Saturday, June 30, 2018

The Week Ending Saturday, June 30th, 2018



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

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

Blade Runner, the Soundtrack

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

The News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Laundry in progress, so I have some clean underwear.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Labview, Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Divine Invasions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Books, Music, Movies, and TV Mentioned This Week

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

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

Sunday, June 24, 2018

The Week Ending Saturday, June 23rd, 2018


It got hot—really hot. While Saturday was as perfect a summer day as I could ever ask for, Sunday it crept up into the nineties and with the humidity, the heat index was hazardous.

One of my college friends posted to her Facebook wall pictures and video clips of her home in Houghton, Michigan (or thereabouts). Apparently a stream near her home overflowed during recent flash floods and decided to make her home part of its new route. Her house looks like it is probably a total loss. I’m trying to imagine being her.

After breakfast (pancakes, croissants, and bacon), I got a little time to select bits of Family Values to read and discuss on the podcast. We had our friend Chris call in via Google Hangouts again. I thought the conversation went quite well. None of us have Cooper’s detailed knowledge of political science and recent political history, which can make these scholarly books a little challenging. But then again, that’s why we’re reading it.

Without working air conditioning in the truck, we had to make the call that it was not safe to drive everyone to Mass on Sunday afternoon. So instead I stayed downstairs and finished up the podcast production. We really have to get our act together and figure out how to work Mass into our schedule. Part of the problem is that we don’t live near any particular Catholic church; they are all quite a long drive away. And having been to several, we haven’t really identified one where we felt that we fit. Going only out of official obligation has not been very motivating. We have to solve this problem, though, and find a Mass we are able and willing to attend.

We wound up eating pretty late again, and getting to bed late, and so had no bedtime story.


I’m writing on Tuesday morning, as again I’m a day late and a dollar short. Yesterday was challenging. Our new intern at work started. It’s nice to have something to change up the routine a bit. He will be mostly working under my supervision. I am handing him off now and then to other folks. We want him to learn a number of different practical tasks at the office, including basic soldering, basic fiber spooling, inventory, packing and shipping things. And he’s shadowing me on LabVIEW programming. We’re getting him set up with a seat for LabVIEW and a seat for the Keil MDK-ARM IDE.

As far as actual tasks to complete, I want him to spend part of his time running tests of a new firmware build on our flagship product line. It needs to be thoroughly regression-tested. I have some test cases written already. I think that will be the main thing he can contribute, as far as actually helping us get some valuable work done, but we want him to have a chance to pick up as much extra knowledge and as many skills as possible. He’s only here for under two months, though, so the actual challenge is to stay focused on what is achievable, so he finishes up his summer feeling like he’s really gotten some things done.

Last night was very difficult. I wound up sequestering myself in the basement for a couple of hours waiting for Grace to return from Saginaw after spending some very frustrating time trying to herd the kids into getting ready for dinner. I spoke into my recorder this morning on the way to work about it but I’m not going to write it all up here, at least not now. I’m still processing things. The gist of it is that Grace and I are horrified beyond belief at how badly the kids take advantage of these times when she is away or distracted, ignore all the rules, ignore all their chores, and lie to us. It’s really been a problem.

Grace met a potential buyer for our house in Saginaw and showed him around. As she walked around the front of the property she was horrified to discover that someone had badly vandalized the elegant stone wall that is part of the iconic appearance of the house. So we have another problem to deal with. We’re just not keeping up with them and it is a reminder that we just can’t keep the property up from Ypsilanti; we must get out from under this responsibility one way or the other, and soon.


This morning I managed to get up and out, up about 7:00 and out the door about 8:05. I had breakfast at the Harvest Moon Cafe. Coffee black with one sugar, and a breakfast BLT sandwich. The coffee was a little much for me and I am jittery today, both physically tired and unpleasantly wired. It would be better if I had a bulletproof tea at home. I started marking up my copy of The Benedict Option with sticky notes. I need more time to work on this. I made it to work around 9:15. I’m hoping for a better night’s sleep tonight. It is supposed to get cooler tonight and I am looking forward to that.

Most of my work day was spent helping our intern get software installed. Even just installing the Git tools that I use was surprisingly hard. The new Github instalation for Windows did not install “posh-git,” the Git on the command line that uses Windows PowerShell. I had to uninstall that and go back and find an older version of the Git desktop application for Windows.

The Git tools I use are the posh-git command line, and TortoiseGit. The sequence that finally seemed to get everything working, after much trial and error and a lot of Googling, was to install the GitHub desktop application for Windows using this old installer. (I finally found this by reading this thread). Then, I had our intern sign in to his Github account using the desktop app. After that, I was able to get the shortcuts for the Git Shell working using the trick mentioned in this Stack Overflow answer. After that, the Git Shell would come up. It gave me a warning about an old version of PowerShell. I was able to find a PowerShell 5.1 installer on Microsoft’s site by following links provided in the warnings, so we updated PowerShell. After doing that (and probably rebooting again, I don’t really remember), that warning went away. There is another warning now; I tried to follow the instructions in that warning, but they referred to a file that doesn’t seem to exist on the PC where we installed the tools, so I’m just ignoring that for now.

After that, I wanted to get TortoiseGit installed, but the installer could not find the Git binary. So I wound up running a Git installer for Windows from here. I just chose all the default options. Then, finally, I was able to run the TortoiseGit installer, and everything just worked: our intern could access Github using his account, from both posh-git and from Tortoise. We aren’t using Git Bash, Git GUI, or Git CMD, which the installer set up for us under “Git” in the Windows program menu. Instead we’re only using Git Shell, which is under “GitHub, Inc.”

It looks like there is a way to clean this up after installing, though. I was able to configure TortoiseGit after installation to refer to the Git and SSH executables under my username, in a subdirectory of AppData\Local\GitHub\. Then I could uninstall the separate set of tools under “Git,” and everything still seems to work fine. This has the advantage of using only one version of the Git executable on my repository. That just seems a little safer and saner to me, although stuffing executables in AppData and configuring TortoiseGit to reference them still seems a little bizarre and not very clean and simple.

It’s nice that these tools for the most part do their best to make stuff just work, but it could still be better. Why is posh-git broken in the first place? Why doesn’t TortoiseGit know how to find your installed Git if you are using the GitHub tools for Windows? It seems like the developers of the GitHub toolset and the Git toolset should git it together (haha). Maybe the GitHub installer shouldn’t actually install a Git executable but require you to use a standard one with the Git installer. But I’m sure I don’t know all the issues involved.

There’s probably a fix to that warning message on our intern’s computer and I’ll probably figure it out eventually. But what a time drain this has turned into.

I wrote up a detailed description and tried to e-mail it with Outlook, and Outlook stopped responding. It didn’t even save a draft. So the whole thing is gone, apparently. I also had a blue screen earlier today, while my computer was just sitting on my desk. This is getting old.

We received another check from Liberty Mutual, and I ran out to Meijer to deposit it, and pick up some more lunch food for my office.

After I set up Grace’s laptop with Thunderbird, she’s able to reliably get her e-mail. But Webmail is still incredibly unreliable, inaccessible for hours every day. I have to decide if we’re going to do something about that. The idea of moving our hosting just seems incredibly daunting. It’s like changing banks where you have all your accounts, but worse.


