Archive for April, 2013

Walpurgis Night, et al.

April 30, 2013

So, tonight is May Eve, when bonfires are burned, and maybe witches also. Walpurgis Night is, of course, a Christianized version of Beltane, the Celtic celebration of the start of summer, when bonfires were burned and people and cattle walked between them for purification, and witches would dance all sky-clad (or sometimes they would dance in shifts, because there wasn’t room for all of them). Tomorrow is May Day, dear to a certain generation as the date for large displays of new equipment in Red Square. It’s also, depending on how the moon tends, the first day of Ðrimilcemonað, the month that Anglo-Saxon cows had to be milked three times a day.

This month, on the second of May, 2013, the moon is a waning Last Quarter Moon. If you go out at sunrise and stand on the Earth’s terminator, you can look up at the Moon’s terminator. This means the Moon is directly ahead of us in our orbit, which means that where the Moon is, is where the Earth will be, three hours later.

Green Thumb Up My Nose

April 28, 2013

Garden Report for 130429

The weather this week finally warmed up, with no frost predicted. So I went mad in the garden.

On Thursday (which is a break day for me, after night class), I went out and spent a chunk of money on plants: three blueberry bushes, ten strawberry plants, seven asparagus plants (oops, I already had six dried rhizomes at home. oh well). Spent the morning getting them into Section 4 of the KHG. That’s the one I’m reserving for perennials. Also planted my hops plants along the south wall. One was a foot high. The others were about four inches. If reports are correct, they’ll be over the roof, this time next week.

Asparagus and berries (say the bells of St Merrie's)

Asparagus and berries (say the bells of St Merrie’s)

Friday, the madness continued. After dinner I ran down to our local hardware store and bought a bunch of plants — white cabbage, red cabbage, cauliflower. The stuff I’ve started isn’t doing anything to indicate it has a well-developed will to live.  Spent the remaining hours of daylight planting them in Section 1, which is brassicaville this year.

Cauliflower and cabbage (say the bells of St Babbage)

Cauliflower and cabbage (say the bells of St Babbage)

As of Sunday, everything is in, and most things are under cover — Section 4 excepted. High winds Sunday night, higher winds for Monday, at which point we get one night more of wind and two nights of frost. My plan is to put up the cover for Section 3 as soon as the wind allows, maybe Thursday, and then try some early tomatoes. That gets them in a month early, and if I use store-bought plants, it gives them an additional eight weeks. None of my home-sprouted seedlings are worth bothering with. Will also plant some squash. That’s the plan.

Only Nixon could go to China

April 27, 2013

That’s an old Vulcan saying. It means that only someone who had a solid history of opposing communism would have the power to tear up the rulebook on our country’s relationship with a long-time communist foe.

I’m not a big fan of Noam Chomsky. He has too often taken a black and white view of things that are really shades of grey, and inserted himself into arguments he doesn’t have the background for. I wouldn’t trust him to ‘go to China’ because I don’t trust his instincts. Having said that, I find myself agreeing with a recent interview he gave over on AlterNet. In it he takes strong issue with President Obama’s attacks (and they can’t be characterized as anything less) on American civil liberties — everything from indefinite detention without trial to the criminalization of whistleblowing. Go read the article

What Obama has done is continue the erosion of the constitutional rights of Americans that began with Bush’s exploitation of 9/11 for political ends. He’s given the police unprecedented power, not just by what’s mandated by law, but by what’s tolerated, day-to-day. He’s skillfully used cases against people we were told were really bad guys — Kim Dotcom, Bradley Manning — to condition us to violations of law by the government, in pursuit of higher values. They might well be really bad guys, but the point is, the government doesn’t get to pick and chose which laws government follows based on how the government feels about the case. Except now it does.

The sad part is, Obama knows better. He has a better understanding of the Constitution than any President since Jefferson. He’s a constitutional scholar. He taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago Law School for over a decade.  He has, in other words, a solid history of constitutional study.

Are you ready for another old Vulcan saying?  Only Obama could….

Congress, the Sequester, and the FAA

April 27, 2013

As everyone has said, Congress voted money for FAA controllers, just in time to catch their planes.

There’s been some controversy over the FAA furloughs. FAA says they are mandated. Congressional Republicans say they are playing the old DC game of cutting high visibility programs — just the way the NPS does every budget cycle “Cut our budget? I guess we’ll have to close the Washington Monument.” It’s the way the game is played.

I think the President isn’t playing hardball enough. Were I he, and there’s 300 million reasons why I’m not, I’d threaten to veto the bill. “Congress broke the budget system. Congress can’t just glue the handle back on and say it’s fixed. Send me a full fix for the budget, or go stand in line.”

