Saturday, April 28, 2018

The Week Ending Saturday, April 28th, 2018


On Saturday night I read the kids chapter four of The Fellowship of the Ring, “A Short Cut to Mushrooms.” I did not remember this chapter very well, and remember why. A lot of the chapter is just about one day of walking, and getting slightly lost, and rained-on. There’s a lot of description of the trees and terrain:

They waded the stream, and hurried over a wide open space, rush-grown and treeless, on the further side. Beyond that they came again to a belt of trees: tall oaks, for the most part, with here and there an elm tree or an ash. The ground was fairly level, and there was little undergrowth; but the trees were too close for them to see far ahead. The leaves blew upwards in sudden gusts of wind, and spots of rain began to fall from the overcast sky. Then the wind died away and the rain came streaming down. They trudged along as fast as they could, over patches of grass, and through thick drifts of old leaves; and all about them the rain pattered and trickled. They did not talk, but kept glancing back, and from side to side.

These passages can start to seem a little tedious. Tolkien has tried to make the black riders frightening enough to motivate the characters, and the reader, but there are good reasons that Jackson and his team elided most of this episode. It might have worked better in a miniseries, where the dinner of mushrooms could have been the centerpiece of an episode. But even in episodic form, this chapter would have needed some sort of dramatic center or high point. It could be created by telling more of Frodo’s back-story with Farmer Maggot, and showing the scene where the farmer ordered his dogs to chase Frodo off his land.

But in the movie, at this point in the story, there is still an awful lot of story ahead, and we haven’t really done enough or been through enough yet with these characters to feel like we need a break or calming nostalgic interlude. If I imagine scripting out this sequence in the movie, I imagine it would require at least eight or ten minutes of screen time.

There would be two or three minutes of progressively more uncomfortable walking sequences where the hobbits see the black riders (and it would have to be ramped up a bit more than in the book). Frodo would have to have a minute or so to realize where he was, and tell the other hobbits about his younger self’s encounters with Farmer Maggot. We’d have to have flashbacks while he was talking, cutting to shots of the frightened younger Frodo (and can we even imagine, in the movie, Frodo looking any younger than he does?) chased by Maggot’s hounds. There would have to be the obligatory shot of Maggot shot in weird firelight, or with a fish-eye lens, looking menacing (the way the other guests in the Prancing Pony are made to look menacing in the movie). Then a cut to the present, where he’s a kind and wise old man, and Frodo feels foolish. There’s a touching moment of reflection. Then there’s a boisterous meal—we’re told Maggot is feeding his own family, plus the visiting hobbits, plus a number of farm-hands.

Two of Maggot’s sons and his three daughters came in, and a generous supper was laid on the large table. The kitchen was lit with candles and the fire was mended. Mrs. Maggot bustled in and out. One or two other hobbits belonging to the farm-household came in. In a short while fourteen sat down to eat. There was beer in plenty, and a mighty dish of mushrooms and bacon, besides much other solid farmhouse fare. The dogs lay by the fire and gnawed rinds and cracked bones.

As a fan of Tolkien’s world, I want to taste that “mighty dish of mushrooms and bacon.”

And we could have Maggot’s story about the visit from a black rider, looking for Baggins and the Shire—this scene does exist in the movie, but it is not farmer Maggot but another hobbit who speaks to the rider, and that hobbit is much more terrified, and the rider is much more terrifying.

There’s another scene I’d really like to see, because I’m a fan of Tolkien’s world, and I want to live there as long as I can. It’s the night ride to the ferry. (Note that “waggon” is the way Tolkien spells “wagon” in the book; it’s not his own invention, just an archaic spelling).

When they had finished, the farmer and his sons went out with a lantern and got the waggon ready. It was dark in the yard, when the guests came out. They threw their packs on board and climbed in. The farmer sat in the driving-seat, and whipped up his two stout ponies. His wife stood in the light of the open door. ‘You be careful of yourself, Maggot!’ she called. ‘Don’t go arguing with any foreigners, and come straight back!’ ‘I will!’ said he, and drove out of the gate. There was now no breath of wind stirring; the night was still and quiet, and a chill was in the air. They went without lights and took it slowly. After a mile or two the lane came to an end, crossing a deep dike, and climbing a short slope up on to the highbanked causeway. Maggot got down and took a good look either way, north and south, but nothing could be seen in the darkness, and there was not a sound in the still air. Thin strands of river-mist were hanging above the dikes, and crawling over the fields. ‘It’s going to be thick,’ said Maggot; ‘but I’ll not light my lanterns till I turn for home. We’ll hear anything on the road long before we meet it tonight.’

To me, this is a lovely scene, and I would be happy to watch it. I imagine the way Peter Jackson and his team might have made the dark landscape and sky feel like characters. It could have been beautifully shot using low light, like Bilbo’s riddle-game with Gollum. In my mind’s eye, it reminds me of a Halloween hay-ride in the dark. There could be a little bit of comic drama at the end—the hobbits are surprised to meet Merry. They hear his pony’s hooves and imagine that he might be a black rider. But it would hard to make this scene really dramatic, without making it overly-inflated.

If this scene was in the movie, though, we would rejoin Merry at this point. Which means we would have to have gotten to know Merry a little bit more, earlier in the movie, and there would have had to be some setup for the idea that the party was going to meet up with Merry later.

And of course the larger problem is that this scene is a nice episode, but it doesn’t really contribute much to the single story arc of the book, which the single movie set out to told. Because Farmer Maggot doesn’t return. There aren’t even any significant reasons for Frodo and the hobbits to even recall this encounter later, or speak of it again.

I hear that Amazon is actually working on an adaptation that will be in episodic form. According to Wikipedia,

In November 2017, Amazon announced plans to develop a big-budget, multi-season television episodic adaptation of the franchise in a massive deal said to be close to $250 million.

It seems to me that in an episodic format, this side story could in fact become an episode, a “side quest” or subsidiary story worth telling and worth watching. It’s going to get harder, though: we’re soon going to have to come face to face with Tom Bombadil. And while I think this episode could make a lovely (but low-key) episode of a series, if written properly, I’m very uncertain that anyone could make a convincing live-action version of Bombadil. I’ll be thinking on that some more when we get to Bombadil in the book and I have to sing his songs.

Despite the general lack of tension in this chapter, I feel that it is a worthwhile episode and met a secondary storytelling goal for Tolkien. In part it is the story of Frodo realizing that one of the terrors of his childhood was not actually someone to fear. It’s part of Frodo’s true coming-of-age. Frodo tells Maggot:

Thank you very much indeed for your kindness! I’ve been in terror of you and your dogs for over thirty years, Farmer Maggot, though you may laugh to hear it. It’s a pity: for I’ve missed a good friend.

This is one of the lessons of adulthood: coming to understand that the adults to which you, in childhood, assigned all these one-dimensional qualities, really are in fact three-dimensional, and in fact probably had, and may still have, much to teach you. And it’s one of the small tragedies that add up to Frodo’s tragic arc that he doesn’t get to go back and visit with Farmer Maggot again; he doesn’t get to become one of the old and wise folks of the kindly West of Middle-Earth, as Samwise does.

While reading about the Amazon series on Wikipedia I discovered the existence of Fellowship! The Musical Parody of “The Fellowship of the Ring.” There’s a trailer on YouTube here. I wouldn’t be surprised if it goes away, at some point, for legal reasons. The style reminds me of A Very Potter Musical. If you haven’t seen that—well, you really should.

Sick Man

I slept very badly Saturday night, filled with aches and pains, and then in the morning it became clear I was genuinely sick, and I wound up with vomiting and diarrhea. After everything was out, I didn’t put anything back in. Later in the day I managed to drink some pepto, and started sipping water. I was feverish and everything was hurting me, so I spent most of the day lying in bed unable to sleep, sweating and shivering. I would have read, but I was too spacey to understand what I was reading. And so it went all day. I stayed in the bathroom and bedroom and didn’t even go out into the rest of the house. Towards the evening, I had a little bit of fruit smoothie that Grace made for me. She is borrowing a Vitamix blender to try one out.

Sunday night I asked Grace to take Elanor and sleep elsewhere because I was having so much difficulty sleeping. She did, but it didn’t help much. I slept very badly, in what seemed mostly like ten-minute naps. I was starting to wonder if I might have kidney stones, or appendicitis. It was very uncomfortable to lie in bed.


I sent my boss a text message telling him that I was home sick with a fever. At about 8:00 a.m., I took an Aleve, and that caused a huge improvement in the body aches and fever. I was able to sleep for a few hours. It is starting to wear off, though; it’s about 6:00 p.m. Monday and it feels like the fever is coming back on.

I’ve been a little baffled as to what this illness might be. Sunday morning I thought it might be food poisoning: I ate some commercial delivery pizza on Friday night, and some sausages from Costco that we haven’t tried before. But no one else was sick. Then it started to seem like it could be a norovirus, but again, no one else was sick, and where did it come from? I haven’t really been anywhere, other than work, where I’m not in close contact with people. I did get coffees, a couple of mornings on my way to work.

We just heard from our housemate; she’s got the bug. So that confirms that this is very likely a norovirus. It also probably means that everyone else in the household will get it. We will do our best with the hand-washing, but we’re talking about three adults and nine children living under one roof.

I’ll need to return to work tomorrow, assuming my fever cooperates, and hope for the best.

Meanwhile, my brain had cleared enough to let me finish reading Elysium Fire by Alastair Reynolds. The end is satisfying—everything that was set up, early on, comes together in the conclusion, while still leaving room for a few surprises. I won’t write a spoiler-filled review, at least not now, but I enjoyed this one and recommend it whether you’ve read The Prefect (now known as Aurora Rising) or not. It makes me think it probably would be worth my time to go back and re-read the earlier novel.


I didn’t feel too bad this morning, so I went ahead and went to breakfast at Harvest Moon Cafe. I wasn’t feeling ready to digest my usual, so I had a basic omelette with Swiss cheese and an English muffin.

A Dangerous Case

Over breakfast I finished reading The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump. There are a couple of essays buried towards the back of the book that I found to be worth reading. The first is “Trump and The American Collective Psyche” by Thomas Singer. This article looks at Trump from a Jungian perspective. I’ve always had a soft spot for Jung’s thinking. I find it to be more interesting than Freud’s, as it seems to evolve less from one man’s sexual obsessions and to be more universal. He writes about Trump as part of a “cultural complex,” and I think this is more insightful and useful for thinking about the 2016 election than just describing one man’s psychopathologies.

The second article I find worth reading is the next one, “Who Goes Trump” Tyranny as a Triumph of Narcissism" by Elizabeth Mika. This article talks about the role of narcissism in the “toxic triangle” formed by a tyrant, his supporters, and the society at large. This essay seems to me to be very insightful about Trump’s support at large. She writes:

Through the process of identification, the tyrant’s followers absorb his omnipotence and glory and imagine themselves as powerful as he is, the winners in the game of life. This identification heals the followers’ narcissistic wounds, but also tends to shut down their reason and conscience, allowing them to engage in immoral and criminal behaviors with a sense of impunity engendered by this identification.

