Saturday, September 29, 2018

The Week Ending Saturday, September 29, 2018


After Grace woke up from her nap, she was amenable to the idea of going for Chinese food, and our housemate was pretty happy about the idea, too. So we asked Veronica to make a pot of rice and ran out to Meijer for paper towels, two cans of oven cleaner, and two of those long-necked lighters to replace a couple that went missing. Then we continued up Carpenter Road to King Shing and took home a pile of takeout: orange chicken, beef with broccoli, rice noodles, dumplings, sesame balls, and two big bottles of ginger ale. The meal was a hit.

Before bed, I finished reading Daughter of Dreams. I’m still chewing over my impressions of the third part of the book. Overall, for now I’ll just say that it didn’t end as well as I hoped it would. There are some nice action scenes, but there are also a number of rambling passages where von Beck blathers about the rise of fascism. I’m about as sympathetic an audience to this topic as I can imagine, but this just tended to let the air out of the story’s tires. I also wasn’t really happy with the way Moorcock treated Oona in the last few chapters; she’s there, but she is off-stage for much of the action, and has little to no dialogue. And so my impressions of the book are mixed. The first part is really exciting, but the rest of it fails to live up to that excitement. I’m feeling ambivalent about whether I want to try to read the next Moonbeam Roads novel, Destiny’s Brother. And I feel like I can’t really recommend Daughter of Dreams without reservation, although it is better than some of the “mid-career” Elric stories I discussed before.

This morning I read a bit more of Oryx and Crake. That book moves along pretty quickly and so I expect that I will probably finish it by the end of the month. Atwood’s style in this book is really light and engaging, often flirting with the comic, although the setting and circumstances are incredibly dark. I’m enjoying that combination a lot.

Today I made a late breakfast of paleo pancakes (made with the Birch Benders mix), with the rest of the blueberries. There weren’t enough blueberries, so we salvaged some blackberries that were starting to go bad and cut them up into the mix too. I also turned leftover white rice and leftover salmon from Friday night into a big frittata, started on the stove and finished in the oven baked in our largest cast-iron pan. That was a hit.

I spent quite a while after the meal working on the kitchen. Grace went through the refrigerator and pulled out things we can dispose of. There was a fair amount. I gave the oven a thorough cleaning, which involved removing the bottom of the oven compartment so I could scrub off some burnt-food that had dripped through crevices. I finally got all the black burnt material off the bottom of the oven. Some of it was burnt plastic. I was able to get most of it off by going through yet more of the green scrub pads, but some bits were so hard that I finally wound up chipping them off with a steel screwdriver. The ceramic coating over the metal is so hard that this didn’t actually scratch the surface. I wore gloves, but they weren’t long gloves, and so I got a couple of mild burns from oven cleaner that wound up on my arms. I also put a nice long gash on my leg, scraping it against the corner of the drawer that goes under the oven; it’s got sharp corners. I got the oven racks mostly clean of burnt-on goo. Sam helped with that a bit, scrubbing the racks while I scrubbed the oven.

While I worked on the oven, with the sliding door open and two fans running, I had Cheap Trick at Budokan playing in the family room, turned up loud enough so that I could hear it over the fans and the sink. Benjamin was walking around with his hands clamped over his ears complaining that it was too loud. I just told him that if it was too loud, he was too old.

Our housemate showed me her laptop, which is not booting properly. After I was done with the oven, a took a look. It won’t get through a disk check, throwing all kinds of sense errors. The hard drive is pretty unambiguously failing. So I have to ask her what she wants to do. I have some 2.5-inch backup drives that I don’t need. I could probably successfully swap out the existing drive. But I can’t restore Windows and I don’t have a backup of any of her files. I’d have to make it an Ubuntu MATE machine. So I’m downloading an Ubuntu MATE install DVD image and I’ll ask her if that would be OK with her. If she wants it to run Windows, I will have to take it back to the shop out by my office and see if they can replace the drive and reinstall a Windows image.

I finished the production work on this week’s podcast and got it uploaded. This show was actually just under an hour in length, which makes it one of the shortest shows we’ve ever done.

And so I have finished most of the items on my to-do list from Saturday, except the one that said “finish and file those pieces of paperwork.” And I have to add “try fixing our housemate’s laptop.” I think the laptop is next. It’s only 5:00 p.m. I think we’re going to have lamb steaks for dinner, which is pretty quick, and so I’m optimistic that maybe we’ll be able to watch a movie this evening, or at least have a story.


Paul’s House of Pancakes and Laptop Repair

I got my housemate’s laptop fixed. A number of months ago I bought three 2.5 inch hard drives to use for backing up my old Mac Mini. A few months later, I found the two missing external drives that I had been using for that purpose, so the three drives became spare. I never even opened the packaging on one of them, so that one became the replacement drive for the ThinkPad.

I had printed out a web page of diagrams from IBM showing how to remove the cover. It wasn’t difficult, although because everything is made of fragile plastic, snapping it back on resulted in a tiny broken plastic tab. (Recent incarnations of these easy-to-service machines always seem like they are designed to be opened up and closed back up once). I discovered that the internal hard drive was screwed into a flimsy little caddy, made of folded metal so thin that it looked like tinfoil, with a little clear plastic top stuck to the drive via adhesive, which I needed to peel off to remove the caddy. But the little metal tabs on the caddy, four of them, which stick out at so they can be screwed into four anchor points in the case, were not screwed down. Not one of them. I tried taking two of the screws from the drive and using them to screw down the caddy, but of course they have different threading.

The computer didn’t come from Lenovo like that; this must be the work of either a previous owner, or the shop that sold me the used laptop. (I can’t be too angry; the used laptop, which has been working fine for months, only cost me about $100). In this unsecured state, it seems possible that the drive’s edge connector might come a little bit loose from the socket, especially if the laptop took a minor drop or some similar shock, as there was space behind the drive where it could slide out. It didn’t seem like the original drive was loose, though. So I was not quite sure what to do. I didn’t have a large assortment of tiny screws to try. I think I had some heat-resistant “Kapton” tape, but I wasn’t sure where it was, and I wasn’t sure what I would tape the caddy to; tape did not seem to be the right way to secure the drive. The screws that connect the caddy to the mounting points probably do more than just keep the drive from coming loose. They also probably serve as points where heat can escape from the drive into the frame, and dampen vibration.

I considered trying to stuff something in the case to make it so the drive couldn’t slide backwards, but I wasn’t sure what to use; it should be something non-conductive, vibration-absorbing, and heat-absorbing. Filling that gap with silicone caulking might work, but I think that gap might actually be important for airflow within the laptop. So I finally opted just to leave the new drive sitting in place the way the original drive had been sitting in place, burned a DVD-R with Ubuntu MATE, installed the OS, booted it up and got everything working, and gave it back to our housemate.

I’d like to correct the situation with the drive screws eventually. Looking at the IBM parts store, it’s completely useless unless you have a 7-digit “FRU part number.” Looking at eBay, I see a lot of replacement caddies that look like the right part. Some of them come with screws, but most of the ones that come with screws only come with the four screws that connect the drive to the caddy, not the caddy to the laptop. I found one that comes with eight screws. It’s $7.99 with free shipping, so I ordered it. Just to get four damned screws, which I can only hope are the right ones. When they arrive, I’ll have to borrow the laptop back from our housemate and try screwing down the hard drive.

I tried plugging the malfunctioning drive into the hard drive dock on my Mac Pro, out of curiosity, to see if Disk First Aid could even talk to it. The drive spun up, but the computer wouldn’t recognize it at all. Our housemate had not been really clear what a hard drive even was, so I opened it up, so I could show her what is inside a modern hard drive.

Logic Projects

While I was in the basement, I did a little cleanup of audio files and my Logic project directories. I had been missing the source files and Logic project for the very first Grace and Paul Pottscast. I found it; I had never renamed the project, so it was still called something like “Live Setup PR40 x 2.” So now I have all those archived in one place. As an experiment I tried zipping a directory full of audio projects, to see if it would actually save any hard drive space. After fifteen minutes of compressing, it turned an 18-gigabyte directory into a 16-megabyte zip file. That’s not really worth the effort. I’m pretty sure I must have tried this experiment before and come to the same conclusion.

Browsing through old podcast files, I stumbled across some recordings that I had completely forgotten about. At some point Grace and I made a series of short recordings about our gardening project, little ten-minute segments. I think Sean Hurley used these for a couple of segments of his live streaming shows. Some of the details are lost to in the mists of time. I’m not even sure he has archived recordings of all the various “Sitting in the Woods with Sean” and other live shows he did in, I think, 2012 or so.

Man, that makes me want to do some live shows.

I also took a crack at tweaking my interview with Sean. I had originally panned our two voice tracks hard left, and hard right. That was a bad choice. It sounds kind of cool in headphones, but it’s not very listener-friendly. So I’d like to redo these and pan the tracks more like I pan my current podcast, with my voice panned 20 (out of 64) ticks to the left, and Grace’s voice panned 20 ticks to the right. But what I found when I opened the project was that some of the referenced audio files were missing. So if I want to bounce the projects again, I’m going to have to find them. Fortunately I still have the old bounces to use as reference, so it shouldn’t be too hard.

I experimented briefly with just duplicating the old bounced file and using the “channel operations” in Izotope RX to do the re-balancing. You can do that: you tell Izotope that you want to re-balance left and right, and it will obediently blend the requested percentage of sound from the opposite tracks. That’s pretty cool! Although since there are clips of music and radio drama on the track, to make this work I’d have to select only the dialogue sections and re-balance those. That’s very tedious. And since there are places where our dialogue sits on top of some of the music and radio drama excerpts, those overlapping parts would wind up sounding strange; the panning of the instruments would change as the excerpts faded in and faded out.

I also opened up one of the old “cassette restoration” projects that I did years ago. I had used my cassette player, a Tascam rack unit, to digitize three cassettes of music by Grace’s kindergarten teacher, Eileen Packard, and her collaborator, Paul Recker. Together they performed as recorded as “Peanutbutterjam.”

I did the first digitization of those cassettes a decade ago, but I never got the audio quality that I hoped for out of that Tascam deck. Even when it was new, it had audible flutter right out of the box. Being a sort of obsessive perfectionist, I was not satisfied with that. I should have tried to get it serviced, but for all the years in Saginaw, I never felt like I had money for that sort of thing. At some point I loaned it to a friend of mine, and never got it back.

I also was not satisfied with my attempts to improve the audio, using Izotope RX for noise reduction, and some equalization, and other plug-ins I tired using to improve the stereo imaging. It always sounded fuzzy to me. I must have burned test CD-Rs and tossed them out, unsatisfied. And a few years ago I wound up buying a used Nakamichi cassette deck at a very low price, and hoped to use that to try again. But it needed servicing right off the bat, and still needs servicing, and that’s expensive, and I’d have to ship it off to one of the vanishingly small number of people that still do this kind of service on old cassette decks, and it is kind of costly (understandably so), so the deck is still sitting downstairs… anyway, you get the picture.

