Saturday, July 14, 2018

The Week Ending Saturday, July 14th, 2018

Sunday

Today sort of got away from me, and it’s a quarter to midnight. We got a lot of small things done, and unfortunately failed to get a lot of bigger things done. We weren’t able to record a podcast today, so I uploaded an old one. A very old one, in fact: the first episode of The Potts House General Purpose Podcast, recorded at the end of summer 2008. The show blog post is here.

We had planned to record a show in which we talked about Asad Haider’s book Mistaken Identity. But we’ll have to delay that. I finished chapter 3 this morning and felt excited to talk about it, but I really needed more prep time, as well as recording time. But we’ll talk about that book on the show as soon as we can.

Since Grace has gone public, I now feel free to mention that we’re having another baby in December. In fact, the due date is Christmas Eve, although take that with a grain of salt, since Grace’s due dates usually don’t match very closely with the actual dates of birth.

We are also planning a show where we interview one of my college classmates about one of her books. More news about that to come!

This is a pretty poor showing as far as daily journal entries go, but I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed and it’s time to go upstairs and go to bed.

Monday

I never did get any dinner last night. I just drank a large glass of water and went to bed. I couldn’t get to sleep for a long time, though. I had a hard time cooling down and relaxing. So I don’t think I got to sleep until after 1:30 or so.

I was a bit sleep-deprived this morning, but not as bad as I’ve been some mornings.

To try to encourage myself, I’m reminding myself of some of the things we did get done this past weekend:

  • We kept everyone fed all weekend and managed to start out the week with a clean kitchen
  • Grace rendered a bunch of lard from a big gift of pig fat — a gift that keeps on giving
  • I got most of my clothes folded up and organized
  • Three of the boys got shampooed and conditioned, and I gave all four of them haircuts with
  • Grace got a huge amount of other clothes folded up and organized
  • We can see almost the entire floor of our bedroom now! (And sweep it)
  • We got a ton of laundry done! (Maybe not a literal ton, but just shy of it…)
  • We cleaned out the fridge and managed to eat almost all the miscellaneous leftovers, and only had a throw a small number of spoiled things away
  • I got a podcast up, of a sort
  • I did some prep for an upcoming podcast
  • I cleaned out the papers in my bag, like mortgage statements (although they are not all filed away yet)
  • I set up an e-mail account for Joshua and helped him send his first e-mail, with supervision
  • I paid a bill (hey, it’s the little things…)

When I lay it all out, that’s a lot. We also had a visit from our friend Joy, which was a very nice but all-too-brief little break.

The Thai cave rescue story is occupying my thoughts. It’s the perfect news story: a dramatic race against exhaustion, hunger, hypothermia, and rising water. There’s also absolutely nothing most of us can do about it. So, complete edge-of-our-set drama, while remaining entirely inert and passive. Perfect! As I write this, the latest reports I’ve seen say that eight of the 12 boys have been rescued, leaving just four boys remaining, and their coach.

I’m guardedly optimistic about the rest. The remaining boys might be the ones who did not seem up to the long, harrowing, and dangerous underwater swim. From what I hear, the pumping they are doing has made it so that some parts of the route are now walkable, which is good, but there is still a very long dive that must be accomplished with each boy tethered between two divers. Getting the last few out might be much more challenging, and I would not be shocked to learn that one or more doesn’t make it out alive. But still, I can’t look away.

I didn’t get any reading done this morning.

Evening

Grace had the kids out at a beach for the afternoon. They all got a bit of sun. Me, not so much. Shortly before I left work, I got a call from our housemate. She told me that one of the windows in our family room was cracking up as she watched. It was quite strange. I don’t know exactly what happened. My best guess is that one of the kids whacked the window with something, and it had a very small crack or chip. Then this afternoon in full sun, the heat stress caused it to come apart. But I’m not entirely sure.

When I got home, after stopping for gas, I found that the window was still in place, but shattered. I think it is made of safety glass. Hoping it would not actually come apart and send shards of glass all over the floor, I put a layer of blue gaffer tape over the whole thing. I guess we call a window repair company. I’m not sure our odd-job handyman guy can fix the window.

My co-worker Scott gave me some bike helmets. One of his neighbors was getting rid of them and he got them for our kids. So we have a couple of bike helmets in excellent shape.

Lots of chaos and noise tonight. The kids are argumentative. I hate walking into this arguments. Pipping keeps getting into fights with Benjamin and starts screaming. No one can complete a sentence. Grace is trying to ride herd on everyone and it’s evident she’s pretty sick of them today. She’s been trying to get them to do chores since they got back, or maybe before they left. Our housemate made sloppy joe for dinner. I unloaded the dishwasher and got another load on. I’m getting concerned about our water use, especially this weekend, because we did a number of loads of laundry to try to catch up. Michigan is getting close to a drought state. I don’t know if that will affect our well directly, but without some kind of “gas gauge” I don’t know how to tell if we are using too much water or not.

Benjamin has been complaining about his teeth. In particular he’s been saying that his teeth are loose. They aren’t loose, but we think he means that they are hurting him because he has some new cavities. So he has an emergency dentist appointment tomorrow morning at 8:30. It’s now 10:20. We can do this.

Tuesday

Last night at bedtime I read the kids a bit more of Down and Out in Paris and London, but we had to stop the story because Joshua and Benjamin were getting into some kind of screaming fight. Grace was up just past 7, and got Benjamin to his dentist appointment. It looks like he doesn’t have any new cavities, but he’s complaining because of swollen gums due to some kind of viral infection. There’s really no treatment to give him, except to give him some children’s Tylenol and encourage him to get some extra rest.

I was relieved this morning to hear that the divers in Thailand have managed to get all 12 kids and their coach out of the flooded cave system. It’s an amazing achievement. We should also always, when we think about this amazing rescue operation, remember Saman Kunan, the diver who did not live to see the job finished.

Wednesday

I had a treat waiting for me: I received my copy of The Centipede Press Library of Weird Fiction: Arthur Machen, a story collection from Centipede Press. I got this via Alibris from Zeising Books. I’ve bought books from them a few times and they are always in immaculate condition and nicely packaged. This is a very pretty book, and appears to be well-made. It’s a massive collection, over 700 pages of Machen’s stories. I am not really familiar with his work. I started reading his story “The White People” after the bedtime story. It’s frankly quite discursive and philosophical, with a framing story, and uses the old-school “secret manuscript revealed” storytelling device. Since I was already sleepy I realized that I had bitten into a story I couldn’t finish before falling asleep, so I’ll have to try again another time.

This is the first book from Centipede Press that I’ve owned. This volume is priced, I feel, reasonably for a well-made hardcover ($40.00). Some of their other books? They ask for, and apparently get, serious collector coin. I want to support them by buying their books, but at the same time I don’t really want to encourage that model of printing limited editions made to be collected and not read. The first Centipede Press editions I ever heard about are their fancy editions of Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun volumes. Those are scarce and quite expensive; a copy of Claw of the Conciliator is listed on eBay today for $419.99 (but hey, free shipping!) So I suspect I will never own that set.

There are other Centipede Press volumes I’d love to own, though. There’s a volume of William Hope Hodgson’s stories, as part of that “Library of Weird Fiction” series, but it’s out of print and copies on eBay are going for almost $200.00. There are volumes by Fritz Leiber, R. A. Lafferty, Haruki Murakami, Theodore Sturgeon, Algernon Blackwood, John Fowles, but when I look at the prices on the secondary market… I can’t even. Although their Weird Fiction Review series looks interesting, and copies don’t go for crazy money. Unless you want the older ones. Damn.

There’s a lot to be said for publishers like the Library of America that work to keep all their books in print.

Hmmm, while I’m browsing, I note that Subterranean Press has a novella by Greg Egan I want to read, called Phoresis. And they’ve got a couple of trade paperback volumes of the collected stories of Robert Silverberg. Can we please sell our Saginaw house soon, so that buying a book or two a month won’t feel any longer like I’m being irresponsible with money? Pretty please?

Anyway.

Things were fairly chaotic last night when I got home, and the family room and kitchen were fairly well trashed, so Grace and I basically retired to the bedroom to read and surf the web for ninety minutes or so while the kids did some of their chores. For dinner Grace had only really gotten as far as starting a pot of rice. We both had this idea that we wanted to eat Thai food, but with so little cooperation from the kids we couldn’t make that happen. So we had a Costco salad kit and basmati rice topped with cashews and an assortment of other toppings. I mixed in some hot lime pickle with one bowl and added sriracha to another. Rice, cashews, and hot sauce makes a pretty good dish in my opinion, although for this I think we should have used brown rice. It was not exactly Thai, but it was quick. We were not able to fully clean up because the dishwasher was still full of dishes in progress.

At bedtime story time, three of the kids were still busy having their own story. So we had Sam, Joshua, and Elanor and I thrashed around a bit trying to figure out what to read them. I didn’t want to continue Down and Out in Paris and London without Veronica. I have been trying to read the kids more of A Wrinkle in Time — I think I forgot to mention that, and now I don’t remember which nights I was attempting to read it. But we keep getting derailed by fights or tantrums or yelling before I can finish a chapter.

I finally settled on a short story by Philip K. Dick called “The King of the Elves.” That’s an interesting story because it has a very mundane setting, but “low fantasy” elements. In fact, it seems like it might be a prototype of the recent Urban Fantasy sub-genre.

It cries out for a movie adaptation. Unfortunately, it looks like such an adaptation has been stalled in development hell for some time.

We’re all itchy from what seems like it might be a low-grade case of Hand, Foot, and Mouth disease. Fun!

Wednesday Evening

I made some good progress on LabVIEW code today. I finished a sample/demo program for controlling the MX series of instruments using a DLL from Silicon Labs. This is not a finished program to do something useful with the instruments — it just lets turns on and off the red, green, and blue LEDs — but it shows how to send a command, how to poll for a success or failure response, how to report an error result, and how to query a parameter. So we now have a little library that we can supply to customers who want to know how to control one of our instruments from LabVIEW, and a little library we can use ourselves for automation.

When I got home the driveway was full of people milling around and gawking, because our housemate’s boyfriend had a flat tire. I’m no mechanic but I was able to help him a little bit. The jack that came with my car was a little larger and sturdier than the one that came with his car and so worked better. The rim was a bit rusted on but fortunately we happened to have a rubber mallet which was just the thing for pounding on the rim to loosen it up just enough to pull it off.

While I was finishing up my program at the office Grace was standing in an aisle in the GFS (Gordon Food Service) store up the road texting me about dinner plans. She proposed baked potatoes and a salad and I thought that sounded great, but wanted to add a protein of some kind. Grace has been having a hard time with reflux (and I have, too) so really we’re both feeling cautious about our meals. I can put cheese on my potato but some of the folks in the house can’t really tolerage any dairy. So she got some bacon crumbles, and we’ve got a little bit of leftover salmon and leftover shredded beef. So that will be dinner.

Sam has been reading The Complete Cosmicomics and I realized that I haven’t actually finished all the stories in that volume. So maybe tonight I will try reading the kids another one of those stories. I don’t think the kids are going to really enjoy “The Great God Pan” by Arthur Machen, although Sam has been asking me if I would read more Crime and Punishment. We also never finished Oliver Twist. Those may be better for long winter nights.

The potatoes are done and the kids are getting the table set.

Thursday

Last night’s story didn’t work out. I got a load of dishes going, and hand-washed a few things, but the kids didn’t follow their cues to get ready, so by the time I was ready to read a story, only Joshua was ready to listen to one, and he hadn’t brushed his teeth. So we sent the on to bed. Grace sat up doing some things on her computer for a while. I read more of Arthur Machen’s story “The White People.” When Grace closed up her computer, I read aloud to her for a while. It’s a pretty intense story. The writing style is remarkable; in this section of the story, we’re hearing the journal of a 16-year-old girl from the early 1800s. I’m not sure about the voice, but the flowing, stream-of-consciousness style is remarkable at the sentence level. Machen eschews paragraph breaks in this section almost completely, like Joyce did in the final chapter of Ulysses. Here’s a bit of the text I read aloud last night:

I tried again to see the secret wood, and to creep up the passage and see what I had seen there, but somehow I couldn’t, and I kept on thinking of nurse’s stories. There was one I remembered about a young man who once upon a time went hunting, and all the day he and his hounds hunted everywhere, and they crossed the rivers and went into all the woods, and went round the marshes, but they couldn’t find anything at all, and they hunted all day till the sun sank down and began to set behind the mountain. And the young man was angry because he couldn’t find anything, and he was going to turn back, when just as the sun touched the mountain, he saw come out of a brake in front of him a beautiful white stag. And he cheered to his hounds, but they whined and would not follow, and he cheered to his horse, but it shivered and stood stock still, and the young man jumped off the horse and left the hounds and began to follow the white stag all alone. And soon it was quite dark, and the sky was black, without a single star shining in it, and the stag went away into the darkness. And though the man had brought his gun with him he never shot at the stag, because he wanted to catch it, and he was afraid he would lose it in the night. But he never lost it once, though the sky was so black and the air was so dark, and the stag went on and on till the young man didn’t know a bit where he was. And they went through enormous woods where the air was full of whispers and a pale, dead light came out from the rotten trunks that were lying on the ground, and just as the man thought he had lost the stag, he would see it all white and shining in front of him, and he would run fast to catch it, but the stag always ran faster, so he did not catch it. And they went through the enormous woods, and they swam across rivers, and they waded through black marshes where the ground bubbled, and the air was full of will-o’-the-wisps, and the stag fled away down into rocky narrow valleys, where the air was like the smell of a vault, and the man went after it. And they went over the great mountains and the man heard the wind come down from the sky, and the stag went on and the man went after. At last the sun rose and the young man found he was in a country that he had never seen before; it was a beautiful valley with a bright stream running through it, and a great, big round hill in the middle.