Of course that gives them plenty of ammunition back home, once they get off the bus, to blame the President for the delays, but I’m sure the American people are smart enough to give credit where credit is due.

Girls und Panzer — the anime 3

April 23, 2013

My full collection of commentary on GaruPan can be found in Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, A Study in Command, Girls und Feminism, and the DVD

Herewith a collection of miscellaneous thoughts on GaruPan. I really should let it go, but there’s so much more that can be said.

For example: The real Goosefish hunts birds.

For example: There are twenty-one characters in the initial episodes of GaruPan. Another ten join by the time all fourteen episodes have run. That’s way too many for the usual rounds of individual character development, so one of the things you might expect to see is how the characters of the teams themselves change — or don’t. A couple of the teams don’t have time to change, Anteater (the World of Tanks girls) isn’t around long enough to even establish a baseline, let alone change. Team Mallard, the hall monitors, has not much more time, and doesn’t grow much beyond Sodoko’s personality. Four more of the teams, Turtle (Student Council), Hippo (History Club), Duck (Volleyball Club), and Leopan (Auto Club) come to us fully formed and effective. They existed before Sensha-Dō, and will presumably continue to exist afterwards. Except for Team Turtle (about which more in a later post), none of the individuals stand out, and there’s not much team development, because it all happened somewhere else. That leaves one team to talk about:

The coming-of-age of Team Rabbit

Run Away!

Run Away!

This is the group that progressed farthest as a team. In the third episode, the six first-year students of Team Rabbit attempted to flee the practice match, shouting ‘run away’ (actually, I think it was にげお — — escape). In the fourth episode, in the match against St. Gloriana, they abandoned their tank, and in episode five, the first formal match, they almost forget to load shells for the M3’s guns. But gradually they become more confident and more capable, and by episode ten they are starting to show some teamwork

And make sure you have the shells loaded this time!

And make sure you have the shells loaded this time!

They demonstrate their maturity in episode 11, when they volunteer to be abandoned in the river in order to not hold back the side. In the last episode they come into their own, displaying skill and daring and courage unthinkable six episodes earlier. First, they play picador on the giant Maus, lashing it with machine gun fire to get it to turn its turret, and then sliding artfully away from its gunline, shouting ‘run away’, while Team Duck drives up on its rear deck and blocks the turret in position. When the Kuromorimine team arrives in town, they volunteer to be the ones to attack the rear guard, doing so with a trick they learned from Kelly’s Heroes.

An Elefant is no match for a Rabbit

An Elefant is no match for a killer Rabbit

At the end, they play matador with a JagdTiger, attacking it head to head and enticing it to push them backwards until they slide aside, in in the panzer version of suerte de muleta, upon which it rushes past them and head first over an embankment.

That's Right!

That’s Right!

Considering that these girls are at the bottom of the pecking order, both as individuals and as a team, GaruPan manages to jam a lot of character development into the few minutes of screen time they are allotted.

For more of my reviews, check out the Anime tag, below.

Green Thumb Up My Nose

April 22, 2013

Garden Report for 130422

The weather this week has been nice, in an autumnal, great-weather-for-football kind of way. Next week will be the same. Unfortunately, that’s meant lots of mild frosts. Midweek it is due to warm up, and that’s when I start planting in earnest.

The coldframe covers are helping, but not a lot. Soil temps seem to be running around 50F, against air temps that haven’t topped 45 or 47 all week (and that have bounced around freezing at night). Nothing that I’ve set out has died, but not a lot has come up. I think I’ll be buying a bunch of plants this year.

Got one more section hosed this weekend. Used up the last of my 1/2″ drip hose and have moved on to the 5/8″ stuff. Had to use a hose clamp to fit the bigger hose on the littler adapter. Tuesday is when I build a frame on Section 3 and start prepping for the tomatoes and squash. Speaking of which, the tomato seedlings are still only about an inch high. The squash is closer to three inches, with four true leaves each, but on a couple of them the bottom two real leaves have turned yellow. No idea.

I dug up my hops the day after I planted them in their temporary containers, and replanted them with just the tip of the green part showing. Previously, they’d been covered. Seems to have worked. The big one is a foot high, and the six little ones are about three inches each. Wednesday is the first unfrozen night, but I”m in night class, so I’ll plant them out on Thursday. I’m wondering how they’d grow on the deck itself, in containers (one each) to provide shade to the south.

