Use It or Sell It

I don’t spend nearly as much time in video conferences as many of the people around me do, but even after we figure out what normal is anymore, it’s likely to include a lot of telepresence. I have been mildly dissatisfied with some of my gear for these gatherings, but it has recently occurred to me that I already have excellent alternatives.

The first annoyance is my dissatisfaction with my older-generation little earbuds. They have an elegant design, but they are persnickety. I think keeping the case in my pocket has introduced grime in the connector and inside the case as well, but where else am I going to put the case if not my pocket? I’m not buying a fanny pack to carry around my too-hip earbuds. And beyond that the buds have this slick, “I know when I’m in your ear” feature that doesn’t always know when one or the other is in my ear.

I have another set of headphones, the over-ear type, that I really like. I can save swearing at the sleek little ear buds for when I’m on the workout machine, and wear the superior cans the rest of the time. The only catch: no microphone. My laptop has a microphone, but it turns out I have an even better solution.

I have an actual microphone. A pretty good one, in fact, purchased roughly 25 years ago. Maybe 30. I’ve been paying to store it and I’ve been dragging it along with me ever since, but I’ve hardly used it. (it was bought as an expression of commitment for a project that failed to launch.) It is a condenser mic, but it has a battery if you are in situations where you can’t provide phantom power. It turns out somewhere along the way I also picked up a little tube preamp to supply phantom power and provide knobs to twist. Used even less.

All I need to get that rig up and running is a cable that has XLR on one end and USB on the other. That’s not as simple as it sounds, because on the microphone/amp end of the wire the signal is analog, while on the computer end the signal is digital. So it’s not just a cable but an a/d converter. But those converters are out there. You can pay as much as you want, or twelve bucks.

Also, I will need a desktop microphone stand, or a Tinkertoy set.

But the bottom line is that I have utter overkill for the microphone requirement. And if I don’t use that microphone now, what the hell am I holding on to it for?

But it doesn’t end there. There was much gnashing of teeth and rending of garments when my employer introduced their new line of laptops this year. Sure there is much excitement around the new chip (I have no information about it that you don’t, but it sounds pretty dang awesome), but the laptops still have the same barely-adequate cameras their predecessors did. Back when the new lineup was finalized, that probably didn’t seem like such a big deal.

Software has improved the quality of the video from these laptops, but for a company that makes a big deal of the awesomeness of the cameras (plural! working seamlessly together) on their phones, they sure seem to be slacking on the laptops. (My uninformed opinion is that this will change when FaceID come to the laptop line.)

My “office” corner is fairly dim, and I like it that way, but it doesn’t work so well in virtual meetings. If only I had a better Web camera! Like, that Canon right over there. Huh. And then with the 50mm at a fairly wide aperture the background back-lit liquor cabinet would just be an interesting blur, rather than a testament to what I have become. Turns out Canon rushed out software to make many of their cameras work with many of the conference platforms. All I need is… the cable to connect the camera to the computer.

I am two cables away from having a pretty high-end conference station. Because I TOTALLY NEED one. And hell, If I can’t justify owning that microphone now, it’s time to let go.

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Hank Aaron

I was a kid in 1974, and not particularly attached to baseball. Yet I felt the buzz as Henry “Hammerin’ Hank” Aaron approached the all-time home run record.

Aaron was approaching a record set four decades earlier by Babe Ruth. He accomplished this (I read today) by being the singly most consistently great player in baseball history. This is something that can only be accomplished by a talented athlete who never takes a day off, mentally or physically, for decades.

In 1974, there were a lot of other things I didn’t know. My recollection of the game is vague, except for the part where Hank went long. While I watched the TV to see if this would be the at-bat that made him a legend (not even really understanding what that meant, but I was caught up in the spectacle), I did not know that Hank Aaron was receiving death threats every day. A lot of people were threatening to kill him if he, a Black man, were to break Ruth’s record.

When Aaron’s team relocated from Milwaukee to Atlanta, he wasn’t too stoked. He had played minor league ball in the South, and the fans had not been pleasant. But his team moved, and so did he, and he quietly became a voice of racial justice in Georgia.