Last night went reasonably well. Everything still took far too long, but I got some kitchen cleanup done and the kids were reasonably helpful. We had a pretty odd dinner, one of those summer meals when no one is all that hungry but we need to eat anyway, and we have a collection of foods that don’t necessarily go together, but represent whatever looked good at the farmer’s market that day. So we had a dish of small oven-roasted purple sweet potatoes, really quite tasty and very deep purple-colored. We had a dish of young turnips cubed and pan-fried with bacon and their greens with some kale added. And we had a side of garlic scape pesto, made from garlic scapes, pine nuts, many cloves of garlic, and olive oil, blended in the Vitamix we are borrowing from a friend. The kids suprised me by all eating the turnip dish. Well, all except for Pippin, who didn’t eat anything. We decided to avoid a screaming meltdown and let him fast.

This is the time of year when I tend to get a little sleep-deprived due to the long days. Physically I tend to feel pretty good, because I am eating a lot of salads and other produce, and getting a little sun and exercise. And my mood tends to be pretty good. But it is very hard to get enough sleep when the kids aren’t tired until midnight, we’re sleeping with a wakeful baby, and a toddler with a bit of a bladder management problem, and it starts to get light enough to wake me up before 6:00 a.m.

THe kids were organized enough in their chores last night to be ready for bed in time for a story. I read the last few chapters of The Wonderful O by James Thurber. It’s a really fun book, full of rhymes and verbal pyrotechnics. Thurber makes all that seem effortless. The younger kids don’t really click with it but the older ones enjoy it.


It’s the longest day. I’m tired. With the sun up so early and staying up so late, the kids have a really hard time settling down, and I’m just a bit sleep-deprived. After work last night I went to Costco for a few things, like olive oil and fruit, and then to the Bombay Grocers for cilantro, ginger, papadums, pickles, and some frozen desserts. We have invited our neighbor for Indian food tonight. Grace and I had a plan to do a lot of the prep work last night, but that did not really work out all that well, and so we did not get much prep done, except for the shopping and planning. We did get the kitchen pretty well ready to cook, and Grace ground up a spice mix.

We are making two dishes, both from Julie Sahni’s Classic Indian Cooking. One is eggs in tomato sauce, which we’ve made a couple of times before. It’s always been delicious and isn’t too time-consuming. The other is a braised chicken in a creamy sauce with yogurt and spices, which we’ve also made before, although not for a long time. We’re going to try using coconut cream instead of yogurt, or if she can Grace will get some cultured coconut-milk yogurt. Grace is trying to avoid dairy. Most of us could benefit from less dairy. It is really bothering Grace recently. Strangely, using Flonase daily means that I seem to be able to have dairy without any allergy symptoms.

Last night my latest book order arrived from an eBay seller. It’s a five-volume boxed set, released by the Folio Society in 1998, of George Orwell’s non-fiction writing, called “Reportage.” This set is what you might call “shopworn,” with a little bit of “foxing” (aging) to the book covers, but they are in excellent condition and the price was right. They feel and smell new-ish even though they are twenty years old. They books are very nice. This edition has a number of photographs in each book, which was an unexpected bonus that really helps me get my head into Orwell’s time and place.

Unfortunately the bookseller didn’t put this boxed set in a larger box with bubble-wrap or peanuts or even newspaper to cushion it. The seller wrapped it up in several layers of paper and plastic and a couple extra custom-cut pieces of cardboard, basically folding a custom outer shipping box out of cardboard, a tight cardboard skin around the boxed set. I grimaced when I saw the package, because I knew that this kind of packaging probably meant the slipcase was damaged. And it was. The back and side seams are split.

It happens; these slipcases get brittle with age, and they are just made of cardboard wrapped in paper. And it doesn’t look bad, and the books are in fine shape, so I have no real reason to complain, other than the fact that with better packaging, the whole thing would probably have arrived with the slipcase intact.

So it probably wasn’t the best parenting choice, but for last night’s story I read the kids the first few chapters of Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London. I could have picked up where we left off in Fellowship of the Ring, but I was excited to read some Orwell.

I first read this book, I believe, in the summer of 1987, while I was “down and out” myself, in Wooster, Ohio; I spent the summer living with my friend John, in a very hot attic apartment, working the night shift as a custodian, reading about Zen Buddhism, writing letters, and trying to live as a vegetarian. After my roommate John left partway through the summer to go spend some time with his family, I had to pay the full rent myself. I think the job ended, too, although it is hard to remember the details after over 30 years. I found myself very broke, living on my scant stocks of split peas and rolled oats and pretty much nothing else. By the end of the summer I was down to about 120 pounds, having lost 25 pounds or so, and my ribs were sticking out uncomfortably. But at the same time, I remember being in a great mood. There’s a sort of high one can get from fasting, or at least I could back then. And I had, even then, a sort of low-grade body dysmorphic disorder; I thought I was fat, and losing weight seemed like a win, although I certainly wasn’t actually doing my body and brain any favors.

I could have broken down and asked my mom for some money, and I’m sure she would have helped me out, but at the time it was a point of pride to not ask for help. And it seems Orwell’s story was similar, in that he could have left; he was, as this article suggests, “free to return to England and middle-class whenever he wanted.” I’m not blind to the fact that there is something false and self-serving about both our “exploits.”

Anyway, I loved Orwell’s depiction of his life back then, and thought the kids would love it, too. And they do. I censored one passage, and if you are familiar with the book you probably know which passage it was: Charlie’s story, in chapter 2. But I wanted them to get a feel for the style, including the gutter French. Grace and I tried to translate the French phrases, with only partial success. I translated “Rue du Coq d’Or” as “Golden Chicken Street.” It should probably be “Golden Rooster Street,” but my version just seemed funnier to me. The book is definitely meant to be darkly funny, at least in parts. I was looking for a complete glossary of the French phrases online, but haven’t found one yet. It is probably for the best that we didn’t correctly translate the phrase, uttered by one character, that means (I think) “How can I love just one soldier, when I love the whole regiment?”

This collection of Orwell’s writing is far from complete, but it’s a start. And I always really love the chance to hold and read nicely-made books.

At work I was trying to run my latest code on our intern’s computer, and found that things were just not working for some reason. Digging in with the debugger, I found that in recent revisions I made two very simple, stupid errors. Fortunately they were quick to find and fix, but there’s nothing like making dumb mistakes in front of an 18-year-old intern to remind me of the importance of humility.

I got a nice-looking silk and cotton shirt, sized L, at Costco a couple of weeks ago, and I thought it fit pretty well, but after one wash it was unfortunately too tight across my somewhat expanded torso. So yesterday I tried a similar shirt, sized XL. That one looks like a circus tent. So I’ve got that going for me today. I’m hoping it will shrink to the size the the L shirt was, originally. I don’t really expect that I’ll be able to lose any weight until the stress of dealing with the old house is gone from my life.


Our Indian dinner with guest went fairly well, although it is always on the point of total chaos. Elanor really enjoyed her basmati rice with saffron, which she demonstrated by throwing it everywhere. If we forgot to keep a pile of rice in front of her baby seat, she would demonstrate her discontent by climbing onto the table and shoving her hands in the serving platter. Fortunately our guest has raised several children himself and so seemed unfazed by all this.

