Bitcoin is Cool, but It’s not Money

The subject of blockchain technology in general, and cryptocurrency in particular, has come up a few times lately, and I’ve been doing some reading. When you look, you mostly find stuff that does a bad job describing what blockchain is, before jumping to some particular use for it – generally cryptocurrency, and why you should buy some.

But “blockchain” is the second-least important word in this discussion. “Cryptocurrency” is the least important. Blockchain is a way to achieve a utopian dream, and it’s the dream we will talk about today. The dream is the Distributed Ledger – a system where there isn’t some central institution who decides who owns what, instead that information is all kept in an encrypted ledger that we all share and maintain, and magically we can only read the parts of the ledger that are our business to read.

All the blocks and chains and whatnot are an implementation detail that is not really that important. But… later we will see that some implementation details matter a lot.

Let’s talk about the distributed ledger. Instead of some bank tracking how much money is in everybody’s account, there are thousands of copies of the ledger, spread around the world, immune to deprivations of institutions who use the ledgers to control us. It’s a pretty sweet idea. Better yet, ideally even when the ledger is spread around the world, only the right people can read the parts about you. For all the rest, the ledgers just have to agree.

To make this happen there are two key concepts: redundancy and consensus. Redundancy we just spoke of. Thousands, maybe millions of instances of the ledger, all verifying that they are the same, even if they can’t see the individual transactions.

But imagine if Ronald McDonald decides to give a Bitcoin to Mayor McCheese. He duly records the transaction and that information propagates through the network as all the instances of the ledger are updated. But at the same time, on another ledger it is recorded that in fact Ronald gave that same Bitcoin to the Hamburgler! I heard that gasp of horror, and it is well-placed!

With every distributed ledger, there has to be a way to resolve discrepancies that through sloppiness, bad timing, or malice will inevitably arise. Eventually all those ledgers have to concur about what actually happened. Therefore, the people who run the system need to make it difficult for the bad guys to overwhelm the honest transactions. They need to allocate deciding power based on some resource they control that makes the holders invested in the success of the platform.

In the case of Bitcoin, that resource is pure computing power. Solve math puzzles, get Bitcoins. Once you have Bitcoins, you will protect them. So to push false transactions onto Bitcoin, you would have to to solve those math puzzles faster than everyone else on the network combined.

That would not be easy. I read an estimate today that the current Bitcoin puzzle-solving economy, which uses extremely efficient hardware designed to solve these particular problems and nothing else, is currently chewing through the amount of electricity consumed by the entire country of Austria – at the low end. So to fool Bitcoin, you’d need about 1.1 Austrias (at the low end) of power. That’s pretty impractical, and that’s what keeps your Bitcoins safe.

Or, to defraud the system you could find a different way to generate sha256 hashes (that’s the Bitcoin puzzle). If you came up with a new way to do that calculation that took 1% of the power, you could destroy Bitcoin. Quantum computing would trash Bitcoin, but the latter will be long gone before the former arrives on the scene. Yep, Bitcoin will be long gone.

There are other ways for distributed ledgers to form consensus that are far less carbon-awful. In fact, there’s a currency that was recently announced that awards blocks (coins) for each ton of CO2 sequestered. And away from cryptocurrency, the distributed ledger promises to transform some really complex problems like adaptive energy grids and a world filled with self-driving cars. All the new cryptocurrencies are finding less ecologically-disastrous ways to manage consensus. Etherium is launching a new less-eco-awful version of their currency, and leaving their old version to the winds of fate. The power bill will eventually destroy Bitcoin.

I mentioned above redundancy and consensus. We have seen that consensus can be extremely expensive. New distributed ledgers are working to reduce that cost. But redundancy also has a cost.

All the ledgers have to share information, constantly updating each other. For the blockchain implementation, each update itself requires a great deal of computation to ensure security — digital signatures, hashes, more signatures. Recording a single transaction in thousands of ledgers eats up CPU time, to the point where processing a single Bitcoin transaction takes the juice to run your house for a week. (Actually, a German house for a week, whatever that means.)

And this is where we get to “Bitcoin is not Money”. Despite demanding the power of a European nation to operate, Bitcoin can only process a few transactions per second. Like, less than ten. How many credit card transactions take place every second? A global-scale distributed ledger makes each transaction very expensive. It is simply impossible for Bitcoin to be a factor in everyday commerce.