So, I’m embarrassed to say, the project has languished on my hard drive for a decade. The cassettes have been slowly decaying in a box. (Cassettes stored in a dry cool place actually last a long, long time, so “decay” very slowly, but they don’t get better with time). This means that Grace and the kids haven’t gotten to listen to these cassettes themselves, or any kind of copy, during that decade.

I had vague hopes of trying to get a better recording, maybe getting in touch with the artists to see if they had ever had the master tapes digitized, or if I could help them with that, but I never did.

Anyway, yesterday I finally burned the tracks from the album “Incredibly Spreadable” to a CD-R and took it upstairs to play. The recording still sounds fuzzy and terrible to me, but I have evidence that no one cares about that but me. But now the kids can hear a song that goes:

I wonder where’s my underwears? My underwears so fine? Oh, are they in the washer? Where’s those underwears of mine? Well, are they on the clothesline? Did they blow into a tree? I have to find those underwears, Oh gosh oh golly gee

Just today I did a search, and it turns out that this album, Incredibly Spreadable, is actually available on the iTunes store. It sounds better than my cassette. Since there was a vinyl album, there must have been a master tape that they were able to digitize.

You can find it within the iTunes application. Google can find the online preview page for the album: type “” Peanutbutterjam" into Google. But the iTunes web site doesn’t seem to handle searching within its preview pages at all. The preview page for Incredibly Spreadable is here, but if I click on the magnifying glass icon to search, it says “Search,” and if I type in “Peanutbutterjam” or “Eileen Packard” or “Paul Recker,” I get no results at all. I guess Apple decided they don’t want people searching for music on the web pages for their service that sells music. But (taking a sip of tea) that’s none of my business.

You might be able to find a vinyl rip by searching “Eileen Packard” on YouTube. I found two album rips that were uploaded just a few days ago, and if YouTube is to be believed, I was the first person to listen to one of them.

Only that one album is there on the iTunes store, though. I have two other cassettes digitized for a total of three, although Discogs only shows two albums. I never finished turning the other two albums into separate tracks. I should just do that. It won’t even take much work. I really should go ahead and get the Nakamichi serviced, and I should digitize any remaining cassettes that I want to preserve, running the signal into one of the audio interfaces I’ve got now, without worrying that I’m not getting the best possible audio quality out of the process. I need to stop letting the “best possible” be the enemy of the “possible at all.” These are cassettes from the 1980s. “Quality” is relative; a mediocre transcription will, I need to tell myself over and over, sound better than none.

Our friend Joy arrived and she and Grace worked on a massive cooking project, involving the food we needed to use up, as well as a bunch of fresh produce that Joy brought. Banana bread, broth, beef stew, tomato sauce, lamb steaks. We had lamb steaks for dinner and banana bread; they came out much better this time, just seared in a pan, not finished in the oven at all.

There was quite a bit of cleanup. I did as much as I felt that I could, as it got later and later. I read the kids stories while they did more in the kitchen. I started reading more of Crime and Punishment, but we have lost track of what is going on. I picked up The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter, a collection of stories. I read a few pages of the first story, the title story, and realized that it is actually a bit more explicit than I expected, so I didn’t proceed further, and sent the kids to bed. But then I stayed up to finish the title story. It’s a pretty great story! But… not a good bedtime story for kids. I’ll finish this one myself.

It was quite late before Grace came to bed, and we didn’t get the lights out and the baby quiet until about 2:00. So this morning I didn’t exactly leap out of bed at the crack of dawn. I was hoping that Grace and Joy might be able to pull some boxes out of the garage and do some rearranging, using the shelving that Joy brought. But it’s been raining on and off, so that might not be possible.

Two new co-workers start work at my office today. Our business unit is doing quite well!


Last night was busy and complicated. Joy and Grace got some organizing done in the garage even though it rained a lot and so they couldn’t stage boxes in the driveway. We haven’t really been able to organize much in there since we moved. It looks like it’s completely full of stuff, but a lot of those stacked boxes are empty or nearly empty, and so that stuff can actually be organized and stored in much less space. I think today they’re going to break down boxes. Joy found a box labeled “Fiestaware.” I thought it might be mis-labeled, but we opened it up and there were indeed a few of our old pieces of Fiestaware in it. So we have even more pieces than we thought! I have taken them down into the basement storage room, but they are not packed up with the rest of the pieces yet. Right now they’re just sitting on a shelf.

My boss ordered sandwiches yesterday so I ate Jimmy John’s sandwiches for lunch and pre-dinner, as well as leftover soup made with pot roast and lamb broth. So when I got home I wasn’t very hungry. We ate leftover greens with ham hock, very late, and went to sleep very late. Joy had brought us a special treat, something I’ve never tasted before: fresh dates! Some were brownish, and those are ripe and delicious. Some of them were still yellow, and we discovered that before they are ripe, they have a very thick skin that is hard to chew, and the flesh is dry and reminds me of a crabapple. On Twitter I asked Anna, our pastry chef podcast guest, if she has ever baked with fresh dates. She posted a picture of a labneh panna cotta that she made with dates, date syrup, candied carrot, and halvah. Wow!

We didn’t get the kitchen cleaned up. I didn’t read the kids a story, or get any reading in myself.

Grace, Joy, and I spent some time talking in the garage about our plans for the fall. There is something in the garage that is moldy, and so makes my throat and sinuses burn. We think it is one of our car seats, the one we loaned to our housemate, who left it sitting outside in the rain. It’s not clear if it can be cleaned up and salvaged. We might need to buy another car seat for the new baby.

I didn’t manage to work on any of the paperwork in my bag. Tomorrow is my birthday and my driver license is expiring, so I need to get that renewed today or tomorrow. There are some bills I need to pay as well, including the trash pickup bill for our old house in Saginaw, and a small medical bill (a co-pay). After paying two thousand dollars in August and September towards the plaster and paint work, while we are still waiting for a promised $1,700 from our insurance company, I’m hard-pressed to pay any extra bills. I’m even nervous when I have to pay for an extra tank of gas when we have to drive out of town. I’ve needed to put those tanks of gas on a credit card, and that credit card debt is creeping up.

I had breakfast at Harvest Moon and got in and out of the restaurant in under 25 minutes; my usual BLT breakfast sandwich and coffee. Tomorrow is my birthday. I don’t really feel like celebrating. I think Grace will make me a cake. Then Thursday, it will be Benjamin’s birthday, and we’ll have another cake.

I bought myself a present: I ordered some CDs that have been sitting in my eBay shopping cart for over a year, including some requested by the kids: a Simon and Garfunkel collection for Joshua, and the soundtrack to The Nightmare Before Christmas for Veronica. The transaction was flagged by my credit card company as “possibly fraudulent.” Apparently they don’t have a warning message for “fiscally irresponsible.”


Today I am 51 years old.

Last night went pretty smoothly. Dinner was just about ready when I got home. We only had to wait for the kids to get the table set. We had sausages and sauerkraut, rice made with lamb broth, and a huge salad, which was a Costco salad in disguise, doctored up with extra additions like beets. It was delicious. I ate a lot of salad. Joy had brought us some more fresh figs, so I ate a couple more of those. They are so sweet that I can only eat one or two at a time, but they are delicious.

After dinner I got a dishwasher load going, and the kids did some hand-washing, energized by the prospect of watching a movie. So the kitchen was in reasonably good shape by the time they were done. I took them downstairs to watch an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. The episode that was next up on our planned skim through ST:TNG was “The Next Phase.” I’ve seen this one before. Ensign Ro and Geordi are stuck “out of phase” after a transporter accident. A Tor essay about the episode is here. In that article Keith R. A. DeCandido claims that the episode “was intended as a budget-saving ‘bottle’ episode, but it wound up being very expensive due to all the phasing effects.” I’m a little unconvinced that anyone thought this episode would save money, as there are also several scenes shot on a Romulan ship, with elaborate sets, and of course the extra actors and costumes.

The physics are crazily inconsistent (as DeCandido asks, one obvious question is “how do they not fall through the floor?”) But despite that, it’s a pretty good episode. I find the funeral sub-plot a little unconvincing. Other than Data, the crew seems to be pretty indifferent to Geordi’s loss and presumed death. Picard is pretty casual about letting Data arrange the funeral. I’d have thought he’d say “OK, go ahead and plan a memorial service, but please check in with Counselor Troi and let her approve your plans, or make suggestions.” The only part of all this that rang true for me is Ensign Ro’s belief that she and Geordi are dead, and her reaction to it: she seems almost relieved, but also puzzled. And there’s a funny line, where Worf and Data are talking about the appropriate funeral arrangements. Data says “Ensign Ro was a Bajoran. Her beliefs should be reflected as well. However, their death rituals are quite complicated.” Ensign Ro groans “Oh, please, not the death chant!” Worf says “The Bajoran death chant is over two hours long.” There’s another funny moment when Ro gets to work out a bit of her anger by shooting a disruptor right through Riker’s head, although since she and the disruptor are “out of phase,” he can’t feel it.

I’ve begun attempting to edit this journal. When converted into a Word file, or a PDF file, it’s over 500 pages of text. Weeks 1-39 total 290,589 words, according to Microsoft Word. I’m doing only light editing of the text: improving grammar here and there. I’m considering what to do with links, and how and if to try to index the whole thing. I’ve been thinking about trying to get a few paper copies printed, in book form, even just as a vanity project. It is so large that it might make sense to print it in four separate volumes, one for each quarter. If I keep writing at a similar average rate, at the end of the year I might have 400,000 words and 800 pages. I think I may be slowing down, though, as the days get short and my energy levels drop. But we’ll see how it goes. I still can’t say definitively what I should do with this, or even what I want to do with it.

It’s weird to re-read some of the stuff I wrote over a year ago. In January I wrote:

Things are going to be tight in February due to the rather large car repair bills we had in December. We have a number of “carryover” bills — I haven’t finished paying for the lawn care and hauling expenses at the Saginaw house in 2017. I have to write some extra checks this month. And we had some extra expenses related to Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s. There were extra special bottles of wine, extra special food, and extra travel. There were some movies and meals out. There were extra fire logs. But these things were cheap compared to the car repairs.

Looking forward at October, November, and December, this is making me nervous, since we already have big bills, and in addition, unlike last, our credit cards are nearly maxed out. It’s just yet another reminder that we’ve got to resolve the Saginaw house problem.

When we went down into the basement to watch Star Trek, our friend Joy had set up a little bedroom, including a little electric candle light fixture. Earlier in the evening she had talked about the significance of the candle in the window, used by the Mennonite community as an ongoing expression of solidarity for the victims of America’s imperial wars. I joked with Joy that it was “this little light of hers,” and she mentioned how as a Quaker that theme of inner light was very much a part of her religious tradition.