This unpacks a lot of what I’ve been feeling about the way the Trump administration enables people to feel their aggrieved entitlement, and act on it, in violation of the usual norms that kept this sort of expression and action generally in the sub rosa world of closed groups and political dog whistles. Mika also addresses the question of where Trump’s supporters come from—whether Trumpism is cohesive with some kind of “white working class,” the poor, or the poorly educated. The more people study his supporters, the more simplistic theories seem to be confounded. People had the idea that it was mostly poor disenfranchised workers in rust-belt or coal-mining states. But large cohorts of wealthy white men and women went for Trump, too. Mika writes:

The narcissistic mixture of elevated expectations, resentments, and desire for revenge on specific targets and/or society in general for not meeting those expectations is what sociologist Michael Kimmel (2013) called aggrieved entitlement.

“Aggrieved entitlement” is the word I’ve been personally using to describe some of the recent mass shooters and I think it fits the Trump supporter with their roles as cultural stochastic terrorists quite well.

Who are they?

It is a convenient—and yes, narcissistic—myth that only the dispossessed and uninformed would support the tyrant. It is not the economic or educational status that determines such susceptibility, but one’s narcissims, and that cuts across socioeconomic strata.

Earlier in the essay, Mika describes where this leads:

…as the [narcissistic] wounds often date to the supporters’ personal ancient past and more often than not are perceived rather than real, the choice of the object of this vengeful punishment is not based on reality. Rather, it is based on the displacement and projection characteristic of the scapegoating progress that becomes an inextricable part of the narcissistic collusion between the tyrant and his followers. The scapegoating deignates the Otehrs as an object upon which the narcissistic revenge will be inflicted…

And the “Other?”

The tyrant and his followers typically choose as vessels for their negative projections and aggressions the members of society who are not just different but weaker.

Mika also writes at some length about the way in which the followers’ projections reveal their own pathologies, and how the tyrant doesn’t actually have to work very hard to incite his followers, because “the tyrant’s permission for such aggression appears to be a large part of his appeal to his blood- and revenge-thirsty followers.”

Recall Trump’s exhortations to the crowds at his rallies: “Knock the crap out of him, will you?” It didn’t take much to generate roars of approval.

She also writes a bit about the eventual endgame:

[The role of the tyrant’s supporters] becomes more important with time, as he psychologically decompensates, which inevitably happens to narcissistic psychopaths in positions of ultimate power.

This means that, once he doesn’t need to gain any more power and has no one who can question his orders or push back, he starts to drop the “mask of sanity.” He won’t be willing to sugar-coat anything anymore, or even attempt to be civil. His inner circle will go to great lengths to protect him even as his craziness becomes more obvious.

And none of us are quite sure how this will end. In particular, I’m very suspicious of anyone offering a tidy endgame involving Mueller, or 25th Amendment Remedies, or impeachment. I think there are too many people who will calculate, rightly or wrongly, that they still have more to gain by going along with his presidency for a while longer.

And so, definitely be thinking about Mika’s essay. I’d like to track down some of the sources she mentions, too, and see if they seem insightful as well. By comparison, I regret taking the time to read most of the essays in this collection.

Anyway. I’ve finished the book, and my conclusion is that it’s not a very good book, or even much of a book at all, as I’ve disclosed. In fact, it is so cynically put together that there is an afterword, credited to Noam Chomsky. He didn’t write anything new for the book. He offered to “edit [together] excerpts of some of his past interviews in service of this epilogue.”

I have a lot of respect for Chomsky, but I haven’t found any of his commentary about the 2016 election or the Trump administration to be very insightful. This very brief epilogue is no exception. He repeats some of his commonplace comments about the Doomsday Clock, and talks a bit about how the white working class is responsible for Trump. It’s not worth the time it takes to read these three pages. I can understand why the publishers wisely didn’t put “with an Epilogue by Noam Chomsky” on the cover. He just wasn’t very interested in this project, and with good reason.

The Rest of Tuesday

On the drive in to work I called my father in California and brought him up to date on the house sale situation. It still seems like we might close as planned in June. We really hope so.

Lunch was some pasta and sauce that was left from last week. I’m trying to figure out why sometimes eating tomatoes sets off my reflux, and other times it doesn’t. I can’t quite figure out what the common factor is. Maybe it isn’t the tomatoes?

Work was pretty quiet today. I made some good progress on bringing a VOA sweep feature over to my main firmware development branch. It’s working and passes basic smoke testing. This follows on from my memory use improvements last week. There’s still a fair amount of testing to do before I can declare this code completely solid. And of course I endeavor to have humility about my own code; the best I can ever say about my code is that it’s been reviewed exhaustively, tested reasonably well, used by a number of other people, and not shown any bugs—yet.

The Kano and Its Discontents

I heard from the kids tonight that they were having trouble with the Kano keyboard. I put the little receiver in my computer and verified that it is working only intermittently: a few keys will work, then stop working, or I’ll hit a key and it will repeat indefinitely, until I power-cycle it.

I don’t think the kids did anything to break it; there’s no evidence that they got food or liquid into it.

With a little more experimenting, it seems like charging it for a while fixes the problem. So I think it might really have to do with a low battery condition. But the keyboard isn’t reporting a low battery condition. It’s got a single green LED illuminated steadily, which is supposed to mean that all is well. So maybe a low-voltage detection threshold is set wrong in the keyboard’s firmware, or something like that.

I’ve had to open up the case a couple of times because since the Kano innards don’t actually snap onto their mounting points, they tend to work their way loose. For example, the little USB hub tends to slip off its moorings, and so does the “brain” (the motherboard). And the battery. I know this is supposed to be easy for kids to assemble, but it really needs a more secure way to lock down the components. And the keyboard—wow.

I got a response back from Kano tech support on the proxy server issue, but it just said they have “raised the issue with their engineers.”


Last night was difficult. It rained most of the afternoon yesterday, so the kids didn’t get out and burn off energy. As a result, they were quite crazy and difficult. The house is too hot. It seems like the heat was on even with all the thermostats set low (at 63). It was getting up towards 80 in the evening. I turned off the heat on the first floor entirely and ran the fan in the bedroom. It’s only April but we’re in that strange “am I hot or am I cold” no-man’s land where I can never figure out what to put on, and swing rapidly between sweating and shivering as I go about my day.

Our big outside air conditioning unit is busted, and because we haven’t gotten rid of the old house yet, I can’t contemplate putting money into repairing it. I can only hope that maybe before the end of the season, we can do it.

We’re waiting on the appraisal results, but other than that it currently looks like there are no big impediments to finishing the sale of the old house.

There’s more to tell, but I’m not going to tell it all, because it involves other people and their privacy. Grace and I wound up staying awake very late talking, in part because my sleep schedule is confused after a lot of time spent in bed sidk this weekend. We’re debating and thinking about a lot of things. We’re trying to plan out future work on the podcast. We’re just about the limit of what we can get done. We’re always trying to figure out where each other’s limitations and points of failure are, and figure out how to work around them, to work as a little mutual aid society of two. It’s sometimes hard.

Warriors’ Gate

While holding Elanor and trying to distract the other kids so Grace could finish cooking dinner last night, I put on the fan edit of Warriors’ Gate, the 1981 Doctor Who serial. This is the third part of the “E-Space trilogy” and it marks the departure of Lalla Ward’s version of Romana (aka Romanadvoratrelundar) and K-9. Ward appeared later in the Dimensions in Time charity special. K-9 doesn’t reappear in the main Doctor Who stories (except briefly in The Five Doctors) until 2006, although he is some spin-off works (which I haven’t seen). Apparently he appears in Shada, which I also haven’t seen.

Anwyay. This is a weird, weird serial. The TARDIS becomes trapped in “null space,” a shrinking white void that is somehow between E-space and normal spacetime (called “n-space” in this serial). Another ship is also trapped there, a human spacecraft also holding enslaved members of the Tharil race. There are some cool but extremely dated and primitive-looking video effects as people move through “null space” and go in and out of “sync” with the narrative viewpoint. There’s a very visual setup with a banquet hall that exists in several points in time, and so we go back and forth in the history of the same place. There are some creepy robots. There’s a magic mirror. There’s a slave uprising.

Much of the story is not really explained all that well, but that’s OK. I don’t really consider that to be a big problem. At this point the tropes of the show are so well-established that we get what has to happen: the captives will be freed, their fortunes will rise, and those of the fortunate will fall. What charm this serial has, for me, is in its weirdness and artiness. It’s not great, but it’s definitely one of the strangest Doctor Who stories I’ve ever seen. The strangeness almost brings it to the realm of the “uncanny.” It’s just a bit Lovecraftian. The dizzying sense of time and space collapsing and, at the same time, ancient scenes continuing to exist in time, layered alongside one another, as if trapped in amber, gives just a small taste of that mode of existential horror. Which isn’t to say that it does a great job with this material—it doesn’t really. But it’s more interesting than a lot of the old serials.

Per [Wikipedia] it sounds like the aspects of this serial that I like the most, and which make it a more memorable than many of the others, are there in spite of the show’s leadership, not due to it:

Joyce [the director] was keen to push the limits of the series by directing the serial like a film as he considered some of the earlier productions to be quite bland and workmanlike. This approach however caused problems early on with significant delays in order to achieve various shots such as the pan through the spaceship in the opening sequence. This included shooting the camera upwards where the gallery lights could be seen - known as “shooting off set”, something which is forbidden by the BBC. Problems such as this increased as time began to run short and he and producer Nathan Turner clashed frequently and even executive producer Letts had to step in to advise Joyce. With letters being written to higher executives complaining of Joyce’s style of work (also seen as inexperience), Joyce was asked to leave part way through production. His duties were taken up by assistant Graeme Harper, who directed a number of scenes before finally Joyce was re-instated. Setting up of certain shots that Joyce had envisiged proved to take up too much time and shooting over-ran on a number of days. In the end, the serial was completed and was indeed a departure in terms of style over the norm and was complimented by Bidmead, but Joyce was never to work on Doctor Who again.

And so I’d say it’s indispensable for serious fans, but may not be very interesting for casual fans, because the arty elements can’t completely overcome the flattened “bland and workmanlike” storytelling.

As usual I consider myself somewhere in between the casual and serious fans. I want to mine the history of the show for the good stuff, but not uncritically. And keep in mind, I’m watching the fan edit. The un-edited version is likely much more tedious to sit through. The fan editor writes:

The VFX [visual effects] are as nothing compared to the storytelling though, which is just so dull and obscure that it took two attempts before I managed to get an edit I was happy with, making this one of the most difficult yet.

So keep that in mind.

Chris Hedges

This morning I read a couple of chapters from Unspeakable by Chris Hedges. This is a quick read and a powerful one. Hedges always inspires me. In these chapters he writes about his career at the New York Times. I’m reminded of that time in my life, 2003. I consider this period, the run-up to the American invasion of Iraq under false pretenses, to be the end of what you might call my “first phase” of radicalization. It makes me want to finish editing and updating my old blog posts from the time.