It’s remarkable. There are not that many pieces of prose that I would really say invoke a “dream-like” state in the reader. Some Joyce does it; some Woolf does it; and for me, some E. R. Eddison. This story by Machen definitely does it. It certainly won’t appeal to everyone, but it appeals to me.

I did come across a noticeable typo, though, probably an OCR error, in the Centipede Press text. (There could be more, but this is the only one that I noticed). A line that should have read

her eyes shone in the dark like burning rubies

instead read

her eyes shone in the dark like burning rubles

Man, Vladimir Putin is influencing everything these days, apparently. But seriously — this text is in the public domain. Couldn’t they have cross-checked the text against the Project Gutenberg e-text which has undergone their “distributed proofreading” process and does not have these errors? (It has been a long time since I worked on it, but for a time I was a contributing proofreader, fixing OCR errors).

I noticed some interesting words. The story-within-a-story uses the words “voor” and “voorish” which appear in Lovecraft’s stories, and also in the odd and fascinating Radix by A. A. Attanasio.

The full text is available here.

We got to sleep by 12:30 or so, but about 5:30 Elanor woke up and started yelling at us. Grace had me get up and get her a bottle of water, and then refill it. I was in the middle of deep sleep and had a very hard time waking up, but after turning on lights, I was very awake. I considered just getting up and getting ready for the day, but it seemed like a bad idea because I’d be trying to do a full work day on about five hours of sleep. So I tried to go back to sleep. It took me a long time to get back to sleep, and I woke up feeling very groggy. So I’m honestly not sure if I made the right decision. I’m not sure what is going wrong this week, but Grace and I have been constantly tired, and every bedtime has been a nightmare with the kids. Maybe we’re all fighting a virus?

We’re getting on towards a drought situation here in Michigan.

Friday

I left work relatively early last night, just after 6. That always results in sitting in slowed and stopped traffic for an extra ten or twenty minutes, and this commute was no exception; that’s one of the reasons I like to leave later.

When I got home, Grace was out getting her hair done. I didn’t have it in me to do much of anything, so I actually wound up taking a brief nap, interrupted a few times by the kids. When she got home Grace made some latkes with leftover shredded potatoes and we had some other leftover stir-fried cabbage and greens. We didn’t finish them all, and Joshua packaged up some of the greens for me to take to work today for lunch. Naturally I forgot. I’ve just been spacey and tired. We’re simply not getting enough sleep. The boys are keeping us awake for one to two hours past the point when we send them to bed. Elanor’s been waking us up one to two hours before the time when we actually wanted to wake up. The combined effect is exhausting and demoralizing.

The kids keep begging us to watch videos after dinner, but they have blown off all their chores until after dinner, so there’s simply not time left after we get the table cleaned up, floor under the table cleaned of food, kitchen reasonably well cleaned up and dishes taken care of, the boys’ bedroom brought up to at least a minimal state of readiness, and everyone’s teeth brushed. We’re starting dinner with the kitchen and bedrooms and family room trashed. Much of that could have been done hours before I get home, but they procrastinate all day, and so they get no video, and some nights they get no story either. I’m perhaps too easy on them, in that I really don’t want to withhold the story, because I enjoy it and it’s one of the few things that I get to do regularly with the kids.

Last night’s story was the rest of chapter 6 of A Wrinkle in Time. This chapter is odd in that it doesn’t break when you think it will. It covers the visit with the Happy Medium and continues right into the first part of the children’s visit to Camazotz, right up to the point where they are about to go inside the CENTRAL Central Intelligence building (no, that’s not a typo; it really is written out as CENTRAL Central Intelligence in the book). We talked a bit about the differences between the book and the movie. In the movie, as I’ve groused about endlessly in my endlessly revised review, all of the scenery on Camazotz as well as the people are fake news. The red-eyed man is a puppet. The children and parents seem to be illusory. This effectively makes it so that the only living beings on Camazotz are the children, Meg’s father, and IT.

The stakes in this conflict are thus lowered, as there is no possible threat to bystanders from the confrontation with IT. It detracts from the moral complexity that L’Engle was presenting, where in a battle of good and evil, if you defeat the evil, a lot of ordinary people, people who may be collaborators but may also be just trying to survive, may very well be harmed, and this can’t be simply fantasized away. It’s part of what I see as the appalling simplification of the story.

I also managed to finish Arthur Machen’s story “The White People.” It’s a justifiably celebrated story: strange, gorgeous, and unnerving. Although as with many weird tales that use a framework story, I’m left a bit baffled by the framework story. The long conversation at the start about the nature of good and evil doesn’t seem to really make all that much sense in the context of the revealed story inside the framework. I’ll have to think on it, and maybe read it again when I can better concentrate on the text. But the story-within-the-story really is a thing of beauty, even though it suggests much more than it clearly delivers.

Evening

Went to Costco and got our usual salmon, a huge box of diapers, some salad, some fruit, some chips, and a few miscellaneous things like a paleo cashew dip (odd but pretty tasty). When I got home Grace had made rice, but she was not feeling well and so was hiding out in our bedroom. The kids had not done much cleanup and had not even put away food that was left out. So we were nowhere near ready to eat. I was frankly pissed off. It’s the same every week. We could have just put away the food from Costco, cooked the salmon, thrown togethre the salad, and had our meal. But instead we had to do a lot of cleanup first. I had planned on serving twelve, but our guest family was not here. So we only had seven eating. There were a lot of leftovers to put away and a lot of kitchen cleanup.

The kids have been begging all week to watch videos, especially more Lego Ninjago: Masters of Spinjitzu episodes. But it was well after 10 before we had a dish load running and the kitchen ready for Saturday breakfast. So I just put on Season 1 Episode 8 of Babylon 5, called “And the Sky Full of Stars.” It’s quite an episode — it covers some of the same territory as the In the Beginning movie. Sinclair starts to learn some of the details of those missing 24 hours when he tried to ram a Minbari ship and was captured.

After “And the Sky Full of Stars,” I put on the flip side of the In the Beginning DVD (it’s a single double-sided DVD with two movies on it), and we watched The Gathering, which was the pilot for the series. There are a few noticeable differences. The doctor character was a different actor. Delenn’s makeup was quite different. The plot centers around an attempt to assassinate Kosh, the Vorlon ambassador. But mostly the plot just serves to introduce the main characters, and shake them up to see how they behave under stress.

Saturday

Last night I received four books in the mail. They are four of the recent Michael Moorcock Collection volumes from Gollancz, which attempt to bring most of Moorcock’s body of work into a consistent, coherent, and edited edition. The Elric stories fill seven volumes and I’ve ordered all of them. They are dribbling in — apparently rather than put all seven in a box and ship that, the seller decided to put them in single-volume mailers.

I’ve received:

  • Elric of Melniboné and Other Stories
  • Elric: The Fortress of the Pearl
  • Elric: The Sailor on the Seas of Fate
  • Elric: The Sleeping Sorceress and Other Stories

Still to arrive are:

  • Elric: The Revenge of the Rose
  • Elric: Stormbringer!
  • Elric: The Moonbeam Roads

You can find a list of all these editions on the Moorcock Multiverse Wiki here. It’s unfortunate that there doesn’t seem to be a web page from the book’s publisher that explains the collection.

Elric of Melniboné and Other Stories_ is the first of the Elric books and the first of the whole Michael Moorcock Collection series. It collects the earliest Elric stories (in their “in-universe” chronological order, not the order in which they were written). This volume allegedly fixes error and inconsistencies in the texts. For example, when reading the my old paperback copy of Elric of Melniboné I noticed that “The Ship That Sails Over Land and Sea” is called “The Ship That Sails Over Both Land and Sea,” (emphasis mine), but only the first time the phrase is used. That’s fixed in this book. Presumably there are many other changes like this.

So far I’ve read the introductions and a story, “Master of Chaos,” which seems to happen very early in the chronology, as a sort of creation myth, and helps explain, at least a bit, Moorcock’s conception of how story “order” emerges from chaos. It’s not a bad story, although leaves me scratching my head a bit. Maybe it will make more sense later on. Next up is a graphic novel… in text form, called Elric: The Making of a Sorceror. That is, it’s the “script” for a graphic novel, a sort of panel-by-panel description of the drawings, with dialogue. It’s a bit like reading the screenplay of a television show. I’m not entirely sure why it’s in here; I guess this is where it fits into Elric’s chronology. The graphic novel is actually available, and copies aren’t scarce or expensive, so maybe I’ll order a copy at some point.

One of the introductions is a terrific and funny essay by Alan Moore, which gets at the way that Moorcock fit in (and didn’t fit in) with the fantasy reading and writing community of London in the 1960s and 1970s. Moorcock also describes his influences, and how he became a sort of “genre-surfer,” tailoring the genre to fit the story, wherever the story led him. That’s a bit mind-blowing. I can’t assess it very well because so far I’ve read so little of his work, but it does help explain the Cornelius books (which, unfortunately I didn’t really enjoy, but there is other Cornelius material that I might enjoy more). The Moorcock rabbit hole goes pretty deep, and I’m intrigued, although I’m not sure I’m quite ready to take the red pill and follow it through dozens of volumes.

I’m not quite sure what we’re going to do today. Since it’s 2:00 p.m. I guess that means we’re doing it and have done a good part of it. I was up fairly early and make bacon and blueberry pancakes for breakfast. Only a couple of the kids were up to eat them, so we just left the rest on the table. Elanor has abandoned breastfeeding and is eating all sorts of food, so we’re trying to make sure she gets a decent variety of things down her gullet (I think if she had the choice, she’d eat only bananas), and stays hydrated.

Speaking of hydration, it’s going to be miserably hot out all weekend, although it is supposed to cool down a bit next week. Michigan is drying out and we haven’t had rain in weeks. With working no air conditioning in the truck, as I’m holding off on any big expenses because of big house-repair bills coming up, we’re not going anywhere, at least not anywhere far away. Maybe we’ll go see a movie. Grace is not feeling very well, although better than she was last night. I’m not sure what we’re going to do about Mass and the podcast. We have some guests lined up; other people are willing, but we’ve got to get our act together.

Books, Music, Movies, and TV Mentioned This Week

  • Mistaken Identity: Race and Class in the Age of Trump by Asad Haider
  • Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell
  • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
  • The Centipede Press Library of Weird Fiction: Arthur Machen by Arthur Machen with an introduction by S. T. Joshi
  • “The King of the Elves” by Philip K. Dick
  • “The White People” by Arthur Machen
  • The Complete Cosmicomics by Italo Calvino
  • Babylon 5 Season 1 Episode 8, “And the Sky Full of Stars”
  • Babylon 5: The Gathering (1993 TV movie)
  • Elric of Melniboné and Other Stories by Michael Moorcock, edited by John Davey (Gollancz Michael Moorcock Collection)

Ypsilanti, Michigan
The Week Ending Saturday, July 14th, 2018

Saturday, July 7, 2018

The Week Ending Saturday, July 7th, 2018

The Week Ending Saturday, July 7th, 2018

Sunday

Sunday afternoon was quite busy but we got a lot done. Staying on top of cooking and dishes is an ongoing challenge. Grace and I got out for a while and met up with our friend Joy Pryor. We went to El Harissa Market Café, an interesting little place in the plaza at North Maple and Miller. I had never been there. The food is great, and it was not crowded, so we felt able to talk peacefully for a couple of hours. I also brought home a big tin of olive oil to try.

We hadn’t really done a good job planning for this weekend’s podcast, but Grace got in touch with our friend Elias Crim, and fortunately he was able to come on the show on short notice. I want to thank him for his patience as we got our technology up and running. Just as we were about to start recording, the stove upstairs started malfunctioning. The gas igniter started sparking continuously. There was no gas leak, but we had to try to figure out how to turn it off. I went to the breaker panel and discovered that even though the panel is fairly new and the wiring is fairly new, and all looked to be in good shape during the inspection, with plenty of capacity, none of the breaker labels had any relation to reality. The two high-amperage breakers labeled for the upstairs and downstairs stoves must have been for electric stoves that no longer exist. So I had to just throw each breaker to try to figure out what was wired to what. Finally the breaker labeled “living room socket” did the trick. Meanwhile I had cut the power to the podcast studio, so I had to boot everything back up. It’s a reminder that I need to get the gear in the storage room/podcast studio onto a UPS. My main computer is already on a UPS and that worked flawlessly when I killed the power, which is good to know.

