Home Improvement Projects: The Pizza Oven of Doom

So, this actually doesn’t happen all that often, but I’m pretty much completely funned out on the brick oven. Building the vault was just too darn difficult and time consuming to be much fun. Now, I need to A. build the front arch out of regular bricks; B, put on the insulation and chicken wire over that; C. stucco over that; and D. install and stucco around the decorative tiles.

Over the weekend, added the chimney base and the – what do you call that thing? – the slightly smaller front arch that acts as a lip to help the smoke go out the chimney and for the door (ultimately) to fit up against.

Looks like this:

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Front. Those semicircles are pieces of the support for the vault, and are here deployed to block off the opening for the smoke test. 
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Back. While the actual firebox is sealed up using refractory mortar, I went over the outside with regular mortar just to smooth it up some. Probably meaningless, seemed like a good idea at the time. 

We smoke-tested it, meaning we built a small fire inside to see if smoke leaked out anywhere it wasn’t supposed to. Not too bad, a few minor easily plugged gaps.

It will look pretty once it’s all stuccoed and the nice Mexican tiles are installed. This one goes on the side:

Inline image 1
11″ square – large. 

Wish I could find a nice San Jose tile for the back.

Thursday, we all – all four kids + parents + a sweet woman who lives with us, 7 total – leave to drive up to Idaho for the eclipse. We’ll stop in Elko, NV that evening, then leave for the Salmon River Friday. Saturday, we river raft; Sunday we find a church; Monday we drive for an hour or two down near Rexburg to maximize totality. Then it’s down to Salt Lake City to put two of the kids on planes to SoCal for school and a drive to Eli, NV for the night. Then it’s on to Carson City, NV, where we’ll probably sightsee and putter and spend the night. Finally, we’ll take Highway 89 to Highway 4 over Ebbitts Pass and past Lake Alpine – scenic doesn’t do it justice, 8,000’+ up in the forested granite mountains of the Sierra.

I’ll try to get my head cleared.

Reading & Writing Updates

Currently have 4 books going at once (not counting the ones with dusty bookmarkers in them from goodness knows when). ‘Going at once’ meaning here that all four are beside the bed (mostly in the Kindle) and I’ll read some of one, then for whatever reason decide that another sounds more interesting at the moment, then move on to another. This is not my normal practice – I’ve got a lot on my mind these days, and so my concentration is not what it usually is.  It seems to be working out OK.

City of Corpses: The Dark Avenger's Sidekick Book Two (Moth & Cobweb 5) by [Wright, John C.]John C. Wright’s the City of Corpses: the further adventures of Ami, the Daughter of Danger reviewed here. Ami is trying to get to the bottom of what’s going on, what with her not knowing how, exactly, she came to have an invisible magic ring, a Batman-level outfit and gadgets and major ninja fighting chops, not to mention the legion of werewolves and other even worse monsters out to kill her. And who her beloved is whom she is supposed to save. She has a lot on her plate. So she has infiltrated the headquarters of the creatures out to get her. Sounds, um, Dangerous! Just getting into it. So far, so good.

Niccolo Machiavelli, the History of Florence and of the Affairs of Italy. The weird thing: this is my ‘light’ reading – I find it lots less stressful, somehow, than fiction. There’s not as much emotional investment, and when I’ve got a lot on my mind, such as now, it’s good to just dump info into my brain.

Machiavelli starts his History right around the timeframe covered by Lafferty’s Fall of Rome, and tells, in brief summary form,  the story of Stilicho and Olympius and the disaster of the Fall of Rome. His take is somewhat different in terms of motivations and results than either Lafferty or Belloc, in that he is trying to show a Roman Republic crushed and shattered by foreigners. Lafferty wants to show what a tragedy it was that Rome fell before Europe was sufficiently civilized and Christianized; Belloc want to emphasize that the Fall of Rome was not as complete a destruction of the Res Romana as all that with an eye to England especially. Machiavelli wants to restore the Roman Republic after a fashion. Therefore he emphasizes that the native Latins were conquered by foreign barbarians – a contention that Lafferty would dispute, as it is debateable – and Lafferty debates it – what constitutes a foreigner let alone a barbarian in the eyes of the Empire in the 5th century. Also not very far in.

