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Rant: Long Weeks and Short Ribs

NuTone-500 Wide.jpg

It’s good to keep on learning new things, no matter how old you are. I learned something new over the recent holidays: You can break a rib coughing. The good news is that although I did run the experiment, the results were inconclusive.

Whew.

It may have been a near thing; my cousin Dolores told me she “popped a rib” years ago while fighting bronchitis, and it was nasty. Another online friend said basically the same thing. And my workout friend Joe told me that a dump truck T-boned his convertible back in 2001 and broke four ribs before driving several glass fragments into his skull. The glass was no big deal. The ribs…very big deal.

This, as they say, has been a bad season. Carol has had the sniffles or worse since Thanksgiving. I’ve done better, but I think both of us came down with the endlessly popular flu between mid-month and Christmas. We had our shots, even, for all the good they did us. I bounced back, for the most part. She had a terrible time climbing out of it. And then, just after New Year’s Day, we both ended up with some bacterial bronchitis. Cough isn’t my typical symptom for colds and flu. Chest congestion and especially sinus congestion, but cough? Rarely.

This time I coughed so hard I thought I’d broken a rib. My right side was horribly painful for most of a week. And that’s when nothing else was going on. When I coughed, it hurt hideously. When I sneezed–and I rarely sneeze only once–it may have been the worst pain I’ve felt since my kidney stone twenty years ago. It may, in fact, have been worse than my kidney stone. I do not ever recall coughing that hard, ever, nor hurting that bad while coughing. My sister was the one who generally had croup. Me, I threw up. She was the Phlegm Queen. I was the Barf King. 1959 was the Year of Body Fluid Eruptions. It’s been better since then.

Until New Year’s Day. Then, as Leeloo would say, Bada-boom!

Urgent care gave me antibiotics, a steroid nose spray, and advice to get a chest X-ray if things didn’t quiet down in a few days. Things didn’t. So I got the X-ray. And even after a 10-day course of Augmentin, my head was still draining and my ribs still hurt like hell. The only good news was that my ribs remained intact, despite two weeks of abuse.

So, why all the TMI? I’ve been away for several weeks, and that’s why. Even after I felt better, Stuff Was Piling Up. I gave us a Ring Video Doorbell for Christmas. I discovered after the fact that it was not compatible with the 1995-era NuTone intercom/door chime that came with the house. When I pulled the NuTone unit off the kitchen wall, I saw what you see in the photo above. Loads of wires, none marked, some just hanging loose out of a hole in the wallboard. It took three days to work up the intestinal fortitude to pull out my VOM and start the necessary detective work. I eventually identified the wires:

  • Two were 18VAC from the doorbell transformer. Good; need that.
  • Two were 18 VAC going…somewhere. They were intended to trigger the gate unlock solenoid, as I discovered when I pressed the gate unlock button with the meter on the wires. Alas, we do not have a gate unlock solenoid. I was sending 18VAC somewhere out into the Vasty Deep. I still don’t know where the other ends of those wires are, though I have some hunches.
  • There were two old-style four-conductor phone cables running out to the gate doorbell button and the front door doorbell button. Two conductors in each cable were hanging loose in the air. Call me fussy; I don’t like wires just hanging loose in the air. Electricity could start leaking all over the house. Thurber’s mother didn’t care for that. Neither do I.
  • We actually have two, count ’em, two front doorbell switches. I thought one was dead. It’s not. We have two doorbell chimes. God knows why, and I may ask Him one day.

Electricity leaking - 500 Wide.jpg

I was still not a well man, and it took me days to get this far. I found a list of Ring-compatible door chimes and picked one up at Home Depot. It was smaller than the NuTone, which meant that I had to drag in the paint from the shed and repaint the dead space around the wire hole. Before I could do that I had to scrape away the silicone caulk that ran all the way around the NuTone, and then spackle everything level again, given that the caulk had not gone gently into any night, good, bad, or indifferent. It took three coats of paint to get full coverage. By then I would ordinarily have begun throwing things, but I didn’t have the energy to throw things.