I then noticed that the very next episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, which we plan to watch, is called “The Inner Light.” Hmmm…

This morning I stopped at the Coffee House Creamery and had a toasted bagel with peanut butter for breakfast, with an almond milk mocha. Today I left my lunchbox at home, so Grace actually brought me a sandwich and a cookie on her way back from a conference.

I did some editing of week 1 of this journal, first going over a paper copy to mark it up, then making the changes to the Markdown source file, then producing an updated Microsoft Word file and viewing it in Word’s magnified “Reader Mode,” which helped me catch more errors. This is very time-consuming. It’s hard for me to imagine putting in this level of effort for each week. So this has me scratching my head and wondering if I’m really ambitious enough to get these journal entries ready to appear in any kind of print form. I also experimented with adding index entries in Word, and that’s very tedious. Today I’m feeling like if I can’t find a simple way to mark index entries in the original Markdown source, the indexing just isn’t going to happen. I’d have to take a week off work, once the Microsoft Word version was final, just to create the index. So I’ll have to dig into more of the possibilities that Pandoc has to offer — it does have a way to write filters that operate on a document’s abstract syntax tree.


Last night we had a low-key but delicious birthday dinner: black-eyed peas, salad, and cornbread. Grace made a very dark chocolate cake, and we were planning to eat it after watching another episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. So I took the kids downstairs and we watched the episode called “Imaginary Friend,” in which a little girl’s imaginary friend actually shows up, manifested by a powerful alien intelligence. I recall seeing this one before. The child actor Shay Astar, who plays Isabella, Clara’s imaginary friend, is wonderfully creepy, reminding me a bit of Christina Ricci as Wednesday Adams. The girl that plays Clara, Noley Thornton, is quite good, too. But overall this episode drags a little bit. I think one of the comments on the Tor rewatch page, by “AlyssaT,” summed up the problems with this episode quite well:

it didn’t quite know what it was trying to be and it didn’t have the guts to just go full force in one direction. Was it more of a family episode that explored the difficulties of raising a child on a starship (as a single dad, no less!), not to mention the difficulties of being that child? Was it a story about Troi and her job? Was it a story about friendship, and how we connect with others? Was it a freaky-deaky red-eyed demon child “horror” ep? Was it a “ship in danger” plot? And while I usually really like those community-building touches, here I felt like it made all things seem even more crowded and schizophrenic…

The episode even resorts to making Isabella’s eyes glow red when she is angry, which just seems like an awfully cheap and easy trope.

I was thinking we might watch “The Inner Light,” but I decided that I wanted to save that one for a time when Grace would come down and watch it with us.

When we got back upstairs, Grace told us that the cake, which needed to be chilled to set up, was still gooey. She gave us the option of eating it as it was, or leaving it overnight to firm up and eating it for breakfast. I chose breakfast. So this morning I had Turkish coffee (with cardamom, made in the press pot accidentally because Sam got out the wrong bag, but a delicious accident it was), and extremely potent dark chocolate cake. So I am quite well-caffeinated. I brought half of it in to work for my co-workers. It’s the kind of thing that one can only eat a small piece of, so I assume that I will probably be taking some back home.

Today, September 27th, is Benjamin’s birthday, so I think Grace will be making another cake, to his specifications.

Today Dr. Ford is testifying in the Kavanaugh hearings. I’m not going to go into it, in this journal — Grace and I will probably talk about it in a podcast. I heard the start of Ford’s opening statement on my car radio as I drove to work this morning.

I’ve done some more editing, and incorporated text originally written as a separate blog post on January 1st into the journal entries. This pushes my word count for this journal to over 305,000 words, and that doesn’t include my review of A Wrinkle in Time, or the quarterly posts. What can I say but LOL?


I left work early yesterday because Grace sent me a text message reminding me of a choir open house in Saline at 5:00. I was in my car about a quarter to five, which meant that I just barely beat most traffic to downtown Saline and the First Presbyterian Church there. I found a route without roundabouts. Miraculously, I found parking on the street. The building was locked, though, so I wasted some time looking for an unlocked door, and finally had to get Grace to let me in. So I was a few minutes late. Joshua was happy to see me at a choir event, since these are usually things his mom does with him during the day. There were snacks. There weren’t a lot of people fighting over the vegetable trays. Someone had made deviled eggs carved into the shape of little bunnies, or something cute like that, with the bottoms cut off the eggs so that they sat upright. We chatted with a few parents. When we left, I took Grace’s car with Joshua and Pippin and she took my car. We had to wait in heavy traffic.

Grace went to Bush’s and picked up a Bill Knapp’s pre-made chocolate cake. She also filled my gas tank. But she had trouble starting my car, as sometimes happens, and had to let it sit for twenty minutes before she could get it started. It’s one of those things I can’t quite explain. I’ve always been able to get it started, usually on the third or fourth crank, occasionally by the fifth or sixth. The battery is not dead. There’s a problem with the starter or the key switch mechanism. Since I’ve always been able to start it, with a little effort, I haven’t made it a high priority to get it fixed. It doesn’t start reliably for Grace, though. I joke that my car is jealous of Grace and prefers that only I touch her. But it’s so odd that it seems like it may actually be a matter of the way I touch it (or turn the key). I’ve probably worked out through daily practice exactly what kind of movement tends to work — exactly how fast and how hard — and I do it automatically. Then she tries to turn the key the same way and… nothing.

Benjamin asked for pot pie for dinner, and we hadn’t gone to Costco, so Grace picked up a dozen small frozen pot pies. She was going to back them all, but I tried to estimate who was going to eat what and suggested we make six instead and save the rest. Then we found out that our housemate and her boyfriend and kids were going to eat with us, so put three more in the oven. Then it turned out that the kids ate far more of the pot pies than we expected. I didn’t expect the littlest kids to finish even one each. Benjamin ate two. So Grace was right, and I was wrong; we should have made the full dozen. I didn’t realize how small they are; the ones I get for lunches are bigger.

Grace and I didn’t want to eat the pot pies and so I fried us some eggs. After dinner I realized that there is something wrong with the Dawn Farm eggs. A number of them had a lot of blood spots. It’s normal to find an occasional little blood spot, but these were big clots; I had to pick three out of one egg. Grace commented that she had to pick clots out of several of the Dawn Farm eggs as well. I also noticed that the whites were quite cloudy, rather than clear. I always crack the eggs individually into a container before putting them in the pan, and none of the eggs seemed obviously rotten, but I noticed that yesterday’s cake had a strong sulfur smell and my boss at work commented on it, too. I felt a little queasy after dinner. So I’m not actually sure what is wrong with the eggs. I think maybe the chickens weren’t healthy, or weren’t fed healthy feed. What makes fresh eggs excessively sulfurous? Were they just stored too long? I really don’t know. But I know that these just weren’t quite right.

We didn’t really finish a full kitchen cleanup, but instead tried to get to bed at a reasonable hour. I read the kids a few more chapters of The Wild Robot Escapes. Things are getting exciting; Roz has just fallen off a building and been knocked unconscious. I think we should be able to finish that book in ony one or two more reading sessions. Maybe even tonight.

This morning I went to the Coffee House Creamery for breakfast, and had a toasted cinnamon bagel with peanut butter and a three-shot latte made with almond milk. While I ate that, I did a little more editing of these 2018 blog posts. I’m not even through January, but I’m going to slowly plug away at it, and hope that I get quicker; I’m also going to look into writing plug-ins for Pandoc in Lua.

There is some good money news. Grace finally got a call back yesterday from a supervisor at Liberty Mutual. They have issued a check for more of the repair cost for the family room, as well as the original window board-up they never covered. So we will get about $2,000. That will certainly help. Working with Liberty Mutual has been a ridiculous exercise, though. We can’t recommend them to anyone.

Kavanaugh’s performance yesterday was an utterly disgusting spectacle. I wrote on Twitter:

Kavanaugh revealed himself to be a classic crybully. Unfortunately he wasn’t really speaking to anyone in the room. He was speaking directly to Trump’s base of aggrieved, entitled sociopaths and they saw a knight in shining armor bravely defending his honor against smears.

They saw Kavanaugh standing up for them. They actually believe that he worked his butt off to get where he is now because they still believe in meritocracy.

The people who picked him and vetted him and are going to ram him through don’t believe in meritocracy. They believe in power and psyops. They knew he was a garbage person. They are reveling in the anger and the distraction it is causing. Watch their other hand closely!

While this has taken over the entire news cycle, the administration us very likely quietly picking our pockets.

Last night I posted one of those colorful text messages on Facebook that simply said “Jesus Christ, what an absolute asshole.”

I heard this morning that the Republicans are going to hold a vote on Kavanaugh at 1:30 p.m. I’m not at all optimistic; I don’t believe the Democrats will stand against his nomination. Jeff Flake a supposedly moderate Republican, has already stated that he will support Kavanaugh. But we’ll see.

It’s hard to believe that we’re seriously talking about this, but William Gibson (“@GreatDismal” on Twitter) asked:

So is “boofing” an alcoholic enema? Recall tales of this as a means of avoiding detection on breath, but not as one of the many preppy routes to alcoholic poisoning.

I responded:

When I was in college in 1985, I heard from an incoming freshman girl that at her high school, “bufu” meant “butt-fucking.” I was told that at these schools was huge social pressure to have had anal sex, even more so than vaginal sex. That’s my guess at the meaning of “boof.”

It also makes sense to me that at a Catholic school this would be a widely promoted practice; a way to have sex while reducing the risk of pregnancy and still preserving virginity, sort of.

Of course I don’t know for sure what it meant to that particular in-crowd at that school at that time. That’s the whole point of this sort of slang; it’s meant to be inscrutable to people outside the group.

Kavanaugh’s assertion that it meant “farting” doesn’t even make any sense, and is just another example of his many outright lies to the Judiciary committee.

There’s some debate about whether “Have you boofed yet?” on Kavanaugh’s yearbook page referred to anal sex, or to alcoholic enemas. The responses on Twitter lean towards “anal sex.” I can’t say that I know for sure what Kavanaugh meant. But I’m very sure he didn’t mean “have you farted yet?”


We’ve been busy. Because I left work early on Thursday, to go to the chorus open house, I had to stay later yesterday. I was planning to jump in my car right at 8:00 and make it to Costco just in the nick of time to buy a few groceries. But I blew it, and by the time I was leaving, it was too late to do even a quick grocery run. So instead I went to Plum Market to buy some Achatz four-berry pies and hamburger rolls (and Jesus, Plum Market is expensive; I was going to buy some fish there, but nope). Then I went to Kroger to get some frozen fish and salad and blueberries. And I’m reminded why we use Costco; it’s far more expensive to buy things in regular-sized quantities. I bought three boxes of frozen fish fillets and three bags of salad, and some small containers of blueberries. Grace and I made a plan to go to Costco this morning.