It doesn’t look like Sky Horse publishing has announced any more books in the “unspeakable” series, which is a shame, but I’m glad there is this one.

Reading Hedges always energizes me. But I’m just tired today, no matter what.


Things went a little smoother last night. We got dinner taken care of (chicken pot pie from Costco) and with extreme effort to get everyone ready, managed to have story time with an audience of four: Veronica, Sam, Joshua, and Pippin (and sometimes Merry who kept coming in to disrupt things).

Our chapter last night was “A Conspiracy Unmasked.” This was another example of some of the slower and lower-key storytelling in Fellowship. I really like to imagine the wonderful Crickhollow house in Buckland, a few miles north of Bucklebury:

It was an old-fashioned countrified house, as much like a hobbit-hole as possible: it was long and low, with no upper storey; and it had a roof of turf, round windows, and a large round door.

As I sang (well, attempted to sing) the songs in this chapter I was reminded of the way that Peter Jackson’s team adapted wording from Tolkien’s original songs. Tolkien’s original wordings for the hobbit songs often don’t actually scan and sing all that well. Sometimes it seems like he only wrote the first draft of these songs, while he lavished more attention on the songs of the elves and other more “serious” verses. But one thing that is really convincing, in Tolkien’s construction of songs for the hobbits: it feels like a real folk process. They re-use phrases and rhythms:

Merry and Pippin began a song, which they had apparently got ready for the occasion. It was made on the model of the dwarf-song that started Bilbo on his adventure long ago, and went to the same tune:

Farewell we call to hearth and hall!  
Though wind may blow and rain may fall,  
We must away ere break of day  
Far over wood and mountain tall.

This, of course, is a callback to The Hobbit:

Far over the misty mountains cold  
To dungeons deep and caverns old  
We must away ere break of day  
To seek the pale enchanted gold.

This chapter doesn’t do much to advance the plot, but it does help establish the small-eff “fellowship” of the hobbits.

‘You can trust us to stick to you through thick and thin—to the bitter end. And you can trust us to keep any secret of yours—closer than you keep it yourself. But you cannot trust us to let you face trouble alone, and go off without a word. We are your friends, Frodo. Anyway: there it is. We know most of what Gandalf has told you. We know a good deal about the Ring. We are horribly afraid—but we are coming with you; or following you like hounds.’

The only remaining item of interest to me in this chapter is Frodo’s dream; it is the first of several:

…he seemed to be looking out of a high window over a dark sea of tangled trees. Down below among the roots there was the sound of creatures crawling and snuffling. He felt sure they would smell him out sooner or later. Then he heard a noise in the distance. At first he thought it was a great wind coming over the leaves of the forest. Then he knew that it was not leaves, but the sound of the Sea far-off; a sound he had never heard in waking life, though it had often troubled his dreams. Suddenly he found he was out in the open. There were no trees after all. He was on a dark heath, and there was a strange salt smell in the air Looking up he saw before him a tall white tower, standing alone on a high ridge. A great desire came over him to climb the tower and see the Sea. He started to struggle up the ridge towards the tower: but suddenly a light came in the sky, and there was a noise of thunder.

Even at this early stage in the story, Frodo is dreaming of the sea; Tolkien even says that the sound had “often troubled his dreams,” although nothing in the story to date has established this. Frodo will eventually leave Middle-Earth on one of the last ships to sail West from the Grey Havens. It’s not clear exactly which tower Frodo is seeing, but it may be Elostirion, the tallest of three “elf-towers” in the Tower Hills. The light in the sky and the noise of thunder, though, might also prefigure the “answering signal,” sent from the tower Minal Morgul, to the Great Signal:

As they entered Imlad Morgul on 10 March III 3019, the shaking of the ground suddenly increased to a powerful quaking, and a burst of brilliant red fire—presumably unleashed from Mount Doom—shone out from Mordor to illuminate the clouds, as the air was filled with the sound of a thunderclap.

This was the Great Signal, the sign to Sauron’s soldiers to begin their march to war. From Minas Morgul, close by the hiding place of Frodo and Sam at the time, an answering signal went up: a storm of blue lightning flashing up into the sky from the Tower and its surrounding hills, while a hideous screech echoed off the rocks of the valley.

That tower: Minas Ithil, later known as Minas Morgul, is not actually near the sea—but we’re talking about a dream. In any case, Frodo’s dream is about the immediate threat—the sniffing black riders—but it also prefigures the oncoming war, and his eventual fate.


A little queasy this morning. I think last night’s dinner of leftovers did not sit well in my belly.

Last night’s story was part of chapter 6 of The Fellowship of the Ring, “The Old Forest.”

This is a pretty slow chapter, like the previous one. Poor Fredegar Bolger gets called “fatty” again, and then the story abandons him, which hardly seems a nice way to treat one of the people working hard to assist Frodo and his traveling friends. Up until the hobbits are trapped by Old Man Willow, it is basically the story of an unpleasant road trip. I’m reminded of Gail Cain’s 1983 Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest winner:

The camel died quite suddenly on the second day, and Selena fretted sulkily and, buffing her already impeccable nails—not for the first time since the journey began—pondered snidely if this would dissolve into a vignette of minor inconveniences like all the other holidays spent with Basil.

There’s some very nice visual storytelling describing the High Hay and a gate through it:

‘How are you going to get through this?’ asked Fredegar. ‘Follow me!’ said Merry, ‘and you will see.’ He turned to the left along the Hedge, and soon they came to a point where it bent inwards, running along the lip of a hollow. A cutting had been made, at some distance from the Hedge, and went sloping gently down into the ground. It had walls of brick at the sides, which rose steadily, until suddenly they arched over and formed a tunnel that dived deep under the Hedge and came out in the hollow on the other side.

The way the Old Forest seems to have a plan for the hobbits is interesting. There’s a sort of “crown” to the Old Forest:

Before them, but some distance off, there stood a green hill-top, treeless, rising like a bald head out of the encircling wood. The path seemed to be making directly for it.

And once they reach it, they realize that they are off-course, and keep trying to make their way northward, to meet up with the Old Road. But the forest seems to fight them:

Each time they clambered out, the trees seemed deeper and darker; and always to the left and upwards it was most difficult to find a way, and they were forced to the right and downwards.

Until they are down on the banks of the Withywindle.

A golden afternoon of late sunshine lay warm and drowsy upon the hidden land between. In the midst of it there wound lazily a dark river of brown water, bordered with ancient willows, arched over with willows, blocked with fallen willows, and flecked with thousands of faded willow-leaves. The air was thick with them, fluttering yellow from the branches; for there was a warm and gentle breeze blowing softly in the valley, and the reeds were rustling, and the willow-boughs were creaking.

Merry finds a path, apparently well-maintained:

There being nothing else for it, they filed out, and Merry led them to the path that he had discovered. Everywhere the reeds and grasses were lush and tall, in places far above their heads; but once found, the path was easy to follow, as it turned and twisted, picking out the sounder ground among the bogs and pools. Here and there it passed over other rills, running down gullies into the Withywindle out of the higher forest-lands, and at these points there were tree-trunks or bundles of brushwood laid carefully across.

That’s where we stopped last night.

The hobbits are about to meet Tom Bombadil. To understand the Bombadil episode, you must understand that Tom Bombadil was a character Tolkien had created years earlier. He is described in Tolkien’s 1934 poem “The Adventures of Tom Bombadil,” and later in “Bombadil Goes Boating.” These have been published in different editions over the years, and I’ve got a few of them, but they appeared most recently in Tales from the Perilous Realm. There’s even a recording.

Up woke Willow-man, began upon his singing,  
sang Tom fast asleep under branches swinging;  
in a crack caught him tight: snick! it closed together,  
trapped Tom Bombadil, coat and hat and feather.

'Ha, Tom Bombadil! What be you a-thinking,  
peeping inside my tree, watching me a-drinking  
deep in my wooden house, tickling me with feather,  
dripping wet down my face like a rainy weather?'

'You let me out again, Old Man Willow!  
I am stiff lying here; they're no sort of pillow,  
your hard crooked roots. Drink your river-water!  
Go back to sleep again like the River-daughter!'

Willow-man let him loose when he heard him speaking;  
locked fast his wooden house, muttering and creaking,  
whispering inside the tree. Out from willow-dingle  
Tom went walking on up the Withywindle.

There’s much I could say about this, but my key point is that Tolkien apparently loved this character, and was looking for things to do with the hobbits; remember, in early drafts of Fellowship he had not figured out quite what he was doing with the overall story arc, significance of the ring, or level of threat to achieve to move the story along. And so he placed Bombadil right in Fellowship, even though he did not exactly fit into the tone of the story. He recycled phrases and events directly and used The Lord of the Rings to re-tell bits of Bombadil’s silly story. And he did not, in later revisions, remove him.

About the most charitable thing you can say about Bombadil in Fellowship is that he lightens things up for a time, and he’s fun. Does he make any sense? No. For one thing, it doesn’t make sense that the hobbits would live in proximity to Bombadil, who has apparently existed along the Withywindle literally forever, but they would not have carried any tradition of him in their storytelling. Bombadil and Goldberry don’t really belong in Middle-Earth; they are just there. It’s texture and back-story, but it doesn’t really fit in with the rest of the texture and back-story, which was much more comprehensively thought out, years later. He would have fit much better in The Hobbit.

Love him or hate him, leave him in your adaptation or remove him, it doesn’t really make much difference. He just is. To me, he’s jarring, but Tolkien apparently liked him enough to leave him in there, and that will have to be good enough for me. There are a lot of theories about some kind of a “secret identity” for Bombadil.

To me, none of these are very interesting because deciding that, say, Bombadil is supposed to represent one of the Valar, or Eru Illúvatar, or a Maiar, doesn’t make him fit. It makes sense to consider him an embodiment of the landscape, and the natural history of the land where he lives.

But let’s not pretend he fits. He’s a bit of leftover world-building, in Middle-Earth but not of it. He doesn’t actually need to fit; at least, Tolkien didn’t need him to, and if we love his work, we have to accept that it has rough edges, and maybe they are not really flaws, but part of why it is so memorable and beloved.


I know it probably doesn’t make very compelling reading to just complain about being sick. But I’ve been sick. I’m not sure exactly what is going on. Yesterday all I wanted to eat was yogurt and antacids. I skipped dinner and went to bed early. Grace fasted with me because she wasn’t feeling that great too. This morning my gut was all cramped up and I’ve been tired and queasy all day. I lay down for a nap after making breakfast and have managed to pretty much blow the afternoon. It’s almost 6:00 p.m., the kitchen is trashed, and Grace is lying around not feeling well either. It’s not looking very promising for this week’s podcast. I just took a famotidine because I’m not supposed to take more omeprazole after finishing a two-week course. We’ll see if that helps anything.

We’re still negotiated over the house sale.


I was able to help my co-worker Scott get an old Android Nexus 7 tablet up and running with a different Android build, one of the CyanogenMod builds. It took some extra time and experimenting for a few reasons. One is that the links in this article were broken. Another is that the instructions are condensed down and don’t give a lot of detail, and I wasn’t really familiar with the Android tools. So I had to hit up Google pretty hard to figure out, for example, what to do when I was looking at a tablet with a picture of a dead android on it.

