Time travel opportunity

April 15, 2018

The Surratt House, 604 H Street NW Washington, DC, where conspirators planned Lincoln’s assassination, is now an Asian restaurant, with karaoke.

You can’t stay mad with wok and roll

If only they’d had karaoke in that meeting room 153 years ago, things might have been different

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Cancer Report 1 Mar – 5 April

April 6, 2018

Good news with a however.

TLDR: Markers all within normal range. MRI looks good. Biopsy normal. We are declaring victory and dropping all drugs. Surveillance check every three months.

However: It will be months while the toxins work their way out, so my fatigue, intestinals, and other side effects will continue, and I’ll continue to feel crappy much of the time (less as time goes by). Immune system will be down for a year (so I still do antibiotics).

Bottom Line: I still have incurable cancer, it’s just been driven into hiding.

Towards the end of March I had another MRI. Same as the last. Stuff me in a narrow metal tube and tell me not to move…for an hour. Then I had a bone biopsy. I thought I knew what to expect, but the pain pattern was different, and I almost kicked the biopsonist in the face. She still got a good twelve inches of marrow out. Enough for a cancer test and soup for two.

Meanwhile, the side effects of the side effects drugs were wearing me down some more — to the point that MJ was getting worried. Lots of days when I spent most of the day in bed. If it hadn’t been for my colleagues at EWU (Debra, in particular), I’d have been in real trouble. Plus, the students were again very understanding. Intestinal troubles continued — think space shuttle launch — and I lost a total of 17lb since this started. We did get the blood pressure vs chemo drugs sorted out, so I didn’t have any more grey-outs (and at one point my systolic hit 160). I suspect we’re going to have to recalibrate again, now that my drugs have made another change.

As I said, my blood markers are all back in the normal range, and the oncodoc liked my MRI. There was some confusion over the biopsy, but that was due to the hospital changing data systems. He actually had to fire up the old system and print out the results. They expect to have these issues fixed Real Soon Now. I’ll have an MIS writeup on that experience sometime soon.

In any event, the biopsy showed no sign of cancer cells, and a 1% level of blood cells in the marrow. Up to 3% is considered normal.

Considering the current readings, and how well I responded (“your markers plummeted”), we’ve decided to forego maintenance chemo for now and just do a press-to-test every three months. If the markers start back up, we’ll do another biopsy (yay) and then either resume full treatment or go to a maintenance regime. Oncodoc doesn’t think there will be a problem for another year or so.

So this will be the last report for a good while. If nothing’s changed, I won’t bother to generate a new one.

The archaeology of the Trump dynasty

April 1, 2018

“Discovered in 2084 beneath the ruins of the American Democracy, the “Altar of Trumpism” seen here. was considered the jewel of the Trump Building Program. Originally designed as the spot at which Republicans would sacrifice true conservatism, adherence to the law, and personal decency in exchange for short-term political gain, it came to be used for the ritual slaughter of legislators….”

Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!

Memories of my youth: Germans

March 17, 2018

This set of pictures brings back memories. It was March or April of 1971, and I was deployed to Crete, supporting an Army training exercise — Sergeant ASP (Annual Service Practice with the Sergeant missile).

It was a multi-national operation, and there was a group of German Air Force aircrew down, with their C-160 transports, the ones that look like a twin-engine C-130. Heading up their operation was a LtCol, Oberstleutnant. I was a junior Captain.

The German pilots were very friendly. They had all trained at Williams AFB in Arizona, and had a fondness for Mexican food.

I met the Oberstleutnant on the ramp, and of course I saluted. He, being a laid-back pilot, stuck out his hand to shake. I pulled down my hand from the salute, and reached out to him. Meanwhile, he had brought his hand up to return my salute. So I brought my salute back up, just as he was reaching for my hand. A couple cycles of this and we got into synch, laughing like mad.

Great people, the Germans, and yes, many of them looked like those pictures.

Oatmeal Gulash

March 5, 2018

This was inspired by a recipe my-brother-the-geologist brought back from a stint in Austria. Yes, gulyas is Hungarian. And yes, it’s eaten all over the old Austro-Hungarian Empire. For those who like recipes, here’s one from The Guardian (be sure to read the comments).

The baseline recipe is slow-cooked beef (shanks, chuck, etc), deeply browned onion, and tablespoons of assorted paprikas. The meat shreds down, and the onion disappears. Makes an excellent dinner. And you have leftovers.

Setup: 1/3 cup of stone ground rolled oats, one cup of broth, two dinner teaspoons of potato flakes, about a quarter-cup of gulash, very little salt. Cook for 10 minutes or so, depending on the exact style of oats. Add the gulash a minute before you take it off the stove, and the potatoes right at the end.

Results: Most excellent. Just enough gulash/paprika flavor to give you a spicy breakfast.

Rating: *****

UPDATE: adding Golden Curry and shred cheese helped a lot

UPDATE: So, the original dinner was goulash over pasta. There was leftovers there, as well. Chopped up goulash and pasta added to the oatmeal was very good, but added half a pound of weight.

Nine Years

March 5, 2018

This blog started on March 5th, 2009, nine years ago. Will it make it to ten? We’ll see.

Cancer Report 19 Feb-1 Mar

March 1, 2018

As with much of life, things get worse until they get better.

On the chemo front, the last three weeks were a battle between me and my blood pressure (systolic down to 84 at times), and the associated side effects, like vertigo and grey-out and “hold him down while I administer IV fluids.” There were also intestinal issues, and limb swelling, and all the other stuff I’ve talked about earlier.

On the myeloma front, my blood markers are all down, essentially into the normal zone.

Today, the oncodoc decided that since we could not be sure that the benefit was worth the cost, the game was worth the candle, that the rate of return was worth the risk, we might as well pause for a month to let me recover and see how things are developing.

“We’ve driven the markers down 99.9% and we’re continuing to beat you up, and I’m not sure that beating you up some more will do any good.”

So, right now, for a while, I’m pausing the chemo. I won’t bounce back immediately, but slowly recover normal functions over the course of the next month or so. Continuing to take the bone-strengthening pills (they don’t count as chemo) will help.

End of March I get another bone biopsy and another MRI, which are the gold standard on these things. That’s when we will know, and that’s when we will make plans for maintenance.

