Smorgas-bored

Got all these posts to write, from serious – more analysis of the current panic – to fun – review of Galactic Patrol the latest book I’ve read off John C. Wright’s essential scifi list. But that gets to be work, sometimes. So, instead, let’s fire up the flotsam randomizer, and see what floats by:

A. If anyone says ‘the world has too many people’ anywhere other than on their own suicide note, such a one is a murderous bigot.

B. Space Alien Footstep? Look at this:

The dappled lighting made this hard to see, so I put a red border around it.

This (hard to see in the picture, not hard in real life) is a near-perfect rectangle of dead grass in the backyard. It appeared a week or so ago. It’s about the size and shape of a cooler, maybe slightly bigger.

So – what? I can’t remember puttying anything on the lawn, let alone anything that would kill the grass. Nobody else here can, either. The unnaturally exact rectangular-ness makes natural explanations seem far-fetched….

Weird.

C. This deserves at least a dedicated post – Edward Feser’s latest, Ioannidis on the politicization of science, which begins with a link to a 2005 Ioannidis paper, Why Most Published Research Findings Are False Regular readers here know I’m saying ‘duh’ right about now. It seems that Ioannidis’ paper was well-received, back in 2005, in the sense that many scientists acknowledged its obvious truth. I trust you see what’s coming next: Ioannidis recently published another paper, applying his logic from the 2005 paper to COVID studies. As Feser says: ” In a new essay at The Tablet, Ioannidis reflects on the damage that has been done to the norms of scientific research as politics has corrupted it during the pandemic.”

These observations were not as well received.

I started a long response to Dr. Feser, which I may still complete, simply noting the observation that was the genesis of this blog – that, for the most part, one does not need to be a scientist to spot the errors in most papers, that logic, a basic knowledge of the history of science, and, most important, a fairly basic understanding of how science really works – what science can and cannot do – is sufficient to judge most claims made in the name of science. It’s not like it takes genius or a PhD to note, for example, that ‘cases’ are a moving target over time and space, with definitions and data gathering protocols being wildly inconsistent, such that any comparisons of one time with another, or one place or another, needs A LOT of ‘splaining – just assuming a change in the reported numbers reflects increases of infection purely is irresponsible, to say the least.

(Aside: you can separate out the posers at this point – they are the people who will say I’m nit-picking here. To such people, all technical criticism of methodology will appear as nit-picking, yet any knowledge of science history will show that such ‘nit-picking’ is how science works, when it does work.)

Good stuff.

D. Just one thing about E. E. Smith’s Galactic Patrol prior to the full write-up: you can spot a dozen Star Trek episodes and most of Star Wars right there, in a book written in the 1930s. Jedis, way cool mind powers, Hero’s Journey, evil empire, fight to the death. It might be faster to list what’s missing: Dark Father doesn’t get redeemed or even exist; the love interest is not the hero’s sister, and Chewbacca is played by a dragon and Yoda by a disembodied brain. With way-cool Jedi mind powers. Stay tuned.

Update to the Update: Moving Plans, etc.

A. Thanks for all the kind thoughts about our upcoming move. We’re not planning on being out of the house before March, 2022 – our youngest needs to get his Eagle Scout stuff done, and I agreed to teach another year of history/literature. The meeting with the realtor was just to help me establish priorities and a to do list. First order of business: get the house tented for termites (minimal damage, but they’re here) – and that’s not until mid-October. Then, exterior paint, some tree trimming, lots of relatively minor repairs, etc. By end of March, we hope to be out of here. Probably rent a house near Sacramento, to get to know the area. Or, if the insanity escalates, go check out Iowa/Midwest.

We’ve got +/- 6 months to pack up the house. Sigh.

B. Have tons to do to prep for classes starting Tuesday, so of course I did a quick but utterly unnecessary woodworking project instead. Behold! A charcuterie board!

I readily admit I had no idea what charcuterie was maybe 2 years ago. But – it’s good!
Made from walnut form the tree we cut down in our front yard maybe 8 years ago. Chose heavily figured pieces. The wood is too warped to make big things out of, but one can wrestle it into small projects like this.

Walnut is not usually used for food tools – cutting boards, rolling pins, that sort of thing – because the grain is too open. But I figure, one, we’ll call it a board, not a cutting board, to reduce the usage and wear, and, two, I don’t care. Still needs last coat of butcher block oil and good buffing. Looks pretty good now.

C. The writing projects ground to a halt this past month and a half. Sigh. BUT! Hope springs eternal! I again find myself thinking about them – the SciFi work and the Science Essentials book – when doing other things. So:

Rather than just being me venting on our rampant scientific illiteracy, I think I’ll rework the science book into something more like Essentials of Science, and aim it at high school and college age people. Tone it down, introduce a bunch of history, focus on the basics that apply to all sciences worthy of our respect. Then maybe pitch it to the homeschooling/ catholic schooling crowd.

The other book just needs work. Have to ram it through.

But, hey, my life is shaping up to be: teach class, pack up the house, get items off the punchlist, read every day, and – write. I’ll need the change of pace. We’ll see how it goes.