Our housemate and her boyfriend had not cleaned up the oven, so it had to stay a burnt-up mess a little longer. We ate quite late, because the kids had not gotten a handle on kitchen cleanup and were procrastinating hard.

I fried up some frozen salmon burgers for the grown-ups and the kids ate the breaded cod fillets. I ate one of them and they were actually pretty tasty. The berry pies were really good, probably one of the best commercially made pies I’ve ever had. We left the second one for breakfast.

While getting dinner on the table, I smashed my food against one of the wooden stools that the kids keep bringing into the kitchen — where were actually four of them in the room at the time. This sent me onto an embarrassing tirade of f-bombs about the damned stools and how much I hate them getting underfoot all the time. I thought I might have broken one or even two toes (years ago I dislocated a little toe and broke a bone in my foot doing something similar with a milk crate). I iced my toes with a bag of edamame. They were not swelling too badly so I decided to just wait and see how they were in the morning.

For last night’s bedtime story, I finished reading The Wild Robot Escapes. Finally! It’s an enjoyable story, although maybe a little age-limited. It seems like it is right at Joshua’s grade level.

This morning we were up and around reasonably early. This morning the toes don’t actually seem broken. They aren’t terribly swollen, although one is a lurid purple and sore, with tingling and numbness.

In the kitchen, I got the fans going and sprayed oven cleaner on the nasty spots in the oven, then put a big “X” of blue gaffer tape across it so that no one would try and use it. The kids ate the second pie for breakfast, and Grace and I drove first to the Mother Loaf Bakery in Milan, and got some great bread: a sandwich loaf, a salt-crusted rye, a small, ultra-dense multigrain loaf:

100% mixed grain madness. It’s a blend of our whole grain, Michigan-grown, organic buckwheat, wheat, rye and spelt flour and groats/berries.

We’re looking forward to eating that one. We also tasted their cranberry, cornmeal, and herb bread which was extremely tasty too, although we had enough. Grace and I also had them cut one of their ricotta, pine nut, and herb bialys in half, and we ate that on the drive to Costco — and wow, was that ever delicious. Still warm from the oven, an amazing combination of crunchy outside and chewy inside, with the soft, warm herb-flavored ricotta… salivating all over keyboard

I need to make this quick, because we’re going to a party in Grass Lake and we’ve got to get everyone loaded into the car in just a few minutes, as it is a thirty-minute drive. We went to Costco. It’s much more crowded and Saturdays, and we kind of hate that. We brought back a reasonably-sized load of food including bagged salad, lamb steaks, carrots, celery, eggs, butter, blackberries, bananas, a couple of whole chickens, and a big bag of popcorn. So that should be plenty for the week. We also got a whole tray of wrap sandwiches to take to the party.

When we got back our housemate and her boyfriend were cooking on the stove (but not using the oven). Grace made a pot of Bob’s Red Mill steel-cut oats in the instant pot, with dried cranberries and hazelnuts, for the kids to eat. As soon the stove was not in use, I started working on the oven again. Despite sitting soaked in oven cleaner for a couple of hours, the burned-on spots were extremely tenacious, so I had to unscrew the whole bottom panel of the oven interior (again). Our housemate did help scrub it a bit once I had that panel in the sink again. This was so unnecessary and it makes me mad.

We’re getting the kids loaded up to go to the party and so I’ve got to get this posted and get out of here! That’s the week.

Books, Music, Movies, and TV Mentioned This Week

  • The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter
  • Incredibly Spreadable (album of live children’s music) by Peanutbutterjam (Eileen Packard and Paul Recker)
  • The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien (bedtime reading in progress)
  • Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood (in progress)
  • The Wild Robot Escapes by Peter Brown (bedtime reading, finished)
  • Elric: The Moonbeam Roads (Gollancz, 2014) (omnibus volume containing 3 novels; finished the first, Daughter of Dreams)

Ypsilanti, Michigan
The Week Ending Saturday, September 29th, 2018

Saturday, September 22, 2018

The week ending Saturday, September 22nd, 2018


It hasn’t been a great day. I’ve been slammed by allergies, and so it’s almost 7:00 p.m. and I haven’t gotten much of anything done today. Grace brought me an affogato from Milan Coffee Works, and a lot of bread, and both those things tend to trigger my allergies. It seems like if I eat dairy only in small quantities and only occasionally, I can keep myself at a point where I have no symptoms. But if I’m reacting to pollen, and reacting to dairy, and then add flour, a combination like that can trigger a full-blown allergy attack, and then I’ll feel awful and my nose will run like a faucet, and it I don’t get it settled down, I might wind up with a sinus infection on top of the allergies.

So I’ve gone back on Flonase and Claritin. I have that spacey, dizzy hay fever feeling today. I haven’t even done any reading. We got up late. I made fried eggs and bacon and toasted English muffins, and made myself a pot of tea with honey. I had an egg sandwich and a couple of glasses of tea and that’s all I’ve eaten today. When I have bad allergies I don’t feel like eating. I feel mostly like fasting and napping. But I needed to do some more kitchen clean-up. This included applying the rest of a can of oven cleaner, because there had been more spills in the oven. It’s better, but could use a deeper cleaning at some point.

I tried to take a nap this afternoon but the kids, including our housemate’s three, were so noisy that I wasn’t very successful. Grace has been out meeting with a friend, and then out again, running some errands. We still need to record a podcast. The kids want to be fed again. I don’t want to skip another podcast. So I’m trying to pull myself together.

Last night I read more of The Wild Robot Escapes to the kids that showed up for it. We’re getting near the end of that book. I also started reading a book that has been on my shelf for over a year, waiting for the right time: Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood. This is a quick read and it takes place in a post-apocalyptic world that is very gritty and physical. She writes a lot about the details of living in a wild setting, like trying to bathe in rainwater, and being surrounded by insects and animals. It’s beautiful in a strange way. I think we can all identify with sometimes wishing we had no responsibilities and could just stroll around the woods, although the swollen insect bites don’t sound appealing. And our protagonist’s memories are spooling out a disturbing story of genetic engineering. This novel was no doubt an influence on Jeff VanderMeer’s Borne, which unfortunately I started but still haven’t finished. It’s hard to decide where the boundaries of genres are. Atwood has apparently made strong statements about how she didn’t want Oryx and Crake to be called “science fiction.” I don’t really care what she calls it, but it is helpful when people can discuss similar books or use sub-genre labels such as “urban fantasy” to find more books they like.

Late last night our housemate brought some some kind of ice cream cups or treats into the freezer, planning to take them to a birthday party this morning. Daniel got into them before we were up and moving. This has been a big problem; if there is junk food in the house, our kids tend to find it. I think we’ve actually trained Benjamin (almost five) to stop taking food that doesn’t belong to him, but Daniel (seven) still does it. We also heared this morning that apparently he’s done it other times, which we didn’t hear about. This makes things hard because it means he’s gotten away with stealing, weeks or months ago, and we don’t have details to . It’s very hard to hold a seven-year-old accountable for something that happened in the past. Kids don’t have great memories. Kids will make up details when you interrogate them. They don’t reliably separate the truth from their confabulations. And if we try to apply some kind of punishment or consequence for something that happened weeks ago, it’s not clear that he will really have the behavior-modification affect that we want.

So we eventually got Daniel to confess, and he had to give up some of his possessions as punishment. And now we have to make restitution to our housemate, which means a gift card, and we really don’t have extra money for this kind of thing.

Grace went to visit a friend who was having an open house for her Catholic worker house, and her friend had quite a bit of food left over. So she brought home big trays of (fattoush)[], melon, and mujaddara. There are so many transliterations for that word, but I’ll just stick to the Wikipedia version. However you want to spell it, this is a dish of lentils, rice, and browned onions. This is actually a perfect thing for me to eat for dinner, since it has nearly no allergy-triggering ingredients. So that’s dinner! Sometimes things do actually work out to make our lives easier! And we might have time for a podcast after all.

Water Softener

I forgot to mention it back when it happened, but about a week and a half ago the water softener service guy came out and fixed the softener. Apparently there was a little part that was clogged with hard water minerals, and so water would not flow through the salt tank. He replaced that piece and it is working well again. And since we had paid him to come out and fix it just a couple of weeks earlier, the “a service call is good for thirty days” rule was in effect, so he didn’t charge us for this second trip. I feel pretty happy about that, as I was fully expecting that he might find some expensive thing to charge us for.


Grace and I went down to the basement to record a show. We weren’t very prepared, and so agreed to mostly wing it. I did print out some notes from my blog about Michael Moorcock’s Elric stories. I talked about my recommended reading order, skipping over most of the mid-career stuff, and recommended the novel I’m currently reading, Daughter of Dreams, also known as The Dreamthief’s Daughter, even though I haven’t finished it and can’t necessarily vouch for the other two Moonbeam Roads novels.

We recorded for just over an hour. I made one edit, to cover Grace’s bathroom break. The finished show is only one hour and six minutes long, which is really pretty short as Pottscasts go. Post-production went pretty smoothly, and Grace and I got to sleep around 1:30 a.m. It was a big help to have dinner out of the way before recording! Many Sunday nights I’ve missed dinner entirely, or scarfed some leftovers down just before going to sleep, since Grace and the kids often eat while I’m doing the post-production work.

This morning I knew that I was supposed to bring leftovers. But when I took my bag out to the car, I was distracted by the fact that the kids had left the garage door wide open and all the lights on again. So I went in to tell Grace, and on my way back out, entirely forgot to take the leftovers. This kind of thing happens to me almost without fail when there is some kind of upsetting disruption in my morning routine.

I got a 3-shot mocha made with almond milk for breakfast. I’m debating what to do for lunch, as I don’t really have anything left in the refrigerator or kitchen cabinets at my office.


I got back from work quite late last night, after staying late to try to finish up some very tedious changes to the LCD GUI’s online help. Getting the text formatted right on the screen involved a lot of recompiling and testing.

Last night our housemate made a bunch of quiches for dinner. Sadly, although we thought they were not bad and ate them, she did not like the way they came out at all and would only eat the crust.

We struggled through our usual cleanup chores with the kids. Grace asked me to wipe down Elanor’s high chair, which gets downright disgusting, so I worked on that. I took a little time with Joshua, who has been asking me to show him how to play electric bass. I dug out one of my method books out of a box and burned a CD containing the lesson tracks. We pretty quickly discovered that Joshua’s hands really just aren’t big enough to play bass yet. So we’ll have to regroup. Maybe he can learn ukulele. I no longer have a decent ukulele I’m willing to let the kids play, but it wouldn’t be that expensive to pick one up.

