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Daywander

Odd thoughts put down at once, in stream-of-consciousness fashion.

Daywander and Then Some

Hey, I’m still out here. Have been scarce lately since I’ve been putting all the energy I can spare into finishing The Everything Machine, my big drumlins novel. I’m at 108,000 words and just finished the first climax. There is another climax, a little wrapup, and then it’ll be done. I’m guessing 115,000 – 120,000 words or thereabouts, which is only a little longer than Dreamhealer, and certainly shorter than The Cunning Blood. Once it’s done I’m going to take a break and catch my creative breath before embarking on anything that ambitious again.


The Sun is getting feisty, and sometime last night emitted a Class X4.4 flare. I haven’t seen one that big in quite awhile. We’re heading for a (possibly early) sunspot peak, and Bob Zimmerman of Behind the Black lays out a chart of solar activity since 2008. Predictions of solar activity are fraught, as we really don’t know what the underlying mechanisms are. What I see in the chart is that predictions for Cycle 25 aren’t panning out. It won’t be a fizzle, as many said it would. It may not be a roar (like 1957-58) but the truth is we’re just going to have to wait and find out.


I’ve been on Facebook a lot less recently, mostly because it’s a bad use of my time compared to finishing a major novel. When I logged in yesterday, I found something truly bizarre: Some(one|thing) had tagged me not once but eight times, and for what? photos of mothers breastfeeding infants. Relatively modest ones, too. (The posts point to content on YouTube. I have not and will not follow those links.) It’s not porn, though I wouldn’t go so far as to claim a breastfeeding fetish is impossible. (No fetish is impossible.) The account names are all different, but all follow a similar pattern. Here’s the latest: “Funny Art 40306 OK” The pattern is two words, a 5-digit number, and “OK.” I’m pretty sure it’s a bot, though what it’s trying to accomplish is unclear.


This summer, Illinois will be ground zero for something rare and…peculiar: Two large broods of cicadas will emerge at the same time. Cicadas don’t bite, and the racket they make–hell, I grew up under the approach to the main runway at O’Hare Field. Cicadas got nuthin’ on Boeing 707s.

While an occasional dog will develop a taste for cicadas, their primary predator is the cicada killer wasp, Sphecius speciosus. The linked item explains how the wasps kill cicadas; I won’t summarize here because I just ate. But thereby hangs a tale:

Back in the two summers we lived in a suburb of Baltimore, we would see these big honking wasps doing search patterns up and down our driveway and across the lawn. I was new in the area and concerned that Mr. Byte & Chewy could get stung. I wasn’t about to catch one and look it up on google–wait a second, this was 1985. So having been raised on sitcoms like Green Acres, I did the obvious: I called the county agent. I described the wasps to the man, who replied in a bored sort of voice: "The wasps by your driveway are cicada killers–but don’t worry, they’re harmless." Carol had been worried about the dogs too, so I called her at the therapy office where she worked. She was with a patient, so I gave the good news to the receptionist. When Carol got home, she showed me the note that the receptionist took down in longhand over the phone: "The things by your driveway are psychotic killers, but don’t worry–they’re harmless."

And you wonder why texting is so damned popular!

Christmas Daywander

Ok, Christmas Day was yesterday. This is a Christmas Daywander, not a Christmas Day Wander. I’m an editor. Such distinctions can matter. Sometimes.


As far as the radio stations are concerned, Christmas is over. Seems to me that after pushing Christmas since Halloween, suddenly it goes poof! and vanishes at 5PM on Christmas Day. I’m a 4-nation mongrel (Polish, German, Irish and (maybe; i have no solid proof) French. My mother was a child of Polish immigrants, and our home culture growing up was Polish.

In Polish culture, Christmas isn’t merely a day but a season, and not one that starts right after Halloween. The season runs from Christmas Vigil (vigilia) on Christmas Eve until The Epiphany on January 6. The Epiphany is also known as the Feast of the Magi, and commemorates the visit of the Three Wise Men to Bethlehem. All our decorations remained in place until Epiphany. This was sometimes problematic if we had a live tree, as some live trees die sooner than others. Carol and I often have both a live tree and a pop-up artificial one. This year we got sick in the runup to Christmas, so we stuck with artificial. We put up a few wreaths (one of them using real pine branches) plus Carol’s childhood Nativity scene, and the Plasticville farm (including animals) that Carol’s family put under the tree when she was a kid. We also put a stuffed Grinch and Max on the bookshelves along with a few other things. The trains did not go up around the tree this year due to the long tail of the worst colds we’ve had in years.

This year, we’re having one of our traditional a nerd parties on January 6, so some of the decorations will be going back into their boxes a little early. But I’m fully prepared to play Christmas CDs until January 6th.


Most of you know that I’m a filker; that is, I write song parodies like “The Zero-G Polka,” which you can find in my book Odd Lots. Some days ago, after imbibing Christmas music for a week or two, the following couplet entered my mind as I sat in front of my shaving mirror, Norelco Triple-Header in hand:

I’m shaving all my white whiskers,
Just like the brown I used to grow…

Fear not, gang. I don’t intend to finish it.