D. Weirdly, out of nowhere, I started writing an a capella mass in Latin about 6 weeks ago. When I was in my 20s, I wanted to be a composer. What I liked to compose was a capella pieces, the market for which is small, to say the least. By my late 20s, I also wanted to get married and raise a family, so I consciously set the music aside. Now, after a nearly 40 year gap, I find myself, sitting at the piano pencil in hand, writing out 6-part vocal works in a dead language.

About 2/3rds of the way through the Agnus, maybe half way through the Gloria. My style (I laugh to myself) is basically a poor man’s John Williams meets a homeless man’s Faure, and has an ugly child. This is a pretty intensely inside joke: Williams loves mediant and sub-mediant modulations and horn-call like melodies, and Faure loves odd modes and half-step changes, and intense dissonances within his voice leading. I love all those things, too! I just don’t have anything near the training and talent of either of those guys. To put it very mildly.

Trying to live well, stay sane, and enjoy life. It’s the only way out.

Movin’ On Out – Update

More Classic SciFi Book Reviews to follow soon, as I am retreating into comfort reading as I deal poorly with the stress of living in insane times. But for now:

Met with a realtor today. Walking around the property, it finally became real that we’ll be moving out. Going through rooms and talking over features and issues, I relived some of the 25 years we’ve lived here, and the childhoods of the 5 children we’ve raised here.

Not as bad as it looks – the roof is the only thing really sad, but that’s enough to condemn it.

I found myself getting quieter and more introspective as the tour went on. I’m going to tear down the three story playhouse above that my two younger sons and I built – it’s not in too good a shape, and it would be simpler to destroy than to repair. The trampoline stays, I guess, since the realtor thinks the dedicated trampoline spot would look funny without it. The pizza oven is a feature, I hope. Need to make the front garden look less unfinished, but I don’t think I can bring myself to finish it as originally planned.

Had this for about 20 years. Kids used to sleep on it with their friends. Is it the same trampoline if I’ve replaced the springs once, the bed twice and the netting three times?

We’ll take cuttings from the little fig tree that has become such a delight to us – delicious figs, and the tree is so peaceful. We must see if we can take grafts from the citrus tree grown from a seed by out late son Andrew, that now sits planted in the front orchard. Have to research how to do this. The dead-looking tree below is actually very alive – another Andrew project, he found a buckeye out walking and asked what it was and what would happen if he planted it. It’s been in pots and now a half wine barrel ever since. We must figure out how to take it with us, and then plant it wherever we end up. It loses its leaves very early every year – it wants to be in the ground!

The native chestnut tree, grown from a buckeye Andrew found. This thing is like 20+ years old!
This Mineola tree is likewise 20+ years old, Started in a plastic cup, IIRC, then moved to a succession of larger pots, until we finally stuck it in the ground 5 years ago. Just trimmed it severely yesterday – it has long aspired to be 30′ tall; I insist on about 8′.
My beloved bought this dwarf fig from a neighbor, it lived in a half wine barrel for many years, likewise planted it 5 years ago. It’s been yielding 20-30 nice figs a day for weeks now.

25 years. A lot of water under this bridge. We never planned to live here this long, it was supposed to be our starter home. But that’s how it worked out.

Let’s Distract Ourselves From the Current Insanity, Shall We?

What insanity are we attempting to escape, however breifly?

  1. Yesterday, had an old friend over, with her husband and year old son. They wore masks, and would not come inside. Nothing so unusual about that. But – this friend eats organic, avoids doctors, dreads antibiotics, and was going to move out of our house (she used to live with us) if we tented for termites. Yet, when the same people – sometimes, the very same human beings! – who assure her that eating organic isn’t protecting you from anything, that doctors are to be trusted and obeyed, that antibiotics are perfectly safe, and that the pesticides used in termite tenting are safe when used correctly – when those same people tell her the ‘vaccine’ is completely safe, that everybody else is first and foremost a disease vector, and that, in any event, she and her husband and her baby, three young and vigorously healthy people, are at serious risk from a virus that hasn’t killed anyone they know who was even moderately healthy – boom! suddenly, having reservations as to the reliability of the directions given by those government people is eeeeevil.
  2. Let me get this straight: I have to take an experimental ‘vaccine’ because it doesn’t work – right? It doesn’t protect against getting the infection, doesn’t protect against spreading the infection, has by definition unknown mid- and long- term effects and effectiveness – but I have to take it. If it worked, then people who are worried could take it and stop worrying – you know, like anyone does WITH EVERY OTHER VACCINE YOU TAKE. But no – this ‘vaccine’ must be taken by everyone because it doesn’t in fact work, on the theory that maybe then the Coof Gods will be placated and make this horrible plague, the victims of which develop nothing worse than cold symptoms 99%+ of the time, go away?
  3. Here in Northern California, our scientifilicious betters have determined that the particularly strain of COVID we have here is so intelligent that it knows whether people are inside or outside, such that we are only ‘safe’ inside masked up but could, conceivably, not mask up outside. I guess back when they were making everybody stay inside, outside was too dangerous, but now the genius virus knows only to be dangerous to unmasked people inside…?
  4. Speaking of genius viruses, it seems to be widely believed that the steps of masking up, staying a magical 6′ apart, and staying locked up for months on end have ended the flu as a disease. For now. So, of two airborne respiratory viruses with virions exactly the same size and which employ exactly the same vectors for spreading (and which have exactly the same symptoms 99%+ of the time) the steps taken to reduce COVID eliminated one, such that no flu deaths have been recorded since March of 2020, but had no evident effect on the other – that seems reasonable to people. Sure, it’s magic all the way down.
  5. So, Christmas and Easter are cancelled again. Because nothing in the situation is going change between now and then to make things ‘better’ – flu season will start before any drop in ‘cases’ can be confirmed to the satisfaction of the all-seeing CDC and its toadies, the nursing homes have been restocked with dying old people whose deaths will be attributed to COVID – death ‘involving’ the Kung Flu, as the CDC puts it – so since the ‘vaccine’ doesn’t work, we’ll see ‘cases’ increase starting now, and not taper off until maybe February, once the elderly sickly have been wrenched untimely from this mortal coil. Then, as Easter approaches, the CDC, upon examining the entrails of freshly gutted rights and liberties, will determine we’re not safe *enough* to gather for Easter. Bet on it.

