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Odd Lots

  • I hurt my back and had to cancel a trip to Chicago to see family, and then to Chattanooga for Libertycon, which is the only con I go to anymore. Now, two weeks before my 70th birthday, I have to remind myself that, weight training or no weight training, lifting and carrying heavy things can be a hazard to your health.
  • Health, yeah. New medical research from South Australia shows a causal relationship between low vitamin D levels and dementia. Vitamin D has a number of benefits, most of which have been known for years. Carol and I have an ace in the hole: We’re in Arizona, where cloudy days are rare, so we get a lot more sunlight than we used to. And we take a 5000 IU supplement every morning, mostly because we’re not kids anymore, and D synthesis declines with age, sunshine or no sunshine. Bottom line: Don’t be D-ficient.
  • I dunno, but it sure looks like all the recent Corvettes we’ve seen here around town look like a car that some giant foot stepped on. Not to be outdone by Chevy, Cadillac is fielding the same profile. We giggle every time they go by.
  • I’ve never heard of “foot pool” before, but it looks like a lot of fun. Most of the activity I see mentioned online are from the UK.
  • Bet you never wanted to read the history of canned wine, eh? Well, here it is. I clearly remember drinking a can of white zinfandel among friends circa 1971. Nothing about it seemed odd to me then, as I had yet to encounter conventional wine culture.
  • New research suggests that THE MOST HIDEOUSLY DANGEROUS DEADLY DRUG IN THE ENTIRE COSMOS DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT has anticancer properties. More research is planned, if the poor researchers are ever allowed to lay hands on the stuff.
  • Can we literally throw things into orbit? A startup named SpinLaunch has built a small-scale proof-of-concept launching machine, and has managed to throw a 9-foot payload up as high as 30,000 feet. Fuel, water, atmosphere, clothes? Though the article does not state an acceleration in g’s, it’s gotta be intense, and way beyond what living material can stand. But for provisioning space stations it could be just the thing. Good luck, guys.
  • Wow. I didn’t know this: Big dust clouds near the center of our galaxy taste like…raspberries. Oh, and they smell like rum. Alas, it’s just the ethyl formate talking.
  • A new research paper out of the New England Journal of Medicine has found that in a small trial of a new drug called dostarlimab, with a cohort of 18 colorectal cancer patients, the remission rate was…100%. Dostalimab is a monoclonal antibody originally intended to treat endometrial cancer. Researchers think it may be a much more general cancer treatment, and new studies are planned.
  • And here’s another: A study conducted at the University of Toronto showed that toddlers who grew up with dogs (but not cats) appear to have some protection against Crohn’s Disease. The article doesn’t say that having a cat nullifies the protection, only that growing up with cats has no similar effects.
  • Finally, Amazon must have thought I was Geoffrey Chaucer. Or that the man was WAYYYYY ahead of his time. (Read the page closely.)

Odd Lots

  • I got caught in an April Fools hoax that (as my mother would say) sounded too true to be funny: That Tesla canceled all plans to produce its Cybertruck. (Read the last sentence, as I failed to do.) I like Musk; he has guts and supports space tech. About his Cybertruck concept, um…no. It looks like an origami, or else something that escaped from a third-shelf video game. The world would go on without it, and he might use the money to do something even cooler, whatever that might be.
  • Oh, and speaking of Elon Musk: He just bought almost 10% of Twitter, to the tune of about $3B. He is now the biggest outside shareholder. This is not a hoax, and I wonder if it’s only the beginning. Twitter is famous for suspending people without explaining what they did wrong, sometimes for things that seem ridiculously innocuous. A major shareholder could put pressure on Twitter’s management from the inside to cut out that kind of crap. It’s been done elsewhere. And boy, if anybody can do it, he can.
  • Nuclear energy has the highest capacity factor of any form of energy, meaning the highest percentage of time that energy producers spend actually producing energy. I knew that from my readings on the topic. What shocked me is that there is in fact an Office of Nuclear Energy under the DOE. I’m glad they exist, but boy, they hide well.
  • The Register (“Biting the hand that feeds IT”) published a fascinating article about how C has slowly evolved into an Interface Definition Language (IDL). C was never intended to do that, and actually does a pretty shitty job of it. Ok, I’m not a software engineer, but the way to build a new operating system is to define the IDL first, and work backwards from there. C is now 50 years old, sheesh. It’s time to start again, and start fresh, using a language (like Rust) that actually supports some of the security features (like memory protection and safe concurrency) that C lacks. This is not Pascal sour grapes. I’m studying Rust, even though I may never develop anything using it. Somehow, it just smells like the future.
  • Drinking wine with food (as I almost always do) may reduce your chances of developing type 2 diabetes. It’s not taken up in the article, but I have this weird hunch that sweet wines weren’t part of the study. Residual sugar is a real thing, and I’m drinking way less of it than I did 20 years ago.
  • People have been getting in fistfights over this for most of a century, but establishing Standard Time year-round may be better than year-round Daylight Savings Time. I’m mostly neutral on the issue. Arizona is on permanent DST and we like it fine. The problems really occur at high latitudes, where there isn’t much daylight in winter to begin with, so shifting it an hour in either direction doesn’t actually help much.
  • There is Macaroni and Cheese Ice Cream. From Kraft. Really. I wouldn’t lie to you. In fact, I doubt I would even imagine it, and I can imagine a lot.
  • Optimists live longer than pessimists–especially older optimists. Dodging enough slings and arrows of outrageous fortune somehow just makes the whole world look brighter, I guess.
  • Finally, some stats suggesting that our hyperpartisan hatefest online has pushed a lot of people out of political parties into the independent zone–where I’ve been most of my post-college life. 42% of Americans are political independents, compared to 29% who are Democrats and 27% who are Republicans. I’m on Twitter, but I don’t post meanness and (as much as possible) don’t read it. And if Mr. Musk has his way with them, I may be able to post links to ivermectin research without getting banned.