Meanwhile, MJ won’t have to interrupt her teaching in order to drag my body to class and to Spokane multiple times every week.

Correlation and Causation and Guns and Games

February 24, 2018

Seventy-two percent of the recent decline in youth violence can be attributed to video games.

I am combining and re-issuing two articles from the past (2012 and 2014) because they are again relevant, but need re-casting. They deal with the relationship between violence in video games and violence (particularly gun violence) in real life.

This is important, because the President and the Governor of Kentucky, among others, have both made that connection. They are both wrong, and to the extent that they are in a position to know they are wrong, they are both lying for political gain.

The key point, true in all science, is that if the correlation is zero, then you can’t tell me there’s a real-world relationship. And if the correlation is negative, then the relationship goes the other way — an increase in one causes a decrease in the other.

Here’s a couple of examples.

Back in 2012, the Washington Post had an article on the game/gun relationship. The TL;DR version is: There isn’t any, get over it. Here’s a helpful graphic. If there was a relationship, the gun violence levels would go up with the levels of video games. Notice how that doesn’t happen. At all.

Source: Washington Post

Source: Washington Post

The study they posted compared spending on video games in different countries, vs gun deaths in those countries. Leaving out China, a distinct social and governmental entity all its own, video game spending varies by a factor of almost three, from Germany to socially similar Netherlands. Gun deaths vary from near zero in the UK and Japan, to 0.5 per 100,000 in Canada, which is almost an outlier, because everyone else is down near 0.25. Except for the US, of course, which is a true outlier at 3.2 — for a country that spends less per capita than even Germany.

Lack of correlation creates a strong presumption of lack of causation. If I claim that solar eclipses cause plagues, and you look at two thousand years of solar eclipses and find that the overwhelming majority did not take place immediately before a plague outbreak, then it’s a pretty good bet that my hypothesis is wrong.

Science can’t really prove claims, no matter how strong the evidence, because a later test might show the claims to be wrong. What science can say is that theory x has passed every test we have set for it. What science can say is, theory y fell at the first jump, because its claims of correlation have been shown to be not true.

Want another example? OK, this from 2014, from Florida. Florida, guys.

C.J. Ferguson, at Stetson University,did a simple study* of the correlation between real world youth violence vs video game violence, using historical statistics.

Here’s the key graphic.

A good example of non-causality

As the level of video game violence goes up, the level of youth violence goes down. Based on this, you could claim that video game violence actually reduces youth violence. After all, if you’re at home playing games, you’re not out on the street, getting wenches with child, wronging the ancientry, stealing, fighting. It’s what’s called a negative correlation. Specifically, it has bivariate correlation value of -0.85. And as any statistician will tell you, this give you an R² of 0.72, which means that 72% of the decline in youth violence can be attributed to video games.

The studies are four and six years old. Politicians have staffs. Politicians have helpful outsiders providing them with facts — and in some cases, with fake news. If they chose to listen to the fake news, they are choosing to lie to the public to advance their own agenda, specifically to dispel any efforts at gun control. If they lie about this, what else are they lying about?

Cancer Report 19 Jan – 9 Feb

February 9, 2018

So, my plan is to update this record every three weeks, right after the consult with my oncodoc. And if nothing of import happens, I’ll roll it in to the next 3-week update.

This cycle, there was import.

My blood pressure has been running low. This is a common occurrence when BP meds and chemo meds combine. It didn’t seem to be too bad of a problem, because my seated morning BP was in the 116/x range.

Then, at the beginning of February, I went to Deaconess to get my two infusions of chemo. They took my bodily measurements, and the next thing I knew I was strapped down in a chair for an hour and a half with a bag of fluids plugged in to me. My standing BP was 88/x, way down from what they wanted, and I was suffering from near-fainting spells (bad enough that the infusion ladies were propping me up and asking if I needed a wheelchair). Doc didn’t want me driving home like that. In addition to the fluids, they adjusted my BP meds (dropping terazosin for now), and we’ll see. Post-fluids had it back to 100/x, and post terazosin it’s creeping back up over 100/x. It’s still low, but not dangerously so.

Meanwhile, I seem to be stuck in a weekly cycle of exciting intestinal cleanout. We won’t go into details. Suffice it to say, the students have been remarkably patient with me having to run sprint out of class in the middle of a lecture.

Meanwhile meanwhile, my stamina continues down, I get cold easily, and the Dex messes with my wake/sleep cycle, which is why this has been posted when it was.

At the consult I wrote down all the marker numbers, then didn’t save. Students, let that be a lesson to you. Roughly, M was 2.5 and is now down to 0.3, which is normal; F1 was 3400 and is now 190, which is normal; and F2? was 343, but is now … also in the normal range. These are all excellent, he says. The best measure, however, is the result of the bone biopsy, where they take this … device … and pull enough marrow out of your hip to make soup with, and see how it plays on Iron Chef, or something.

We have four more cycles before we do that, and the goal is to drive the biopsy results into undetectability. That doesn’t mean I’m cured, because of the incurable, but it forecasts a long time before relapse. We’ll see how that works out. By my calculation, we will know around the first week of May.

Sorry, Barnes & Noble, you’re too hard to deal with

February 3, 2018

In order to keep up a certain amount of competition with Amazon, I’m willing to put up with a certain amount of inconvenience from places like B&N. A certain amount.

I had this vague notion that I could use B&N for downloadable e-books, and Amazon Prime for movement of molecules. That worked OK for a while, and then it all went pear-shaped.

If I am looking at an e-book and click on the picture, it sends me to a page that will order the paperback, meanwhile claiming that I’m reviewing the e-book. I have to click on the book title to get to the version I want.

Then, their site navigation doesn’t seem to pass information from one part to another. When I click on that book to order it, it sends me to a popup that wants me to establish an account. Meanwhile, it has my name in the header bar.

Meanwhile, my credit card expired. So I went to Manage Accounts to update the date. That worked OK, except the popup can’t tell the difference between N and North on my address (it’s worked fine for the last year, B&N, did you get a new DB admin?). Am I done? No. It needs a phone number. It pre-filled in everything else, but it doesn’t have my phone? Yeah, yeah, here it is. Click OK, and get a note that I’ve already updated my address.

Security email saying my account has changed. Glad you noticed.