But (I read today), rather than being filled with anticipation at breaking a legendary record, Aaron was living in hell, and just wanted that final home run that put an end to the conflict, one way or another. That angers me, that such an accomplishment would only be a source of catharsis, rather than joy. That the last part of the climb to that summit would be tainted by fear of something not natural but simply evil.

Aaron broke the record set by a man who played in a league that excluded black players. Imagine what might have become of Ruth’s numbers if he had had to face Satchel Paige occasionally, or any of a number of powerful pitchers and fielders relegated to the Negro Leagues.

Aaron’s record was eventually broken by the bioscience industry, with Barry Bonds as its representative.

Neither of those two were dealing with thousands of hostile letters every week. Neither of those were just wanting to get this whole thing behind them.

Hammerin’ Hank, you’re still my hero. You’re still the home run king.

Fun Fact: Hatchet detector

You are watching or reading or scrolling past a political ad. In that ad there is a photograph of a public figure. If that figure’s mouth is open, it’s an attack ad. Every time.

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A Cocktail Challenge

Your assignment, kids, is to come up with a cocktail with the following name: The Tears of Q Spirit. If you would prefer to avoid politics, The Tears of Ben Roethlisberger is an acceptable non-organic substitute.

Barring obvious troll recipes that include bologna or Barton’s QT, I will drink all the entries and judge them. There might be a prize, but even if there is, it will probably be something you don’t want. Feel free to suggest a prize, even if you don’t enter the contest.

Back in the heyday of this blog, I might have been able to expect as many as four entrants in this contest, but now, well, I’m just hoping for a chuckle. If you choose to answer on Facebook, I’ll even pop over there to check it out.

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Trump’s Virtual Impeachment

Today a handful of executives yanked Trump’s megaphone out of his hands. Given the circumstances, it was the right thing to do. I was gleeful when I heard the news. But still, a handful of executives took the megaphone out of the hands of a major political figure. That’s… unsettling.

Given the Circumstances. Ultimately, Facebook and Twitter and the rest had no choice, and that is not their failing. Although the platforms are (currently) shielded from legal liability for things people say through their services, when someone promotes violence, someone must be held accountable. Currently, the individuals who promote hate and violence on those platforms are doing so in secure anonymity or implicit immunity.

You can’t protect both the platform and the individuals who use it. Someone must be held accountable.

The tech companies are seeing how that is shaking out. The party of individual responsibility is shrieking that they are being censored for irresponsible speech, but will block every effort to hold individuals responsible for what they say online. On the other side, the Democrats are intent on finding someone to blame.

Ultimately, I don’t see any way forward that doesn’t hold individuals responsible for the things they say. That means that when someone named RegularJoe456 posts a comment promoting violence, that Martha Haas, the person who lives behind that name, is held accountable.

And Fer Feck’s sake, let’s all understand that inciting violence and threatening someone’s life are not free speech. Never have been, never will be. Also libel and slander laws still apply on the Interwebs. Free speech does not mean you can say whatever you want without consequences. Free speech does not mean a company is legally required to publish your bullshit.

There can be no freedom without responsibility. And until people are held accountable for their speech on the Internet, the companies that enable that speech will have no choice but to police their platforms.

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Blam!

“EMBRACE ME!” the hand grenade cries.

About a year ago, I wrote that the impeachment of Donald Trump would provide Republican leadership with a historic opportunity. I asked you all to picture people rowing a canoe in choppy waters, while a fizzing hand grenade rolled around their feet.

The paddlers are, of course, the Republican Party, and the hand grenade is, of course, Donald Trump. The Democrats came along and said, “We INSIST you throw that fizzing hand grenade out of your boat!” (About the fizzing – many hand grenades have fuses; once the pin is pulled and the lever is flipped, there is fizzing, for a few seconds before detonation.)

The Republicans had a choice: Save themselves or defy their opponents. They chose to defy their opponents. They picked up the hand grenade and held it to themselves.