Chesterton, The Everlasting Man. Rereading this for the Bay Area Chesterton Society reading group. It’s Chesterton, so it is awesome.

Sudden Rescue by Jon Mollison. A space adventure and love story with hard nosed space shipper/smuggler, a princess, evil alien AIs, a sassy ship AI, funky planets, dive bars, miners with attitude and a galactic war to be prevented. Some neat sci fi speculations. Most of the way through, will review when I get it done.

As far as writing goes, PulpRev issued a “very short call for very short stories” which somehow popped up on my radar – Twitter, maybe? – and, since the deadline and the stories needed were short, almost Flash Fiction level short, I said to myself, I did, what the heck? And fired off a 1,500 word adventure with “muscle and heart” in the Pulp tradition, meaning in this case a dude named Martin in a giant Mech and a scantily-clad beauty who manages a nanite army. Together, they fight crime! Or, in this case, a nasty alien-bureaucrat monster suffering from a megalomaniacal need to get Our Heroes. Things done blowed up good! It’s a freebee, but it was fun and only took a few hours to write. Let’s see if it gets used.

On the more ambitious story front, when I last looked through my pile of incomplete drafts for ones I should just finish, came across an Arthurian story I almost finished but chickened out on last year when SuperversiveSF  was calling for submissions for an anthology of Arthurian stories. As I approached the end, I started getting all these ‘this isn’t good/original/researched enough’ feelings, and it ground to a halt. I got the feeling (BTW: we have minds so that we may be freed from slavery to our feelings. Just FYI.) that I was a clueless interloper into a subject that had been worked over by much better writers than me, and that I was bound to fall far, far short of what the *real* writers of Arthurian-based fiction write.

A completely logical and reality-based concern.

Not.

Upon rereading it – it seemed pretty darn OK.  I even read the first 3rd or so to my kids, and when I had to stop, I looked up and the story had totally hooked them. They wanted to know how it ended! AHHHH! So: when we get back from Idaho (we’re going to look at the eclipse, leaving Thursday) I’ll have to finish this one up.

One other story is too close to stop, although to be frank I’m not sure I’ve got enough drama in it to make anybody care. The sci fi conceits are OK, and I like the characters, so maybe a little thought-smithing before any more wordsmithing? Or just finish and be done with it?

Then, it’s back to the pile.

 

Crazy People By the Numbers & Finding Your Guy Fawkes

Quick review:

Current Estimated Population of America:                                    325,000,000

Est. Number & Percent of Sociopaths:                                             3,250,000 – 16,250,000: 1% – 5%

Est. Number & Percent of Schizophrenics:                                    1,125,000: 0.5%

Est. Number & Percent of Americans w/ Bipolar Disorder:        3,325,000 – 9,975,000: 1% – 3%

And so on, through a menagerie of psychiatric disorders. These were just the ones that came to mind first. Not in any way making light of the horrible suffering endured by those afflicted with these disorders and by those who love them. Merely pointing out how common people who have severely crippled grips on reality are. Not to mention the milder but still debilitating forms of delusion, such as socialism and political partisanship.

With this in mind, I was actually a little surprised that only a few hundreds showed up for that demonstration and counter demonstration that I’ve been diligently ignoring. The organizers could not have been trying very hard if what they wanted was a good show of numbers – there’s a large pool of potential participants. If that’s indeed what they wanted.

Guy Fawkes, aka Guido FawkesThe more interesting issue for me has been tracking the efforts of the suicidal narcissists to find, or, if necessary, produce their Guy Fawkes. As long as your opponents keep appearing sane, non-violent and, you know, human, violence against them tends to backfire in the court of public opinion. That’s why any and all opposition is labeled ‘Nazi’. Trouble is, those enemies keep screwing it up by not acting at all like Nazis, and keep pointing out that the inflammatory rhetoric, threats and violence are all coming from the other side.