He brought a couple bottles of wine. One of them was a Chenin Blanc which we thought was really delicious. Sweet, but not dessert-wine sweet, with nice flavors of crisp green apples with a little bit of grassiness and mineral flavors. Grace and I finished up the bottle while we were doing the dishes and agreed that this was quite a delicious white wine. Even as it came up towards room temperature, it did not become acidic or off-putting the way that some white wines do.

We tried to offer him some conversation. With six kids at the table, there were plenty of interruptions, but he was a gracious guest and took all that in stride. He plays piano, and showed Joshua a few things on our piano. He was impressed with how quickly Josh picks up melodies (and so are we; I can play things by ear, but it took me years to get decent at it, and even today I’m not very quick).

Our guest had met Anthony Bourdain, and we took a moment to mourn his loss. I mentioned that I am reading the kids Down and Out in Paris and London, or Dee-Oh-Pee-Low, as Veronica has taken to calling it, and how the book mentions the famous Les Halles food market. The original Les Halles was the inspiration for the name of the restaurant, Les Halles, that Bourdain wrote about in Kitchen Confidential (although that Park Avenue location of Les Halles has closed). Anyway, I bought it up to mention that DOPL seemed like a sort of early prototype of Kitchen Confidential.

I asked the kids if they wanted to hear more of The Fellowship of the Ring or more of DOPL. They unanimously voted for DOPL. (Take that, Tolkien!) So we read three more chapters at bedtime. The narrator (Eric Arthur Blair, whose pen name was George Orwell), sunk in destitution, has pawned his clothes and is living on next to nothing. He recalls his Russian friend, Boris, who once told him to look him up if he ever needed a job in the restaurant industry. He does so, but finds that Boris has seen better days. But their camaraderie helps get them through days of miserable hunger while they scour Paris looking for work. Boris is an incredibly vivid character, and I loved making up a voice for him. I modeled it a bit after Gru, the villain/hero of the Despicable Me movies, voiced by Steve Carell. Boris is funny, and his optimism is infectious, but he does have an unfortunate tendency to go on anti-Semitic rants. So we’ll need to unpack that for the kids and talk about anti-Semitism and its long history.

Before long, the narrator of DOPL will have a job, as plongeur, and we’ll have lots more to talk about. I’ve reminded the kids that the mouse in the Pixar movie Ratatouille refers to the young Anfredo Linguini, as a “plongeur (and sometimes the staff refers to him as a”garbage boy.“) The word literally means”diver," not “plunger” (the suction cup device to clear drains), and it refers to someone who “dives in” to wash dishes and handle other low-status tasks, such as managing the garbage, in a restaurant kitchen.


Friday afternoon was strange. I got a text message asking if I had made a charge at Bloomingdale’s in Mason, Ohio for $385. Apparently someone stole Grace’s debit card and racked up some charges including over five hundred dollars at a Nike Store. This is the third or fourth time we’ve had one of our card numbers stolen since moving back to Washtenaw County. Last time the bank immediately refunded the charges. This time apparently because they are debits and not credit card charges, or something, they will not reimburse us until they do their investigation. So suddenly our checking account was down over nine hundred dollars, due to nothing we did. Our balance was negative. Fortunately I have some money in a savings account that I could just transfer in. But now our savings are depleted and that is part of our emergency funds.

So I hope they figure it out and credit us soon. So, I was distracted at work for a bit because I had to make some phone calls and had a conversation with Grace about all this. I was working on LabVIEW code and also trying to tutor our intern. After he left I was making progress so I was hesitant to leave. I got some recalcitrant code working. I couldn’t finish everything I was working on, but made considerable progress and got to the point where I had a reasonable plan for doing more on Monday, so I left. It was too late to go to Costco, so I went to Trader Joe’s and got some frozen cod. We had the fish, some potatoes from the Instant Pot which Veronica under-cooked because they were extremely large potatoes, and some cookies including my favorite cookies from Trader Joe’s, the vanilla meringue cookies. We don’t go to Trader Joe’s much in part because Stadium was under construction for so long, I got out of the habit of ever driving that way. But maybe we should get stuff there more often, besides just cheap wine for holidays.

This morning I got up pretty early because it was too light to sleep any longer, and also because our baby girl seemed to be doing her best to kick me out of bed. I soaked in the tub for a while and read more of Divine Invasions: A Life of Philip K. Dick by Lawrence Sutin. This is my first time through this biography, although I’ve read some others. This one seems to be the most detailed. The Philip K. Dick that Sutin describes is quite a troubled guy. He seems to have many social anxieties and phobias and somehow this makes him more relateable. It is painful to read about his relationship troubles and marriages. It seems to me that he married too early, didn’t choose ideal partners, and didn’t know how to be a good partner. I think that was probably pretty common at the time; he seems to have married people the way I dated people in my twenties.

I had a few things on my agenda for today. One of them was to deep-clean one of our cast iron dutch ovens. That doesn’t sound like it could possibly take up a lot of the day, but it did. And I’m still not sure it’s really done. I’ll get a good look at it when I take it out of the oven in the morning. This particular dutch oven had layers of baked-on oil that needed to come off. This involved a steel spatula, steel wool, and several abrasive pads. It’s really hard to actually damage cast iron: the surface itself is extremely hard. If you do manage to take it down to the bare metal, it will rust immediately, but the coating of rust is superficial and will come off easily. Then you can apply a very thin coat of oil and put it in a hot oven for a couple of hours to form a new seasoning layer. When it works out right, it’s great. If it doesn’t work out right, you have kind of a mess, with flakes of burnt oil coming off in your food.

I made bacon and pancakes that were kind of indiferently received this morning. Grace and I got out of the house together to run errands. We went to Meijer and returned cans and bottles and bought a few necessities, then went to Costco. I don’t like going to Costco on Saturday afternoon, but there we were. It was very crowded. On the drive back we got a phone call from our houseguest. The kids had apparently overflowed the toilet in the downstairs bathroom. She made it sound like there was a major flood, so we were kind of terrified what we were going to find.

Fortunately it did not seem to be a major flood. The kids had put down a whole bunch of towels, and that caught most of it, although water did go through the floor into the basement. The basement ceiling was still standing open after the washing machine catastrophe early last year. We tried to figure out just where the water came through. It might have been from bad caulking around the base of the toilet. The tiles of the bathroom floor do not run all the way to the edge of the wall under the heater. Some water may have soaked into the subfloor under there. There were a couple of small damp spots in the basement wall that looked like they might be from water going down through the wall. We got fans running downstairs and upstairs and mopped the floor. I turned the dehumidifier in the basement all the way up, and we set the air conditioning in the main house down. Now we are wondering if we need someone out to see if there is anything else we need to do, or if it is sufficient just to dry it out this way. I’ll look at everything again tomorrow.

It always seems like we get punished for doing just these basic things. We were only gone for two and a half hours!

The guy we had scheduled to be on our podcast this weekend hasn’t been answering messages, so it looks like he won’t be on this week’s show. So Grace and I are scrambling to come up with a backup plan.