So let’s think about something else! OK?

Family Sayings. Everybody has these, right? Ours are typically movie-related. I’ll doubtless think of a bunch more once I’ve hit publish. Off the top of my head:

  1. “Is there air? You don’t know!” Sniff. “Seems OK.” Often, we skip the setup, and just sniff and say “seems OK.” Galaxy Quest, of course. Used in any taste testing or when stepping into the new situation.
  2. “What you mean ‘we,’ Pale Face?” I remembered this as a Bill Cosby joke, but evidently not. It dates back earlier. One source said a late 50’s Mad Magazine, of which my elder brothers had many, so maybe I saw it there. The idea: The Lone Ranger and Tonto are surrounded by hostile Indians. The Lone Ranger says something like “looks like we’re in deep trouble!” and Tonto replies: “What you mean ‘we,’ Pale Face?” So say someone utters something like “we need to tidy up” the others are likely to reply as did Tonto.
  3. “I hate being right.” Galaxy Quest, again. When things get ugly fast, as predicted.
  4. “Cute as a bug’s ear.” A favorite saying of my Oklahoma farm boy dad.
  5. “Any help would be – helpful.” Monte Python & the Holy Grail.
  6. “Good pig country.” Ditto. Used when trying to make the best of a bad situation.

And I’m sure there are a dozen more that have escaped my fading memory…

You?

Peak Harvest Day: Picked some okra, some beans, and a few large cling peaches – nothing special. BUT picked probably 40 ripe figs off our little fig tree out front, and dozens of our small freestone peaches. And there are plenty more where those came from.

Roughly one day’s pickings from one little fig tree:
This fig tree, It’s only about as tall as I am.
Plenty more where those came from. Totally understand the Biblical use of fig trees as symbols of peace and plenty.

Plenty more where those came from. No pomegranates this year, no idea why it took the year off. But there are a couple dozen nice big pears, and some minneolas for fall/winter. Something – I strongly suspect it’s a possum I’ve seen around – seems intent on eating our butternut squash plants. Leaves, fruits, growth tip of the vines – there today, gone tomorrow. I’ve got plants in 4 different locations – it’s found 3 of them. I managed to put a milk crate over one squash, which seems to have escaped so far. Last year, we had 20+ squashes, and still have 3 left. This year?

Tomatoes have been tasty but few. Okra has been enough, beans were a waste of space. We’ve got all the basil, oregano, and rosemary anyone could need. Look to have a good potato and sweet potato harvest. This is all on a 7,000 square foot suburban lot, where the backyard is all but unusable due to two ancient walnut trees. Just a front yard orchard with two raised beds, some planters and some boxes and pots. So – pretty good, I guess.

Pizza Party: Yesterday, celebrated a belated birthday party for younger daughter by having a backyard pizza party!

Preheating the oven. Wee bit of overkill.

Pizza was good. My little brother and his family are in town Friday, so that’s another pizza party; then the 28th is another, then…

We Interrupt Our Coverage of the End Times…

For this important announcement:

Yesterday, we all went to see and ride this, the subsequent and much larger rollercoaster designed and built by the same people over the last 6 months (I imagine they will put up a video of the finished project; this is the latest on their channel, and as you can see the cosmetics are not there yet):

Here’s the thing: a bunch of 20-somethings decided during lockdown last year that they were going to build a functioning rollercoaster in the the backyard of the parents of the ringleader. Because why not? Sean LaRochelle, an impressive young man who, at age 29, has married a beautiful woman, fathered 4 children and built his own house, is now finishing up his master’s in architecture, decided if he was going to be locked down, he was going to do something fun.

I had met Sean before, but just barely – our oldest daughter had rented a room from him and his family in the house he had designed and built in Napa. The reason we got invited is that our son in law did all the music – very much Disney-ride-quality music, as you can hear on the videos.