My first attempted installation of operating system and apps produced a tablet that would boot up, but displayed constant error messages and wouldn’t do anything. So those clearly were the wrong versions. But after more Googling, I finally got it figured out, and wiped those versions and tried some others. His tablet is up and running nicely. I gave it back to him to test over the weekend, so we’ll see if he ran into any problems. Not that I would necessarily know what to do, to fix them…

I guess this means I could buy some old Android tablets on eBay and revitalize them and try letting the kids use them to access their instructional web sites. That might be easier than what I’m contemplating, involving horribly abusing Chromebooks.

While I was writing my notes for today, my ThinkPad just shut down again. My battery life was over sixty percent. There was no chime, no warning, no “shutting down” process. It just shut off. This has happened a couple of times now. I’m really not happy about this. It seems like a battery problem. On the plus side, it’s probably still under warranty. And everything on it is backed up.

So I think we’ll probably try to have a low-key evening. Grace and I will probably fast again. She might run out for yogurt. Maybe we’ll watch some Star Trek: The Next Generation tonight and hope for a better day tomorrow.

Books, Music, Movies, and TV Mentioned This Week

  • The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien
  • The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President by Bandy X. Lee et al.
  • Unspeakable by Chris Hedges with David Talbot
  • Warriors’ Gate (1981 Doctor Who serial)

Ypsilanti, Michigan
The Week Ending Saturday, April 28th, 2018

Saturday, April 21, 2018

The Week Ending Saturday, April 21st, 2018


State of Decay

I had some down time on Saturday afternoon, and watched part of State of Decay (the 1980 Doctor Who serial). This is a vampires-in-space story. It seems that perhaps the rationale for the “E-Space” (“Exo-Space-time continuum”) trilogy is to go into a pocket universe (not a full parallel universe, but a smaller universe) in order to free up the writers; nothing they do there has to fit well into the established continuity. They can introduce big threats, and if they don’t escape into the regular old universe, we can just breathe a sigh of relief and forget about them after the story ends.

E-Space is apparently a little green. It looks a little green on the viewscreen, but I thought maybe this was just because some of the film elements had aged badly before they were digitized. The TARDIS made its way to E-Space via a CVE, a “charged vacuum emboitment.” “Emboitment” (French: “emboîtement”) apparently refers to “The outdated hypothesis that all living things proceed from pre-existing germs, and that these encase the germs of all future living things, enclosed one within another,” and literally means “interlocking” or “stacking.” See also Preformationism.

I guess the idea here is that E-Space is a world that grew out of, and is somehow embedded within, N-Space, the universe we live in. But this conception of E-Space is not well-developed in the show; in Logopolis we learn how the CVE was created using “block transfer computations” (blockchain?) by the Logopolitans (were they mining bitcoin?) It’s complicated. (And a little silly).

And personally, I live in the universe of , Tolkien’s universe. Or is it Briah? (The universe of Gene Wolfe’s Solar Cycle).

In this serial, the big threat is the “Great Vampire,” who drinks blood by the bucket-full and lives (if you can call it living) under a crashed spaceship that has been there for a long time, occupied by the original crew who have become the aristocratic rulers of a feudal society. They don’t age, you see, because they’ve become vampires.

The horror is pretty dumb. The dialogue is pretty dumb. Honestly it seems like the most interesting things in this serial are the sets and the guest stars. The sets are surprisingly well-done. The vampire guest stars (Rachel Davies, William Lindsay, and Emrys James) are pervy/creepy and their makeup, so completely over the top that it can’t even see the top any more, is great. Their scenery-chewing is entertaining. There is some nice banter between The Doctor and Romana, too. But these entertaining scenes and bits of dialogue can’t really elevate the sluggish show (sluggish even in fan edit form). Adric (Matthew Waterhouse) is in this one, but he doesn’t have a lot of lines. We learn that he has stowed away on the TARDIS, and he’s been captured by the vampire aristocrats.

I will note in passing that apparently Baker was apparently dating Lalla Ward (Romana) and married her, but their marriage lasted only eighteen months. But this might explain why their banter was more convincing than usual.

Here’s a review that is more positive than this one.

This Week’s Pottscast

We had a great podcast recording session with our friend Joy Pryor. You can find the show blog post here.

Grace spoke with Joy about her First Stop Shop, a thrift store concept that reminds me a bit of the “free store” as described in Abbie Hoffman’s Steal This Book. There is more about free stores or “give-away shops” on Wikipedia here—the concept was implemented by the (contemporary) Diggers. I remember reading a more detailed explanation of the Free Store concept, decades ago, in what I recall as a book by Abbie Hoffman, but unfortunately I can’t remember where I read about it.

The weekend was quite strange. On Sunday morning, we woke to the aftermath of an ice storm. We must have lost power briefly during the night, since the boiler control had reset, but during the day on Sunday I only noticed a few little flickers. Still, I really need to get a second UPS for the basement, and a third for the networking equipment and computer in our bedroom.

The kids have been using their Kano. Mostly, they’ve just been playing Minecraft. They’ve also been on YouTube, because they are working around the proxy server. I need to fix that.

I’m hoping they will discover Adventure, which is some kind of a descendant of the grandfather of all text adventure games, the ur-text if you will, Colossal Cave Adventure. I’m not sure exactly which of many twisty little versions of Adventure this one is, but it doesn’t matter that much. I grew up with text adventure games: Radio Shack’s Haunted House, Scott Adams’ text adventures for the TRS-80, including his “Adventure Zero” (the introductory adventure), and then later Pyramid 2000, a cut-down version of Colossal Cave, and then later, most of the Infocom games. My favorites were the Zork games, but I also really enjoyed Planetfall, Enchanter, Starcross, Suspended, and a few others; I completed a number of them. The details are getting a little hazy in my memory, though. I think in my old notebooks, I may still have at least one or two of the maps I drew.

I’m not sure if I can get the kids interested in text adventures. They are used to visual storytelling on computers. But I can try. I think enjoying a game like Zork requires a certain skill that I acquired young, and which has proven invaluable to me: building a world out of words, and then “debugging” that world (that is, solving the problems it throws at me). And text adventures have the highest-resolution graphics of all: the ones in my mind.

I wonder if they’d make a fun bedtime story?

I wonder if I could get them interested in writing them?

A Wrinkle in Time

The kids have been asking me to read them A Wrinkle in Time. I did not want to derail our progress in The Fellowship of the Ring, but I did take their request into consideration and read them the first chapter.

I’ve done more than enough ranting about A Wrinkle in Time, the 2018 movie, for one lifetime, but reading this chapter reminded me all over again of things I didn’t like about the movie.

In the book, Meg has actually gotten into a fist-fight at school; she isn’t in trouble just for tossing a basketball at another student. That’s far more realistic to me; back in my day in high school, fights involved black eyes and split lips. In 2018 apparently high school fights are soft and, to me, unrealistically liberal. I don’t think kids have actually changed; they are violent. I guess in 2018 the black girl in high school knows that if she throws a punch, she will likely be taken down, and maybe injured or even killed, by the school resource officer. So they lower the stakes and make Meg’s crime a violation of sportsmanship, rather than a more realistic, and easy to relate to, act of violence by a tormented adolescent.

I also found myself steaming about the book’s description of Mrs. Whatsit. In the book, she was not frightening to the kids because she was elderly, and seemed like a harmless eccentric, maybe even a “bag lady” or homeless person. There’s a slapstick sequence in which her boots are full of water, and the kids struggle to help her pull off her boots and pour them out, then put them back on over her wet socks.

This portrayal is so much more silly and humane than the scene in the movie, and importantly, it sets up am impression of Mrs. Whatsit that gives her room to genuinely surprise them later, as she reveals herself to be a being of great power and beauty. In the movie, she’s already beautiful (even wrapped in a dress made from a bedsheet), elaborately coiffed and made up, and leaps right up over a garden wall.

One of the deep messages of the book is “don’t judge people (or creatures) by their superficial appearances.” This plays out in the scene with Aunt Beast, a terrifying-looking alien being who is gentle and compassionate to Meg. A good portion of the point of the witches, or “Misses,” is lost when they start out bristling with alien power and beauty. And one of the major lessons of the book is lost. L’Engle would have despised this change.


I’ve had some trouble getting feedback from Team One. I’ve asked them to verify that they will loan me $25,000, $5,000 more than I asked for previously. I got a note back saying “that should be fine,” but I’ve asked for something in writing. Their responses have been brief and a bit unclear.

We’ve gotten more addenda for the sales agreement and are trying to hash out, with the help of our realtor, which items should actually be written up and put in the signed agreement.

Grace has been struggling to get information back from various people about the house and our insurance claims. As her patience reached its low point for the day, she sent me a text message that simply read “pray for me.” And so I briefly thought she might be having a medical crisis. But no—she was just fed up.

After she told me all the different ways in which the insurance adjuster, inspector, and various contractors were making her life miserable, by refusing to get back to her, or refusing to do work already paid for, or refusing to even answer phone calls, or even having their phones shut off or e-mail addresses start bouncing messages back—I really can’t blame her. It’s been crazy stupid.

I have to remind myself that rust-best cities that are in economic free-fall are like this: the people who are really good at their jobs, who are qualified, and could compete and get paid better elsewhere, have in many cases left to do just that. What’s mostly left are the people stuck there: maybe they have family in the area, maybe they are attached to it because they’ve lived there all their lives, maybe they have a home they can’t sell. And they are barely scraping by, and so gradually the work merges into a sort of low-level con.

I know when we lived there and I was unemployed and broke, I couldn’t put money into the house, and it was a struggle not to feel like that represented personal failure. It’s the failure of a whole community.

Even friends aren’t immune to this. We paid a friend of a friend, not a professional contractor but allegedly a reasonably good handyman, a couple of hundred dollars to do a repair, including money for raw materials. He cashed the check immediately, but never did the job. It’s been a couple of months. Grace has been leaning on him, but we don’t really have much leverage; he’s not a professional, so he has no professional reputation to protect. It’s not much money, but the repair was important to us. So we’re still scratching our heads.

In fact, the professionals also don’t seem to have much interest in their reputation, either. I guess when things are bad, you can’t afford pride. And so maybe you start to take advantage of the desperation around you, because it helps you feel less desperate. Maybe you even feel a little successful, when you’ve been able to successfully cheat people.

You can probably tell that I’m floundering a bit here, trying to figure out how to stay in solidarity with people who don’t show much interest in maintaining solidarity with me and my family. I’m probably over-thinking it.

Maybe the low-level dishonesty and lack of diligence starts to feel justifiable, you’re in unending financial desperation yourself. I know that I tried to maintain the house, and would like to not feel as irresponsible as I do feel, when I lost consecutive jobs and spent several of our years up there in low-level financial desperation myself.

And we’re still trying to get out of that situation.


Last night Grace took our three older boys (Sam, Joshua, and Pippin) to stay with our friends the Martin family.