EDIT: In fact, bitcoin intentionally adjusts the difficulty of adding a block to the chain so that one 1MB block is added every ten minutes, so that transactions can be “digested” and shenanigans rooted out. This puts a very hard limit on the number of transactions that can be added to the chain, and as computing power increases, the difficulty of adding a block to the chain increases with it. Bitcoin by design cannot handle the transaction rate of an actual currency.

(Although I have to say that since you can know the entire history of each coin, you could, for instance, simply refuse to accept any coin ever touched by a company that dealt with blood diamonds, effectively making their money worth less. That is the true power of the distributed ledger. Someday it will be real.)

When it comes right down to it, our current attempts at the distributed ledger are way better at things that aren’t money – things where there is value in decentralizing, but they don’t move as fast as we need money to move. Or things that move fast but in a smaller context, like an office or a company.

Or, God help us all, Non-Fungible Tokens. A topic for another day.

When you hear about the ways blockchain technology will change the world, quietly, to yourself, substitute the term “distributed ledger”. That is the idea that has the power to change so many things for the better, and it’s a lot easier to fit in your head. Blockchain is an implementation of that idea, but it’s got warts big enough to mostly obscure the magical toad underneath. Moore’s Law may finally get us to the promised land, but computers will literally have to be a million times faster than they are now to turn blockchain-based cryptocurrency into actual money. My bet is now that we have seen the value of the distributed ledger, we will find a better way to accomplish it. And that’s pretty exciting.

2

Google’s New Evil

Google, Facebook, and their pals make big money because companies believe that carefully-targeted advertising is more effective than plain ol’ marketing blitzes. While there is some debate about that, it hasn’t stopped Google from harvesting and reselling enormous amounts of information about people. About you. One of their primary tools has been the third-party cookie. When you go to myfavoritesite.com, you are the first party. myfavoritesite.com is the second party. But they can also send cookies your way on behalf of Google et. al., and allow those behemoths to track your every move.

Nowadays, those third-party cookies are falling into deep disfavor. The abuses they enable are vast, including institutional discrimination, predatory marketing, and deep invasions of privacy.

The handwriting is on the wall; third-party cookies are on the way out, and Google is stepping nimbly to repackage its evil. Never forget, fundamental to their business is their ability to package and sell you.

Their latest initiative is the “privacy sandbox”, which means that some information about you is never sent to the mother ship. Instead, an algorithm in the Chrome browser will wrap up your browsing history for the week and assign you to a group. Google won’t be selling you, they will be selling a group. That makes it private.

Now mind you, that group won’t be useful to advertisers unless they know some of the qualities of the group. And don’t forget, if the site you visit knows you’re one of a few thousand people, it’s much easier for them to pin exactly who you are than if you were one of many millions.

And now you’re in a “cohort”, defined by google. You cohort might shift a bit, week to week, which is especially interesting to the sites who can tell exactly who you are.

Brief aside on “knowing exactly who you are”: two browsers have built-in systems for thwarting those efforts. Tor is one, the official browser of the Dark Web, and Safari is the other. Firefox has some great add-ons that accomplish the same thing. But none of those browsers can keep you anonymous in a pool of only a few thousand.

Less brief Twitter anecdote: Twitter offered users the choice to opt out of a particularly invasive form of tracking. But after a while they discovered that there was a bug in their software and that in fact they had been sharing that stuff with advertisers anyway. Oops! They fixed the bug and revenue plummeted. Turns out that information was what they were being paid for. Their solution: Change the Terms of Service! Users can no longer opt out of sharing that information. It was pitched as being required to keep Twitter a free service. Twitter is not free, and is not a service.

Anyway, back to Google. They say that they will watch the cohorts, to make sure that people who are in “sensitive interest categories” aren’t bunched together in a too-exploitative manner.

First, that means that there will not be a privacy sandbox on your computer, because the mother ship will need to monitor the cohorts. Second, there is a corporation deciding what the sensitive interest categories are, and how to protect them, and each iteration of their algorithm may expose another “sensitive” group. Third, I may or may not be part of any of the sensitive groups as defined by Google, but that doesn’t make my privacy less a right. Finally, It just won’t work, because if someone can figure out that other people in my cohort have visited places I consider part of my private life, they will be able to assume the same about me. That includes medical sites, mental health advisors, and lawyers.