The Google Group audio went wonky on us five minutes into the recording, so I briefly left the room to go upstairs and see if someone was streaming video, or doing something else which might be eating up our network bandwidth. There was nothing and the audio improved as soon as I left. Meanwhile Grace, thinking that I wasn’t recording anymore, said some things that she didn’t actually want in the podcast. I didn’t realize this until after the podcast was produced and uploaded. So I had to quickly delete the MP3 file and YouTube video, edit out a couple of minutes of audio, throwing in some music to cover the little break, and re-bounce the wave file, re-convert it to MP3 and video, re-upload both of those things, and update the RSS feed. So that cost another half-hour and it was about 1:30 a.m. by the time it was all done, but I did manage to use that time to pay bills. While I was working on producing the podcast episode, the kids were in the basement watching more cartoons (episodes of Lego Ninjago: Masters of Spinjitzu). I finally sent them to bed about 1:00 because I was getting too tired to concentrate over the background noise from the TV show.

I didn’t really get any dinner as such, but Grace did set aside two potato latkes for me to gobble down before getting into bed. I had to leave the kitchen a mess. I am hoping that Grace and the kids can get that taken care of today. I couldn’t do any more yesterday; I can’t spend four hours recording and producing the podcast and clean up the kitchen and get enough sleep to be ready to go to work on Monday.

We missed Mass.

I have read some mixed reviews of the Amazon series, Electric Dreams. It’s an anthology of adaptations of some of Philip K. Dick’s short stories. A web search had suggested that it was available on the iTunes store. But when I tried to purchase an episode, I discovered that it is really only available on the Canadian iTunes store. I can search the Canadian store, but apparently I’m not allowed to buy anything from it. I guess the only other way to watch is to sign up for Amazon Prime. I guess that means I’m not interested. I would buy a DVD set, if one was available; I’d give them my money in that way. But I’m not going to attach another leech (an “eel” as John Roderick calls them, in his Roderick on the Line podcast conversations with Merlin Mann) to our bank account just to watch one or two episodes of a likely-mediocre TV show.

Monday

Elanor actually slept with the boys last night and she seemed to sleep quite well, so I got almost a full night’s sleep, from about 1:45 to about 7:45. That’s a better night’s sleep than I’ve had in days. It’s still a little less than I need, but I feel almost healthy and almost energetic today! This morning I continued reading a book I picked up on Memorial Day at the Barnes and Noble in Livonia, Butcher Bird by Richard Kadrey. I had a breakfast BLT and coffee at Harvest Moon Café.

When I got home, it looked like the igniter-sparking problem was gone, so I’m assuming at the moment it was mostly because our housemate spilled some liquid on the stove and a little moisture, not even visible, got into the igniters.

Butcher Bird

Butcher Bird is an early novel in the genre of “urban fantasy.” It was published in 2007. It reads like an early and influential piece of the history of the urban fantasy sub-genre. If I didn’t know that it came after them, I would say that it must have influenced Greywalker by Kat Richardson, the first of the Nightside books by Simon R. Green, and Jim Butcher’s first few Dresden Files novels. But it did in fact appear after those works. So perhaps the influence went the other way? Or perhaps they had common influences?

In any case, Butcher Bird is a bit rougher and more explicit. Not in matters of blood and guts, but in more graphic depictions of tattoos, piercings, and raw sexual encounters. It’s definitely a product of the San Francisco Bay Area scene that also brought the world RE/Search Publications such as Modern Primitives. (In fact, the author even makes literal reference to “modern primitives,” and one of the characters is called “Count Non.” “NON” is the name used by musician Boyd Rice for some of his music. He’s mentioned in RE/Search 6/7, Industrial Culture Handbook. I have his CD, Easy Listening for Iron Youth, although I can’t claim to have ever listened to the whole thing. NON seems to be very sympathetic to history’s mass murderers and fascists; for example, the album is dedicated like so:

This recording is respectfully dedicated to history’s men of steel: Gabriele D’Annunzio, Vlad the Impaler, Hassan Sabbah, Nero, Anton Szandor LaVey, Roi D’Ys, Jack the Ripper, Marquis de Sade, the hero of Green River, Ghengis Khan, Diocletian, Charles Manson & Ayahtolla Khomeni. May their spirit live forever.

In my twenties I was more likely to find that sort of thing a lot funnier than I do now. I used to collect a lot of banned and controversial books and music, Just Because—because I was interested in understanding the whole range of human behavior including fetishes and self-destructive behaviors. I feel that I’ve pretty much done that, and don’t really need to keep doing it. And since having kids, I have gotten rid of my more explicitly “transgressive” art. (Will I get rid of Butcher Bird for that same reason? Probably not).

Anyway, all the references to more transgressive works aside, Butcher Bird is a pretty quick read, and fun. It’s not the best-structured book; a lot of things aren’t well set up in advance. For example, the characters, and the reader, learns that the gates of hell are only revealed during a full moon (shades of The Hobbit). The characters’ complaining about learning this “lampshades” the fact that it wasn’t well set up in the story and the author didn’t apparently feel the need to go back and introduce at least a hint of this earlier in the text.

But the dialogue is snappy, at least, and the writing flows well. The blurring of the magic and mundane worlds is a staple in urban fantasy, but it feels pretty fresh and lively here. The titular character, nicknamed “Butcher Bird” (and “Blind Shrike”) is not the main point-of-view character, and I find that interesting; I haven’t entirely figured out yet how that affects the overall book. I’m not going to claim that it has serious redeeming literary value, at least not until I finish it, but I’m also not going to apologize for enjoying a work of genre fiction, even one that doesn’t have extraordinary depth.

Tuesday

Lunch yesterday was a Reuben sandwich (a Thousand Island dressing version) at Uptown Coney Island on Jackson Road. I had no fries, but two glasses of root beer. The sugar meant meant, unfortunately, that I was sleepy by 3:30 or so. This is why I don’t normally drink soda any more. But it was so hot, I really was craving a root beer.

I’m happy to report that I got a full night’s sleep last night. Elanor slept through most of the night in the boys’ room. It seems like maybe she’s sick of sleeping in mom and dad’s room and is looking for a change of pace. She woke up briefly before dawn and cried out a bit. I think she was getting cold. So I brought her back to our room and she fell pretty easily back to sleep, and was still snoring softly when I left this morning.

It was still a bit of a strange evening. Monday night is trash night. When I got home, the kids had not rolled the trash and recycling bins down to the street yet. There was also a shoe, an adult-sized hiking boot or work boot, sitting on top of our mailbox for some reason.

The mystery of the shoe on top of the mailbox took most of the rest of the evening to puzzle out. Grace and I had to pretty much tag-team the kids in ones and twos and finally consult with our housemate. I told the kids, “I am curious about this, but honestly, I really don’t think the explanation I’m going to get is going to make it worth the effort.” Mostly, I told them, I did not really want this to become a topic of discussion on the Nextdoor.com Crane Road group. I did not want to have to try to come up with some kind of sensible explanation for our neighbors, nor did I want to have to tell them something like “eh, my kids do random strange things, what are you gonna do?”

I’m still not sure I have it right, but the story somehow involved our housemate’s boyfriend, who somehow left his boots in the driveway (I think he was cleaning out his car, maybe, and forgot about them?) And then the kids didn’t want them to get lost, so two different kids decided to put one on Grace’s car, and somehow decided to put the other on top of the mailbox so he’d be sure to notice it the next time he drove into the driveway. Although he doesn’t get our mail, so it doesn’t seem all that likely to me that he’d be looking at our mailbox. And call me crazy, but I didn’t see the logic of separating the pair. I guess they thought that if they left shoes in two different places, he’d be more likely to spot one of them. Or something. It makes my head hurt to try to re-run the brain programs my kids come up with routinely. I think I would have left the pair by the front door, or on the little table in the entrance where we leave bags and purses and things like that, things we take with us when we leave or set down when we come in. Or—and here’s a crazy idea—given them to our housemate to give to him. But maybe that’s just me, and my solutions seem baffling to other people.

No one was up for cooking last night, at all. I was happy to see that Grace and the kids had gotten the kitchen mostly cleaned up, doing some of the cleanup I was not able to finish Sunday night, but no one wanted to heat up the kitchen or make more dishes. So Grace ordered a couple of items from Happy’s pizza, and then ran out to deliver some food to her friend. We got a meat pizza, a cheese pizza, a box of rib tips, and a box of fried fish nuggets. At my special request—I was craving a milkshake—she brought me a small frozen custard from Culver’s. And the kids immediately started begging me to share it with them. I want them to learn to share, and I want to set a good example, but despite all that, I told each of them “no.” It was, after all, a small custard, and there are a lot of them. And I eaten less pizza so that I would be able to eat my specially requested item when Grace brought it home, mostly melted, not a true milkshake, but still satisfying.

I’m a bit torn about dietary things recently. I discovered this weekend, when I had a big bowl of instant udon noodles from Costco, that this kind of instant starch does wonders for my reflux. My stomach and esophagus (constantly burning) felt wonderful for the rest of the day after eating that. Potatoes also help. But these starchy foods are allegedly nemeses in other ways, along with sugar. If I have starches or sugars, especially at lunchtime, I inevitably become immensely sleepy about 3:00 or 4:00. And I have been having symptoms or arthritis in my hands, something that seems to get worse in the summer. So it seems like if I want my heartburn to go away, I can eat starches like udon, and yogurt, and ice cream, but then the sugar aggravtes inflammation, so I have to deal with the joint pain, blood sugar crashes, and dairy allergy that goes with them (although the Flonase seems to be helping a lot with the dairy reaction, eliminating it almost entirely).

Speaking of sugar, I stopped at the Coffee House Creamery this morning and got an almond milk mocha. (They don’t actually make it all that sweet there, but really I should probably get the latte version that doesn’t have sweetened chocolate syrup added).

I have to get through one more work day and then I get a day off. I’m both looking forward to it, and dreading it. July 4th is on a Wednesday, which makes it a little orphan holiday in the middle of the week. It means we won’t be driving up to Saginaw to see their fireworks display, because I just can’t manage driving back and arriving home past 1:00 a.m. and then trying to get to work on time Thursday morning.

Down and Out in Paris and London

Last night’s story was a few more chapters from Down and Out in Paris and London. We’ve reached chapter 14, almost the midpoint of the book. I think soon he is going to leave Paris and head for… wait for it… London. So the scenery is going to change. Last night we read Orwell’s descriptions of working in the cafeterie of the hotel. He describes a bank of five “service elevators.”

It’s necessary to clarify these terms a little bit, I think. If I understand it correctly, his main job was taking care of room service. The “service elevators” were a bank of what I think we would now call “dumbwaiters,” small lifts used for hoisting and lowering orders and food between floors. So when he worked in the cafeterie he wasn’t working a “front of house” restaurant job, nor truly in the kitchen. It was a sort of complex in-between job handling all the room service orders, which ranged from coffee and tea through toast and pastries but also could include full meals from the kitchen. It is confusing because he refers to himself also as a plongeur, and does describe some shifts where he mostly does dishwashing, but for most of his shifts he was doing this more complex and challenging cafeterie service job. It becomes a little more clear when he describes the caste system of the whole hotel and talks about how much each person was paid.

One thing I’m trying to convey to the kids, by reading this to them, is that restaurant work is difficult. It’s become a commonplace and a shibboleth to attack restaurant work as not worth a $15-per-hour wage. And it is true that chain restaurant fast food work is often very segmented, and regimented, and “dumbed down” so as to require less skill, and also try to ensure very little variation between franchise locations. But ignoring the fact that anyone working full time simply needs and deserves enough money to ensure that he or she has access to food and housing, the point I’m trying to convey to them is one Orwell makes—this kind of restaurant labor is intellectually challenging. I know that I find it challenging just to cook breakfast for my own family, making a few different things at once—say, coffee, bacon, pancakes, oatmeal, and scrambled eggs—and have everything done at roughly the same time, and nothing burned. Scale that up for a busy restaurant and you’ll get some slight sense of the challenges facing a short order cook, or working in the cafeterie. Orwell describes one of the other men working in the cafeterie, Mario, who has been doing this job for fourteen years and is a whiz at it. Mario gets paid twice what the other workers in the cafeterie are paid. He’s worth it and management knows it.

Fortunately, with modern gas ovens and HVAC systems, restaurant work may not be quite as sweaty as it was in Orwell’s day, but it is still challenging. I would not be embarrassed or ashamed in the slightest if one of my children managed to get work as a waiter, or a short-order cook, although I would really prefer that they have the opportunity to work at a place that isn’t a chain restaurant, and makes local specialties and specials not dictated by a corporate head office. I would be worried that these jobs won’t pay them enough, though, and that they will be perceived as low-status workers. I don’t think they should be.

LabVIEW Again

I’ve continued to work with our intern on LabVIEW code. It turns out that the trying to use LabVIEW code with version control systems fails in even more unpredictable and arbitrary ways than I thought. After the fiasco that resulted from changing data type definitions, I got his changes e-mailed to me and integrated it all on my machine, commited, and pushed up to GitHub. We reverted everything in his sandbox and did a pull. Then we made some changes to code on his machine, finishing some features. These changes did not include changes to data type definitions. And yet it still seemed as if LabVIEW “dirtied” more files than it needed to; it didn’t “dirty” all of them, but a few extras.

We got all the changes made on his computer committed and pushed, and then I pulled, and tried to run the code. And found that apparently the arbitrary differences between the paths to various installed LabVIEW device support VIs were encoded in the VIs, which now won’t open on my machine without my having to hunt for these VIs, to satisfy the broken dependencies. So I’m trying to open an updated file that I’ve opened dozens of times on my computer, and now I have to manually look for “IVIDCPwr Close.vi” and other files, because on both our computers we use a support library for controlling voltmeters.