The kids asked me to read from either The Wild Robot Escapes or Down and Out in Paris and London. I was ready to read one of those, but then Benjamin asked me to read The Magic School Bus: Lost in the Solar System by Joanna Cole. I was going to read that one first, and then read a second story, but it is actually pretty long for a children’s book, with quite a bit of text. I thought I was going to have to stop and explain how Pluto was no longer considered a planet, but it seems the book is new enough that it does not call Pluto a planet, but a “plutoid.” I’m a little confused because Wikipedia tells me that the book was published in 1990, but Pluto wasn’t officially demoted to the category of “dwarf planets” until 2006, and the term “plutoid” wasn’t adopted until 2008. So I guess this must be a revised edition. And I must be pretty out-of-date, since I didn’t know that the term “plutoid” had been adopted. Apparently the plutoids are a subset of dwarf planets. The book may have seized on the term a little too eagerly:

A plutoid or ice dwarf is a trans-Neptunian dwarf planet, i.e. a body orbiting beyond Neptune that is massive enough to be rounded in shape. The term plutoid was adopted by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) working group Committee on Small Bodies Nomenclature, but was rejected by the IAU working group Planetary System Nomenclature. The term plutoid is not widely used by astronomers, though ice dwarf is not uncommon.

I’ve never heard of “ice dwarf.” I think “dwarf planet” is a much more widely accepted term, and Cole probably should have stuck with it, but I’m sympathetic to the difficulties of trying to choose a term when the terms are changing rapidly. How do you stay up-to-date when apparently astronomers themselves haven’t settled on nomenclature? Wikipedia shows a somewhat complicated chart showing the inter-related terms “Planets,” “Satellites (natural),” “Trans-Neptunian objects,” “Dwarf planets,” “Minor planets,” “Small Solar System bodies,” “Centaurs,” “Comets,” and “Plutoids.” And when you dig down into the meanings of those terms, you find that there are a lot more fine distinctions that can be made.

I’m all in favor of “teaching the controversy.” It’s an exciting time in astronomy, and our understanding of the solar system is advancing rapidly. As we learn more, we keep finding that it is more complicated than we thought. But this nomenclature is far too complicated for my four-year-old. And that chart doesn’t even take into account “Neptune trojans,” cubewanos," “Plutinos,” “Sednoids,” “KBOs,” “SDOs,” “Oort cloud objects,” and other bodies.

I think calling Pluto a “dwarf planet” should be uncontroversial, even though it is also a Trans-Neptunian object, a Plutoid, a Kuiper belt object, and a Plutino. And “dwarf planet” is specific enough, at age 4.

Maybe when he turns 5, then we can start talking about hydrostatic equilibrium.

When we discovered Pluto, we knew far less about the solar system than we do now. It turns out there are a lot of objects out there that are around the size of Pluto — probably hundreds, possibly thousands. We know of one that is actually bigger than Pluto: Eris. And there may very well be more. If we’re going to call Pluto a planet, fairness would dictate that we call Eris a planet, too. And if we start referring to these dwarf planets as planets, those textbooks are going to be changing much more often. So, it seems to me perfectly sensible to draw a bright line around the four “terrestrial planets” and the four “giant planets,” all far larger and far closer to the sun than bodies like Eris and Pluto, and call those the planets. Kids can learn those first — there’s plenty to learn about the planets! Then if they want to get into the weeds out beyond Neptune, they can move on to the much messier study of the smaller bodies.

Anyway. After I finished The Magic School Bus: Lost in the Solar System, it was too late to read another story. The kids were tired, and so didn’t seem to mind much that they didn’t get a second story. We went on to bed. I had breakfast at the Harvest Moon Cafe this morning. This evening if everything goes smoothly, we will record a podcast with Anna, a pastry chef who works in New York City.


Things went pretty smoothly last night. I made it home in time to have beef stew with my family. That was delicious. We cut into the salt rye from Mother Loaf bakery and I used it to soak up the broth. Wow.

We got set up in our basement podcasting studio in time to welcome our guest, almost like we know what we’re doing! And we didn’t record an hour of silence and need to start over. Amazing!

Of course, the kitchen is a horrific mess, but I suppose we can’t have everything.

Our conversation with Anna went well and I got the Logic project set up, and bounced the master audio file. I will finish the post-production work on Sunday. It’s a relief to be a little bit ahead of schedule!

At bedtime I read the rest of Down and Out in Paris and London. We have finally finished it! There’s a nice segment near the end where Orwell talks about prejudice against “tramps” and “tramping.” He unpacks the prevailing attitudes, and then very deftly shows that the behaviors that people associate with criminality, lack of character, or even claim represents an “atavistic throwback” to nomadic migration (and I’m not even going to begin to unpack the racial and cultural bigotry inherent in that terminology) are actually forced on the tramps by the social structures around them:

Of course a tramp is not a nomadic atavism — one might as well say that a commercial traveller is an atavism. A tramp tramps, not because he likes it, but for the same reason as a car keeps to the left; because there happens to be a law compelling him to do so. A destitute man, if he is not supported by the parish, can only get relief at the casual wards, and as each casual ward will only admit him for one night, he is automatically kept moving. He is a vagrant because, in the state of the law, it is that or starve. But people have been brought up to believe in the tramp-monster, and so they prefer to think that there must be some more or less villainous motive for tramping.

It’s interesting to consider how this same kind of social-structure analysis applies to people receiving food benefits, unemployment benefits, etc. If I’m receiving the very limited cash payments available to me while unemployed, which I believe is still $362.00 a week, I have to focus entirely on getting a job that paid as well or better as my previous job. Even though I’m trying to live on a small fraction of my previous income, I can’t simply attempt to supplement that unemployment with a small income so that I can pay my mortgage. Any income at all will reduce that payment and so there is no net benefit to me in taking a temporary job to help me stay solvent until I can find a better job. That’s a social-structure reality that provides a “perverse” or “reverse” incentive. People receiving safety-net entitlements face this kind of problem all the time. And on top of it, they are faced with the silent (or not-so-silent) judgment of people who don’t understand the bind they are in.

I read a few little passages from Down and Out in Paris and London during our conversation with Anna, although I’m not sure they made all that much sense in context. I am hoping to do a show on that book, and I’d especially like to find a guest who knows more about Orwell than I do (which is, to be honest, not very much), and would like to help us discuss the man and his writing.

The kids were cranky last night and woke us up several times. Elanor woke up for a while, protesting something or other. Benjamin stole into our bed, and we didn’t notice until I kept kicking someone. I thought it was Elanor who had climbed to the bottom of the bed, but no, it was Bilby. Then he woke us up in the middle of our deep sleep, probably about 4 a.m., by running into the bathroom and turning on all the lights. So it was a broken night’s sleep and we were not very alert this morning.

Grace took my car, to take Sam to a speech therapy appointment, so she can pick up Sam’s bike afterwards. I took her car, and was unhappy to find that it didn’t have enough gas to get me to the office, so I had to stop for gas, making myself still later.

I’m really glad, though, that Sam is finally going to see a speech therapist. We tried years ago to get him this help through the Saginaw school system. The people involved delayed and dithered for months, until the paperwork had expired. Several of my kids have a stutter, and problems clearly articulating words. Benjamin has the most difficulty, but Sam is probably a close second. Grace and I do our best to give them the time to finish sentences. But I know their speech difficulties make them very frustrated, because in a house full of kids it is hard to give them enough time and quiet to get their words out. Their siblings and peers aren’t always accommodating. Sometimes they just give up on the project of getting their words out, and that can’t be good.


Grace informed me that Sam’s speech difficulty (“disfluency”) is called “cluttering,” as opposed to stuttering. I’m not sure if insurance will cover treatment for “cluttering.” I had never heard of it, so I’m cramming on the subject.


Sam Meets Bike

When I got home last night, the kids told me that after just a short time on the now pedal-less bike, Sam had gotten the hang of balancing the bike. My old bike was leaning against the garage, and he was actually riding around the driveway. Successfully riding a bike for the first time. I was a bit stunned. I guess we can get pedals put back on my old bike.

Also last night, our friend Joy came to visit. When I got home she was out running an errand, but Grace and the kids were looking over all kinds of nifty stuff that she brought with her including a big stash of cloth napkins. The kids had done a not-so-great job with chores, and the kitchen was in a barely-usable state. Grace had assembled a big pot of soup out of leftovers, and put together a bagged salad from Costco, and broiled the lamb steaks. So that was dinner.

We should have eaten the lamb steaks a few days earlier. They weren’t spoiled, but it seemed like their flavor was a bit past its prime. I also should have taken them out of the oven earlier. They really need to be eaten closer to rare or medium rare, but I was not concentrating, what with the chaos in the house, and was confused by the fact that they were browning faster on the bottom than on the top. So they were more like medium or medium-well. Grace had put them in a sheet pan, and in the center of the oven rather than close to the top. We got tastier results throwing the steaks in a hot cast-iron pan on the stovetop, to sear them, and then putting the skillet in a pre-heated oven (at 450) for just a few minutes to finish them up. We also should have finished them au beurre. I think we didn’t do it that way last night because everything was dirty.

For last night’s bedtime story, I read a little bit more of The Wild Robot Escapes, and then tried to read some more of The Fellowship of the Ring. Benjamin stubbornly refused to stay quiet, though, and was interrupting and talking over the story constantly. So I couldn’t make much progress. We’re still in the chapter called “The Council of Elrond,” and only made it through a couple more pages. Bilbo has just told the council the story of his discovery of the ring:

‘Very well,’ said Bilbo. ‘I will do as you bid. But I will now tell the true story, and if some here have heard me tell it otherwise’ — he looked sidelong at Gloín — ‘I ask them to forget it and forgive me. I only wished to claim the treasure as my very own in those days, and to be rid of the name of thief that was put on me. But perhaps I understand things a little better now. Anyway, this is what happened.’

Tolkien is actually lampshading two sets of changes here: first, in-universe, Bilbo did mislead the other party members about exactly what happened with Gollum and the discovery of the ring, and this was supposed to indicate that the ring was already making him greedy, and leading him to tell both himself and the others a self-justifying story. But Tolkien is also addressing readers who might have read the earlier text of The Hobbit. The changes are detailed in the two-volume The History of the Hobbit by John D. Rateliff. The biggest changes were to the chapter “Riddles in the Dark.” Per Wikipedia:

In the first edition of The Hobbit, Gollum willingly bets his magic ring on the outcome of the riddle-game, and he and Bilbo part amicably. In the second edition edits, to reflect the new concept of the ring and its corrupting abilities, Tolkien made Gollum more aggressive towards Bilbo and distraught at losing the ring. The encounter ends with Gollum’s curse, “Thief! Thief, Thief, Baggins! We hates it, we hates it, we hates it forever!” This presages Gollum’s portrayal in The Lord of the Rings.