This is all just bad. Google is offering different surveillance as an answer to what we have now. The stuff I describe above is in beta testing in the Chrome browser right now. While I don’t know the scope of this beta test, if history is a guide with Google “beta” means “it’s out there.”

Long ago, Apple and Google worked together on a thing called WebKit, the software that underpinned both browsers. I watched as schism formed between the two companies, as Apple engineers found security and privacy exploits in many of the new features Google wanted to implement. It was esoteric at the time, very abstract discussions about how some drawing tools could be used to read the screen underneath, which could include private information. Eventually the partnership split, and now Google has way more features than Safari, and Safari offers way more protection for you. Some sites don’t work so well with Safari, but that’s the cost of privacy.

Use whatever browser you like, but remember one thing: Chrome is the core tool (along with Android) created by a company that makes money by watching everything you do.

For a more detailed discussion of the new Google shenanigans, please visit the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

1

Gotta Ride, Part 6: The Crash

I have set a goal for myself: Get to the top of Mount Hamilton by bicycle before I turn 60. It is a well-known climb in these parts, and it has the advantage of being a serious ride that I don’t have to start with a ride in the car. It’s only a few miles from home to the foot of the climb. It’s about 1300 meters from where I live to the top. Routine for some, the achievement of a lifetime for others.

I have given myself three years to get fit enough to make that climb, and let me tell you, kids, I am extremely excited about this goal, and I’m sure I can do it.

If I survive those few urban miles between me and the mountain.

December 19 was, mostly, my best ride ever. I had planned to do a small loop up the first couple of miles of the climb. That would be a preview to a bigger loop I would build up to. Not even remotely close to the full climb, but more than I had done on the last trip.

Man, I had fun. I told myself there was no shame in stopping for a breather a couple or times, and I missed the turn for the smaller loop and kept on going up. I found the larger-loop road down and took it easy heading back; this wasn’t a time trial. It was a chance to enjoy the day, and when my tire hissed and spat angrily I pulled over only to find that the sealer goo I had reinforced just prior to the ride worked perfectly.

It was a tiny road down, twisting and turning, but there were almost no cars. There were many junior-high level kids slogging up the other way, pedaling at absurd gear ratios but moving forward and up. A club? A team? Just what kids do up there to get around?

I had a song in my heart when I returned to the foot of the mountain. An epic day, for small values of epic. I’ve mentioned before how much I love a good day on the bike; this was the best day ever.

Until the crash, at least. I was back on urban roads and looking over my shoulder to check traffic as I approached an intersection, when I hit a massive ridge of pavement in the bicycle lane. According to software, I was moving at somewhere between 17 and 18 MPH when it all went to hell.

The Death Berm. It’s taller than it looks in this photo.

My first thought, as my reflexes fought to control the bike, was utter surprise. That didn’t last long. Given the distribution of my injuries, it’s pretty much a miracle that I didn’t break a wrist or leg or you-name-it trying to break my fall. I wobbled, I tipped, and I smashed to the curb and slid across the sidewalk to wrap myself around a tree in its oh-so-soft mulch.

Somewhere in there I heard the sound of my helmet whacking against the pavement. It seemed, in that time-dilated moment, that I had been waiting for that sound.

Finally I was at rest, against the tree, and I hurt in a very non-specific way. I just hurt. My watch asked for my attention. “It seems you have fallen,” It said. “Do you need help?” I wasn’t sure at that point how to answer.

A bystander came close, but not too close. He asked if I was OK. I was still trying to figure that out, as I lay on my back and looked into the clear sky. My watch asked me about my status again, ready to call 911 on my behalf if I was unable to answer. I selected “I did fall, but I’m OK.” I still wasn’t sure that was true.

Once the bystander was sure I was not going to die, my Samaritan turned to humor. “You need last rites? Because my friend here is a priest.” I wasn’t ready to laugh, but I was glad he was. When I told him I was wearing a brand-new helmet, one with new technology for better brain protection, he was effusive. “Wow! that’s great! Thank God for that.” He couldn’t offer physical aid, but he was working as hard as he could to throw spiritual aid my way.