Boston Bombing 3

April 19, 2013

So, it’s over. The younger brother is in custody, and unless he has a fall in the ambulance, he’s likely to survive to be questioned. Let me put on my talking head and describe one possibility:

We have two kids who come to the States at the ages of nine and 16. The younger one seems to have no trouble fitting in. His older brother is just the wrong age to move — he’s at a vulnerable, idealistic age, and he’s starting as a senior at a strange high school.

I can empathize (I almost said sympathize, but no sympathy here). (more…)

Horse Soldiers

April 18, 2013

Paul Krugman reminded me that yesterday (17th) was the 150th anniversary of Grierson’s Raid, a Civil War cavalry strike from Corinth, TN, to New Orleans, and that the raid was the basis of the John Ford movie Horse Soldiers, starring John Wayne and William Holden.

I love a good cavalry story

I love a good cavalry story

One of the things the raid demonstrated was that the South was pretty much a hollow shell, and once the shell was penetrated it didn’t have forces capable of stopping the invader. A friend gave me the three-volume history of the Civil War by Shelby Foote. I’m not even halfway through the first volume, but I might have to skip ahead, to see how it ends.

Boston Bombing 2

April 18, 2013

Bruce Schneier says the same things I do, only earlier and better. Keep calm and carry on. It’s our actions from here out that decide if the terrorists won this round.

And John Cole, over on Balloon Juice, says the same thing, only with more emotion: I refuse to give up another right to prevent another “Boston,”

Orange Oatmeal Curry

April 17, 2013

The Japanese love their curry. Unfortunately for them, they don’t grow a lot of oats, and so never hit on curried oatmeal. Today I thought I’d try oranges again. Last time I used orange sauce, and it was a strong mediocre. This time, I cut up a whole orange.

Setup: One medium orange, peeled and chunked, one tablespoon of Golden Curry, chunked. 1/3 cup of stone ground rolled oats, two dinner teaspoons of potato flakes, one cup of broth, salt.  Cook for 10 minutes or so, depending on the exact style of oats.  Add the potato when you take it off the stove.

Results: Still in the mediocre range. Hot lumps of orangy fiber amongst bland lumps of oaty fiber. Not inedible. Not worth repeating.

Rating: *****

Boston Bombings

April 16, 2013

It was bound to happen. There is no way to keep it from happening. It will happen again, despite all our efforts and no matter how much liberty we give up in a vain attempt to achieve 100% security. That’s the first lesson.

The second lesson is, Don’t trust any initial reporting on a major incident like this. Look at what we got wrong in the first hours: (more…)

TL;DR — Anime I never finished

April 15, 2013

Attack on Titan, 進撃の巨人, which is literally something like Attack’s Giants (where 進撃 is a military advance, の is a possessive, and 巨人 is giant, like the Tokyo Giants), is the story of a boy who lives in a medieval walled city, which protects the last of humanity from the giants who live outside the walls.

Our Story So Far: Young Eren is your typical idealistic overexcitable early teen, who lectures the city guard to be more alert (yes, it’s been a hundred years since the last attack, but you never know), yells at bullies who don’t want anyone to leave the walls, and says he wants to be part of the Survey Corps. The SC mission is to learn more about the giants and their world. They do this, from what we are shown, by going out and attacking the first giant they find. This particular giant is strolling along, head down, oblivious to the world, looking like he’s worried about his mortgage. The SC executes their cunning plan by splitting into five groups, including a decoy group and a air attack group, plus three unspecified others (battle group, striking group, covering group?) and converging on this guy.

As a historical aside, this was a typical failing of the Japanese Navy in WWII. They’d come up with these complex plans requiring close coordination of five or six battle groups, and invariably get their ass handed to them.

The Survey Corps gets their ass handed to them. Their latest ‘survey’ comes back all bandaged up and minus several of their members, who are also minus several of their members. Nothing daunted, Young Eren still wants to be in the Corps, presumably because of the chance for a quick promotion.

Too loudy (as one of my Japanese students called this type of anime), too shouty, too much fangs-out-and-brains-in-the-helmet-bag. Young Eren has two settings — sullen and enraged. The Survey Corps has been working their side of the problem for a hundred years, and still can’t get it right. On the plus side, the artwork reminds me of Spice and Wolf, and the mechanized spiderman web-spinners looks like a fun way to do airborne, as long as you have a lot of trees around and don’t get tangled up.

Beware the Ides of April

April 15, 2013

Income Tax Day. We have someone do ours. They send me a worksheet. I fill it in, using information from the various forms the banks and employers send out. My accountant then transfers the numbers, checking against the various forms the banks and employers send out. Then they calculate my tax and send the whole package to the IRS, who transfers it to their forms and checks it against the various forms the banks and employers send out, and calculates my tax. If they agree, I get my refund. If they disagree, I get a letter.

