Archive for September, 2012

Green Thumb Up My Nose

September 30, 2012

Garden Report for 121001

Pleasant weather all week — now that we’re back to school.
Highs in the mid-upper 70s, lows around 50F.

The hard work is paying off

Tuesday: 1 medium and 40 small tomatoes, totalling 5lb, or 2 oz per pound.

Saturday: 1 medium and 38 small tomatoes, totalling 4.3lb. One lemon cucumber. Armload of chard, which will probably cook down to half a cup.

Sunday: 5 medium and 47 small tomatoes, totalling 6lbs. More chard. These tomatoes are at the deep orange, rather than bright red stage.

So far, we’ve pulled in about 22lbs of tomatoes. When I start harvesting on Tuesday I’ll be getting tomatoes that are mostly green and some that are real pale orange.

Next week is going to be interesting — the Tuesday-Friday forecast is for lows of 32/30/33/34F, with winds gusting to 30mph at the start. I’ll wait and see what the final forecast is before deciding what to harvest and what to try to cover up.

I Owe Mitt an Apology — So does Linus

September 29, 2012

I don’t usually blog on day-to-day politics, because it’s all noise, and I prefer signal. That’s a systems joke.

Which is why I didn’t jump on the dogpile of reports and guffawa about Mitt Romney’s latest gaffe on opening the windows in the airplane. OK, I did the guffaw part. Well, it turns out, it was a joke, and thereby hangs a tale. Two tales, actually.

First, that the clown shark that is the US press is perfectly capable of distorting a report, if it makes better news. Everybody who was present knew it was a joke, but it never got reported as “he cracked”. It was a story that was ‘too good to check’. Then it got picked up by the piranha Internet and echoed its way around the world, to the point where even Linus Torvalds – as apolitical person as you are likely to find, commented it on it (“he’s a *** idiot”). A week later, someone who was there remarked in an interview that it was a joke, and the howling died down. No retractions were printed.

This happens all the time to Presidents, and presidential candidates, particularly when the press doesn’t particularly like them. The elder Bush once gained the derision of the DC press corps by saying that he’d gone to a tech trade show where they had machines that could automatically read the label on a can of tomatoes at checkout. Obviously, he was a fool who didn’t know what a bar code was because he hadn’t done his own shopping since the demise of the general store. Actually, he was describing a machine that could read the actual label as it rolled down the ramp. It never got adopted by industry, but that’s another story.

So it’s not Mitt’s fault.

Second, people are willing to believe that Romney will say idiot things because he has a history of idiocy. I have friends who will vote for him because he’s a Republican, but they will hold their nose while they do it. You see the same thing with DHS and TSA. They’ve done so many stupid, criminal, things over the years that any report (“yeah, they made the baby go through the baggage scanner”) is automatically accepted without being checked. When you have a vid of him castigating the 47%, probably half of whom are conservative Republican retirees, then a press report of airplane windows seems not only plausible, but possible.

And that’s Mitt’s fault.

Oatmeal Paprikash

September 27, 2012

Paprika is a good way to combat bland. Jay Rosenberg (no relation to Willow) had a recipe for chicken paprikash he got from his Irish grandmother that kept me unblanded for much of my college undergrad career. Jonathan Harker found a similar dish – paprika hendl – in Carpathia. I decided to try it on oatmeal.

Since paprika is a robust spice, I paired it with beef broth. The paprika I used was McCormick’s Gourmet Collection Smoked Paprika, in which Spanish sweet red peppers are naturally smoked over wood plank fires (tended by Spanish virgins, who then go on dates with their girlfriends, smelling of smoke, which explains the continued viginity part). All I can say is I’m happy they used wood planks instead of, you know, steel belted radials.

Standard setup of beef broth, oatmeal, three shakes of paprika, salt. Also added a scant quarter cup of apple-smoked Gruyère and usual two teaspoons of potato flakes.