After work I put the Kano on our private network (strangely, the Kano listed it as available, even though it is supposedly configured to have its SSID hidden—I will have to look into that). I tried to get the Kano working with my proxy server, but didn’t have any success. I thought I could configure Chromium to use my proxy server, but it won’t show the proxy server setting and gives me a confusing message about using the system proxy server setting. So I tried configuring the proxy server using the Kano control panel. It didn’t work; it gives me a permission error.

I’m not sure what it’s actually doing, to verify the server. I mean, it’s the whole point of a proxy server to block some URLs, right? So maybe it really is working just fine. But it won’t apply the setting.

So I need to verify that the proxy server is working from another client. And maybe I need to whitelist whatever URL the Kano is trying to access to verify the proxy server (if, in fact, that is the source of the error).

It is quite hard for me to use the Kano; the screen is very high-resolution but it is just so small. The tiny keyboard is very difficult for me to use and I keep mis-typing passwords. The Kano Linux distribution hides a lot of the usual Debian configuration options that I’m used to, and wraps up the standard apps with various scripts. So it wasn’t so easy to figure out how, for example, I might pass a proxy server option to the desktop icon for Chromium.

I was not able to find a whole lot of good examples online, perhaps because the Kano Linus distribution is relatively new.

The Fellowship of the Ring

Last night I finished reading Chapter 3 of Fellowship to the kids. In chapter 3, we first meet the black riders. When they first show up in the book, they aren’t all that menacing. In J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century, Tom Shippey writes about how Tolkien gradually “wrote his way into the story”—he didn’t know, yet, the full significant of the black riders, and how dangerous they were. And so at first they are creepy curiosities.

The movie makes them much more menancing from the get-go, while still maintaining some of the odd and creepy details from the book, such as the “sniffing:”

When it reached the tree and was level with Frodo the horse stopped. The riding figure sat quite still with its head bowed, as if listening. From inside the hood came a noise as of someone sniffing to catch an elusive scent; the head turned from side to side of the road.

And, later, a black rider even crawls towards them. (In my mind’s eye, I imagine possessed Regan as she crawls backwards down the stairs in the famous deleted scene from The Exorcist).

These changes in the film are, I think, changes for the better; they establish a sense of danger, and it grows quickly and consistently. There’s another change that is fairly large: in the movie, Frodo and Sam watch a band of elves passing through the woods to the Grey Havens; they don’t speak to them. In the book, a black rider is apparently frightened away by a traveling band of elves that Frodo, Sam, and Pippin (Merry is not yet with them) meet on the road. Frodo speaks to their leader:

‘Who are you, and who is your lord?’ asked Frodo. ‘I am Gildor,’ answered their leader, the Elf who had first hailed him. ‘Gildor Inglorion of the House of Finrod. We are Exiles, and most of our kindred have long ago departed and we too are now only tarrying here a while, ere we return over the Great Sea. But some of our kinsfolk dwell still in peace in Rivendell. Come now, Frodo, tell us what you are doing? For we see that there is some shadow of fear upon you.’

In the book, the hobbits walk for a time with this band of elves, and dine with them, and even sleep in their encampment. It’s a beautiful scene, and they are the first elves that Sam has ever seen:

Sam could never describe in words, nor picture clearly to himself, what he felt or thought that night, though it remained in his memory as one of the chief events of his life. The nearest he ever got was to say: ‘Well, sir, if I could grow apples like that, I would call myself a gardener. But it was the singing that went to my heart, if you know what I mean.’

This seems at first like it might a bit of a cop-out on Tolkien’s part, but I think it is actually designed to suggest Sam’s tendency to be a bit inarticulate about what he is experiencing; he’s not “learned,” although Bilbo “learnt him his letters.” Later, in Lothlorien, he will surprise us when he composes words in memory of Gandalf; and, of course, at the very end, the last pages of the Red Book were left for Sam.

We don’t learn exactly where the elves are from, or where they are going, or even who Gildor is. Wikipedia tells us that “Gildor’s ancestry appears to be a loose thread that Tolkien never properly tied up.”

Gildor speaks to Frodo about the black riders, and gives him some advice, but the advice is not surprising, or specific. This helps establish the way in which the elves tend to remain aloof from human affairs. And Gildor has no role in the unfolding story whatsoever, save one: as Frodo leaves Middle-Earth, with Bilbo, Gandalf, and Galadriel, Gildor and his band leaves with them.

And so this small plot digression doesn’t really advance the story much, except to add a little sense of depth to Tolkien’s created world, and creates a nice parallel; Gildor accompanies Frodo for a time as he leaves the Shire—twice.

In the movie, the producers decided to use the brief appearance of the elves as a way to explain that the elves are leaving Middle-Earth. The band of elves in the movie fit in nicely with Tolkien’s description; they seem to glow:

They passed slowly, and the hobbits could see the starlight glimmering on their hair and in their eyes. They bore no lights, yet as they walked a shimmer, like the light of the moon above the rim of the hills before it rises, seemed to fall about their feet.

This sets up events in the movie that play out later, in Arwen’s story. And so, in the movie, that brief sighting of anonymous elves actually does more to establish the story than Gildor and his band do, in the text.

In chapter 3, there’s also a song. You might recognize it, if you have watched the movie trilogy, because the producers adapted a walking song into the beautiful dirge that Pippin sings in Denethor’s halls:

Home is behind, the world ahead, And there are many paths to tread Through shadows to the edge of night, Until the stars are all alight.

In the original, the song continues in an upbeat mode:

Then world behind and home ahead, We’ll wander back to home and bed.

>Mist and twilight, cloud and shade,
>Away shall fade! Away shall fade!
>Fire and lamp, and meat and bread,
>And then to bed! And then to bed!

But in the movie, the producers cherry-picked some of Tolkien’s words to yield a much more melancholy song, deeply relevant to the oncoming war:

Mist and shadow Cloud and shade All shall fade All shall fade

It’s one of the most beautiful moments in the movies, and shows off one of the more brilliant bits of adaptation, in which the producers used Tolkien’s words, but in a different context. Tolkien uses the word “fade” many times in The Lord of the Rings, and with many slightly different meanings.


I had to set my phone’s alarm for 6:00 a.m., jump up and wake up Grace, and make a batch of bulletproof coffee. Grace had to shower, then get Veronica up. She took Veronica, Elanor, Benjamin, and our three guest children up to Saginaw so she could coördinate various plumbers, inspectors, and other repair folks who are working on the house and our insurance claims. I heard from her that she made it OK, and I heard that the plumber has gotten the main leak upstairs fixed, so that’s a minor victory—we can have the water on, so the potential buyer can complete her inspection.

After work I will drive to Grass Lake to pick up the boys.

Elysium Fire

I’ve finished nine chapters of this novel and it’s moving along nicely. It’s been a useful stress relief and distraction to spend a couple of hours in the Glitter Band.


Last night after I left work, I drove to the home of our friends, who live in Grass Lake, to pick up three of our boys, who had stayed overnight. It’s a long, long drive. On the plus side, the section of I-94 from the West side of Ann Arbor to exit 150 is in a lot better shape than the part I use to commute every day. But on the minus side, the side roads are in terrible shape, riddled with potholes, and covered with patches that also have potholes.

One kid, who shall remain nameless, didn’t want to leave, and I’m sorry to report that I had to drag him out from under a bed by his shirt and carry him to the car. Then he screamed for much of the hour-long drive home. Then he refused to get out of the car once we were home.

So. Stressful night.

Grace came back late with Veronica and five babies. She had a long day. The plumber showed up as planned at the old house in Saginaw, and fixed a broken copper water supply pipe leading into the pink bathroom upstairs. This looks like a classic ruptured pipe due to freezing. We had the pipes drained when we turned off the water in the fall, but apparently the handyman we had on hand to do it didn’t really succeed.

So the water is on, which means the buyer should be able to complete more of the plumbing inspection.

He also found a number of small leaks, and we have to decide if we want to try to have those repaired, even if insurance won’t cover them. That’s about $1,000 more.

We also had an environmental inspector from Stanley Steemer out, and a furnace guy out, to get more reports for the insurance claim. We had to pay about $750 out of pocket yesterday, and it’s not clear if we’ll be able to get any of that back from our insurer.

It’s becoming difficult to manage with our house-guest’s schedule. We’re no longer eating dinners together, which puts us back where we started trying to manage two completely separate sets of meals. This is not workable in the long term and I’m struggling a bit to try to figure out how we can make our home work more like a cooperative under these scheduling constraints.


It’s been a difficult week. It always takes it out of us, when Grace has to travel with the kids up to Saginaw and back. We’ve been a bit sleep-deprived. Despite this, I managed to get some important code improvements done yesterday, all centered around rationalizing memory usage.

Last night we had a dinner of assorted leftovers, and so managed to eat most of them, although we did have to throw away a few things that were going off. This is another unfortunate side effect of a chaotic week when we have missed some of our usual sit-down meals together.

I’ve been frustrated this week. I haven’t been able to free up the time that I want to spend, the way I want to spend it, for various things: to spend with the kids; to practice guitar; to work on the podcast. Instead I’ve felt a lot of stress over various things: the money situation; the home sale; our current living situation; the kids’ computer situation.

Each evening seems, when I get home, to be already blown, as most of it will be taken up by dishes. Then I hope for a reasonable sequence of events at bedtime, with everyone pitching in to help do the final cleanup and getting ready, and a story, and instead it devolves into screaming babies, kids wandering away from every task, and a situation where I’m stuck herding cats until we don’t have enough time for a story. Then we try to have one anyway, and wind up getting to sleep well past midnight—and so I’ve been overly tired all week, and getting in to work later than I should.

I’m hoping for a better weekend, and a better week.

Finding a Happy Medium

At bedtime, I read the kids the second chapter of A Wrinkle in Time. In this chapter Meg has her encounter with principal Jenkins and hears again that she should find a “happy medium” in her approach to life. At this stage of the story, the meaning of this phrase is not entirely clear. She’s being asked to compromise—but between what two extremes? It seems to mean that she is being asked to spend more time doing what other people ask, even when she can’t see the point of things like studying the exports of Nicaragua, and also to demand less from others, and perhaps to demand less from life itself. One extreme might be the “going along to get along” extreme—don’t make waves, just keep your head down and do what everyone asks of you. And the other might be a sort of aggrieved entitlement, always saying “it’s not fair.”

Of course one must, especially in childhood and adolescence, accept the guidance and teaching of others. And to have the skills needed to navigate life yourself later, you need to sit through skills-building work which might seem pointless at the time. Learning to pass the “marshmallow tests” in life really is important. I found high school almost unbearably tedious, and even parts of my college education were a real slog. But much of what I was learning was, in retrospect, really just the endurance and patience to chip away at a long-term goal, even when the individual steps towards it were not always gratifying.

In later chapters she will actually find the “Happy Medium” in person. I am looking forward to re-reading that part and trying to understand what L’Engle is getting at with this literal manifestation of a cliché.