Now the hand grenade is detonating, and while I thought the worst-case scenario for the Republicans was losing the senate, in fact there is a much worse outcome. For them. I’m kind of stoked.

Midterm elections almost always swing against the sitting president. In normal times Republicans could dream of recapturing both houses of congress two years from now. Heck, they made pretty good progress in the House of Representatives this year. They won key legislatures to keep their flagrant gerrymandering alive.

In fact, there’s only one thing that could change that outcome. Things would actually be looking pretty good for Republicans now, were it not for the hand grenade detonating in their canoe.

I am in the short term simultaneously frightened and gleeful at the passing events. Tomorrow the “Sedition Caucus” will go on record, putting their names on an attempt to nullify the certified votes of the people of the United States of America. Outside Trump will wave his tiny fists in the air and the Proud Boys will answer.

Donald Trump is no smarter than any other hand grenade, and cares for the people around him even less. Now he’s so far off the range that Tom fucking Cotton is sounding like a reasonable person.

You had your chance, kids. The Democrats gave it to you on a silver platter. Now you simpering, spineless, cynical anything-to-please-the-base cowards are going down with the ship.

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Diversity

If there is a big decision and everyone in the room agrees, then someone is missing from the room.

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“Cancel Culture” My Ass

Let’s cut straight to the bone. Robert E. Lee was a traitor to the United States of America. He led armies that killed thousands and thousands of US servicemen. You can’t say “I support the troops” and “General Lee was OK” without being a hypocrite.

But now, as his effigy is removed from places of honor throughout this nation, crybabies are accusing us of engaging in “cancel culture”. The implication of this phrase is that we are rewriting history, changing the past, and removing inconvenient truths.

That is the opposite of what is happening. When I was growing up, General Lee was a genius general who reluctantly chose to fight for the cause of slavery. Here and now, I call bullshit on textbooks that were edited to pass muster in Texas and the south. Would a court let me off for reluctantly murdering someone? No. Lee had a choice, he made it, and he is a traitor.

What is being canceled is the alternate history that made confederate generals into great men. (Many of them weren’t even very good generals.) What’s being canceled is our willingness to overlook the flaws of our founding fathers. What’s being canceled is our communal agreement to forget uncomfortable facts.

The wing-nuts who coined “Cancel Culture” want to make you think there is a liberal cabal intent on erasing facts. But that’s not what’s really happening. There is a liberal cabal all right, and they are dedicated to adding facts to the debate. If those facts make people uncomfortable, too fucking bad.

What the wing-nuts call Cancel Culture is all about addition, not subtraction, and it is a good thing.

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The Case of the Missing Episodes

A while back I wrote a silly bit of serial fiction in these pages called Allison in Amimeland. I went back to read over the story so far, and I enjoyed it, but I got the the end, and I asked myself, “What happened to fencing club?” One of my favorite episodes wasn’t there. One of the silliest episodes, that took a convention of anime (and plenty of other action genres) and had fun with it.

Then there were the parts where Hitomi and Allison trained together, parts that touched on other anime themes. Missing. Where were they?

Apparently at some point I decided those episodes belonged in later chapters. I had wondered why in conversations with people who had Read AiA that they didn’t respond when I talked about some of my favorite bits.

But they’re not in the “drafts” section of this blog. There are some old Jer’s Novel Writer documents that have some of the published AiA chapters, and some html exports from Jer’s Novel Writer than even reference one of the missing chapters. But the chapters themselves are nowhere to be found. I am bummed.

I have other higher-priority writing projects right now. Too many of them. But I’m not sure I’ll be able to do any of them until the inaugural episode of the fencing club sequence is restored and safely published here at MR&HBI. So AiA chapter two may be on the horizon.

On a side note, some of the formatting has been lost in previous AiA episodes; I’ll be restoring that shortly. While I rewrite some of the best silly bits to kick off Chapter 2, feel free to go read Chapter 1.

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Are We There Yet?