The door chime I bought can play a lot of tunes. It can play “Happy Birthday to You.” It can play “The Star-Spangled Banner.” It can play “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” As I punched my way through the tune stash, I began to despair of it ever playing ding-dong! like any proper doorbell should. Ding-dong! was there. It was the very last tune in the chime’s repertoire. Guys, if I want jazz I’ll go to New Orleans. If I want classical I’ll turn on KBAQ. If I want shitty MIDI compositions of no special quality, well, I know where they live. You have one job: Play ding-dong! Just do it.

Ok, by then I was grumpy. If your ribs felt like my ribs did, you’d have been grumpy too.

I dissected the NuTone circuit board. It has a number of ICs on it:

  • A 4N33 optocoupler.
  • An MC14585BCP hex Schmitt trigger.
  • A 555 timer.
  • An SA800 doorbell chime generator.
  • A TC4066BP quad bilateral switch.
  • A ULN3718M audio amp.

I had several of all of these in my parts stash but the door chime generator and the audio amp, which (being a dedicated LM386 guy) I wouldn’t use anyway. So the damned thing could offer me no useful parts for my trouble. Worthless crap, you are. Feed the trash, you did.

With all that done and out of the way, let me say that the Ring doorbell works beautifully. When somebody pushes the button, the Ring app pops up on your smartphone, wherever you are, and shows you a video of who’s at the door. You can then talk to them through the speaker on the Ring device. They can’t tell if you’re home or not. The damned thing even has night vision. I had to practically pay a rib to get it installed, but trust me: It’s worth the trouble.

I don’t even know if I mentioned here that our waterbed sprang a leak a week or so before Christmas. We bought the bed at a Going Out of Business sale, which means that the retailer had gone out of business, and the manufacturer didn’t seem especially healthy itself. So we ordered a new waterbed mattress from a place that makes them up custom. It showed up a little less than a week ago. I finally got it installed and filled this afternoon. With a little luck we’ll sleep on it tonight.

Through all this, I got half a chapter of Dreamhealer written, and no Contra entries. I am still tired, still blowing my nose twice as often as is my habit, and still coughing occasionally. You don’t need to feel sorry for me; it’s been in the 70s and 80s here while most of my friends are freezing their cans up north. The dogs are clean and I cooked us a helluva good steak this evening.

Oh, crap. I forgot: The pool backwash valve is leaking. The pool guy says the pool equipment is now 25-odd years old, and could fail badly at any time. I got one quote. I need another. And then I will have a much thinner checkbook.

Hey, Happy New Year!

More or less.

I guess.

[coughs fitfully]

Odd Lots

Rant: Processed, My Ass; I Wanna Kill Something

Yes. I wanna kill something. And what I wanna kill is the term “processed food.” I wanna drive stakes through its eyes, pound it flat with a sledgehammer, then flip it over and pound it even flatter. I’d stake it to an anthill except that I like ants a little too much. The term must die. It’s a lie, fake science, fake health, fake everything. It’s also racist, classist, and elitist. I’ve heard it enough. I do not want to hear it again.

Some background: Five or six years ago, when I was on the verge of turning 60 and my blood pressure was inching up, I saw my GP. The first thing he said was, “We have to get you off of processed foods.” He hadn’t asked me anything about my diet. He didn’t define what a “processed food” is. He didn’t know that I was eating processed foods, whatever they might be. He didn’t know what I ate at all, but he was so sure that hypertension is caused by processed foods that he didn’t consider his advice absurd. I was so taken aback by the lack of logic that I didn’t even call him on it. I will not make that mistake again.

I just wrote him off, and soon had a better GP. This one simply handed me a prescription for lisinopril, which has been doing the job just fine ever since.

Still, everywhere I go, I see cautions against eating “processed food.” Nobody ever defines the term. Everybody who uses it assumes that its definition is obvious and universally understood. I dunno… Is cooked food processed? Is pasteurized milk processed? No? Then what does “processed” actually mean?

Crickets. (Which some consider health food. Unless the crickets are killed first, in which case no, because that would be processing them.)

If it’s about salt, say that it’s about salt. And provide numbers. I did the science on myself and found that salt does not affect my blood pressure at all. (Obviously, YMMV.) There’s actually significant evidence that it goes the other way. In fact, there’s evidence that eating more salt causes you to lose weight.

If not salt, then fat? Research finding that most fats are not only harmless but necessary and beneficial is piling up. Eating fat gooses your metabolism, especially if it’s been awhile since you’ve eaten carbs. Eating a high-fat, zero-carb breakfast is one of my major strategies for keeping my weight under control.