Does anybody else find this stupid?

Howsabout the IRS takes all the various forms the banks and employers send out and calculates my tax. Maybe I fill out a form detailing the things the IRS doesn’t get from elsewhere, like the mileage my wife expends driving out to judge AKC dog shows and stuff. If I get a refund, they send it. If I owe additional, they bump up my withholding.

I’d be willing to forego a lot of deductions in order to save my time spent filling stuff out, and the money I spend on accountants. Of course anti-governmentistas will say it’s another intrusion of government (how? they know this stuff already), and that it’s garnishment of wages (which it is, but so is your regular withholding).

Sadly, it will never happen. As one article pointed out, the savings to me are mild and vague. The costs to accountants and the people who sell TurboTax are significant and pointed. They’ll always be willing to spend the money necessary to buy enough congressmen to keep this from happening.

Green Thumb Up My Nose

April 15, 2013

Garden Report for 130415

Weather’s been cold and rainy and snowish and windy. Highs in the 50’s. Lows have bounced along the freezing line. Next week is more of the same. I guess we’ll find out how well my cold frame works. So far it’s doing OK. It survived gusts to 35mph, and Saturday I stuck a meat thermometer in the soil (don’t worry, I washed off the BBQ sauce first) and it measured right around 60F.

Cut up a bunch of soaker hose to make a customized installation. I found that the various fixtures designed for home-built in-ground sprinkler systems work as connecters and such.

Designed to fit over the central basket

Designed to fit over the central basket

The squash I started inside is doing well. Maybe too well. I don’t plan to put it out for another two weeks. The tomatoes, not so well. I’ll repot them and put them out in early May, but I might have to go the store-bought plant option again.

Planted a bunch of letteces, lettecoi, …. greens.

Picked up another six hops plants. Last years rotted in their bed. This time I have them in containers inside, and won’t put them out until early/mid May. Picked up another six asparagus plants. They’ll go into Section 4 once the weather warms up.

TL;DR — Anime I never finished

April 14, 2013

Devil Survivor 2, The Animation. Given a name with that many modifiers, you know it’s a long way from home. It’s an Evangelion knockoff, based on a sequel to a game with magical apps instead of mechs.

Our Story So Far: Earth is being attacked by demons. Secret underground government organization recruits teens to help fight them. Three teens — hero boy, clueless sidekick boy, passive girl — have downloaded other-demon summoning-apps to their smartphones (at least the Japanese are now moving away from blade phones). When summoned, the other-demons fight the demons. Secret underground government organization won’t use their secret underground government organization transport system to evacuate Tokyo after the demons start destroying things and eating people, because it might cause panic.

I get the same vibes from this that I got from Blast of Tempest, which many people liked. I don’t really care about the characters. They haven’t done anything so far to make be interested in their future, and when they are doing things, they aren’t doing anything that surprises me. Not that I can predict their actions, but that once something happens, I say ‘Oh, yeah, that’. If you liked Blast of Tempest you might like this. If you liked Evangelion, you might not.

TL;DR — Anime I Never Finished

April 13, 2013

The first to be dropped this season is Majestic Prince, a combat mech story that one reviewer described as “an old-school space opera through and through that is full of heart and intelligence“. If they had said “has more heart and intelligence than your average mecha” I’d have agreed with them. But that’s setting a pretty low bar.

Our Story So Far: Crew of losers from an Academy prep school dropped into major battle as a rear guard, covering a retreat. Obviously because they were expendable. Fights off the enemy fleet (well, they were leaving anyway) and saves the base. Their group leader’s stated goal is to be a hero. As another reviewer said, in any army in the world, that goal will get you pulled from combat immediately — heroes get people killed. In the second ep they are accosted by the bad guy equivalent of their own cutting edge mechs — who proceed to fly rings around them, but don’t kill them because they are not worthy opponents.

If you are a mech fan, and I’m not, this will probably be right down your beamline.

CocoKefir Oats

April 10, 2013

When I make a run to the supermarket I sometimes grab something at random from the shelf, just to try it. This has resulted in several new additions to my cooking repertoire, and the occasional call out for a dinner pizza. This week it was a bottle of coconut-flavored kefir. I hadn’t had kefir before, or maybe I was just suppressing the memory. It was tart to the point of almost, but not quite, undrinkableness. Of course, when I have something I’m about to pour down the sink I have trained myself to first think of it as a potential oatmeal ingredient — at least, for things that are not going to fight back when I tip the bottle over the drain.