These libraries have the same path on both our computers.

Even after I thought I was done, apparently a VI was broken, until I tracked down a VI with a similar name and replaced the broken VI with the slightly different version. Is LabVIEW using fuzzy logic or soundex matching or some such, to satisfy dependencies? I don’t know, but something broke, despite my attempt to find the exact file names. And some .llb files wouldn’t open even when LabVIEW was apparently looking for exactly that file, giving incomprehensible errors.

This is absolutely intolerable and makes it a ridiculously painful exercise to share LabVIEW VIs using Git. We’re doing it, but I think we will probably wind up resorting to e-mailing individual VIs back and forth and trying to commit as few changes as possible. Wow. What a mess, also known as “how to waste over an hour of time you were hoping to spend with your family on the evening before your day off, trying to load the code that was running perfectly on your computer, then running perfectly on your intern’s computer, but now apparently somehow can’t be re-loaded on your own computer again not because of changes you deliberately made, but because of changes LabVIEW made behind your back.”

I made explicit code changes to two VI files. None of them were type definitions, or changes to the interfaces (the “terminals”) of these VI files. But LabVIEW has dirtied nine of them, just by loading the project.

So much for “software ICs.” Seriously.

Have I ever told you about an amazing invention called “referring to files and libraries by name,” rather than including hard-coded, machine- or user-specific full paths in code? There’s even something called “file paths” in which you configure the development environment, rather than the source files, to tell it where to find the files it needs. I hear it’s the future of software development!

And don’t get me started on the crashes. I thought it was mostly just me and my flakey computer, but:

  • My computer’s not flakey anymore, after replacing all the RAM; and
  • Our intern’s been having LabVIEW crashes as well, and his computer has not been flakey at all.

I did not really bring it up, although I’ve been thinking about it, of course; but my co-workers have started to ask me about possible options for migrating this code base to a platform other than LabVIEW, to write code for this kind of instrument control and data collection in a saner and more sustainable way. I think it might be worth spending a week or two attempting to build a proof-of-concept in either Python or (deep sigh) C#, if only to figure out if either of these options have device support libraries available that are even slightly comparable to the ones we are using in LabVIEW. If I can find someone’s work to build on, even partially, it would go a long way towards convincing me to jump ship, because the tooling for any text-based language would make it far easier to collaborate.

At least I have a day off to think about other things. I really need one.

Wednesday

My day off!

Last night I read the kids several more chapters from Down and Out in Paris and London. They are really enjoying this book. We get a lot more details of the Parisian hotel where Orwell works, including his descriptions of the enormous contrasts between the aspects of the hotel the paying customers see (the immaculate dining room, for example) and the roach-infested filth of the kitchens. Down and Out really was a sort of early Kitchen Confidential. It is also peppered with funny stories, like the story of the waiter who had to go for several days without food and wound up praying to a portrait of a woman whom he thought was a saint. With the setup, I guessed how the story would turn out. But it was still bawdy and hilarious. There are many good reasons to read this book even so many years later.

Grace and I slept pretty late. I dragged myself out of bed to make coffee, English muffins, scrambled eggs, reheated salmon, and a big frying pan of Shishito peppers. First I had to clean the stove. Again. Then more cleanup. I was hoping we would finish the salmon, but we didn’t, so the rest went back into the refrigerator. I want to get that eaten tonight if I can. We’re going to do some very basic grilling on the back deck. I think we’re waiting until the day cools off a little bit. It’s in the nineties today, heat index over 100, incredibly humid. I’m not going out there. We are planning to go see fireworks in Saline this evening, since we weren’t willing to go see Saginaw’s display on a work night.

I took a little time after our late breakfast and finished reading Butcher Bird. It’s a fun book but I don’t think I’m going to keep it in my collection. It just doesn’t build up much drama because pretty much anything can happen, and our protagonist can sprout arbitary, hitherto unsuspected powers as needed. So the reader kind of rides through the scenery and action on rails without much real sense of menace or character development.

I noticed more references. The author references more things form the RE/Search books including, I think, the machines of Survival Research Laboratories and the people described in Freaks: We Who Are Not As Others by Daniel P. Mannix, a book reprinted under the RE/Search imprint. I’m pretty sure the author was also explicitly referencing Michael Moorcock’s sword Stormbringer and also his character Jerry Cornelius. The references are fun to notice, and I’m sure I missed some more, but they can’t really substitute for good storytelling.

A few years ago, I tried and failed to really enjoy the Jerry Cornelius novels. I mentioned them in my first post of 2015. I think I finished about one and a half of them. I was hoping to enjoy them and collect them all, but ultimately decided I just don’t need them in my collection. I think I forgot to mention that a month or two ago I started reading Elric of Melniboné. I’m pretty sure I tried to start reading the Elric books before, maybe back in my late teens, or maybe one summer in college. The details are hazy. I’m not quite sure why I couldn’t get engaged in them. Reading the first one in 2018, I find much to like about it: it’s very stylish, and the setup is interesting:

By magic potions and the chanting of runes, by rare herbs had her son been nurtured, his strength sustained artificially by every art known to the Sorcerer Kings of Melnibon&eacute. And he had lived—still lives—thanks to sorcery alone, for he is naturally lassitudinous and, without his drugs, would barely be able to raise his hand from his side through most of a normal day.

There’s snappy dialogue, and beautiful action, and imaginative locations. So I like those things about it. But what I find to dislike most about it, at least so far, is the protagonist’s casual attitude to killing and torture:

He was bored rather than disgusted by the rituals attendant upon the gathering of information and the discordant screams, the clash of the chains, the thin whisperings of Doctor Jest, all served to ruin the feeling of well-being he had retained even as he reached the chamber.

It’s a bit of a conundrum; I tend to get turned off when I’m asked to identify and be sympathetic to a protagonist who seems like a psychopath. If the protagonist has no remorse or never struggles with that kind of action, at some point I get disgusted with the book, and sometimes, by association, disgusted with the author. And in those cases I’ll generally stop reading.

I’m not far enough in the story to decide if Elric winds up with any redeeming moral qualities. Maybe he does. But right now he seems very indifferent towards watching prisoners get tortured to death, and it’s hard to keep going. I might try to go along with him a little longer. I like to believe that there must be some of Moorcock’s many novels I can enjoy. Since I love the look and feel of books too, I’d also like to find an edition that looks good and feels good, but all I’ve got at the moment is a creased and mildewed old mass-market paperback of the first Elric book. Of course there are PDF files available, but I still mostly like to read real paper books.

It gets complicated sometimes when I am reading a story with a real “antihero.” For example, Thomas Covenant in Stephen R. Donaldson’s Chronicles of Thomas Covenant trilogy (and the Second Chronicles and Last Chronicles) is an anti-heroic hero, with terrible acts of comission and omission. But he’s struggling with it, and redeems himself in the books. Severian in Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun books including The Urth of the New Sun is a torturer, and was raised by torturers, and makes a living in the books as an executioner and torturer. He spends a lot of words in the book reciting the justifications for his behavior that he learned growing up in his guild, but ultimately his actions show his dissent. It’s done with some subtlety; we do develop sympathy for him, but also come to understand that he is a strange, broken construct of a man whose actions sometimes seem to surprise no one more than himself.

Hmmm… I jsut read the Wikipedia article on Elric, the character, and it suggests that the character is portrayed with more moral depth as the stories continue, placing him in the “doomed hero” category. It also sounds like I should read the Finnish story of Kullervo (Tolkien’s version is in the house, waiting for me). And it also sounds like there are some nice recent reprint editions. There are Gollancz editions: some are straight-up reprints of the separate original novels, which are quite short. But there are collections, too; there are volumes called Elric of Melniboné and Other Stories, Elric: The Sailor on the Seas of Fate, Elric: The Sleeping Sorceress, Elric: The Revenge of the Rose, and Elric: Stormbringer! They include the novels and stories in their in-universe chronology. Maybe I’ll try the first collection.

There’s also Elric: The Fortress of the Pearl, which Wikipedia doesn’t mention, and Elric: The Moonbeam Roads, which seems to also exist in 3 volumes. And there are other recent reprints in the series of other Moorcock books like The Dancers and the End of Time. He was quite prolific, and I don’t really have a good sense of his whole body at work. And I have no idea how much of that work has really held up, and how much now seems weak and dated like the Cornelius chronicles. So I’ll have to try to figure all that out. If you’ve got advice on how to climb Mt. Moorcock, leave a comment.

Meanwhile, I’ve ordered some books. I’ve ordered some non-fiction by people who we’d like to have on the podcast. I’ll mention those when we record the show. I’ve also ordered The Book of Jhereg, by Stephen Brust, an omnibus edition of the first three of his Vlad Taltos novels. That series now contains 15 novels, and I feel doubtful that I will eat them like candy the way I ate Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files novels, but who knows?

I also ordered a nice edition of Frankenstein, which I’m hoping to read to the kids.

And, finally, I ordered a collection of stories by Arthur Machen, from Centipede Press. Here’s an article mentioning Machen and another small publisher, Tartarus Press; I have some of their books of William Hope Hodgson’s work. I don’t think I’ve read any Machen, so I’m looking forward to it.

From that article I learned that Edith Wharton wrote horror stories, and that H. G. Wells wrote supernatural stories, too. I had no idea. There so much to track down! And so much alreading waiting on the pile!) It’s a bit hard, because a lot of the stuff I most want to read is also the hardest to find; it is reprinted in limited, collectible editions, and often sold at collector prices. I like paying for well-constructed, beautiful books. But I don’t like paying an enormous premium for “collectible” books. Call me crazy, but I think books should be read!

Arduino, Etc.

Sam asked me a few days ago if I could teach him about little development boards. I forget the exact context. I’ve tried this before, and not had great success; he gets frustrated quickly. So this time I basically just gave him a demo of the Arduino Uno: how to use the IDE, how to make the built-in LED flash, and how to get it to send messages to the virtual serial port. Then I showed him my blog post on SPI communication. We drew some diagrams and I explained how clocking, chip select, and the data lines work in SPI. Then, I showed him my code to implement a little virtual machine inspired the the Human Resource Machine game, and we talked about FIFO and LIFO queues, with a little paper model I improvised.

I don’t know if Sam is going to be our programmer and follow in my footsteps, but this went better than the last time. I suggested that we get together again sometime and try implementing one of the algorithms his book on algorithms describes. So we’ll see if he shows further interest. It gets tricky because I’ve found it very hard to just allow the kids to actually have free access to laptops and other hardware. Their wide range of ages make it very difficult. They’ve destroyed so much hardware. But I keep trying to find a way.

Fourth of July Dinner

Grace and our houseguest did some heavy lifting to get a nice summer dinner together. Joshua and our houseguest’s boyfriend started the grill, but didn’t really get the coals going properly, so I had to get everything restarted and some of the hamburger patties were pretty hopeless. That slowed things down as it took most of an hour before the coals were really ready to grill. We were using pre-made frozen hamburger patties. The idea is that you keep them frozen, then throw them on the grill, and get a nice browning on the outside while the inside remains more on the rare side. It was so hot out that the patties sitting out in the bag were partly thawed, though, and tended to release a lot of liquid when we threw them on the grill. But they were OK. I ate one of the way-too-well-done patties too, with some mayo, and I have to say that I sort of liked it because it was very heavy on the grilled meat flavor. I’m used to actually shaping the patties myself and putting them over the coals, so I didn’t know quite how to cope with the thin frozen patties, but most of them were edible and some were even pretty tasty.

Grace made a cake for our housemate’s boyfriend’s birthday, a cake from scratch with caramel icing. It was really good. She also made an enormous pot of greens. She chopped up the leftover Shisito peppers from our late breakfast and they added a nice mild heat to the greens.

We were planning to go to see fireworks at Saline, but by the time we had the table completely cleared and the food put away, it was almost 10 p.m., the start time. I expressed a disinterest in going, noting that we still had a lot of kitchen cleanup to do and I had work in the morning. Joshua was tearful, though, and two of the younger kids were also upset at the prospect of missing fireworks, so Grace took the four youngest kids while Veronica, Sam, and I continued to do some cleanup. When I got partway through the cleanup, Veronica jumped in at my request and finished the hand washing.

I started watching the first episode of The Orville, which I had downloaded from the iTunes store, with Veronica and Sam. However, just about two minutes into it, Grace came back. The fireworks display had been really short, and traffic had been very heavy, so they missed all of it. The Orville is a show for older kids or adults, so I put it away and we watched the second episode of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, season 1, called “Rising Malevolence.” It was pretty good. I find myself more than a little bit impressed with this animated series, which we never watched back when it was new.

And now to bed, my day off done!

Thursday

I got up at 7:30. It was a pretty good night, with only a couple of interruptions.

Our friends, another large homeschooling family, are down at the University of Michigan Medical Center today for appointments. So they dropped off a number of kids about 7:30 this morning. Grace was up before me; she must have gotten a call or text. I don’t think we were expecting them this early. Or, at least, if we were, Grace thought it best not to tell me.

I’m not even sure how many kids. Five? Six? So we have thirteen or fourteen kids running around the house this morning, getting in pillow fights, and arguing. I think we were encouraging them not to go play outside until at least 9:00 a.m., for the sake of our neighbors, but at least a couple were walking outside when I left about 8:30.