The team of young people involved were equally impressive. Sean’s sister did a whole Old West town in the staging/line area. The team did design, acquiring the materials, bending pipes into rails, welding it up, building frames to hold it into place, then creating a whole Arizona desert look with sheets of foam, spray foam, and paint. They designed and built a launch mechanism; there were waterworks and a light show; they had a booster mechanism halfway through the ride that sped up the car for the final loop; they designed and built the car itself, as well as a system of safety sensors along the key parts of the track to make sure everything was in working order.

My wife spoke to a woman who was cajoled by Sean into doing wiring. Seems she had once swapped out a light fixture – good enough! She told of watching YouTube videos while in the ride’s caves, trying to figure out how to wire something up. Sean is evidently very convincing.

And just the nicest people! Sean’s family threw a big catered dinner just so people could come and ride the rollercoaster and hang out. So while we are justifiably bemoaning the sorry state of Kids These Days, nice to see a bunch of young people any parent should be proud of doing something cool and outrageous in a spirit of fun and cooperation. Rock on!

(There’s also, it seems, a huge overlap, perhaps their circle is completely within the larger circle in the Venn diagram, between this crowd and the Napa TLM crowd.)

Vacation Adventures

View from where I’m siting at the moment

I am typing sitting at a table in a cabin looking out at a redwood stand overlooking a tributary to the Russian River in Northern California. For the first time in 3 years, my beloved and I were able to get away by ourselves for two whole nights. Left Monday afternoon, will get back Wednesday afternoon, This is all thanks to my wife’s double little sister – biological and Dominican – spending her annual home visit with her mother, who lives with us. God’s blessing on her! Yea us!

The Pacific from Bodega Head yesterday.

On Monday night, we went to dinner in a lovely restaurant right on the cliffs overlooking the Pacific. Wrap-around floor to ceiling windows, and the sun set during our meal. We had to park up Highway 1 a bit. It was very dark, the stars were breathtaking on our walk back. I’d never seen stars that bright other than from in mountains.

But this isn’t all about ME! Any more than usual, I mean. On the one hand, not a mask in sight at the restaurant. Patrons tended to be older (like us) and very gabby. We arrived at 8:00 and were I think the second to last group to be seated. The place was full, and didn’t really start to empty until well after 9:00. We weren’t the last people leaving when we left after 10:00. It was so PLEASANT to simply hang out like normal people!

On the other hand, we went to mass the next morning in Sebastopol, a small town inland a bit. It was beautiful, lovely priest gave a lovely homily for the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul.

We we the only two people not wearing masks. On the next level of insanity, a woman walked the aisle during communion squirting hand sanitizer into people’s hands. Let’s give thanks for our membership in the Body of Christ by treating all other members first and foremost as potential disease vectors.

All other interactions were mixed: shopping, we ran into some masked, some not. When we hiked around at Bodega Head, a few people – out in the sun, with wind that could almost knock you over – were masked. One interesting thing: the proprietor of our B&B is in nearly the highest risk group – he’s not old, but he’s a cancer survivor, given almost no chance to live 16 years ago when he was diagnosed. (That’s how he ended up owning a beautiful set of cabins in a redwood stand – when you’re pretty sure you’re going to die, you live the dream NOW.) Yet – no mask. In general, the cancer survivors I know truly understand that, with what the cancer and the treatments have done to their bodies, the next freaking COLD could kill them, let alone anything more serious than that. And, with no exceptions, they do not cower in their rooms, locked away from all human contact in fear. (Although if they did lock themselves away for ‘safety’, I’d be less likely to know them in the first place.)

The fear/risk relationship has no basis in reality. Masking children, who neither get nor transmit the disease in any numbers, makes no sense. Our host here would absolutely get a pass from me if he were to get all masks & social distance on us – his risk may be low (it is) but it’s real, like it is from a cold or a flu.

But he would rather live now. I respect him for that, just as I respect Herman Caine, another cancer survivor who refused to cower in fear. He died – he was going to die at some point, probably sooner rather than later – but got in another dozen year after his cancer diagnosis and treatment. If you have been around cancer victims, you know it’s unpredictable how people are going to react. Some people look and act absolutely fine, after having surgery, chemo, radiation, only to fairly suddenly drop dead. Others are sickly, even bedridden, after treatment, and live some number of years. It seems to be a crap shoot, although a positive attitude seems to help.

Anyway, back to fun stuff. Our host will be delivering our fresh-baked goods for breakfast soon; we will pack up and head out for a leisurely drive home, working in a stop for fresh bread, local cheese, ice cream, maybe look at some junk antiques we have no place for and can’t afford – the usual. Then, back to the real world.

Linux Laptop Hunt: Update

Thanks to everyone who commented on this morning’s post regarding my desire to go with Linux for my next laptop. I really appreciate the input, but couldn’t help thinking of this scene:

I know, it’s not *that* bad. Just a few drivers and possible hardware conflicts, nothing a smart, patient person can’t handle. The computer world seems to fall into roughly two camps, and I’m not talking MS vs Apple: those for whom spending an hour or two punching in stuff on the command line and rebooting repeatedly seems like a perfectly reasonable thing to expect a user to do, and sane people.