Sugar? I’ll definitely buy that. But it’s funny how nobody mentions sugar as a key element of processed foods. Chemicals? Which chemicals? Give me a list. Be specific. You and I are made of chemicals. I eat nothing but chemicals. And so do you. We need a precise technical definition here.

All that said, little by little, I’m beginning to get a clue. I may even have a definition for you: Processed food is any food that my tribe disapproves of. Yes, here and there I’ve heard snarky pseudo-definitions on the order of “any food containing more than five ingredients.” Good luck if you want six different vegetables in your vegetable soup. I counted the ingredients in Bugles earlier today: Corn meal, coconut oil, sugar, salt, baking soda. That’s it. Bugles are health food! (What’s scarier, to me at least, is that they’re over fifty years old, and I remember their introduction.) “Processed food” is in fact one of the most important entries in the Encyclopedia of Virtue Signaling.

“Processed food” is also, in some circles, code for something eaten by working-class people, who admirably don’t care what our fackwot Harvard-educated elites think of them. Harvard, by the way, was bought off by the sugar companies decades ago to make the case that sugar was safe and fat was evil. Ever since I learned that, I’ve considered Harvard a fake university, and The Atlantic agrees with me. The gist here is that you really really don’t want to be lumped in with people who work with their hands, so never admit that you even know what fish sticks or TV dinners are.

Ok, I know, shut up, Jeff and cut to the chase. Here’s the deal: The term “processed food” is an undefinable nonsense term used by snobs who try to make it look like they know something about health but are actually obsessed with distancing themselves from those yukky working classes. It’s just that simple.

Want to prove me wrong? Go find me a precise, technical, unambiguous, and widely accepted technical definition of “processed food.” You must meet all four points, without exception. (If you don’t, I will shoot it down in nuclear flames.) Otherwise, I think my conclusion stands.

Odd Lots

Odd Lots

  • I get asked several times a year: “What are your politics?” Tough question, given that I think that politics is filth. But now Jon Gabriel has answered the question for me: I do not join teams. I create my own. I’ve been doing this all my life. I’m not going to stop now.
  • Side note on Jon Gabriel: He used to work at Coriolis back in the day. So although I’ve been seeing him online for years, I never realized until very recently that he was our Jon Gabriel. (There is another who does diet books.)
  • Twitter is experimenting with doubling the size of tweets to 280 characters. I wonder if Gab had any least little bit to do with that?
  • Cirsova Magazine posted a short excerpt of something called the Denham Tracts from 1895 on Twitter, with a longish list of British supernatural beings, among which are “hobbits.” You can see the whole fascinating book on the Internet Archive. It was published by the Folk-Lore Society and it’s exactly that: Short notes on British folklore, including local saints, odd little ceremonies, song lyrics, and supernatural creatures I’ve never heard of, like the dudmen, wirrikows, gallytrots, miffies, and loads more. (The list starts on page 77.) Great fun!
  • At last, it looks like a popular treatment of sleep science is coming to us. Matthew Walker’s Why We Sleep will be released on October 3. This long-form piece provides some background. Walker is willing to say what I’ve been saying for decades: Do not short your sleep. Bad things will happen, including cancer, obesity, Alzheimer’s and who knows what else. Unlike me, Walker is an expert on the subject, so maybe you’ll believe him.
  • Lack of sleep can kill you. So, evidently, can low-fat diets, according a Canadian study of 135,000 adults in 18 countries, published by The Lancet. Note the reactions of NHS physicians, who aren’t convinced. (In their defense I will say that the Mayo Clinic is still pushing a low-fat diet in their newsletters.)
  • Here’s a long, rambling, but worthwhile discussion of how the fake science of fat demonization came about, and how, faced with the spectre of being shown to be wrong about something (impossible!) governments are doubling down on the fake anti-fat message. Government actions cause harm because we can’t throw the responsible parties in a cell and leave them there. The King, after all, can do no wrong.
  • Via Esther Schindler: The history of email.
  • I’d prefer that it be in Pascal, but so it goes: There is a Javascript code baby onesie. My grand-niece Molly is now a month old. Decisions, decisions…
  • In his will, philosopher Jeremy Bentham specified that he was to be mummified, dressed in his ordinary clothes, and put on display. So it was written. So it was done.