I haven’t had any down time to finish reading Daughter of Dreams or to make any further progress in Oryx and Crake. We have gotten occasional updates from our realtor about showings, but we haven’t had any news of an offer. As the month drags on, this feels worse and worse. I want to get a furnace into the old house, but I don’t have the money to do so. I keep hoping we will get some bit of information that will suggest a way forward on the house situation. Sometimes the best thing to do really is stay the course a little bit longer, until a new course of action becomes clear. But it really seems like we are stalled out, and have to choose one of several bad options soon.


Last night we had meatball soup, made by our housemate, apparently with Grace’s help. It was starchy and pretty tasty. She and her boyfriend ate with us, which has been a rare event. Cleanup was big and difficult, though. Grace had put a hot air-lined pot into its insulating pouch and the plastic melted, which got plastic all over the pot. Then apparently it was heated on the stove. So the pot was splattered with melted, burned-on plastic. This stuff came off, but it took me over an hour of scrubbing and I went through three of the heavy-duty green Scotch-Brite scouring pads. This also unfortunately took most of the shiny stainless-steel finish off the pot, leaving it with more of a matte finish, but I didn’t really see a way to avoid that. Going over it again with steel wool smooths that out just a little bit. Steel wool was useless to actually grind off the burnt plastic, and so was that melamine “magic eraser” material.

I’ve been craving carbs, and somewhat unusually for me, dark chocolate. I think the best course of action is to try supplying myself with some relatively low-sugar dark chocolate, 85% or more, and see if eating a little bit of that every day helps ease my craving without gorging myself on sugars and starches. Because I’m also packing on wait in a way that I find very, very demoralizing. This morning I tried to put on the jeans I wore last fall and winter and they were too uncomfortably tight to wear.

The kids had not cleaned up the kitchen during the day, and left quite a mess. There was no counter space, the sink was full, and the stove was all coated with goo. So in addition to all that scrubbing, I had to run two dishwasher loads and clean the stove. I described my carb and chocolate craving to Grace and we considered running out to get some chocolate or some kind of dessert, but settled for making a coconut milk hot chocolate after dinner. This helped bring my mood up just a bit, but I have definitely had better days.

I wanted to take a break and read a little bit of Daughter of Dreams between the first round of scrubbing and getting back to more kitchen cleanup, but our bed was covered with laundry that Veronica was folding, and the rest of the kids were in our bedroom watching videos on Grace’s laptop. I wound up sitting at the table in the empty family room/dining room for a while, but it was too dark to read at the kitchen table (our light fixture in that room uses little decorative bulbs — it’s on my “to do when we have money” list to replace it with something much brighter, and add a couple of extra floor lamps). So I didn’t get a chance to read last night at all, and taking some time to read is what usually helps me calm and center myself; that, and playing guitar.

I’m also, I must admit, trying to get through books just to cross them off the list. I would like to “stall out” on books less often; there are way too many half-finished books on my shelves. (Although I’m torn; part of me thinks that it is a good thing to be willing to set aside, at least for the time being, a book I’m not actually getting much out of; that part would argue that finishing is no virtue, just an obsession). I’ve been trying to consciously reduce my obsessive behaviors, and take David Feldman’s advice: he reads a number of daily papers, and suggests that people read the first few paragraphs of each article, and if the article hasn’t really pulled you in and fascinated you, just skip it.

I’m half-horrified of this, but only half-horrified. I used to be completely horrified by it. I used to make it a point of pride to read every issue of the New Yorker, or the New York Review of Books cover-to-cover. But as I get older and feel my reading time to be much more limited, I’ve started to come around to his way of thinking, and in fact I apply it to listening to his podcast, as he suggests; if I get behind, and miss a few episodes, or don’t finish them, I don’t attempt to catch up; I just pick up the next one, when I get around to it.

But I’d still like to be able to cross off more books, especially since now that I’ve started documenting just what I read, it’s become a kind of competition with my past self.

I haven’t really gotten any reading done all week, other than a little time spent reading aloud to the kids at bedtime. And a funny thing tends to happen with that bedtime reading: if it’s a children’s book, I often wind up going on autopilot. I’ll proceed through several pages, reading aloud, the kids listening or not as they choose, and then realize that I have no idea what I’ve been reading about, at all, and that I’ve actually been disengaged, thinking about completely different things, letting some parts of my brain and body handle the bedtime story while the part I usually think of as “me” does its usual obsession, worrying, self-criticism, or whatever it does.

Maybe the next book I should read to the kids is Marvin Minsky’s The Society of Mind.

I mentioned that Sam was diagnosed as “cluttering” when he speaks. We are going to try to get his speech therapy covered by my health insurance. He has another session scheduled. Apparently his speech therapy will cost $200 per session, if they won’t cover it. If we really can’t get it covered, this might be the incentive that drives me to just surrender the Saginaw house to our lender. Sam has to be able to speak clearly to people, or his prospects for further education and employment will be severely hampered. Sending him to see a speech therapist weekly would cost almost as much as the mortgage on our old house. I don’t really want to just replace the one monthly expense with the other, as that doesn’t get us ahead by very much. But if we did free ourselves of those expenses, maybe we could send him every other week, and still have a little bit of take-home pay freed up to pay down debts and start, just start, to build up a proper emergency fund.

We’re going to have to get Benjamin evaluated as well, because he seems to have a pretty severe stutter.

And we’ve noticed, for a while now, a strange speech-related behavior that Joshua exhibits. He speaks fairly clearly, but after he’s done speaking, and often when we are replying, he will continue to move his mouth for a few seconds, as if he’s still speaking but someone turned his volume knob to zero. I’m not sure I’d call that a “disfluency,” but it sure is weird. Is this Palilalia?

Palilalia is similar to speech disorders such as stuttering or cluttering, as it tends to only express itself in spontaneous speech, such as answering basic questions, and not in automatic speech such as reading or singing; however, it distinctively affects words and phrases rather than syllables and sounds.

Or a form of echolalia?

He doesn’t “sub-vocalize” while reading silently. Maybe if we just make him aware of it, he will be able to stop himself from doing it.

On my lunch break I went to Nicola’s Books to see if I saw anything interesting. They have the sixth volume of Knausgaard’s My Struggle in hardcover, for $33.00. It’s a very fat book. I’ve got plenty of other fat books on my shelf, waiting for me to either start them, or finish them. After reading a review on Slate, I’m not actually sure I want to read this one. Maybe I should just let myself keep my overwhelmingly positive impressions of the first five volumes, challenging though they were; reading them was rewarding but also difficult emotionally, as I found myself starting to run Knausgaard’s bleak and depressive software on my own mental hardware. I like Charles Finch’s comment:

Like life, his books are both boring and relentlessly interesting; like life, they seem somehow both very long and very fast. In other words, they’re like life. A second life, which the reader briefly lives in Knausgaard’s stead, prosaic, meaningless, yet of course also replete with the most serious possible meaning, replete with sad vastness, private infinities.

Volume six contains a lot of commentary about the fallout Knausgaard experienced after publishing the previous volumes. It also contains a very, very long essay about Hitler. Maybe I don’t need that to run those two pieces of software on my mental hardware. Maybe nothing good could come of doing that. Maybe I should finish the new translation of Crime and Punishment instead.

At the very least, I’ll probably wait and see if a paperback edition comes out that matches my editions of volumes 1-5. Maybe it will at least be a little more portable than the massive hardcover brick. Maybe they’ll release it in two volumes. Maybe I’ll buy it then. Or maybe I won’t. Maybe it will be enough to know that I could read it if I wanted to, having read the previous five, and choose not to.

LabVIEW, Yet Again

My co-worker Patrick and I finally got a chance to sit down on the hardware test rig and test some of the LabVIEW application code I wrote some time ago, but which we never put into full production. And of course we have found several problems. One seems to be a hardware problem in the test rig. We’ll have to investigate that further. Another seems to be a software problem I introduced when refactoring. This sent me back into a LabVIEW tizzy, using a for loop structure to propagate fields from clusters of data from one array into another.

And here some of the difficulties of propagating types through LabVIEW code made my life baffling for a time. For a programmer so used to text-based languages, doing an operation like “give this object this type” continues to be a frustrating thing in the all-visual LabVIEW environment. LabVIEW has many, many little tricks up its sleeve; there seems to almost always be a way to convince it to do an operation in a clever way that hides a lot of complexity. The problem is that if you don’t (yet) have a lot of experience in the environment, it can be hard to find that particular trick, and sometimes the environment feels like it is fighting you.

For example, I wanted to pass two arrays into a for loop, and inside the loop I wanted to copy elements from each cluster in the first array into each cluster in the second array. This seems simple enough. LabVIEW will auto-index arrays when you hook them up to “tunnels” on a for loop. You just wire them up. The visual “syntax” is a tiny box on the input.

But it turns out that there’s a quirk. If you hook up two arrays with different numbers of elements, the number of iterations of the loop will be limited by the array with the fewest elements. In this case, the array I wanted to fill had no elements. LabVIEW arrays are dynamic; I wanted it to create those elements from the elements in the first array. But it wouldn’t do it; it stubbornly refused to execute the body of the for loop at all.

There was a workaround, of course; LabVIEW has a very rich set of operations. But the workaround was inelegant and downright ugly; it involved filling in elements of a cluster, starting with a constant, and assembling a new array of clusters, and then putting that in the second data structure. It was one of those “wow, this works, but it makes my skin crawl” situations.

So I finally got it cleaned up by — I’m guessing you might have guessed the answer — cleaning up the types, to make them uniform. When I did that, lo and behold, almost everything I wanted to do in the for loop went away. And this suggested a further simple refactoring, which got rid of the data-copying from one array to another altogether. Sometimes it really is better to just leave a workaround in place if it isn’t a performance problem, but sometimes it really is better to just bite the bullet and finish the refactoring, and let that refactoring lead to the next one, and so on, until the code is so dramatically simplified that you can’t think of anything else to simplify.

On my lunch break, I bought some dark chocolate: six bars total, three to leave at work and three to take home. If it is 85% dark chocolate (or more), I won’t eat it for the sugar, and my kids won’t get it out of the cupboard and scarf it down, because it isn’t sweet enough to overcome their aversion to bitterness. But I will eat it, perhaps a quarter of a bar, when I’m having that craving.

I also bought some Dr. Bronner’s bar soap, and some more dishwasher pods. I didn’t really want to go to Arbor Farms, but they had the good chocolate. So this was an exceedingly expensive little errand: six bars of dark chocolate, three bars of soap, three bags of dishwasher pods, a small wrap sandwich, and a packet of broad bean crisps, and it cost me something like seventy dollars. Ouch.

I was going to have a late second lunch, since I stayed pretty late today, but the leftover soup and mujaddara really didn’t smell and taste good anymore, so I wound up throwing the rest of it away and eating some more dark chocolate and broad beans.

I’ll head to Costco in a few minutes. It had better be a pretty light load after spending so much earlier.