Ready to order. Order. Popup. Something along the lines of, “We can’t fill your order because we don’t have an account for you, and your address isn’t in our DB, and your credit card is out of date…”

Is it any wonder that Amazon is eating their lunch?

 

 

Green Thumb Up My Nose: Plans for 2018

February 1, 2018

Getting ready to order seeds for Spring. It’s still a La Nina year, but it hasn’t been all that cold, or wet. Right now (1 Feb), there’s no snow on the ground, and the highs have hit the upper 40’s at times. The current weekly forecast is for lows in the mid 30’s, and highs in the mid 40’s, with rain. More like March than February.

Here’s the preliminary 2018 Plan:

Section 1
Peas, cucumbers, carrots. Maybe Squash, melons.

Section 2
Tomatoes.

Section 3
Greens, lettuce, maybe cabbage.

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

Deck Containers
The usual tomatoes

House Containers
Tomatoes, cucumbers

Southside
TBD

The Long Farewill: Chemotales 3

January 21, 2018

So, what’s happened this year? Not much new, and the news is mostly good.

First up, I did have a run-for-the-toilet event during the second week of class. That was an actual viral infection that put me in the small room for 18hrs, and dropped five lbs. Worst illness I’ve had this Century. Probably a suppressed immune system effect from the chemo, but not a chemo response, which is good.

As usual, Mr. Phelps, I’m not cured. I’m not done with chemo.

This will go on for maybe another four months. I took notes at our last meeting, but I’m as bad as the students at getting the key points. There’s two proteins we are tracking. One started out at 3400 (mg/L? part of the problem is that different sources use different units of measure. ) and is now down to 340, which is in the normal range, while the other started at 2.5 and is now down to 0.3, but we want that to be zero. Still, the oncodoc is very encouraged.

As for side effects, fatigue and sleep disruption continue, and I still have no stamina. Walking home from school wears me out. When I’m not at work, I’m napping.  Fluid retention remains an issue, but not as bad as earlier. Some blood pressure fluctuations. I get cold, and my systolic drops into the 90’s. Or maybe it drops and I get cold. Then it spends most of the day back up in the 120’s. We are fiddling with my heart meds, and I probably need to stay better hydrated. MJ says that during the Revlimid weeks, my voice gets rough.

Speaking of, we had me down to 10mg of Revlimid/day to suppress a rash. This cycle, we’re back up to 25mg. 48hrs in, and no rash.

EWU has been very understanding and supportive about letting me skip meetings (except that I will be attending Faculty Senate twice a month), and the students haven’t started complaining about slow grading yet.

 

Nuking Hawaii

January 13, 2018

I guess since everyone is weighing in on the Hawaii fiasco, I guess I should also, since I was peripherally involved with that sort of thing.

Civilian attack warning started out as CONELRAD (those funny triangles on your old radio dial). That was replaced by EBS, which was replaced by EAS, the Emergency Alert System. Under this, the states get messages from the federal government (FEMA), which gets the original message from the military, and take whatever action they deem necessary. Unlike CONELRAD, EAS is designed for multiple threats, including natural disasters, like tornadoes and wildfires, and so gets inputs from NWS and other federal agencies. For a nuclear attack, there’s often a canned message. If there’s a canned message, there’s always the chance it will get released in error.

In the case of the Hawaii alert, the system was apparently being tested during a shift change, and the wrong selection was made off a menu. Then it was confirmed. Easily done. Could happen to anybody. In fact, it should have been expected, since the system was just reactivated following a post-Cold War stint in mothballs.

This is not the only time such errors have been made. On at least one occasion, many years ago, a CONELRAD test sent out a message that caused a number of US radio stations to shift to the emergency frequency. More often, errors at the state level have caused local disruptions. The US military has people trained and dedicated to this sort of thing 24/7. The states have, essentially, whoever is on duty in their public safety center, watching for wildfires and riots.

And therein lies the problem. As with the See Something, Say Something approach to countering terrorist activity, if you depend on amateurs for warning, you get amateur warning. If it had been a real missile attack, how many of those people we saw running around would have been saved by the warning? Would being over there, instead of over here have protected them?

Aren’t you glad we had a warning?

That Book

January 7, 2018

Will you quit it with that book already? You know, the one everybody’s talking about; the one everybody’s bought; the one nobody’s read?

Does it tell us anything we don’t already know? No, not really.

Is the information it does contain, reliable? No, not really.

Does it add anything to the national discussion? No, not really.

Does it provide anything resembling actionable content? No, not at all.

Every discussion about that book just lowers the information content of the room, and I mean that in a formal, signals processing context.

All it does is distract from the real policy issues that should be informing our actions.

UPDATE: Somebody else said it better.

What should we be talking about, and acting on?

  • Stacking the courts with incompetent, right wing, young, judges. The GOP has polluted the US justice system for the next 30 years.
  • Destroying the structure of protections provided by FCC, FDA, EPA, and all the other agencies that Trump has named anti-agency heads to.
  • Destroying the health care system for those who need it most.
  • Destroying the web of relationships in the Middle East, handing the dominant role there to Iran, while making sure the Iranians continue to view us as their hated adversary.
  • Abdicating our role in the Pacific, handing the dominant role to China.

In 2020, if not sooner, Trump will be gone, but the ruin he, and the GOP, leave behind will still be there, and will still need rebuilding, so that we can, you know, Make America Great Again, and you don’t need a book to tell you that.

 

 

TLDR — Anime I am Fated not to finish

January 2, 2018

I’m one of those who watched Fate/Stay Night ten years ago, the first and worst of the Fate/ franchise. That inoculated me against all the follow-on products, until last year, when phrases like “critical acclaim” induced me to reconsider.

Episode 1 of Fate/Zero is an hour-long expository lump. I tried watching it, and got 14 minutes in before my gag reflex took over and I ran for the remote and a soothing dose of Chaos;Child, or maybe it was Code:Realize, or some other show with a special character insert.

Nothing daunted, I tried again in the New Year. This time I got 19 minutes in, and broke out in a rash. Fate/ and I are …. fated…. to be forever strangers.

It would be too boring to just stand in this big room and talk, so we’re going to walk around you in a big circle and talk. Synchronized swimming comes later.