Result: Not bad. Not memorable — it didn’t have me humming a Czárdás — but not bad. Very good, for beef. The Gruyère did not want to melt. Might be the basis for something more exciting later on.

U.S. Economic Growth 1750-2050 Part 1

September 25, 2012

There’s a paper over at VoxEu* which postulates that US economic growth is coming to an end.

The paper is deliberately provocative and suggests not just that economic growth was a one-time thing centred on 1750-2050, but also that because there was no growth before 1750, there might conceivably be no growth after 2050 or 2100. The process of innovation may be battering its head against the wall of diminishing returns. Indeed, this is already evident in much of the innovation sector.
Robert J. Gordon, 11 September 2012

I have some issues with this, but not because of a knee-jerk “that can’t happen to US” response. It obviously can and must happen, if only because of thermodynamics. Our ability to provide energy to our global economy is going to hit a wall sometime in the next 300-400 years. I’m not talking about peak oil, I’m talking about some combination of having to cover the earth in solar panels vs raising the surface temperature to the boiling point.

On the surface, Gordon makes an interesting case: that we’ve already cleared the technological low-hanging fruit, so that future productivity gains will be harder to come by; meanwhile, structural issues in US society add additional headwinds that will help drag our performance back down to colonial levels.

I guess my initial problems with this paper stem from three issues: he’s given up on the computer revolution too soon, he’s ignored some new technology that will have a major impact on productivity, and he’s identified a start point, but not an end point for the productivity drop.

First, the computers. No. First, the technology. Technology always takes longer to have an impact than its inventors realize. As I tell my students when we talk about bringing new technology into a firm, assume that it does exactly what the vendor says it does; what else has to work in order for it to be successful? My favorite example is frozen food. Clarence Birdseye invented flash freezing of food in 1922, but frozen food didn’t become an American staple for over thirty years. What happened? What else had to work? Refrigerated trains for distribution, glass topped freezer displays in the general store for sales, home refrigerators with freezer compartments in place of ice boxes. It always takes longer. Computers are a post-WWII phenomenon, and general purpose business computing really only started with the IBM 360 in the 1960’s. Fifty years later, we are just on the verge of ubiquitous computing — as Cory Doctorow says, a hearing aid is a computer you stick in your ear, and a car is a computer you sit in.

As for new technology, I see nanscale engineering and 3D printing as game changers that will have major impacts on how things are done. Nanoscale materials, so far, are giving us self-cleaning cloth, paint, and glass; medical drug delivery techniques, and new ways of embedding computers. 3D printing will let us have the cost advantages of mass production combined with the customization potential of the job shop — single unit mass production. Are these advancements equivalent to building the railroads across the West? Probably not, but we won’t know their true impact until, say, 2050.

Third, Gordon claims his ‘headwinds’, about which more anon, will bring US productivity back to colonial levels before that date, 2050. But he doesn’t say what might lie on the other side. The structure of US society isn’t going to freeze at that point, and some of the drags on productivity (such as old folks like me) will be starting to ease up (OK, die off) by that time.

Now, he has an interesting graph, possibly the best labeled and easiest to understand of the lot, showing the change in actual and predicted levels of GDP per capita in constant dollars, 1300-2100.

GDP/capita 1300-2100 Source: Gordon, CEPR Policy Insight No 63.

What makes the graph compelling is that it’s a classic S-curve, headed for a rolloff at about $90K/capita sometime shortly after 2100. What makes the graph less than compelling is that there’s no indication we are actually past the inflection point, and until one passes the inflection point there’s no sure way of predicting what that upper bound will be.

Next week, I’ll address some other issues. Like, does it matter? Is it good news?

Did I say next week? I meant “Next time I have a chance to work on this”.

* A web portal operated by the European Centre for Economic Policy Research

Green Thumb Up My Nose

September 24, 2012

Garden Report for 120924

Warm all week, with hazy smoke that kept the nightime temps in the mid 40’s

The Red Tide is starting, sortof. Forty-two tomatoes totalling five and a half pounds (i.e. two ounces each, on average). The S-100 pot on the deck is done for (I harvested the last 20 or so and cut it down Sunday evening), but for cherry tomatoes I still have the two hanging baskets, and the one S-100 I planted in a cinderblock in the KHG wall is actually doing well (but very few ripes).

