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Halloween and Entropy

So another Halloween is now history. It was an absolutely gorgeous Saturday in Colorado Springs, sunny and in the low 70s all afternoon and early evening. I kept a mental tally of how many groups of kids came to the door. Care to guess?


Ahh, well. Nothing new there. Like entropy, Halloween is not what it used to be, and knowing what we now know about sugar, that may be for the best.

You don’t buy nine candy bars at a time, so Carol and I ate far too much chocolate for dessert this evening–and not great chocolate either. It was the Great Big Bag of Mega-Mass-Produced Miniature Candy Bars ‘n Things. I picked the bag clean of Rolos and Nestle’s Crunch. Carol grabbed the Reese’s peanut butter cups. Tomorrow the rest of the bag goes to the big candy bowl over at Canine Solutions. Every year it’s more or less the same: I remember how much I like Rolos, I eat a few too many of them, and then I won’t have them again until next Halloween.

Man, that’s a familiar routine.

This year’s Halloween brought to mind one of my favorite years: 1964. I was 12. It was the last full year before puberty’s hormone storms began washing over my gunwales, though I could already hear its distant thunder. I had discovered electronics–and the Beatles. My father was healthy. We had a summer place, on a lake. Better still, Halloween was on a Saturday…and it was warm! I could run around as a Barbary pirate without three sweaters under my costume.

I got together with a couple of my friends and we ranged all over the neighborhood, going blocks and blocks afield, and I ended up with a pretty fat bag of sugar. Diversity was the order of the day. There were lots more species of candy in the Halloween ecosphere back in ’64. Most of it was good. Some items I liked more than others. A few I wouldn’t touch, like the almost inexplicable Chicken Bones. I would have traded them to my friends for Smarties (which, alas, now give me headaches) except that they didn’t want them either. Ditto Mary Janes–wouldn’t touch ’em, though I remember getting a Turkish Taffy from my friend Art as swap for a handful. Individually wrapped Charms were about, if not common, though more common than the peculiar but compelling Choward’s Violets. And Snaps! Loved those, more for the not-quite-spicy coating than for the underlying licorice. The small red Snaps boxes all had “2c” printed in very big letters. Small boxes of Atomic Fireballs and Good’n’Plenty could be had here and there. I remember one house handing out very stale conversation hearts, from the previous February or possibly earlier. There used to be individually wrapped Chuckles, which I haven’t seen in a lot of years, as well as short rolls of Necco Wafers. I broke a tooth on a Necco wafer when I was in high school, and haven’t done them much since.

Every so often somebody would be passing out pennies. Meh–I got whole dimes rescuing returnable soda bottles tossed into empty lots. There was a house down on Hortense that was giving out flyers about Lutheranism along with Tootsie Pops. The nuns at our school were very hard on Luther, who was painted as the chief Protestant supervillain, though he got off easy compared to Arius, who according to Catholic legend was eaten alive by worms. And hey, nobody hands out fliers about Arianism, with or without Tootsie Pops.

I think you get the idea. We didn’t throw rolls of toilet paper into trees or anything like that, because it was a bad use of our time. We were in it for the sugar, and we all knew that Halloween on a Saturday was something we would not see again for seven years, and with summery weather, well, in Chicago probably never.

My sugar buzz is now almost gone, and it’s pretty much time to go to bed. I don’t eat a lot of sugar, and you’ve all seen my rants about how sugar is making us all fat. It’s not me being inconsistent. It’s about the notion of celebration, and how if we celebrate something for too long, that which we celebrate becomes ordinary, and loses its magic. If I ate Rolos all the time I’d get tired of them, and fat to boot. So I eat them once a year. Halloween is as good a time as any, and allows me to remember the buzz of being not-quite-grown at a time when kids could tear around for an afternoon without adult supervision, and no one would freak out. Like warm Halloweens on Chicago Saturdays, such will not be seen again for a long time, if ever.