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!”

Odd Lots

Three Coins 9-20-2020 - 500 Wide.jpg

  • The old pennies appear to be back. (See my entry for November 7, 2019.) Over the last two weeks, at least 75% of the pennies I’ve gotten at McDonald’s were pre-2000, some of them very pre-2000. Yesterday alone I got three pennies, two from the ’90s, and one from…1962. This morning I actually got a parking-lot nickel. (Left, above.) It’s from 1999 in case you can’t make it out, and it’s lived a very hard life. The nickel on the right is 80 years old. The penny, a trifling 38. I wonder if, with new coins in short supply, McDonald’s is again getting them from the people who run networks of supermarket coin exchangers. I was getting shiny new pennies for a couple of months, and then suddenly I wasn’t. We’ll just have to see how it goes.
    • “How did I come into the world? Why was I not consulted? And if I am compelled to take part in it, where is the manager? I would like to see him.”
      –Soren Kierkegaard, Edifying Discourses in Various Spirits (1847)

      (Hmmm. Maybe “Soren” is German for “Karen”.)

    • There’s an excellent COVID-19 stats dashboard maintained by the Arizona Department of Health Services that as best I can tell is updated daily. It covers new cases, hospitalization rates, daily death rates by date of death, demographics, and lots of other useful stuff. The daily death rates for the disease have been in single digits since September 10, and the peak death day was July 17, when 97 people died. Seeing the graphs and digesting the numbers, it’s pretty obvious that the pandemic is burning out in Arizona.
    • The older red wine is, the less trans-resveratrol it contains, and thus the fewer beneficial health effects. I’m not a wine snob, and most wine I drink these days is 2017 or 2018. I’ll open old wine now and then (we have some) when the occasion demands, but not for daily consumption.

    • Put this on your calendar: On December 21 there will be a “grand conjunction” of Jupiter and Saturn, which will be the closest conjunction of the two giant planets since 1623 AD. The planets will be separated by only 6 arc minutes, which is one-fifth the width of the full Moon. With a decent scope and good eyepieces, you should be able to see the disks of both planets in one view.
    • This is a good year for planet spotting. On October 6, Mars will reach its closest approach to Earth during its 2020 opposition. (The opposition itself refers to Mars with respect to the Sun, and is on October 14.) The Red Planet will reach magtnitude -2.6, and on that date will be brighter than Jupiter. It won’t be this big or bright again until 2030. So put it on your calendars.
    • Great fun: Sixty Seconds of Stella Leaf Jumps. (I remember leaves, heh.)
    • We’ve been hearing that Vitamin D enhances immune function for respiratory infections for quite awhile. It’s also true that many of the people who die from COVID-19 are significantly and often severely deficient in the vitamin. Here’s a scientific paper correlating Vitamin D levels with SARS-CoV-2 test results. Short form: The more deficient you are, the more likely you are to be infected after contact with the virus. Take some pills. Get some sun. Don’t just cower in your spare room waiting for a vaccine.
    • Twitter can be so worth it sometimes.
    • Check out the first graph in this article. Countries that treat their COVID-19 patients with hydroxychloroquine have far lower case-fatality rates than countries (including ours) that has banned or discouraged the use of the drug.