Between the dark chocolate and the successful bug fixes and refactorings, maybe the day isn’t terrible after all.


I kept the price of my Costco run down to about $160.00, which was not bad. I tried hard to pick up items I was certain we could use over the next few days. Grace was away at a pre-conference dinner, so didn’t join us. I thought the kids might make rice, because it’s one of the things we do regularly on Fridays, even though Grace was not there. But they didn’t, so we ate salmon and cheese pizza and an apple pie.

Our refrigerator is becoming clogged up with leftovers that didn’t get used according to plan. For example, we only cooked half the pot roast, and didn’t immediately freeze the other half, and so now that other half is eight days old and not looking or smelling too good. I might try trimming it rinsing it, but I think there’s probably no salvaging it at this point. This happens in part because we haven’t been able to establish a habit of planning a weekly menu with our housemate, although not for lack of trying on our part. So we’ll have a plan for the food items I bring home, but our housemate will unexpectedly make a big meal for dinner without planning with us, trashing the kitchen and not cleaning up. We’ll have that food to eat, then we’ll have an unused high-value food item like the pot roast going to waste, and on top of it, we’ll have to spend a whole evening cleaning up the kitchen. It’s truly maddening. We’ve been trying to explain that with thirteen people in the household, we really can’t just improvise meals. The quantities of food and cost of those quantities of food are both just too high for this to be a casual, improvised endeavor without planning.

Grace and I really, really hate wasting food. We make mistakes sometime and waste happens — for example, I put several bags of bananas up in the cupboard, and no one pulled them out for a few days, and by the time we remembered, them, they were overripe. We’ll make banana bread, but I think some of them are too far gone. That was a mistake and I try not to beat myself up about it. But a couple pounds of what was very high-quality meat? That just seems like a terrible sin.

Anyway, Grace got home late and she still had to work on her talk for today, so she stayed up quite late, and then had to get up early. We wound up setting the alarms on 3 different devices for 6:45 a.m. I was nervous for her, and woke up about 3:00, and was unable to get back to sleep for a while, so wasted time on Twitter for a while. She got out on time. It’s 5:00 p.m. now and I’m not sure when to expect her. I’m thinking we might go out for dinner when she gets back, or get takeout, or something like that, because we haven’t done good meal planning.

Not surprisingly I’ve been quite tired today. I spent a long time in the tub trying to feel ready to face the day. Sam made coffee, so there was coffee when I got up. I made a tray of bacon in the oven. We are out of paper towels, and I forgot about that because we didn’t consult on a shopping list, so the bacon fat is still in the tray, in the oven, rather than filtered and in a can in the refrigerator. I also made a pot of oatmeal. That got eaten. I did some kitchen cleanup, and read another chapter (finally!) in Daughter of Dreams. I have only one chapter left, a long chapter, and the brief epilogue. Then I tried to take a nap, but was woken again and again by Veronica bellowing at her brothers. She seems to always jump directly to maximum volume. So it hasn’t been a great day. It’s overcast and ugly out. But on the positive side, it’s nice and cool. Our houseguest is calling it cold, but she’s from California so that’s not surprising.

We received another offer on the house, but it was an offer for only $60,000. That’s too little for us to consider. Our realtor is talking further about a lease agreement, and we’re talking about possibilities for replacing the furnace or furnaces. This all seems like we have our back to the wall and we’re not happy negotiating from that position. We are still considering the option to walk away.

I have a pile of paperwork to look at, and bills to pay, and I feel like I can’t get even fifteen minutes of uninterrupted quiet time to look at those things. There are things I need to look over with Grace, too, and when she’s with me, it is often the case that we can’t actually finish a single sentence without that sentence being interrupted. We could really use a date night. I can’t even remember when we had our last date with just the two of us. It’s probably been over a year.

I also need to finish the post-recording production work for the podcast episode with Anna. That shouldn’t take too long. I’ve got some other topics in mind: I want to do a whole show, or at least a whole hour, about Down and Out in Paris and London. And Grace gave a talk today at a conference — maybe she’ll read the talk, and we can turn that talk into a bonus episode like we did last time.

So — goals for the remainder of the weekend:

  • Clean up the refrigerator
  • Clean the oven (at some point this week, someone spilled food all over the inside of the oven again and burned it on, and apparently did a half-assed job of cleaning it with oven cleaner, leaving oven cleaner residue all over the inside of the oven; it looks like if I don’t jump in and do a good cleaning job on the thing, no one will).
  • Finish the podcast
  • Finish and file those pieces of paperwork
  • Finish reading Daughter of Dreams

Those things don’t seem like they should be out of reach, but we’ll see.

Our housemate’s boyfriend says he is sick, and the girls are sick, so if they have a virus we’re trying not to catch it. We aren’t planning to turn the heating system on in the house until Halloween, in part because we need to get someone out to service it.

I wish I had more of a topic for today, instead of just a bunch of miscellaneous gripes and worries and plans. But sometimes all the little miscellaneous things drive out most or all of the more organized thoughts, and that’s just the way it is.

With Grace gone, we didn’t make it to the Mother Loaf Bakery today.

It’s officially the first day of fall. I should probably start reading that copy of Autumn by Karl Ove Knausgaard that I picked up a while back.

Books, Music, Movies, and TV Mentioned This Week

  • The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien (bedtime reading in progress)
  • Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell (finished)
  • Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
  • Dragon Ball Z: Broly - The Legendary Super Saiyan (1993 animated movie, 2018 Fathom events theatrical release)
  • The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978 Hong Kong Martial Arts movie)
  • Hacker’s Delight second edition by Henry S. Warren (used as a reference)
  • Iron Monkey (1993 Hong Kong Martial Arts movie)
  • Icehenge by Kim Stanley Robinson (finished)
  • The Wild Robot Escapes by Peter Brown (bedtime reading in progress)
  • Elric: The Moonbeam Roads (Gollancz, 2014) (omnibus volume containing 3 novels; the first, Daughter of Dreams in progress)

Ypsilanti, Michigan
The Week Ending Saturday, September 22nd, 2018

Saturday, September 15, 2018

The Week Ending Saturday, September 15th, 2018


Iron Monkey

It’s been a difficult day. We stayed up later last night than we probably should have, and slept late.

First, we watched a movie in the basement, called Iron Monkey. This is a Kung Fu movie from 1993 and it’s a lot of fun, with the over-the-top flying moves and fight scenes that I love. Like a lot of Kung Fu movies, it also features characters with a strong moral code, fighting corrupt state officials and monks. there are only a few moments that make me a bit embarrassed to be showing it to my kids. There are a few painfully sexist gags where women get thrown around and used as punching bags. I’m not talking about the fight scenes that actually feature Jean Wang as Miss Orchid. She’s a great character. I’m talking about a late fight scene where a woman winds up throw around as collateral damage and literally goes richocheting off the bad guy. But it could have been worse — for the most part I thought this movie was fine for the kids. There are some terrific scenes of people cooking Chinese dishes, and scenes showing how traditional Chinese medicine was practiced. There are even some bits of music and calligraphy as well. I’m not sure how accurate these scenes were, but they were interesting. It wasn’t all ridiculously over-the-top flying fistfights, although there were plenty of those as well.

After that we sent the kids to bed but Grace and I stayed up a while longer. We got up late. I read some more of Icehenge. The second novella is really quite good, and continues to be better than I hoped.

We decided to take the kids to the St. Francis parish picnic, which was actually held indoors because it has been cool and rainy. That was a big potluck in the parish activities center. Grace made a terrific potato salad. It took us forever to get the kids ready to go, though; no one seemed to be able to find and put on decent clothes, a couple of kids couldn’t find their shoes, and then there was last-minute confusion with a car seat which had been swapped with a housemate’s car seat, and which was in her boyfriend’s car. But we made it and managed to get there in time for everyone to eat and for the kids to make it to some of the activities in the gym.

Afterwards we gassed up Grace’s truck and came on home, and started to work on putting away laundry, sorting laundry, and washing more laundry. It quickly became evident that the situation upstairs in the laundry room was a lot worse than we thought, with blankets and a forgotten load of wet items piled up there because Veronica apparently lost track of it. It was starting to get on towards evening. I hadn’t really prepared enough for a podcast; I had selected some articles to read, but hadn’t printed them out, hadn’t marked them up, and hadn’t even finished reading them. I realized I just didn’t have it in me to record and produce and upload a podcast tonight. So I wrote some notes on Facebook and Twitter apologizing for that. No show tonight. We will at leat start out the week with some clean laundry ready to go, though.


Last night was disjointed as we were off our regular schedule. We didn’t record a podcast. We spent a few hours working on laundry: folding it, putting it away, and trying to figure out what happened to some of our laundry that was left upstairs. Grace then left for a while to run a couple of errands. While she was gone I threw together one of our “such as it is” dinners — I heated up the rest of our tortillas, got out some salsa and leftover meatless taco filling made with walnuts, and a half-empty can of refried beans that was in the refrigerator. I scrambled a half-dozen eggs. I put that on the table and let the kids eat what they wanted. Elanor got a torn-up tortilla and bits of egg. When Grace got back home with more eggs and dishwasher packs, I scrambled another three eggs for her. I got the dishwasher loaded and going, and asked Veronica to do some hand-washing, and it was time to get ready for bed. Four of the kids had taken a nap late in the day, so bedtime was very unevenly distributed; Benjamin and Pippin were very restive.

In the fridge we’ve still got leftover roast chicken, another whole chicken, a bag of kale salad, and some top round we haven’t eaten yet. There’s a package of salmon burgers in the freezer, and we have a bag of little dinner rolls. We just stocked up on eggs. There’s a bag of brussels sprouts to shred or roast. There are potatoes in the pantry, and another bag of bananas that aren’t ripe yet but will be soon. There’s rice and oatmeal and chicken stock. So there’s plenty of food to get through the next couple of days. It’s just mostly not of the ready-to-eat kind of food. I will run to Costco again on Tuesday night after work to pick up a few things.

We are having some difficulties with our housemate, and I’m scratching my head as to what I want to write in this journal, which I’ve been making public. I’m also wondering if I should write about it in separate files that I keep private. I guess it depends on what I’m hoping to do, eventually, if anything, with this public text, and that private text.

In this public piece of writing I’ll just say that one big difficulty stems from conflicts over how we procure, prepare, and consume food.

Grace and I have long hoped to live in community, have tried to establish community, and have lived in community, both with our families of origin and with other people, at different points in our lives. We believe that all efforts to live in community must center around, and pivot around, preparing and eating food together. This is why co-ops of all kinds, extended families, religious orders, etc. all find ways to center and organize their lives around food. And that simple word, “food,” extends outwards in all directions — into our culture, our finances, our food choices, our desires to garden and grow our own food and to support food production in our community.

Trying to be in community with people who have fundamentally different values around food is hard.

