewed interest in finding mobile missiles. I did that for a while. It’s hard. Essentially, you are looking for a bunch of truck-shaped vehicles that can be on any road or hidden under any cluster of trees next to that road.

Truck on road near NK nuclear facility. Is it a TEL? Would we have found it if it paused under the trees?

Before the INF Treaty was signed, I spent 18 moths chasing Soviet mobile IRBM’s, with essentially zero luck. For that matter, we didn’t have much luck finding US Army Pershing launch units, even when we knew there were x-number of Transporter-Erector-Launcher (TEL) vehicles somewhere on that photo of the tops of hundreds of trees.

SS-20 Launch

By the time of Desert Storm, the first invasion of Iraq, I was a civilian contractor, working on a new mobile GIS front end to the DIA database system. We got called into the Desert Storm operations cell at DIA and the first thing the general in charge said was, “show me the Scud launch pads.” I looked up the identifier for Scud launchers and put it into the DB. Nothing. OK, how about the units themselves? Nothing.The general started ragging on us about our lousy DB, until we pointed out that the system we had build was just a window into the DIA DB.

The analyst for the Iraqi army was called over. “Oh, we don’t track those. They are a Presidential asset, not a military asset.” The general was not pleased.

Later during the war we tried feeding the launch coordinates from our launch warning systems into the DB, and doing an area search, looking for warehouses or bridges the launchers could hide in or under. Not much luck there, either.

Scud TEL with support convoy — It’s easier in the desert

In defense of all our failures, mobile missiles usually don’t need  launch pads, as such. Essentially, all they need is a stretch of flat road (or field) strong enough to hold a TEL and missile for half an hour or so. Missile accuracy is improved if you know exactly where the launcher is relative to the target, but modern systems with terminal guidance can even relax that requirement.

Iskander-K Cruise Missile

So, what DoD is asking for is almost an impossibility. It’s true that our satellite and radar and signals collection has improved immensely since I was a lad, but what they are trying to do is find a truck that could be a TEL, part of a SAM site, a coastal radar mount, or a bridgelayer, and say “yep, it’s a TEL”. Good luck with that.

Oatmeal Miso 2

February 22, 2019

I tried making a Japanese dinner the other night. Did not go well. The salt-seasoned fish (Dover sole instead of the called-for mackerel)was too salty, and the home-made miso was too…miso-y. The rice was good. So I combined the leftover fish, plus scrapings from the broiler, the leftover miso (topped up with water to a full cup), and the few remaining grains of uneaten rice, and tried it in my oatmeal for breakfast.

Setup: 1/3 cup of stone ground rolled oats, one cup augmented miso broth. Cook for 10 minutes or so, depending on the exact style of oats. Did not require potatoes or salt.

Results: Acceptable, but I won’t hurry back. Despite the fact that oatmeal will soak up almost any amount of salt, this was slightly too salty. Which gives you an idea of what dinner was like. The fish  disappeared. The rice thickened things so that the oatmeal actually stuck to the bottom of the pot. Not burned, but heavily browned. Next time, leave out the salted fish.

Rating: ***

Nuclear Posturing

February 14, 2019

The history of mankind’s dalliance with nuclear weapons is one of fear-driven power politics and the resulting bad decisions, made with the best of intentions given the information available at the time.

The development and use of the atomic bomb was first of all driven by fear of a seemingly superhuman enemy. Between them, Germany and Japan had overrun most of Europe and Asia. A super-bomb would help tilt the scales, and in any event had to be developed ahead of known German efforts in the same area. The atomic bomb was used against Japan to shorten the war, and to limit American (and Japanese civilian) casualties. It was also a signal to the Soviet Union that the US was too powerful for them to try to dominate in the post-war period.

The immediate post-war period may have offered an opportunity for treaties limiting atomic weapons, and halting research on thermonuclear ones, but the Cold War was already starting. The Soviet Union, led by a paranoid dictator, was both afraid of another invasion by Germany and determined that the Communist System would overcome Capitalism. It might have been possible to agree to some sort of treaty, but we had no means of verification, and wouldn’t for another fifteen years.

In the 1960’s, both sides developed Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles, making possible the almost instant destruction of opposing capitals. Limiting the development of ICBMs would have been difficult, because both sides’ space programs (including satellite verification systems) were based on ICBM launchers.

After the Cuban Missile Crisis, the US and USSR settled down to an uneasy truce. Most of today’s policies were developed then, as efforts to stabilize the system. If the enemy can launch an attack without warning, and have it take effect within 30 minutes, then you have to be able to respond within that 30 minute time frame. Hence, keeping weapons on fifteen minute alert and allowing the President to launch a nuclear war (OK, appropriate retaliatory response) with no checks and balances on his actions.

At the same time, the USSR deployed and maintained a large ground army in Europe. Interesting fact 1: East Germany is about 80% the size of Alabama, and roughly the same oblong shape. Interesting fact 2: The USSR maintained more first line combat divisions in East Germany than the total number of divisions in the US Army. Yes, the Germans and other NATO allies provided enough troops to make up the difference, almost, but we were so concerned about the result of a massive surprise attack by 100+ Warsaw Pact divisions that our war planning discussions included the possibility of defensive fallback positions on the Rhine and the Loire. The plans also contained theater nuclear options, and a common phrase heard around NATO was that the real job of the ground forces was to hold the line until R-hour was declared for nuclear release. Under such conditions, there was no way a responsible leader could espouse a no-first-use policy. The whole reason for being of theater level weapons was so the Soviets couldn’t be sure if or when our retreating forces might use them.

Today, of course, the world is a much safer place — Soviet Communism is gone, the Warsaw Pact is gone, and the Russian military is much reduced — and we can seriously consider some of the recommendations discussed in this article in Tom’s Dispatch. Note that the article discusses two main issues: how to keep us from becoming less safe, and how to help us become more safe.

1. The less safe issues surround the Trump administration’s push for extremely low yield tactical weapons mounted on strategic launchers — 5kt W76-2 warheads on Trident SLBMs. I can think of nothing less useful. First question, who is the target? Russia? China? Are you seriously going to launch a strategic missile at either one, feeling safe in the knowledge that when it hits they will realize that it’s only a 5kt yield? OK then, North Korea? We can’t have a stealth bomber drop a dial-a-yield bomb? We’re going to launch an intercontinental missile on a trajectory that both China and Russia will feel threatened by?

Anyone who has given any thought to the edge case uses of nuclear weapons comes to the same conclusion: a nuclear weapon is a nuclear weapon, and once you have set one off, you are in a nuclear war. This applies to tactical battlefield weapons, EMP explosions, and small intercontinental attacks.