I Owe Paul Kennedy An Apology

December 22, 2017

Thirty years ago, Yale University professor Paul Kennedy published The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers. In it, he reviewed 500 years of great power competition, from 1500 to the then present. His thesis was that international power has both an economic and a military component, and that a nation’s changing place in the international pecking order is based on the relative levels of these elements, compared to other nations. Economics includes new trade opportunities (gold, spices) and new technologies (sail replacing oars, steam power replacing manual labor). Military includes new applications of technology (gunpowder) and new demands on the size and sophistication of armies (WWI vs Franco-Prussian war). Countries that spend more on military can spend less on their economies, but large countries can spend more on both.

So, changing global economics, and changing social and military responses by the various nations, pushed Spain, then France, then England, then the US and Russia into the top positions. Meanwhile, challengers could become overextended, spending more and more on military that provided less and less return.

…the Ottoman army could maintain lengthy frontiers, but could not expand without enormous cost in men and money. And Ottoman imperialism, unlike that of the Spanish, Dutch, and English later, did not bring much in the way of economic benefit. By the second half of the 16th Century the empire was showing signs of strategical overextension….Socially, the system as a whole, like Ming China, suffered from being centralized, despotic, and hostile toward initiative, dissent, and private commerce. (Note: these quotes have been edited and combined to give a better narrative flow)

Kennedy ended by pointing out that these changes would continue, that all powers would see a relative rise and decline, and that there was no guarantee that the US would remain on top.

“…the decline referred to is relative not absolute, and is perfectly natural; and the only serious threat to the US can come from a failure to adjust sensibly to the newer world order. …The task facing US leaders over the next decades is to recognize that broad trends are under way, and that we need to manage affairs so that the relative erosion of the US position takes place slowly and smoothly, and is not accelerated by policies that bring short term advantage but result in long term disadvantage. “

Keep in mind, this was all written in the mid-1980’s.

Unfortunately for the long term usefulness of the book, it was written immediately before the end-of-century upheaval in the global order. The USSR and Warsaw Pact still existed, Japan was a rising economic power, China was struggling to break out, and the European Union was moving from European to Union. Over the next thirty years, these trends came crashing down. The results didn’t negate his thesis, but they did do away with most of his short term predictions. Still, statements like

“even in the military realm there are signs of a realignment from a bipolar to a multipolar system.”

are not only true today, but perhaps are more true than they would have been had his predictions held. In fact, the continuing validity of the basic thesis in the face of failed predictions of specific developments may indicate the underlying strength of his approach.

At this point I should say that Kennedy strongly objects to the word predictions. Precisely because the international system is based on complex, anarchic, changing conditions — what a Systems Scientist would call both chaotic and adaptive — it’s impossible to make useful predictions. Perhaps trends would be a better term.

So, this is where I come in. I read the book when it first came out, and it seemed that his underlying thesis missed a major change in the world system. For the first 500 years, it was indeed driven by contending powers, seeking to establish their rule over the rest, either for religious reasons, for prestige, or because their decision-makers could see no other way to protect their position in the world. But WWII changed all that.

I saw two trends that would change how the system worked. First, was the rise of a bi-polar world, based on extreme ideological differences, and the existential threat posed by both sides possession of nuclear weapons. From that point, every economic and military clash had to be viewed from the standpoint of a possible global nuclear war. The second trend was one that made one proud to be an American: the Marshall Plan, and its adjuncts, which poured money into our former enemies and lifted them up from devastation and made them true partners. No country had ever done this before. Every victor of previous wars, including WWI, had looted the vanquished in the name of reparations.

Surely, we had learned from our experiences at the end of WWI and WWII. It was better to be a magnanimous winner, and spend the money and establish the policies that would bring the losers over onto your side.

Of course, that didn’t happen. While we provided some assistance to Russia after the collapse of the USSR, that was mostly in areas where we would benefit militarily — helping them secure their nuclear materials, for example. Otherwise, we treated them as a full scale hostile power, among other things, expanding NATO into what is arguably their sphere of influence (what they would call the close beyond) and supporting anti-Russian regimes right on their borders. How would we respond if Russia announced a treaty with Mexico that would allow them to station troops in Durango Province, and worked to put a pro-Russian government into Hermosillo?

Of course they are one of our competitors. Ever since the collapse and the emergence of the US as the sole global super-power they have been scrabbling to secure a place at the top of the second tier. Russians are every bit as prideful as Americans, and they bitterly resent the insult of their current position. That’s one reason why they are willing to put up with Putin — he’s Making Russia Great Again (MaRGA).

Meanwhile, what else have we been doing? Invading Iraq on the basis of lies by the President and executive branch. Destroying their government, with no plan for replacement. In effect, taking all those actions that Kennedy would say result in long term disadvantage.

I am not the only one with these opinions. Canadian defence analyst Patrick Armstrong has listed the steps on how we got here. And Michael Brenner (Professor of International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh) details the psychology of our response to the realization that we are subject to the same changes others are.

So yes, Paul, you were right and I was wrong. Boy, was I wrong. My apologies.

The Tax Bill

December 17, 2017

A report from International Business Times says that last minute changes to the GOP tax bill were essentially bribes to Senators and Representatives to get their votes.

I am reminded of a quote often attributed to Alexander Tytler in the late 1700’s, but which probably originated in Oklahoma in 1951. I have modified it for the 21st Century:

“A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters politicians discover that they can vote largesse from the public treasury.”

 

Retirement

December 15, 2017

365 days from now. Second time.
22 years military.
19 years academic.

What? He’s still around?

Memories of my youth: Farewell Compuserve

December 15, 2017

Compuserve dies today. This is where we all say, What? It’s still around?

I got into the CIS online forums very close to the start, back in the early 80’s. It was a perfect activity for someone just home from shift work with time on their hands at 3AM. It was a walled-garden, with lots of good discussions about space and technology, with very little politics and no trolls. An elegant solution for a more civilized time.

Then came the Internet, and buyouts and re-brandings, and people just slipped away. When I finally called in to drop my subscription, the guy on the other end at CIS didn’t even twitch — OK, thanks. Bye.

I am such a pack-rat that I suspect I could find my old Compuserve number, if I wanted to spend a day or so, getting paper cuts.

Meanwhile, here’s what I’m doing tonight.