There are times I just keep loading news sites waiting for the headlines to change. I’ve come to realize that all I want is to read, “It’s over.”

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I Learned Two Things Today

Today while reading a math puzzle column I have mentioned before, I learned two things.

First, there is a mathematical concept called a derangement. Second, there is (or at least was) a publication called Journal of Recreational Mathematics, which is about the best title for any publication ever. Were I remotely qualified, I would revive it, but I’m actually not even qualified to subscribe to it.

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Tools I Used While Installing a New Range Hood

An almost-comprehensive list of the tools I (and the Official Sweetie) used to install a new hood over our cooktop.

  • box knife
  • scissors
  • extension cord (green, 2-prong)
  • Craftsman variable-speed drill motor
  • Ryobe “drill saw” (sucked)
  • safety goggles
  • drill bits (various sizes)
  • straight steel aviation snips
  • left-turn steel snips
  • right-turn steel snips
  • flashlight, large
  • flashlight, small
  • table lamp with zebra stripes, fluorescent
  • Skil saber saw
  • stud finder (go ahead, say the joke)
  • MacBook Pro, to search for other tools
  • 2014 Mini Countryman, to fetch tools
  • Malco duct crimper (surprisingly fun!)
  • pencil
  • tape measure
  • paper towel
  • hydrogen peroxide
  • disinfectant spray
  • gauze
  • first-aid tape
  • heavy work gloves
  • chisel (3/8″)
  • Black and Decker circular saw
  • extension cord (orange, 3-prong)
  • 12″ rail clamp
  • 1/2″ socket
  • 1/4″ socket
  • 3/8″ socket
  • socket wrench, small
  • large-to-small socket adapter
  • socket wrench, large
  • small metal stool (pink)
  • Tacx bicycle repair stand (the key piece!)
  • wooden shims
  • digitally-controlled Dremel motor
  • analog-controlled Dremel motor
  • router attachment for Dremel motor
  • cutting bit for Dremel motor (x5)
  • Beats Audio over-ear headphones (for ear protection)
  • pointy hole-punch thing
  • Dyson upright vacuum cleaner
  • ratchet-drive screwdriver handle
  • Philips-head screwdriver attachment
  • long Phillips-head screwdriver bit (in drill motor)
  • hacksaw
  • carpentry ruler combination square (you’d think there’d be a better name for these)
  • Iron Horse sawhorses
  • Wood rasp
  • towel
  • Band-aid
  • hammer

It always ends with the hammer.

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So, This Donald Trump Guy..

There’s a reality TV star making all kinds of headlines lately, saying the most bizarre and flat-out crazy stuff. People have been calling him a liar for decades now, but that misses the core of it: When he speaks, at that moment, Donald Trump believes what he is saying is the truth.

It is a particular skill some people have, that everything they say is by definition true. The words might come out of his mouth from a place somewhere around his gonads, but by the time those words get out of his mouth, into his ears and from there to his brain, they are simple truth, wrapped by his wisdom and galvanized by his intellect.

Bonus reinforcement if a major media network slavishly parrots the nonsense.

By now Trump is surrounded by a hand-picked bunch of slavish sycophants who only feed him selected information that reinforces his entrenched beliefs. Those simpering toadies present only the data that reinforces Trump’s delusion — a positive result in a questionable poll, or an anecdote from someone who got laughed out of court. The laughing-out part is not part of the presentation.

All Trump hears is “facts” that prove him right, and Rupert Murdoch makes sure he sees that same nonsense on his television screen. If one carefully hears only that information, then one could come up with some pretty whacked-out ideas.

Trump has made sure that the only voices he hears are the ones that feed his delusion. Part of the delusion is that he can ignore that he has done that. It just so happens that the “best people” are the ones who tell him what he wants hear.

But I have to give credit where due. While Trump says things he (at the moment) believes, based on the nonsense his staff is feeding him, he’s not above using the moment to bilk his supporters. The money people are giving him for his shameful court challenges is going straight into his pockets. If he makes enough, maybe is pal/creditor Vlad won’t have to break his legs.