A quick reminder here: I have a short Christmas story on the Kindle store called “The Camel’s Question” for 99c. It’s about the three camels that carried the Magi to Bethlehem—and met the Christ Child, who grants each camel a wish, including an answer to one’s difficult question. If you’re not all Christmased out yet, consider it. Light reading, hopeful, affirming, and all that stuff that I favor. No starships, sorry.


I’ve always boggled a little at an obscure Christmas carol you don’t hear much: “The Boar’s Head Carol.”  It’s from the 15th Century, and food was sometimes hard to come by back then. On the flipside, in English tradition it’s brought into the great hall on a gold or silver platter, amidst fanfare by trumpeters—so I suspect it wasn’t the poor who ate the damned thing. I held off mentioning it here until today, because today is the feast of St. Stephen, and there is a Scandinavian tradition linking the boar’s head with St. Stephen. I also wonder if Good King Wenceslas had a boar’s head in the oven while he was wandering around on December 26th helping random peasants keep from starving and/or freezing.

The question does arise: What parts of a severed pig’s head can you actually eat? Wikipedia doesn’t take up that issue, so I had to sniff around a little, though I didn’t have to sniff far. Thrillist has a long-form explanation, which is probably a lot more than you’d want to know. TL,DR: Meat is muscle, and pigs have muscular jaws. So the jowls are the part mostly eaten, though the author cites his father, who ate pig’s brains for breakfast. I can’t scoff too hard: Our Fry’s supermarket sells jars of pickled pigs’ feet. Given what pigs walk around in, I think I’d prefer the head.

What surprised me most is that people are still eating pig heads now in the 21st Century, including the ears. Go ahead: You eat a pig’s head. I’ll watch.

Ummm, no, I won’t.


So Carol and I are stretching Christmas out a little. after—and not before—the day itself. It will be a mostly restful season. We still have a couple of Christmas movies to watch, and another couple of bottles of Van Der Haute spiked eggnog to sip. Again, Carol and I (and Dash too!) send our best wishes to all of you this Christmas season. The Christmas corollary to my deeply held principle that friendship is the cornerstone of the human spirit is simply this: At the bottom of it all, we are the gifts we give to one another!

New Year’s Daywander–A Day Late

But better late than never. I actually relaxed, played with our Lionel trains, and posted a few Odd Lots to Twitter, which I will gather into a Contra post later this week as time permits.

One of those Odd Lots posts went viral.

This has never happened to me before. I didn’t join Twitter until 2014, and haven’t used it as much as most users, especially the bluchecks, who more or less live there. I have better things to do than live my life on social media. I keep my Twitter account because every time I post a link to one of my books, I sell a few books. This doesn’t happen on Facebook, probably because my Facebook audience is relatively static, and I’ve sold about as many books to the people who read my Facebook wall as that static audience wants to buy. I’m ok with that. Saturating an audience is a species of winning.

Twitter is different. People who read something I post and like it can retweet (basically, repost) that tweet to their own followers, most of whom have never heard of me. If it catches their attention they can in turn retweet my original tweet to their own followers, and the chain reaction continues until it burns out.

This is not a good thing if the chain reaction consists of a Twitter lynch mob. That usually happens with political tweets, which I rarely if ever post. The tweet that sparked a chain reaction this time had nothing to do with politics. It was about food: A team of University of Washington researchers scrutinized decades’ worth of studies focusing on red meat consumption and its association with various illnesses, like cancer, heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. What they found was (a little) startling: The correlation between red meat and cancer, heart disease, and diabetes was down in the noise. There was no correlation with stroke. None.

Their conclusion violated all kinds of conventional wisdom, which warmed my heart. I have some sort of genetic aversion to conventional wisdom, most of which is deliberately designed by those in power. I’d seen some research showing the meat-disease connection to be false. This time, people at a reputable institution nailed it for all time.

And it took off like an F-14. Before the dust settled last night, that one tweet got 823 likes, 295 retweets, and 16 comments, many of which I answered, spawning still more comments. Come this morning I had 21 more followers than I had before I posted the meat-bomb tweet.

No other tweet of mine has every done a tenth as well.

There were some grumblers and at least one troll, who claims that he lost weight on a high-carb diet—and stated that all books saying carbs make you fat have been debunked. They haven’t, obviously, but I’m letting him be him. Maybe he’s a metabolic outlier. It’s ok. I don’t block people unless they attack me, and politely challenging a tweet I post is not an attack.

I have no idea why that particular link started a chain reaction. I don’t really care. It’s how I build an audience for my books, and to a lesser extent, for Contra. It’ll be very interesting to see if it ever happens again.

_…_  _…_

Yesterday was Public Domain Day. This year everything published in 1927 went into the public domain. The big fish in that pond is (finally!) Sherlock Holmes. The last Holmes story was published in 1927. So now the Conan Doyle estate can pack up their tent and go home. They certainly got their money’s worth.