I had some coffee with coconut milk at home, and a couple of bagels. Maybe on my lunch break I’ll go pick up more lunch food at Meijer on Jackson Road.

I was going to read more of Mistaken Identity: Race and Class in the Age of Trump this morning, but that didn’t really work out.

Friday

A long night last night, and long day today. Dinner did not work out well last night, so we wound up eating quite late, and eating mainly an assortment of leftovers. By the time we got dinner cleaned up it was too late for dinner and several kids were melting down. Pippin confessed to scratching my car, although this is confusing because Merry already confessed. But this morning on my way out I discovered recent scratches on our housemate’s boyfriend’s car, which is infuriating, so maybe he was confessing to that. I don’t really know yet, or what we’re going to do about it, as I believe this is the fourth round of car-scrathing.

This morning I was quite tired and quite stressed. Grace was going to make me a coffee while I got ready, but she fell back asleep. I got out quite late, and was quite late to work. I’ve been burning the introvert candle at both ends, since I’ve been spending much of my work day with our intern and it’s a lot of social interaction. It’s hard to also do my best debugging work, so I’ve been staying late after our intern leaves at 4:30, and getting some of the trickier LabVIEW code problems solved in that quiet time when everyone, or almost everyone, has left.

Tonight dinner was salmon from Costco, with a broccoli salad, and for dessert we had a box of their macarons (the meringue-like multi-colored, multi-flavored French cookies, not the chewy shredded-coconut cookies, which are also delicious, and not the president of France). When I arrived home Joshua dropped a very nice bottle of wine in the driveway while unloading the car, a bottle of the 2016 Chateau Grand Traverse Late Harvest Riesling. I’m shattered. While getting dinner on the table Sam dropped our green plastic water pitcher and it cracked. I also found out that for some reason the kids were pouring water on the driveway with a mason jar and dropped it. So that’s three things broken today. After we pre-heated the oven to 400 degrees and opened it up to put in the salmon, I found that the kids had apparently left a glass container of leftover hamburgers in there. So four cooked hamburger patties were ruined. They had also left a little remaining salmon from last week sitting out on the counter for a number of hours, and so it’s garbage now.

If anyone needs some food wasted or breakable objects destroyed, call me up. You can hire my kids. Hell, they’ll probably do it for free.

Grace went up to Saginaw late this afternoon and got back just as we were finishing up dinner. She had a chance to inspect the repair work in progress at the old house, so we’ve got some information on what’s been going on. Some of the contractors have apparently been doing some pretty poor work and leaving a huge mess as they do it.

I did get a little bit of reading done today, but just a little. I am continuing on with Elric of Melniboné. Things have picked up a bit after the main character drowned. (Of course, he didn’t actually drown). When reading Moorcock I’m constantly reminded of other fantasy novels and movies, in part because Moorcock used some old, old tropes in creating his stories, but also in large part because the Elric stories were so very influential on so much other work.

Saturday

After dinner last night, and clean-up, there was enough time to take the kids down into the basement, and suffer through another episode of Lego Ninjago: Masters of Spinjitzu Season 1, called “Once Bitten, Twice Shy.” The kids love these but I just don’t get much enjoyment from them. Then we watched episode 3 of Star Wars: The Clone Wars season 1, called “Shadow of Malevolence”. The show remains pretty dark; characters are killed in space battles, just plain blown up and killed in battle, and it isn’t sugar-coated. In episode 3, a whole medical ship filled with injured clones is under threat from General Grievous, who orders his battle droids to open fire on the non-combatant transport ships evacuating the wounded. That’s pretty intense for a children’s show, but the show remains impressive.

I was quite tired last night but because it cooled down so nicely—into the fifties—after so many hot days, I wanted to stay up late with the sliding door into our bedroom wide open, and enjoy the cool air. Meanwhile the rest of the United States (and the world) seems to be setting all-time heat records. I’m also following the news about the cave rescue in Thailand. It’s a perfect news story: dramatic, with constant updates, and also the perfect kind of news story to induce anxiety, because there is absolutely nothing that most of us can do to influence anything happening there.

Elon Musk is apparently offering assistance and considering technological solutions to extracting the kids, like giant inflatable hoses. I am no longer enough of a techno-utopian to have the slightest faith that something like this will work. Such a solution might be physically possible, but I just don’t think it can be done practically. And as for the option of training the boys to dive—a number of them apparently don’t even know how to swim.

This morning I finished Book 2 of Elric of Melniboné (the middle part of the 1972 novel). Elric and his army have ridden the Ship Which Sails Over Land and Sea to track down the traitorous Yyrkoon. This is a terrific passage. Elric has brought a contingent of blind soldiers who are immune to the effects of a magic mirror which steals memories, although when Yrkoon orders the mirror smashed, many die as it releases a flood containing thousands of years of stolen memories.

I have a feeling I’ve seen this part of the story somewhere before, maybe in animated form, but I can’t recall for sure. Maybe I’m remembering something that was just inspired by the concept of the mirror.

I received a piece of intelligence which explains the recent scratches on our housemate’s boyfriend’s car. Apparently our kids didn’t do it. I’ll spare you the details. Three of our kids are still apaprently responsible for 3 different car-scratching incidents, which is maddening. My reflux had been doing a bit better up until Thursday morning when I discovered the latest round of scratches. I’ve absolutely got to get my stress level down as it is harming my physically. The fighting and destructive behavior of my own kids has gotten so old.

For breakfast I made bacon and scrambled eggs and the kids warmed up 3 small loaves of banana bread that our neighbor in Saginaw, Joyce, made for us, and gave to Grace yesterday. Grace drove to Mother Loaf Bakery in Milan and managed to snag the last loaf of sourdough they had available (the last time we tried to go there, they were already close, and then last weekend they had some kind of equipment failure and so weren’t baking bread). Their sourdough is good but nothing tastes right to me today. I keep asking Grace “does this taste sour? Does this taste metallic?” Because everything I eat tastes like acid.

Books, Music, Movies, and TV Mentioned This Week

  • Butcher Bird by Richard Kadrey (finished)
  • Elric of Melniboné by Michael Moorcock
  • Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell
  • Lego Ninjago: Masters of Spinjitzu Season 1
  • Star Wars: The Clone Wars Season 1

Ypsilanti, Michigan
The Week Ending Saturday, July 7th, 2018

Saturday, June 30, 2018

The Week Ending Saturday, June 30th, 2018

Sunday

Androids

I was up early and managed to read more of Divine Invasions. I was hoping that the book would have some specific context and back-story around the writing of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. It’s not Dick’s most respected novel and not the best, in terms of coherent narrative and storytelling and charaacterization. But to me it is one of his most interesting books, because it reveals and suggests so much: the scattershot, inconsistent world-building is very much in keeping with Dick’s accelerated work schedule and amphetamine use. And the “fake, fake Jesus is a real savior” theme is very much in keeping with the mystical and gnostic Christian themes that he made more explicit in the VALIS books. But it looks like Sutin doesn’t pay a lot of attention to Androids in the text, at least not until near the end of Dick’s life when he is offered a chance at a considerable sum of money in exchange for writing a novelization of the movie, Blade Runner.

Dick could have done that and written an indifferent, straightforward re-novelization of the script. But he held on the the principle that Androids was the novel that became Blade Runner and should not be supplanted. This is especially significant to me given the ways in which Blade Runner, the movie, dumbed down and simplified and de-spiritualized Androids. I’ve come back to this again and again in my writing about the movie (and now movies, plural) and the original novel Androids.

Blade Runner, the Soundtrack

I keep coming back to Androids, and the tragic success and failure of the movie, but there’s another piece of Androids-related art that is also an interesting combination of success and failure, and that’s the soundtrack, and also the sound design of the movie as a whole. Blade Runner’s soundtrack is an amazing and memorable piece of film music. It is among my very favorite soundtracks. But it is a mixed bag for several reasons. While parts of it fit certain scenes of the movie wonderfully, parts don’t. In particular, parts of the soundtrack are very romantic, per the script and presumably per the notes given to Vangelis. And so we have this incongruous saxophone-driven background music in the “love scenes” between Rachael and Deckard, scenes where the chemistry was severely broken and what we see on screen is quite disturbing, more like a slave-catcher violently exercising his power over a slave.

In addition, the history of the Blade Runner soundtrack album releases is a muddy, unsatisfying mess. Fans of the movie and its amazing audio have wanted a full soundtrack album, featuring all the cues from the movie, for years and years. What Vangelis and the labels have offered over the years was everything except this. We have albums of themes from the movie mixed with dialogue. Some fans might like that, but personally if I wanted to hear the dialogue and music together, I’d watch the movie. So ultimately the fans despaired of ever getting a complete, decent-sounding soundtrack album, and so they have taken the matter into their own hands. For a history of the bootleg soundtrack albums, see Wikipedia.

The Esper Retirement Edition is a six-disc set: five CDs of music, plus a data DVD (playable in a computer, not a DVD player) collecting over 200 FLAC and MP3 files of dance tracks that are in some way related to Blade Runner. Some sample Vangelis, some feature themes from the film. I have not listened to all of them (endless dance remixes can get pretty boring, to be honest). But some of the Vangelis-inspired music is very good. There is also a suite of ambient sounds from the film, which is fun, although when you listen closely it becomes apparent that a lot of the background sounds the producers mixed are in short loops, which tends to ruin my enjoyment a bit.

My one real gripe is that some of the terrific themes still have some dialogue. I think in a “soundtrack album to end all soundtrack albums” format, it would have been wonderful to have a complete version of all the music with no dialogue at all. On one of the supplemental discs the producers could have put in the versions with dialogue—available for people who want to listen that way, skippable for those who don’t. The producers probably felt they had good reason not to remove all the dialogue bits. First, some of the themes do run a bit long and become a bit repetitive and tedious. The dialogue helps hide this. And second, since this collection is built from other sources, including the authorized Vangelis albums that were mixed with dialogue, the producers may simply not have had access to a clean version of the theme. Such a version may be forever out of reach, unless Vangelis or his heirs dig out an original tape. And it’s not entirely clear to me whether clean, complete mixes of the original themes survive.

Despite these minor issues, the Esper Retirement Edition is clearly the Blade Runner soundtrack album to end all Blade Runner soundtrack albums, if, like me, you want to hear all the music from the movie. At least, that is, until someone makes another one; you never know when a fan might gain access to a master tape in an archive somewhere. The next-best release is probably the 25th anniversary “Blade Runner Trilogy” 3-CD set from Vangelis, which has most of the well-known themes. But it also includes a CD of mediocre new compositions “inspired by” the original; this is very opportunistic, and cheap, of Vangelis.

I’ve also heard the 2013 red vinyl edition, which is of course much shorter. That version includes a lot of dialogue, but it sounds very nice and it’s quick and easy to listen to; it’s probably the best version to listen to as a single LP-length stand-alone album, rather than an encyclopedic collection. It’s been remastered from the original CD version. Check out this video in which Kevin Gray describes the mastering. There used to be playbacks of the red vinyl album on YouTube, but they seem to be gone at the moment. There also seems to be a SACD version of this album available; both are from Audio Fidelity. These were limited editions, so you can’t get them from Audio Fidelity any more. Copies go on eBay for quite a bit of money, so unfortunately I don’t have one. Some SACD discs are “hybrid,” with a layer that can be played at standard CD resolution in a standard CD player, but I don’t think this SACD disc is one of them.

The idea that digital media, which can be perfectly reproduced cheaply, should be “scarce,” and come in “limited editions,” doesn’t make any goddamn sense, but here we are. And SACD itself is a failed format that almost no one can actually play at full resolution. It might sound marginally better than a CD, given the right equipment. But I’d rather just have a 24-bit WAVE file at 48kHz, or 96kHz. There’s nothing magical in the master tapes that this PCM format would “lose,” if it was digitized using good equipment and current best practices, unless the problem stems from the aging of the master tapes themselves; in that case, an earlier digitization and mastering job might actually sound better.

Breakfast

I asked people what they wanted for breakfast. Grace said “bulletproof coffee, bacon, and eggs.” We bought more bacon yesterday, but I didn’t want to make bacon again since I kind of overdosed on bacon on Saturday. But then Veronica asked for hash browns too, so I dug in the refrigerator, and found a small bag with perhaps a quarter-pound of bacon in it. I chopped that in pieces and fried that and then added the rehydrated has browns. I made bulletproof coffee. A couple of the kids also ate granola before I got breakfast on the table, which is maddening, because Benjamin’s approach to granola is to fill a bowl to the top, add some milk, eat perhaps a quarter of it, and then abandon the rest on the table because it is way too much. Then we have a full bowl of extremely soggy granola. To her credit, Veronica ate the rest, so it was not wasted.

The cast iron dutch oven I coated and baked looks pretty good. Certainly, a lot better than it did. I rubbed the inside down a bit with an abrasive pad to smooth it down a little more and oiled it. I might bake it again to try to get a more consistent layer on there tonight. We’ll see. The main thing with the pans seems to be that they really need to be used regularly. I should find out if anyone locally will sandblast them. I think there’s another big dutch oven that probably is in desperate need of that treatment. I really tore up my hands and shoulder spending hours working on that pot yesterday. I could try to figure out some power tools to use, but it’s another project I don’t need to take on just now, and the last time I tried to use things like the power sander, they just didn’t work very well. They just didn’t seem very effective—cast iron is hard. So if we’re going to need to refinish them—I want to outsource it. Out, out, damned pot!