For dinner we had Korean barbecue from Costco, and a pot of rice with the last of our saffron. The kids also got a cheese pizza. We thought our housguest and her kids would be joining us for dinner, but she left for the evening, so it was up to us.

This evening did have a nice little break. Grace and I sat outside on the back deck for a while after dinner and enjoyed the way the day was cooling down. I got a little bit of time to myself in the basement. I did some work on a houseplant, an enormous sprawling hoya carnosa that I’ve had since the early 1990s. It’s sending out winding runners everywhere, so I cut it back, polished up some leaves, and top-dressed it with some new potting mixture. I also planted some of the cuttings to see if they will root. I used to have a lot of ambition with house plants and had many plants. In recent years the only ones I’ve kept are the hoya, and a small and not-very-healthy-looking wandering jew plant owned by my mother, although I’ve been pruning and propagating that one to try to get it looking better.

So, finally, I found it satisfying to do some things with my hands today: working on the cast iron pots until my fingers were raw, and then working on some plants. I need to do more of this kind of thing. And spend more time on the back deck. Our home is in too nice a wooded spot not to spend at least a little time outside at every opportunity.

I’m not writing this until late, past midnight. I’m sure I would have had more to write in the moments of frustration. It’s probably better that I’ve had some time to let the frustrations recede a little, and gain at least a few hours’ worth of perspective.

Next week’s post, week 26, will mark the halfway point of 2018!

Books, Music, Movies, and TV Mentioned This Week

  • The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien
  • Family Values: Between Neoliberalism and the New Social Conservatism by Melinda Cooper
  • The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher (completed)
  • The Wonderful O by James Thurber (completed)
  • What Happened to Bernie Sanders by Jared H. Beck, Esq.
  • Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell
  • Divine Invasions: A Life of Philip K. Dick by Lawrence Sutin

Ypsilanti, Michigan
The Week Ending Saturday, June 23rd, 2018

Saturday, June 16, 2018

The Week Ending Saturday, June 16th, 2018


I found a cheap copy of the Babylon 5 pilot movie on eBay and ordered it, and I’m bidding on an old Logitech Harmony 300 remote, because we need another one (our houseguest had need of ours, after losing the remote for her new TV). Fortunately these old things are much cheaper than they were when they were new. I’ve kept an eye out for universal remotes at a few stores like Target, but the ones they have are very old, and not programmable; basically, the codes they come with, in a book, are all the codes they know how to generate. So I was hesitant to get them, because I think they are from a land before Blu-ray players and smart TVs. I’m not sure why Target doesn’t carry anything recent, but there it is.

Grace and I are canceling the podcast today and we are skipping Mass, because we really, really have to spend some time trying to sort out and organize all the insurance-related paperwork. The stress of managing all this is, in addition to trying to manage the family, is making Grace physically ill during the week. And I’ve had reflux for months, largely improved now, but I don’t think it will truly go away until we’re done with the Saginaw house.

The kids have been awful, just awful, today: fistfights, screaming matches, arguments, threats. I think they can tell when Grace and I are about at our breaking point. They choose that moment to be on their worst behavior. I would like to believe it isn’t a deliberate effort to harm us further, but it sure feels like it sometimes.


Grace and I canceled all our plans yesterday and we’re glad we did. Grace spent much of the afternoon running errands, while I started organizing documents, looking at bank and credit card statements and the Liberty Mutal web site, taking screen shots and saving web pages as PDF files. When she got back, I had a start on a framework for organizing all the documents we’ve gotten in electronic form from Liberty Mutual and various contractors. I also scanned some check stubs.

I’ve now got two folders containing information on each of the two settled claims. There’s an overview, taken from the web site. The overview pages contains links to attached documents that show updates about the claim, including payments made. For some reason the web site lists each document twice. And the documentation is incomplete: for some reason, we got one payment that doesn’t show up on the overview for either claim. Because we’ve worked with a number of different adjusters, and had three adjusters “ghost” us, the documents we’ve received are quite inconsistent.

I’ve also got a spreadsheet going, showing all the payments for house repairs that we’ve paid for, and all the reimbursements we’ve gotten from Liberty Mutual. The claims are listed as settled, which I think means that they think the paperwork is done and they’ve paid out everything they are going to pay out. But the work isn’t completed. We think that most, if not all of it, will be completed this week.

We’ve bundled up documents for the claims and sorted them roughly into “relevant” and “not relevant,” where “not relevant” includes things like estimates we didn’t accept. And we now have a binder with most of this stuff printed out and in sheet protectors, along with our original check stubs.

All of this is an attempt to reduce, at least a little bit, the sense of confusion and chaos which is stressing us out so much as we try to shepherd all this work to its conclusion. Call it our attempt at local entropy reversal. There’s still some more organizing to do, including collecting up paper and electronic receipts and getting them all into one place, but at least there’s some documentation now for everything we’ve spent and everything we’ve received.

When the dust settles and we have paid the last contractor, we will have spent a few thousand dollars. I don’t have an exact figure yet. Some of that we’ve managed to pay right from our checking account. Some will be sitting on a credit card.There’s a way we can apply for some additional reimbursement after the work is complete, because of the way our payments were reduced due to depreciation. I don’t claim to fully understand the how and why of that, but every little bit will help us pay it off.

My reflux continues with a new twist. Now it seems like everything I eat tastes like it is burning my mouth. Even yogurt tastes like it has had chili oil added. The conclusion of all this stress can’t come fast enough. Meanwhile I feel like maybe I should be fasting. It’s not very practical at the moment, but maybe I can at least partially fast.

We didn’t have a story last night. We had a rushed dinner—it was going to be lasagna, but instead we made a sort of “deconstructed” lasagna, basically a baked pasta with cheese on top. Veronica did step up and help us out a lot with kitchen cleanup, though, which was great.


I wound up staying at work quite late last night, and so there is no real reading or watching to report. When I got home, about 9:00, dinner was ready, but the kids would not get the table set, so we didn’t eat until after 10:00. So our tentative plans to watch a show or have a story went out the window.

After dinner, when I started to clean up, I noticed that the kitchen sink was not draining very well so I put my hand down the drain to find out if something was stuck in the garbage disposal. Something was: one of our French drinking glasses (Duralex, or Picardie, I’m not sure which). It was perfectly stuck: just the right size and shape to drop right in, but not come out again.

Grace and I both struggled for a while to get it out. Finally, replicating a similar scene from our old house a few years ago, I had to use the end of a broom to smash it. These glasses are extremely strong very hard to break that way. When it did break, it didn’t just break into a few pieces, but shattered like safety glass into small fragments. I wore a glove to pick out the larger ones, but the smaller ones are much harder to pick up. I started with the vacuum cleaner, which pulled out a number of pieces. The remaining ones had to come out mostly by feel. So my right hand is covered with small cuts. The grinder mechanism of the disposal has gaps in it, and when hard things get into the gaps, such as chips of glass, the disposal can’t turn. Then someone has to figure out how to pry the little chips out of the gaps in the bottom of the disposal.