What else is now free as in, well, free? It’s a decent list:

  • The first three Hardy Boys books are now PD. I was never a big HB fan, but I read The Tower Treasure and enjoyed it. Expect more HB adventures entering the indie pipe soon.
  • Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.
  • The Jazz Singer.
  • …and a whole lot more.

_…_  _…_

I begin 2023 with a new blog editor for Contra: Open Live Writer. This is a fork of the Microsoft product Windows Live Writer 2012, which was open-sourced some years ago. I tried that item back in 2012, but it was not “better enough” to switch. I’ve been limping along on Raven Plus, an adaptation of the now-defunct Zoundry Raven, introduced in 2008 but basically killed by Windows 10. Raven Plus runs on Win10, if barely, and in 2022 I got tired enough of its glitches that I spent some time trying out new blog editors. Open Live Writer won. I won’t fully endorse it until I’ve used it for a few months, but so far it’s given me no trouble at all.

Oh—and I no longer post to LiveJournal. Nobody was reading the Contra mirror I maintained there, and the site finally killed my paid account for nonpayment.

_…_  _…_

So before I forget: Happy New Year, everybody! My plan file this year includes finishing the fourth edition of Assembly Language Step By Step, and finishing and publishing The Everything Machine, the first full-length Drumlins novel. If I can nail those two items, I’ll consider the year a good one. Thanks for reading and don’t lose touch!

Daywander: On the Feast of Stephen

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“Good king winter Brussels sprouts are always crisp and even.” This was the sense my little sister made of a certain well-known Christmas carol, when she was maybe three, or four on the outside. We laugh about it to this day. It’s a song that’s just begging for a good firm filking, and I gave it a whack back toward the end of the 1990s. I published what I had here in 2004. The opener was strong:

Bit-king William Gates looked down, with his gopher Steven,
Westward out to Puget Sound, South to Portland, even.
Everyone with Windows played, up from Earth to Heaven;
All but one whose screen displayed Apple’s System Seven.

My filk engine ground to a halt after a couple more fragments. I wanted a comic dialog between Gates and the world’s last Mac user; maybe my right brain considered that a reach too far. However, this part is good enough to share:

“Bring me Windows! Bring me RAM! Bring me hard disks spinning!
We’ll show him the Mac’s a sham, and he’ll know who’s winning!”
Burdened thus they roared away, in the monarch’s Porsche…

I hit a wall when I tried to find a rhyme for “Porsche.” The names of expensive sports cars are peculiarly resistant to rhyming. What rhymes with “Bugatti”? “castrati?” I tried rhyming “Boxter,” “DeLorean,” and “Jaguar”. Nada. My 90’s rhyming dictionary app wouldn’t install under Win 7, even, so I scrapped it. And that’s where the filk stopped. Hey, being funny isn’t easy, and some jokes just don’t work, as much as we’d like them to.

Anyway. Carol and I had a wonderful, low-key Christmas together. We went to 10:00 Mass Christmas morning (at our house, midnight is for sleeping) which was our first in-person Mass in a long time. Bit by bit, normalcy is returning. Just don’t expect the panic peddlers to admit it. Tune the fools out.

Carol, remembering the hassles I’ve had trying to keep air in the tires of our hand cart, bought me a dual-power inflator. It’ll chug out air on either wall power or cigarette-lighter power. Before throwing the box away, I wanted to test it on something. So I took it out to the tack shed to harden up the hand cart’s presumably empty tires.

The cart’s tires were not empty. They were not even soft. They were still hard as a rock from the last time I filled them up at the gas station at 64th & Greenway. Figgers. I found a limp beachball in the back of the guest closet that inflated very nicely and had manners enough not to pop in my face. Carol’s sister’s family sent me a very nice Black & Decker cordless screwdriver. I had a similar Ryobi for a long time. Its battery died, and was not replaceable. That’s borderline criminal, since the tool is otherwise superb. (Though now that I have a working cordless driver, I’m going to pull the dead one apart and see if I can jigger in a new battery. I’ve done harder things. The hardest part may just be getting a replacement battery.)

We had a quiet dinner together, drank maybe a little too much egg nog, and cuddled while we watched A Christmas Story. We didn’t pull the trains out this year for a jumble of reasons. Next year, fersure. We’ve already cleaned up the canonical post-Christmas debris. St. Stephen is by legend the first martyr of Christianity. He may also be the patron saint of wrapping paper.

Carol and I wish all of you a blessed (and merry!) Christmas season–and remind you that it doesn’t have to be over yet. We’ll keep playing our Christmas CDs and keeping our decorations up and lit for another week or ten days. Christmas is important enough not to be here and gone in a day or two. That said, celebration must end eventually, lest celebration become ordinary and lose its luster.

Hallowander

Halloween. Wow. It seemed like the Fourth of July was just a few weeks ago. Then Carol and I walked into Wal-Mart. We live on a street with only a few kids, and if memory serves we ended up eating most of last year’s candy ourselves. So we bought a couple of bags of stuff we wouldn’t mind finishing, if it comes to that.