Kidding! Just kidding! A little, anyway. Since my first computer dates back to something like 1990, a sweet little DOS machine with 256K RAM (upgraded!) and a whopping 20M of disk storage, I am familiar with typing things into command lines and watching the results on a ugly amber monitor. (aside: adjusting for inflation, that puppy ran me about $2,500. Yikes.) Ah, those were the days! I was taking the mandatory accounting classes in business school at the time, and I thought to myself, I did, that, heck, I could use the macro function on QuatroPro (anybody remember them?) to write a little accounting system. Whiled away quite a few hours getting that all set up, using spreadsheets as tables, using little macro loops to move stuff around, until I had the skeleton of a home-level accounting system. After about 6 entries, it ran out of resources and hung up. But it worked, I tell you! No, really! All I needed to do was invest several thousand 1990 dollars into a much bigger box, and, heck, probably could have got dozens! hundreds, even! of entries punched in before it bogged into petrification.

(another aside: probably the maddest I’ve ever made my wife was trying to explain double-entry accounting to her. It was weird – like the very idea of double entry accounting offended her to the heart. We’d only been married a few years at the time, so I took her obvious frustration as a sign I wasn’t explaining it right, and so kept trying. Wrong. Nod, say ‘yes dear’ and back slowly out of the room. But I didn’t know that at the time. I still have no idea what about the concepts was so wrong, but it’s pretty clear you don’t need both spouses to sign on to use GAAP to have a successful marriage.)

(Aside to the another aside: there is probably a really tiny set of readers who find the above freaking hilarious. For the rest of you, for convenience called ‘normal people’: it’s freaking hilarious. You’ll have to just trust me on this.)

Another story: my last serious foray into hardware was around 2000, when I decided I needed a home recording studio. We had bought our one and only house, the one we still live in, and I had decided I needed someplace to play the piano. 1600 sq ft suburban track house containing 4 kids under 10 and an exhausted mother (is there any other kind, when it comes to small children?) is no place to be pounding out the blues. So, in my usual overreacting manner, I converted the garage into a sound room. This does not mean: throw some carpet on the floor and egg cartons on the walls, or even maybe another layer of sheetrock on the walls. No, no, no – we’re talking the middle half of the garage (front quarter: laundry room; out by the big door: storage). Started by putting in multi-layered floating floor – rubber under 2X3s, layer of plywood, layers of hardboard, then ultimately padding and carpet. Somewhat isolated from ground vibrations, and it doesn’t creak. On top of that floor, build frame walls separating the laundry room and the front storage – layer of sheetrock, studs and insulation, layer of sheet rock, furring strips to create an air gap, then another layer of sheetrock, then layers of carpet hanging over the walls. The existing walls merely got studs & insulation, sheetrock, air gap, sheetrock, carpet.

I wussed out on the ceiling. Just taped and textured it, after putting in new light fixtures. Think I was getting tired out by that point – working, helping with the kids, then staying up half the night mudding, painting, flooring….

Epic overkill. First extended experience finishing sheetrock – parts of it are pretty good, which is to say: parts of it suck. But it works – I can pound on the piano in the middle of the night, and not wake anybody in the house or neighborhood.

Then I said: wait! DAWs are now coming down in price such that I could put one in my music room! Circa 2000, a good home DAW consisted of:

  • a pretty good computer
  • a digital audio/MIDI program
  • a digital audio converter (DAC) to turn sound into 1s and 0s
  • a variety of input devices – keyboards, guitars
  • studio monitors, a mixing board, microphones, mike stands, cables, etc. and etc.

After much research, got a Mac tower:

Something like this

…because you could just open the side, plug in your DAC board, and be ready to go. The thought of disassembling a Windows box in order to hook up hardware that might or might not work without serious effort was too much. The Mac stuff at the time was pretty rock solid, nearly plug and play. There was an internal board to handle the DAC, an external rack unit to take the various physical inputs and feed them to the DAC, a mixing board to enable fiddling with the routing, and nice set of monitor speakers – KRK V8s:

הבזאר- לוח יד שניה, דרושים | אוזניות, מוניטורים | למכירה ...
Still have these. They’re wonderful, producing sound quality beyond what my elderly hearing can appreciate.

Anyway: as you can imagine (maybe), there is quite a bit of work involved in getting all these pieces to play nice together. Ah, the painful, frustrating memories! The dream: walk into my nice studio, turn all the many components on, and just make music – was never fully realized. It was always something, something on the board got switched wrong, some nob or slider got turned off, some plug somewhere wasn’t quite right, and on and on and on. Those nights where I was recording stuff in under 15 minutes were the exception; nights where I gave up after an hour were not uncommon.

By the time kid #5 arrived in 2004, I’d about had it. We had the house remodeled, in the process of which the contractors messed with the (admittedly pretty slapdash and no doubt non-code-compliant) wiring I’d put in that powered everything in the sound room, and so, after fiddling and fiddling just trying to turn stuff on, and failing, I, without really meaning to, gave up.