    Odd Lots

    • Amazon is selling hand-made (in Latvia) steampunk thumb drives incorporating copper pipe caps and a Soviet-made pentode vacuum tube. LEDs light up the glass from the bottom of the tube when there’s power available at the USB connector. (Thanks to Bill Meyer for the pointer.)
    • Tonight would be a good night to see Mercury. It’s never easy because the planet never gets too far from the Sun in the sky, but with smartphone apps like Sky Map (on all Android phones by default) it’s certainly easier than it once was. Start by finding Venus in the west, immediately after the Sun goes below the horizon. (You can’t miss Venus.) Mercury lies roughly on a line between Venus and the Sun. There are no bright stars in that part of the sky, so if you see a star near that line, it’s not a star but ol’ Merc himself.
    • Speaking of the Sun… Here’s a solid overview of the history of solar science. It’s a long piece, and even if you choose not to read it, the photos and diagrams are worth the visit.
    • Betelgeuse continues to dim for unknown reasons. It’s fallen from 10th brightest star in the sky to 24th brightest. Orion is the first constellation I can clearly recall seeing, and these days, it just looks…off. This may mean it’s about to go supernova…for large values of “about.” (Hundreds or more likely thousands of years. Stars are never in a hurry.)
    • I’ve been following the coronavirus epidemic using a dashboard maintained by Johns Hopkins. Who knows how accurate it is, but one does get a feeling that China is currently in a world of hurt. I got the link from my friend Charlie Martin, and he’s got a good article about the issues involved.
    • This is a little weird, but it’s one more telltale that the technical publishing industry I loved for so long is no longer with us. I went searching for a book on installing, configuring, and customizing the MediaWiki software, and found…nothing. There’s plenty online, but I’m talking about book-length treatments. If you know of one let me know. My longstanding heuristic is that if it’s not on Amazon, it isn’t available.
    • How to turn a waterway into wine. At least it wasn’t a Zinfandel.
    • Ah, but this was a sweet, sweet hack: Some guy wandered around downtown Berlin pulling a little red wagon full of smartphones, all running Google Maps. Wherever he happened to be during his wander, Google Maps reported a traffic jam.
    • If politics bores you as much as it bores me, here’s a solid distraction from all the tiresome yelling and screaming: The economics of all-you-can-eat buffets. Eat quick: My instincts tell me that as a category buffets are not long for this world.
    • Finally, you’ve heard me say that there’s funny, there’s National Lampoon funny, and then there’s Babylon Bee funny. This may be one of the Bee’s best pieces yet–given this season’s nonstop nonsense.

    This Business of Bourbon Barrel Aged Wines

    I’m a contrarian. I defy convention. I question authority. I make fun of pretentiousness. I go my own way. This is especially true in my choice of wines, as I’ve written about here in the past. I’m notorious for praising wines that are (gasp!) not completely dry. I don’t actually drink sweet wine much anymore, since I’ve more or less sworn off sugar, but my reasons there have nothing to do with wine snobbery. I actually like sweet wine. But as I cruise through late middle age, I’m keeping an eye on my A1C.

    My most recent discovery began as a fad but went mainstream: soft red blends. Their “softness” is really a consequence of leaving a little more residual sugar in the wine, generally bringing it up to 1% or a little higher, rather than asymptotically close to zero. This article is a little condescending in spots, but nails the reason soft red blends are popular: “…red blends tend to have a softer tannin profile than other popular red varietal categories, such as Cabernet Sauvignon.” Bingo. Not everybody likes tannins in wine, especially supertasters like me, for whom bitter flavors overwhelm any other flavors in food or drink. Most of what I drink are now Zinfandels and soft red blends, particularly Menage a Trois’ Silk and HiJinx Cellars’ HiJinx red blend, which I should have bought a case of while it was still available here. I don’t think anything has done more damage to wine snobbery than soft red blends in the forty-odd years since white zin came on the scene.

    So. There’s a new fad in town: Red wines aged in used bourbon barrels. I’m not much for bourbon. It tastes bitter to me, like most whiskeys. So I didn’t try it when Apothic made a splash with their Inferno blend in 2016. Instead, I stumbled across 1000 Stories Zinfandel earlier this summer. It’s aged in bourbon barrels for sixty days. It’s a $19 wine you can often find for $16 or $17. The wine is softer than a lot of zins, though I doubt its residual sugar tops 0.8%. Even at $16 it’s not what I call a “daily driver” wine, but if I’ve sprung for good tenderloins to toss on the grill, I’m willing to pop for a wine that does them justice.

    Even if I didn’t know ahead of the game that this was a bourbon-aged zin, I would know that there was something different about it. There’s a taste or a sensation somewhere between conventional wine spice and a sort of burn that I associate with whiskey. The burn is subtle, and doesn’t overwhelm the wine. It just barely gets your attention, and I’m good with that.

