You are viewing emgrasso

Feral Crabapple

I live on the edge of Boulder Open Space (not entirely sure whether it's county or city open space) and have no good water for irrigation, so I generally practice what I refer to as Darwinian Xeriscaping. I don't water, and what wants to grow and can survive, grows.

I have lots of different wild flowers growing in my yard, including yuccas and little prickly-pear cacti and wild roses and lots of different things with yellow flowers. I don't get the yard mowed more than once or twice a year because the wildflowers are so pretty. The grasses are pretty, too, if you let them grow enough to develop their seed-heads.

I also have a feral crabapple. I did not plant it, it just started growing several years ago -- a twig with leaves instead of the usual soft stuff. Now there are a bunch of slender trunks, some more than 10 feet tall and most with branches. I suspect the seeds were brought from one of my neighbors' trees by the birds or squirrels. The crabapple lasted through three or four years of moderate drought with no help from me. and two years ago it developed flowers and fruit on one branch for the first time.

I have been a little worried about it because a year and a half ago I had it moved about 12 feet farther into the yard. (Birds and squirrels don't understand about not planting trees too close to the house.) But it seems to have recovered well from the shock of the move -- the tree is showing flowers on most of its trunks and branches this year.

It will be interesting to see what the fruit looks like. Apples don't breed true from seed. The fruit two years ago was odd enough looking that I wasn't entirely sure they were apples (though obviously something in Rosaceae) and it is quite possible that not all of the stems in the cluster came from the same seed, so there may be differences in the fruit produced. I've been thinking that in a few years I may try to find a source for some grafts of edible fruit varieties and add those to the mix.

Politics

The world seems to be pushing toward activism this year, sometimes in odd ways.

1)

DuPont is having a contested Board election this year. I usually don't bother sending in proxies -- I almost never own more than 100 shares of any one stock I've invested in, so my choices are likely to be hidden in the statistical noise. But the DuPont board of directors, with many millions of shares of which I own 100, called me FOUR times to make sure I would vote in the election... so I voted.

I did not vote for anyone on either Board of Directors slate (as far as I could tell it was a choice between sharks and tapeworms).

I voted for the proposed auditors, and against the executive compensation that was being proposed (see comment about tapeworms).

And I voted in favor of all of the questions that had been placed on the ballot by trade unions and religious groups.

I don't expect my votes made an real difference -- I'm a couple of decimal places below anything that will even show up in the voting reports. But there may be a lot of small stockholders like me who will be harassed into paying attention to the ballot. Maybe some of the ballot questions will make it out of statistical noise territory.

2)
Bernie Sanders.

For a long time I was registered as an Independent. Then one year there was a local race where the Democratic primary mattered more the the general election (there's a reason they sometimes call it the People's Republic of Boulder), and it occurred to me that it had been at least 10 years since I'd had an opportunity to vote for a Republican candidate I found acceptable, so I registered as a Democrat.

In the past few years I have started occasionally making small political donations, and also 'signing' various on-line petitions. I'd like to think that some of the recipients might check their donor lists and the petitions they receive for correlations, but I honestly don't think they are that smart. In 2014 I donated to the Democratic Congressional campaign rather than to my actual Representative because I did not like the way he voted on a few things in the lead-up to the elections, and I would be stunned if the analyses could pick up that sort of subtlety.

I donated to Bernie Sanders, possibly just outside the first 24 hours after he announced his presidential campaign. I want his voice in the debates and the Democratic platform. (I've been realizing lately that many of my opinions are left-ish even by Canadian and European standards.)

I got a phone call from the Hillary Clinton campaign this afternoon. I enjoyed telling them that I was supporting Bernie. Maybe it will decrease the phone-spam I get. Or maybe not. I think I was averaging more than a call a day from campaigns and pollsters last fall.

3)
The 2015 nominations for the Hugo awards were hijacked by a bunch of people with appallingly horrible taste who took advantage of a loophole in the rules.

