Green Thumb Up My Nose

June 18, 2018

Garden Report for 180618

One last sweep of Bi-Mart to see what I missed in the way of tomatoes. I found a Mortgage Lifter and a Supersonic.  The Lifter went into the garden ( I had to scrunch it in between the peas), and the Supersonic went into a new container on the east side of the house, snuggled up against the vine maple.

Planted some lettuce around the tomatoes in the big deck containers. Tennis Ball, and Iceberg. As I’ve said before, Icebergs don’t head in this climate, but they still make pretty good leaf lettuce.

I have one small part of Section 2 that I’ve been holding out for carrots, and maybe more lettuce. I’ll plant that today or tomorrow.

Took the bags off the ivy but left the wire grills on. I’ll take those off in a week or so. The ivy seems to be doing OK.

Otherwise, we’re in the let it grow part of the season. Maybe pull some weeds. My next garden report will likely not be for another month.

NOTE: we are in Sunset Zone 2B, USDA 6A, and ArborDayFoundation 6

planting calendar:



The last beginning

June 16, 2018

Commencement: The first existence of anything; act or fact of commencing
Synonyms: rise, origin, beginning, start, dawn

Today was Commencement at EWU. The graduating class was so big that they all couldn’t fit into the Spokane Arena at the same time, so we had to do it in shifts.

Since I am retiring at the end of the Fall Quarter of 2018 (exactly six months from now), this marks the last Commencement I will be attending as EWU faculty, and the last time I get to wear my official PhD robes.

Only the coolest people get the coolest hats.

Broccolied Oatmeal

June 14, 2018

So we had dinner the other night, as we often do, and the side (we are no longer hearty eaters, so it’s one side at a time) was a riced broccoli: broccoli that had been chopped  up smaller than rice grains. I’m pretty sure it was the Marketing Department’s way of using up all the stalks as well as the florets, as well as giving parents something they can hide in the mashed potatoes. Of course there were leftovers (we’re talking broccoli here), so I tried them for breakfast.

Setup: 1/3 cup of stone ground rolled oats, one cup of beef broth, two dinner teaspoons of potato flakes, two heaping dinner teaspoons of riced broccoli, salt. Cook for 10 minutes or so, depending on the exact style of oats. Add the potatoes at the end, and the broccoli after that (it had already been steamed the night before).

Results: Very good. Not overpowering. Worth putting in the rotation for the next time we have broccoli (let’s see…Haley’s comet…).

Rating: *****

Green Thumb Up My Nose

June 11, 2018

Garden Report for 180611

Just can’t stay away. I was going to lighten up on the gardening this summer, but I keep adding more and more plants.  Went to Bi-Mart on Thursday (are we going to get a Trans-Mart soon?) to buy a zucchini, because we didn’t have one of those, or a summer squash (nobody has summer squash) in the garden. Saw four or five tomato varieties that I hadn’t seen before or elsewhere, bought two (Jet Star and Moreton) and put them in containers on the east side of the house. Lemon cucumber on the deck, and the zucchini in Section 2.

The west side ivy may have been dumped into high sun too fast and got sunburn. I’ve put a grill over them (to give dapple-like shade), and hung a number of plastic shopping bags off the grill (to give a more diffuse light for dappling). I’ll take them off in a week or so. Actually, I’m likely to take them off come Friday night, because we are in for clouds and rain all weekend.


Hummus Oatmeal

June 7, 2018

Some of my Arab students had a combination graduation party and Iftar dinner, Iftar being the meal at which Muslims break their fast at sunset during Ramadan. They honored me with an invitation. The food was excellent, in a Middle Eastern sort of way, with lots of dips, including the Arabic equivalent of hummus. Afterwards, they gave me a large bag of various dishes to take home. I told them I would cry all the while I was handing out grades.

Now hummus is designed for cracker dipping, but of course you can do other things with it, including adding to your morning oatmeal.

Setup: 1/3 cup of stone ground rolled oats, one cup of broth, two dinner teaspoons of potato flakes, two dinner teaspoons of hummus, salt. Cook for 10 minutes or so, depending on the exact style of oats. Add the potatoes at the end, and the hummus after that (you don’t need to cook it, just use the oatmeal to heat it).

Results: Very good. Worked with both chicken and beef broth. Not enough of it to overpower the flavor. I’ll consider going out and buying a jar of hummus when this supply runs out.