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My “Process” for Writing a Mystery

Partway through NaNoWriMo this year I realized that while I had not intended to, I had created a textbook setup for a mystery story. So in the spirit of the month I decided to kill someone and then work out what happened.

There was one character, an obnoxious woman who was more willing to say what she really thought than polite people might in some situations. Lots of people had reasons to hate her. So if she dies, there’s automatically a whole bunch of suspects.

But I needed Marta for the actual plot of the story I had started to write, and while I have no problem killing characters I like, in this case she was much more interesting than the people around her, and she helped move the story along. So I put the body of her rival in her room, naked, tied to the bed, and dead. Of course security is such that only Marta can open the door to her room, and she stands to gain a great deal with his demise. Or it might have just been wild sex that got out of control. Marta seems like she might be capable of that.

So now I had a mystery! Which meant I needed a clever set of circumstances that only an even cleverer person could unravel. How did I approach this problem?

I wrote facts.

Lots and lots of facts. People talking to each other, exchanging facts. People disputing facts by using other facts. Facts that disagree – is one a lie or did the writer just try another tack? Facts about the security, facts about politics, facts about things happening back on Earth, facts about Marta’s childhood, facts about rivalries and politics and factions among the passengers and factions in the ship’s crew. Facts about espionage and underwear, and a shoe in the corner while the other is under a table. Facts about where Marta went and who saw her, and where the victim was supposed to be at the time. Lots of facts about where video surveillance was in effect, and where video surveillance was possible. Facts about who on the ship can open doors in emergencies, and who decides it’s an emergency.

In writing, “exposition” is the word used for dialog or other verbiage that exists to convey facts. One should measure out exposition in the proper dosages or risk becoming tedious.

I won’t elevate my factorrhea chapters even to the level of exposition. This was dumping your kitchen junk drawer out on the table and sorting through all the random shit to see if any of the odds and ends in there fit together. Or perhaps didn’t fit together in an interesting way.

Then when nothing obvious appears, go find more junk drawers.

I was starting to get some interesting ideas, and things were coming together. The Official Sweetie of Muddled Ramblings and Half-Baked Ideas has been quite helpful in that regard. I am at the stage in the story where it would be fun to hang out sipping beers with OSoMRaHBI and folks like y’all and come up with the best way to get that door open. But alas, now is not the time for gathering over beers and brainstorming stories.

At the end (of the month), I skipped ahead so I would be able to write the end to the story I had intended to write. Marta is there, and reveals why she was on this trip at all, but this is a story in the Tincaniverse, and it owes a certain voice to its predecessors, and a certain way to end. I really enjoyed the last two days, as I crafted the ending I had thought about for several years now.

But there’s still a mystery in there, buried under all the junk spread across the kitchen table. It would be fun to find the magic combination of facts that would be both surprising and satisfying to a seasoned mystery reader. Or at least gather around a whiteboard with a bunch of “helpers” and have fun with the junk.

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Gotta Ride, Part 5: 300+ Fezzari Miles Later*

Coyote Creek Trail

There is a section of my favorite bike trail, a sinuous stretch that winds between ancient trees, that is far enough from picnic spots that there is little foot traffic or large family bicycle outings. Along that stretch, I am occasionally able to flout the local speed limit and really have fun. Or to be precise, a different kind of fun, because it fills my heart with gladness to see a whole family out there enjoying the air and the trees and some of the good things about life.

And now there are bike helmets for kids that are awesome. I saw a young girl with a unicorn lid today that was just plain cool. I could be tempted, is all I’m saying. I’m never going to grumble about having to slow down for groups like that; in ten years I’ll be the one getting in the way of the girl who has eschewed her unicorn for an aero helmet. Hakuna-matata, or something like that.

But I digress.

I am thankful for the quieter stretches, on this trail and elsewhere, over which I can put my head down a little bit, and see what I can do. The stretch on Coyote Creek Trail was always one of my favorites, but then I got the new bike. The Fezzari Empire changes things in ways I could never have imagined.