Odd Lots

  • It’s Back to the Future Day, and apart from antigravity, well, Marty McFly’s 2015 looks more or less like the one we live in, only with better food and inifinitely worse partisan tribalism. If predicting 19 Jaws sequels is the second-worst worst flub the series made, well, I’m good with that.
  • October 21 is also the day that the Northrop YB-49 flying wing bomber made its debut flight, in 1947. (Thanks to Charlie Martin for the reminder.) The YB-49 is my second-favorite undeployed bomber prototype, after the stunning XB-70 Valkyrie.
  • Here’s a (very) long and detailed essay by a liberal Democrat explaining why he went from being a climate alarmist to a global warming skeptic. Loads of charts and links. I don’t agree with him 100%, but he makes a very sane and mostly politics-free case for caution in pushing “decarbonization.” (Thanks to Charlie Martin for the link.)
  • Far from melting, Greenland is breaking all records for ice growth, having gained 150 billion tons of snow and ice in the last six weeks.
  • Here are 18 useful resources for journalistic fact-checking. Pity that MSM journalists are unwilling to do that sort of thing anymore. (Thanks to Esther Schindler for the link.)
  • The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has ruled that scanning books is legal. The court ruled against the Authors Guild in their 2005 class-action suit against Google. The Guild intends to appeal to the Supreme Court. If the Supremes take the case, interesting things could happen. If they don’t, the case is over.
  • The secret history of the Myers-Briggs personality test. I am of three minds about Myers-Briggs. No make that nine. Oh, hell: seventeen.
  • This is probably the best discussion I’ve seen (and certainly the longest) on how and why SFF fandom is actively destroying itself at the same time it’s dying of old age. Read The Whole Thing. Part I. Part II. Part III. (And thanks to Sarah Hoyt for the link.)
  • Also from Sarah: Backyard atomic gardens of the 1950s and very early 1960s. I love the word “atomic.”
  • I love it so much that, having recently bought a midcentury home, I may subscribe to Atomic Ranch Magazine. I’ve begun looking for a Bohr atom model to put on our mantelpiece.
  • From the Elementary Trivia Department: The only way to make pink-tinted glass is to add erbium oxide to it.
  • Thunderbird is getting on my bad side. It regularly pops up a box claiming that it doesn’t have enough disk space to download new messages. My SSD on C: has 83 GB free. My conventional hard drive on D: has 536 GB free. Online reports suggest that Thurderbird has a 2 GB size limit on mail folders. Still researching the issue, but I smell a long integer overflow somewhere.
  • From Rory Modena: A talented writer explains the history of the Star Wars movies, and rewrites some of the clumsier plot elements right before our eyes. A lot of what bothered him blew right past me; I knew it was a pulp film and was in it for the starships and the robots.
  • From Esther Schindler: A Mexican church long sunk at the bottom of a reservoir is emerging from the water due to drought. (This isn’t a rare occurrance; it happened last in 2002.) I kept hearing Debussy’s spooky tone-poem “The Engulfed Cathedral” while reading the article.
  • McDonald’s recently went to a breakfast-all-day menu, to my delight. I’m very fond of their Sausage McMuffin with Egg, which is of modest size and makes a great snack anytime. Alas, adding all the new line items to the menu has caused chaos in some smaller restaurants, and franchise owners are having second thoughts. I doubt McD is facing “imminent collapse” but I’m now wondering how long the new menu will last.

Odd Lots

  • I posted The Cunning Blood on the Kindle Store 61 days ago, and in those two months it’s earned just a hair over $3,600. 46% of that came from KU page turns. Fellow indie authors, I think we have us a business model.
  • Tom Roderick sent me a link to a very nice graphical COSMAC ELF emulator, designed to look as much like Joe Weisbecker’s unit from Popular Electronics (August, 1976) as possible. You can toggle in opcodes like we did almost forty years ago, and run them. (The Q line drives an LED.)
  • In cleaning out the garage, I took a look at the motor/battery module of my robot Cosmo Klein (which I built in 1977-1978) and realized it wouldn’t take much to get it running again. The original Cosmo had two COSMAC systems and a glass-screen TV for a head (which made him very top-heavy) along with a cranky robotic arm. (Here are some photos of my COSMAC projects and Cosmo himself.) I could hide an RPi2 in that thing and you’d never find it. Funny how stuff changes in 38 years…or maybe not funny at all.
  • From Astounding Stories: Spacemen beating the crap out of one another in zero-G with…yardsticks. By Edmond Hamilton. Not sure of the year, but you can download the whole thing.
  • From the Weirdness-I-Just-Learned-About Department: The tontine, a financial arrangement in which a pool of people contributes equally to buy a pool of assets, and as they die, each deceased’s share is distributed to survivors. Apart from an inceptive to murder your tontine siblings, what could go wrong?
  • In the fever of a house hunt, I missed this item: Amazon is going to create its own line of house brands for food. I have a peculiar curiosity about house brands, which is a sort of shadow business that doesn’t get much press. Why would an industry-leader cereal manufacturer sell its cereal in bulk to other companies to sell as competing house brands? It happens, but nobody wants to talk about it. Big store chains have house brand versions of many products, including most mainstream cereals. There’s a book in this somewhere, though I don’t intend to write it.
  • If you’re not a balls-out supporter of nuclear power generation, I don’t want to hear a word out of you about global warming. We need base load, and neither Sun nor wind can provide base load. In truth, all that stands between us and a completely nuclear future is fear (i.e., political tribalism) and money. The money issue can be fixed. Alas, the gods themselves, etc.
  • It’s been 119 months since a major hurricane (Class 3 or higher) has hit the American mainland. Unless Joaquin goes ashore along the east coast somewhere in the next several days (and current winds argue against that) it’ll be 120 months–ten years–come October 24. That’s an all-time record since records have been kept. Global warming causes everything else; why not better weather?
  • And you wonder why I’m a global warming skeptic. Hey, fellow (potential) morlocks: I hear that our Educated Elite is delicious with melted butter.
  • Americans are embracing full-fat foods, thus spitting in the face of government advice. As well they should: The War on Fat is based on fraudulent science put forth by ace scientific con-man Ancel Keys, whose only real talent was getting government to take his side. Go butter, eggs, and meat. You’ll lose weight, and feel better.
  • Yes, I bring that up regularly, because I’m trying my best to ruin Keys’ reputation. His deadly advice has killed tens of millions, and is still killing them. “I’m supported by the government. I’m here to kill you.”
  • Some good news: A judge kneecapped champion patent troll eDekka by invalidating its only significant patent.
  • And more…for some people, least: Charlie Martin pointed me to an article from Harvard summarizing a study on the beneficial effects of coffee. Coffee appears to delay, improve, or prevent just about everything but insomnia. And what’s my main problem?
  • There! A month’s worth of grouchiness in one Odd Lots! (With a few other items thrown in for spice.) I don’t do that often, but it feels good when I do.