This has happened at least three or four times since we moved into the new house: we’ve lost a baby food jar, some plastic toys, and at least one or two other drinking glasses down the disposal, not to mention some silverware, which was damaged but not destroyed. The kids don’t notice something is in there until turning it on. I’ve had to fish broken glass or plastic out of that thing over and over. I’m really sick of it.

To find the last few pieces that were preventing the disposal from turning, I had the kids go to the high cabinet in our kitchen, where we keep flashlights for taking out the trash after dark, and for emergencies. But they had apparently been playing with the flashlights, because the ones that weren’t missing had dead batteries. I have bought at least a dozen flashlights over the last few years, to have them on hand, stashed in several places around the house, specifically for power outages or other emergencies. And so you can imagine that I was seething a bit, at this point.

Fortunately one of the backup places where we also keep flashlights still had a working flashlight. Despite my best efforts I was unable to get the last few bits of glass out. So I had the kids work on it, starting with Veronica, who failed, and Sam, who failed, and ending with Joshua, who has smaller hands that allowed him to see the glass while his hand was in the opening. He succeeded. We got the disposal working again and avoided having to replace it. I really don’t want to have to spend any money on dumb home repairs at the moment.

The rule is that dirty plates and bowls can go in the sink, but glasses and silverware has to be piled on the counter. Because I am just. So. Sick. Of. This.

After washing my hand down with rubbing alcohol, I decided that I was done with washing dishes for the evening and the rest of them would have to finish cleaning up without me. Mostly, they did. I went to bed around midnight, but most everyone else was still up and around, and Grace didn’t come to bed until about 1:15, so I didn’t really sleep, which meant that it was hard to get up early, and so again I was pretty late into the office. I’m pretty tired of that, too.

There was no big news on the Saginaw house repairs. The mold remediation company, Elliot Environmental, was supposed to finish up the family room today. Grace didn’t get a call, and tried calling them a few times, but didn’t get a call back, so we don’t know where it stands. Grace is thinking about going up there for a day or two, staying overnight with friends, to try to supervise the rest of the work, if we can get it scheduled. I deposited the second-to-last reimbursement check, and it has cleared, but it was a pretty small one.

I am nervously waiting for the last check to arrive, because we will soon need to pay the balance we owe to Elliot Environmental. I would like to pay it directly out of our checking account rather than putting it on the credit card. I want to keep as much credit free as possible, for last-minute contingencies, and of course to avoid paying interest. But some things will have to go onto the card, because the reimbursements are considerably less than the actual amounts we have to pay. We still hope to get additional reimbursement after the work is complete, that depreciation I mentioned earlier, which was applied to our reimbursements. So maybe I can use that to help pay off whatever charges I wind up having to put on the card. However it happens, I think we can thread this needle, but it is a little nerve-wracking. I fear that the sale could still fall through, and if we can’t line up another buyer very soon, we’ll be in an untenable position with our finances.


Yet another insurance adjuster has “ghosted” us. This is the fourth. So again, Grace was trying to get in touch with our adjuster, and not getting any responses, until she heard back from a supervisor and learned that the claim is being re-assigned to another adjuster, yet again.

What the hell is going on at Liberty Mutual? Seriously, what the hell is going on?

Grace was trying to get in touch with our adjuster because the contractor we had engaged to clean the ducts showed up, but then realized the ducts are wrapped in asbestos-containing insulation, and said “we can’t work with this,” and canceled the job.

So, we are trying to figure out what to do. It may be that we just can’t get that duct-cleaning done, given our limited time frame and lack of funds. We’ve made our best effort to get as much repair work done as we could schedule and supervise, and as insurance would cover, and then some.

Last night I left work a bit earlier, getting home just after 7:00. When I arrived, the mailbox was hanging open. I was expecting some important mail, including a check for over $4,000. The kids had gotten the mail. We’ve asked them, again and again, not to. But somehow it didn’t make it into the house. There was a flurry of buck-passing, but then I determined that one son in particular had been carrying the mail up the long driveway to the house, and somehow arrived without it.

We walked along the driveway one way, and then the other. Finally, he spotted a bundle of mail, still wrapped in a rubber band, lying in the woods to the side of the driveway. Included in the bundle was the check.

It’s hard to even figure out how to punish the kids anymore. We could spank or otherwise beat them, but that just doesn’t seem effective, and the consensus seems to be that it damages kids and inspires them to be violent themselves. We could remove privileges, but they have practically none at all now; they have mostly all been taken away. We could use time-outs or isolation. I don’t know where we’d put them. We could use grounding, but they are practically grounded all week now. So Grace and I are pretty much at a loss.

I went out to Meijer to deposit the check in their ATM, and return bottles, and get some coconut milk yogurt and bananas for Grace, as her stomach has been bothering her, most likely from all the stress. I brought home a movie that was on sale: The Last Starfighter, from 1984. I watched this movie in the theater when it opened. Before it opened, actually, since I saw a “sneak preview.” So after a meal of leftovers and cleanup, we went down into the basement to watch the movie.

The good news is that the movie has held up pretty well and didn’t seem much different to me than when I watched it back in 1984. The bad news is that the movie didn’t seem much different to me than when I watched it in 1984. There are things I like about it: the practical sets, the stage-play look. Two of the supporting actors are notable. Robert Preston plays Centauri, a con-man/recruiter, and his character is not all that well-crafted, but the actor is very charismatic despite this. Dan O’Herlihy plays Grig, a lizard-faced alien, and he’s a lot of fun to watch. Lance Guest is Alex and his robotic double, and he’s not a bad actor but he’s obviously too old for the role, and doesn’t bring a lot of color or depth to the screen. Guest is supposed to be playing a teenager who is perhaps 17 or 18 years old, but the actor was about 23.

The cast is rounded out with a whole bunch of not-very-memorable aliens, and trailer-park denizens, including a number that made me say “oh, yeah, that woman… from all those shows in the seventies!” And one, Barbara Bosson, who I remember from Hill Street Blues. In the credits there was one more small surprise: one of the child actors, who appears only briefly in some early scenes, was Wil Wheaton. From what I can tell with a minute on Google, he doesn’t even have lines in the movie, as far as I know; he was originally supposed to, but his scenes were cut. So he’s just a kid appearing the background of a couple of scenes, really an extra, although he is credited.

Overall, the movie is slow-paced, and interrupted with occasional oddball scenes that don’t quite fit the tone. When the robot replacement for Alex is revealed, he’s a gruesome, pulsating thing, like a skinned gnome. I remember being horrified by this reveal in the theater. There are some scenes that are laughably unconvincing. When the teenagers are riding in the dark in the back of a pickup truck, they are clearly just sitting in a prop truck with a blurry rear-projection of scenery passing behind them. Then there’s the CGI. It’s really quite primitive. I’m generally pretty forgiving of this kind of thing, as all CGI is a product of the technology available when it was made, but some of this is distractingly bad. In particular, the sequence where Alex and Grig hide their spaceship in a cave inside an asteroid looks bizarrely bad.

It seems that the movie was probably more influential than fondly remembered. The video-game plot element was reused by Ernest Cline in Armada. There’s a similar video-game recruitment element used in the setup for Stargate: Universe. The whole wish-fulfillment, Mary Sue aspect of the plot was stale even when it came out. And even in 1984 when I was fifteen, I didn’t like the way that all the killing in the movie seemed to have no moral weight at all for the characters.