2. The more safe issues deal with rolling back policies that were important in the Cold War, but are destabilizing now. While Russia is certainly a major competitor, it lacks the ideological imperatives that the old USSR did, and it no longer has a large combat force on the borders of NATO (not even the “New NATO”). That being the case, a declared “no first use” policy would go a long way to defusing nuclear tensions, even thought such a declaration can be rescinded at any time. Similarly with China. China has no borders with countries we are bound to protect. Highest probability clashes are over the South China Sea and Taiwan, neither one of which is a nuclear level priority. As for Korea, if the North doesn’t use nukes, then the ROK army can beat them with or without our help. So there’s no reason not to have a declared no first use policy.

In the same way, there is today little reason for Russia to attempt an all out nuclear exchange and as for China, it is both less capable and has less reason to attempt one. That being the case, there is much less need for a continuing Presidential “launch on warning” or “launch under attack” policy. Requiring, for example, consultations with Congressional leadership, or mandating that a launch order be countersigned by the JCS, is not going to cripple our ability to respond. It might be prudent to rigidly enforce the “designated survivor” policy, but with the President we have today, who is to say that a rogue launch order is less likely than a decapitating strike event.

Configuring our nuclear posture has always been a strategic political act, as well as a tactical military one. Our posture sends a message. Changing the posture changes the message. Right now, our new message is that we are willing to make nuclear war easier to initiate, and that we are not interested in taking any steps to alleviate that situation.

update

Me and Myeloma

February 12, 2019

The January tests are in, and they all look really good. Everything is pretty much in the normal range (and those that aren’t are just on the edge), with no sign of the myeloma.

Here’s the deets:

  1. M-spike. There’s this thing called an M-protein spike, which measures certain proteins in the blood, ones that shouldn’t be there. It’s one of the prime indicators of myeloma. It’s been “not observed” now for six months.
  2. Kappa/Lambda Ratio. KLR is another protein measure. Normal range is .25-1.6. Mine was around 1.5 last time, and is now 1.4. So, in the normal range. Note: both the kappa (10.0) and the lambda (7.3) are also in their normal ranges.
  3. Immunoglobulin G (IgG). IgG measures immune response. High IgG says your body is fighting a disease, like cancer. Normal is 700 -1600. Mine started at 3000 a year ago. Then, with the chemo, it plunged to 230 and came back up to 250. This time there’s a new assay method, which says that there’s no significant difference between all those ultra-low values. Mine is currently <320. So, still low.

As I said before, I think if I hadn’t been diagnosed with MM earlier, someone looking at these results would say I was basically healthy, albeit with a suppressed immune system. We check again in July.

VRV: Aggregation vs Aggravation 3

February 10, 2019

I give up. VRV is just too clunky for general use. I found myself looking at the individual Crunchyroll and HIDIVE schedules on the PC, and then going into the next room to find the appropriate VRV episode on the TV and fighting the VRV user interface to watch what I want.

Meanwhile, CR has been adding shows from the current season that once were only available on HIDIVE (Kotobuki, Domestic Girlfriend). As a result there’s only two TV anime (Real Girl and Rocket Girls) and a movie (Girls und Panzer der Film), plus some nostalgic old programs and OVA’s (Taisho Baseball Girls, Kokoro Connect, Maid Sama) that are only presented by HIDIVE this season.

I tell you what. I’ll just treat VRV ($10/month) like it was an expensive HIDIVE ($5/month)subscription. So, $7/month for CR and $10/month for VRVHIDIVE means I’m spending $17 a month to feed my anime habit, instead of $15. Considering that I’m watching about seven shows a week (plus nostalgics), that’s not very much.

Where you stand depends on where you sit

February 9, 2019

Patrick Armstrong, long time Kremlinologist and more recent critic of US international policies, particularly those involving Russia, has an interesting essay on how retirement clears your brain, and why. His thesis is that a national leader only has so much time available, and so many claimants on that time, that they can’t stop long enough to consider what their country’s real best interests are. It’s only after retirement that reality has a chance to set in.

My take on this is a little different. When you are in a bureaucracy, you have a specific job, and your day-to-day concerns are doing that job well, as defined by the part of the bureaucracy you are in. When you change jobs, you change definitions. The classic example is Saint Thomas Becket, in the late 1100’s. He was appointed Chancellor by Henry II, responsible for (among other things) maintaining the King’s revenue flow, including from land owned by the church. After seven years as Chancellor, Henry arranged his election as Archbishop of Canterbury, the senior church official in England. Presumably, Henry thought having Becket as head of the church would make it easier to govern. That proved not to be the case. Once Becket put on the pointy hat he became a staunch defender of the church against the state, fighting Henry on issues of taxation and the jurisdiction of ecclesiastical courts. This led to Henry’s famous line “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?”, which in turn led to Becket’s assassination. This is an early example of the working of Miles’ Law: Where you stand depends on where you sit.

When you take over an organization, you take over its culture, ethos, and goals. As the leader you can change that but the organization has to want to change (we are floundering and need some leadership), or they have to be in a crisis mode, like a war or depression, where the need for change is obvious. Otherwise, changing the direction of an organization is like trying to change the heading of a supertanker.

This is true, even of a loose cannon like Trump. Once he is gone, the legislature will be much the same, the bureaucracy of the Executive Branch will be mostly unchanged, and even the judiciary will have only a limited impact on our day-to-day lives.

Under normal circumstances, and given that this is an overly simplistic view, the ruler of a country got to the top by internalizing the goals of the government/bureaucracy, and is likely to feel that what has been described as good their whole career is obviously what is good for the country today. They are unlikely to promote drastic changes, they will find it difficult to accomplish any drastic changes, and, as Armstrong says, they are not likely to have the time.

 

VRV: Aggregation vs Aggravation 2

February 7, 2019

So, remember how I said that VRV had presented my watchlist as a set of cover art, with the actual title writ small? Well, today they fixed that, on the PC side. Without warning or explanation. This is a case of trying to do the right thing, in the worst way possible.

Smaller pictures, smaller font

The new list is a set of screenshots of my current episodes, instead of the series artwork. The pictures are about the same size as those on the Crunchyroll watchlist, so they can fit more on the screen. At the bottom of each frame they have a heart, so you can put some of the items on the watchlist into your favorites list, and a garbage can, so you can cast some into the outer darkness. They also have a colorful indicator if it’s a movie or a TV series, and a slightly less clear indication if it’s a sub or a dub — things you already know if you put them on the watchlist. One useful feature is a yellow box with “new” in it, in the upper left corner of the picture, indicating if the episode is the newest in the series (but not all the new episodes have that, and some episodes marked “new” are not the newest).

What’s missing? How about the anime title? Oh, there it is, beneath the picture, in a small, dark grey on darker grey font. The font appears to be slightly smaller than the font that tells me if its a sub or a dub. The season, episode number, and episode title are below the picture, in a much bigger, white on dark grey font. This is useful if you remember that Season 1, Episode 4 of Girly Air Force is titled “The World You See”

Finally, tucked into the lower right corner of the episode picture is a white on black number that tells me either how many minutes are left in that episode or how many minutes of it I’ve watched, with no indication of why they chose which number.