Thus, the search is on for a useable Guy Fawkes. In a country of 325 million people, millions of whom are certifiably off their rockers, that doesn’t take long.

Keep in mind that, as with the historical Fawkes, the goal here is establish a pretext to silence and eventually get *you*, the calm and rational opposition. Nobody sane objects to locking up dangerous loonies, after all.

More Lying With Graphs

Wow. If you squint a little, this looks pretty damaging to the argument that innate sexual difference are a factor in the career choices men and women make:

Image result for what happened to women in computer science graph

What this purports to show: in the 1960s, a small percentage of women pursued majors in Medical School, Law School, Physical Sciences and Computer Science. Starting around 1970, the percentage of women majoring in these 4 fields started to increase, and, with the exception of computer science, leveled off around 2000. The percentage of women majoring in computer science peaked around 1985 and began to fall, then it leveled out around 2007.

Proposed conclusion: difference in career choices can’t be based on sex, because the sexes were as different in 1970 as they remain in 2000, yet the percentage of college women studying computer science fell even as the percentages in the other listed majors continued to increase or at least held steady. Or, a Twitterer put it:

Here’s a problem for those who say “biological differences” or “innate interest” explain why women hold fewer coding jobs than men.  

Well, that’s a big ‘maybe’. What’s wrong with this picture? Let me count the ways:

First, why those 4 fields and no others? As shown here, it’s not too hard to cherry-pick examples to show whatever you want to show. Also, aren’t we talking about very broad fields? Nobody majors in ‘Physical Science’ – they major in geology or chemistry or physics or some such. A better, if harder to read chart or charts would show the male/female differences across many majors at a level of granularity that means something. Does it make a difference to lump them all together? We don’t know, but it is something we would want to know.

Next, and this is the kind of reality check anybody paying attention needs to do: What kind of source data have we here? What do we mean by college students and majors? Med schools and Law schools are dedicated graduate schools attended by students who have presumably prepared and competed to get into them in their undergrad years, while the physical sciences and computer science are studied both in undergrad and grad environments.

Are we talking about majors these students were awarded their degrees in? Or just the ones they declared as pimply 18 years olds? Or something else? STEM fields, for example, have infamously high dropout rates: those 18 year olds, who have been assured for the previous decade and a half that they are the best educated people ever and often have all those Advanced Placement credits from high school to prove it, discover to their chagrin (with possible collateral damage to their self-esteem!) that they cannot in fact hack the math an electrical engineering degree requires – and that it’s a lot of work to catch up to the level of the typical college-bound high school graduate from 75 years ago. It seems the professors in these fields didn’t get the memo:

“A substantial grading differential exists between science and nonscience courses,” said presenter Ben Ost, a third-year Cornell economics Ph.D. student. “Even students who eventually become science majors receive much higher grades in their nonscience courses than their major field courses. This gap in grading standards discourages students from pursuing and completing a science degree.”

(The linked article also mentions that white males stick to it a lot better than women and ‘people of color’ – except for those pesky Asian people of color, both male and female, who do even better than white men but are not mentioned because mumble mumble…)

What difference does this make? As is so often the case, the correct answer is: we don’t know. Such information would be required before we could make much of anything out of this graph; it’s also possible that, given the required information, the point that the graph was concocted to make might become obscured or vanish entirely. Again, we don’t know.

What we do know is that plenty of students do not take ‘pre-law’ (if such a major even exists – didn’t in my day) as undergrads except informally – people with undergrad degrees in English, history, philosophy and maybe even computer science get into law schools all the time. Med schools tend to be more demanding, expecting a solid undergrad degree in some related major such as biology, with chemistry, biochemistry and the like, but still – there’s Group A – graduate students with some undefined undergraduate degrees, and Group B – undergrads and maybe grads in computer sciences and the physical sciences.