Eventually I convinced my electronics and my helpful bystanders that I would be all right. I just needed to lay on the grass for a bit. After a short while I got up, documented the death berm in the bike lane, and started my ride home.

That was a long six miles. There was enough blood coming off me that motorists at intersections waved me along and waited for me to cross. I couldn’t (and still can’t) signal my right turns; my shoulder won’t allow it. My front derailleur is either damaged or knocked out of whack; I tried a shift that left my chain flopping around my bottom bracket, and in my state that nearly dumped me over again. There is also quite a bit of cosmetic damage to my brand-new bike.

Perversely, I’m a little proud of those six miles. Not in the same way I’m proud of the climb that came before; but proud nonetheless. Two miles from home I called the Official Sweetie and said that when I got home I needed to go to urgent care.

As my Samaritan was quick to tell me, it could have been a lot worse. I had a good helmet and somehow managed to hit the concrete with my fleshy parts, and not break any bones. My brain survived unscathed, judging by subsequent code reviews. I have a massive hematoma on my thigh, a bulge larger in span than my fully-extended hand, that ripples when I tap it. The doctor says it will probably go away, and almost six weeks after the wipeout it seems a little smaller. I have a separated shoulder that is pissing me off and making it difficult to sleep. But I am alive.

I am alive, and I really, really want to get back to climbing that mountain.

7

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.

2

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.

3

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.

2

I Voted Today

I was careful to deposit my ballot in a drop box that was not a fake. It seems the Republican Party in California has admitted to putting out drop boxes falsely marked as “official”.

That… appalls me. Sure, voter suppression has long been a favorite tactic of the aging-out Republican minority to stay relevant, but to literally steal ballots is another level entirely. If no one spends serious jail time over that, I will not vote for a Republican for the rest of my life. (I had previously vowed that no Republican would get my vote until they got rid of Trump. Later in this rather muddled episode I will also introduce other ways Republicans can lose my vote. It comes down to “run honest campaigns and stop lying.”)

For fifty years the Republican Party has leaned more and more heavily on dirty tricks to stay in power. And the corruption has worked itself deep into the courts, as well. Take Texas. There’s a rule there right now that there can only be one ballot drop box per county. That means one drop box in Houston, a city of you-look-it-up millions of people. A judge ruled that this was a silly rule that had no justification other than voter suppression. Then other “conservative” judges overruled that rational decision.

They said pretty much, “you’re lucky to have drop boxes at all!” while ignoring the fact that in some (traditionally Republican) places there’s a drop box for every few thousand people, while in traditionally Democratic places, there’s a drop box for hundreds of thousands or even millions of voters. It’s just ridiculous.

But even that’s not stealing votes. And yes, in Pennsylvania seven Trump votes and two others were stolen and the election officials in charge immediately did the right thing and there was no cover-up and we can all talk honestly about it.

The California GOP says these “official” drop boxes are a “service”, but it undermines the provenance of the votes placed in them. I put my ballot in a box with a seal on it, and it will be recovered by an election official, and will never be “off the reservation.” I put my signature on the envelope, I put it in the box, and it is not touched again until it is in the hands of election officials. If someone else drops off my ballot in an official box, it requires another pair of signatures on the envelope. So, legally, none of those ballots in the GOP boxes should count. Thanks for your service, Republican Party!

Rambling on, I am encouraged by the huge turnout of early voters. Many of those motivated to vote early are those who have reason to believe that shenanigans are afoot, and before intimidation and suppression can really ratchet up in urban communities they are getting their votes in. Getting votes counted on Election Day will also affect the inevitable rants our current Presidential Embarrassment spews out.

January 20: the day Twitter can suspend Donnie’s account.

Meanwhile, the Senate might flip. Mitch will still be there, barring a miracle, and I wouldn’t bet against Lindsey, for all I hate them both. But they will be hoping that the populace forgives the Republicans for the last few years of criminal looting of our nation.

They will find no forgiveness from me. I will vote for no Republican at any level of government until Mitch and Lindsey are purged from the Republican roster. Oh, yeah, and Tom Cotton, too. He’s worse than all of them. No party with those people will ever get my vote. Ever.

Someday I will be an issues and governance voter again, I hope. I just need there to be more than one party playing that game.