The Last Starfighter has a 76% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, which seems to me a bit higher than it deserves. The audience rates it at 69%, and I’d rate it even lower. Still, it holds a special place in my memories because I saw it when I was young, and its use of CGI, even CGI that often looks pretty unconvincing, was ground-breaking in its way. Having grown up in a trailer park—although one that looked a lot less interesting than the one in the movie—I must have identified a bit with the main character. Or, at least, with the idea of him, since I don’t think I could relate to the 23-year-old Lance Guest in the role. The best I can say about the movie in 2018 was that it kept the kids mostly entertained for a while. Even at only 101 minutes, the movie feels quite slow, and many scenes drag. But to me, there was a certain satisfaction in realizing that my opinion of the movie, formed 35 years ago at the age of 15, hasn’t really changed; it was about as good, and about as bad, as I remember.


Last night Grace took Elanor and left for a day or two in Saginaw. She’ll be staying overnight with a local friend. She was quite angry yesterday because she found out that the company doing the attic work—who we thought had finished up the work last Friday—had not finished, and in fact was planning to leave the work unfinished for another eleven days, not planning to go back in to finish the job until June 24th.

You know how they say you shouldn’t pay a contractor up front? Here’s a very clear example why you shouldn’t pay a contractor up front. We were in a bind because they refused to start work until we paid them in full, and we had already had so many delays. So we happily paid in order to get the work finally done. And now we’ve paid, and so don’t have much in the way of leverage to get the contractor to finish the job.

Liberty Mutual will not cover any asbestos remediation, and the duct-cleaning company won’t touch them. So we can’t get that duct-cleaning done. My plan now is to just forward that reimbursement for duct-cleaning to the buyer, because we are unable to finish that part of the work. We can’t afford to pay for asbestos remediation, and we’re also running out of time.

Our house guest is supervising the kids today. Veronica already called the once this morning to tell me that Joshua was taking full advantage of the fact that his mother wasn’t at home, and behaving badly, defying Veronica and provoking her. But I don’t doubt that Veronica is also taking advantage of the situation to provoke him as much as possible. There’s not much I can do about any of this from work except pray that eventually my kids will learn to work towards common goals. They don’t seem to understand that they have an opportunity to spend a beautiful summer day playing outside, reading, drawing, whatever they want, with only a few small chores to take care of.

They have no idea how much I would love to have such a truly care-free day, and what I would give.

For our bedtime story, I read the kids the first half of James Thurber’s The Wonderful O. If things go well, we’ll read the rest of it tonight. This is another wordplay-heavy book, and a lot of fun to read.


It’s about 8:00 p.m. and I just got off the phone with Grace and then with our realtor. I’ve been nervous and distracted all day and I know it makes no rational sense, but this often happens to me when we’re about to get bad news. I’m not claiming I have some sort of precognition. It is probably a matter of simply being very sensitive to clues that something is about to happen. In this case they probably weren’t even that subtle.

The buyer lined up for our home is backing out, because she was unable to sell her home. That was written into the purchase agreement as a contingency. So, we have no recourse; the sale is off.

On the positive side, we will have finished several important repairs and improvements on the house which ought to improve its marketability. Or, at least reduce the number of big red flags (such as obvious water damage and a collapsing ceiling in the front room). That’s going to be all replaced.

We have a couple of leads and we are really hoping they will, well, lead. Somewhere. We’ll probably have the house back on the market around the first of July.

I’m not taking this news too well, as the person that has to figure out how to keep paying for two mortgages.

Grace will be home tomorrow.


Another week comes to an end. Grace is still up in Saginaw. The kids ate dinner without me. Actually, they literally ate my dinner, too. Our houseguest cooked food for everyone and asked the kids to leave me at least a couple of tacos. The kids promptly ate them. So I stopped at a place called “Hut-K Chaats” in the little plaza at Packard and Platt. I was feeling like I wanted hummus with lamb, but I couldn’t think of a Mediterranean place that was still open about 8:45. Hut-K Chaats was open. It’s an Indian restaurant, at least sort of. Their web site says they are a “Health-conscious cafe serving locally sourced Indian street food, wraps & ice cream in casual digs.”

I have no idea whether street food in India typically includes things like a “samosa wrap.” India’s a big place so it probably depends on the street. But that’s what I got, along with a mango lassi. The lassi was allegedly full of probiotics so I figured it couldn’t hurt. The wrap was a little odd, combining what seemed like a store-bought flatbread with the potato-based samosa, and some lettuce and red pepper sauce. It tasted good, though, and didn’t keep me up all night with heartburn, so I will count that as a win.

The kids were watching videos on Grace’s computer when I walked in, and I had the impression that they had been doing that for hours and hours. They didn’t seem to want to give up the videos long enough to hear a bedtime story. So I eventually threw them out and went to sleep. Benjamin did not want to give up his videos. And at 3:30 a.m. I woke up to realize they were still watching videos on the Kano, with its tiny, extremely tinny-sounding USB speaker. Veronica did do some cleanup of the table and kitchen at my request, although an inspection this morning revealed that it was not very thorough. I was too brain-dead last night to spend the remainder of my evening arguing with them. Grace will be home tonight and we can argue about it then. I will stop at Costco after work and get our usual salmon for dinner.

I e-signed the document to release the buyer from her contract and Grace will do the same. It’s hard to be happy about this because I was so hoping that in only another week or two, we’d be free of a big financial burden.

I realized that I have forgotten to mention a book. Last week when I picked up Family Values, I also picked up a copy of What Happened to Bernie Sanders by Jared H. Beck, Esq. This is a book that documents in detail how the DNC tilted the playing field in the 2016 election. The facts of that aren’t really in doubt. But what still bothers me is just how many of my Democrat-voting friends seem so comfortable with it, mostly because the other side does it too, or is worse, or something; I’m not sure I can even speak for them. I’ve started this book, but not gotten far enough into it to really evaluate it yet. Really, the thing I love about it so far is the way the cover graphics and text mirror’s Hillary Clinton’s book. If I ran a bookstore, I would always shelve them and display them next to each other. (I’m probably never going to get to run a bookstore).

I’ve listened to most of The Benedict Option unabridged audiobook a second time. I still need to skim the text in order to flag some bits I want to quote, and write up more notes, before I feel ready to write a complete review. But I’m getting there.

To cheer myself up, I (perhaps imprudently) ordered a boxed set of Orwell’s non-fiction, including a book I read one long ago and loved, Down and Out in Paris and London. I’ll have more comments on that when it arrives.

And now for comments on something completely different. I’ve been listening to some Radiohead, and thinking about one Radiohead song in particular: “Videotape,” from the album In Rainbows. The song has what seems at first to be a relatively simple structure, built around a chord progression on keyboard, played in slow quarter-notes. But if you listen to live versions, and follow some videos on YouTube, and even listen to the album version, which has some oddball percussion that builds towards the end of the track, you might begin to realize that the song in its straightforward form is not so straightforward. It seems that the way the audience hears it, and the way the musicians hear it, might be quite different. It all hinges around where the downbeats are.