The first WorldCon I attended was IguanaCon II in Phoenix in 1978. I have been an attending or a voting member many times since then (with occasional gaps), but have rarely nominated anything.

I think I missed voting last year due to health and other distractions, though I had a voting membership. I generally approved of the results and definiely approved of the Hugo for best novel.

I am voting this year. Emphatically. "No Award" is an option in Hugo voting, which is nice when all of the options presented are mediocre or worse. I am also making a point of buying works of non-slate nominees in the categories that have them.

I have sampled the works of some slate nominees who dropped out due to disagreements with the organizers of the ballot-stuffing, and I'm sorry to say I have not found anything that makes me regret that they are non longer on the ballots.

There is one special case: I bought the latest book in the Dresden series by Jim Butcher when the ebook first came out. It had some nice bits and the writing is decent, but I would have been surprised if it showed up on the Hugo ballot. Having it show up as part of the slate is... disconcerting. It indicates that he is not part of my tribe. What's the saying? "If you lie down with dogs you get up with fleas". I'm a cat person.

I have been reading and enjoying the Dresden series long enough that I would have bought the first volume of Butcher's new series on spec when it first came out if he had not displayed a casual opportunism regarding the slate that I find a bit off-putting. I think I'm going to wait for either the paperback release (and accompanying ebook price cut) or mind-bendingly good reviews before I sample it.

My voting membership this year gives me nominating rights next year, but I have also just bought my voting membership for 2016 (which will give me nominating rights in 2017) and mailed out the fee for voting rights in 2017 (which will give me voting rights in 2018).

Unlike past years, I'm going to make use of my ability to nominate. I tend to think of myself as not a short fiction reader, but I read enough on-line and follow enough links from various websites and blogs that I have more exposure to current short works than I've had since I stopped subscribing to some of the genre magazines, 25 or 30 years ago.

Comodo Insecurity

When installing Web server and mail server software one nuisance is the need to purchase security certificates (or generate and use 'self-signed' certificates that cause annoying warnings to bbe presented to users). But we expect that the added security of and https vs. http connection is worth it.

Late last week there was news that Lenovo had been caught shipping its laptops with software installed that invalidated the security stack. Scary and annoying -- especially for anyone who has recently acquired a Lenovo laptop -- but arguably the result of greedy manufacturers being clumsy. You don't necessarily expect Lenovo to understand the fine points of the security stack, or be competent to perform adequate security audits on the crappy software they pre-install on the machines they sell.

Comodo makes a lot of money by managing one of the roots of the CA security certificate stack and selling certificates to people who need them for setting up (hopefully) secure web servers and mail servers and LDAP name and directory servers. Security certificates are (or should be) their core competence, and one would expect that they would have financial incentives for safeguarding both the integrity of the certificate and their own reputation for integrity.

There are reports that a software package called PrivDog, created by associates of Comodo and distributed by Comodo itself, does more than facilitate the possible subversion of the certificate stack, like the Lenovo app. PrivDog is reported to create a forged certificate stack on each machine where it runs that accepts all incoming certificates, thereby invalidating all certificate checking and website validation.

There are situations that elicit a WTF.

Then there are the ones where the appropriate reaction is more like "Good GOD! What were they thinking?" This is like an anti-virus company freely distributing software that turns out to disable anti-virus scanners.

Comodo does NOT have the excuse that they were dealing with something outside their area of expertise.

A few weeks ago I was looking at certificates for my sites and for a recommendation for a certificate source for my employer. I almost went with Comodo. I am very glad that I waited. The phrase "Cold day in Hell" comes to mind at this point, and not just because we've just had 3 days of snow.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is supposed to be setting up a source of free server certificates this summer and there are a couple of other OpenSource sources for Certificates out there. I think I'm going to find out whether the EFF's "Let's Encrypt" project needs and will accept donations. Open Source is not a guarantee against bugs, but egregious problems are a bit more likely to be spotted before they get out into the wild, and I trust the EFF not to try to make a profit by corrpupting with one hand the security product they arre distributing with the other.