In the KHG, the chard is doing well, now that I’ve triaged out the leaf-mined leaves, and the edible amaranth is suddenly growing. We had some of both in our salad. The edible amaranth leaves tasted like eating leaves. There appears to be six or so onions that survived the squash shading, and the asparagus is fighting back gamely.  The corn is hanging in there, and the diatomaceous earth seems to have warded off the cutworms — maybe — it’s hard to tell what’s old damage. Friday I forgot the soaker on sections 3 and 4, so the corn and chard got about four hours of rainfall. On Saturday, I did the same for sections 1 an 2. Honest forgetfulness. Squirrels have avoided my trap and have dug about ten holes in the corn and the chard.

On Friday night, the big summer squash plant died. Not sure why. I came out in the morning and all its leaves along its full ten foot length were hanging down in that boiled spinach look, not the usual dry droops. There didn’t seem to be any damage, like a broken stalk, that could have caused it, and we certainly didn’t have any frost. I cut it out in sections, trying not to disrupt anybody else. This will open up some light for the onions and spargle. If I have time on Monday I’ll cut it into chunks small enough to go in the mulch basket. There’s an unrelated summer squash vine over on the east side that’s still providing.

Monday: Harvested one big (i.e. big enough to sell in a supermarket) and fourteen small (walnut to plum sized) tomatoes, totalling just over a pound, all from the containers.
Wednesday: Four more tomatoes, under half a pound total.
Thursday: Two smallish spaghetti squash – 2lb and 1lb.
Friday: One big tomato and two small, totalling one pound
Saturday: 20 mid-sized tomatoes, totalling 3lb, and two more small spaghetti squash, 2.5lb total.
Sunday: One 2lb spaghetti sqash and one 1lb summer squash

Highschool of the Dead (HOTD) – An Update

September 23, 2012

I don’t usually post anime/manga trivia on their own, but this one is fun, and it lets me post one of my favorite manga pictures.

In the manga, but not in the anime, the JASDF F-4 that makes a flyby in Chapter 4 has tail number 680. This is a hat tip to another manga ファントム無頼, that seems to be best translated as “Untrustworthy Phantom” (ファントムぶらい), which features a series of F-4JE’s with tail number 680 that fall out of the sky for various reasons. The kanji 無 means without, or free, while 頼 is trust, or a request. The pair are usually translated as villain by the online dictionaries, but in this case, maybe untrustworthy is better

UPDATE: Another source translates it as “The Phantom Gang“, with an emphasis on the aircrew. Number 680 still seems to crash a lot.

Would you fly that tail number that close to the ground?

Note that the aircraft in the HOTD manga is an RF-4J, without the nose gun. Here’s a real JASDF F-4JE 680 and the original ファントム無頼 manga.

Or maybe it’s just a good photoshop

F-4JE’s with tail number 680 do strange things

Oatmeal Curry with Gingered Rhubarb

September 20, 2012

Some weeks ago I posted John Fisher’s recipe for rhubarb/ginger marmalade. My version of it didn’t set up well, so I had something like rhubarb/ginger syrup. Still very good. And good enough for breakfast on the day of my 400th post.

Setup: cup of apple juice, 1/3 cup long cook oatmeal; 1/3 in slice of Golden Curry, couple sloppy tablespoons of John Fisher’s marmalade.

Result: Very good. I’ll have this in the rotation as long as the marmalade holds out…say, through Friday.

Green Thumb Up My Nose

September 17, 2012

Garden Report for 120917

Cool (OK, cold) start to the week, with nighttime temps hitting 34F, followed by warming to 80F on the weekend. Windy, then calm. Forecast for this week is highs near 80F with lows in the mid 40’s.

