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Odd Lots

Rant: Lots of Supermarkets

Twenty-odd years ago I remember reading a compendium of “real-world” ghost anecdotes. They weren’t stories, just individual reports from ordinary people who were not looking for ghosts but ran into them anyway. One of my favorites was a report from a widow in England who saw her recently deceased husband on the staircase every night for a week. The man looked happy, but said nothing until his final appearance, when he spoke one sentence: “There are lots of supermarkets where I live.” Then he winked out and she never saw him again.

Well. I can think of a lot of better things to tell your grieving spouse when you appear to them postmortem:

  • I’m all right.
  • I love you.
  • I forgive you.
  • God is good.
  • There is $10,000 in hundreds stuffed inside the living room couch.

But…lots of supermarkets in heaven? That is so unutterably weird that it lends credence to the report. Why would the widow make something like that up?

Maybe she didn’t. My experience here in Phoenix for the last month and a half suggests that it may not be so weird after all. Work with me here: Until six weeks ago, Carol and I lived on the slopes of Cheyenne Mountain near a town of about 400,000 people. Colorado Springs is not a small town, but we still had to drive 75 miles to Denver for certain things, like The Container Store and any useful bookstore that wasn’t Barnes & Noble. Today we live in America’s 6th largest city (instead of its 41st largest city) and if you toss in suburbs like Mesa and Scottsdale, the metro area has four and a half million residents.

Nor are we way out on the fringes of things, like we were when we lived in Cave Creek in the 1990s. We’re right down in the thick of it all, three blocks from tony Scottsdale and a little over a mile from the Kierland neighborhood, where the primary occupation is spending money by the livingroom couchful.

The amount of retail here is staggering, as is the number and sheer diversity of restaurants. I didn’t know that Mexican Asian food was a thing, but it is, albeit what sort of thing I’m not yet sure. (When I decide to find out, well, it’s just a few miles down Scottsdale Road.) Driving around the area, Carol and I go into a sort of Stendhal syndrome trance at times, boggling at the nose-to-tail storefronts and shopping centers within a couple of miles of us. It’s not like we’re hicks from the sticks; Colorado Springs is hardly the sticks. But we’ve never seen anything even remotely like it.

There is a supermarket called Fry’s Marketplace a few miles from us that is about twice the size of any other supermarket I’ve ever been in. They have a wine bar, a sushi bar, a substantial wine section (something we didn’t get in Colorado due to corrupt politics) and plenty of stuff that may or may not be appropriate for selling in grocery stores, like…livingroom couches. (Eminently stuffable ones, too.) Outside there’s covered parking and a car wash. Oh, and valet parking if you don’t want to walk in from the far corners of the lot.

Now…what if we were hicks from the sticks?

I wager that we’d pass out in astonishment. Yes, I know, we all get lectured a lot about how we shouldn’t obsess on material goods. So who’s obsessing? I think I come out better on this score than a lot of people; granted that I hoard variable capacitors and never met a radio tube I didn’t like, absent the occasional gassy 6AL5. Read this twice: There is a huge difference between wanting everything you see and seeing everything you want. I don’t want all that much, but I appreciate being able to get things that I do want, weird or uncommon though they might be.

I can empathize with that poor old dead guy in England somewhere. Perhaps he lived all his life in a village in Cornwall, and ate the same things all the time because the same things were all there were in his village. Maybe he was poor. Maybe he just got damned sick and tired of bubble and squeak. He knew the world was a richer place somewhere, but his own circumstances didn’t allow him to get there.

Then his heart gives out, and wham! God drops him out in front of some heavenly Fry’s Marketplace, where your credit cards have no limit and you never have to pay them off. (Maybe he met Boris Yeltsin there.) Good food, lots of it, and never the same thing twice? That could be all the heaven some people might want. I think I understand why he came back to tell his wife about it.

So. Like most people, my collection of loathings has swelled as I’ve passed through middle age. I don’t like green vegetables, and haven’t now for 63 years and change. Along the way I’ve picked up loathings for certain philosophies and people, like Marxism, Communism, and the sort of virtue-signaling wealthy socialistic urban elitist busybodies who buy $59 titanium pancake flippers and then wear torn jeans to show their solidarity with the working poor.

Far worse are the people who assume that their way is the right way, and that if I don’t see things their way, well, I’m a [something]-ist and deserve to be re-educated in the gulag of their choice.

Choice, heh. Choice is a good word. Freedom means choice. Choice does not mean overconsuming. Choice means being free to consume what I want, and not what some worthless meddling government apparatchik thinks I should want. I walked into Fry’s Marketplace. It was a wonderland. I walked out with a smile on my face and a bag of gemstone potatoes under my arm. That, my friends, is America.

Slander it at your peril, and ideally somewhere out of earshot of the rest of us.

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?

Nine.

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