This raises in my mind the odd possibility that we are meant to doubt some of what Meg experiences. Are some of her later experiences created, or at least shaped, as manifestations of her real home life and school experiences? Are we to see some of the events of the story as either existing inside her head, or emerging from it? As we continue I will be looking for more examples of this. I don’t think L’Engle meant for us to believe that Meg’s experience took place in her own mind—after all, there are other people with her, and she rescues her father. But aspects of it seem to emerge from her life experience, either as manifestations of her inner world or as events somehow stage-manged for her edification.

This idea is present, in a way, in the movie: inside “The It,” Meg is forced to confront another version of herself—a version with straightened hair and tighter clothes, who lacks glasses, and has a blatantly insouciant sexuality about her. This version seems made up from her dark thoughts about what it would take to conform, and be popular. Meg banishes this vision because she has started to believe that she is not broken, and not a thing that needs to be re-shaped to fit anyone else’s expectations. But yet she does find her “happy medium” and does start to live up to the expectations and demands of others.

We also learn that Mrs. Who is using the stolen bedsheets to create “ghosts” for Mrs. Which (witch), props to scare anyone who might visit the “haunted house,” inhabited by the “witches.” There’s even a bubbling cauldron in the house, filled with something that smells like a chemistry experiment rather than food. I’m not sure we ever learn what the “witches” are cooking up. I do think it’s a bit of a loss that the producers of the film didn’t do anything to explore the crone stereotype, and subvert it, as L’Engle did. Instead, as I’ve pointed out in my review, we are shown a world in which women aren’t allowed to be old, as if this was somehow more empowering for them.

The Hobbit Revisited

I’ve been watching YouTube videos by Lindsay Ellis, particularly her three-part series on the recent trilogy of films based on The Hobbit. The three parts are:

Ellis says in the first segment “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring is so good it makes me angry,” and I’m pretty much with her—I had quibbles here and there, but that film still holds up very well. Parts of that trilogy are still mind-blowing.

The Hobbit—well, not so much. Watch these videos to find out what went wrong, and more importantly, how and why. They’re a real education in the craft and business of filmmaking.

And… The Last Jedi

I liked The Last Jedi a lot, but I understand why a lot of Star Wars fans didn’t. So it was interesting to read this essay from Cinemablend, “I Was Wrong About Star Wars: The Last Jedi” by Sean O’Connell. He writes about seeing Rian Johnson’s vision more clearly on a second viewing.

It’s not a long essay, but I found it gratifying to read, because some of the Star Wars fans I know didn’t like The Last Jedi. They really didn’t like it.

I have not yet written a full review, but I did write a few notes, in this blog post. After watching it again on Blu-Ray, I don’t really feel the need to add anything.


I’m not in a great mood.

Last night after work I made a Costco run and got food for the week, and we had a version of our usual Friday night dinner, salmon, salad, and some adorable little lemon meringue mini-pies. They were adorable, but the flavor was nothing to write home about. I love lemon meringue, but just about everyone makes it too sweet for my taste.

Things have become difficult with the number of kids running around and with Grace and I struggling to give some attention to other projects, including the house sale, dealing with insurance, etc. Fortunately our buyer seems to be pretty dedicated to actually closing the sale.

“The First Duty”

We managed to watch a couple of episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation after dinner, with the subtitles on so we could follow the story even when the kids got noisy. We watched “The First Duty” and “Cause and Effect.”

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen “The First Duty” before. In this episode, Wesley Crusher is a cadet in Star Fleet and his squad of trainee pilots has a fatal accident. It’s one of the better episodes. Grace and I were debating what we think of Wil Wheaton’s acting in this episode: I said that I appreciated him under-playing the emotions, as it seemed to fit well with a character who was struggling to juggle conflicting loyalties. But on the down side, he doesn’t give much impression of being tormented by the situation; I think the viewer mostly has to imagine that he is. Ray Walston as Boothby is great. Robert Duncan MacNeill as Cadet Nicholas Locarno is good. I was a bit startled to realize that I was familiar with MacNeill as Tom Paris in Star Trek: Voyager.

The weaknesses of this episode stem mostly from the fact that we don’t really get to know any of the younger characters. Locano is not portrayed sympathetically and we don’t really get to see his character change; we only hear about, but don’t see, the consequences of his action. There is an interesting screenwriting choice: we are told that Locano defends his teammates and tells the investigators that the fatal accident was his fault, and that he bullied them into the fatal stunt. But we don’t get to see this happen. It would have been a great moment to show on screen, and some of the earlier conspiratorial scenes could have been trimmed to make room for such a scene. It would have shown the moment in which Locarno grew up and took responsibility for his action.

“Cause and Effect”

This is a really fun episode. Before the opening credits, the Enterprise blows up. So then we’ve got to find out what happened and how they get out of it. It’s a time-loop story. Grace is convinced that the recent Doctor Who episode called “Heaven Sent” must have been inspired by this story. We see the same actions occur over and over again, but watching closely, the viewer realizes the footage is not identical. The scenes were shot multiple times, with different readings and camera cuts. Even the explosion effects vary as the events repeat themselves. And there are a number of little jokes: for example, Beverly Crusher keeps knocking over and breaking her wineglass. In the last repeat we think “Hey! She didn’t break the glass!” because she’s not even in the scene; she’s on the intercom to Engineering. But then we hear the sound of breaking glass through the communication link.

This would go in my list of the top ten episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. We even get a very quick cameo by Kelsey Grammer at the end.


I saw a post on Facebook by our friend Artur; he was talking about this edition of Moby-Dick, the Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition, the one with deckle-edged paper and a cool illustration on the wraps. It reminded me that I had been meaning to fix up a little recording I made a couple of years back. I had been reading Moby-Dick to the kids at bedtime, and trying to make it entertaining for them by voicing the characters. They were having a great time, so I made a recording of chapters 28-31, which are some of the strangest and funniest. There was a place where I missed an edit, and a line was repeated.

I fixed that, but then got bogged down in the details of trying to get a good-sounding audio clip: replacing the instance of Izotope Alloy I used in the original project with an instance of Renaissance Vox, getting the pre-gain right, getting an instance of Izotope Ozone to give me the compression I wanted, etc. I couldn’t figure out why the file was compressed but not full-volume. I finally realized the master volume slider was down, something I never usually touch. Then I couldn’t figure out why Logic would not bounce a mono file. And then I converted it to a mono MP3 file, but Safari would not play the MP3! And neither would QuickTime player! I’d get nothing but silence.

So that led me on a quest to try different MP3 encoder settings. Nothing seemed to work. I tried playing it with VLC media player. That program crashed, so I thought something must really be wrong with that MP3. Finally I realized that iTunes would play the file. I downloaded Chrome, and Chrome would play the file. I downloaded Firefox, and Firefox would play the file. There was nothing wrong with the file. The Safari web browser has bugs. QuickTime player has bugs. Apparently a mono MP3 file confuses both of them. At least this one does.

I don’t think anyone at Apple has any interest in fixing these bugs.

The MP3 file in question is here.


I’m trying to figure out how to get the Kano to use the proxy server like our other computers. I just sent Kano a request for support:


I am trying to configure Kano system to work with a home proxy server. I use this for whitelist-based web filtering.

Initially I could not get the WiFi configuration to use the proxy server, because enabling it apparently makes a request to for verification. One of the whole points of using the whitelist is to keep my kids away from Google tracking them, but I enabled temporarily and was able to turn on the proxy server.

However, it doesn’t seem to work. The Chromium browser does not honor the system proxy settings (and it won’t let me specify a proxy server independent of the system settings). There’s an error message that suggests I provide a proxy server on the command line. I would attempt to edit the launcher for Chromium, but it uses a command wrapper of some kind and I’m not sure how to change it to specify a proxy server.

I’m looking for a way to prevent my kids from unfiltered internet access on their Kano the same way it works on our other computers in the house.


We’ll see if they come back with any sort of useful reply. I don’t like the simplified GUI for the proxy server. It has some bad user interface design. For one thing, when you try to turn it on, it tries to hit several web sites. The whole point of a proxy server is potentially to block web sites. So the way it generates errors when my proxy server is working the way I want is obnoxious and confusing.

I am also concerned, although I did not mention this my message, because I also saw the Kano making web requests to Facebook URLs (which the proxy server refused). I was not attempting to load Facebook. We have never signed in to Facebook from the Kano. The security and privace implications are honestly more than I feel like I can cope with at the moment. I’m not sure whether this is just something that happens normally where certain Kano pages run scripts that access Facebook URLs, or what. I know that Facebook likes to track you from site to site, but I guess I had higher hopes for the Kano ecosystem. I’ll have to look into it as a have time.

We’re going to be hard-pressed to record and produce a podcast this weekend.

I’m going to see if I can get one of the Chromebooks up and running with Linux. Maybe if there was another machine they could use, they would stop fighting over the Kano.

I’m pleased to see they haven’t broken it yet. It’s honestly better than the worst-case scenario I was planning for.

I haven’t timed it, but it seems like the Kano’s battery life is terrible. To be honest I mostly just expect to use the battery as a UPS and leave it plugged in most of the time. It’s supposed to last four hours, but I don’t think we’re getting that.

I did get a little reading time this morning and I’m almost done with Elysium Fire.

I’m feeling kind of demoralized because I totaled up the first quarter “what I’ve been reading” lists and it seems like I completed only four books in the first quarter of 2018. That’s terrible compared to 2016 and 2017. But on the other hand, I’ve been completing a weekly podcast and a daily journal for the whole year to date. I don’t manage to write every single day, but on the days I don’t manage, I try to go back and fill in what happened, a day or two later. I’ve been pretty successful. The number of words I’ve written so far this year is… large. I don’t even want to check, honestly. Maybe I’ll try it with a script.

Books, Music, Movies, and TV Mentioned This Week

(I’m not listing some books that I only mention briefly; see previous or future blog posts for more detail).

  • State of Decay (1980 Doctor Who serial)
  • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle
  • The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien
  • Elysium Fire by Alastair Reynolds
  • Lindsay Ellis’s trilogy of videos about The Hobbit movie trilogy
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 5, Episode 17, “The First Duty”
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 5, Episode 18, “Cause and Effect”

Ypsilanti, Michigan
The Week Ending Saturday, April 21st, 2018

Saturday, April 14, 2018

The Week Ending Saturday, April 14th, 2018


We had a great podcast recording session with our friend Chris Travers. You can find the show blog post here.

I finally got the audio setup working properly, but I wasted a lot of time screwing around with it. Apparently Google Hangouts, running on Safari, just won’t send audio out the FA-66 outputs when you set the FA-66 as its “speaker out.” It will send the audio through the the US-2000 outputs, or through the built-in headphone output on the computer. It will get audio in from the FA-66 inputs. Other software will send audio out the FA-66 outputs just fine. I have no explanation. So in desperation I set up a workaround, where the remote audio “mix minus” going to the Google Hangout is going out one output of the US-2000 into one input of the FA-66, but the remote audio from the Google Hangout is going from the headphone jack of the Mac Mini, into a Radial J-4 box (this box takes unbalanced stereo audio, boosts it, and changes it to +4dBu balanced outputs), with the left XLR output of the J-4 going into a mono TRS input of the US-2000 as the “from Google Hangout” audio.