And finally, finally, if you click on the pic, it brings up a new page that autoruns that episode. You have to pause it, then scroll down if you want to see other episodes or series comments.

So, there are good and bad ideas in the new U/I, with the good ideas concentrated in the areas we don’t care about, and the bad ideas applied where they’ll do the most harm. In addition, this change (so far) has only been made for the PC interface. The TV/Roku interface remains unchanged, which can cause cognitive issues for users who switch back and forth.

 

Anime worth watching: Bloom Into You

February 4, 2019

Naname’s Back, and Koito’s Got Her

This is a straight up romance anime between two high school girls. What’s called yuri, in the trade. I should note that I am not the target demographic — I’m male and I’m old.

Q. How old are you?

A. Old. Old. I’m older than Donald Trump. I’m older than Eric Clapton. I’m older than Cher, OK?

Still, that gives me a certain distance, a certain perspective, that others might not have. Being from a time when boys tended to be oblivious to this sort of thing, and girls took a more Aoi Azusa approach, I don’t have the personal and hormonal involvements that others might.

Q. So,why did you watch it?

A. I recently traded in my Crunchyroll subscription for VRV, which opened up HIDIVE and a whole new library of anime backlist, including Bloom, which was recent, and highly regarded. I watched it on my TV using Roku, which presented some technical issues, mentioned below.

Q. What’s it about

A. Girl meets girl, girl falls for girl, other girl doesn’t fall for girl, girls continue that relationship.

Q. Could you be more specific? I don’t mind spoilers.

A. Koito Yū, our first year protagonna, meets Nanami Tōko, her second year senpai, while helping out at the Student Council. Nanami is the typical anime perfect girl — top of her class, good at sports, soon to be Student Council President, etc. Avowedly asocial when it comes to things like dating, except that 24hrs after meeting her, she decides that Koito is the one who makes her heart go doki-doki. Koito, meanwhile, is still waiting for that moment and has zero romantic inclinations. Nanami essentially forces them into a relationship, but Koito says she doesn’t mind, she just doesn’t love Nanami back. Nanami, for some anime reason, is fine with this.

The first few episodes deal with the establishment of the relationship. Nanami asks Koito to be her campaign manager for the Student Council elections, surprise kisses her at a railroad crossing (while a train passes, meaning that only half the world can see what they’re doing), later elicits a more consensual kiss in the Student Council building, and gives her a planetarium night light as a souvenir gift from a recent trip. Despite the asymmetrical kohai/senpai* power relationship, Koito appears to be more consenting than coerced. One reason for this might be that Nanami is a person who maintains one (perfect) face to all the world, letting only Koito see her insecurities and self doubt (“Don’t fall in love with me, I don’t want you to love someone I hate“).

The second half deals with Nanami‘s desire to have the Student Council put on a stage play, something that hasn’t been done these last seven years. Soon, Koito finds out that the last play was arranged by Nanami‘s older sister when she was Student Council President, but the play, and the tradition, were abandoned after the older Nanami was killed in a car crash. As an aside, Japanese must be terrible drivers, given the number of deaths reported in anime.

We can use my father’s barn!

Meanwhile, a student friend of Koito agrees to write the play script, and comes up with a story about an amnesiac student who is trying to find out what her original personality was like, but gets three different answers from three different people.

In quick succession, Koito finds out about Nanami‘s older sister, and how Nanami is devoting herself to replacing her sister in the world, while Nanami finds out that her sister was far from perfect. This causes Nanami a major identity crisis (almost like in the play, what a surprise), and it also induces Koito to ask her friend to change the ending of the play — instead of taking on the persona reported by her lover, the amnesiac will adapt her own persona, as revealed over the course of the play.

The anime ends … umm… halts, with nothing resolved. The two girls go on a date to the local aquarium and in the post-credits Nanami falls asleep on Koito on the train home, with Koito gazing at her fondly. At the very end, Koito grasps her hand and whispers “senpai…”, with a long pause, and everyone waits for her to say “I love you“, but instead she says “…we need to change trains now“, and the end card appears. The series is over, and Koito has not told Nanami about the change in the play, and has not admitted that she may be developing feelings for her senpai.

Q. And what did you think of it?

A. I liked it. I liked it a lot. It was straight up romance, not rom-com or some  flavor of harem anime. There was no spiky hair, no yelling, and no mechas. To the extent that one got to know them, the characters were all likeable. (Note that, to keep this essay short, I am leaving out a lot of characters, including Nanami‘s childhood friend Saeki Sayaka, who makes for a low-key love triangle, the two adult women in a lesbian relationship that is probably unique in anime, all Koito‘s other friends and the rest of the Student Council).  Their conversations were (mostly) lifelike, and their actions were (mostly) understandable, if we excuse Nanami falling in love with Koito eighteen minutes into Episode 1 as anime artist’s license. There were parents who did parenting, and teachers who taught and advised. None was a caricature.

One of the things I liked was how Bloom tells its story in small gestures. For example, there’s a trope in anime of the indirect kiss — where you drink from a container that the other person just drank from. Very often this is a big deal, sometimes with panicky voices and waving of hands. At one point in Bloom, however, Nanami opens a bottle of soda and hands it to Koito, who takes a drink and hands it back. Koito is oblivious, but Nanami stares at it for a long moment, before drinking from it herself, and the scene moves on.

Kissu

None of the plot turns were based on standard shonen anime misunderstandings-of-the-obvious, and none of the characters were as dense as the average shonen protagonist, but then that just might be girls being smarter than boys. The physical side of the romance was very muted (despite her feelings, Nanami didn’t get beyond first base), she and the girls are proportioned like humans, and the fanservice was limited to a shot of her in her underwear, and her and Koito (et al.) up to their armpits in the bath.

Visually, Bloom is very soft. The art is very clean, and the colors are mostly pastels. Many of the scenes are bathed in the orange glow of sunset, what the Japanese call tasogare, the yellow dark.

The golden days of youth

One glaring note is not the fault of the anime. The presentation I am watching is from HIDIVE via VRV over Roku on my TV, and VRV on Roku uses black bands with white lettering for the subtitles, instead of the preferred yellow-on-picture that VRV on the PC uses. That’s not too bad, except VRV/Roku likes to put the sub in the middle of the screen, and sometimes it will double up the subtitle, which is irritating and can obscure most of the picture.

The music is provided by a subdued, unobtrusive piano.

The ending is very European.** We can see the form of the resolution, but they don’t feel the need to spell it out.  Of course, the fact that the anime used up all the available source material may have had something to do with it. Volume 5 of the manga (the aquarium trip) was published in Japan in January of 2018, and Volume 6 (the play) didn’t come out until 27 September, eight days before the anime aired in Japan. If the publishing cycle holds true, we won’t get a sequel until Fall of 2021. To my mind, if they waited a year, or even a season, and then used the play as a wrap-up, they’d have had a much stronger story.