And it will.

At Wal-Mart (and probably almost everywhere else in the retail universe) Halloween was already over, and shoved to one side of the Seasonal aisle. Many of the candy SKUs were gone, including every species of M&Ms but…popcorn. Huh? Popcorn flavored M&Ms? I’d like to say I’ve seen stranger things, but I’m not sure I can. (Ok, sure: Peanut butter-flavored whiskey is a contender, as is coffee-flavored Coke.) At least we got it cheap. And the rest of the Seasonal aisle–along with much of the rest of the store–was already full-bore Christmas. No surprise.

And still tiny radishes. That’s the only kind of radishes you can get at Wal-Mart. Back in September you could still get full-sized radishes at Fry’s and Safeway. Now everybody is selling miniature radishes. I like slicing radishes and covering the tops of our salads with them. Microradishes cut a little easier than big radishes, but you have to cut a whole lot more of them.

Oh–and Total Wine now sells a red blend infused with…habanero. Maybe there’s a habanero surplus because everybody with asbestos esophagi are demanding ghost peppers in everything. So the winemakers could be getting them cheap. (An aside: Witching Hour wines are decent, for cheap red blends. Why not get a bottle for your Halloween festivities? There are several SKUs. Just read the labels before you drop them in your shopping cart, ok?)

Maybe there’s a habanero surplus. I really don’t care, as long as they don’t start loading it into iced coffee. But I will tell you something else: There is a severe onion-ring shortage. Two fast-food restaurants that we haunt now and then haven’t been able to get onion rings for literally weeks. For Corleone’s, it’s been longer than that. A little sniffing around online tells me that the world’s #1 exporter of onions is…China. So the nation’s onion rings are likely as not sitting in that immense barge-clot that’s jamming up California ports, especially off Los Angeles.

There’s hope on that front. As usual, the problem devolves to idiotic regulation by government seat-warmers who’ll gladly collapse the world’s economy because a handful of whiners in LA complains that they can see containers stacked more than two high at the ports. If they’re on a ladder. And holding binoculars. Here’s a long-form explanation of how that was discovered and how it was (maybe, or might be) solved. Let us pray. I miss onion rings.

My old friend Mike Bentley posted a link to a stack rank of books about…drumroll please…the PowerPC CPU. My PowerPC book came in at #7. Mike’s was at #24. All those books were long ago and far away. Once Apple switched to Intel CPUs, the PowerPC went gently into that good night. That’s too bad; it was a solid architecture and deserved better. In case you’re interested in PowerPC books, you can get mine on Amazon. It’s a shame the mass-market paperback is now going for $877.95. I guess you’d better order the trade paperback, which sells for $4.75. A footnote: There never was a mass-market paperback edition. Maybe it’s a ghost. (More likely a daemon, heh.)

Carol has a recipe for beer bread that she wants to try, and we’re going to make it pumpkin-spice beer bread. How? By using pumpkin-spice beer. I bought a 12 oz can of Sleepy Dog Gourdgeous Pumpkin Spice Ale yesterday. You likely won’t see it in stores because it’s a local product, produced in Tempe, a suburb of Phoenix. Not sure how well it will work. I’ll let you know.

A quick aside: I’m still getting old coins in change at McDonald’s and other stores when I pay cash. The nation’s penny jars are still emptying into our outstretched hands. The other day I scored a 1969-S and a 1975-D in one transaction.

Speaking of stack-ranks, Google has a search-trends stack rank of Halloween costumes. We don’t see a lot of kids in costumes anymore, and it’s been a very long time since I wore one myself. I’m thinking a lot of these popular outfits are popular with adults. #1 is Witch. (My psychic powers predicted that one.) It’s an interesting list, and starts getting peculiar fairly quickly. #10 is Chucky, the serial murderer doll from the Chilld’s Play flicks. #18 is the 1980s. Ok, I could see the 1970s as a costume. (Maybe I wore a costume more recently than I thought.) But the ’80s? What is it? A pinstriped suit with matching vest? It surprised me that Princess was down to #30. Disney may have saturated its market. I had to look up “The Purge,” which took #38. And #49: The 1990s? I got nuthin’. (The site does not provide examples, just stats.) Oh–#59 was the 1970s. Dressing a kid up like the 1970s might be considered child abuse in some jurisdictions. And that’s as far as I went.

KBAQ, our local classical music station, is going to be playing Halloween-appropriate classical compositions all day long and into the evening, including a lot you may not have heard of. You can stream it here no matter where you live. If you like classical music, it may surprise you how many compositions are about ghosts, devils, death, and wizardry/witchery–or at very least sound like they should be. (One example is the waltz from Aram Khachaturian’s Masquerade.)

In closing, on this long afternoon of the creepiest night of the year, I present a recent translation of an ancient Halloween prayer that most of you have heard many times:

“From goosies and goalies and long-legged besties
And things that grow hemp in the night,
Good Lord, deliver us!”

