Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving Dinner, 2014

     Yes, another Roseholme Thanksgiving dinner.  Tam and I took it down to essentials this year:   
     Turducken--
I suppose it looks scary.  Tastes very good, with dressing and sausage in addition to the three birds.
     Onion-mushroom-bacon gravy (a la Farmom)--
Slightly sweet, with caramelized red onions, steamed mushrooms (the steaming water used for the gravy) and good bacon.  The bacon fat is used to fry the onions and then for the roux.
     Served over skin-on mashed potatoes--
     With olive medley garnish and a nice glass of locally-made hard cider.  It was delish.  I have been sluggish ever since.  Perhaps I'd better sleep it off.

Thanksgiving. Giving Thanks

     The earliest Thanksgivings -- and they go back at least as far as the Reformation -- were days set aside to celebrate some general or special event.  In the United States, we have a ready-made (but poorly-documented) account of Pilgrims and Natives sitting down in awkward amity to share the bounty of a successful harvest and we've spun it neatly into national myth.  As such tales, go, it's a good one, a lesson in getting along.

     ...It's also a good day to consider what things you might be thankful for without ever even realizing they were there -- or even complaining about when you do notice.  Take another look at the world around you and consider just how much worse it could be.  What you've got ain't perfect but it's something.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

"Absolutely Nothing Whatsoever Happened Today In Sector 83..."

     First, the TV news told me things were less unsettled in Ferguson, MO overnight, which I took to mean burning and looting were significantly down, angry people with signs and slogans was up slightly, and farrows and gilts were steady while wheat prices were trending upward-- but this was right after the farm news and I was just waking up, so I may be a little off.  They had some video, too, which appeared to be from Ferguson or nearby.

     Then the TV shared that a couple of FBI agents had been shot and wounded while serving a warrant only a few miles away from Ferguson, Missouri -- but the incident was "not directly related" to the protests and rioting* in that town.  Hunh?

     Y'know, when The Oldstream Media, carefully spoon-fed by The Gummint, goes out of their way to tell me two things in proximity and then that they aren't related?  I kind of think otherwise.  Neither entity has what you might call a history of straightforward truthfulness.

     Darned if I know what's what -- I do know there are some 2,000 National Guardspersons  presently in Ferguson, 'cos it turns out violent reaction to police perceived as an occupying army results in getting some real soldiers in to do actual occupying.  Ooops.  Or was that the whole point?
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* It's a good idea to look closely at whatever video you see from whatever events are happening in relation to the grand jury verdict.  Some people are just carrying signs and yelling; others are setting things that aren't theirs on fire and "redistributing assets."  One of those sets of activities is Constitutionally protected.  The other, not so much. The media and especially their assorted punditry doesn't always want to distinguish between the two.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Dodged The Fallout -- So Far

     Not the radioactive kind -- the news-cycle active variety.  Last night,the grand jury in Ferguson came to a decision: that Officer Darren Wilson hat not committed a criminal offense in the shooting death of Michael Brown.  The prosecutor was at some pains to describe the process, including multiple autopsies and eyewitness testimony, including the witnesses whose accounts which had changed over time, and gave the narrative the grand jury had arrived at after their investigations.  Fat lot of good it did -- as near as I can tell, Fox was the only over-the-air network to cover that part of his statement, while the other three contented themselves with quick coverage of the verdict and crowd reactions in Ferguson and then back to America's Most Talented Amateur Detective Wizards and toothpaste commercials or whatever.

     The President came on not long afterward, as calm and calming as I've heard him (though he still looks like Dick Nixon to me, right down to making only fleeting eye-contact with the cameras), and was still talking when Tam, looking at a news network online, reported the first brick-hurling and tear-gassing.  --Not that any President has ever stopped any rioting, but he did get out there and try, fat lot of good it did.  I'll leave it to the pundits pick apart his words.

     News media keep worrying at the situation like it was an itchy wart; they're not helping, either and unlike the President or the prosecutor, don't much look to be trying..  

     By the time I went to bed, Ferguson stood at two (empty) police cars ablaze, a freeway blocked, at least one store looted and a strip mall burning.  Nobody dead.  No rubber bullets fired and it's hard to tell but appears most if not all of the reported "shots fired" may have been ammunition cooking off in the burning police cars.  Quite a few thrown brickbats and plenty of tear gas lobbed at the crowd.

     I watched quite a bit of Bassem Mastri's live-streamed celphone journalism; his comments were sometimes a bit naive, wondering why the police weren't putting out the burning cars (which were well outside police lines and any attempt to douse the fires would have involved confronting protestors) and bemoaning the "military-style vehicles" (used not to assault the protestors but as a mobile barrier) and "soldiered-up" LEOs in riot gear (some of the other photographers were wearing helmets and gas masks, too).  Well, it did look just awful and he did a good job of showing it, but I never saw so much as an orange shotgun full of less-lethal shells pointed anywhere but down.  Tear gas was lobbed from well behind of the line -- and sometimes lobbed right back.  As riots go, it was more of a protest and I think that's a good thing.  In a final ironic touch, a Person Unknown jostled Mastri, grabbed his phone and took off running into the bordering residential district, live stream still feeding the web until the thief got a few blocks away and shut it down.  And there you have the whole picture: courthouse, cops, protestors, journalists (about one in three of the crowd had a camera or celphone in camera mode), a few "direct action" types and a smattering of the kinds of predators who hunt whatever's grabbable when things get messy.