Nail in the coffin of my studio: got my 1926 restored Steinway M back from the technician – after the remodel, finally had a place to put it in the house. That was that: found I would much MUCH rather make music on a nice piano than spend another frustrating minute on my DAW.

Anyway, all this is simply to say: yes, I can handle hardware/software issues up to a point – drivers, weird configuration issues, mystery problems. But I really, really want to keep them to a minimum. That’s what’s kept me off Linux so far. My late son, may he rest in peace, was the kind of kid who, at 16, built his tower up from scratch, component by component, and then installed Linux on it, and then downloaded a ton of free, open source CGI software, and then wrote his own ray tracing program – for fun. (1) He is not here now. I’m the ranking tech support in this house, and I’m not within an order of magnitude of my son’s level of expertise.

Anyway, please keep up the helpful comments, I really do appreciate any guidance or anecdotes you’d like to share. Onward!

  1. His wanting to write his own ray tracing program was also the occasion for him to teach himself vector algebra by googling around on the web. Kid was the nicest, kindest kid you’d ever want to meet, who happened to be an off-the-charts genius as well.

The Next Laptop: Don’t Give $$ to People Who Hate You

For years, maybe decades by now, I’ve been following, however weakly, the thinking expressed in Brian Niemeier’s highly recommended book Don’t Give Money to People Who Hate You. Which can be summed up as: don’t give money to people who hate you. Hollywood movies? Out. Professional. Olympic, and major college sports? Out. Books from the big publishers? Find ’em used. Streaming services of any kind? Nope. Nicely dovetailing with this is a desire to waste less time. Video games? Out years ago. I’ve never watched much broadcast TV, never paid for cable, so dodged a bullet there.

But don’t get the impression I’m some sort of disciplined hermit. Hardly. Rather, I seem to have something like a genius ability to find other ways to waste time…

What I want to do is write and make music. On a typical day since I lost my job, I waste as much or more – almost certainly more – time online as I spend on those two activities combined. I have plenty of legit reasons to be surfing around but – mostly not.

The biggest sink by far is YouTube. I watch independent short sci fi movies, check in on what’s going on at SpaceX, follow a number of people who work on boat and housebuilding projects, watch a couple makers make things, watch a history guy, check out a bunch of musicians, look at recipes, and dive headfirst into the ubiquitous rabbit holes. There’s this volcano erupting in Iceland, and – so on and so forth.

YouTube is owned by Google. Google most definitely hates me.

I’ve been thinking I want to continue until a couple of the boat builders set sail, or at least get their boats in the water (half the work on a boat is done after the boat is afloat). That should be happening within the next couple months. Then – well, the recipes and music instruction is good. Don’t know if/how I can replace those things with non-Google stuff… I can at least cut way, way back.

This brings us to the next gigantic corporation owned and run by people who hate me: Microsoft. I’m going to need a new laptop here shortly. What I want to do: keep Microsoft, and all its works, and all its empty promises, off it. I would like to be as anonymous as possible as well – don’t give information to people who hate you is a solid principle as well. This means Linux and some sort of VPN, last I checked. To do so, I will need the following:

  • Browser – Brave.
  • Writing – Open Office.
  • Email – Protonmail.
  • VPN- ? Or do I even need one? Brave has that Tor functionality. Not sure how all this works.

Then comes a digital audio workstation (DAW). Looks like Reaper, which is highly recommended by my son-in-law, is available for Linux.

Can’t think of anything else I need. Seems like, if there turns out to be some Windows only thing I need, I could use an emulator , which (legend has it) have gotten much better and more seamless. I’ve heard that story about tech before – sometimes true, sometimes not so true. Unfortunately, I have tons of stuff for my history classes on Googledocs. Short and probably mid term, I’ll keep nursing one of my current aging laptops along to use them.

Any of the Regular Reader do anything like this?

Updates: Writing, etc.

A. Novel #1 – This is the puppy I am targeting to have ‘done’ – ready for beta readers – by June. OK, getting a little fast and loose here – end of June? June-ish? On the one hand, I’m only just shy of 20K useable words; on the other, what I’m trying to do has come into much better focus. At first, 20K words seemed like all there was going to be to this story, but as I keep asking myself: why would this character do or think this or that? I discover that this or that other thing has to happen.

Vague enough? I needed an interaction between the Captain of the Guard and my protagonist so that a later interaction would carry some emotional weight. So I had the Captain discuss some history of his species and their predicament with the protagonist. I then read the resulting couple thousand words aloud to my poor alpha readers – my wife and son – who made the mistake of wandering by at the wrong time. They were good with it. It’s essentially a world building info-dump, but couched (I hope) within some more emotionally interesting activities. For example.

Working this out laid out a road map for everything else I needed to include to give this story the emotional zing I’m looking for, and suggested yet another twist at the end….