 

General Tso’s Oatmeal

December 14, 2017

Never go grocery shopping when hungry. Never go grocery shopping when starving. My third mistake was wandering past the deli section of Safeway in those conditions. Like most supers these days, Safeway Deli has a section of Chinese takeout, so in a moment of weakness I bought a box of General Tso’s Chicken. In deference to my diet (and budget) it was a medium-sized box, only a couple of inches on a side, and only $7.00 worth of food.

And it wasn’t all that good. As with a lot of takeout stuff, it was heavy on the spices, I guess so you could be sure you were getting a properly ethnic meal. A couple of chunks of chicken and spiced cornstarch, eaten with my fingers in the car, and my appetite was suitably suppressed. What to do with the rest?

Two or three chunks of chicken, chunked small, and a couple tablespoonsworth of the sauce looked to be an interesting variant on breakfast. I know it’s chicken, but it was dark meat, and spicy, so I used beef broth.

Setup: 1/3 cup of stone ground rolled oats, one cup of beef broth, a quarter cup or so of chopped chicken, 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: Still too spicy. A grab handful of shredded cheese helped that (paper covers rock, dairy counteracts spice), and the end product was quite good (except it was the first time I’ve had bone fragments in my oatmeal). I’d eat it again (in fact I plan to, as a way of using up the last of the Tso), but I think I’ll stay away from the deli for a while.

Rating: *****

The art of the possible

December 12, 2017

Politics is the art of the possible, the attainable — the art of the next best — Otto von Bismarck

Some things are going to happen this month that you have a chance of influencing. Some things are going to happen this month that you have no chance of influencing. And some things are not going to happen, no matter what you want.

Case in point, impeachment. That’s the only way to get rid of a sitting President, and it’s not going to happen. Presidents don’t get impeached for criminal actions. Presidents get impeached for political actions that arouse the legislature. The only way that Trump can be impeached is if both the House and the Senate agree that he should be, and as long as the GOP has a majority, that won’t happen. Even Al Jazeera can see that. Flynn may go down, Kushner may go down, the entire White House staff might end up in jail, but Trump will still be President. If someone cries Impeach!, move on to a different story.

Case in point, Presidential and Agency Executive Orders. You and I can’t influence those, as anyone who has followed the derisory responses of the FCC to public comments on Net Neutrality can tell you. It’s not that FCC doesn’t understand the Internet, it’s that the FCC doesn’t care, and anything they say is designed to keep you spun up over it.

You can do nothing about it, but the courts can. Net Neutrality, Bear’s Ears, otherly-gendered folk in the military. The only institution who can push back against these decisions are the courts, and then only if a suitably rich and motivated group, with standing, can goad them into it. And even then, we might still lose, because of the way the courts are being politicized, all the way up to the Supreme Court.

Case in point. Legislative action. Ah, now we have a hook. Politicians hate taking a risk, and every time they vote against their constituent’s wishes, it’s a risk. Unfortunately, most GOP legislators are in safe, deep red, districts, and don’t care, in the same way most of the voters in those districts don’t care. The voters want conservative representation, and the only question is, is he conservative enough? When that happens, their constituents are no longer the local voters. Their true “constituents” are actually industry lobbyists.

Breaking it down, are you living in a red district in a red state? Then you have no influence. Are you living in a blue district in a red state? No influence. Are you living in a blue state? No influence, other than baseline, ineffectual opposition. This is why a horribly unpopular tax bill can get passed.

I say no influence, but you do have the ability to push for small, but perhaps significant, changes. The thing is, you can’t oppose something (like the tax law) in general and across the board. Well, you can, but do it in the privacy of your own home, where it will do you more good. What you can do is pick a niche topic of interest to your local politician and concentrate on that. For example, if there’s a college in your district, you could point out to him what the new tax bill will do to higher education. Or complain about the lack of action on CHIP funding. At a minimum, you might fix some small detail. Ideally (from a Democratic viewpoint), you can help create a legislative roadblock that might (for example) derail a bad tax bill.

So, pick your battles. Be willing to accept small victories. Go for the possible.

Don’t heed the troll 2

December 11, 2017

Trump denies watching TV: “Another false story, this time in the Failing @nytimes, that I watch 4-8 hours of television a day – Wrong!”

Trump gets in twitfight over Florida photos: “Packed house, many people unable to get in. Demand apology & retraction from FAKE NEWS WaPo!”

Trump slags CNN: “CNN’S slogan is CNN, THE MOST TRUSTED NAME IN NEWS. Everyone knows this is not true, that this could, in fact, be a fraud on the American Public.”

Trump continues to obsess over Clinton: “totally Crooked Hillary, AFTER receiving a subpoena from the United States Congress, deleted and “acid washed” 33,000 Emails”

Trump’s stock in trade is the outraged tweet. He has said that he looks at every day as an episode in a TV series, and what matters to him is winning that day’s ratings.

This is, obviously, no way to run a Presidency, but we have to make do with the President that we have, not the President that we’d like to have. I have talked about Trump’s distractions before, as have others. This is all smoke and mirrors, and your reaction has no impact on anything important.

So don’t waste time worrying about it, or jumping up and down like a macaque every time he does something outrageous. My next post will talk about what’s worth doing.

 

 

 

Memories of my youth: Titan OSTF

December 10, 2017

It was a cool December night on the central coast of California. The year was 1960, and we were living on Vandenberg AFB. I had  my telescope out in the back yard, doing some star-gazing, when a friend called and said they were doing some interesting stuff at a Titan I silo across the valley.

Family housing at VAFB was all new construction on the north side of the facilities area of the base. Looking north from there (you had to climb up on the roof, which I did), you could see across a plateau (where the 4th Armored Division trained in WWII, back when this was Camp Cook) and San Antonio creek (where wild boar would wander now and then) to where the USAF had built a number of test/training launchers for their various ICBMs.

Ready to launch

Ready to launch

In fact, VAFB had at least one of every kind of AF launch pad, from the Atlas D gantries to the Minuteman I silos. The one I was looking at that night was Operational Silo Test Facility, used for the Titan I ICBM.

Titan I was one of the early ICBMs, and was not designed to be launched from within a silo. The procedure was to load the fuel (RP-1) and oxidiser (liquid oxygen) in the protection of the silo, then bring the missile to the surface and launch it — lift to launch, in the parlance of the day.