I’m not a manga person, but I bought Volume 1 on Amazon just to see, and the anime tracks it very closely. There’s a suspicious-looking (“English language not guaranteed”) third-party blue-ray on Amazon for the low, low price of $144. You might want to wait on that.

——-

*Junior/Senior status, for those not used to anime

**It reminds me of the British detective shows we watched when we were living there in the 1970’s. They had the same sort of ambiguous endings, instead of the US style full closure arrest and sentencing. Foreigners seem to be more comfortable with ambiguity than we are.

 

VRV: Aggregation vs Aggravation

January 30, 2019

As a long time Crunchyroll subscriber, I just switched to VRV because it includes both CR and HIDIVE and works on Roku (and HIDIVE doesn’t work on Roku yet). I’ve only been running it for a week, but already I have some opinions on the new service.

PRO: It aggregates the two services that provide the majority of the anime that I like this year. I also get Amazon Prime, but that seems to be past its …. prime.

CON: Having said that, I am paying for 11 different channels, only two of which I watch. On the other hand, while only two of the seven ongoing shows I’m watching on VRV this season are from HIDIVE (the rest being CR), an additional twelve good shows are HIDIVE exclusives from past seasons.

PRO: A nice touch at the beginning is that VRV will remind you that you can drop your CR subscription so that you don’t double pay.

CON: But CR keeps the money you already gave them and the savings only kick in on your next renewal date. If you paid last December, you have to wait until next December.

Now for the cons with no pros.

CON: The transfer doesn’t bring over your CR watchlist, even though both services are Ellation companies. You have to load it all over again.

CON: The VRV user interface

a. The watchlist is displayed in the order you added/watched them in, most recent on top, and can’t be changed, except it changes every time you watch something.

b. On CR, it’s two clicks from your watchlist to your most recent episode. On VRV, you go through the series intro screens. It’s like having to go through the CR “View Show” page each time.

CR episode selector

VRV episode selector

 

c. The HD subs are white-on-black-bar, instead of CR’s plain white, and block more of the picture. That’s presumably a HD problem, not VRV.

d. The VRV watchlist display is dominated by each program’s cover art (with a smaller duplicate inserted), and the actual names (for those of us who don’t relate to pictures) are in a much smaller font. This is an issue because you have to do a lot of hunting through your watchlist to find stuff.

CR watchlist

VRV watchlist

e. On Roku, but not on the PC version, at the end of each episode, VRV starts a 10sec countdown, showing the progress bar at the bottom of the screen. You know, exactly across where the subtitles are. This isn’t bad if the program is one that just runs out the ED, and it isn’t too bad if the program is one that only shows spoilers of coming attractions, but it’s terrible if the program is one that comes back with some post-credits story line. I could watch stuff on the PC, but I bought a Roku exactly so I wouldn’t have to do that — so I could sit in my living room and watch Samurai Girls on the big screen.

f. And speaking of (b.), the VRV ‘Program Summary’ doesn’t provide a lot of information on what you’ve watched and haven’t watched. The display for a partially watched episode shows a very thin progress bar. If you have watched the full episode, or if you haven’t watched it at all, there’s nothing. CR lets you know how much you’ve watched of each episode.

g. Possibly worst of all, with VRV there’s no way to tell from the watchlist display if an ongoing series has added a new episode. CR will post a new picture and grey out the progress bar. In VRV I have to open up the Program Summary and count the eps. Well, it’s also possible to bookmark the weekly schedule lists on both CR and HIDIVE and check there every day or so.

h. No, this is worst of all. CR knows the most recent episode you have played through, and when you come back it starts up at the next one in the series. This is true even when you just watched the latest available episode. When you come back a week later, CR will start up at the next/newest ep. VRV has no memory of what you have done. If you are marathoning a bunch of eps, it will jump from the end of one to the start of the next. But if you stop in the middle on a season, or if you play through the latest episode and come back later, you have to go into the Program Summary, go to the list of episodes, find the latest, and click on it.

So, as of this writing, early 2019, a Premium membership in VRV is $10/month, while CR is $7/month and HIDIVE is $5/month. Once HIDIVE is available by itself on Roku (they claim to be working on it), a combined membership would be $12/month, compared with the VRV $10/month. The question is, is getting rid of the VRV interface worth $2/month? Depending on what the HIDIVE interface is like, the answer is probably “yes”.

Green Thumb Up My Nose

January 29, 2019

Lessons Learned from 2018 and plans for 2019

Lessons Learned:

1. Don’t plant: Carolina Gold, any purple tomato

2. Some versions of Champion and Big Boy and Brandywine are determinates. Try staggering the planting. Not sure if staggering the seedling purchase will work.

3. Process the dirt —  turn over the fallow, fertilize early.

4. Until you’ve done (3), don’t use the fallow dirt.

5. Try using seed tapes on the carrots and lettuce, et al.

6. Be sure you check your plan so you don’t use last year’s planting pattern.

7. Don’t bother trying to grow plants indoors next winter. Soil temps in the so-called Sun Room never got over 58F, and three months after planting my indoor cabbage had six leaves.

8. However, here’s some hints on starting seeds indoors

Here’s the preliminary 2019 planting pattern:*

Section 1
Peas, squash, melons. Plant the peas early, so they gain some height over the squash.

Section 2
Tomatoes. Start seeds indoors early March, transplant early May. Depending on what’s at the nursery, put out seedlings in early May.

Section 3
Peas, chard, lettuce, carrots maybe cabbage. Start planting chard, lettuce, and carrots in early April. Plant more every three weeks.

Section 4
Asparagus, maybe amaranth. Looking for something permanent, that can take a fair amount of shade.

Deck Containers
The usual tomatoes. Early peas. Maybe try some shallow container lettuce and radish

House Containers (Eastside)
Tomatoes, cucumbers.

Southside
Try some container tomatoes with new dirt. Plant more Boston Ivy.

*which is mostly the 2018 plan, because I didn’t do (6.)

This is looking to be an El Nino year, so I think I can get started early on the planting.

Gantt Chart for 2019

TLDR — Anime I never finished, Winter 2019 Part 3

January 25, 2019

The final three, or is it twelves?

The Price of Smiles. Price, not Prince. Country S is run by newly-anointed 12 year-old Princess Yuki, who wants everyone on the planet to smile. Country G is poorer and militaristic and trying to conquer country S. Twelve year-old Princess Yuki sends her childhood friend to the front line to try to negotiate a truce, so of course he gets deaded. Lots of death. Lots of mecha fights. Very little to hold my interest. Did I mention that the 12 year-old protagonna is only twelve?