Harvest is starting to come in. So far, we’ve had three x 4lb spaghetti squash, two x 3lb buttercup squash, probably twenty summer squash, and a few tomatoes (plus lots of cherry tomatoes). There’s maybe eight more spaghetti and two more buttercups on the way, with some prolific number of summer squash. A good twenty tomatoes are in various stages of starting to turn.

The buttercup squash is now 45ft long, while the spaghetti squash has grown across the six foot width of the garden and up a tree.

My spaghetti tree

Speaking of the buttercup squash, I may have to rethink my decision to not plant it next year. MJ made a shepard’s pie by putting the usual ground lamb and veg inside a scooped out buttercup, and topped it with whipped squash instead of whipped potatoes. Exceedingly good.

Cutworms are in the corn. I went out at night with a headlamp and flashlight and searched until the dogs started barking and the neighbors lights came on — no joy.

It’s either cutworms, or a very small tank

MJ picked up some* diatoma-ceous earth today and we’ll see if that keeps them at bay.

The Brandywine Pink heirloom tomato has always been a little frail. The other potted plants do OK on one watering every day or so. The Pink wants at least two a day or it comes over all droopy. The recent cold nights have browned a bunch of its leaves.

* I say some. Actually, they were out of the 5lb bags, so she had to pay twice as much and buy their only remaining 50lb bag. Since the whole surface of Section 4 was covered nicely by one biggish herb-shaker-full, it looks like we have enough to keep us through the rest of the century. Fortunately, the Wiki says we can use is as a soil additive because “it retains water and nutrients, while draining fast and freely, allowing high oxygen circulation within the growing medium.”

Why is the Arab world so easily offended?

September 15, 2012

I normally don’t post stuff I don’t have any useful comments on, but I think this article from the Washington Post is an exception. The article says nothing really new, but what it says is worth repeating — because the American public tends to be not only ignorant of the world at large, but to have short memories for what it does know. The question the article raises, but doesn’t answer, is what can we in the West to do improve the situation?

…And Where the Demonstrations Aren’t
Here’s an Atlantic article and map on where the demonstrations are, and are not.

Note that the violent protests are in currently unstable countries, and the non-violent protests tend to be small. Also note that the vast majority of the countries with large Muslim populations have no demonstrations. Finally, the incident that triggered these protests – the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi – may well have been a planned attack by external/extremist forces that only later claimed the film as the cause.

…and the surveys show
The people of the Muslim world don’t object to our culture so much as they object to our foreign policy towards them. I’ll have more to say in a later essay, but if you look at the past actions of the neocons and the policy statements of the various Republican politicians, the Muslim view of US foreign policy is pretty accurate.


September 12, 2012

Echos of a distant past

I just found a letter with my grandparents old address on it. Here’s the Google Earth view as it looks today.

The left side, with the door, is all stairway — up to the second floor and down to the basement. The right hand side is (from front to back) a small sun room, a parlour and dining room, and then, when the stairs leave off, a kitchen the width of the house. Most of our meals were taken at the big kitchen table. Back in the day, there was a small balcony on the second floor. It looks like that has been replaced by an extension of the front bedroom. They didn’t have window (or any kind of) air conditioning back then, and I can remember sitting at that window on a hot, muggy, Philadelphia summer night, unable to sleep.

The front steps are now wheelchair-capable, but originally all the stoops on the street were white stone, possibly marble, that everyone kept scrupulously clean. I have a picture of me, taken in the first half of the previous century, sitting on a pony in front of that stonework.

They moved into that house almost eighty years ago. It’s an incredibly small house (<1200sqft) in which to raise six kids, but then, they didn’t have cable, so there was nothing to keep the kids inside the house, and they could go out and play Red Rover.

Green Thumb Up My Nose

September 10, 2012

Garden Report for 120910

The weather was warm but not hot all week, brushing up against 90F over the weekend, with some clouds Satuday night that helped the night stay warm, which helped the tomatoes. Big wind scheduled for this week — started kicking up Sunday afternoon. I watered heavily this morning to counter the drying effects.