On the 10th of December they were conducting a fueling test, a mock wet firing, in preparation for an actual launch later in the month. The plan was to load the missile, bring it to the surface (stages 1-5 in the graphic below), run a bunch of diagnostic tests, and then lower back down and defuel it. Unfortunately, something went wrong.

Steps 1 through 5

Steps 1 through 5

My first indication was a beautiful fireball, more blue than orange, with lots of sparkly bits. Fifteen seconds or so later came the rumble of the explosion, and then a lot of smoke and fire and flashing red lights.

What had happened was this: when they were finished with the exercise and started to lower the missile back down for defueling, the elevator slipped, and the fully loaded missile fell to the bottom of the silo. There, it ruptured, mixed the fuel and oxidiser, and blew up with a force strong enough to pull the entire steel scaffolding structure out of the silo. It was later reported that the explosion broke down two of the three blast doors between the silo and the launch control center.

That's the interior structure of the silo, laid out to the left

That’s the interior structure of the silo, laid out to the left

Today, OSTF lies rusting, covered in creosote bush and manzanita. Here’s a Wikipedia picture:

It's still a hundred feet deep, so watch your step

It’s still a hundred feet deep, so watch your step

And here is a link to a gallery of current pictures. The grey, overcast background is typical of the California coast that I remember from my youth.

The Long Farewell: Chemotales 2

December 8, 2017

The second three-week chemo session

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY:

  1. It’s working, and working well. Marker levels are back within normal range.
  2. It’s showing side effects. We’ll pause Revlimid for one cycle, then adjust the dose.
  3. It’s still there. After we adjust, we’ll keep pounding down the cells and driving them back in their holes, like errant Taliban, to make sure we get as much time as possible before the recurrence.

DETAILS:
So, there’s a lot of physiology going on. Some of it may be me and old age, or winter, or cumin. Some of it may be the chemo, specifically the Revlimid. At least I’m not growing fins.

Rash: Revlimid makes my stomach looks like a supermarket tomato. Not a garden-fresh bright red tomato, one of the pale red ones that look like there’s too much grey in the paint. Stopping the drug caused the red to go away.

Blood pressure: Dex makes my BP drop for some reason — 94/60 the day of, improving thereafter. Not a typical response.

Fatigue/sleep disruption: Not fatigue, lethargy. Not tired, just, wouldn’t a nap be nice right now. Sleep for 2-4hrs, up for 6-8, sleep for 2-4. Fortunately, at this point in the year, I’m pretty well in charge of my time, so I’m not deprived, just …. um … scattered. I can make classes, but too many meetings do me in. I can correct finals, but I have to time it right. The students have been remarkably supportive and understanding. Thanks, guys.

Intestinal: Dire rear. You don’t want to know. Words like explosive would be involved. On the good side, I am all set for my next colonoscopy. On the bad side, it hasn’t kept my weight from going up ten pounds.

Loss of stamina: I used to go up stairs fast. Now, I go up slow, and breath heavily when I hit the top. At least I don’t have to actually pause anywhere in the process. Is this the chemo? Old age? Lack of outdoor exercise due to it being 30F most days?

Feet: Ankles still swelling, and making me look like someone’s great aunt. Raising the foot of the mattress helped. Not bad enough to need intervention. May be some interaction between the chemo and my heart meds.

Looking back, not a lot different from Cycle 1, except that the side effects are shouldering their way into my life.

Doctor is pleased. I am pleased. I told him I’d was willing to be his poster boy for miracle cures.

What if Japan had not attacked Pearl Harbor

December 7, 2017

Periodically, people revive an alternative history narrative, where Japan never attacked Pearl Harbor, where they followed their, and the US, original warplans and invaded the Philippines instead. This was the old-fashioned style of warfare: invasion of nearby territories, clashes between rival fleets, extended land campaigns.

The Japanese were particularly enamoured of these ideas because of their strategic doctrine of the big, decisive, naval battle. Their concept was to induce, entice, or invite the enemy to send its fleet out for a major clash, one-throw-of-the-dice to see who won. Of course, based on their disastrous victory at Tsushima, they were sure it would be them. I say disastrous because if it had been harder and more painful, they might have drawn better lessons from it.

What Admiral Yamamoto did was shift the decisive battle from the waters of the Western Pacific to Pearl Harbor. The decisive strike would be from the air, not from opposing line-of-battle ships. This succeeded, partially, but left some…issues…unresolved. The rest, as they say, is history.

But let’s step back one more step. What if the Japanese hadn’t attacked the US at all?

You see, attacking the US was never the primary goal. The Japanese looked on us as an enemy because of our embargoes, our support for China, and our alliance with their local opposition, the Dutch and the British. But we were not a foe in the same way as the Dutch and the British, or as Russia. We were an adversary who they might or might not have to fight.

By cutting off their oil and steel (and remember, the US was the world’s major oil exporter, so this was the equivalent of the 1973 Arab Oil Embargo, only more effective), the US forced the Japanese to look for other sources of supply: British Borneo and Dutch Indonesia. So, the main thrust of the Japanese expansion was to be south, to the oil and rubber supplies.

The Japanese logic on how this would work out was plausible but incomplete, possibly because the Japanese Army, who by the late 1930’s was running Japan’s foreign policy, didn’t really understand international relations. Their logic chain said go to war with the Dutch, and the British will/must join them. Go to war with the British and the US will/must join them. Therefore, we have to go to war with the US. But they seriously miscalculated the US willingness to go to war.

Remember, this was 1941, and Britain had been fighting in Europe for almost two years. They had been defeated on the Continent, and were in serious danger of invasion, and the US still hadn’t gone to their aid. This was because the US Congress and the US people were strongly against war, and President Roosevelt was desperate enough to get us in to one to spawn shoals of conspiracy theories about what he knew and when he knew it, and how much of the action had been at his behest. (My take is, not as much as people think, later than most people think, and very little of import).

So, suppose the Japanese had concentrated on a strike to the south, and had actively avoided involving the US. What might have happened then?

Well, the southern thrust likely would have played out as it did in real life, except there would have been no ABDA Command and no US participation in battles like Java Sea. The US would have increased supplies to Australia, but could have done little west of Manila, given that, politically, we did not wish to take any overtly hostile actions. Increased reconnaissance and intelligence sharing is about all that could have been done until some suitable causus belli had occurred.