Double counting? We don’t know! Seems inevitable, since there’s no way of knowing what the statistics do with a Women Studies/Lawyer or Physics/Doctor or any of the other possible undergrad/grad combos. This would be good information to know.

It’s possible it makes no difference – the graph’s author could have developed a sophisticated and well-defined method that cleared this up and showed the graph to be a perfectly reasonable piece of information. But they didn’t show that information – or, at best, they did and the people pushing this on the web decided to leave it off.

What this does say: the presenter of the graph is much more interested in the particular message he wants to convey than in clear, well understood information.

Next, did anything else interesting happen to the college student population around the 1980s? Why yes, yes it did:

Women College Students

From the Boston Globe[/caption]

First: more and more people went to college. Second, a disproportionate number of those people were women (or are projected to be women – graph commits the sin of not distinguishing projections from statistics – the far right goes to 2023, which hasn’t happened yet.)

So, at least, we’ve spotted one big issue: the graph at the top shows percentages; those percentages are of ever-increasing numbers of women. Thus, for example, the raw number of women in these field could very well be increasing, just not as fast as the total number of women college students – looking at total numbers instead of statistics  might flatten out the apocalyptic-looking post 1985 drop-off.

Another thing that happened in the 1980s, or at least fully blossomed: the idea of college as a Holy Grail/meal ticket for everyone, especially for women. Instead of a college education being something people with certain specialized career ambitions would pursue, or even – *gasp* – something one would do to prepare one’s self for the duty of understanding and protecting one’s culture and Western Civilization in general (colleges being a Western Civ thing, after all), college became more and more exclusively a stepping stone to financial success.A generation of women came of college age who had heard from every direction that to be financially dependent on a man – you know, by marrying him – was demeaning and made a woman less than fully human. Therefore, if a woman was foolish enough to marry, she at least should get a career going first, so that she could walk out on him and maybe the kids if for any reason that whole ‘marriage’ arrangement proved unsatisfactory.

I’m just old enough to remember jokes about women college students – co-eds, they used to call them – attending school to get their Mrs. degrees.  That is not a joke one could assume one could safely make on campuses today, nor any that use ‘the ball and chain’ analogy for wives – because in all popular discussions of the evils of marriage, all husbands are assumed to be evil, and all wives innocent, at least, no husband is acknowledged to have taken on the burden of responsibility and no wife is acknowledged to receive any financial benefits from marriage. Because mumble mumble.

But I digress.

If you think you need to have a career to take care of yourself, might you not pick a field that is not too hard and yet promised good job prospects? In my experience, people who study computer science are, well, geeks and nerds. It’s a bit of an obsession, not something someone indifferent to the actual work would choose just because the job prospects are good. Why hang out with obsessives with whom do not share the interest? Why compete with people who are passionate about the work if you are not?

Next, look at this from the colleges point of view: the number of young  people who want a STEM-like career and are willing to pay the academic price – actually studying hard, skipping a few parties, preparing themselves in high school – is never going to be too large. So, if all you offer are hard classes – see the quotation above – then you’re going to lose all those students who can’t or don’t want to hack it UNLESS you have easier classes they can take instead. If they leave school, you lose the money those kids bring in, while if they transfer to an Applied Marxism(1) a studies major of some sort, or just to any other easier major, you keep them and the money they bring in.

Yes, yes, I know that the motives of college administrators are pure and high, and that it only appears that they are money-grubbing vermin indistinguishable in action from the snake oil salesmen they generally assume all business people to be. (Except you, donor with a building named after you! You are not like other men!) Whatever the motives, the effect can be observed: many majors have been dumbed down and a numbers of easy new majors have appeared over the last few decades – and women dominate those majors.