The Coyote Creek segment is flat by bicyclist standards, but it rolls a bit, with rises that seem gentler than they used to, and descents that seem more fun than ever. Ascending, rather than drop down a couple of gears and pedal enough to preserve some of my momentum, I’m more inclined now to stand up and mash, the challenge to never break my cadence as I attack the slope. Often now I’m going faster when I get to the top of these minor obstacles and my heart is pumping harder and I feel good.

Then through the twists and turns, and as confidence increases (see Rule 64) I find myself slicing through the corners, my bicycle eager to carve a path as my tires hiss over the pavement and my shirt ripples with the wind. It is a singularly awesome moment.

I mentioned somewhere in Part 4 that the new bike loves to turn. In fact, it is much like the little two-seat sports car that is buried under bike stuff in my garage. Quick, twitchy, and communicative, if a little more demanding and rougher than my good ol’ Giant commuter bike. The Fezzari is talking to me all the time, and listening as well. And if I don’t pay attention, things go astray much more quickly than when I am on my other bike. Kind of like my storytelling.

Perhaps now is the time to mention, for people who don’t know me, that when I speak of my recent triumphs on my new bicycle, that the successes are relative. I will not be competing in the Tour de France any time soon; I am a gradually-less-overweight guy with skinny little legs who has earned his long white beard. Most of the Spandex Crowd** still passes me. (Hehe… most.) I’m probably not saying anything here that experienced cyclists don’t already know. But maybe the experienced cyclists out there have forgotten just how awesome getting on a good bike and riding really is. And that joy is what I’m here to tell you about.

On the subject of communication with a bike: Never has a chain lube given such instantaneous gratification before. I had not considered that the repair stand I owned would not work on a bike with a through-axle, and I suddenly found myself scrounging. It was 250 miles before I did the first cleaning/lube (factory chain lube is supposed to last a while… right?) and I had identified a rumbling feeling coming through my cranks. I thought it might be an alignment problem with my fancy derailleur, but nope, after routine chain maintenance it was like I was pedaling a cloud. A badass cloud. The sound of the tires actually rises and falls with my pedaling cadence. Zhoosh-zhoosh-zhoosh.

Along the Guadalupe River Trail there is a brief, very steep slope up from the river to the top of the embankment. The other day I stood up and mashed, increasing torque on the pedals by pulling upward on the handlebars. The front wheel was lifting off the ground as I pushed up the slope, and I leaned forward to put more of my weight over that wheel.

Like a real goddam cyclist. For the rest of that outing, my longest single ride ever, I was taking it easy to conserve energy, especially while fighting a fierce headwind for the first half, but for the few uphill bits I turned into a maniac.

How does my Fezzari compare to a Trek or Specialized with similar components? Honestly I have no idea. Fezzari is a smaller outfit out of Utah, and they make a big deal of their production techniques. The marketing copy sounds convincing, anyway, and there are some good reviews. And for a bike with the same components I’d be out at least another $2000 to go with the big name. Probably more. That’s a lot of dollars. And the water I carry weighs more than the frame does.

Someday in the future I will haul my pedals down to visit my roadie friends in San Diego, and try not to destroy their gear as we ride about more slowly than they are accustomed to. Maybe then I can do a comparison. In the meantime, I can only gush about the game-changer I’m riding now.

The Fezzari folk are awfully friendly as well, although I think this road bike is new for them. In a couple of cases I feel a bit like a beta tester — a couple of conversations with their staff were a little confused, the assembly instructions didn’t apply to this bike at some points, and the brace for the seat post needs a little design work. The front derailleur was not adjusted properly when it arrived, but they may have been rushing because I was pestering them with “is it ready yet?” messages every seven minutes and they just wanted to give an excitable old man his bike.

Would I recommend the Fezzari Empire to other cyclists? Oh, heck yeah. Am I the guy other cyclists should be taking advice from? Only if you love to ride.

_____

* As well as a fair number of miles on my old Giant.
** The term is not to disparage; I will be a member of this crowd soon enough.

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