So now, even though I burned May prepping for/attending our son’s wedding on the opposite side of the country, and so am WAY behind – all I need are 2-3 thousand words a day, and I’m good. Riiiiight – I feel pretty good about it. Before, I wrote myself into corners, because I didn’t know exactly where I was going. Now, I think I’m good to go.

B. The downside of feeling my way through writing something this long: repetition and continuity errors. Twice now, I’ve jumped into scenes I left dangling when I didn’t know where to take them, got going good, only to figure out afterwards that I already wrote a bunch of the scene. In my enthusiasm, I just kept going past where I needed to stop. Oops. This leaves me with two drafts of the same scene – and, of course, I like stuff from both takes.

So what I’ve done is highlight version A and B in different colors, paste them into another doc, go paragraph by paragraph through them, then sync ’em up and paste the results back into the main draft. In these two cases, I ended up keeping most of both takes, so it worked out OK. But I’d rather not work this inefficiently.

C. Just reminding myself: over the last 5-6 years, I’ve written 25K words of flash fiction on this blog, part of the about 1.5 million words of blog posting here over the last decade. Also written 40K words worth of short stories. Fragments of novels add up to about 38K words, not counting scraps and pieces from the more distant past. And not counting all the materials I’ve assembled for the book(s) on education, and the about 10,000 works on the Understanding Science book.

Typing this out to remind myself that, for me, amateur and mostly very part-time writer, cranking out another 40K words on this novel should not really be an issue – if I just stick to it!

D. The other other plan was to assemble two collections of existing writing from the stories and flash fiction, so I could have something on offer between getting the first novel – I’m thinking Dust Machines for the title – and getting whatever rises to the top of the pile as book #2. Each would be a mix of unpublished short stories and flash fiction from this blog, and would run 40-50K words each. A lot of it is SciFi, which might naturally lend itself to a collection, and a lot isn’t. Or I could mix it up.

So, if things were to work out as planned, I’d get Dust Machines to beta readers around the end of June (ha. How bout end of July?) then maybe to a professional editor a few weeks later, then throw it up on Amazon before the end of the year. Got to get a good cover artist in there someplace. Then, a month later, throw up collection #1, heavy on the SciFi; a month after that, the other collection, and a month or two later, book #2. Now I’d be well into 2022, with 4 books out.

Concurrently, start up a new author’s blog under a pen name, start the marketing push that seems an inescapable part of all this.

It Could Work Gene Wilder GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

That’s the plan.

E. Rumor is that the state has deigned to allow us to not wear masks at mass, starting tomorrow – if we’ve been vaccinated. As my wife reminded me, we’ve both been vaccinated since childhood! Good to go!

Pump the brakes. Let off a little her, a little there, but never let it be thought that anyone but you, the masters of the state, are in charge, or that you can’t can revoke permissions or make up new rules at any time.

Owner Balancing Treat On Dog's Head Causing Untold ...

Update/Links/Thoughts

A. Life is a bowl of cherries. Really:

Three-in-one cherry tree, from the front yard orchard. Yes, the could be riper, but the birds are eating them as soon as they get really red. Plus, while the Bings should be almost black, the other two varieties don’t get much redder than those above. And they taste good.

A young lady we’ve known for years came by every day to feed the cat and water the gardens. She did a good job. While we were gone, the cherries hit their stride. It’s only one tree, so we’ll only get a few bowls worth per season – but fun. Next up: apricots and peaches, probably end of the month.

B. Back from the Epic Wedding Trip. 7 days, 6 nights, 4 states not counting airports and home. Some pics:

The restored and Catholicized chapel. Our son’s wedding mass is the first to have taken place in this lovely building.
The sanctuary. Much of the renovation had to do with creating a proper sanctuary, where Catholic altar and tabernacle replace Protestant pulpit and organ. The Latin is a from the life of St. Thomas Aquinas, who set his works before the tabernacle and offered them to Christ crucified. The image of Christ on the cross said: “You have written well of Me, Thomas. What would you desire as a reward?” “Only You, Lord,” Thomas responded.
This is the student center at Thomas Aquinas College New England. I don’t know that the picture captures this vibe, but I just wanted to grab a book, find a corner, and read as soon as I walked in. Cozy and scholarly at the same time.

C. In New Hampshire, the spell of the magic mask talisman has been suspended – one can go about bare-faced and walk up to people, and the gods, we have been assured, will not be offended; cross the state line into Massachusetts or Vermont, however, and the wrath of the gods will descend upon any who dare sally forth with undiapered visage.

For now. Our betters are pumping the brakes, mixing it up, because, as any animal trainer will tell you, being predictable with your rewards does not get as eager a compliance as keeping the animal guessing. To add to the hilarity: when the New Hampshire folks decided to remove restrictions, they didn’t just announce: “OK, nobody’s dying of the Coof anymore, so go ahead and take off your masks and feel free to walk up to people and shake hands.” Nope, that would be too easy. Instead, it was *scheduled* for Monday, May 31. As in:

Owner Balancing Treat On Dog's Head Causing Untold ...