Odd Lots

Odd Lots

Monthwander

Wow. We’re almost out of July, and until today I’ve posted only one entry here this whole month. I won’t make excuses. Ok, a few: I was traveling the first week of the month, and came back only to have extensive oral surgery a couple of days later. I had two teeth pulled, two bone grafts done on the sockets, and implant posts placed where two of my other teeth had previously gone missing, one of them in the early 1990s. I was on heavy-duty painkillers for a couple of days, during which time I mostly read books that didn’t require a lot of brain cells. Writing was just not on the menu.

Nor was eating. For the first five or six days I subsisted on Glucerna, cottage cheese, and scrambled eggs. Eating was unpleasant. I lost five pounds. Eating is still tricky (and not entirely pleasant) because I have gaps (with stitches) on both sides of my mouth, so chewing on just one side isn’t an option. Chewing with my front teeth works to some extent, although I feel like a hamster when I do it. I haven’t eaten this much cottage cheese since, well, never.

This has made me grouchy. I wrote a rant for Contra here a few days ago that was so grouchy I’m still not entirely sure I’m going to post it. Let me think on that a little.

I began to suspect I was coming back to life when I got another thousand words down on Dreamhealer. It was supposed to be a short novel. True to my pattern, it’s getting more complex all the time, and I seriously doubt I’ll be able to pull it off in 50,000 words. I’ve already got 16,000 words down, and am just now getting out of second gear.

Dreamhealer is a very recent idea, and I haven’t said a lot about it. Here’s the elevator pitch:

A lucid dreamer discovers he can enter and heal the nightmares of others, and declares war on the mysterious creatures living in the collective unconscious that create nightmares and then feast on the terror that they invoke.

My back-cover hook is this:

Meet Larry. He’s your worst nightmare’s worst nightmare.

It’s a bit of a departure for me. It’s got nerds, PDP-8s, dogs, romance, programmable thought-forms, and some very weird dream footage. Oh, and something else: Julian Jaynes’ theory of bicameral psychology. I mentioned this in my May 10, 2017 entry about berserk Marian apparitions. Back in May I hadn’t re-read Jaynes’ book yet, and a lot of what I’ve done in the last two weeks has been devouring as much of Jaynes’ thought as I can manage. His book has hands-down the longest title of any in my library: The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. He’s not a dazzling writer, and given my generally foul mood, I managed to slog through no more than a chapter a day. There is an interesting (and far better written) gloss on Jaynes’ theory in the book The Dark Side of God by Douglas Lockhart, which I reread after finishing Jaynes. Quite honestly, I don’t recommend the book on its own merits, but Lockhart had some useful insights on bicameral thought and the origins of religion.

One of my friends asked me the other day: “Whyinhell aren’t you writing the sequel to The Cunning Blood?” Good question, especially since I got the idea for The Cunning Blood (and the whole Gaeans Saga, including the Drumlins stories) almost exactly twenty years ago, in mid-July 1997. The easy answer is that I’ve never written a sequel and am not entirely sure how to go about it. I’ve got some characters (including an AI Oscar Wilde) some tech gimmicks, a few action scenes, but no plot to speak of. I do have a prolog for the story, which I published here some time back.

Honestly, guys, when I finish Dreamhealer, I’m going to finally take a good run at The Molten Flesh. Really. Cross my heart and hope to have more damned teeth pulled, which right about now strikes me as worse than dying.