Daywander: The Penny with the Upside-Down Date

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In 1961, when I was nine, our family went to the Illinois State Fair in Springfield. We took a tour of the town, saw Lincoln’s tomb, and had a lot of fun together. The fair was wonderful. My father ran into Larry Fine (1902-1975) of the Three Stooges at the beer tent and bought him a drink. When we reconvened toward the end of the day (my mother had carnival-ride duty) he had a gift for me: A 1961 penny with the rare upside-down date.

It wasn’t all that rare. In fact, I got one in change at the Mickey D drive-thru this morning. Now, the poor thing has clearly spent some time in a parking lot, but you can see from the photo that the date is indeed upside-down. Well, the nine-year-old I was in 1961 certainly thought so. It took me a week or so to figure out that he was not just pulling my leg, but yanking on it so hard it squeaked. And yes, when I figured it out I thought it was funny as hell.

Today was a weird day. Last night we got almost two inches of rain. Two inches. In Phoenix. In one night. Now, on average, Phoenix gets 8″ of rain a year. So last night represented 25% of our annual rainfall. Oh–they’re predicting another 2″ tonight.

I guess this is going to be a wet-ish year. Our ash trees may survive after all.

Now, has anyone else ever heard of “heat lightning”? When we were kids, we sometimes saw lightning flashing along the horizon (or at least above the nearby houses) on hot summer evenings, with no least whisper of thunder. Nobody explained why it was called “heat lightning.” Light travels farther than sound, and heat lightning is just lightning so far away that the thunder can’t keep up with the flash.

It must be important. Heat lightning has a Wikipedia page, and I don’t. However, the Wikipedia Gawds are threatening to delete the page if some acceptable peer-reviewed studies aren’t produced immediately to provide evidence that heat lightning is real and not a hoax. Don’t you dare suggest a Primary Source. Primary Sources make the Gawds drool on the floor and then start throwing chairs. The only way to escape them with your life is to run while screaming “I’m not notable!” at the top of your lungs until you’re past chair-throwing distance.

Heh. And you think I’m kidding.

Daywander

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Carol and I went grocery shopping this morning, and came home with the biggest damn apple either of us had ever seen. It’s a honeycrisp, which we’ve had before, many times. However, none of them were ever like this honeycrisp. They weren’t labeled “giant honeycrisp” or anything. And while this was the largest one in the display, the others were just about as big. If you don’t eat apples very often, you’ll find a comparison photo between The Giant Apple and an ordinary Gala below:

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Wow. Just wow.

Yesterday, Arizona’s governor made masking optional, and allowed bars, restaurants, and gyms to open at full capacity. O dear Lord, the dudgeon; the moaning and the groaning and the predictions that everyone in Arizona is gonna die. Well, the graph of COVID-19 deaths here is down to single digits per day, and over three million people in Arizona have received at least one shot. The state is running some of its vaccine centers 24/7, and now anyone over the age of 17 can make an appointment to be vaccinated. No one knows how many people had a brush with the virus but never even noticed. It might be a lot, mostly younger, and now mostly resistant to infection. We’re far closer to herd immunity than anyone in the media or government is willing to admit.

I check that ADHS graph every morning. No one knows why we had the fall/winter surge with mask compliance at 90% here. This tells me masks really don’t help much. Some of that may be because masks don’t protect your eyes. More may be that the virus does indeed travel as an aerosol, which might be slightly attenuated by a typical mask–but only slightly. No one knows, including our supposed “experts,” who say whatever they’re told by the people who own them, and lie on demand, all “for the greater good.”

The media (and most of our elites) really doesn’t want the pandemic to end. It was a titanic ego trip for them, to pump out endless panic porn and watch people obey them slavishly and persecute others who were skeptical. There’s backlash brewing: CNN’s ratings are in freefall, and the sooner they collapse and go under, the better. Some in the medical community are now calling foul on harassing the general public. Cord-cutting may finish the job that the backlash began: Carol and I dumped cable TV and now keep cable service solely for Internet access. I’ve been investigating Internet Radio to fill the gaps. The units are basically low-end computers with network connections, and can be had for less than $200. Music is big, but there is plenty of news and weather if you know their IPs. Internet radio is basically the stake hovering over the heart of cable TV/audio, and the hammer is coming down.

Reception of our local classical radio station KBAQ can be spotty. It gets disrupted when a jet flies over the house, heading for the Scottsdale airport. (This happens a lot.) They stream over the Internet, and with an Internet radio, I won’t have to worry about multipath or other species of radio interference.

Since we’ve moved to Phoenix, I’ve noticed that an entire genre of computer retailers is missing: the box shop. By that I mean a place that would put together a custom PC for you. I had a machine built at Fry’s back in 2018, but Fry’s is now gone. I had a great box shop up in Colorado Springs. That’s where my current (aging) desktop came from. I need a new one, but if box shops still exist here, they hide well. Yes, yes, I could do it myself, and if I must I will. But having done it many times before, I consider it a bad use of my time.