Web Ad Algorithms

I have detected a flaw in the algorithms used to decide what ads are presented to me. If I browse a site where I don't have ads blocked (there are a few where I allow them) I see ads for store I have brwosed and items I have googled for over the past couple of months.

As a case in point -- I currently see a fair number of ads from Jos A Banks, especially for leather jackets. The trouble is (from their point of view) that I have a new leather jacket that I bought from Jos A Banks, and it is very unlikely that I will need to buy another one any time soon. The same problem happens with other items I have googled, especially mid-range durable items like electronics gear and small appliances.

I typically search online for things for a day or a few days, and then buy what I was looking for. So ads based on things that were the subject of a cluster of browser hits that have stopped are the least likely things that I will buy.

Showing me ads for a blender (I just replaced my 10-year-old one) or a leather jacket, are a waste for both the advertiser and the sites on which the advertisements appear. Non-durable goods are less of a problem, of course, but I am less likely to buy those on-line. And even then, trying to sell me shoes or undergarments when I just bought some is kind of self-defeating.

And the ads for things I just bought fill space that could be used for things I might actually buy... though I can't predict what those might be.

I'm not sure what anyone can do about this.

Smartphone RSI

A couple of months ago our company switched cellphone carriers and those of us near or after the end of our current contracts were upgraded to Samsung Galaxy Note 4 phones.

The phone is beautiful -- great screen, great battery life, screen buttons big enough to use easily. Big enough visually to use as an e-reader, and good for games. Great speaker-phone mode, which was just as well: I complained early on that the phone was too heavy to hold to my ear during a long conversation and my CEO said he generally used a headset or speaker mode.

During the past few months I have had erratically increasing problems with my right arm and shoulder, including one very sore spot on my upper arm that my chiropractor said was a muscle insertion point.

I was needing frequent chiropractor appointments and occasional use of a vibrating massager gadget just to keep my arm partly usable, and waking up in the middle of the night because the shoulder stiffened up and hurt so much.

On Friday my DSL went out and the phone sat on the table being a hotspot all day, and I noticed that my arm was feeling a bit better. I avoided picking up the Note phone all weekend and by Monday the improvement was continuing.

I arranged to swap out the Note 4 for a Galaxy S 4 mini, which seems to be the lightest smartphone Verizon carries, and the improvement has continued.

Before handing in the Note, I weighed it. Including the Otter-box, it was 8.6 ounces. I assume the problem was holding that weight up and still, at focal distance.

The tablet I use for a lot of my reading is nearly a pound with the leather easel case, but I tend to prop it on things rather than holding it in mid-air -- I think the Note just hit a sweet spot regarding leverage and muscle tension. (And possibly amplified whatever problems the tablet was already causing.)

The Note was large for my hand too, so I was stretching my hand to support it as well as tensing against the weight.

The mini is a lot less usable than the Note 4. Typing stuff in the onscreen keyboard is really difficult and I wouldn't want to read much on the tiny screen. But it works as a phone and GPS and hotspot (DSL went out again yesterday) which are the functions I really need from it. And my arm is clearly improving.

It is still a little sore, and this morning it was stiff from being slept on until I moved it and stretched. But I was able to move it and stretch it, without worrying about what other damage I might be doing to it.

Maybe I'll see if I can get used to using a stylus.

I wonder how many other people are having ergonomic problems with the new larger phoones without realizing it? Especially kids and women with small hands.

Lost Resonances

Imagine a land where no trickster god was moved to be inventive with a tortoise shell. A place with no magic harps or cursed fiddles.

What music there is, comes from percussion, flutes, and the occasional conch.

There are no tuned horns either.

No concepts of musical scales, harmonics and such. Pythagoras is right out.

So, most likely, are bagpipes, which some people might consider an advantage, though I am not one of them. (I also loved fruitcake until I became allergic to all the ingredients except the fruit.)

Concepts like tuning and proportion do things to the worldview and provide different ways of interacting mentally with the organization of things.

Without the idea of a musical scale, what would Newton have seen when his prism made a rainbow? Without acoustics, do you also lose optics as a metaphor for modulations of the immaterial?