So, I took a quarter cup of kefir and 3/4 cup of water, and made oatmeal. Since it was going to need sweetn’ing I used mochi flour instead of potato flakes.

Setup: 1/3 cup of stone ground rolled oats, two dinner teaspoons of mochi flour, one cup of thinned kefir, salt.  Cook for 10 minutes or so, depending on the exact style of oats. I added the mochi a few minutes before I it off the stove, to give it time to cook.

Results: Needed sweet, so I put in a packet of Splenda. Needed something more, so I drizzled a couple teaspoons of coconut syrup (that we bought to make piña coladas with a while back, in honor of the 150th anniversary of the Gadsden Purchase) on top. The end result was an OK breakfast, if your taste runs to sweet/tart. I still think I’m going to dump the rest.

Rating: *****

Girls und Panzer — the anime 2

April 4, 2013

UPDATE: This is Part 2 of a series. It has nothing to do with Season 2 of GaruPan, if there is such a thing. Sorry.

My full collection of commentary on GaruPan can be found in Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, A Study in Command, Girls und Feminism, and the DVD

After a three-month unexplained production break, Girls und Panzer came back with a roar. Oouri High is outnumbered 20:7 and in the middle of a fight with a much better equipped Kuromorimine Girls Academy (黒森峰 Black Forest Peak, three symbols together, see the trees in the middle?), led by Nishizumi Miho‘s older sister, Maho.

Episode 11: When we last saw GaruPan (the abbreviation based on the Japanese title ガールズ & パンツァー Gā.ru.zu ando Pa.n.tsā), they had just started their championship match. Over the previous ten episodes the teams had bonded, had become experienced, and they now know just how much is at stake. The night before the match, each tank crew quietly prepares in its own way — which for each one seems to include eating karaage of some kind. The scenes are a poignant reminder of how far they have come.  Team Duck is playing volleyball in a darkened gym, while Team Rabbit spends their  time watching nostalgic old movies like Kelly’s Heroes, and crying when the Tiger tank gets blown up. As the contest starts, the girls are already under pressure, because the Germans Kuromorimine have taken an unexpected shortcut through the forest.

Kuromorimine advances

Kuromorimine advances

Fast forward three months, and the chase is on. (more…)

Drone Strikes and Openness

April 2, 2013

Last month, President Obama reportedly said, in response to Senate questions about lack of oversight of the drone program, that he was more open to oversight than the previous administration — “I’m no Dick Cheney.

That misses the point.

There’s an old saying about why you need a lawyer when you start a partnership. “You may be the best of friends, but assume you’re both killed in a car crash and you children inherit the business…and they hate each other.”

If there was one recurring theme in the original discussions about the US Constitution, it was that the framers didn’t trust individuals. They wanted to make sure that no one man could aggregate power to his office, whatever that was, by making it hard to do something unless the whole of the government agreed.

Obama might not be Dick Cheney, and Hillary Clinton might not be Dick Cheney, but what about the President-after-next? What happens the next time there’s an exploitable crisis? The whole reason that openness and oversight should be strong, institutionalized processes is so that Dick Cheney’s intellectual heirs, or Dick Nixon’s, have no lever to exploit the people of the US.

I’d like to think that we’d learned enough not to elect a Dick to office, but that might not always be true.

Green Thumb Up My Nose

April 1, 2013

Garden Report for 130401

Running a little late on this, just like with all my other gardening chores. The weather this week was cool to cold. I spent the weekend setting up a cold frame around two of the KHG sections, and seeing if I could kill my seedlings by failing to water them.

My first attempt at a cold frame ended in failure, as I reported last week. This week’s experiment went much better, given that we haven’t had any wind yet to test it. My cunning plan was to build a simple 2×4 ridgepole over each section of the KHG, and drape the plastic/chicken wire over that. The object of the exercise is to keep in heat, and keep out squirrels. I decided to do this by making a sandwich. Then I got to work on the cold frame.

Fortunately, a four foot wide swatch of chickenwire will stretch from the top of my lo-rider ridgepole down to the cinderblocks. That means I didn’t have to do too much cutting — just clip off enough to run the length of the KHG section. It was the same with the plastic. The package I have is 10×50, so if I cut it in half I have enough to drape down over the cinderblock and act as a rodent deterrent. So the first layer of chickenwire supports the plastic. The second layer blocks the rodents, and keeps the plastic from shredding into the wind. Here’s the process:

Lay out the chickenwire, and two boards, long enough to run the length of the KHG (remember, mine is rectangular).

Boards and chickenwire

Boards and chickenwire

Staple the chickenwire to the boards

Alignment is easy if you use the hexes

Alignment is easy if you use the hexes