All I want is smiles

Endro! Apparently, Princess Yuki has a second job, as a the hero Yulia. She and her band of merry heroines want everybody to be able to smile, so they exile the Demon Lord (Momonga, working his second job) to a distant place and time. Actually, they just sent him a few years back in time, where/when he becomes a cute female teacher at their school, where he tries get her and her friends, now 12 years old, thrown out. An original anime that looks like it was inspired by a battle card game.

All I want is smiles

Dororo. Yet another zombie reboot. Based on a 1967 manga via a 1969 anime and a live action movie from twelve years ago. Dororo is a young boy (who may be a girl in disguise, depending on what you use as a source) assists a young man named Hyakkimaru (AKA 100 demon circles) who is looking for his missing body parts what were sold to demons to finance his father’s political career (so, a lot like the GOP today). There are lots of people who like this one but I find it’s got too much blood and angst and everyone has a past that comes back to haunt them. There’s not one normie in the bunch. To make things worse, Dororo isn’t even twelve.

All I want is my left leg

TLDR — Anime I never finished, Winter 2019 Part 2

January 23, 2019

Another day another drop. Or three.

Grimms Notes the Animation. So, there’s these four adventurers/superheros, in storyland. In storyland, everyone has their own storybooks, that tell them what their life will be like. And no, you can’t change what’s written there. In one part of storyland, Red Riding Hood is more of a job description, and generations of women have gone out to be eaten by the wolf (it says here) and then rescued by the Hunter. But someone is changing the stories, and the current Red Riding Hood doesn’t want to get on the cart.

Enter Our blank book Heroes, who convert to their superhero form — Cinderella, Robin Hood, Alice, and Goliath (Goliath? In plate armor?) — defeat the foes (for now), reset everyone’s memories, and get li’l Red to agreed to be et.

Episode 2 has Our Heroes meet Don Quixote and his waifu Rosinante.

It feels like the director just picked up whatever fairy tale element looked good and slapped them on the wall to see if they made a storyboard.

While on the road to grandma’s house, Red Riding Hood meets four suspicious strangers.

Date A Live. Season 3, I think. Seasons 1 and 2 only available on Funimation, I think. I watched one of them some years ago, probably.

Our Hero is the on-the-ground agent for a secret organization that’s protecting the city, run by his lollipop-sucking loli sister (lol). The SOtPtC has a futuristic control center, with controllers sitting at control consoles and providing surveillance of just about everything. Our Hero’s job is to find the invading spirits (all girls, of course) and ‘seal’ them by getting them to fall in love with him. So, just your everyday true-to-life anime. This season’s maguffin is a shape-shifting spirit who is disappearing all the girls in his life, one by one.

Too, too, generic characters and harem situation. Plot is silly, even for anime.

It’s probably best that they all go away.

Saint Seiya Santia Sho. Another zombie blast from the past that just won’t die. It’s based on a 2012 reboot of a 1989 anime from a 1986 manga. Rebooted again this year. Magical girls without the sexy transformation scenes. Jojo inspired art and a daytime anime vibe (Yes, kids! You too can own the Santia Shyoko action figure with golden trident!). Wrong demographic, wrong aesthetic.

Never trust a character with tentacle hair.

TLDR — Anime I never finished, Winter 2019 Part 1

January 21, 2019

This season I had 16 new programs to watch, 15 on Crunchyroll and one on Amazon Prime (have you noticed that AP’s offerings have trailed off since they closed Anime Strike?). I got a slow start because of the Panama trip (see sidebar), but it gives me the chance to work my way through, two or three episodes at a time.

So far, I’ve watched eight, and am dropping four.

My Roommate is a Cat. Writer takes in a stray cat, and they bond. Except that the cat doesn’t think or act anything like a real cat would: Oh, he’s passed out on the floor. That’s like my siblings did when they starved. I better push my food bowl over to him. Plus, I’m not a cat fancier.

catpic
I am a cat. Of course I’ll share my food

The Promised Neverland. Bunch of 11 year-olds escape from an orphanage into a world of horror. Or something, I dropped it as they went out the gate. I’m not interested in characters that young.

kids
Here’s some kids. If you like them.

Lord El-Melloi II’s Case Files. Confused plot and uninteresting characters. Later, I found out it was a Fate/xx spinoff, which explains it.

cast pic
Not one of these characters is worth caring about.

Rinshii!! Ekodachan. Very strange anime. Protagonist is a dirt-poor Tokyo working girl who spends most of her on-screen time naked. If it weren’t for the minimalist art style, that might be exciting. It’s twelve episodes by twelve different directors and 12 different seiyuus. Kindof like Space Dandy, but without the budget. What drives it over the edge is the fact that each standard 24-minute episode consists of 4 minutes of anime, and 20 minutes of discussion with the director and seiyuu. Might be worth four minutes of your time.

Oh, I’m so bored

Trip to Panama

January 18, 2019

Just posted a page (see right hand column) on our recent trip to Panama.

Death and improvements

January 2, 2019

538 has an article up on death rates in America. The accompanying chart shows the strong link between location and death. Sixteen of the top twenty counties are in the coal country of Kentucky and West Virginia, or the native American reservations of the Dakotas, and this has pretty much held true for almost thirty years.

But what I find interesting, and encouraging, is the overall improvement in American health. Except, of course, for those same high death rate counties.

If you trace the interactive map back to the beginning, in 1988, the overall US death rate was 1,113 per 100k. Thirty years later, it was 786. Unfortunately, progress is scattered (the future is here, it’s just not evenly distributed). Oglala-Lakota county, in ND, had a death rate of 2,000 per 100k in 1988, and 1,600 in 2014. The equivalent numbers for Logan county WV, were 1,321   and 1,286. So both of these counties in 2014 are worse than the overall US was in 1988.

Still, an overall drop of 30% in 30 years is a Good Thing. What’s even better is that we’ve demonstrated that it can be done. All we have to do now is do it all over.

Ron Dreher on the Spanish Civil War

January 1, 2019

Rod Dreher, a professional religious apologist who often writes for The American Conservative and who occasionally says some interesting things, has a long essay in TAC on the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). It’s a commentary on a 1980 Granada TV series on the topic. The series, and Dreher, rightly recognize the complexity of the situation, with even proximate causes reaching back years before the start of the conflict.

Unfortunately, Dreher tries to map the anti-clericalism inherent in the conflict onto today’s differences between conservative Christians and the a-religious left. He also reveals his deep conservative bias in the way he frames the two sides.

Anti-clericalism in Europe is based on a long history of church support for an oppressive system. Today we tend to think of the church as an organization that supports the little people. In South America today, many priests are considered strong leftists, and clergy have been targeted by death squads. Not so in the 19th Century, in South America or in Europe. The French Revolution had a strong anti-clerical flavor to it as part of the full range of opposition to the system. The monarchy, the aristocracy, and the church all cooperated in holding down the peasantry, and the revolution attacked all of them.