My best-case scenario, which I genuinely think is possible, is that the Republican Party implodes and in that void the Democratic Party schisms. I’ve mentioned it before; already the best, most honest debates about the future of our nation occur within the Democratic Party. I would love to watch a throw-down between Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Joe Biden, when they didn’t have to be nice because the Republicans were watching.

Take away the dinosaur party, and the Democrats split in a nanosecond. Somewhat less likely is that Actual Conservatives form a meaningful party, or take over the Libertarians or the smoking remains of the Republican Party, and offer their voice to the discussion. I would have no problem with that, either. I just want to hear debate with substance, honest disagreement between parties who want a better nation but disagree on how to get there. That’s what politics is supposed to be.

We can disagree. We should disagree. That’s the thing people don’t seem to get. But it has to be honest. Stealing votes is not debate; it is oppression.

And dang, I got so caught up in the national stuff that I’m having to amend this post to talk about local issues. First: Uber can’t just spend money to counter a law it doesn’t like. Second: although it will destroy an entire genre of fiction, cash bail is evil, and I hope it ends in my state.

I voted for a couple of bonds (now is a favorable time to take out a loan) for long-term projects, but not bonds for spendy-money, and I voted for open space. The idea that protecting open space affects homelessness is disingenuous, pretty much a lie, which is when I stopped reading the “against” arguments. In generaI I voted against tinkering – “yeah the law says this, but this is better!” And of course I followed the money. The money doesn’t lie. When prison guards ask you to make laws that put more people in prison, it’s time to step back.

I voted today. If you disagree with me, you better get your ass to the polls.

2

Keeping it at 50

If Kentucky chose to secede from this great nation, I might be all right with that.

Kentucky is a beautiful place, and friendly (to people like me). Yet while they hate Mitch McConnell, they will vote for him anyway. Because R. Swap the letters after their names and change nothing else and it would be McGrath in a landslide.

If Kentucky left, maybe we could swap in Puerto Rico. The island isn’t nearly as liberal as the press would have you believe, so it would be no surprise if a Republican senator (maybe even an actual conservative) came from there. But I have to think that whoever they send to represent them would be better than the Kentucky Kountry Klowns that we have now.

3

Hockey Stick

How will the future treat the year 2020? Here in the middle of it we see a wannabe dictator trying to usurp the world’s largest economy, we see hundreds of thousands dying from the novel coronavirus, and we see marginalized people shouting for reforms that actually mean something.

Big things. Things I am passionate about. But honestly, I think fifty years from now the human race will look back on 2020 as the hockey stick year. I knew this year was coming, but I hoped I would be old enough that I would not have to witness the aftermath. It seems I am not so lucky.

The Hockey Stick. It’s a reference to a graph of global temperature that gets gradually worse until a threshold is crossed and things get really bad really quickly. The graph looks like a hockey stick.

This is the year “Fire Tornado” was added to my vocabulary. Vast swaths of forest are being converted to atmospheric carbon dioxide, in a feedback loop of disastrous consequence. “But forest mismanagement…” you say. Fine. But the fucking tundra is on fire. Permafrost is melting, and Putin’s pipelines are rupturing.

The only way through this is with strong leadership and a full-on investment in adaptation. Our planet is heating up, there’s no getting around that now. The question is, what are we going to do about it?

Important to note here, that Putin and Trump’s other “friends” make their money from oil. Apparently they don’t give a fuck about their children. Or your children. Or anyone under the age of 60. Because those rich bastards are woking really hard to live like kings now and screw the consequences. Apres moi, la deluge. In the case of Florida, it’s far more literal this time.

Here we are. Forests burning, hurricanes wailing, rivers flooding. Glaciers sliding into the sea faster than ever before. Not unpredicted. Our coastal cities will do what they can to suffer the sea level rise, but the storm surges will destroy them. I said, after Katerina, (quietly, to myself, or maybe in this blog), that we should not bother rebuilding that city. It is lost, like Miami, like much of Manhattan. Dead cities.

It is time to stop playing what-if games and understand that humanity is facing its most grave challenge ever. It is a challenge many human civilizations have failed before, but this time the peril is global. The planet we got comfy on is gone. It is time to suck up petty nonsense and accept that our only way out of this mess is forward.