I wish the Spaniards had not been so thorough about burning the libraries of the Aztecs and Incas. If there were any philosophical and mathematical treatises, they were probably among the first on the pyres. Just knowing the calendars may be giving us a very skewed view of pre-Columbian ideas of universal structure.

I wonder if the peri-Columbian plagues effectively erased much of the transmission of rhythmic complexity of music in the Western Hemisphere. Music is a basic human fuction like (or possibly part of, or, it has been suggested, a precursor to) language. Complexity is going to happen one way or another, and in a musical culture based on percussion rather than strings (and a mathematical culture where the Mayas had a bunch of different calendars beating against each other) the complexity may have been rhythmic rather than tonal.

I wonder how much of the famous Latin American rhythms had a local basis. Or how much the African rhythms were adopted because they "felt right".

Posole variations

Last spring I was diagnosed (via blood test) as allergic to:
wheat and its relatives
rice
milk (cow, goat, sheep)
eggs (chicken and duck)
yeast (baker's and brewer's)
walnuts
almonds
vanilla (natural, not imitation)
beef
bananas
pineapple

This eliminates most of the foods I have eaten for most of my life, and most of the foods likely to be available at any social gathering or restaurant.
Cooking used to be one of my hobbies, and I baked my own bread for years.

I had previously (via prick test) tested allergic to:
cow's milk
malt
green beans (but not dried beans
lobster
oysters
which were not picked up by the blood test.

So I was already dealing with some dietary limitations. (Read labels of baked goods watching for malt... it's everywhere!)

And I avoid peanuts and peanut products because I occasionally have allergic reactions (From the pattern, I suspect I am allergic to something like stale and processed peanuts but not fresh... sort of the opposite of the beans allergy).

Buckwheat tests marginal, but I had a really bad reaction one day -- maybe there was something else I was also reacting to.

Tried some stevia in some herbal tea and nearly died -- not sure if that was the stevia or the other herbs or a combination, but stevia is related to ragweed, and I get hayfever.

Not going to risk either buckwheat or stevia again.

Shopping is interesting these days (and not in the good sense). I read the labels and eliminate the packages with ingredients I know are problematic and there isn't much left in the store.

Comfort foods and holiday traditions are gone from my life. So are problems breathing and swallowing, mostly, buts it is still depressing. I have largely stopped traveling or socializing.

I found a recipe for a Mexican/Native American stew that I can eat:
Posole. It's mostly pork, corn and chile peppers and some flavorings, but the classic flavorings don't have a lot of depth.

I leave out the cilantro (don't have the gene that makes it taste good), and in the latest batch I used a small can of Chiplotles in Adobo Sauce intead of the jalapenos, to add some complexity. And I use boxed chicken stock as some of the liquid.

The result is spicy-hot but not richly flavored, though the smokiness of the chiplotles helps some. Still seems flat. Ish. One batch of posole fills my five quart crock pot, so I'm going to be eating this for a while.

I added some bitter (vanilla-free) chocolate with a dash of cinnamon to one of the freezer containers of the leftovers. I put some garam masala in one of the other freezer containers. And ras al hanouf in another one. (That still left several meals' woth of plain posole.) The flavors will blend more slowly while things are frozen, but it still should be better than adding the spices right before re-heating.

Mithradates and Debt

I just finished reading The Poison King by Adrienne Mayor. A few months ago I read Debt: the First 5000 Years.

The life of Mithradates is very intereting from the perspective of Debt.

During Mithradates long lifetime there were about three cycles where the Romans invaded areas east of the Adriatic, directly enslaved a big chunk of the population, destroyed the renewables, carried off the valuables, and imposed burdensome taxes and horrible interest rates that wrecked what was left of the economy. Then Mithradates threw out the Romans, freed the slaves, and nullified the debts. (And then it happened again. And again.) And the Romans wondered why the local populations were very very loyal to Mithradates...