We would still occupy Wake and Guam and the Philippines, with troop buildups on all three.

More importantly, Midway would not have happened, and US troops would not have landed on Guadalcanal.

Having avoided a Pearl Harbor, what might have caused the US to enter WWII at this point? Perhaps some naval incident, either in the Atlantic or the Pacific. German u-boat attacks on tankers, perhaps, or Japanese attacks on US resupply shipments to Australia. Maybe a Japanese attack on US assets in China. It would have to be something blatant enough to tip US public opinion.

And then, Plan Orange would be executed, and the US participation in the war would begin. Six months or a year late, against an enemy that was more deeply entrenched, had seized key geography, like Guadalcanal, and New Guinea, and still had the majority of its fleet intact.

History would have been different.

 

 

Memories of my youth: Nuclear warfare

December 4, 2017

I did not expect to be doing so many of these Memories entries, but we’re coming up on the 50th anniversary of lots of things, and then new events force their way in.

Daniel Ellsberg, of Pentagon Papers fame, has just published a memoir on his time with RAND corporation, studying command and control in nuclear war.

According to the article, the book officially comes out tomorrow, the U.S. nuclear war plans of the 1960’s, and the C3 system that supported them, were marked by hair-trigger responsiveness, all-or-nothing rigidity, and unimaginable overkill. That was before my time, but it sounds about right.

The problem is, all this was new. No-one had ever worked way through the problem. As with many such, you had to do it to see what you had done (Kissinger once said that he wished we’d given more thought to  the implications of MIRV’d weapons). Plus, we were all driven by a very real Cold War fear. And as with many fear driven situations, we were willing to read the worst possible meaning into every Soviet action. When Khrushchev said “We will bury you“, we heard “We’re putting you down“, not “We will dance on your grave“, which is probably a better translation of the phrase. Things that now appear to be stupid (with 50year hindsight) were urgent and compelling in the day. I suspect that in time our successors will view the war on terror the same way.

Everybody knew the system was insane at the core, but no-one knew how to defuze it, given the very real trust and perception issues between us and the USSR. The key, then, was to make sure we never got in a situation where those decisions were necessary.

Fast forward to 1973. I was assigned to the Military Airlift Command Indications and Warning Center at Scott AFB. Our job was to keep an eye on everything that went on around the world, if there was the possibility it could require some sort of MAC involvement: war in the Middle East, non-combatant evacuation from Congo, airlift of relief supplies to Bangladesh. Support the rest of the US military when fighting a nuclear war.

Shortly after I arrived, we had a visit from the USAF assistant chief of staff for Intelligence, Major General George Keegan. He was travelling to every I&W Center in the AF, and he had one message, that he was delivering personally:

Your primary mission is to prevent a nuclear war.

We knew that Russia and the US had painted ourselves into a corner, and were doing the best we could to keep things from getting out of control. So far, it’s worked.

Vegetable bone broth oatmeal

November 30, 2017

Sooner or later the marketing people get into every thing. Their latest is something they call bone broth, made with beef, chicken, and turkey bones, plus garlic and other ingredients, and served as a sipping broth. Sounds like leftovers to me. Nevertheless, I figured that it was worth a try in oatmeal.

Not. It’s hard to describe, but it didn’t work as an oatmeal broth, even when I add cheese or even curry. It’s not bad, just not very good.

Meanwhile, I’m not all that fond of boxed vegetable broth, either. It tends to taste too much like Knorr soups. That said, I was in a box-broth mode and bought one of each. I wonder what it would be like if I combined the two.

Setup: 1/3 cup of stone ground rolled oats, 1/4 cup of box bone broth, 3/4 cup of box vegetable 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.

Results: Not bad. No, really. The bones and garlic cover up the Knorrishness of the vegetables. Not great, but better than either of the components alone. I think this is what they call emergent behavior. I’ll keep doing it until the broths run out, but probably won’t do it again.

Rating: *****

Memories of my youth: Fifty years ago today

November 29, 2017

I entered Air Intelligence Training Course at Lowry AFB. Start of a long and happy Air Force career. Met my wife there, the first Woman Marine to go through AFAITC.

Now, I’ve been out longer than I’ve been in, but the blue still shows.

Memories of my youth: The Fish and Duck

November 28, 2017

The Fish and Duck is a pub and marina on the Great Ouse River in Cambridgeshire. As they say, it caters to the river trade. Many vacation canal boats tie up there, and many amenities have been added in the last 50 years.

For Thanksgiving of 1970, our first Thanksgiving as a married couple, and in England, we were told it was a very nice place for a special dinner. So we got on the phones and called them. Actually, we called the Mildenhall operator, who put us through. She said it was a very nice place and she was sure we’d have a nice time. You don’t get service like that any more.

Theoretically, it was a half-hour drive from RAF Mildenhall, across the great, flat, featureless fens of East Anglia. Actually, on the night, we had our first experience of a fenland pea-soup fog. We drove with the windows down. I hung out the right hand side (England, remember) peering at the centerline, while MJ hung out the left hand side, watching for the verge. On these pictures, by the way, the Google Maps yellow line is the most obvious thing, but we didn’t have Google Maps back then.

A bridge too near

We had been told that if we reached the bridge, we’d gone too far. Well, here it came, looming hugely up out of the fog (it doesn’t loom so much in the daytime). So we turned around, looking for a sign. What we found was, a farmer tilling his field. In the dark.

A re-enactment

You see, in East Anglia, on Thanksgiving, the sun sets at 4PM, and by six or seven, it’s pitch black. And then the fog rolls in.

The nice farmer told us it was the wrong bridge, and we had a couple of miles to go yet.

We finally found the turnoff, and turned off. The last half mile was an unpaved road that was essentially one side of a sugar beet field. It’s been paved since then, but otherwise it’s not much changed.

You should try this in the dark

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The pub itself is a small, unassuming place. Back in the day it didn’t have the big caravan park surrounding it, and didn’t feel the need to build a six foot chain link fence around it.

The food was great, and the service was everything people said it would be (“Which of these avocados would you like…“). There was only one other couple in the place.