And why not? I myself got a graduate degree in business because A) I had a growing family to support and B) business is REALLY REALLY EASY,  at least compared to ‘real’ majors. Once you decide you’re going to college to further your career, why not do it in as pain-free a manner as possible, and leave the specialties to the specialist? I also once signed up for some programming classes at UC Irvine (elite tech school I just happened to be living near) in the mid 80s – and promptly dropped out. I was merely curious – the younger whippersnappers were playing for keeps. No way was I keeping up on the amount of time I had to invest in it. These dudes (almost all dudes) lived in the computer labs. I imagine my experience isn’t all that unusual.

Oh, look! Top majors for women, circa 2010:

No. 1: Business

Degrees awarded to women in 2008: 164,276

Women in the major: 49% of total

Men in the major: 51% of total

Potential career paths: management, sales, consulting, finance

Here’s another. Wow, a lucrative growing field dominated by women!  

No. 2: Health Professions and Related Clinical Sciences

Degrees awarded to women in 2008: 94,192

Women in the major: 85.4% of total

Men in the major: 14.6% of total

Potential career paths: nursing, physical therapy

Here’s another, a really hard one for brainiacs:

No. 8: Biological and Biomedical Sciences

Degrees awarded to women in 2008: 46,217

Women in the major: 59.4% of total

Men in the major: 40.6% of total

Potential career paths: research, teaching, medical technology

One might imagine a sane person choosing a major based on both personal interest and career prospects; one also can imagine an 18 year old choosing a major because it’s cool (raises hand. Great Books, baby!). Would one have any reason to expect any other behavior from the women who have come to dominate the college student population? Apart from the religious dogmas of Critical Theory, that is?

Conclusion: If there are nefarious forces keeping women out of Computer Science majors, this chart isn’t showing it. Cherry-picked majors, poor or no definitions of key terms, murky data. In fact, it’s misleading to the point of propaganda.

Bonus: here is a fun chart from NPR, which is not an official tool of oppression yet as far as I know, that gives both percentages and raw numbers (if you hover correctly) and the relationships between majors. It could have been improved if the graph were of raw numbers so as to reveal the upward slope of total enrollment, and the percentages showed when you hover. Big caveat: as is almost always the case in these things, the chart assumes a set of categories that existed in 1970 map meaningfully with categories in use in 2011. That’s plausible enough for math or chemistry – but is what they meant by sociology or psychology or cultural studies (?) in 1970 the same as what they meant by it in 2011? Bears thinking about. 

  1. Nothing is easier than Applied Marxism Studies, known as Critical Theory: pick somebody unhappy; ‘discover’ who is oppressing them, because all unhappiness results from oppression; let your imagination run wild as to how awful those mean oppressors are, and how we need to exclude them from even opening their mouths and probably need to kill them. Doesn’t have to make sense or even be internally consistent. Easy-peasy A+

 

 

Book Review: Daughter of Danger

Daughter of Danger, book 1 of the Dark Avenger’s Sidekick series and the fourth book in John C. Wright’s young adult Moth & Cobweb series, may be my favorite so far – but then again, I think whatever book in the series I was reading at the time was my favorite. A female ninja with Spider Man/Batman level powers and gadgets as well as a magic ring and a case of amnesia fights a city full of werewolves and sundry other evil eldritch creatures – with style! – as she seeks to discover who she is. Food, clothing, and a place to sleep would be nice as well. Short & sweet: epic fun, first book of a trilogy, click the link above and get on it!

Daughter of Danger: The Dark Avenger's Sidekick Book One (Moth & Cobweb 4) by [Wright, John C.]The story opens with our heroine having a very Arthurian vision: a lady in white appears to her, tells her that her life has been given back to her to serve the purposes of Heaven. She is relieved of all her prior oaths, and told that she is to save her beloved from falling into darkness. Then she is told to awaken, for those who would kill her are coming.

She awakens in a hospital bed in New York, IV in one arm, dressed only in a hospital gown, and wearing an invisible ring that smells like blood and which she cannot remove. She has no idea who she is or why she is in a hospital – she seems uninjured.