The scattering of chard I put into Section 3 is finally big enough to use, but it’s bepestered of leaf miners. I did a rough triage Saturday morning. Bad leaves to the compost, damaged leaves for trimming and salad, and big leaves to the salad. Corn isn’t growing fast enough to be ready before first frost, but the peas next to each stalk are getting big enough to start using them for support. My countercritter ops seem to be working, and I haven’t lost any more stalks.

On the squash front, there’s one more buttercup squash ready to harvest, and two or three smallish ones that I hope will develop. The delicata squash are finally starting to produce — three small (one inch) fruits. The summer squash are cranking along, producing one dinner-size squash every other day. Harvested one spaghetti squash, another is ready to harvest, two are getting there, and six or so more are in various stages of growth. The harvested one is a varietal I’m not familiar with, producing mild, slightly greenish strands. Went well with curried chicken on a bed of chard.

Outside of the KHG, the bush cucumber produced two fruit, at about a pound apiece. That’s as much cucumber as we can use all autumn. The bush melon has one three-incher. Cut all of the rhubarb stalks I could find. The tomatoes are encroaching there as well. I’ll give some away, and MJ is making various ‘lades, ‘nades, and elixers with the rest.

We ate our tomato harvest from last week. MJ had half a tomato, and I had the other half. Three of the container tomatoe plants are showing pink in various places, and I harvested two that I’m going to let finish off in the house. I thought there was nothing but green in the KHG, but on Sunday I found a 6oz and a 2oz that were almost ripe, buried in the jungle. The tomatoes seem to be winning the fight against the squash.


September 6, 2012

More Oataku goodness.

Three herb and cheese experiments in the last couple of weeks:

Herbs de Provance and Cheddar
We have a bottle of Herbs de Provance (savory, fennel, basil, thyme, and lavender) that’s been hanging around the back of the spice cupboard for years. We also had a bag of equally elderly mixed shredded cheddar cheese (yellow, white, and green). I used a standard chicken broth base with three shakes of HdP and a fat pinch of cheddar (just the yellow and white).

Result: Meh. I’m not a fan of fennel, and the lavender stuck in my teeth.

Rosemary and Mexican
Ground rosemary, some grinds of garlic and mushrooms (we have these bottles with the easy grinder tops, so why not?). The “Mexican” is a mix of queso quesadilla and Philadelphia cream cheeses. Tastes like mozzarella to me. I realize that part of the mix is just like the rosemary and garlic grind I started with a year ago, but it’s enough different I decided to go with it. Chicken broth.

Result: Better than the HdP, but still not great. Something to keep in the rotation as a change of pace.

Italian and Italian
Most of these specialty herb mixes are just that — mixes of herb one can buy on their own. Italian herbs are mostly oregano and marjoram. The Italian cheeses are mozzarella and parmesan. Chicken broth.

Result: Pretty much in line with the others. A not-unpleasant cheesy-herbal start to the day.

Ghost Stories Part 2

September 5, 2012

This is the second of two reviews of anime ghost stories. The first was posted last Wednesday.

Dusk Maiden of Amnesia (黄昏乙女×アムネジア — the first two kanji translate as yellow-dark, AKA twilight, the last two as second-place young girl, which for some reason emphasizes her purity, so maiden, rather than just girl; the X tends to be used as with in the anime titles I’ve seen (although at least one other was translated of), and Amnesia is in katakana, so it’s the English loan word. Her name is Kanoe Yuuko, and she’s a ghost. She died in the school 60 years ago, and cannot remember her former life or the circumstances of her death. She understands happiness (and maybe a little jealousy), but not loneliness or hate or anger, and there’s only two people who can see her.