So the anti-clerical movement in Spain had roots deeper than Dreher admits, and it was not so much anti-Christian as it was an attack on what Christianity had become. UPDATE: Dreher just posted an excerpt from a book on the topic, which shows it’s more complex than even I knew.

Second, Dreher’s right wing bias shows in his discussion of, for example, the Garland/Kavanaugh situation. Flipping the order of the quotes, we have

to be fair, the refusal of Senate Republicans to give Judge Merrick Garland a hearing may have been hardball politics, but it was also one of those things that delegitimizes the system.

and

…the utterly disgraceful behavior of the Democratic Party in the matter of the Brett Kavanaugh nomination was a clear sign of how far the left party is willing to go to protect its goals. I felt it myself, and talked to a number of conservatives who came away from the Kavanaugh hearings feeling more radicalized. The idea was, if they will do that to him, they’ll do that to me, if they win power, and have the opportunity.

So, majority party was just playing hardball, and the minority party, having been subject to actions that can be seen as delegitimizing democracy, fighting back with what few tools it has, are engaged in disgraceful behavior that demonstrates anti-democratic intent.

Similarly:

The Republicans in Wisconsin did not trust the Democrats with power, and tried to blunt the effects of the last election. It may be legal, but it is clearly undemocratic, and a vote of no confidence in the system.

Was in a lack of trust, or a desperate attempt to hold on to power?

He does not feel it necessary to mention similar Republican activity in Michigan and North Carolina, and does not note that all of these are attempts to pass legislation by lame duck legislatures. He does, however, bring up the Democratic New Jersey legislature’s attempt (NYT paywalled) to put a redistricting proposal on the ballot, for a vote by all the citizens. The proposal may be a bad one, and their tactics another example of political hardball, but it’s a far more democratic effort than we are seeing in the Republican states.

So, the article is interesting, and the video looks to be as well, assuming you can spare six hours now the holiday season is over. Just be aware that there’s an agenda hidden there, and it’s revealed by word choice and framing.

Read carefully.

Memories of my youth: New Years in VietNam

December 31, 2018

Fifty years ago tonight I was celebrating the new year in our quarters in downtown DaNang. It was an old French villa, with mossy stone and flaking plaster and Asian style roof tiles. And our own bar. Most of us had no duties the next day, but nobody was falling down drunk. It was, after all, a war zone.

It was easy to tell it was a war zone because of all the gunfire going on around us. Not due to combat, but because of sheer high spirits among heavily armed teenagers far away from home. Every so often somebody down the street or across the river would let off another M-16 magazine on full auto, pumping another display of tracers into the warm night sky. Of course, what goes up must come down, and we later heard reports that four people were wounded due to falling bullets.

Don’t try this at home, kids.

Space Force

December 30, 2018

President Trump wants a new military service, the US Space Force. This is a bad idea, and not just because of the merchandising. If you listen to the proselytizing of Vice President Pence and his supporters, you will understand that what is pushing the President is more a concept of manifest destiny than an understanding of the issues.

There are, of course, a number of different opinions on the topic. What follows is mine.

Military services are structured for the domains in which they operate — land, sea, and air. They are separate services because the organization, skills, and equipment are substantially different for each domain. You fight a land war differently from the way you fight a naval campaign. The goals and objectives are different, and the means for accomplishing them are different. Naval forces can transport land forces to a hostile shore, help them gain a foothold, and keep them supplied. But then, the land forces will move to places that naval forces cannot go. Likewise, ground forces can provide protection for ports and naval bases, but their reach into the sea is limited.

When air power came along, it was initially seen as a support function for land and sea forces. It was only later, when air capabilities had improved, that it was possible to conduct an air campaign separate from the land and the sea element. This started with the strategic bombing campaigns of WWII, and culminated with the advent of nuclear weapons, the ultimate strategic bombing tool. The air domain had its own possibilities, goals, and objectives, and so required a separate organization to raise, train, and equip. But what about space?

Right now, the space domain can be seen as a support function, extending the capabilities of the other three domains. All of our current space systems involve a surface component as well as a space component, primarily communications, weather, and reconnaissance. There are no current space-based weapons, and few surface-based weapons with targets in space.

The Air Force was created because there were things air power could do that were distinct and separate from land and sea power. Right now, there’s no mission for a space force that isn’t support for the other forces.

Now, there are issues associated with the way we are currently organized. Acquisition is fragmented. Career paths are limited. No-one is tasked with the development of doctrine. But those problems can be solved without a new military service, with all the overhead that involves.

One issue that isn’t addressed deeply enough (although Tom’s Dispatch covers it) is the idea that creation of a space force is one more step towards militarization of space. Unlike projection of surface based power into space, via ASATs for example, a space force implies a permanent military presence in space. Essentially, it’s the start of a new military arms race, and we should ask ourselves if that’s what we really want. Just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should do it. For example, Henry Kissinger is said to have lamented that we didn’t really think through the implications of both sides putting MIRVs on their ICBMs.

In any event, the creation of a Space Force is something that requires complex lawmaking on the part of Congress. The new Congress has already made it clear they will be reluctant to commit scarce resources to the task.

Memories of my youth: Genteel poverty

December 29, 2018

The military has never been exceptionally well paid. In recent years, despite the lies the President tells, pay has been adequate, and pay raises at least kept pace with inflation. But at the end of the last Century there were times when enlisted members with families qualified for food stamps. There was a ten year period when my real income (counting taxes and inflation) didn’t change, despite an increase in seniority and a promotion.

Back in the late 50’s and early 60’s, we lived in a state of what might be called genteel poverty. There was no trouble keeping food on the table and shoes on our feet but there was nothing extra for any but the smallest luxuries.

I had always been a bookish lad and living on Vandenberg AFB in my early high school years, my tastes tended toward space science and satellites and such. Since all the major aerospace firms had offices on base, it was possible to write to them and get publicity packets, with photos and other handouts. One such letter prompted a call from the Convair folks, and after a discussion of what I was interested in, they invited me to come down to their San Diego plant to look at the Atlas production line. This was the chance of a lifetime for a nerdy high schooler.

Atlas assembly line

Alas, it was not to be. The trip would incur expenses — travel, lodging, food, and so forth, more than our budget would allow. My parents talked it over, seriously trying to find a way to make it happen (send him down on the bus, alone; see if there were friends he could stay with in San Diego). After a long while they concluded that there was no way to do it. We simply didn’t have the money.

I, of course, was crushed. But I’d heard their discussions and I knew their decision was not taken lightly. Maybe some other day.

That came back to me when I was reading about the impact of the government shut-down. Now, this time the military was not effected. The DoD has an on-time budget, the first time in ten years. But hundreds of thousands of other government employees (including the US Coast Guard, which is DHS, not DoD, and so doesn’t have a budget) were going into the new year, trying to fund the equivalent of a couple dozen trips to San Diego with nothing in their bank accounts and useless OPM advice in their mail boxes.