2

Idiot

I spent the evening poking at the keyboard, trying to wrangle a new Tin Can story, the first in that series for years. But I couldn’t get my head in the game. First it was sports, then it was politics. Scandal broke around the president today (again), but it was a scandal he could easily have avoided were he not a narcissistic idiot. It was Bob Woodward, for crying out loud.

So I was trying to get my head to a creative place. After being distracted by the surprisingly-compelling Tour de France coverage of stage 12 (kid from Switzerland taking his first ever TDF stage and looking like a beast in the process — he was zooming down narrow, poorly-paved roads fast enough to challenge the lead car, only to mash up the next hill, while the Big Names launched futile attacks and fell farther behind), I turned off the television and set to writing.

And checking the news. It seems that our Stable Genius President sat down with Bob Woodward, a journalist instrumental in bringing down Nixon. They didn’t talk just once, oh no. Not five times. Eighteen times Donald Trump talked to this guy. And our President went on to tell this Journalist, on the record, a bunch of astonishing things.

I will not go into the astonishing things here. Mostly it’s stuff we already knew, but this time it came directly out of Trump’s mouth.

Instead, let’s discuss what a monumental idiot our fearless leader was to have the interviews in the first place. I imagine a conversation somewhat like this:

Bob: Hello, Donnie?
Donnie: Yeah, that’s me. [Donnie doesn’t ask who Bob is, because if Donnie doesn’t know who he is already, the guy is not important]
Bob: I’m writing a book about you!
Donnie: That’s great! Beautiful! All the best writers want to do a book about me. When will you be done?
Bob: Well, that’s the thing, Donnie — if we want the book to be awesome, it needs more of you in it. I need to talk to you. Get inside your head. Really feel the genius.
Donnie: Call me any time. Except when I’m golfing.

Jared or Ivanka could have stopped him; they didn’t. They just let him spend hours talking to Bob “Watergate” Woodward about whatever crossed his mind at the moment. And Bob, bless his heart, was not hostile. He actually tried to guide Donnie around the worst land mines, to give Donnie an escape hatch. Donnie would have none of that.

This episode shows a new and different kind of stupid for our president. Sure, he’s always been a sucker for flattery and a racist and a liar and honestly pretty stupid, but before he’s at least shown enough intelligence to not spill his guts to a man who has already brought down a president. This isn’t Entertainment Tonight.

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Sweet-o-Meter Fixed!

There is a lot of shit code in this world. This blog uses some of it. I have fixed one aspect of the shittiness, so now you can once again voice your appreciation for words well-spoken. I will look into the problem with the comment upvote thingie… later. It could also use a face-lift, I think, so people even notice it’s there.

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Perspective

I think, as the death toll crosses a politically-minimized 150,000, that we have to accept that the horror we felt when we watched the towers fall was about the buildings, not the people.

Gilly

About two years ago, we welcomed into our house a little asshole we named Gilfoyle. He is at least in part a Lancashire Heeler, a very small dog designed to move large animals. You want to succeed at that job, you better be an asshole.

Gilly sleeping with eyes open. Because the world is full of danger.

Right now he is under my desk, sleeping on my foot, snoring a little bit. Wherever I sit down to work, he will always be close by. He loves Mommy more, but I stay still.

In the evenings, there is a routine. After a few minutes of snacks and training the dogs and the humans take their places on the couch. Gilly (after sniffing the outside air, drinking water, and rubbing his face on the floor) jumps up on the couch (with a tiny, tiny bit of assistance) and takes his place against my left thigh.

Sometimes, if the Official Sweetie and I are still snacking, some tiny treats will also reach the canine elements of our pack. Last night we were eating chips, and now and then a tiny piece of chip would find its way to the pups. They do likes them some chips.

But then I offered Gilfoyle a chip and he went totally fuckin’ nuts. He bit my finger and then went after any part of my body he could reach, barking and flashing teeth and… I dunno, fighting for his life?

I should have been more ready. I had been sipping Tequila, and I’ve seen plenty of times before that when I’m drinking liquor Gilly is much more volatile.

It breaks my heart. I don’t know Gilfoyle’s history, but I can make a few guesses. When Dad’s been drinking, prepare to fight for your life. I will never erase that impulse. I can never love this dog so hard that those scars go away. But Gilfoyle, my friend, my foot warmer, I will never hurt you. I promise.