The essence of the whole program is set up in episode 1, which opens with Okonogi Momoe, the chronologically oldest but emotionally youngest and most enthusiastic of the members of the Paranormal Investigation Club sitting down to write her report. Meanwhile, her teacup gets moved, her purse charm dangles in front of her face, and her report pages fly up and are shuffled by unseen hands. She manages to be looking in the wrong direction every time, and remains oblivious.

Is he sharing deep secrets with the dead?


Cyborg Ethics

September 4, 2012

Deb Tolman pointed me to an NPR article decrying the attacks on Lance Armstrong, because it’s our intimate relationship with technology that has created the modern age, and that includes biochemical technology.

The article is interesting, but misses the ethical point. First off, she’s right about tech and us. Modern civilization is an emergent from technology. We are different from the people of the 18th, 19th, and even 20th Centuries because of things like the Internet and ubiquitous computers (your car is a computer you sit in, a hearing aid is a computer you stick in your ear…). And she’s right that this emergent raises new ethical issues. For example, the old style crime of walking into a store and stealing a movie DVD raises different ethical issues than downloading a pirate copy of a DVD that the manufacturer has chosen not to sell in your market. (more…)

Green Thumb Up My Nose

September 3, 2012

Garden Report for 120903

The weather continued cooler, after having come within a biscuit toss of 90F on Monday. Down to 70’s by midweek, then back into the 80’s but with no enthusiasm behind it — enough of a breeze that it was possible to sit in outside in the shade of an evening, reading gardening manga on my Nexus.

The beer trap approach to slug control didn’t catch many slugs (as in one teenage-looking slug that was evidently too young to know better), so I went out and bought some slugbane. Don’t know if it will work any better, but we’ll see.

Well, I was right when I said we’d have to wait ’till September for ripe tomatoes.

So far so good.


A Poem for Labor Day

September 2, 2012

Sons of Martha

The Sons of Mary seldom bother, for they have inherited that good part;
But the Sons of Martha favour their Mother of the careful soul and the troubled heart.
And because she lost her temper once, and because she was rude to the Lord her Guest, Her Sons must wait upon Mary’s Sons, world without end, reprieve, or rest.
It is their care in all the ages to take the buffet and cushion the shock.
It is their care that the gear engages; it is their care that the switches lock.
It is their care that the wheels run truly; it is their care to embark and entrain,
Tally, transport, and deliver duly the Sons of Mary by land and main.
They say to mountains “Be ye removèd.” They say to the lesser floods “Be dry.”
Under their rods are the rocks reprovèd—they are not afraid of that which is high.
Then do the hill-tops shake to the summit—then is the bed of the deep laid bare,
That the Sons of Mary may overcome it, pleasantly sleeping and unaware.
They finger Death at their gloves’ end where they piece and repiece the living wires.
He rears against the gates they tend: they feed him hungry behind their fires.
Early at dawn, ere men see clear, they stumble into his terrible stall,
And hale him forth like a haltered steer, and goad and turn him till evenfall.
To these from birth is Belief forbidden; from these till death is Relief afar.
They are concerned with matters hidden—under the earthline their altars are—
The secret fountains to follow up, waters withdrawn to restore to the mouth,
And gather the floods as in a cup, and pour them again at a city’s drouth.
They do not preach that their God will rouse them a little before the nuts work loose.
They do not preach that His Pity allows them to drop their job when they damn-well choose.  As in the thronged and the lighted ways, so in the dark and the desert they stand,  Wary and watchful all their days that their brethren’s ways may be long in the land.
Raise ye the stone or cleave the wood to make a path more fair or flat;
Lo, it is black already with the blood some Son of Martha spilled for that!
Not as a ladder from earth to Heaven, not as a witness to any creed,
But simple service simply given to his own kind in their common need.
And the Sons of Mary smile and are blessèd—they know the Angels are on their side.
They know in them is the Grace confessèd, and for them are the Mercies multiplied.
They sit at the feet—they hear the Word—they see how truly the Promise runs.
They have cast their burden upon the Lord, and—the Lord He lays it on Martha’s Sons!

Rudyard Kipling – 1907