Odd Lots

Odd Lots

Review: T-Bob’s Barbecue

T-Bobs Inside - 500 Wide.jpg

Carol and I are planning another of our canonical nerd parties for later this month, which requires a fair pile of food. We’re tolerable cooks but we’re not foodies, and the skill of putting together enough chow for thirty-odd highly educated and culturally sophisticated eccentrics was not a gene we received. So once again, we’re looking at catering.

Which means we’re thinking about T-Bob’s Barbecue. I’d have Ted (the “T;” Bob has been gone for some time) cater the party like a shot. Only snag: He’s at Algonquin and Elmhurst Roads, which is…1,100 miles away. So it goes.

Ted At Counter - 500 Wide.jpg

When Carol and I are in Chicago, we have an emerging ritual of piling over to T-Bob’s with my sister and Bill after they drop the girls off at school, for a late (or for us, often second) breakfast. Wonderful place, the sort of one-off eatery we don’t have many of here in the Springs. It’s got deli-style blackboards and daily specials and…egad…Diet Mountain Dew. Better still, the guy who owns the place is, as often as not, the guy you see behind the counter.

Much good stuff here. Obviously, the barbecue, which comes highly recommended from afionados whom I trust, like Bill. (For still-unknown reasons, nearly all barbecue sauce from all sources disagrees with me, as much as I enjoy it.) I’ll personally vouch for the pulled pork, which you can get as a conventional sandwich or a wrap. Ditto the fried catfish, which is about as good as catfish gets, and swims rings around any other fast-food fish I’ve ever tried. Excellent fries and cornbread.

Given that we’re there mostly in the morning, I generally have scrambled eggs, bacon, and hash-browns, and although it’s easy to say you can’t do those badly, trust me, you can. Not here. The eggs are done and the bacon is crisp, the hash browns just brown enough. Coffee’s very good, though in truth, I generally cave to temptation and have Diet Mountain Dew, even with breakfast. (I don’t drink it at home anymore, so having it at all is a bit of an event, given that Carol and I eat out maybe three times a month.) Bob’s got a number of other things you won’t see in fast food contexts very often, like pulled chicken, cane-sugar sodas from Mexico and baked sweet potato.

Open 8:30 AM to 8PM, 9PM on weekends. Caters (sigh.) Highly recommended.