     Now we've got today.  Protests overnight in various major cities did not approach even the level of violence in Fergeuon, MO.  Might get worse today, might not; if you live in a big city, expect pissed-off people with signs in whatever are the Ususal Places.

     One good thing that might come of this: the case and the reactions are all based on eyewitness accounts; there's no video.   If Officer Darren Wilson had a camera on his person, we -- and the grand jury -- could have seen pretty much what he saw.  There would still be room for debate, there always is, but it would be a lot less driven by speculation and stereotype.  Rugged little cameras have become cheap and sticking them on policemen is cheaper than having to replace burned-up police cars and burned-up civility.

     One bad thing: after George Zimmerman shot Treyvon Martin, I saw a lot of young African-American men going around in hoodies with the hoods up, making a statement on even the hottest days.  Michael Brown came to Darren Wilson's attention by walking well out into the street -- and starting today, you may find people making a statement by doing the same thing.  Look out for them.  Agree or disagree with the "statement," but let's not have people die of posturing, hey?

Monday, November 24, 2014

Dodged The Weather -- So Far

     First it was amazingly cold for this time of year; now it's been raining pretty steadily for twenty-four hours.  Luckily for us, the temperature went way up first.

     It's in the mid-50s now.  If it was still so cold, we'd have had a healthy snow.  Right at freezing, it is likely we would have had an ice storm.  It's the right time of the year for them.  I don't much care for snow and heavy snowfall is a problem; I'm not a fan of heavy, days-long rain.  But ice?  It's a nightmare.  A disaster.  I'm happy we missed it this time -- but it's not over yet.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

So, I Bought A Car

     My '02 Hyundai Accent, The Hottest Needle Of Inquiry and third in a series of Accents, has been getting very long in the tooth.  As in "needs new CV joints," as in "poor oil mileage," "poor power steering fluid mileage" and the ever-popular leaky steel wheels.  The hood had picked up a nasty case of rust and I had to baby it up from a dead stop to about 5 mph, a range through it had little torque and tendency to hiccup.

     On the other hand, car dealerships are a wretched hive of scum and villainy and, worse yet, Indiana's blue laws and my schedule meant I had about one whole day a week when the car dealers were open and I had time for 'em.

     Saturday morning, Tam had had enough.  "What're your criteria?" she asked, and I repeated the same slightly unrealistic list I'd been searching on; she pushed me to make a few adjustments (paying a little more, mostly) and we found a couple prospects nearby.  My friend The Data Viking was visiting (we had planned to see Interstellar) and was roped into the search.  After a perfectly delightful and only a little insane set of breakfasts at Taste,[1] off we went.

     The search seemed doomed at first.  The Hyundai wing of the sprawling Butler series of dealerships had just moved to a new and distant building, leaving a subset of wrong signage pointing at their Fiat/Maserati dealership (where the salesmen do not deign to converse with hoi polloi, or me either).  We tried on the other side of Keystone, at their Toyota/used lot, and were at least pointed a half-mile down 96th street to the new Hyundai building.

     There, at last, was one of the vehicles Tam had found: a 2000 Lexus (!) RX300, a sort of slicked-up SUV for the city.  While it lacks 4WD, it does have a leather interior -- and a combination of sophisticated traction control and decent road clearance that should cope adequately with snow -- especially in the alley behind Roseholme cottage.  After a checkout, test drive, various back-and-forth between Tam, the salesman, me, The Data Viking, a sales manager, and a frank admission that my present car was not, perhaps, sparkling new, we came to a price I only loathed.  We stuck there for awhile, until it came up that I would be paying cash.  The Sales manager mentioned a number I thought was mildly stinky.  He named another number that was barely smelly at all-- and there he stuck.  It was a couple hundred more than I wanted to pay but he out-stubborned me, and I finally decided I needed a car more than I needed that $200.
Now I can see over other cars!  Umm, sorry, guy behind me.
     So I bought a Lexus.  Almost -- had to go back home for my car while they "processed paperwork," and when we returned, there was, of course, a line to get to the one (1) financial guy they had working.  Oh, and they'd broken off the already-bent radio antenna in their car wash.  (Good job, guys).  They'll be replacing that (got the IOU right here); the radio works okay without it as long as you listen to local stations.

     And so, after paperwork more like buying a house -- and remember, I paid cash, no financing -- I bought a Lexus.  Do I get to sneer at the peasants now, or does that take an even fancier marque?