Where There’s Smoke…

I was pondering this morning how I could best describe for y’all the terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad five miles that were the end of my bike ride a couple of days ago. Today’s plan was to get a happier ride in before it got too hot, then have a beer or two and regale you with my story of (rather mild) heat stroke.

I have been craving protein since that ride and I was in the kitchen piling up turkey and cheese on my sandwich when The Official Sweetie of Muddled Ramblings and Half-Baked Ideas said, loudly, “Jerry! Come here RIGHT NOW!” In our many years together, I had never been summoned that way before. I dropped the mustard and hurried to find her. I rounded the corner to see the laundry room filling with white smoke.

Both the washer and the dryer were running, and I unplugged them both as one smoke detector after another began to tell us what we already knew. For one heart-stopping moment it seemed that the smoke was actually coming from the garage, but eventually we opened things up and while the dogs cowered from the terrible noise we vented the smoke and things calmed down.

It wasn’t clear at first which appliance had been smoking; but when we opened the dryer smoke came rolling out. “Can you fix it?” Official Sweetie asked, and after some thought I figured I probably could. Fundamentally, dryers aren’t that complicated.

Eventually we restarted the washer and very quickly realized what the problem was. “It’s never made that sound before,” OSMR&HBI said. Our washer was toast. The dryer had filled with smoke as it pulled air in.

Washers like ours have a complex gear box that, when driven by an electric motor, can move the tub and the agitator thingie in a complex motion. My best diagnosis is that the gearbox seized up, and the motor was burning itself up trying to turn it. Time to find some new parts.

This quest was made more difficult because the number on the cover of the manual wasn’t the model number of the washer, but was in fact the part number of the manual itself. Because that’s obviously the most important piece of information a customer might want to know. For a while it seemed that there were no parts for this washer anywhere.

It took me a while to find the actual model number of the washer, first because the plate with that information was well-hidden behind the lid, and second because there was no way to read that information while the lid was open. It took several tries with my phone camera to get a shot from inside the tub while the lid was mostly closed that captured the model number legibly.

Armed at last with the right model number, I was able to look up the parts. Gearbox for sure, and given the amount of electrical insulation that had been turned into a toxic cloud, it seemed a fair bet that the motor would need replacing as well. Cost of parts: $350 after I shopped around a bit. (The gearbox replacement part was an update to the version in our washer, and is used by literally dozens of washers from all the major brands.) Add to that cost a few hours of cursing and bloody knuckles.

New washer: $550-ish. The Official Sweetie set to shopping.

I don’t know if you guys have heard about this Pandemic Thing, but it leads to a lot of uncertainty about just when a product you buy might reach your doorstep. There is no uncertainty at all about whether the product will be brought inside the house. Availability of washers ranged from weeks to months, the delay inversely proportional to the desirability of the machine.

We discussed for a bit whether to get “good enough” sooner, or order what we really wanted and deal with not having a washer for a while. We agreed that waiting for the right machine was better than spending the next few years with a washer we didn’t really like. (“We” in the previous sentence is only 15% me.) Official Sweetie found the right machine online at Lowe’s, but there was no indication when it would be delivered until after the purchase was made. “If it’s too long, we’ll cancel,” OS said.

It’s being delivered tomorrow.

That in itself was a shock, and ultimately a happy surprise, but it took some adjusting to. Specifically, we will have to get the old washer to the street, and haul the new one up our front steps and into the house. This sudden need for logistics and heavy lifting was as much an emotional hill to climb as it was a hassle. Not for the first time, I wished we had a good hand truck.

I’d estimate I ask, “do we know anyone with a dolly?” about twice a year — often enough that I decided it was time to buy one. Back to the Lowe’s Web site for a preorder. Subsequently I set foot in a retail store for the first time in months to snag a Milwaukee with big, stair-friendly wheels. (Even this was not entirely without challenge, as the preorder had not been filled yet when I got there. I went to pull the item myself, and I was told it was on aisle 39. I marched along, 35, 36, 37… and then the wall of the store. There is a 38 and 39, they’re just… looped back around over there.)