Alas, the Thermaltake case I used back in 2012, their BlacX, no longer exists. That’s the one with two SATA drive slots in the top panel, so you can plug barenaked SATA drives into the top for quick backups. I suspect the BlacX was popular in the LAN party era, but like box shops, LAN parties are receding into the misty past at 40% C. Thermaltake does make a 2-slot external SATA dock, which I’m guessing I’ll end up using.

The pool water is now at 61°. We bought a new solar cover a few weeks ago. As soon as the water hits 70°, we’ll spread it out, and in another week or so the water should be at 80°, which for me is the lower limit of swimming temperatures. Winter here was nice, but it’s gone. The pool makes the summers worthwhile.

I tried rereading Olaf Stapledon’s Last and First Men, but the 1968 Dover paperback I have is laid out with such small type that even with reading glasses, it gives me headaches. Ebooks arrived just in time for my old eyes. I also bought the NESFA Press hardcover of Believing, which is a collection of all the non-People stories of Zenna Henderson. It wasn’t cheap, but it’s a handsome book, and will replace several crumbling MMPBs from the ’60s. Oddly, it’s not on Amazon. I had to order it direct from NESFA.

And with that, I declare today over. Time to hit the sack. Much to do tomorrow.

Birthdaywander

68 today. About this place in each decade there are a couple of years where it’s not immediately obvious to me which birthday I’m having. 2020 being what it is and will likely continue to be, I have had no trouble remembering that this is my 68th birthday.

A lot of this is the virus, which from the demographic stats clearly has a target on my forehead. (See this compendium of stats as of June 23.) My age bracket represents 21% of COVID-19 deaths, and COVID-19 represented 9.4% of total deaths from all causes in my age bracket between February 1 and June 17. Them’s bad odds, at least from where I sit. So we’re staying home, and the most human contact we’ve had in a couple of months is talking to the neighbors out in the middle of the street.

I have some bitches about the numbers. In a lot of places, anyone who dies with tested SARS-CoV-2 in their bodies is listed as dying of the virus, even if they died of cancer, alcohol poisoning, car accidents, or lots of other unrelated conditions. Granted, it’s often hard to tell what actually causes death. So although I’m willing to accept the huge numbers of newly identified cases (where a “case” is anyone who tests postive for the virus) the mortality numbers are almost certainly higher than they would be if people who caught the virus but died of something else were not counted.

Bit by bit the numbers improve, especially now that tests are easy to come by. An awful lot of young people are carrying the virus, but an awfuller lot of those are completely asymptomatic. Whether they’re contagious is still under heated discussion.

Catching the virus outdoors is unlikely. I’m not one of those who blame the protests for the rising number of cases in young people. Oh, I’m sure it helped raise the case numbers a little. But in watching the appalling videos of the riots, what I see is a lot of people in fast chaotic motion, outside, probably with a light breeze. What this means is that the spreaders are unlikely to be in close proximity to the same people for more than a few seconds. This is not what happens at choir practice, really.

A lot of the protesters were wearing masks. Forgive me for thinking that a lot of them weren’t worried about acquiring the virus half as much as a police record.

Oh–masks. Let’s talk about masks. What I’m seeing in recent weeks is a peculiar psychology of constant harping about masks that does two things:

1. It makes a certain number of otherwise reasonable people annoyed enough to refuse to wear masks in public.

2. It makes a larger number of reasonable but naive people feel that with a mask on, they’re invulnerable and cannot catch the virus. This is major magical thinking.

I wear a mask to keep peace in the valley, mostly. Getting yelled at by every uberkaren in the supermarket is not on my bucket list. Nonetheless, I am under no illusions that the masks will prevent me from either catching or spreading the disease. There is plenty of research showing that SARS-CoV-2 spreads in aerosol form. (That is, as free particles rather than inside mucus or saliva droplets.) The masks available to the public will not stop isolated virus particles drifting in the air. For that you need properly fitted N95 masks or better, and I’m among those who think that front-line health care personnel should get them before the rest of us.

Consider this article, by a skeptical MD with 36 years of clinical experience. He knows medical masks. Woodworking masks or cowboy bandanas are of zero effectiveness, and even surgical masks are not effective in filtering aerosols. The virus itself is 120 nm in size; basically, a tenth of a micron. Your workaday snotrag is not gonna stop that. Droplets, possibly–at least big ones. But let me ask you this: What happens when a droplet that was stopped by your bandana dries out? It seems to me (I’ve seen no research on this issue) that absent their droplets, individual viruses can be inhaled through the cloth, or blown out into the invironment again by exhaled air.

Especially here in Phoenix, where the humidity is often in single digits, those droplets will dry out fast. Maybe they’ll remain stuck to the cloth fibers. Maybe. Bet your life on it? Not me.