There are a number of videos on YouTube. The original seems to be this one, by Warren Lane: “The Hidden Syncopation of Radiohead’s”Videotape" by WARRENMUSIC." Vox picked up the idea and made a shorter, perhaps more accessible, video citing Lane. There are others. I’m not going to list them all. It goes on and on. Lane has a 30-minute followup video, and others have weighed in. For my part, I’ll just say that I believe Lane’s hypothesis: I think that the way Thom Yorke and Radiohead hear the song revolves around an offset rhythm, where the actual beats-per-minute is about 150, and the downbeat comes 1/8th note after the beats where the piano chords land.

I’m not sure if I would call that “syncopated,” or a “rhythmic offset,” but I think it’s there, and it’s kind of fascinating. This video might make it clearer; that producer shows a number of pieces that have complex or even contradictory rhythms. And the best reference for how the band hears and thinks about the song is probably the live at Bonnaroo recording, where the accompanying parts are clearly shifted off the piano beats, especially towards the end of the song when the real “one” finally shows up in the drum part. There’s also a soundboard recording allegedly from the same show and in that recording you can more clearly here that even Yorke’s vocals are offset from the beats of the piano chords. As the parts come in and out, it becomes clear that the song’s real rhythm is a more complex beast than is first apparent.

Any piece of music can be scored in more than one way. The very famous introduction to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony is actually scored to open with a rest. This is done so that, mostly, the rest of the bar divisions fall where one would expect. One could score “Videotape” in different ways, and a lot of rock musicians don’t really write down their compositions in traditional music notations. So there’s not really an “original” score, as far as I know; it’s a question of how Yorke thinks about the song. And so the question that arises is why he would chose to think of the song with that rhythmic offset.

To that question, I can’t offer a definitive answer, but I can throw out a few hypotheses. First, nerdy musicians love to challenge themselves. The members of Rush were not classically trained, but many of their most famous songs use passages in 12/8, or 7/8, or alternating phrases between 5/4 and 4/4. Dream Theater uses crazy, crazy time signature changes. King Crimson liked to create songs where different parts have different time signatures that go in and out of synchronization with each other; trying to play those parts along with the other musicians would drive one crazy without having that time signature to cling to, like a life-line. But this is not without artistic purpose: listen to King Crimson’s “Discipline.” The parts cycling in and out of synchronization tantalize and fascinate the ear. By comparison, “Videotape” seems simple. So why think of it with this “rhythmic offset?”

I think it is partly the mental challenge, and possibly also a desire to keep the song sounding slightly “uneasy.” This comes through especially in live performances, where the band’s “downbeat” is 1/8th note offset from Yorke’s chord changes. And that “uneasy” feel comes through, slightly, even when Yorke plays it straight up, for piano and voice, with no accompanying instruments at all. Why? Because it’s a little bit harder, even for very experienced musicians, to stick to a rhythm that is slightly offset like this. That difficulty comes through in the performances, re-creating that slight rhythmic “uneasiness.” There may be more reasons to it, like wanting to play a sort of game of “hide-and-seek” with the audience, but I think the desire to maintain that “uneasiness” is probably the biggest one.

If you are starting to feel that all this is just a little bit up it’s own butt—and to be fair, I feel that way a bit myself—you might also love to hear Radiohead the way the brilliant Reggie Watts hears them. Which… is also not wrong. I think it’s entirely fine to enjoy a thing and also enjoy a funny mockery of the thing. In fact, it’s a way to enjoy it twice as hard. Watts doesn’t hate Radiohead. He loves them, un-ironically. If he didn’t love them, he wouldn’t bother making that spot-on parody.

I came across an ad on YouTube, showing that Radiohead is playing in Detroit on July 22nd. I’ve never seen them live. In fact, it’s been years and years since I’ve been to a show by a well-known pop or rock act of any kind. I might be forgetting one, but I think the last big show I saw was Thomas Dolby in 2006.

I thought Veronica might like to go see Radiohead, and maybe Sam too, although Sam might be a little too sensitive to loud noise. I tried to buy tickets. Ticketmaster shows none available at any price. There are some reseller sites that claim to have tickets available, but I would have to think really hard about spending $200 or more per ticket for a decent seat. With our finances uncertain, I’d just be dumping more debt onto a credit card. Even if my finances were a lot healthier than they are, it is hard to feel that such a price is justifiable. In this broken world, I’m honestly not sure my kids will ever get to see a rock show the way I saw a rock show, without feeling like the price somehow made the whole situation incredibly tense and pressured. I mean, what if they were bored, or hated it?

I’ll have to think about it some more, and most likely it will just get tossed on the heap of passed-over opportunities, which keeps growing, along with the heap of my regrets that I just seem almost entirely unable to give my children the experiences I’d like to give them.

If only Reggie Watts had a show scheduled somewhere nearby, I think we’d have something. I’ll keep an eye on his upcoming dates, but right now it seems like he’s globe-trotting, with only one show listed in the United States: Los Angeles, at the end of July. But at least his ticket prices are much more modest. I’ll keep an eye out for other shows nearby. I don’t think the kids would be interested in nostalgia acts. Is Modest Mouse a nostalgia act now?

In fact, Radiohead is probably a nostalgia act now.

Want to feel old?

Wait for it…


Yesterday’s Costco trip was pretty modest. Grace was not back yet, and we had not made a meal plan for the week or done an inventory, so I bought only salmon, a berry pie, couple of bags of salad, some more guacamole cups, a couple of bottles of sangria, a box of croissants, and some chips and popcorn for a movie night. Friday was my 3rd anniversary at Thorlabs. When I got home I found that I had gotten two items from eBay in the mail: the DVD movie of the Babylon 5 pilot, called In the Beginning, and another Logitech Harmony 300 universal remote control, because ours is sort of on permanent loan to our house guest, who lost the remote for her TV.

Babylon 5: In the Beginning is good in its way. It has a framework story, set well after the events of the TV series, in which Londo is the Emperor of the Centauri Republic, but Centauri Prime is heavily damaged. It was aired after the 4th season of the TV show, making it a sort of prequel. But some fans recommend watching it prior to the TV show, as an introduction. Be warned that if you watch it this way, it contains some spoilers. Since Grace and I have watched the whole show and seen the movies before, we didn’t care about spoilers. I think actually if you are watching it for the first time, it would probably be better to watch it after season 4, episode 9, “Atonement,” as recommended in this guide. But if you are re-watching the series, I think it is fine to watch it first, since it fits the chronology.

The movie is a bit of a mixed bag. It was nice to remember just what a rich and complex story the team achieved here. The production team really did a lot with low-budget scenes. For example, a lot of the drama in the conversations is very much enhanced by the lighting in particular scenes, especially by what it hides. And the dramatic dialogue, especially among the Minbari, is terrific. The screenplay makes great use of foreshadowing and certain key phrases that return with different meaning in different contexts. Although I’ve seen it before, I was once again impressed with both the screenwriting and the acting, and so don’t regret refreshing my memory by watching it again.