This is so damned complicated… all because of the way you can’t arbitrarily select input and output channels for things like Google Groups audio. But it worked!

After sleeping on the problem, it occurs to me that I might be able to do it all with the US-2000, by using input and output 1 for the Google Hangout audio, leaving input and output 2 unused, and moving some channels around to free up inputs and outputs 1 and 2.

There was some kind of problem while recording where I was hearing an slight echo or doubling of my voice track, in the control room mix going through the headphone amplifier. This couldn’t have been caused by the input monitoring on the FA-66, since I wasn’t even using the FA-66 output 1. It was not audible on Grace’s input, and hers was set up the same as mine, just on an adjacent channel. So I have no idea what was going on. I just have to hope that after rearranging channels and rebooting everything again, it will go away.

The US-2000 has enough inputs to do what I need for the podcast, but I’m finding that the microphone inputs seem to clip really, really easily compared to the FA-66, and it’s not a soft clipping that I’m hearing. It’s a nasty digital clipping. But this is happening even though the signal level getting recorded is very low—nowhere near clipping. I have to have the preamps turned way down to avoid this. This means I have to add a lot of gain in post. How could that audio level be clipping anything?

Even if I hit them very softly, the inputs just don’t seem to sound quite as good as the FA-66 either. Even if I add a suitable amount of gain to the track before feeding it into the Renaissance Vox plug-in instances, they seem to sound slightly dull by comparison, lacking a little “air.”

One of the inputs is coming from my JDV direct box for electric guitar. The metering on the front panel of the US-2000, and in Logic, shows the level coming in as quite low. But transients seem to clip it like crazy, even when it doesn’t seem like they should be anywhere near loud enough.

I don’t have a good explanation for it, except that maybe the FA-66 and Ensemble were more tolerant, or had built-in limiting. Could this be a driver issue? Or do I have a unit with a hardware problem? (I did pick it up used). Maybe its internal power supply has capacitor rot, or something like that?

I haven’t really thought of the FA-66 as having great-sounding preamps, compared to the Ensemble, because they have more unpleasant noise when I turn the gain up high, but they do seem to sound noticeably better than the US-2000, and they seem much more forgiving. Maybe if I was using outboard preamps and compressors prior to hitting the US-2000 inputs, I could avoid clipping the inputs. But I just don’t have any budget to introduce more hardware into my little podcast studio at present. And if I had budget to start updating hardware, I’d get a better interface. (And it already takes eight devices plugged into AC power to record the podcast!)

After adding gain back in, in post-production, the resulting file doesn’t sound dramatically different, but I’ve gotten very used to how the FA-66 sounds, and so even if it’s not clipping, I’m inclined to hear any change in our recorded sound as a negative thing. Maybe I’ll get used to it.

It seems like I should be happy about the prospect of freeing up the FA-66, but unfortunately I can’t do much with it, since none of my other computers have FireWire.

Is there a version of the FA-66 with a lot more channels? (Nope.) Do I need to track down an old FireWire MOTU interface? (It seems ridiculous to buy FireWire interfaces in 2018…)

The Five Doctors

We finished watching the fan edit of The Five Doctors, the serial from 1983. This is one of the odder serials. The five doctors are Hartnell (played by Richard Hurndall, since Hartnell had died), Troughton, pertwee, Baker, and Davidson. There are puzzling “side quests” with Baker, which don’t make a lot of sense; he’s never in scenes with the other four. It turns out this is because he is “included” in the serial only because the producers used some footage from the unfinished serial Shada.

The Master is played by Anthony Ainley. It was a little weird watching Ainley’s version shortly after watching Terror of the Autons, since his face looks quite a bit different. The character doesn’t actually accomplish much in this show. And there are Cybermen, but they don’t seem to accomplish much either, other than geting blown up by the [Raston Warrior Robot](].

It’s a bit confusing. It has some nice scenes, though. The “action figure doctors” are wonderfully strange. The scenes where the different companions interact are funny, and in some cases, where they appear as visions, and then disappear, their scenes are disturbing. The climactic scene at Rassilon’s tomb is also quite creepy, and helps a lot to make up for some of the duller scenes. But overall, even in the sped-up fan edit, it’s still pretty confusing and messy.


This morning at breakfast I read a bit more of The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump, but there’s not a lot that I feel strongly about; the book continues to be mostly as I’ve described it previously. There’s an essay examining whether Trump is “crazy like a fox” or “crazy like a crazy,” that discusses delusional disorder. Essays discuss cognitive impairment and the issue of mental incapacity, the 25th Amendment, James A. Herb’s lawsuit in Florida, and a claim that electors had a duty to be faithless. So these recent chapters focused on the idea that Trump is suffering from dementia, or some other form of incapacitation—but none of this really suggests much that readers can do, other than engage in more of this kind of speculation. I’ve finished part 1, so I’ll see if part 2, titled “The Trump Dilemma,” has anything more to offer.

I’m getting home quite late Monday night. We had a series of meetings at work today and so I never really was able to get my thoughts together until everyone went home. So it’s 9:15 p.m. and I’m still at work.


It’s been a difficult night and morning. I got home quite late last night. The kids had left the trash bins facing the wrong way. We had roast chicken and green bean casserole for dinner. Then I had to dive into kitchen cleanup, and although the kids had loaded the dishwasher, no one had started it, so we were backed up on dishes. Grace told me that she had scheduled the water turn-on for this morning, so needed to get out at about 8:00 a.m. So we struggled a bit to figure out just how we were going to do that.

The plan we finally settled on was to have me come home early so we didn’t need to leave kids in charge of kids. So that’s what I’m doing. This morning I discovered that the kids had left both the front and back doors of the garage ajar. This keeps happening, and I’ve begged them not to do it, since we really don’t want opossum or other animals nesting in our boxes of clothes. I discovered that Grace’s truck was very low on gas, and she was leaving it running to warm up. So that was stressing me out. I dug out the gas can and followed her to the gas station because I thought there was a very high likelihood she wouldn’t even make it that far. (She did).

In the drive in, I noticed that my tires seemed soft. I check them periodically, but they seemed even softer than usual. So when I got to the office parking lot, I checked them. They are supposed to be 32 psi in front and 34 psi in back. They were all 25 and under, and one was barely 20. So I took the Element to Discount Tire and got them topped off. One valve stem cap was missing. This makes me wonder if the kids were playing with my tires. Which made me wonder if they might have been playing with her tires as well. So I asked Grace to stop at Discount Tire in Saginaw too.

So, I came home about 12:30 and brought my work laptop, signed on to the VPN, and did a few more hours work at the dining table while the kids watched videos in the bedroom. Grace will not be back until late.

Tuesday Evening

OK, I have figured out how to make my podcast setup slightly simpler and stop using the FA-66 altogether. I thought I might have figured out a way to stop using the extra audio output from the Mac Mini as well, but no.

I first rearranged a few inputs. The TASCAM US-2000 now has the Rode NT-5 for acoustic guitar on input 3, with phantom power turned on for the 3/4 pair. The host microphones on inputs 5 and 6, with phantom power turned on for the 5/6 pair. The Radial JDV direct box for my electric guitar is on input 7, with phantom power turned off for the 7/8 pair. This is one of those times when it would be nice if I could turn phantom power on and off on each separate input. If I could do that, I could put everything into the back panel and leave the front panel inputs 7 and 8 unused.

Now I’ve freed up inputs 1 and 2, with phantom power turned off on the input 1/2 pair. With these inputs freed up, I can use them for the “microphone” audio going into the Google Hangout, and have the Google Hangout configured to use the US-2000 right alongside Logic.

I also moved the control room outputs (that go to the headphone mixer) from outputs 1 and 2 to outputs 3 and 4. This frees up outputs 1 and 2 so that the “speaker” audio coming out of the Google Hangout can go out these outputs.

I have to use inputs 1/2 and outputs 1/2 for Google Hangouts, because as with most Mac programs that let you route audio, all you can do is choose the audio interface to use. Sometimes you can choose separate interfaces to use for input and output (fortunately you can in Google Hangouts). But most programs just default to channels 1 and 2 as a stereo pair and there’s no option to change it. You could have a 512-channel interface and you’d still only be able to use the first two outputs.

Google Hangout audio is mono, which gave me an idea. If the Google Hangout only sent audio out channel 1 (the left channel) of the stereo pair, and only listened to audio coming in on the left channel, I could do some clever looping. I could “criss-cross” channels 1 and 2:

  • Output 2, not otherwise used, could carry the “mix minus” audio.
  • I could route this around to input 1, the “microphone input” for the Google Hangout.
  • Then, for the “speaker output” I could do the opposite: I could send output 1 to the not-otherwise-used input 2, where it would get routed into the control room mix.

Then I could just configure Google Hangouts to use the US-2000.

But this doesn’t work. It almost works, but because Google Hangouts sends audio out both channels, and mixes the left and right inputs, this approach leads to a gradual build-up of feedback. It’s “gradual” because the software does a pretty good job of eliminating some of it. But if I let it run for a while, it starts to build up.

If I had even one extra mono output on the US-2000, say an output 5, to use for the “mix minus” to send to the Hangouts “microphone” input, I could make this work. I could route output 5 to input 1, leaving input 2 unconnected. Then I could route output 1, the Hangouts “speaker” output, into my input 9, where I feed it into the control room mix so Grace and I can hear what our guests are saying (and avoid routing it back out to the Hangout). But I don’t have even one more. So the interface is a little lopsided. Six outputs would be great.

What I’m doing now is to use the Mac Mini headphone out for the Google Hangouts speaker output. That goes into a Radial J+4, then I run just the left channel (because the Hangout audio is mono anyway) into input 9, the “listen to the hangout” input. Then because the Hangout isn’t using output 1, I take over output 1 for the “mix minus” and send it to input 1, the Hangout “microphone input.”

If I have a chance to pick up a better-sounding USB interface with six outputs, I can get rid of the extra routing for the Google Hangout speaker audio. That would be nice.

This would probably be easier to explain with a drawing. It may be time to bust out the ASCII art.

I haven’t exactly solved the electric guitar level problem, but I determined that even with the preamp at its lowest setting, the JDV output can clip the input, unless I engage the pad. So, probably I should be using a line input instead of a microphone input. To do that properly I want an XLR female to TRS male cable of the appropriate length, so I don’t have to connect cables to cables or use cable adapters. So maybe I’ll order a couple of those. I still have spare inputs—remember that “lopsided” input and output configuration.

Last week I talked about my ideal audio interface for this application. If I give up the idea of routing digital audio into or out of the interface and focus entirely on the analog, that could simplify things. In the current setup, I’m using 3 microphones that actually need mic preamps. My input 1 doesn’t need it, but it doesn’t seem to hurt anything when turned all the way down; it is gained up a little bit, but it doesn’t clip.

I’m presently using a total of six inputs. Input 1 (the Google Hangout “mic input”) and input 7 (the JDV input) could just as well be line inputs. So it would be nice if a couple of these inputs used combo jacks and could be used as either mic or line inputs, as the mic inputs are configured on the FA-66. So let’s add that requirement.