She tries to hide herself as three evil creatures – two werewolves and a huge satyr-like monster – enter the room. As they sniff her out from her hiding place, she remembers that she knows how to fight, and recalls specific instructions from the master who taught her on how a 100 lbs woman can defeat much larger opponents . In a epic battle, she escapes, kills the satyr, and discovers that the ring, properly used, allows her to float through the air, among other things. Her skimpy hospital gown is torn to tatters, so she finds a large American flag left out at night, and clothes herself with it.

Eventually, she rescues Elfine, a rather remarkable and indefatigable girl who is a Moth – a member of the Twilight people’s largest clan. She’s wildly magic and wildly out of control, but has a good heart and dream of becoming a detective, the nature of which profession she has only a very incomplete idea. She decides she need to help our heroine discover who she is, and to get her some clothes, some food and a place to sleep.

Adventures ensue. Epic battles and rescues and escapes. And mysteries that must be answered: Who is our heroine, whom Elfine names Ami? Where did she get that ring? Who was her master? Who is her beloved whom she is to save? And why are all these ghouls trying to kill her?

Buy this book, read it, read it to your kids. Ami is a completely lovable and admirable character, Elfine is a gas – and Ruff makes a cameo! I’m starting City of Corpses, Book 2 of the Dark Avenger’s Sidekick and Book 5 of Moth & Cobweb  tonight – got to see what happens next. Yard Sale of the Mind says: check it out!

Virtue-Signalling Snack Food Update

I can totally feel your breathless curiosity even from here: well? What high-end frou-frou snacks did your coworkers eat over the last 2 weeks, and which did they shun?

As of Friday morning:

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ALL the Blueberry (13th listed ingredient) Vanilla (16th) Kale (15th) LivBars done got et! As did ALL the seaweed snacks (I didn’t even get to try them! Boohoo!). So what are the 7 items above that fell, somehow, even below those ‘hand made’ ‘organic’ ‘GMO-free’ etc. goodies?

  1. Three (3) Grab the Gold pucks. These really are pucks. I’ve even eaten a couple. Apart from being sugar calorie bombs (as granola-based items strongly tend to be), they were pretty good.  Verdict: These are worse than seaweed and kale? My coworkers are sadly mistaken. IMG_4178
  2.  Two (2) Go Raw Sprouted Watermelon seeds. OK, this one I kind of understand. Have not tried them myself. IMG_4179
  3. One (1) Beans.  This, too does not passeth understanding. IMG_4181
  4. One (1) Sweet & Salty Kettle Corn – huh? (yea, it’s sideway – so sue me.)IMG_4182

So, there you are. The LivBars and seaweed did last to near the end, then, somehow, were more appealing to my coworkers than kettle corn and collapsed-star level dense granola pucks.

Further study is required.

Kids These Days

Our delightful younger daughter (1) just turned 20 yesterday. When her mom asked her a couple weeks back what she wanted for her birthday, Laura (born on the Feast of St. Lawrence, ‘natch) Anna Kate, know as Anna Kate, thought about it, and decided: I want to jump out of an airplane.

Ooooo-kay.

After her usual practice, she researched, made a few calls and set it up. Skydive California is near Tracy, California, about an hour’s drive from Concord. She also asked her older brother Thomas to jump with her.

I took the day off to watch. On the morning of her birthday, we headed out to Tracy, and she and her brother jumped, as the certificate says, “out of a perfectly functioning aircraft.”

Before:

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With little brother David, A.K.A. the Caboose

Boarding the plane:

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Think that’s Anna Kate’s back…

After:

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I asked them to do that Right Stuff walk; Thomas pointed out that, with the jumpsuit and harness on, one can hardly walk any other way. 

As you can see, they came out of it in two perfectly functioning pieces.

*exhale*.

  1. Of course, all our kids are delightful in my totally unbiased opinion