While we were there, we bought tickets to their Christmas brunch. That was a daytime event, and much better attended.

Fast forward two years. For one reason or another, we hadn’t been back. MJ’s parents came over and we thought it would be a nice example of an English country pub. Once again, I got on the phones and the operator put me through.

I’d like to make reservations for four for Wednesday, name is Shervais.

…short count…

Ah, yes, Captain Shervais, we’ll be able to fit you in, no problem.

Two years.

Once we got there, the food and service were as outstanding as I remembered,and they remembered. “Well, if you recall, the wine you had that time was the Langousta Rose…

Things have changed. The old owners are long gone. The pub now has a rock band, I am told. Still. Fond memories.

 

 

The GOP leadership is mousetrapping its members

November 27, 2017

Over the last few weeks I’ve had the feeling that something was missing in the discussion of the GOP tax bill. Today, I figured out what it was — no-one is pointing out the effort by the GOP leadership to mousetrap their own membership.

Everyone is talking about the tactics they are using to get the bill through against Democratic opposition. No-one is talking about the fight against their own people.

The tax bill faces an uphill fight in the House and Senate over the next month, because nobody but the leadership likes it. Some GOP Senators dislike it enough to vote against it, an act the leadership says will have disastrous consequences come election time. If that’s the case, why is it that the bill wasn’t crafted with more care? Why didn’t the GOP leadership create something everyone could get behind?

Because they didn’t have to.

GOP members have been told that they must pass a tax bill this term, or all their funding will dry up. Must. OK, so far so good, I believe you. Now what?

Now, says the leadership, here’s a stinking crock of manure that we are calling a tax bill. It’s the only one available. You vote for this, or you doom the Party. No choice.

Left unsaid: We could have gone with a bill that did less damage and garnered more support, but rewarded our funding sources less. But that would have made our donors unhappy. Instead, we are going with a bill that we know you have to pass. We could have a section in there on kittens and wood-chippers, and you would still have to pass it, otherwise we lose power, and power is everything.

This is similar to the majority party loading up a must-pass bill (say, Defense Budget) with all kinds of pork, add-ons and inclusions, knowing that the minority is boxed in and has to go along with it, because it’s a must pass.

Only, this time they are boxing in their own members. I think this is a place where the word contempt might legitimately be used.

 

Egg Sake

November 26, 2017

There’s a short little anime on this season, called Love is like a cocktail. It’s about a house-husband who makes mixed drinks for his working wife. At three minutes, there’s not much time for character development, or even for details on the recipe.

This week he was sick, and she made him an egg sake drink. As usual, they had an ingredient list, but no procedural advice.

玉子 Egg
ハチミツ Honey
牛乳 Milk
日本酒 Japanese Sake

So, I had to go out on the web to see if it was a thing (it is), and how one makes it, because I’m not confident in my ability to make a hot egg drink. Halfway through my search, I realized that it was nothing but eggnog with sake in it. That made things easier. Not because it was easy to make, but because I had a carton of eggnog in the fridge already. Yeah, it’s commercial. Yeah, it’s as much chemical as anything else. But you know, as a child of the 50’s and 60’s, I grew up drinking those chemical drinks, and I kindof like the flavor. Next I’ll be telling you how good Velveeta is.

In any event, I warmed half a cup of eggnog (30sec in microwave) and heated half a cup of sake to the boiling point (~1min in microwave) and mixed them. It actually needed another 20sec to bring the cup up to a salubrious temperature. Of course, by the time one has boiled the sake, there’s not a lot of alcohol left.

Result: very good. Just what one needs if one is feeling a little fragile. It’s like eggnog and rum, except that sake is 15% alcohol, and the Christmas Rum/Brandy mix I tried as a comparison was 30%, so the sake drink was very much milder and smoother. And warm.

I recommend it.

Don’t heed the troll

November 23, 2017

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Death from Out There

November 21, 2017

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

Rocks that pass in the night

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

Click to embiggen

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

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

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

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

They do everything in threes.

 

Memories of my youth: Charles Manson

November 20, 2017

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

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

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

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

That’s not what he said

November 19, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What he actually said, was:

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

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

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

Just, read beyond the headlines, OK?

Firefox Fail 3

November 18, 2017

Further findings. Here is the earlier stuff.

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

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

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

The new ReloadEvery addon (recommended replacement by FF), looked like it was going to work well. But it seems to have a problem when reloading if the server wants to reauthenticate or something. Not a problem with manual reloads, nor with the auto reload of the past, but I got a 404 on Twitter, and a blank tab on McClatchy when I went to a 15min reload. Manually setting the reload time to 10 minutes has worked. So far. The trick seems to be to get your reload time inside the reset cycle for the server. Ten minutes is pretty much the lower limit on what I’m willing to accept on Twitter. Otherwise, it just keeps scrolling, and if I wanted a scrolling feed I’d go to a different website. Most other pages I don’t reload, or I manually reload. OK, maybe a 538.com election night stream, or the webcams in Spokane when the weather is bad on a school night. The downside is, I have to set the 10min by hand, and I have to keep checking back to see that it took and is holding. Just more of my production time soaked up hand-holding the browser.

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

Firefox Fail 2

November 17, 2017

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

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

Herewith, the other results.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Long Farewell: Chemotales 1

November 17, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

Him

Me

 

 

 

Firefox Fail

November 16, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oatkonomiyaki

November 16, 2017

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

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

Let’s see what we can do with oatmeal.

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

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

Rating: *****

Recapitalizing the Triad

November 15, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

So, the next statement.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Leninist view of Roy Moore

November 13, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Veteran’s Day 2017

November 11, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

The Long Farewell: Köpfen fährt

November 9, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

PinquitOats

November 9, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: *****

You had one job…

November 7, 2017

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

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

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

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

.

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

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

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

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

In addition:

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

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

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

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

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

 

Nothing to see here, folks

November 6, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s yours, Texas, so don’t bitch.


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

Chrunchyroll gave me herpes – update

November 5, 2017

A update to the original.

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

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

Crunchyroll gave me herpes

November 4, 2017

But I got over it.

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

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

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

which they then passed along to the head office.

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

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

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

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

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

That went on for a couple of hours.

Meanwhile, I bitched about it on Twitter

and got informed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And there’s an update.

About that election

November 3, 2017

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

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