The News

So there’s news that I haven’t revealed yet, and that helps to explain Grace’s symptoms of heartburn and stress and sleeplessness over the last few months. On Friday she confirmed that she is peri-menopausal, and 14 weeks pregnant, at the same time. The next Potts baby is due December 24th. So there’s that. She did not know and didn’t really suspect it until I asked her a week ago. I have suspected but was not really sure because of the menopause symptoms. We thought it was quite possible if she did become pregnant again, it would end in miscarriage. And this one is sooner after her last birth than any of them have been. But so far it seems to be progressing well.

It’s all very confusing. We are nervous about it for many reasons, but one big one is that her obstetrician, Dr. Fleming, who has gotten her safely through six previous deliveries, is going to be cutting down his schedule. By December, he will not be supervising deliveries any more. I guess we wore out our obstetrician.

I am determined that we have to free up some money. We’ve got to get out from under the old house, whatever it takes. We need some help in the house, even very part-time.

Veronica was very helpful this morning hand-washing some of the unfinished dishes from last night while I worked on breakfast. So with a tag-team effort we are gradually getting the kitchen back into shape.

I was waiting to fry some eggs for Grace but I gave up waiting because she started working on her hair in the tub. That takes a long time.

It’s about half-past noon, and I am not sure what we are going to do tomorrow. Laundry is becoming an urgent problem. I want us to get to Mass. We need to record a podcast.

We’ve had one small piece of good news regarding the house. The guy who is working on the painting and plastering, and who also runs the lawn-care company we use, called us to say that he found out that the stone wall in front of the house was actually damaged by his mowing crew. Apparently one of the mowers backed into it hard enough to do a considerable amount of damage, and didn’t tell him. But he is re-mortaring the wall. So it wasn’t some surprising act of vandalism, and we don’t ahve to file a police report and another insurance claim. That’s a huge relief.

Monday

Grace and I managed to get the kids to the 4:30 Mass at St. John the Baptist in downtown Ypsilanti, only a few minutes late. They didn’t even behave too badly. After that we had dinner Maiz, and it was quite good. They seem to have gotten their kitchen situation improved. We sat outside, and it was nice and cool. A micro-vacation.

When we got home, Grace and I recorded a podcast. Our conversation ran for 3 hours and 40 minutes. So I didn’t get to sleep until after 2:30 a.m.

Laundry in progress, so I have some clean underwear.

A surprise birthday party for our housemate, and cousin, although apparently one of our cousin’s friends called her up and said “hey, I’m coming to your surprise birthday party.” As in… this person didn’t actually know what the word “surprise” meant in this context. Wow.

I was quite tired this morning and have been tired all afternoon at work. And we had no coffee left at home. I need to try to get to bed at a reasonable hour tonight, but I’m sure I will also be needed to help clean up after the birthday party, and I still have to finish encoding and uploading the podcast. I finished part of the production work last night, so it could be worse, but I still probably have an hour of work.

Tuesday

Last night I stayed later at work again to finish up some LabVIEW code, and had some success; the project is just about free of known bugs.

At the house, Grace and Aunt Shelley were hosting a picnic/birthday party for our guest mom and my niece (my sister-in-law’s daughter, niece-in-law? I guess you still just call that person my niece). They have the same birthday. They grilled wings, bratwursts, and burgers, and Aunt Shelley brought a huge amount of picnic food including corn on the cob, and a very fancy birthday cake (we also made a more modest one). So there was a lot to eat, although I was so late to the party that it was already getting on towards twilight. In addition, I had to go down into the basement to finish producing and uploading the podcast files. The lack of sleep from Sunday night was catching up with me, and also with Grace, so I wasn’t very helpful in the cleanup; I had to go to bed. The kids were way too wired up from all the sugar and socializing, so it wasn’t really a good night’s sleep, although much better than Sunday night’s.

I was late and slow again this morning, feeling groggy and disoriented. I had breakfast at Joe and Rosie’s, a bagel and egg and bacon sandwich squashed in their sandwich press, a coffee, and a banana. I didn’t even know they made breakfast sandwiches. It’s not up on their menu board. It’s on a small sheet of paper in one of those plexiglass stand-ups. And it was facing the wrong way on the counter–that is, away from customers. I only found out because I noticed some bagels in the sandwich press and asked the woman working behind the counter what she was making for the other customers. Sigh.

At work, our intern, who is using LabVIEW 2018, is having no end of problems getting his computer configured to run the same code mine is running, using LabVIEW 2017. We had hoped to go forward and not downgrade him, especially since you can’t even download the 2017 installer from the National Instruments site now and I’ll have to see whether he can use an old installer I have. But it’s about time to give up. The Measurement Computing device support just doesn’t seem to be fully there yet; they don’t support 2018 except with a beta, which seems to have problems. So that’s what I’m trying to deal with this morning.

Meanwhile, after two back-to-back hard crashes on my computer, one a freezing video crash (literally frozen in the middle of animating a window), one a blue screen, one of our IT people took some time to go over my computer looking for problems. He adjusted the startup parameters for a whole bunch of LabVIEW-related services. That seems to have improved the crashing situation, although I’ll know more after it has stayed up for a week. Last week I was getting a couple of blue screens a week. Even quitting LabVIEW and just leaving my computer up and running overnight, not running anything but Outlook and one tab of Chrome, I’d come in to find that it had blue screened and rebooted overnight. I’ve been suspecting bad memory or a failing hard drive, but maybe it isn’t that.

The promise of Windows NT in the early days was that it moved drivers into a protected memory scheme where they couldn’t crash the computer. And in fact the original Windows NT, which I used back around 1993 or so, was well-protected against driver crashes. But then, for performance reasons, Microsoft backed away from that model, and ever since, drivers have been able to bring down the computer. And software engineers using multiple IDEs with multiple debuggers and attached programmers and tools and devices wind up installing a lot of drivers, to our everlasting sorrow.

Wednesday

Well. I had just written something about how I was pleased that my computer had completed a backup, and stayed up and running all night. Then I wrote a description of last night’s events: dinner of leftovers, cleanup, fixing Veronica’s bike brakes, and had started describing the flood under the sink when my computer crashed again with a blue screen of death. So that text is lost, and I’m thinking my original hypothesis of hardware problems is correct. I’m going to see if I can find a Windows 7 memory stress test application of some kind.

I’m back home, and so let me try to remember more fully what happened last night. I left work fairly early and was hoping to get home, have dinner, and get a video in before we went to bed. I wanted to watch an episode of Babylon 5 with the kids.

When I got home, the tables were still out on the deck. There was only a vague plan for dinner, and Grace wanted to take our housemate and the girls to Kasao African Market at Platt and Ellsworth. They got a big bag of hibiscus tea, onions, and some biscuits to keep the kids quiet on the drive back. I rummaged in the refrigerator and tried to come up with the best way to use our leftovers. So I pulled out all the storage containers. A couple of things in the back had gone bad, but there was still a lot of food. I heated up some of the leftover saffron basmati rice in the oven. I took the eggs out of the leftover Indian eggs with spicy sauce, and had the boys chop them up and mix them with mayonnaise and a little bit of the spicy garlic scape pesto to make garlicky egg salad. There was a half a tube of ground turkey that was getting pretty old, but still smelled fine, so I fried that up with some frozen chopped onions, and mixed in the sauce from the Indian egg dish. We also had a leftover veggie tray from the birthday party the evening before. I had everything on the table and the boys and I were eating by the time Grace, our housemate, and the girls got back home.

After eating I was hoping to get everything cleaned up fast so we could still have a video, but Veronica wanted help with her bike, and the dishwasher was still running because the family started a load late. The front brake cable had stretched, or slipped, but I was able to take out some slack and it is working again. Really the bike needs some more extensive repairs including new pedals and a new chain, but this will keep Veronica going for now, hopefully until we have more money.

The cleanup was not fast. The cat-herding process took forever. While I was getting the dishwasher unloaded and re-loaded I notice that there was water dripping out of the cabinet under the sink. That’s never a good sign. There was a small flood under there. It took a while to even figure out what was leaking. Apparently someone had partly unscrewed the nozzle from the kitchen sink. The whole thing is basically a combination faucet and retractable sprayer. It was leaking right at the end, but when retracted, water would fill up the pipe that acts as a holder for the spray hose, and back up until it was pouring out behind the sink.

So that was quite a mess. I didn’t see any water damage in the basement ceiling. I’m not sure how much water actually went down through the bottom of the cabinet space under the sink. I’m pretty sure some did, because there are holes in there where the pipes come up through the bottom, and they aren’t sealed with anything. There’s no way to get under there without tearing apart the cabinet. I took everything out, dried it all as best as I could, took the panel out from under the base of the dishwasher to I could mop up under there, and ran a high-powered fan to try to dry things out. I’m not sure what else I can do.

Between the toilet flood and the kitchen flood I’m getting increasingly nervous about the state of our ceilings and walls. We don’t need black mold in our new house.

By the time everyone had brushed their teeth it was about 10:30, so we had a story instead of a video. I read a few more chapters in Down and Out in Paris and London. In these chapters our narrator finally gets a job, as a plongeur in a hotel, with the prospect of another job in a few weeks. It’s interesting to read about how even the employees on the bottom of the totem pole had a “contract,” at least a very basic one; they agreed to work for a one-month period. Although a few paragraphs later we learn that, for these low-status employees, there wasn’t much in the way of consequences for breaking such a contract.

Anyway, back to my work day. It was pretty much a wasted day. Our intern had endless problems trying to get LabVIEW fully reinstalled and working with the 2017 version and all the required drivers and support packages. We kept having to uninstall pieces and reinstall things, watch installers fail, manually clean up files, and try again, continuing to get head-scratching errors.

The I. T. guy in Newton offered to send me a new hard drive overnight, and I said “yes, please.”

Meanwhile, my computer had very inconsistent results when running memory tests. I tried the Windows memory test, set to “extended,” but it would reproducibly stop at 21% and proceed no further. I waited for an hour, in case it was just failing to update the progress indicator. Nothing. This seemed like a kind of failure, although from Google I learned that apparently on some Core Duo machines, this memory test always does that at the same spot, and if you leave it running for a few more hours, it will continue, or so the forum posts said; I was not patient enough to find out.

I downloaded a Memtest86 .iso file and make a bootable CD, and tried that. I got one error right away, but then no further errors, so I started the test over, and got no errors, even after finishing the full pass, which took over an hour. So that seemed inconclusive.

I then tried the Lenovo memory test, part of their diagnostic application. That failed right away, so I ran the more detailed test. That one ran most of the tests but then the last four or so all failed, and that was repeatable. Meanwhile the hard drive diagnostics reported no problems.

So I finally just packed up the laptop and took it down the street to Computer Alley on Jackson Road, to see if they had any memory modules for that kind of ThinkPad. It turns out they did, and they replaced both memory modules for me while I stood there at the counter. I was so sick of having a barely-functioning computer at work that I just paid for it myself.

I tried the Lenovo tests again, and they got further, through two of the tests that repeatedly failed with the old modules. But the tests still didn’t finish. The test process stalled, twice, at 86%, partway through the second-to-last test.

Apparently, looking at more forum posts, this is also a common thing.

Why is it so difficult to write a memory test that doesn’t slow down so much that it appears to stop dead? Does this have something to do with the cache size, on particular processors, so these access patterns suddenly become a thousand times slower, triggering a pathological case of continuous worst-case cache misses? That’s my guess, but I don’t really know.

So now I’m running the Windows memory test overnight, three passes of the “extended” test, and I’ll see what it reports tomorrow, or if it has finished even one pass. I’m hoping for the best. I’m hoping this will finally fix my constant blue screens and lockups. It sounds like I will also have a backup hard drive ready for when this one’s drive starts to fail. With any further luck, we’ll get our intern’s LabView setup working correctly, finally—it’s been days of stupid problems. And then we’ll both be able to get some work done.

Thursday

We managed to have our dinner somewhat earlier,and got cleaned up, and so were able to go down into the basement and watch a couple of Babylon 5 episodes. We started disc 2 of season 1, and watched “The Parliament of Dreams” and “Mind War.”

These are both pretty decent episodes, although Grace was gritting her teeth a bit at the “Sinclair’s old flame” plot line introducing Catherine Sakai. Their lines to each other are at times painfully melodramatic. Sakai is played by Julia Nickson-Soul and her acting, which seems to just substitute intensity for nuance, makes me grit my teeth a bit. But as I watch Nickson-Soul interacting with Michael O’Hare as Sinclair, I remember that his acting in some of these interactions is pretty flat as well, always at this uniform level of intensity, as if he was delivering a commencement address instead of having a date with an on-again, off-again ex-girlfriend. The two of them supposedly have a long history together, but it manifests on-screen mostly as discomfort with each other. The other plot line in this episode, with an assassination attempt on G’Kar, is much more fun. The religious festival scenes are quite nice as well.