So, again, we’re staying home. I’m trying to work out how to get the ball rolling on my new novel The Molten Flesh. The first chapter is a flashback, to twelve years before The Cunning Blood takes place. We’re focusing on a different nanotech society this time: Protea, which is designed to optimize the human body. Sangruse 9 can do a little of that, but Protea literally rebuilds the interior structure of the body to make it much more resistant to trauma, radiation, cancer, infectious microorganisms and aging. It’s not as smart as Sangruse 9, nor as good with physical chemistry. Still, once you understand the full reality of what it can do, it’s a pretty scary item. And that’s the canonical Protea. In 2354, Protea was forked. A renegade Protea Society member breaks with the others and starts tweaking the device. The story emerges from that.

I’m trying to put together an action scene where renegade Ron Uhlein steals the 1Earth starship Vancouver. He succeeds (with Protea’s constant assistance) and in the process demonstrates to Sophia Gorganis that starships can be stolen. What she does with that knowledge is told in The Cunning Blood.

I need to catch up a little on Contra entries here. I have one partly written involving my All-Volunteer Virtual Encyclopedia of Absolutely Everything idea, and another about the COVID-19 coin shortage. Really. Remember: The universe is stranger than you can imagine…and I can imagine a lot.

Plaguewander

How serious is this lockdown thing? Well, I’ve won all 1600 boards on Mah Jong Titan. That includes all available premium board packs. If there were more I’d buy them. There aren’t. That doesn’t surprise me, given the work it must take to produce another 300 boards that only the occasional crazy like me will ever play.

I’ve played Mah Jong for decades, and not just to kill time. For me it’s a sort of mental palate-cleanser: I play a board or two when I need to shift gears from one project to another. When I move from working on Dreamhealer to some construction project out in the shop, I play a board to stop me from thinking about Dreamhealer, or at least to pull me down from obsession territory. It does work. I’m not sure why, given that Bejeweled doesn’t provide the same benefit, nor do any of several other games I’ve tried. My theory: Mah Jong depends to a great extent on memory. Playing well requires remembering which tiles are where on the board. You’d think that that would be no big trick, given that the board is already laid out in plain view. Not so. A few tiles stand out from the crowd. Most do not. If a move uncovers a four of bamboo, you had better know if there’s a four of bamboo elsewhere on the board. The games I play, at least, are played against a clock. You don’t have a minute to scan the whole board to spot that four of bamboo over in the lower-right corner. Dead-time adds up, and each board has a time limit. To win the board, you have to empty it within that time limit.

The creative life is all about memory. This is true of fiction, especially the fiction that I write, which is heavy on ideas, foreshadowing, and gradual reveals. Getting away from fiction means remembering other things for awhile. And because Mah Jong is a shallow memory challenge, it takes little or no effect to push a board full of tiles out of the forefront of my mind when it’s time to turn to something else.

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Carol and I did some shopping at Wal-Mart today. I don’t know if this was their innovation, but aisles at Wal-Mart are now one-way. This makes it easier to stay away from other shoppers, though it can be a nuisance at times. I tend not to go shopping when I’m feeling impatient. Mercifully, I was not feeling impatient this morning.

-…- -…-

While at Wal-Mart, we looked at Polish sausage and other sausage products. I typically eat a bratwurst or some other similar sausage for lunch. There was a run on such things for awhile, and I was unable to find the Hillshire Farms smoked sausage that I’d been lunching on for some time. We saw them at Wal-Mart today. I picked up a pack, and scanned the list of ingredients. Yikes; they now put MSG in their smoked sausage products. I originally chose them because they did not include MSG. Johnsonville sausage products, on the other hand, have been nonstarters here for years, because all their sausages contain MSG. Well, since I was reading labels anyway, I picked up a package of Johnsonville smoked bratwursts and scanned its ingredients. No MSG! So I bought some.

It is a puzzlement. Given how many people react badly to MSG, I have to wonder why sausage companies insist on using it. Does a sausage really taste better with MSG than without? I can’t tell the difference and never have.

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Cutting Board Before-500 Wide.jpg

54 years ago, I took wood shop at Lane Tech in Chicago. We built a number of projects, but the only one that survives is the heavy oak cutting board. My mom used it while I stilled lived at home, and I took it with me when I moved out and married Carol. So it’s been in use for all 54 of those years. The board’s saggita is now half an inch, so we flipped it over and now cut on what was the bottom face.

Alas, the two outer oak layers on the board started peeling away from the rest a few years ago. Food was getting caught in the resultant cracks, and I was afraid I’d have to toss it out. Not so: A little careful work with my chop saw and some belt sander time yielded a narrower but now far more hygienic cutting board. This may not last, and the day may come when I can’t cut any more layers off the edges. Still, 54 years is a long time to be using an artifact that you built yourself with your own hands.

-…- -…-

My fellow hams don’t need me to tell them that the bands are dead right now. The very occasional sunspot is so small I often wonder if it’s dirt on some telescope’s lens. Propagation is lousy. Working Wisconsin was a delight. Working Seattle almost knocked me off my chair. But beyond the current sunspot dearth, what really annoys me is the noise level. I thought for a long time that this was caused by the crappy switching power supplies inside every LED bulb in the house, which would be all of them but two. (The two incandescents are grow lamps for Carol’s African violets.) So I did the experiment last week: I shut off every piece of electronics (including the AC) and every damned lightbulb in the house.