Shutting down the government

December 22, 2018

I’ve been through this before, both in and out of government. It’s not a lot of fun. Essentially, a government shutdown is a game of chicken between the two parties, or in this case, the President and the Congress.

As usual, the people who get hurt are the little people, the ones in government who make sure things keep moving. Despite what the Republicans think, most government workers (clerks, staff workers) don’t make a lot of money, and most people who provide services to the government (janitors, security guards) make even less. If they work in Washington, DC, they are making ends meet in one of the most expensive cities in the country.

The people I knew, and know, in government are proud of what they do, serving the country and their fellow citizens. Here’s a couple of non-shutdown examples. One woman I knew, a DIA analyst and the wife of a banker (you’d recognize the name), could have been part of the white-glove and tea party set in Northern Virginia. Instead, she was coming to work at 5AM of a dark December morning to prepare Intelligence analysis reports for the morning briefing. She did it because she felt it was important work. She wasn’t alone.

Many commercial offices have Christmas parties this time of year, where they shut down for four hours or so, and everybody relaxes. Not so with the government offices I was in. It might be time for the office party, but that meant having your slice of cake on the desk next to your keyboard while you wrote up some analytical input for the next day. The party went on, but so did the work.

During a government shutdown, that work has to go on as well. Those who were designated as essential were required to come to work (at 5AM). They just weren’t paid for it. They were working on the hope that Congress would include back pay when a budget was passed, but there was no guarantee. My examples are from mid-level workers, ones who could afford to miss a paycheck. Others are not so lucky. The janitors and clerks were not “essential”, so they got furloughed, which meant no work and no pay and live on their meager savings in the dead of winter until the situation resolved itself.

For contractors, the situation was even more fraught. It was illegal for us to do any work on a contract during a stoppage. Depending on the company, we might get paid by the company (and the company wouldn’t get any reimbursement, because we weren’t allowed to bill against a contract) or we might not.

Of course, none of the politicians who are currently thumping their chests and comparing the length of their dicks will be hurt by any of this. They get paid if they do their jobs or not. The current consensus is that the Republicans, and Trump, will get the blame for this. The historical experience is that this will suppress support for their party for the next six months or a year, with limited impact on the next election, come 2020.

And so, she’s gone

December 17, 2018

Not a good Christmas week. Song didn’t make it.

She was OK through Saturday, bright, cheerful, wanting to stand, wagging her tail. On Sunday, she was depressed and lethargic, and bad enough we took her to the emergency vet.

On Monday, she died on the operating table. Essentially, the seal on her intestine failed. So did her pancreas. And her spleen.

She was only nine, and was a bright, energetic golden retriever. She loved to train, whatever the weather.

Indoors, she liked nothing more than to lie around with the other dogs.

Good night, Song.

 We will miss you.

Not with a bang

December 15, 2018

So ends my last academic week as a professor. I thought it would be a bittersweet going-around to offices, final correcting of finals, final assignment of grades, and so forth, before finally riding off into the sunset. Not so fast, Chips.

On my last day of finals I got hit with some sort of viral infection. Bad enough for me to see the doctor. As usual with these things, she gave me a bunch of symptom-suppressors and told me to go home to bed.

But those finals!

So, I’d correct for a couple of hours, then sleep for a couple of hours, and so-on. Finished late on Sunday, instead of mid-day on Thursday, as is my wont. Got the grades in on Monday. Cancelled my dental and eye appointments, and went back to bed.

Meanwhile Song, our senior golden retriever, ate a washcloth, as goldens are wont to do. It disappeared, didn’t show up on X-rays, festered, impacted, other horrible stuff, and sent her to the hospital. They found it, inside two feet of rotting bowel. She came home on an IV, which we had to watch constantly for 24hrs lest she pull it out.

She’s survived the initial crisis and no longer needs a constant hand on her head. Next issue is, was the operation successful? Can she take fluids without vomiting (yes, so far, 4 tablespoons at a time). Solid food comes soon.

Meanwhile, it’s MJ’s busiest time of the year, with the Christmas Cantata tomorrow. When she hasn’t been worrying about me, or keeping a hand on Song, she’s been working program notes an rehearsing the choir. She is somewhat stressed, but hides it well.

It’s not just politics that will make us happy that 2018 has ended.

What reading does for you

December 7, 2018

Not everything is about Pearl Harbor. On this day eighty years ago, as it turns out, excessive reading was found to be an acceptable cause for divorce.

Corn Chowder Oats

November 21, 2018

MJ made creamed corn chowder the other day, cooking real corn and real potatoes and real chicken broth and so forth. There was lots left over.

Setup: 1/3 cup of stone ground rolled oats, one cup of chicken broth, two heaping dinner tablespoons of thick corn chowder (a quarter to a third of a cup), 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.

Results: Very good. Worth repeating. The corn flavor made up for the bland oats, the kernelskins gave something to chew on, and the creamed part added a, well…, creamy texture.

Rating: ****

The end of the world

November 21, 2018

This essay treads a fine line between death and disaster. Five years ago, I talked about what happens if technology goes away. This Thanksgiving I’d like to talk about how that might happen. The fine line we are treading is that between something that will kill off everything (say, a true dinosaur-killer impact), and something that will kill off only a lot of things (say, a much lesser rock that hits in the Atlantic and creates a mega-tsunami from Maine to Florida). In one case we are talking about re-setting evolution and recolonization of the Earth by tardigrades, while in the other we are waiting for the re-colonization of Virginia by Californians. In this essay, I’m assuming something in between.

1. The people die, but the technology remains in place.
Prime example: worldwide plague.
Secondary example: nearby supernova.
Illustrative movie: The World the Flesh and the Devil (1959). The blurb claims a nuclear holocaust, but NYC is still standing.

A nearby supernova bathing the planet in lethal levels of radiation could kill off most of the life on the planet either directly, with gamma rays, or indirectly, by destroying the ozone layer. Fortunately, the probability of such an event is vanishingly low. Survivors might be those in protected environments, such as concrete buildings or below ground facilities. Protection from gamma radiation might only be necessary for hours, while destruction of the ozone layer might take months or years to recover.

A global pandemic, on the other hand, is all too possible. It might be caused by natural mutations in existing diseases, escaped organisms from a national lab, or a terrorist or home hobbyist group.

2. The people are still there, but the technology is gone.
Prime example: Extreme solar EMP event.
Secondary example: Worldwide nuclear EMP conflict
Illustrative movie: Maybe the Mad Max series, since some pockets of tech might remain, for a while.

This is, to my thinking, an unlikely event, for three reasons. First, it requires a solar EMP superevent, one that’s likely to hit maybe once every few hundred years. Second, it requires that the event go on long enough to pound the entire planet. With the duration of events we’ve seen, the North American grid might be destroyed, but the European and Asian grids could survive. Or any one of those, or any two out of three.