The really interesting thing is that Mayor repeatedly says that modern historians don't understand how the economics of Mithradates' kingdom worked: he never seemed to lack cash to pay HUGE armies and never collected general taxes until near the end when things were going really sour (and even then the tax rates were ridiculously low by Roman standards).

Some of his advantages may be due to more or less literally not killing the goose that laid the golden eggs, and partly to ruling what Mayor describes as an area previously ruled by Kings named Croesus and Midas. But there was clearly something about the way things worked that was different organizationally, too.

It seems like Mithradates was on the other side of the cultural Debt boundary.

Politically, Mithradates called himself Shah of Shahs for much of his life, when the Black Sea was Mithradates' lake. But he worked with alliances and coalitions not conquests (including with the Greek democracies -- the general defending Athens at its fall was employed by Mithradates).

"He died old"

I know two snippets of the poetry of A. E. Housman off the top of my head:

And malt does more than Milton can
To justify God's ways to man.

and

I tell the tale that I heard told.
Mithridates, he died old.

It turns out they are both from the same poem, "Terence, this is stupid stuff" published in A Shropshire Lad in 1896.

Housman died in 1936, and was born in 1859, so it can be said that he also "died old". And I'm pretty sure that I have read some of his other poetry, it is just these bits that are attached to his name in my memory. I'm not certain that I ever read the entire "Terence..." poem before this week. But I knew those lines, 118 years after they were written.

Not immortality on the scale of Homer or Shakespeare (or even Tennyson or Yeats if you go by the number of lines I know were theirs that I can pull out of my memory) but respectable none the less. Yeats and Tennyson get used in titles of things a lot, so there are a lot of snippets of their work floating around. I'm not sure I know any lines by the actual poet Terence.

Mithridates really did die old, too -- he lived from 134 to 63 BC and gave the Roman generals fits (they called him the secnd Hannibal). And he did not die a natural death of old age. Mithridates committed suicide at the age of 71 rather than be captured alive after a defeat in battle. Actually, he asked one of his soldiers to kill him with a sword because poison did not work against him.

Mithridates is famous for pioneering the "take small amounts of poison so you build up an immunity to it" technique. So he resonates through popular culture (including The Princess Bride) even if provincial modern Americans know nothing of his political and military achievements.

I've just started reading a book about Mithridates: The Poison King by Adrienne Mayor http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-poison-king-adrienne-mayor/1116828781?ean=9780691150260.

I should probably look up some other poetry by Housman and see what else of his I am actually familiar with, without knowing that it is his.

For that matter, I should probably look up Terence, too -- there are probably quotes that I know are "from the Latin" that are actually his.

Retro Tech Rhythms

The complete boxed set of Columbo showed up at Costco, including both series: 1968-1978 and 1989-2003. I watched some of the early episodes last weekend.

Good god, Columbo was young in 1968!

And it's interesting to see that even the first female murderers were tall. Not only was rumpled working-class Columbo dealing with the rich and powerful, his first several opponents all loomed over him physically. (I checked on google and Falk was 5' 6".)

But that's not what I came here to talk about.

The first series of Columbo started when I was in about 8th grade and ended after I finished my MLS, so it depicts a world I lived through in technological terms.

Payphones.
The rhythm of dialing a call on an actual dial phone. By the fourth episode or so, the rich people were starting to have push-button phones (even avocado, instead of black!) but regular phones all had dials...

What was really embarassing was that the third episode (directed by Steven Spielberg!) started with a long outdoor pan that eventually pulled into an office building, with no music or voices, just a really odd ongoing sound effect. And for the the longest time I could not decide what the sound was. At least I figured out what it was before the pan finished. It's amazing how wierd a serious manual typewriter used by a strong, fast typist sounds after all these years.

Even electric typewriters allowed a smoother rhythm and less choppy sound than the office manuals.

Latest Month

May 2015
S M T W T F S
     12
3456789
10111213141516
17181920212223
24252627282930
31      

Syndicate

RSS Atom
Powered by LiveJournal.com
Designed by Lilia Ahner