D. Speaking of terrified, scientifically illiterate rabbits doing as they’re told, I’ve got a massive post to drop in the next day or two about analyzing risk. Sometimes, I think I’ve been uniquely prepared for the COVID hysteria:

  • worked in the actuarial department of a major life insurance company, picked up some basic knowledge of how risk is measured;
  • worked as an underwriter and and underwriting analyst for a few years, so I know how the pros apply those risk models;
  • used and helped design mathematical models for 25 years, and taught people how to use and understand them (I can literally say: I wrote the book (well, a fat pamphlet) on a couple fancy models used by thousands of people to do fancy financing).
  • analyzed and cleaned up data for these models so that it was useful. Unless you’ve had to do this sort of clean up on real-world data, you simply have no idea how much sheer judgement goes into what gets measured and how. E.g., financial reporting systems are about as well defined, well-tested, and well funded as any data systems anywhere. Every company has one or more, with trained professionals inputting data, and have been doing this for decades. Yet, a data dump of the raw inputs is chaotic, unclear, and confusing. The question I had: what cash flows took place when? Surprisingly hard to answer! Correcting entries are ubiquitous, and often raise their own questions. And so on.
  • read a bunch of medical studies. When our kids were babies, I, like every other new parent in America at the time, was constantly ordered and shamed to not let the baby sleep in our bed with us. But I knew that this practice, called a family bed, was common everywhere else in the world. So I searched around, found the studies, and read them. Insane. Bad methodology, dubious data, poor analysis, no criticisms and answers (meaning: a study should address the obvious criticisms and answer them – it’s called science.) Just out and out junk. Yet – and here’s the real eye opener – a protocol had been developed from these two junk studies, and every freaking pediatrician in America was pushing the no family bed nonsense. It’s Science! It’s the medical consensus! Also read a few studies on salt and blood pressure, and was likewise unimpressed. Then noted how nobody did studies on drug interactions until it was clear such interactions were killing people – who’s going to pay for such endless studies? I reached the conclusion, since backed up by all the failed attempts at replication, that medical studies are mostly – useless? Wildly overconfident? Wildly over cautious? Not to be taken at face value?

With that background, and an amateur’s love of the scientific method, I was not buying the claims of pandemic, the outputs of models, the cleanliness of the data, and the ‘logic’ for panic and lockdowns. Looking into it, it was puke-level idiocy. And yet, here we are.

E. Briggs captures a good bit of what I’m trying to say in my upcoming post on risk analysis in this week’s COVID post:

Many people sent me this Lancet note about the difference between relative and absolute risk reduction. I’ve warned us many times to use absolute numbers (in any situation, not just this), because relative numbers always exaggerate (unless one is keenly aware of the absolutes).

Here’s an example. Suppose the conditional (on certain accepted evidence) risk of getting a dread disease is 0.001, or 0.1%. A drug or vexxine is developed and it is discovered (in update evidence) the risk of getting the disease is now 0.0001, or 0.01%.

The absolute risk reduction (ARR; conditional on the given evidence) is 0.001 – 0.0001 = 0.0009, or 0.09%.

The relative risk is a ratio of the two risks, and the risk reduction ratio is 1 minus this, or 1 – 0.0001/0.001 = 0.9, or 90%.

That relative 90% reduction (RRR) sounds much more marketable than the actual 0.09% reduction; indeed, it sounds 1,000 times better!

Here from the the Lancet piece are some numbers using published results, recalling, as the authors do, that everything is conditional on the evidence, which is always changing.

VaccineRRRARR
Pfizer95%0.84%
Moderna94%1.2%
Gamaleya91%0.93%
Johnson & Johnson67%1.2%
AstraZeneca67%1.3%

For instance, the CDC says only 300 kids 0-17 died with or of coronadoom (a terrific argument kids don’t need to be vexxed). Population of this age group is about 65 million. We don’t know how many infected or exposed or this group, but you can see that differences between vaccinated and unvaccinated kids would be very small.

Read the whole thing. I only dare write anything on something the esteemable Briggs has already written on because even this level of math is off-putting to some people. I focus on the narrative part – why is it that huge reductions in risk might be meaningless, when the underlying risk is originally very small, as in the COVID risk to kids 17 and under. When pestered by a friend about why I’m not getting the vaccine, I replied: I will not take experimental drugs to lower my risk of death from COVID from something like 0.01% to 0.005%. She immediately changed to the ‘protect others’ tack, so I let it drop.

Alas! If information mattered, we wouldn’t be in the state we’re in.

F. And then there’s this. And this. I tend to go data=>analysis=>political speculation, or perhaps claims=>evidence=>reasons/explanations=>politics. Therefore, I have only really lightly touched on the politics/corruption/coup aspects of the Coronadoom – because I foolishly keep expecting people to care about the truth of the claims first. Yet ‘truth of the claims’ is nowhere to be found in the thought processes of the many, who instead substitute ‘whatever belief maintains my good standing in my group.’ Most people seem to go my social group’s position=>politics. Don’t ask why you need to raise your hand and get permission to go to the bathroom – JUST DO IT, DAMMIT! That sort of training, where group position is paramount and approval is always contingent on mindless obedience, is a large part of what got us to this point.