Odd Lots

  • Verizon refuses to stop using tower-side cookies (which can’t be deleted by mobile device users) even as AT&T has caved on the issue. The solution is to stop using Verizon. That’s what Carol and I are about to do.
  • Relax. Microsoft did not pull the plug on Win7 updates on 1/13. That won’t happen until 2020. What’s going away are new OS features and phone support, two things I don’t think the world desperately needs.
  • I like molten lava as much as the next guy. (Just wait until you read my novella Firejammer, coming out–finally–this spring.) That said, I’m not sure I like it quite this much…
  • With January only half over, the Great Lakes ice cover is now up to 34%. Lake Erie has pretty much iced over completely.
  • Britain’s Royal Society has published some evidence that people born during solar maxima do not live as long as people born during solar minima. It may be folate depletion by UV. Or something else. However, the correlation appears to be real. (Thanks to Neil Rest for the link.) Carol and I are solar minima babies, whew.
  • Discovered two very good red wines recently: Menage a Trois Red, and Menage a Trois Midnight. Both are dry reds, both are fruit-forward, and (in contradiction of the vintner’s Web writeups) neither has any detectable oak. I guess if you’re going to get the hipster market you have to claim oak, even if you lie about it. In this case, nothing of value was lost.
  • I doubt that my readers are dumb enough to think you can lose weight by ingesting chemistry sets like Slim-Fast. But just in case, read what Tom Naughton says about recent diet rankings in content-free publications like US News. Hint: The same doofi who bleat endlessly against “processed foods” (which now means “any foods I don’t like”) are endorsing fructose cocktails like Slim-Fast over Atkins and paleo.
  • Popular Mechanics lists the 14 best cities in America for startups. None are in Silicon Valley, and all are in relatively low-cost areas. Maybe hipster city cachet is finally starting to lose its cachet. Or so we can hope.
  • Lots has happened in CPU architectures since the 1980s, when a lot of us learned it. (I started a little earlier, but the IBM PC brought most of us to a new starting gate at the same time.) Here’s a decent summary. One consequence of all this is that human-written assembly language is less of a win over compilers, and the best reason to learn assembly these days is to understand what your damned compilers are up to in there.
  • Before he broke into the SF business, Keith Laumer was an ace model airplane designer. (Thanks to Pete Albrecht for the link.)
  • Physically small, fanless PCs have been around for awhile, and I was bullish on them until I began using Dell USFF (ultra-small form factor) machines like the Optiplex 780, which are pretty small and almost entirely silent. Should we settle for 1.6 GHz? Only if there’s a specific application in mind, like education (think RPi) or embeddedness.
  • Bill Cherepy sends us news of a thermostatic butter keeper that can keep a stick of butter (block? It’s a form factor we don’t make in the US) at any arbitrary temp from 15 to 23 degrees C. Butter is definitely coming back into its own, bravo halleluia!

Odd Lots

The Zero Is Gone


I think Chobani has figured out that we’re on to them. Therein lies a tale.

Carol and I were shopping at Safeway the other day, and were browsing the yogurt section. Chobani has the most yogurt SKUs at Safeway, and damned near all of them have long been decorated with a huge, garish “0.” This is supposed to be a signal that Chobani yogurt has no fat and is thus healthy. (What it means to me is that the nutritional value in the cup is zero, and I avoid the brand.) What I noticed today at Safeway is that the zero is gone. They’re not making a big deal of their nonfatness anymore. Wow. We won.

Anybody who reads me regularly knows that I lost weight by eating more. No, I didn’t change the Laws of Thermodynamics. What I did is give the lie to the BS that one calorie is like every other calorie, and if you eat more calories, you gain weight. That’s not true. (Really. For the love of science, stop repeating it.) When I switched from eating Cheerios in 2% milk for breakfast and went to an egg fried in butter, I lost weight. Then I began eating two eggs fried in butter, and lost more weight. There’s two parts to the method: 1) Eat less grain and sugar, and 2) eat more fat. It works for most people. You won’t know if it doesn’t work until you try it. (I’ve beaten this to death and yes, I’ll stop now.)

In the decades following WWII, there arose a near-maniacal War on Fat, which was based on dodgy or outright fraudulent science, and won the day when Ancel Keys got the Feds to back him up. Suddenly, 2%, 1%, and skim milk were mandatory, butter was demonized, and (shazam!) the country gained the weight of a minor planet. You’ve heard all this before, from me and others. What most people don’t know is that Big Dairy went along with it. You’d think they would put up a horrible fuss, but they didn’t. Why is an interesting question, but the answer is pretty clear: Alluva sudden, you could separate the cream from milk, sell the cream, and still sell the milk.

This wasn’t always the case. Prior to the War on Fat, skim milk was used in a few recipes or processed into casein (Elmer’s Glue!) and much of the rest was fed to pigs. (What couldn’t be fed to pigs was often just dumped.) People who drank milk wanted whole milk. Cream wasn’t considered dangerous. People put it on their corn flakes, for pete’s sake. Cream was considered the most valuable part of the milk, and we consumed a monumental quantity of it without gaining weight. We picked up the weight in part by eating sugar, which was added to nonfat and lowfat dairy products to make them taste like something. But more to the point, full-fat dairy causes satiation, and low/nonfat dairy does not. That’s why skim milk is fed to pigs: It keeps them eating.

Huge dairy product manufacturers could buy cheaper skim milk, make yogurt or cheese from it, and then claim that these new, 0% products were healthy and desirable. The cost to consumers was about the same as full-fat products. Do the math.

The War on Fat is pretty much over, but old habits die hard. We’re going to be mopping up for decades. The absurdity called fat-free half and half still exists. I still have to shop a little for full-fat yogurt and cottage cheese. (Look for the Big 4, though it’s still small. I expect that 4’s on dairy packaging will grow, if slowly.) We should take some comfort in small victories, like the vanishing of the Big Zero from Chobani yogurt cups. I take even more comfort from the vanishing of the fat from my waistline.

I’m still looking for potato chips fried in lard. Sooner or later, we’ll win that one too.

Odd Lots