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October, 2015:


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We had another estimator come out today for the move. After she was gone, once again Carol and I collapsed on the couch and didn’t say much for awhile. The reason is interesting: After working on this move for as long as we have (and with about 150 boxes stacked up to prove it) we get worn out thinking about how much we still have to do. We’re going to drive down to Phoenix in November with a small U-Haul trailer and no dogs, to make sure all the work on the new house was completed and done correctly. Then we fly back and kick into high gear on packing in preparation for a December move.

A fair amount of stuff will remain in this house so that we can come back in the spring to finish repairs and stage it for sale. That will take a couple of months, and we’ll have to have the ordinary machineries of life available while we work: clothes, a bed, a kitchen table, a coffee maker, a couch, kitchen implements, etc. Resistors and capacitors, not so much. So we’ll need to have a second (much smaller) truck bring down what’s left when the house goes on the market.

Among (many) other things, we packed the stuffed animals today. Some people have knicknacks (and we have our share) but a lot of the odd items on our shelves are stuffed animals. Not all are animals; I have a stuffed Space Shuttle, created by my very brilliant seamstress sister Gretchen Duntemann Roper. Decades ago, in the Age of APAs (google it; blogging didn’t come out of nowhere) I wrote an APA called “A Dead Rat and a String to Swing It On.” So she made me a dead rat, complete with a string to swing it on. (Above.) Nearby was the closest thing to an action figure that I own: a giant squid with posable (is that the word?) tentacles. I’ve never actually handled a dead squid and it’s not on my bucket list, exactly, but I’m wondering how well one would hang together if swung in a circle by one of its long feelers. (I suppose it depends on how long it had been dead.) However, someday, perhaps in some saga I have not yet imagined writing, somebody will grab a giant squid by a tentacle and swing it in a brawl. The image smells a little like a Stypek story back in his ancestral Realm of Tryngg, but no promises.

A book came to hand on its way to a box today that I think I’ve mentioned before: Conjuror’s Journal by Frances L. Shine. (Dodd-Mead, 1978.) I see that numerous hardcovers are available on Amazon for 10c plus shipping. Read the first review of the book, which is mine. If you want a quick, cheap read that will, at the end, both bring tears to your eyes and make you want to stand up and cheer, this is it.

Tomorrow is Halloween, and we’re having our first and last Halloween nerd party here at Phage House in Colorado Springs. I’m of way more than two minds about leaving here, but the little box I just clipped to my finger says my blood oxygen is at 88%. Better than nothing…but it’s not enough. And so the move goes on.

Stay Tuned…

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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.

Tessellating the Big Move

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Packing continues apace. I consistently get 5-8 boxes packed every day, and over time it adds up. I have well over 100 piled around the house by now. A lot of the most difficult stuff has been done, including almost everything in my biggish workshop. Carol and I hoarded cardboard boxes for most of a year before the move, and in fact before we began looking for a place in Arizona. We knew we would have to pack the garage before we emptied it in preparation for replacing the concrete slab. The garage contains a lot of high-density items, most of them metal. Smaller boxes are good for that. Once we decided that the whole house had to be packed, small boxes became even more useful, for tools and Meccano parts and panel meters and much else from my twelve feet of head-high shelves.

We’ve done this before, but we’re doing it more carefully this time. I’ve mentioned the core reason: We’re going from 4400 square feet to 3000 square feet. During the process I’ve been passing judgment on things to be packed, asking myself if this item or that item really needs to follow us to Arizona. Such decision-making is difficult when you have to pile everything in the house into boxes over a single long weekend because a new job awaits you somewhere on the other side of the country. In the past, well, we just piled.

There’s another reason to be careful: Movers emptying a moving van have to put boxes somewhere. Empty bookshelves take up as much space as full bookshelves, and 2200 books take up a lot of space, period. If we intend to be able to move around in the new house once everything gets down there, we need to put as much stuff into as few boxes as possible.