In the next one, “Mind War,” both plot lines are pretty good, although we all could have lived without Talia’s description of what it’s like when two telepaths make love. This episode introduces Bester, and I always enjoy the episodes with Bester (played by Walter Koenig). I’m not going to claim that he’s a really skilled actor, but I think he did a great job as Bester, where he plays a small man who gets to compensating for his relative physical weakness by inflicting mental cruelty and domination. The story of a person with psychic powers growing in power until he transcends a human body is an old, old science fiction trope, but the plot keeps it reasonably fresh by making it about the horrific human experimentation of the Psi Corps. The other plot line, where Sakia meets incomprehensible alien around the planet Sigma 957, fits neatly alongside the main one, as Sakai also brushes up against something outside of human experience and understanding, the “First Ones,” which sets up later encounters.

The younger kids get bored with Babylon 5 but I’m unmoved by their complaints; not everything can be Pokémon.

Grace and I got to bed at a reasonable hour and were on track for a good night’s sleep, but Elanor had other ideas. She’s been in this pattern which is torturing Grace: she demands to nurse, nurses for less than five seconds, and pops off the breast (painfully), and screams. She does this over and over again. We are trying to figure out why. She did this a few night’s ago, the last time Grace stayed up in Saginaw. She will climb all over us, scream, nap a bit, climb all over us, scream some more, and nap some more. We are not sure what’s up: is she hungry? She ate all day and had several poop diapers. Thirsty? She had several wet diapers. Did she swallow a toy or something? Is she gassy? Her belly is soft and feels normal to me.

Grace is going to take her to the local urgent care and see if they have any ideas. In particular I want them to compare her weight to her last visit so we know if she is on the right track. I don’t think this actually has anything to do with her heart defect and surgery, although it would be a good idea for them to listen to her lungs and rule out any signs of pulmonary hypertension. This seems more like her digestion, or something to do with her nursing.

So, we got a really bad night’s sleep. And in addition to Elanor waking us up again and again, at some point Benjamin got in a fight with his siblings and there was yelling from the boys’ room. (Grace didn’t even notice, as she is harder to wake up than I am).

So I’m hitting the caffeine fairly hard this morning, with an almond-milk mocha. There was some good news when I got to work, though: the Windows memory test ran overnight. They sure don’t make it easy to find the results, though; it’s buried in the event log. A simple “find” did not do it; I had to set up a filter on event source “MemoryDiagnostics-Results” to find the events that reported the results of the memory test. The computer rebooted after completing the memory test, so I didn’t get to see the results on the screen. This is a case where a notification when I signed in would have been actually welcome, rather than annoying as most of those things usually are. But maybe—just maybe—no more random blue screens of death!

Labview, Again

Now that my work computer seems to be reliable again, I’m back into some LabVIEW code. LabVIEW’s strange idiosyncrasies are in my face again. I may have mentioned one of them already: breakpoints are part of the source code, although they can be cleared or enabled or disabled in a common window in the IDE. In other words, if I add a breakpoint to a source file (a “VI” or virtual instrument), that source file is marked as dirty (it has unsaved changes). This alone kind of plays hell with version control systems, but there is a special place in hell for LabVIEW’s developers who enabled the following scenario to exist:

  • Save a VI, with no breakpoints enabled.
  • Make a copy of that VI file, giving the copy a name like “Thing_without_breakpoints.vi”
  • Set a breakpoint in the original VI and save the file.
  • Make a copy of the updated file, something like “Thing_with_breakpoint.vi”
  • Remove the breakpoint in the original VI and save the file.
  • Make a third copy of the updated file, something like “Thing_once_again_without_breakpoints.vi”
  • Using your favorite tool that can compare binary files (such as Beyond Compare), note that all three files are different.

This means that if I’m working with a LabVIEW source file that’s under version control, and I’m doing some debugging, and I set a breakpoint, and then remove that breakpoint, the version control system will still show that I’ve changed the source file. To clean it up I either have to commit the meaningless change, or tell the version control system to throw out the changes and revert the file. The first approach is wasteful and clogs up the file history with meaningless commits. The second approach is dangerous; what if I really did make a significant change in the source file, and want to keep it, but I am reverting it because I think I only set and cleared breakpoints? And there’s not easy way to compare files, because there is no text-based source representation underlying the visual file, even an awkward and ugly one like XML—just National Instruments’ proprietary binary file format.

Here’s another example. I’m working with an intern on a non-trivial LabVIEW project that contains, say, fifty source files. We need to implement a new feature. The feature is going to involve changes at the level of the topmost VI, and also at the level of a number of sub-VIs. So I decided a good approach would be to have him start adding support for the new feature to the lowest-level of these sub-VIs. Visually, and logically, they are self-contained modules, small pieces of the full program logic that are reusable, and sometimes used in a number of places in our VIs. Conceptually, they are something like the “software ICs” that were one of the design objectives of the Objective-C language.

So our intern started modifying one of these VIs. The VI has an interface: that is, a set of things that go in and come out, its inputs and outputs. One of these inputs is of an enumerated type. An enumerated type, informally speaking, just gives you a list of allowed options, like a list of soft drinks on a restaurant menu. What you see is what you can get, and all that you can get.

In C, you typically would define this type in a header file, a separate entity that can be changed independently of the files that refer to it, by name. You don’t have to do it that way, but doing it that way allows the code in other files to include the header and use your type, which is great for defining interfaces. And here’s an under-rated feature of a language like C: the fact that the enumeration is represented textually, with the options spelled out by name, has some consequences:

  • If you add a new option, but leave all the existing options alone, code that uses the existing options doesn’t have to change.
  • If you remove an option, but leave all the other options alone, only code that uses the removed option has to change.
  • If you change an existing option, only code that uses that changed option has to change.

The code that uses the changed interface will be recompiled, but the source code itself doesn’t have to change, except as described above.

In LabVIEW you can make a type definition, too. You make an enumeration, and turn it into a type definition. Then, in other files, you can use that type definition. If you need to make changes to the type definition, LabVIEW can, mostly, automatically update the references to those options in the source files that use them; it depends a bit on whether each instance has its “automatically update from the type definition” flag set, and apparently things like constants that partake of the type definition don’t have this set by default. So if you make a change to a type definition, you might have to fix a number of minor things.

But because LabVIEW’s “link” from a source file to a type definition is (apparently) not textual in nature, there’s a big version-control mess waiting for people who change type definitions.

Let’s say intern A is changing a VI that has an enumeration as an interface, and the change he’s making involves adding an option to that enumeration, by changing the type definition.

Every VI in his sandbox which uses that interface now has to change, and will be marked as dirty, and saved.

And let’s say we have another type definition, for a data cluster, which is used by most of the VIs we use in a system, and this data cluster definition includes an instance of the enumeration which has just had its type definition change. Now the data cluster type definition is “dirty,” and will need to be saved. And every VI that uses this data cluster type definition is also dirty, and needs to be saved.

In other words, intern’s change to a single VI and a single type definition has resulted in something like twenty-five files marked as dirty, and needing to be saved.

Meanwhile, on another computer, I was making changes from the “top” down, to support the necessary new feature, and made a change to a different type definition, which is also referenced by the common data cluster type definition. And so I inadvertently triggered the same “transitive closure” of changes propagating more changes, and now I’ve got something like twenty-five files marked as dirty, and needing to be saved. And most of these are the same files that intern just changed.

And so, now we’ve got a version control mess between us, to sort out, as a result of trying to both work on the same code base, both making changes that, in a text-based language like C, would remain confined to only two source files and two interface (header) files.

In a language like C, these two changes to type definitions would have had no “ripple” effect that required all of the other clients of these type definitions to change, as described above; source files that relied on the enumeration type definition in a header file would only need to change if one or more of the options they were using actually changed or went away. Textual representation allows you to abstract away issues of visual representation.

This issue, by the way, was a burgeoning one in the early days of the World Wide Web; HTML intermixes tags specifying visual layout and representation with tags that have semantic meaning, and this decision has tainted and muddled and confused and generally made-into-a-pain-in-the-butt not only web page design, but the design of things that were derived from or incorporate or are “upstream from” HTML in some way, such as Markdown and .epub. It’s why I don’t have a simple, standard way to indicate “this is a book title” in Markdown and then a simple, standard way to indicate that the things I marked up as book titles should be represented in italics. And so, also, I don’t have a simple way to say that at a given point in the document, I’d also like an alphabetized list of these “book title” entities, numbered, and following a specified format, and I’d also like them to appear in the index, etc.

It didn’t have to be this way, and it hasn’t always been this way. TeX, SGML, and other tools solved these problems decades ago. But there’s a big “semantic gap” between the text technologies which won the day—HTML, and Markdown—versus the more sophisticated technologies that didn’t. In general I really like writing in Markdown, and I like what I can do with it using tools like Pandoc. I wouldn’t have had the patience to write this blog if I had to format everything by hand in HTML, because I’m picky about my typography. But this toolchain has its limitations, and I find myself scratching my head wondering where I’m going to go from here—in a way that will preserve the work I’ve already put into all this writing, and allow me to add features and specify visual representations more exactly.

But anyway. You can read all about the “semantic web” on someone else’s blog. That was all a digression from what I was saying about LabVIEW.

LabVIEW is fun and interesting in many ways, and good for many things, but it remains painful for programmers who are already expert in one or more text-based languages. I know there is a way to do a three-way merge between VIs. I may have need of it. I think there is probably also more tooling available, at higher price points, for managing projects with multiple contributing developers. But I’m just not interested in throwing yet more of my employer’s money at ever-more-complex proprietary solutions. We’ll work out a code merge. And I think we can still work on different VIs, but we’ll have to make very sure that if we need to change a type definition, we do it on one machine, with everything committed and checked in, so that we don’t wind up with a version control mess again.

I’m still waiting for someone, somewhere to implement an open-source LabVIEW-like language. I really don’t think it would be that hard. But my first requirement, in specifying it, would be to use a textual representation that was amenable to revision control.

(Update: well, that was exciting. I was very happy today, because my laptop seemed to be happy; it didn’t crash, all day. But as I was typing the last paragraph, I had a “snow crash”—some kind of catastrophic video hardware or driver failure where the screen showed a crazy blur of moving noise. Fortunately while the image behind the noise seemed frozen, it appears that windows was not actually frozen, so pressing the control key and S did actually save my changes. But what a way to harsh my mellow. I thought this thing was fixed. Now I wonder how far I can trust it.

Friday

Grace took Elanor to the urgent care clinic late yesterday afternoon, to try to figure out what the night-time bouts of screaming are all about. We had been concerned that maybe she swallowed a toy, or had some kind of pain in her gut. I also wanted them to weigh her, so we could compare her weight to her weight measured a few weeks ago and confirm that she was still gaining. And finally, I wanted some verification that she wasn’t starting to have pulmonary hypertension, or any other symptom that might be related to a problem with her repaired congenital heart defects.

They gave her the once-over and found nothing worrying, but also nothing that really explained her discomfort, until they got to her mouth, and the doctor noticed that she’s cutting several new molars, all at once. Apparently she has the mild fever that can go along with cutting teeth, as well. This was an “oh, of course!” moment for us, and I’m satisfied that this is probably what is bothering her, or at least 90% of what is bothering her. It was confusing for us because Grace has raised six other children through babyhood, and of course they all have cut their teeth as well. But none of them had quite this reaction. I remember that Veronica just wanted to chew on things. She had a stuffed toy with big rubber feet covered with bumps, which apparently felt soothing to her gums. I used to let her gum my fingers. You can’t really do that with Elanor, because she has several sharp front teeth that came in first, and she will bite the hell out of your fingers.

We gave her a full dose of children’s Tylenol last night at bedtime, but it didn’t really seem to help much. Or maybe it did and it would have an even worse night without it. About 2:30 a.m. I went downstairs to the basement to sleep. I managed to sleep until about 7:15. There are no curtains down there, and at that point it was getting too bright to sleep, since there are no curtains down there yet. Elanor was awake, too, and howling. I managed to get another quick nap in, and went upstairs about 8:15. I am tired this morning but not as tired as Grace is. I stopped at the Coffee House Creamery on Jackson Road to pick up a take-out almond-milk mocha and a couple of wrapped pieces of biscotti, and clocked in at work about 9:30. My boss is back after almost two weeks in Latvia. So I’ll check in with him at some point this morning.

In last night’s mail I had five iTunes gift cards, each worth $25.00 of credit in the iTunes store. I got these because I charged some of the expensive house repairs to my black credit card. I’ve had this card for years and I usually get one or two $25.00 gift cards a year, not five at once. I have stopped buying music in lossy or digitally-watermarked formats. I don’t really like buying TV shows or movies in proprietary formats. I could have bought some apps, but the only thing I have to run them on is an elderly iPad (very slow by current standards, and very little memory by current standards, so I can only install two or three big apps at a time). I looked through the available documentaries on the iTunes store but didn’t find much that appealed to me, so I asked the kids to help me decide what to buy. After listening to everyone argue for a while, and looking at a few shows I was curious about, I had Joshua help me enter in the codes from the gift cards (they are hard on my eyes), and set the computer aside until after dinner without buying anything.

Dinner was one of our summer make-it-yourself sandwich bar meals, supplemented with a tray of roasted broccoli. I was sick of doing dishes, so we used the promise of TV shows after dinner to motivate the kids to clean up. We told them if they did a good job within an hour, we would go down into the basement and watch some shows. They actually did!