     We never did get to see the movie.  Next weekend, darn it!

     By the way, despite lower clearance, a nice ride front-wheel-only drive[2] and a remarkably civilized set of amenities, this vehicles came in third in testing by Car & Driver, right behind the BMW X5 3.0i and the Acura MDX and that only over a lack of gung-ho offroading ability.

     So, there's one task off the list!
     Bonus: helping clear out The Hottest Needle Of Inquiry, DV found my iPod, which I thought I'd left in Turk Turon's rental car when we went to the Dayton Hamvention this past May.

     Oh, one other thing: after three cars named after a Kzinti spy starship, a new brand calls for a new name.  The first interstellar vessel I could think of that had a leather interior and a nicely-finished hull was a real classic and thus, I dub my new car The Skylark Of Space.  I hope E.E. "Doc" Smith wouldn't have minded.
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1. Seriously, Roman Emperors would've killed for that food.  You could pay more but you won't eat better.  Tam has photos but she hasn't posted them yet.
 
2. No, I'm told the one in the Car & Driver test did have four-wheel drive.  Mine does not -- on the other hand, those are the costlier parts of the drivetrain.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Goodbye, Tektronix

     Fear not, at least for the short term: Tek is still around.  Okay, fear a little: I'm not sure how serious they are about staying around.

     Tek's flat-rate price to repair and calibrate [REQUIRED TEST DEVICE]: $10,500.00
     Tek's price for a new [REQUIRED TEST DEVICE]:  Well north of...........$20,000.00
     Competing, functional-equivalent [REQUIRED TEST DEVICE], Brand A...$7,000.00
     Competing, functional-equivalent [REQUIRED TEST DEVICE], Brand B...$5,000.00
     Competing, functional-equivalent [REQUIRED TEST DEVICE], Brand B'..$4,995.00

     Our dear old [REQUIRED TEST DEVICE] is broken.  I don't think it will be going back to Tek for repair.  Sure, Tek is good stuff -- but the days when LaVoie could clone one by going just a wee bit cheaper on components are long gone.  Every one of these instruments is one input converter/signal processing board and a big old chunk of software, plugged into an entirely conventional computer.  Our [REQUIRED TEST DEVICE] still runs Windows 95, Tek not making updates readily available (see prices above).  I'll miss it.  It's a neat little package, a rack-mount touchscreen computer with a tiny wee screen about 9" wide. 

     Dear Tek: remember when what my employers do was essentially a license to print money?  Those days are gone.  It doesn't look like they'll be back soon.  We can't drop this kind of money on stuff so far into the technobackground that management will never, ever see it nor understand exactly what it does for them.

     Sic transit gloria geektopia.

Friday, November 21, 2014

That's Two Days Of...

     Of I don't know what.  Some more of the equipment up at the North Campus failed (cough, need scheduled time up there, cough), leaving me scrambling on a day off to arrange for a rental replacement and factory repair -- and the weather was (barely) good enough that contractor called me, wanting to get some work done up there.  Sure, why not?

     Today, the rental should arrive and I'll go put it in, with help.  I was going to be at the hospital (my Mom was scheduled for surgery) but that got cancelled, so by working at least four more hours, I reclaim eight hours of vacation.  My last eight of the year, which I will be using whenever they get Mom rescheduled.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

"The Last Dictator"

     It's a commercial for a chicken restaurant:

     There was some complaint.  Hmpf.

Day Off

     Sorry, gang -- it's a scheduled "vacation day," but I am in fact using it as another sick day.  Spent most of the morning in bed, headed back there. shortly.  Yeah, I still don't feel so hot.  Maybe just the cold weather, maybe not.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

It's Not Just Me, Right?

     You're checking the news a few times a day and breathing a sigh of relief that there's no verdict from Ferguson yet, too, aren't you?

     (Predictable snit-storm of comments to follow.)  At this point, it no longer matters what the facts are -- oh, I know, the true facts matter to you and certainly to individuals directly connected to the precipitating incident -- but if the Grand Jury comes out with anything other than a policeman's head on a spike and especially if there's no new corroborating evidence made public, neighborhoods are going to burn.  The only real question is how many, for how long, and will it happen where you live?

     I don't know.  This was a lose-lose situation from the beginning and I continue to believe it was persistently mishandled by a police department and city government felt public opinion could be ignored and who failed to -- or refused to -- believe they we juggling dynamite with a lit fuse.  I'm not arguing for the right of a mob, any mob, to overrule criminal justice -- but even a little bit of sensitvity, a little bit of PR, chest-beating and a high-ranking resignation or two would have gone a long way to defuse tensions -- or, if you prefer, to undermining demogogues intent on inciting violence.

     Too late now.  The fuse is sputtering down and the only question is, how loud will the boom be?  I expect a verdict today; the weather is about as cold as its going to get this week and yes, I'm just cynical enough to think that will have an effect on the Grand Jury's timing.

     You might want to take a sack lunch to work today.