In pursuing that goal, I realized I have a personal super-power: tessellation. I can look at a pile of things beside an empty box, and fairly quickly fill the box so that little dead space remains. (See the photo above.) Mass-market paperbacks are no big challenge, because they’re all nearly the same size and differ mostly in thickness. Hardcovers and trades are trickier. Reference books are all over the map, size-wise, and are the trickiest of all. Spools of wire are tricky too, because if you’re clever you can nest them. I got an amazing amount of wire into a single Borders book box. (I still have a fair number of those from our move 12 years ago.) Tessellating test equipment proved diabolical, but I got a lot more into fewer boxes than I ever have in the past. I got my entire GRC-109 Special Forces radio set into a single 12″ cube, though it’s so heavy I fear for the box’s life. (The radio units themselves are essentially armored and not especially vulnerable to weak forces like gravity.)

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I have a labeling system to tell the movers what room to put each box in: I defined a 3-character code for each room in the house (plus the two garages and the shed) and then printed several sheets of Avery 5263 10-up labels for each code. I also have Visio documents for each code that place the code on a single sheet of paper as large as will fit. (The tags above indicate that the boxes are to be stacked in my office.) On moving day we’ll tape those sheets to the entrances of each room in the house so that the movers know which code has been assigned to which room.

So box by box, we crawl ever-closer to moving day. Each time we do this, we tempt the Fates by saying we hope never to do it again. This time I’ll play reverse psychology on the Fates by saying, Yo! Fates! Tessellation Man is ready for whatever you can throw at him!

I wonder if they’re even listening.

Odd Lots

The Hitch in Our Gitalong

We’ve had our Dodge Durango for almost a year now, and I’m willing to say it’s the best vehicle I’ve ever owned, in my 45 years of owning vehicles. I described the purchase experience (via CarMax) here. The CarMax people were very impressive. We gave them a list of must-haves, can’t haves, and nice-to-haves, and their sales rep did the logic and found us a car. We didn’t get the color that we wanted, and we didn’t get the tow package that we wanted, but it was less than a year old, a V-6, and had tan seats and the all-important power liftgate. I was told that I could order a tow package kit from a Dodge dealer and have it installed for about $750 total. We bought the car, and we love it.

This past week, I decided to get the tow package installed. We are thinking of driving a one-way trailer rental down to our new house later this year, because we’ll have four dogs in the hold and want to bring down certain items (like Carol’s plants and some 95-year-old crystal) that we don’t trust with movers. The idiots who moved us here from Scottsdale in 2003 destroyed a couple of our lamps and were throwing boxes around with unwarranted abandon. A trailer would allow me to rest a little easier with things like my grandmother’s crystal, my Icom IC-736 (which I bought as a review unit from ARRL and assume was hand-picked at Icom for perfectness) my telescope mirrors, Aunt Kathleen’s mogul lamp, and a few other fragile items.

I ordered the tow kit from the closest Dodge dealership. It cost me about $350. When it came in, I picked it up and took the Durango over to our mechanic to have the tow kit installed, along with the usual periodic oil change and lookover. He called about three hours later and told us the car was done.

Carol drove us down there in the 4Runner, and when we arrived, Vince was grinning. He took us out to the Durango, took off the tow hitch cover, and showed us the tow hitch. Cool. Then we looked in the back of the vehicle.

The tow kit was still there.

“The vehicle already had the tow kit installed,” he told us. Evidently he’d gotten the vehicle up on the lift, dropped the spare tire, and shazam! There it was.

As best I can speculate, the CarMax people never bothered to look and see if the car actually had the tow packge. Getting the hitch cover off isn’t rocket science and requires no tools. I assume most people take it off and never put it back on, and you can see the hitch right there in the middle of the bumper. So if the hitch cover is still on, they assume it’s just there to plug the hole and that there’s nothing behind it.

Feeling like an idiot, I drove back to the Dodge dealership and told them my story. Even though there was supposedly a 15-50% restocking charge, the dealership gave me a full refund for the kit. I wasn’t perpared for that level of courtesy, especially given the gnarly experiences Carol and I have had at car dealerships.

Bottom line: Dodge is a class act.

Lesson: When you’re buying a used car, do more than kick the tires. There May Be Surprises. Fortunately, ours was a good surprise.

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.