Home, carefully washed so I could accept the welcome of the pack, I pulled out the (not-really-that-) old washer and we rolled it to wait by the front door.

I have a few people now encouraging me to ride my bike regularly. I’m hoping “my washer caught on fire” will earn me slack for one day, at least.

You may be Hating Trump for the Wrong Reason Today

So on Thursday, Trump invited the head of science for the Department of Homeland Security to join his coronavirus press conference. Mr. Bryan said some things that were interesting, giving valuable information that could be used to slow the spread of the virus. And he did mention that yes, sunlight has been shown to kill the virus on surfaces.

That’s not really a surprise, UV light has been used to disinfect surfaces for a long time now. But the effectiveness of UV against this particular virus was encouraging, and supported Trump’s “this will all go away in the summer and I’ll take credit for thinking of it” plan.

After Mr. Bryan, himself not a scientist — he holds a masters degree in strategic intelligence — sat down, an obviously pumped president returned to the lectern. There were things that could kill the virus! He probably already understood that at some level before, but now he was really seeing it! All we needed to do was take the things that killed the virus outside a human body… and put them inside.

So he turned and said to his pet non-scientist from Homeland Security that Mr. Bryan should look into using light inside coronavirus patients. But why stop there? Disinfectants also kill the virus! Perhaps we should look into using those inside the body as well! Trump was, at that moment, spit-balling ideas with someone modestly more qualified than he was to figure that shit out.

Had they been alone in a quiet room, Mr. Bryan might have been able to say, “Good idea, Mr. President, but those things kill indiscriminately. The challenge is to find something that will kill the virus without killing the host, or to strengthen the host’s innate ability to fight the virus itself.” And Trump would be pissed, but probably not enough to fire the guy, and life would go on.

But that’s not what happened, because it was not a quiet room. It was a press conference, going live to the entire nation. Trump suggested investigating shooting up disinfectants.

Trump does not think before he speaks. If he did, it might occur to him that this is not the first virus humanity has encountered, and that perhaps there were reasons we don’t try to apply chemicals that kill indiscriminately inside our bodies. The closest we get (as far as I know) is chemotherapy, where the drugs are really nasty, but even then they target the bad cells more than the good cells.

Trump didn’t think, because he had a Great Idea.

What Trump thought would happen: His science pal would say, “That’s a great idea! We’ll get right on that!” Probably, in the short time of the press conference, The Donald didn’t even have time to get to the part of his fantasy where the world lionizes him for single-handedly solving the crisis. That came later in the shower.

What actually happened: The world went ape-shit because his incredibly stupid ideas were spoken in front of the whole damn country, and a lot of people instantly conflated “Tide Pod eater” with “Trump Supporter.”

Sure, people have already died from Trump’s medical advice, and some of the deaths have a Tide Pod glow to them, but not very many. Not very many deaths by stupidity can be directly attributed to Trump, anyway. We’ll never know the death toll from liberating Michigan. Might be zero, might be a thousand or more when all is over, but we’ll never know. However many people he does kill by supporting those protests, a disproportionate percentage of them will be first responders and health care professionals, and more than a few working poor.

His tweets about “liberating” certain states (he did not congratulate protesters in states with Republican governors, although the policies and the arguments were the same) are ultimately far more harmful than a few dumb-ass remarks that may get a handful of fucking idiots killed. Trump’s “cross your fingers and hope that sunshine saves us” strategy (I bet Australia can’t wait for… oh, wait, never mind) is much more dangerous to our nation as a whole than suggesting people should shove blacklights up their butts.

(Donald didn’t actually suggest that, just as he didn’t suggest people do I.V. drips of Lysol.)

I’d guess that Trump’s idiot musing on Thursday will kill ten people, tops. Ten stupid people. Probably fewer. And while I’m as big a fan as anyone at pointing out how goddam moronic our president is, we need to remember where he’s doing the most harm and who is being harmed. While the man-child president grasps for a miracle cure to get him (not us) out of this pickle, the rest of us have to keep pushing ahead.

This is the calculus we have come to, weighing the relative harm of Trump’s stupid-ass statements. But as long as we’re here, let’s keep a little perspective. More people will die from his evisceration of the EPA than will inject Lysol into their blood.

I look forward to things returning to normal so we can go back to trying to find all those children ICE misplaced.