    Having declared their Zinfandel good, I tried 1000 Stories Gold Rush Red, a blend (not billed as soft) that is also aged for sixty days in bourbon barrels. It’s a decent red, also $19. However, the burn is not as pronounced, and although it’s a perfectly good blend, I’m not sure I’d pay $19 for it. $14 or $15, sure.

    Next up beside the Duntemann grill was Exitus Red, again bourbon-barrel aged. It’s a $20 California blend of Zinfandel, Petit Verdot, and Cabernet Sauvignon. The alcohol level is high (15.9%) which competes with the characteristic fruit-forward Zinfandel flavor. However, it’s a very good blend, and if the bourbon burn isn’t strong in this one, it’s mostly because the alcohol is through the roof. I do rate it a little higher than Gold Rush Red on overall impression. However, if you want a solid red blend, you don’t have to pay $20 for it.

    Having found three reasonable bourbon-aged reds, I hunted around and finally located a bottle of Apothic Inferno, which was a limited-edition wine and has evidently gotten scarce since 2016. Apothic is famous for soft red blends like Apothic Red and Apothic Crush, so I had high hopes for it. And in truth, it was a pretty fair wine, quite drinkable, and only $12. But I was left with the suspicion that Apothic had poured the wine into the bourbon barrels before completely emptying out the bourbon. Really; it tastes like a mix of bourbon and red wine. The burn is there, but the bourbon taste overwhelms even the burn, and it’s the dominant nose in the glass and flavor on the tongue. Whether this is a bug or a feature is a matter of taste, and I readily admit that I’ve never tasted anything even remotely like it. I find the bitter edge a little off-putting, but you may enjoy that sort of thing. Like Exitus, it’s a 15.9% wine, so go easy with it. As for pairings, I’m not sure. The whiskey flavor clashed a little with good steaks, but might be just fine with burgers or brats.

    There are more. Mondavi has a bourbon-aged cab, which I won’t try because I don’t drink cabs. Jacob’s Creek has a Shiraz aged in Scotch whiskey barrels, and while I don’t know that Scotch whiskey tastes different enough from bourbon to make a difference, I like Shiraz enough to try it. Others will likely emerge, and if I turn up a good one, I’ll mention it here on Contra. Grilling season is kicking into high gear in Arizona now that our long, long summer is ramping down. So there will be plenty of opportunities to try new things on both the food and the wine side of the counter. Stay tuned.

    Odd Lots

    Odd Lots

    Odd Lots

    Walk Like an Egyptian, Become an Australian

    19 Crimes Red Blend.pngI’ve been trying red blends lately, and stumbled upon a very good one last week: 19 Crimes Red, 2013. Smooth, extremely dark, and highly drinkable, with enough residual sugar to banish the bitter pox of oak without making the wine taste perceptibly sweet. Falls somewhere between Middle Sister Rebel Red and Menage a Trois Red on my Chart of Wine Esteem. 19 Crimes is Australian, and a mix of shiraz, pinot noir, grenache, and cabernet sauvignon.

    Somebody put a fair bit of money into their marketing campaign, which focuses on a peculiarity of late 18th Century British law: the list of 19 crimes that made you eligible for a one-way trip to Australia. They all seem like pretty minor matters and were mostly petty larceny: stealing cash or goods with a value of less than a shilling; stealing shrouds from graves; clandestine marriage; bigamy, and so on. Keep in mind that crimes like murder or treason were not on the list because those (and a great many other things) were hanging offenses, and as Colin Wilson vividly described in The Criminal History of Mankind, the British were not squeamish about executions circa 1800.

    Then there’s Crime #5: Impersonating an Egyptian.

    Tut, tut. Can’t have that. My WTF meter was pegged, and it took a little online research to figure this one out. First of all, it isn’t on all online copies of the list of 19 Crimes, and several lists give #5 as Stealing Ore from Black Lead Mines. But there it is, right on the 19 Crimes wine site itself, and a number of other places. The gist of Crime #5 is actually this: Don’t be a gypsy. The Romany in that period were thought to be wandering Egyptians (though they are in fact of East Indian stock) and were accused of all sorts of things, from idolatry to thievery to fortune telling. Like the Jews, they were convenient scapegoats, and subject to many of the same persecutions that Jews suffered down through history. Genetic testing didn’t exist back then, so if you looked more or less like a Gypsy, wham! Off you went to Oz.

    It’s unclear from my reading how many of the Romany actually ended up in Australia, so maybe Crime #5 wasn’t enforced as ruthlessly as the other 18. (If any of my Australian readers know more about this, please share in the comments.) In fact, the greatest Romany population of any country is right here in the US, at about a million.

    The wine itself is excellent. About $10. Highly recommended.