While they cleaned up, I purchased Season 1 of the Lego Ninjago TV show, and also Season 1 of Star Wars: The Clone Wars.I also purchased a few TV shows I was curious about: the first episode of The Magicians Season 2, and the first episode of The Leftovers, which I’ve heard good things about. I considered the first episode of The Expanse, but it looks too much like straight-up space horror. I’m also curious about the show 100, which I had never heard of at all.

I heard a factoid on the radio the other day that might help explain why I tend not to know much about current TV shows. Apparently, what with all the different cable channels and online streaming services producing content, there are five hundred teevee shows now in progress. (I heard a man on the radio say it, so it must be true).

I was mentally estimating how many original shows were typically available on the four channels I used to be able to tune in, back in my childhood (if my misfiring brain cells don’t fail me, they were NBC, on WICU channel 12, ABC, on WJET channel 24, CBS, on WSEE channel 35, and PBS, on WQLN channel 54). I think back then there might have been a maximum of a dozen new shows airing on each of these at any given time, so under fifty new shows in progress. Someone probably has better, more detailed numbers on this change, but my point is that we have much, much less shared “reality” if we’re all in our streaming-service silos.

And don’t get me started on the phenomenon of binge-watching whole seasons. That has no doubt changed the way shows are written and produced, and changed it a lot. If you are watching shows back-to-back, the similarities between individual show stories, and their redundant material, re-introducing plot lines and characters, will feel much more redundant and painful. Also, you’ll be able to remember the intricacies of complex plots and details about characters much better from show to show if you watch them all in a week. And so showrunners are writing shows for binge-watching, putting out much more complex, interlocking shows. I think that’s good, in a way, because I’m always in favor of movies and TV shows that don’t dumb down things for their audience. But I think that’s bad in some ways, too, because it gives people more justification to waste time watching TV. “What? No, this isn’t a dumb TV show I’m wasting my time with—this is serious entertainment!”

There’s a new American Time Use Survey out. The survey says that in 2017, “Watching TV was the leisure activity that occupied the most time (2.8 hours per day), accounting for just over half of all leisure time, on average. The amount of time people spent watching TV varied by age. Those ages 15 to 44 spent the least amount of time watching TV, averaging around 2.0 hours per day, and those ages 65 and over spent the most time watching TV, averaging over 4.0 hours per day.”

That’s a lot of hours. I think I typically watch more like 2 hours a week, although it varies a lot; we watched about two hours last night. When I am watching a show with the family, I’m often doing something else at the same time, like skimming a book and making notes for the podcast, or writing up something on the computer. And I almost never get to watch a show on my own, which helps explain why I haven’t seen any of Season 2 of The Magicians or any other more adult-oriented recent shows.

Anyway.

The Lego Ninjago offerings on the iTunes store are a bit confusing. Apparently there is a short “pilot” season, which originally was made up of four short episodes (“Way of the Ninja,” “The Golden Weapon,” “King of Shadows,” and “Weapons of Destiny”). These were combined into two 22-minute episodes, called “Way of the Ninja” and “King of Shadows.” If you buy Season 1 on the iTunes store ($14.99 for standard definition), it starts with the two combined 22-minute pilot episodes, “Way of the Ninja” and “King of Shadows”, followed by 13 regular 22-minute Season 1 episodes (“Rise of the Snakes,” “Home,” “Snakebit”, and ten more).

But there’s also another series available on the iTunes store, with no season number, which costs $4.99 for standard definition, consisting the first five episodes of season 1. If you have bought Season 1, you already have these episodes. In other words, I’m not sure why this season exists as a separate thing on the iTunes store. If you just want to watch an episode or two to see if you like it, it probably makes more sense to buy a couple of $1.99 episodes from the full Season 1, because then if you do like it, you can use the “complete the season” option to buy the rest, and so will be able to get the first 15 episodes at about $1.00 each. If you buy this short season, you can’t get the rest of Season 1 without paying $5.00 more in total and getting five redundant episodes. That smells to me like a way for Apple to take advantage of parents who have very little money to spend in the short term, by giving them a low-cost option now which will cost them more in the long term, when their kids are screaming for more episodes, and I don’t like it one bit.

Anyway, we watched the first full-length pilot episode, “Way of the Ninja.” The animation and plotting in this show was just a bit weak, looking a bit ridiculous and cheap in places and rushing through and discarding some plot elements, but it had its funny moments, and we all enjoyed it well enough.

Benjamin was demanding more Lego Ninjago, but I had planned to mix it up for different ages, so we next watched the first episode of Star Wars: The Clone Wars Season 1, called “Ambush.” Clone Wars was not something the kids were asking for, but I’ve been curious about it for some time, having read positive reviews of the show, and I’ve thought about buying the whole set on DVD. I probably will, eventually. The first episode, “Ambush,” was better than I expected. The character animation is a little flat and cheesy, but I really liked the backdrops. This one features Yoda. It has quite a good script. Tom Kane voices Yoda. He almost convinced me that Yoda was voiced by Frank Oz, but as the show went on I realized it wasn’t him. Yoda’s odd subject/predicate reversals are used inconsistently, here, which has the strange effect of making it seem like some of his sentences—the ones structured in something more like standard English—are not constructed correctly! Like the Lego Ninjago episode, there were some weak and wasted and thrown-away elements in the script, but mostly it worked quite well.

After that, I put on another episode of Babylon 5, “The War Prayer.” This is a pretty strong episode, although once again the writers used the “old flame returns” trope as a quick way to flesh out a main character’s back-story. The main plot in this episode is about the “Home Guard,” a human-supremacist group that might be, as they say, “ripped from today’s headlines.” The only real weak scenes in this main plot are some slightly-laughable fight scenes. There’s one, shot in dim light to try to avoid looking too bad, where the edges of the alien’s rubber face masks are still clearly visible in a couple of shots. And in the climactic fight scene in the cargo bay, Sinclair has some ridiculous-looking punches that are laughably effective, some of the worst fight choreography I’ve ever seen. But the overall plot line is still pretty good, if you don’t look too closely.

The secondary plot involves Londo, Vir, and a young Centauri couple and it’s just lovely, containing the memorable line “My shoes are too tight. But it does not matter, because I have forgotten how to dance.” This plot line works out nicely, while also interlocking nicely with the main plot: we’re watching an arranged marriage trope. We think it is going to turn into a star-crossed lovers trope. But instead, it ends with the prospect that the couple might, eventually, and realistically, get to marry for love. And it quite elegantly reveals a lot about Londo. So this is definitely one of my favorite episodes.

Saturday

Last night everyone was way behind on chores. I brought home salmon, so we baked salmon and had salad with it. Cleanup took a long time because of the pile-up of dishes. So we didn’t get to go downstairs and watch videos. Instead I read the kids a story. The story I picked by rummaging through The Eye of the Sibyl and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick. To clarify, this is the title of the current paperback edition of the 5th volume of Dick’s collected stories. Different editions of these volumes have had different titles over the years as different publishers released them. For example, volume 5 has had the following titles:

  • The Collected Stories of Philip K. Dick Volume 5 (Underwood-Miller, 1987)
  • The Little Black Box (Gollancz, 1990)
  • The Eye of the Sybil (Citadel Twilight, 1992)
  • We Can Remember It for You Wholesale (Subterranean Press, 2014)

It gets especially confusing because We Can Remember It for You Wholesale is also the title of the second volume as it was published by Citadel Twilight. So really, I think it’s just best to refer to these collections by the volume number. Some stories have been rearranged, but the changes are not large. “Second Variety” and “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” were swapped between volumes in the Citadel Twilight editions, and the Subterranean Press editions added two stories, “Menace React” (a very early, incomplete fragment, not worth reading in my opinion), and “Goodbye Vincent” (a minor story, which is also available in The Dark Haired Girl, a collection that I used to own but which in my opinion also is only worth reading for obsessive fans).

Anyway, I chose “The Electric Ant.” It’s a weird story, and we enjoyed talking about it today. Elanor was scream-y again last night, and screamed through much of the story, so we didn’t get to discuss it last night.

Grace and I also had a pretty miserable night’s sleep, although it does seem like the children’s ibuprofen is helping her, to some extent. So I didn’t manage to get up early. When I finally got up, I didn’t shower. I made some fake Egg McMuffins, using English muffins, a little bacon, and some vegetarian sausage patties cooked in bacon fat. (Grace had asked me to get sausage patties at Costco, but they didn’t have anything that looked good, so I got MorningStar Farms sausage patties. The texture isn’t quite like meat, but they are really pretty tasty, especially if you give them a little bacon flavor by cooking them in a pan with a little bacon fat). We’re avoiding dairy, other than butter, so the muffins got butter but no cheese.

We considered going out for a movie today, but it was in the nineties outside, with high humidity, and all kinds of excessive heat and air quality warnings. We also didn’t want to drag the miserable baby to the movie. So we stayed home. For lunch we had some instant Udon noodles. I got a bath, and finished reading Divine Invasions: A Life of Philip K. Dick by Lawrence Sutin.

Divine Invasions

It’s frustrating to read a biography of a man like Philip K. Dick. He was a brilliant man, but the overwhelming sense of the man that I get from his biography is that he was deeply unhappy.

We also learn just what a selfish ass he was to his four wives and the other women who were entangled with him. He seemed like a profoundly needy man, and Sutin does a good job of connecting the dots to illustrate how his neediness went back to his difficult relationship with his mother, who very clearly did not meet his emotional needs. But there’s something profoundly sad about reading of a fifty-something-year-old man who still hated his mother, even after she died.

It really does seem like Dick was emotionally stunted. Despite his powerful mind, and years spent seeing therapists, in middle age he still seemed quite broken, intellectually advanced but retarded in his social relationships. He was wracked with psychosomatic illnesses, and suffered deeply from terrible bouts of depression and anxiety. I read about a later relationship that seemed mutual and fulfilling, for a while. I read about the women who gave up on him because of his neediness and need to control and limit them, and cheered for them as they left him. I read that he beat up at least one of his wives, and was angry. But I also found myself pitying him in his brokenness. His drug use was horrifying. He died at 53, and I find myself wondering constantly if he could have gotten his live shifted onto a better timeline, what might have been.

Some might thing that Sutin’s portrayal is unfair, but it seems to be meticulously sourced, and he appears to let Dick’s friends and wives and lovers speak about him in their own words. It’s also clear that Dick constantly altered and changed his story, as he told and re-told the events of his life to different people, and even to his own journals, changing them as his own interpretation of his spiritual insights and visions changed.

The argument that Dick suffered from temporal-lobe epilepsy is one I find fairly convincing. But it isn’t really necessary, honestly, to explain Dick’s visions with an exotic illness. He was doing a fine job damaging his vascular system and brain with drugs and his physically hazardous “binge-writing” technique, where he drafted most of his novels in near-sleepless sprints.

If ever I’ve seen an example of an artist who needed to change his work habits into something more sustainable, it was Dick. He seemed attached to the “heroic effort” school of writing, where only an extremely debilitating working style can produce the breakthrough work he was famed for. But the same extremely debilitating working style also produced a lot of low-grade writing, best forgotten. And as I read about the way he designed his books before writing, by staring into space for days on end creating plots and characters in thin air, I can’t help but think that a more workmanlike and steady approach to his craft might have actually produced better work while preserving his health and relationships. And I say this as someone who has frequently loved doing that “heroic” writing binge myself.

This biography moves me because, in many ways, I identify with Philip K. Dick. I was a big fan of his writing, early on, and still am, and am still coming to grips with the complexity of what Dick was doing in a book like Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, and of course in his Exegesis. I expect that I will continue to re-read his stories and novels and speeches and other writings on and off for the rest of my life. There’s no doubt that he will be remembered for a long time, even if most know him only as the author whose work was adapted into movies like Blade Runner and Total Recall.

He was all about empathy. It’s unfortunate that he couldn’t extend more of that empathy to himself and the people he rubbed against in his years on this earth.

Grace and I tried to take a brief nap, but the kids didn’t really cooperate, and wouldn’t keep the noise level down.

This evening we’re down in the basement watching some more episodes of Lego Ninjago: Masters of Spinjitzu. (The kids live for this show; I’m listening to the episodes, but I’m in my office in the basement writing while they watch). I think we’ll probably re-heat some hamburgers for dinner after it has cooled down outside a little bit, and have some salad, and call that dinner. On these miserably hot days I really don’t feel like eating all that much; a little protein and some salad is fine.

Books, Music, Movies, and TV Mentioned This Week

  • Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell
  • Divine Invasions: A Life of Philip K. Dick by Lawrence Sutin (finished)
  • Blade Runner ‘25th Anniversary Culmination’ version of the Esper ‘Retirement’ Edition (2011)
  • Blade Runner Trilogy: 25th Anniversary soundtrack (2007 3-CD edition)
  • Blade Runner Red Vinyl Album and SACD version (Audio Fidelity, 2013)
  • Babylon 5 Season 1, Episode 5, “The Parliament of Dreams”
  • Babylon 5 Season 1, Episode 6, “Mind War”
  • Babylon 5 Season 1, Episode 7, “The War Prayer”
  • Lego Ninjago: Masters of Spinjitzu Pilot Episode 1, “Way of the Ninja” (and a few more episodes)
  • Star Wars: The Clone Wars Season 1, Episode 1, “Ambush”
  • “The Electric Ant” (Philip K. Dick short story)

Ypsilanti, Michigan
The Week Ending Saturday, June 30th, 2018