Overall, the movie is a little slow and talky. The younger kids were a bit bored because so much hinges on subtle things that are set up in critical conversations. There’s quite a bit of info-dumping going on to set up scenes, although it doesn’t feel as unnatural as it might in less skilled hands. Many of the space battle scenes are brief montages, sometimes accompanied by voiceovers describing the larger context. This makes it hard for them to feel truly dramatic. The CGI back then was relatively primitive. It’s clear that they had to carefully ration their CGI scenes. By modern standards it looks a little primitive. The ships are a bit too obviously just shaded geometric shapes. The imagery is at its worst when the movie tries to show you outdoor scenes, of building and grass and trees, or snow, and they look painfully low-resolution. But the main performances are so good that they help me maintain my suspension of disbelief. So I just kind of wince at some of the CGI scenes as they go by, but I don’t let them really ruin my enjoyment of the movie.

I think tonight we’ll watch a few more episodes frome season 1.

I got up pretty early this morning and had a bath. My sister-in-law showed up about 8:15, which was a bit of a surprise. But we had coffee out on the back deck before the mosquitoes were really active, which was very nice. I made way too many scrambled eggs with leftover salmon, and toasted bagels and butter. I really don’t feel like huge meals in the summer. I should have made three or four eggs because apparently everyone else was not all that hungry either.

We hadn’t gotten enough sleep and so Grace and I actually went back to bed for a while. I couldn’t really sleep, but I chilled out. Grace slept a bit. When we got up and out, it was almost 3:00. Grace had heard about a bakery in Milan that was selling sourdough on Saturdays, so we drove to Milan. They were sold out. That’s what we get for taking a chill-out day.

We drove around the area for a while and looked at Milan, then drove back to the old downtown of Ypsilanti and had a snack at the Chick-Inn, a drive-in restaurant that has been operating at that location since 1953. While I think I’ve had their food, in the form of take-out that Grace brought me, I can’t recall if I’ve ever actually eaten there before. It’s a real drive-in, with the little speakers at your car window. We wanted to get out of the car, though, so we ate at some outdoor tables. We had hot dogs, grilled cheese sandwiches, chili dogs, fries, soda, and a chocolate malt for me. Their chili dogs were very tasty, totally drive-in food. I can’t remember the last time I had a chocolate malt. It’s been years. It was a deeply nostalgic flavor. Also, it really seems like the Flonase is keeping my allergies under control. Under normal circumstances I can’t have a milkshake without a nasty allergy attack, my head packed solid, sneezing, maybe turning into a sinus infection that lasts for weeks. Flonase really seems miraculous to me, and I’m not even taking it every day, just every other day.

Family Values

After the late lunch we went to a park downtown. Grace and I just sat at a bench in the shade and I read her part of chapter 2 of Family Values by Melinda Cooper. We made some progress in chapter 2, although it is slow going. This text is quite dense. We can get through it and understand it reasonably well, but it is hard, and often times it takes us a bit of conversation to unpack certain sentences that the author breezes by pretty quickly.

Grace and I don’t actually have degrees in Political Science or Economics. I’ve picked up more about these subjects than I think the average person knows, just through my general education including a history course about the Vietnam War, but there are definite gaps in my knowledge. Chapter 1 is a pretty impenetrable overview of the author’s thesis. In chapter 2 it starts to slow down and turn into more of a narrative. But it would be great if she would annotate terms. We could benefit from a page or two on what the author means by the “family wage,” and “Fordism,” and a page or two on the poor laws she refers to, and glosses on terms like “monetarism” and “public choice theory.” Different authors often mean slightly different things when they say “neoliberal,” or “neoconservative,” so it might be nice to hear what the author means by those terms. It might be nice to have a sentence or two on what it means to be “Hegelian,” at least in the context the author quotes. We think we know, more-or-less, what these terms mean, but a refresher would help.

It also seems like she needlessly restricts her audience by dropping in a lot of unusual words, and foreign phrases. I can handle words like “anathema,” “aegis,” and “rubric.” Words like “constitutive” slow me down a bit when I have to read them out loud, because it’s a word one rarely comes across, but the meaning is clear enough. I know what “en masse” means, although I think it is more common style for phrases from Latin or French to be italicized when they appear in English texts. I’m of course familiar with lots of Latin phrases that English texts often borrow, such as “de facto” and “ad hoc,” but I slowed down at “a longue durée historical analysis,” although I could puzzle out the meaning of the phrase, and stopped dead at “tout court,” a phrase Cooper drops in several times. It means “only,” or “simply,” or “without anything else added.” But I had to look that up. I think Cooper unnecessarily limits her audience, here, by assuming her reader knows the meaning of these phrases.

I consider myself pretty well-read, but occasionally a word will stop me dead:

The liberal and left coalition for welfare reform may have quibbled with the causes of African American disadvantage adduced [emphasis mine] by Moynihan, yet they were in fundamental agreement on the point that this disadvantage undermined the family and that any long-term solution to racism would therefore require an effort to restore the African American family and the place of men within it.

Of course I know the word “deduce,” and I know the word “traduce,” but I’m not sure I’ve ever come across “adduce.” It means “to bring forth something as evidence in a discussion or argument.” It is honestly rare for me to come across words I’m not familiar with. I don’t think the author chose the word deliberately to obfuscate; she just has assumptions about her audience that I may not fit. The Grammarist web site also mentiones “educe,” says that “in general this word is rare and its synonym deduce is more common.” I think “adduce” might be less common in American English and more common in British English. The author seems to be Australian—maybe that helps account for some of her word choices, that seem quite unusual to this American?

She also uses other oddball constructs, such as “…they are unable to explain how the problematic of family dysfunction became so central to popular understandings of inflation…,” where “the problematic” serves as a noun. This just seems unnecessary. I think a good editor could have helped here, and that would have gone a long way towards making the text easier to read.

Anyway, as I said, it’s slow-going. But in chapter 2 we have more of a narrative, and what I can understand of it is pretty fascinating. She mentions the Mothers’ Pensions program, something I didn’t know about; we just completed a section on AFDC, Aid to Families with Dependent Children, and later known as ADC. I’m familiar with the way this program was attacked and pretty much dismantled during the Clinton years, but it’s fascinating to read the history of attacks on the program, and consider programs and policies that might do a far better job actually helping the people that need it.

So we’re pressing on. I just wish the book was written in a more accessible style. I’m reminded of Chomsky: a great speaker, but in his books he often wanders into sarcastic phrasings, and if you don’t actually know the topic already, and his take on it, it’s not always obvious that he’s being sarcastic. Similarly, in Cooper’s books, she often seems to set up per premises, over the course of a paragraph, but assumes that the reader already shares her conclusion about the topic of the paragraph, and so doesn’t clearly state it. It really just makes this all just unnecessarily hard. But it seems like as the book moves on, it is turning into more of a narrative, and that helps.

Books, Music, Movies, and TV Mentioned This Week

  • The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien
  • Family Values: Between Neoliberalism and the New Social Conservatism by Melinda Cooper
  • The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher (completed)
  • The Last Starfighter (1984 movie)
  • The Wonderful O by James Thurber
  • What Happened to Bernie Sanders by Jared H. Beck, Esq.
  • Babylon 5: In the Beginning (1998 TV movie)

Ypsilanti, Michigan
The Week Ending Saturday, June 16th, 2018