Third, the primary threat is due to geomagnetically induced ground currents. However, conductivities within the geological base rock can vary by 5 orders of magnitude. Power systems in areas of igneous rock are most vulnerable. This means that even within a national or continental grid, there are lots of places that will be minimally affected, unless the superevent is really super. So, New York, on glacial granite, is toast. Northern Virginia, on what my brother calls “300 feet of sedimentary crap”, might well survive.

A nuclear EMP war is even more unlikely, because it is, by definition, a nuclear war, and we immediately jump to Scenario 3.  Regional EMP conflicts are possible, but the outside world would still exist, and help would come. Eventually.

3. Everybody and everything dies (more or less).
Prime example: not-quite-dinosaur-killer asteroid
Secondary example: nuclear winter
Illustrative movie: Not On The Beach. Maybe The Road (2009), or Brin’s The Postman (1997), only worse.

Highly unlikely. The next asteroid impact might be a thousand years from now (or maybe next Tuesday). Nuclear winter requires full engagement of major nuclear powers. A regional Indo/Pakistan war won’t do it. A NK attack on Guam, or Adak, or the Farallons won’t do it, particularly since our response may well be non-nuclear, to keep Japan and Russia out of the plume.

DISCUSSION

The first thing to realize in any of these scenarios is, if you are in a city, you are screwed. And if you are in a town, you are screwed. Urban areas only have 3-5 days worth of food for the population, so no matter how civilized and cooperative we are, at the end of the first week, there’s nothing left. Let’s go further. Suppose we institute extreme rationing, and totally cut off those who can’t contribute to the restoration of society — installing Death Panels that will keep doctors but kill the sick. And the old. How long then? A month?

Are you a prepper? Good luck with that. Most of you will die in gunfights with other preppers, out to take your stuff. Some of you, the most paranoid, will survive six months or a year on hand-ground corn and vitamin tablets. Not long enough to grow a new crop, and anyway, how are you going to defend your fields?

Are you a prepper who prepared their own mountain redoubt “at least two tanks of gas from the nearest city”? Then you end up with a spinal condition from permanently hunkering down in your bunker, or you spend your life scampering into the hills at every possible threat, or you find yourself stranded in your own neighborhood with a government that won’t let you move (Scenario 1), a car that doesn’t work (Scenario 2), or a fine rain of engine-killing, people-killing dust (Scenario 3).

How far can you drive, starting during rush hour?
Dark is one hour, light is five hours.
(BTW, the shaded areas are where most everybody dies by the end of Week 2)

If you live within one tank of gas, or four day’s walk, of a major city or town, expect to be overrun with starving refugees. If it’s Scenario 1, many will be sick, and so will you be, soon. If you’re a hard core prepper, do you have enough ammo to kill off, say 10% of a Standard Metropolitan Statistical Area when they come down your road?

This means that all of coastal America is gone. All of Europe. All of coastal Asia and  the urbanized bits of Africa and South America.

So who has a chance of survival? Mostly, it’s the currently impoverished regions with a remaining tradition of subsistence farming. Let’s see:

1. Rural America. Mostly no. Even the light areas on that graphic will have problems. Our farms and ranches are too industrialized. A Montana rancher might survive that first year, while stocks of feed are drawn down, but the second year and thereafter could depend on following Neolithic rules of animal husbandry, and killing off most of the stock in the Fall. A Nebraska farmer might survive a year, unless he’s tied to pumping out the Ogalalla Aquifer. Then he’ll find that his seeds are proprietary, and won’t breed true. The key will lie in recognizing the fact that there is a disaster, and knowing what kind of disaster it is. Maybe the rural South will do better, because of the tradition of local gardens. But we’re talking about producing enough food for your family for a year. And anyway, as the graphic shows, it might not be rural enough.

And even if you are rural, you won’t be able to depend on traditional hunting and fishing, because several million other people will have the same idea. I wouldn’t be surprised if deer all large mammals (deer, buffalo, cattle, horses ) went extinct in the eastern over most of the US, and if the waterways were all fished (or dynamited) empty.

2. Rural Europe. Western Europe, mostly no. For one thing, there isn’t much of it. Any place where you can see the glow of two major metropolises on your night skyline really isn’t rural. In Eastern Europe and the western part of the former Soviet Union, maybe. Fewer big cities, farther apart, with a poorer road net. More of a gardening tradition. Downside: getting through that first winter.

3. MENASWA. Middle East/North Africa/SouthWest Asia, extending from Morocco to Pakistan, and north into Central Asia. The problem here is that rural means desolate. There’s not a lot of land that is both rural and arable. There’s lots of people with weapons, call them semi-preppers. Survival is still possible in isolated pockets, call them refugia (after the semi-warm places where early humans sat out the ice ages).

4. AFSSA. Africa South of the Sahara. One of the better possibilities. Even though the region has made significant strides technologically, much of the population is still organized around subsistence farming. On the other hand, there’s a lot of population. And a lot of armed groups. Many people will survive the first couple of years, but many many more will not.

5. Coastal Asia. Too many people, even in the countryside. They will have the same problem that the coastal US has. Maybe some parts will do well — Hokkaido, southern Philippines, parts of Indonesia, SouthEast Asia.

6.Continental Asia. Interior China and most of India. Probably too many people, despite the local agricultural traditions. Probably still too close to the cities. As with AFSSA, there will be survivors, but not many.

7. Latin America. Like AFSSA, lots of rural, with pockets that still have an ongoing tradition of subsistence farming. Not that many really big cities. Not that good of a transportation network, needed to transport all those city mouths to the country.

8. The Far North. Alaska, Canada, and Siberia. Maybe. The trouble is, the thinly-scattered population of independent types is still dependent on an industrial base. Native Americans may live closer to nature than those of us with European ancestors, but they still go hunting caribou on snowmobiles, using rifles with factory-made bullets (or factory-made gunpowder).

And that’s pretty much it. The world will be repopulated by Brazilians, Congolese, and the inhabitants of scattered refugia like New Guinea, Nepal, Laos, Armenia, and Cuba. How much technology will be left for them to inherit, and will they be able to do anything with it? Read the prior article, then go enjoy your Thanksgiving Dinner.

Turkey Pardon

November 20, 2018

In an expansion of a long-time Thanksgiving tradition, the President plans to pardon two turkeys today.

President Trump (on right) with turkey.

Beefy Oatmeal

November 13, 2018

We had a small roast the other night. Actually, it was a large rib-eye steak, but at our time of metabolism, that’s four meals. MJ took some of my tomato sauce and made a gravy with it and some mushrooms and onions. Almost a stroganoff. Very good. Was a struggle to hold out a quarter cup for the breakfast.

Setup: 1/3 cup of stone ground rolled oats, one cup tomato gravy, 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.

Results: Very good. As in, very good. Worth repeating.

Rating: ****