Rating: *****

Green Thumb Up My Nose

June 4, 2018

Garden Report for 180604

Planted the Home Depot loot: Spaghetti, Butternut, and Delicata squash, Knucklehead and Wee be Little pumpkin, and Sweet Potato vine in the garden (Section 2); Better Boy and Black Prince tomato, and Japanese cucumber in the containers by the house. That left one empty container.

The Boston Ivy came in, a day early. All healthy. I dug up (most of) the hops on the south side of the house and planted the ivy in pairs, with room for my two planter bags between the pairs.

Hit the hardware store for one last time. Bought an acorn squash (Autumn Delight) for Section 2, Moskvitch for the east side containers, and a Cherokee Purple and a Brandywine for the south side planter bags.

The only thing left is some carrots (multicolor), chard, and lettuce (Iceberg, which makes a pretty good leafy lettuce, even when it doesn’t head).

After that, it’s just the occasional weed pull, and making sure the containers get watered — the garden is on a timer.

Green Thumb Up My Nose

May 29, 2018

Garden Report for 180528

Boy is my face red. I mis-read my previous planning posts, and I’ve been using the 2017 planting guide. That means I’m planting the same plants in the same place, two years running. Do too much of that, and you have a higher risk of root diseases. I’m going to assume that two years in a row isn’t too bad.

Made a run to Home Depot over the weekend. Bought some tomatoes and squash. They didn’t have any Boston Ivy, so I’ve ordered some on Amazon.

Meanwhile, I’ve learned that if one nozzle of a 4-way hose splitter goes bad and won’t close, you have to dump the whole thing*, and buy new. At least that gave me a chance to restructure my hose pattern: 1. spray hose for the dog run, 2. mobile hose for the north side of the yard, 3. soaker hose for our cedar, which is feeling poorly, 4. soaker hoses for the garden. I’ve put 3 and 4 on a timer, so the cedar and the garden get a drink every day. *Yeah, OK, I could have bought an end cap. Now you tell me.

Here’s what looks like a good tutorial on planting tomatoes. Too bad I’ve already got mine planted. She lives in L.A., which makes it easy to get fish heads. Here in the NENW we have to special order them from Amazon (or, if you are willing to make do with trout, you can do a catch-and-release, after removing only the head).


Green Thumb Up My Nose

May 21, 2018

Garden Report for 180521

Well behind on gardening this year. Something to do with teh chemo. The garden and environs look like something out of a D&D game description: you stumble upon an abandoned house, with an overgrown garden and a yard that is reverting to forest…

Finally bought a bunch of tomatoes from the local hardware store, one of each:

Section 1: Champion, Beefsteak Hybrid, Brandywine, Big Boy, Carolina Gold, Big Beef, Oregon Spring.

Deck containers: Early Girl, Pink Accordion, Busch All Star Beefsteak, SunSugar.

Also bought snow peas and cucumbers. One cucumber went into the tub out front, and all the rest went into Section 1.

Of course, immediately after I bought all this, it poured down rain for two days.

My other project is to remove the hops on the south wall, and replace them with ivy. The hops worked well, but their ‘berries’ are poisonous to dogs, which meant I had to climb up every Fall and cut them down before they started producing. I’m too old and fat to do that any more. Stage 1 worked well — the plastic grid panel came off at the first tug. It’s probably lucky I did it deliberately, otherwise the whole thing would have fallen down unexpectedly. Now I have to dig up the hops, so they don’t come back.

I will probably limit the garden to Sections 1 and 2. Next year, when I’m retired, I can go all out.

Stonekettle on Responsibility

May 19, 2018

I rarely make a post that’s just a link to someone else’s post, but in this case I’ll make an exception.


Why is it that whenever the subject of responsible gun ownership comes up, the “responsible” gun owners are the first to protest being held responsible?

My favorite anime mother

May 13, 2018

Kuramoto Nana

There are very few mothers in anime, and those that do appear are usually lacking in the normal motherly attributes. In most anime where parenting might be an issue, the parents are dead (Japanese cars are notoriously unsafe in that respect), or working overseas (possibly contributing to the drop in Japanese population). Many mothers who are both alive and present are professionals who we see briefly on their way to work in the first episode (one of the magical girl series), or briefly when well into the series (Monogatari). Others turn out to be behind-the-scenes contributors to the plot (Witchcraft Works).

The only normal mother I can think of is Kuramoto Nana, in The Flying Witch.