Odd Lots

  • Solar cycle 24 is crashing, and we’re still three years from Solar minimum. 24 really does look to be the weakest cycle in 100 years or more.
  • And if you don’t think the Sun influences Earth’s climate, read this, about the Sun’s indirect effects on climate and why they make climate so hard to predict.
  • I doubt the payback would be more than the cost of the equipment and the electricity, but you can mine bitcoin with a Raspberry Pi–or better yet, a whole farm of them. (Run them from a solar panel?)
  • Speaking of the RPi: I burned a new NOOBS micro-SD last week, and used it to install the latest stock Raspbian. What I discovered is that this latest release has a terrible time detecting any monitor that isn’t straight HDMI. I’ve been using the RPi with older 4:3 DVI monitors through an adapter cable ever since I got my first board, and the board had no trouble figuring out the size of the raster. I’ve screwed around with the config file with only partial success; even telling the board precisely what mode your monitor speaks (1600 X 1200, 75 Hz) doesn’t guarantee correct video.
  • When I was much younger I wanted a PDP-8. And then a PDP-11, which I almost got because Heathkit actually made a hobbyist PDP-11 desktop. I settled for an S-100 8080, because there was actually software for it. I recently stumbled on a hobbyist PDP-8 system based on Intersil’s IM6120 chip. It’s not hardware you can buy; you download the PCB design and the software, get somebody to make the board (not hard these days) and then stuff it yourself. Runs FOCAL-69 and OS/8. Paleocomputing at its best!
  • From the It’s-Dead-But-the-Corpse-Is-Still-Twitching Department: Aetna is pulling out of the Obamcare exchanges entirely next year, citing $200M in losses.
  • You won’t believe where Earth’s atmospheric xenon comes from! (Actually, you will…but you have to say that these days because clicks.)
  • Excellent long-form piece on why we should fear an ideologically uniform elite. From the article: “If you really want to live in a world without tyranny, spend less time trying to show others why you are right and more time trying to show yourself why you are wrong.” Bingo. Because no matter what you think, you are always wrong. About everything. Nothing is simple. Nobody has the whole story. Ambiguity is everywhere. Certainty is poison.
  • How many times do we have to say this? Eat fat to lose weight.
  • We could use more research here (can’t we always?) but it’s certainly possible: Eating more salt may help you lose weight. Could be; I determined by experiment that salt doesn’t affect my blood pressure, so it couldn’t hurt to try.
  • A correlation has been found between consuming lowfat or nonfat dairy products and Parkinson’s disease. No such correlation is seen with full-fat dairy products. My guess: Your brain is mostly made of fat, and people who eat low-fat dairy tend to eat low-fat everything. So this is yet another reason to go low-carb high fat, even if you don’t need to lose weight. Fat is a necessary nutrient!
  • After decades of difficult research, scholars have finally decoded the lyrics to the “O Fortuna” movement of Carmina Burana. And…they aren’t in medieval Latin at all. (Thanks to Sarah Hoyt for the link.)

Odd Lots

  • A study performed almost fifty years ago has come back into the light, in which half of a reliable (i.e., institutionalized) sample population was fed saturated animal fat, and the other half was fed vegetable oils. After almost five years researchers found that low cholesterol was not heart-healthy. For every observed 30 point drop in cholesterol, overall mortality went up 22%. Step away from the corn oil!
  • Again, not new (from 1998) but intriguing: A study showed that people on a high-fat diet exhibited a better mood than those on a low-fat diet. I’m always in a better mood when things taste better, and fat tastes better than almost anything else you could name.
  • We are slaughtering so many sacred cows these days: A brand-new study shows that only 20-25% of people exhibit BP sensitive to sodium. And not only that: Among the others, the ones who ate the most salt were the ones with the lowest blood pressure.
  • OMG: Cheese is as addictive as crack! Actually, it’s not. And today’s fake science is brought to you by a former vice-president of PETA. Yes, scientists have a constitutional right to vent politicalized nonsense and swear fealty to political parties and ideologies. I have a constitutional right to mark down their credibility if they do.
  • I’ve been saying for a long time that counting calories is worthless, based on research that goes back almost sixty years. If The Atlantic piles on, I suspect the debate is over.
  • For her eighth birthday recently, I gave my niece Julie three books on the visual programming language Scratch. Julie, who, when her mother told her she was too young for roller skates, tried to make her own out of Lego. I’m not sure what she’ll do with it…but trust me, she’ll think of something. (Thanks to Joel Damond for the link.)
  • Due to an intriguing gadget called an isotope ratio mass spectrometer, we can say with pretty reasonable confidence that human beings were top-of-the-food-pyramid carnivores long before we ever domesticated plants. Yes, it’s a long-form piece. Read The Whole Thing.
  • Look at the US Drought Monitor. I remember when much of California and Nebraska were dark brown. If this be climate change, let us make the most of it.
  • This may be funnier if you’re deep into RPGs, but I found it pretty funny nonetheless. I suspect that I dwell somewhere in the Diverse Alliance of Nice Guys. And hey, that’s where Space Vegas is.
  • Beware the Bambie Apocalypse! (Thanks to Esther Schindler for the link.)