  • 8 XLR (mic)/TRS (line input) combo inputs.
  • Phantom power available on each input, configurable independently.
  • Let’s just skip any guitar inputs; I’ll use a direct box.
  • 6 TRS outputs.

For this application, I don’t need anything else. This would let me leave 1/2 for the required Google Hangout left/right input, but not have to skip inputs for the 5 signals currently going in (3 mics, the JDV, and the Hangout monitoring). I’d still have a spare for another host or a second mic for acoustic instruments. So who makes this? Or the closest thing to it?

To examine further, later (enough for tonight!) I found the following interfaces on Sweetwater:

  • Focusrite Scarlett 18i20
  • Focusrite Clarett 8Pre USB 18x20
  • PreSonus AudioBox 1818VSL
  • PreSonus Studio 1824
  • TASCAM US-16x08
  • TASCAM Celesonic US-20x20
  • Antelope Audio Discrete 8

Both Focusrite boxes only allow phantom power control per bank of four inputs.

The Presonus 1818VSL uses combo jacks in what looks to be a very useful way. But it has the same limitation on phantom power control.

The Presonus 1824 has one control for phantom power that affects all the microphone inputs. I really don’t like that. I might be able to work around it; currently the only actual microphones I’m using do require phantom power. For a couple of line-level inputs, I could probably get by using different cables that did not terminate in an XLR female connector. So I’d have to acquire some new cables. But if I ever wanted to use a ribbon mic alongside the others, I’d be in trouble, unless I added another Cloud Lifter or similar device. It just seems like a needless lack of flexibility.

The TASCAM US-16x08 is pretty similar to the US-2000 I have now. There are no combo jacks, but there are extra line inputs, and extra line outputs. This would do the job I can’t quite do now without using that extra output from the computer. This would probably be the simplest and least expensive “side-grade,” although I’m not sure it is any better at all, audio quality-wise, and might even be worse, than the US-2000.

The TASCAM Celesonic US-20x20 looks very usable but it’s a USB 3.0 device. And so I’m going to have to disquality it because it wouldn’t work with any of my older computers including the Mac Mini I’m now using for the podcast.

The Antelope Audio Discrete 8 looks pretty nice, but because of all the extra clocking and digital I/O on the back, the 8 line outputs are on a DB-25. I’d probably want to break them out to a racked patch bay. That would be inconvenient, but it’s not necessarily a deal breaker.


Full Circle

After dinner I watched a couple of old Doctor Who serials. I was curious about the origin story of Adric, so watched Full Circle. It’s really not that good, although there are some moments that achieve real creepiness and uncaniness. The plot in this story is quite complex. The degree of complexity is almost up there with an epic science fiction plot that covers centuries, like the Helliconia trilogy by Brian W. Aldiss. I’m not actually claiming that this show was written with the same degree of care in research and development that Aldiss put into that trilogy, but just that it has considerably more back-story and world-building than one usually sees in a Doctor Who story (or any television story of the era, honestly).

The net result is that I finished watching the show with the feeling that the story deserved to be a miniseries and it deserved a higher budget; it would benefit from a presentation that relied less on cheese horror tropes and more on dialogue. It doesn’t work all that well for Doctor Who because, for one reason, there’s not a clear villain; everyone has a back-story that makes them sympathetic to one degree or another. I’m reminded a bit of The Starlost, Harlan Ellison’s show which suffered greatly (the stuff of science fiction legend, really) in the transition from screenplay to screen.

You can read the whole plot summary here. As usual, we watched the fan edit. I’m sure that made it more watchable, but I think the editing might have obscured some of the world-building. This story is the first of a loose trilogy called the “E-Space trilogy.” The TARDIS has passed into a parallel universe. This involves some hand-waving and techno-babble. I’m honestly not really sure what the point of it is.


Then, we skipped right to the end of Tom Baker’s tenure as The Doctor, and watched Logopolis. This is quite a weird and fascinating Doctor Who story but I think I might want to watch it again before I try to fully review it. There’s a lot going on, good and bad, in this serial. This makes it, I think, quite fitting as Baker’s send-off story.

I’ve downloaded the fan edits of State of Decay (a 1980 Doctor Who serial, the second part of the “E-Space trilogy”) and Warriors Gate (a 1981 Doctor Who serial, the third part of the “E-Space trilogy”). I’ll watch those as time allows.


I didn’t wind up anything at all on Thursday, so I’ll try to recall what happened. I got home about 7:30 and we had dinner guests. Grace had made stuffed shells, and they were very good. So we wound up socializing until after 10, and then it was mostly cleaning up dishes until I collapsed into bed.


Just like on Thursday, I wasn’t able to get anything written on Friday. It was an early morning and a busy work day. I got back from my Friday evening grocery shopping about 8:30, and the kitchen was a mess, so I had to do quite a bit of clean-up just to get the groceries put away and get dinner on. Dinner was our usual Friday evening salmon from Costco, and a salad kit.

The Kano computer kit I ordered the previous Friday arrived. So after dinner, I helped the kids put it together, and now they have a Kano Raspberry Pi-based computer up and running.

It’s supposed to be possible for kids to assemble it, but I discovered that the pieces don’t really fit together as cleanly and easily as billed. In several places the instructions talk about “snapping” the parts together, but they don’t “snap.” They are just press-fit.

Without tactile feedback it’s hard to figure out just how much force to apply. In some cases you have to push on printed circuit boards covered with parts. It is not necessarily that clear to a child where one can push safely without damaging parts. Also, there are a number of micro-USB plugs that don’t fit into the sockets quite as far as you might expect; they are designed to fit into the sockets when inserted through holes in a device’s case. When there is no case, it doesn’t seem like the plug is going far enough into the socket—but that’s as far as it will go without damaging it.

So it’s actually not at all hard to put together, but I think it’s a little optimistic to claim that a child can do it easily. Maybe an older child.

The Kano kit cost $250.00 and I have warned the kids that if they fight over it, or break it, that’s it. As I write this, Benjamin is throwing a screaming tantrum, so I have asked them to shut it down and bring me the device. It’s time to take a break.

The Kano hardware is a bit of a strange compromise. The clear plastic case seems quite robust. The innards are probably made just about as well as most consumer electronics hardware, whis is to say, it’s all made in China. There are no fussy, fragile ribbon cables. All the connectors are USB, 1/8" TRS, HDMI, or USB micro. These are all nice open standards. These are fine for the internal connectors, but I do wish that the external USB micro connection for the power adapter was something bigger and less fragile.

The whole file system is on a micro SD card. It comes with a customized Linux distribution. That’s really impressive, but I’m not sure a micro SD card is really a sturdy file system for Linux. A more robust setup might invove an external SSD.

The trackpad on the included keyboard is pretty awful, and the kids were complaining about it. So I loaned them one of my wireless mice. That worked immediately with no setup required, which was very nice. The keyboard itself is scaled down, which makes it bizarrely difficult for an adult to use. But they have not complained about it.

So far I have not gotten a chance to try out this distribution. But already it seems far more responsive and child-friendly than the vintage Windows 7 laptops the kids were using.

I have not yet figured out how to get this machine to use only the proxy server for HTTP. That might take some digging. It sort of figures that as soon as I got the Windows laptops working nicely with the proxy server, the kids managed to break the second and third ones and so we returned them all to their school. (To be fair to the kids, one or two of them may have just failed because of failing hard drives or other components; but they were certainly hard on the laptops).


Elysium Fire

This morning I started reading Elysium Fire by Alastair Reynolds. This book is a sequel to The Prefect. Recent editions of The Prefect have been re-titled Aurora Rising. (Reynolds is perfect en-titled (hahaha) to do this, but I don’t see the point; I think it’s just an invitation to confusion).

The Prefect was set in the Revelation Space universe and it is basically a police procedural. I think these constraints on the storytelling actually had the effect of making it one of the tightest and most exciting of Reynolds’ novels. It’s one of my favorites, although I have to admit that it’s been a few years since I last read it, and I don’t remember the story all that clearly.

I read the first three chapters of Elysium Fire this morning and we’re diving right in to a fast-moving story. The character at the center of the story is Thalia Ng, from the previous book. Dreyfus and Aumonier are involved as well. There’s political plotting. There are ancient and powerful families. In style, it’s somewhat reminiscent of his standalone novel House of Suns. It looks like it’s gonna be a good one. In books like these Reynolds really does space opera very well. The only question, as far as I’m concerned, is whether you enjoy space opera. These stories may not be eternal classics, they may not be that deep or important, but they are damned entertaining, and ought to be ranked up there with the best mystery novels or detective novels.

It’s the Weekend and I’m Weakened

I wanted to be up cooking by 9:00 a.m., but just had too bad a night’s sleep. So I had to sleep a bit later. Then I took a bath and read those three chapters. Then, kitchen cleanup, and cooking. I made corned beef hash on the griddle. Grace helped clean up and prep eggs, and so we made a couple of frittatas (she doesn’t attempt omelettes anymore) with the leftover salmon. We put some English muffins slathered with pesto butter under the broiler and made a pot of coffee and a pot of tea.

I was just looking at my Facebook feed on this laptop, and it suddenly shut down. The battery isn’t dead. I powered it back on and it started up normally. There were no error messages after booting up, or the usual “Windows has shut down unexpectedly,” and no offer to report the problem to Microsoft.

I just paid off the computer on my credit card. I hope this isn’t a sign that it’s going to be unreliable. And I hope this isn’t just Windows 10’s approach to forcing me to install updates (which, as I’ve discussed before, are broken anyway!)

I accidentally left my reading glasses at work this weekend. So I’m squinting.

Tomorrow is looking like an extremely busy day, so if possible Grace and I will record and product the podcast tonight. I’m afraid that means it will not represent our best work. But sometimes we get lucky and a show that we weren’t able to plan very well turns out to be pretty good anyway.

There’s news about the old house. It’s complicated, but the upshot seems to be that it still might be possible to complete a sale in the next month or so, but I will need to borrow even more money ($25,000). I think that’s about my limit. If we can’t make it work by losing half the purchase price, it’s time to just hand over the kees to the bank and let them sue me, smash my credit rating, or whatever it is that they want to do; whatever it takes to get us out from under paying the mortgage, heat, water, and being on the hook for all repair expenses.

One aspect of our whole Saginaw adventure I’ve talked about before is just how hard it is to find reliable people to do any kind of work on the house. Not just contractors, but anyone. We paid a family friend to replace the door in the basement. He cashed our checks and never did the work. Grace is still trying to get him to follow through. This is just one example of many.

I’m going to wind this up and start trying to piece together the outline of a podcast. And then very soon we will need to start working on dinner.

Books, Music, Movies, and TV Mentioned This Week

(I’m not listing some books that I only mention briefly; see previous or future blog posts for more detail).

  • The Prefect (now re-titled as Aurora Rising) by Alastair Reynolds
  • Elysium Fire by Alastair Reynolds
  • The Five Doctors (1983 Doctor Who serial)
  • Full Circle (1980 Doctor Who serial; first part of the “E-Space trilogy”)
  • Logopolis (1981 Doctor Who serial)

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