She runs the household, and does motherly things, and She also handles the occasional magical phenomenon with grace and aplomb. And just so we don’t think she’s a tradition-bound woman, she also is a professional artist and writer of children’s books. Maybe not rocket science professionalism, but pretty good for a farm wife in Aomori Prefecture.


Keeping hubby fed

“Mom, can I go out?”

“Mom, I want to make some tempura”

“What a cute witch”

Why yes, I am a professional

Pumpkin Oats

May 12, 2018

So, MJ wants me to eat more healthy-like, and one of her friends has a husband who swears by putting pumpkin in his morning oatmeal. I suspect that he’s eating something that looks like orange cream of wheat, but anything to keep peace in the family.

Setup: 1/3 cup of stone ground rolled oats, one cup of beef broth, two heaping teaspoons of canned pumpkin, two dinner teaspoons of potato flakes, salt. Cook for 10 minutes or so, depending on the exact style of oats. Add the pumpkin at the beginning and the potatoes at the end.

Results: Not bad, not great. Tastes like beef broth with something in it. I guess that’s about what I want — something that won’t interfere with the taste. Now to try it with other additions. After all, I still have most of the rest of the can.

Rating: *****

They are coming for your drones

May 6, 2018

Last week at an industry conference, the FBI spun a fairy tale, one that was reported uncritically by the press, about criminal use of drones. Go read it (and note that two of the first three comments called shenanigans, so it’s not just me). Here’s my breakdown.

It seems this “criminal gang” got itself involved in a hostage situation, as criminal gangs are wont to do. Now, this is the first time I’ve heard of such a thing. Usually, it’s some lone idiot whose plans have gone horribly wrong.

The FBI was called in, and set up an “elevated OP” to monitor the situation. This OP evidently was not hidden well enough that the bad guys weren’t aware of it. Maybe it was the FBI flag that gave it away.

The bad guys then launched a swarm of drones, from an unspecified location, to fly around the observers’ heads, kindof like nesting starlings, distracting them and making them lose “situational awareness”.  The drones, by the way, had been “backpacked” in, in anticipation of the FBI arrival.

Finally, the drone video was uploaded to YouTube, so that all members of the gang could see what a distracted FBI agent looked like.

No further details are available, because the incident remains “law enforcement-sensitive”. Of course, the criminal gang knows when and where it happened, and it has YouTube videos of FBI agents swatting at drones, but the FBI can’t tell us citizens any more (like, just for e.g., why the FBI didn’t use its own drones).

One has to wonder what the true FBI motive is behind this story. My guess is that they want more control over civilian drones, and this fake news is just the start of a flood of reports about drones harassing law enforcement, disrupting cattle drives, and carrying off small children.



Memories of my youth: Titan launch

May 3, 2018

On the 3rd of May, 1961, the Air Force conducted a silo launch test at Vandenberg AFB. The test was to see if a missile could stand the stress of being launched from inside the silo, rather than being lifted to the surface. The Silo Launch Test Facility (68-SLTF) had a W-shaped blast deflector at the bottom and two vents on the sides. This was intended to be the normal launch method for the new Titan II ICBM, but that missile was still in testing, so they used a Titan I, instead.

I was a teenager, living on Vandenberg at the time, and of course we all knew the test was going to take place. We also knew of a good place to observe it from, so on the day of the launch we bicycled down the back roads of the base.  Turns out, it was such a good place to observe launches from that the Air Force had set up a press facility there.

After some delays (as usual), the missile was launched, and was spectacular, also as usual. I took pictures with my 35mm camera, and my friend, Jim Bones used an 8mm movie camera on a tripod, looking through one lens of a pair of binoculars.

Unbeknownst to us, an Air Force cameraman included us in his shot of the launch, which photo was used as the basis for a painting, currently in the Air Force Art Collection. I actually saw it, thirty some years ago, hanging in a back office in the Pentagon.

That’s me, kneeling, on the left

The equipment on the left was a quad-.50 caliber anti-aircraft machine gun mount, modified to hold a 150mm tracking camera. The two people kneeling next to the tracker were me and Jim. Our jackets were actually olive drab. The Air Force blue was artist’s license. The trailer with the white canopy on the right is a press phone bank.

Here’s a video of the launch:

Painting Reference:

Artist: Nixon Galloway
Catalog Number: 1961.082

Video Reference:

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

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.

Much later, that became popular among politicians

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

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


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.”



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


  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.

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

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 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.