The noise level did not change at all.

I can’t shut off the security system and really don’t want to. But I’ve had security systems in every house we’ve lived in since 1990, and have never had noise levels like this. The houses here are widely spaced (this is the land of half- to one-acre lots) so I suspect I’m not hearing the neighbors’ stuff. All the more reason to buy a 12V battery pack and enable the Icom IC-729 to run on battery power. If the power ever goes out in our neighborhood, I’ll make a beeline for the shack, to see if the noise level drops. That won’t help me work Wisconsin once the power comes back on, but at least it’ll narrow down the culprit list a little.

-…- -…-

Dreamhealer is coming along. I’m still doing some edits, but in truth, I’m waiting for the artist to finish the cover. I was going to release it at LibertyCon in June, but there will be no LibertyCon this year. My deadline, being dead, no longer has much force.

-…- -…-

Arizona is opening up. Carol’s going to her hairdresser to get her hair done on Tuesday for the first time in quite awhile. The next time I need a haircut (I know, I know, during the next Ice Age) I’ll be doing the same thing. We’re being careful, but we’re no longer cowering at home. I’m watching Arizona stats for a number of reasons, the main one being that we’re already most of the way to a long hot summer. Viruses in the Sun die in seconds. No data on how long they last in triple-digit air out of direct sunlight, but I suspect it shortens their viable stage by a lot. Viral load is, as best we can tell, a factor. So we don’t go to concerts or political rallies. (Actually, I have never gone to a political rally. Viruses are not the reason.) We used to go to sit-down restaurants maybe once a month. We have carryout service accounts now and know how to use them. Total Wine is open, as are most other stores that we frequent. My motto remains what it is and has always been:

All will be well. And all will be well. And every damfool thing in the universe will be well!

Monthwander

1943D Lincoln Cent - 500 Wide.jpg

The old pennies continue to arrive in my hand, at both McDonald’s drive-through and the Fry’s supermarket across the parking lot. Just yesterday I got a 40-year-old penny in change from my $1.09 coffee, again with plenty of mint luster. And about a week ago, something wonderful ker-chunged out of the Fry’s autocashier machine, after I fed it a twenty for some groceries. It was a 77-year-old penny, and one-of-a-kind for US coins: It was struck in steel in 1943, because in 1943 American bronze was going elsewhere, primarily into shell casings.

Although it certainly looks its age, the penny was clearly not a parking-lot penny. It had some dirt and oxide on it but none of the pits and scratches that parking-lot service will impress on a coin. Even when I was a kid they were curiousities. Ever so rarely we’d get one in change, and when we did we put them in our penny jars. I don’t think I’ve seen one in the wild since 1965 or so.

Now, if you remember, take a look at the pennies you get in change. I’d be curious to see how widespread this phenomenon is.

And the next time we get one of those little glass bottles of heavy cream, I think I’m going to start a penny bottle, with nothing but 20+ year old pennies in it.

_…_ _…_

In my spam bin a few days ago I found an email pitch for…wait for it…a Monkees fan convention. I will readily admit that I was a big Monkees fan when I was 14. The band recorded some good material, with the caveat that not all of it was used in the TV show, like their wonderful cover of the Mann/Weil song “Shades of Gray.” But a Monkees convention? Their show went off the air 52 years ago. Half of the Monkees are (alas) dead. Who’s the demographic? Sixtysomething Boomers? The con is real. If it were in the Southwest I might even be talked into attending, just to see who else shows up. (It’s in Connecticut.) It’s funny how I remember the TV show as being hilarious. Carol and I watched a few episodes on Netflex a couple of years ago. It had its moments, but I would not describe it as anything better than whimsical. Of course our standards for humor have gone up. That’s what standards do.

_…_ _…_

Summer weather in Scottsdale ended pretty abruptly last fall, skipped autumn entirely, and went right to winter. Of course, for us that means daily highs in the 50s and 60s, and nightly lows in the 40s. This year, we were dipping into the 30s in November. Carol’s had to cover some of her plants with old towels and pillowcases to protect them from radiative freezing, and that was even before the winter solstice. It’s been a mighty chilly year in a lot of places, including some you don’t generally associate with cold weather, like Saudi Arabia. You will not see anything mentioned in the MSM. Of course it’s weather. But line up enough weather in a row, and you get something else, heh.

We don’t get three dog nights here. (That’s a big part of why we’re here.) But we’ve been having some two-dog nights lately, even though there are six dog beds in the great room alone:

Two Dog Night - 500 Wide.jpg

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Once again, a reminder: Those links and (very) short bits I used to do here as “Odd Lots” I’m now doing on Twitter. I have 512 followers, and that’s more people than those who read Contra regularly. You can find me on Twitter at @JeffDuntemann. I’ll probably be doing more of these “wander” items here, plus longer form essays as they occur to me.