There are other issues that have come up. One of them is the simple fact that our housemate’s boyfriend smokes, and that’s an ongoing problem. He doesn’t smoke in our house, but even the residue that spreads to everything he comes in contact with, and the people and things that are transported in his car, is a problem. It’s not even second-hand smoke; we’re talking third-hand smoke, or even fourth-hand smoke.

This past week, due to a situation involving transferring babies from their car to our car, and a sleeping baby no one wanted to wake up, Elanor’s car seat wound up in his car for a few days, and his baby’s car seat wound up in our car. We had to leave for the parish picnic with Elanor in his baby’s car seat in our car. Even our short exposure to that car seat — literally, to a thing that had been in his car while he he smoked cigarettes — left my throat raw and my voice hoarse, although I wasn’t coughing, and seems like it also left Elanor miserably coughing half the night. Elanor can get a nap today, but Grace and I can’t; I’ve got work, and she’s got a whole string of appointments.

Yesterday evening we got back Elanor’s car seat, and just a couple of days in his car left it reeking of smoke, too. So we had to disassemble it and take the cover off and run it through the washer, twice. The first time, Veronica forgot to add laundry detergent. It still smelled like smoke when it came out of the dryer. The second time, it seemed improved, so we reassembled it. But we’re wondering if actually might need to throw it out and buy a new car seat. Cigarette smoke residue is persistent. I can smell cigarette smoke on my clothes today, because I spent an hour in a car that also contained a car seat that had spent time in a smoker’s car. And smokers cannot smell it.

When we took a class on infant CPR at Mott, the respiratory therapist who taught the class described an incident in which an infant heart patient’s parent came into the room. There’s no smoking in the building, obviously, but there was smoke on the parent’s clothes. That cigarette smoke residue was enough of a respiratory challenge that the child went into cardiac arrest. She had to administer CPR and rescue the child. The parent in question apparently didn’t believe that this “third-hand” smoke could possibly be that harmful to the child, and so the next day it happened again.

I don’t think Elanor is actually that fragile — she’s been off all her medication for many months, and her vitals look good. It’s been over a year since her open-heart surgery and for the most part she seems to be quite robust, active, and healthy. But it’s an interesting correlation that just in the last week, she’s started to show health problems; we’ve been worried about pneumonia and infections. Her chest x-ray showed nothing worrying except a slightly enlarged heart, which I believe is normal for a child who used to have her particular congenital heart defect, before it was repaired; while waiting for infants with her condition to grow large enough to get through the the surgery safely, her doctors allowed her to develop a slight heart enlargement, on the grounds that it was safer than doing the surgery immediately after birth. She should “grow into it” as she gets bigger. And her blood tests showed nothing worrying, except a slight anemia. We’ll work on that with diet. So my only remaining explanation for her recent coughing is an environmental irritant. She could have seasonal allergies, I suppose, but I really don’t think that is the actual culprit.

I don’t think there’s any way we can convince our housemate to take seriously the idea that her boyfriend’s smoking could put our fragile infant with Down Syndrome and a repaired congenital heart defect into the E. R., or into the ground. She’s allowed to make her own choices about the environments she puts her children into. But Grace and I insist that we be able to control the environments our children are exposed to.

That’s all I’m going to say about this matter for the time being.


Last night and this morning I finished most of Icehenge. This book, which didn’t seem like it was all that promising, has continued to impress me more and more, and I now regard it as a sort of warm-up for Robinson’s amazing Mars Trilogy, and later works. The premise seemed dumb, but it’s not a dumb book at all. It touches on many of the same themes. One of the most prominent theme is Robinson’s attempt to answer this question: “What it would be like, given our limited human brains, to actually live to be several hundred years old?” He takes this question on quite seriously, and Icehenge explores how family relationships would change, how careers would change, how cultures would change, and how our own perception of our own lives would change.

I think this book would serve as a great introduction to several of Robinson’s later works, including the Mars Trilogy, Aurora, and 2312. I don’t think there’s as much of a clear through-line to his Science in the Capital series, which I have to admit I never finished, or his Three Californias trilogy, which I have to admit I never started. I don’t think I will ever finish the Science in the Capital series; it just seemed a little too much like other simplistic disaster potboilers that I’ve read. And I haven’t picked up New York 2140. You’d think, as someone very interested in anthropogenic global warming, I’d be interested in climate fiction. What I’ve read of this particular sub-genre hasn’t impressed me, though. This book is pushing me to dig deeper into Robinson’s older work.

I don’t know anything about it yet, but I’m very excited to hear that there’s a new novel from Kim Stanley Robinson, called Red Moon. It’s due to arrive in late October. When it comes out, I probably won’t be able to read anything else until I’ve finished it!

I just got a string of text messages from our realtor. So it’s time to close this file, take a deep breath and ask Dorothy Parker’s old question, “what fresh hell is this?”

Oh, That Fresh Hell

The fresh hell was nothing too unexpected; the showings of our old house this weekend resulted in no interest in a purchase.

Over lunch, I finished Icehenge. The ending is pretty satisfying, and succeeded in surprising me slightly; I thought that I might have the ending sussed out. Along the way I think I noticed two subtle references to other works: one, to Robert Silverberg’s Dying Inside, and another, to the short story by James Tiptree Junior called “And I Awoke and Found Me Here on the Cold Hill’s Side.” I think there are also some scenes that are stylistic shout-outs to William Gibson’s Villa Straylight. There may be other scenes that Robinson also had in mind, and I feel like there are, but I can’t quite put my finger on them.


I made pretty good progress at work and left late. The particular problem I’ve been trying to solve involves calculating wavelength given frequency. Given a frequency in Hertz, we can calculate the wavelength in meters by dividing the speed of light in meters per second by the frequency.

Things can get a little tricky when trying to do this by computer with very large or very small numbers. The speed of light is already a pretty big number, 299,792,458m/sec. But when working with frequencies of light that are more conveniently measured in THz than Hz, and wavelengths that are more conveniently measured in nm than m, we can wind up doing math on big numbers.

If we have a number like 191,500,000MHz, to get Hz we have to scale it up by 10^6. The result will be in m, and to get nm we have to scale it up by 10^9. Like so:

wavelength = 299,792,458m/sec / 191,500,000,000,000Hz = 0.00000156549586m or 1565.49586nm

Instead of scaling up the divisor and quotient we can just scale up the speed of light by 10^3 and get the same results — that is, divide 299,792,458,000 by our frequency.

Because our laser device can be tuned in increments of 1Mhz, we want to display the wavelength in nanometers with 5 fractional digits. We want a precise 9-digit number. But here’s where we start to run into a problem: the ARM microcontrollers in the device only support 32-bit integers and 32-bit single-precision floating-point. Single-precision floating-point doesn’t really provide that many digits of precision. If we do the math for 191.487767THz, we get 1565.59594. A more precise calculation using 64-bit floating-point tells us that the value should be more like 1565.59587. So that result is off by by 0.00007nm. The calculation is less precise than our laser is.

In addition, some adjacent frequency values will produce identical wavelength values. Values from 191.487768THz to 191.487784THz will all produce 1565.59582. So if the user is changing the frequency in 1MHz steps, the displayed wavelength in nm will appear to get “stuck”

We can’t fix this by, say, scaling up by 100 so that more of the digits are to the left of the decimal point. The problem is in the way floating-point numbers are implemented. They are stored as an exponent and a significand, and this gives us a very wide range of values that can be represented, but only 6 to 9 significant digits of precision. That’s because the significand has to be a binary number with a fixed width. So in this case, there just aren’t enough possible values. We’re getting values that are as precise as possible, but they aren’t precise enough for our needs. We want five significant digits to the right of the decimal point.

We ought to be able to do this using integers. Our frequency in MHz is already effectively an integer since we can only tune the laser in 1MHz increments. Working with integers, to get a wavelength value with five digits to the right of the decimal point, I want to start with six digits and round by adding 5 and dividing by ten. So we want our result to be a ten-digit integer. To get this we can scale up our speed of light value still more. For example:

wavelength = 299,792,458,000,000,000nm/sec / 191,500,000MHz = 1565495856fm

After adding 5 and dividing by ten, we’d have 156549586 in units of fm * 10. The LCD GUI could display this as 1565.549 86 (formatted with the space to separate the digit for readability).

There’s only one problem: we can’t work with integers that big.

Well, we can’t easily work with integers that big.

The Atmel SAM4 series has 32-bit integers. The compiler I’m using, for the Keil ARM-MDK, actually lies to me. The online help shows that it supports long long and claims these are 64 bit values. It will compile code written using unsigned long long. (I didn’t think the chip would magically grow 64-bit register, but I thought that maybe the compiler would do 64-bit math using a math library to provide 64-bit operations even though the hardware can really only work with 32-bit integers; it’s slower, but it certainly can be done). But no; it just lies to me. The code using unsigned long long compiles just fine, with no errors or warnings. I am able to specify 64-bit constants, and even 64-bit specifiers for formatting numbers with printf. But the generated code uses 32-bit values and so I get completely wrong results.

Finding that the compiler would accept unsigned long long produced a momentary feeling of victory, followed by a feeling of defeat as I determined that, no, it really was just pretending.

This is an absolutely egregious failure to correctly implement the C standard. I’m using the compiler armcc.exe version 5.06 update 5 (build 528), for anyone curious, part of the Keil toolchain MDK-ARM Essential Version 5.24.1. I could complain and file bug reports. But I don’t really have time to litigate this with my vendor; I’m just trying to solve a problem.

So this was discouraging, but I wasn’t sunk. There are algorithms that will let me do 64-bit division. The problem was finding one that works, isn’t too slow, and wasn’t difficult to port.

I messed around with some unattributed code I found, but couldn’t get it produce correct results. So then I turned to one of the thousands of books that are still packed in boxes in my basement. Fortunately because they are all catalogued in Delicious Library, it is easy to find the right box. The book is Hacker’s Delight, second edition, by Henry S. Warren. This is a terrific book; I used to own the first edition and liked it so much I bought the next one. You can’t go wrong with either one, but the second edition has a little more cool stuff in it.

Warren describes many, many algorithms in this book. The thing that makes it useful is that these algorithms aren’t theoretical, written for some theoretical computer. They are designed and tested to run on real machines, and tested and optimized for modern RISC instruction sets. Some of them are in pseudo-code, but he has a lot of sample code in C as well, and he’s tested this code.

Of course, “modern” is always relative, but Warren lays out his reasoning for why the algorithms are written the way they are. He’s done the math and worked out the timings, at the instruction level. He explains that if your microprocessor supports this kind of instruction, you can make the algorithm run faster this way, or if you are willing to use the space for a lookup table, it can run a little faster like so, etc.

In fact, part of what the book does is to make a case for what a future computer architecture’s instruction set ought to contain, if we want that computer to be able to run certain common operations efficiently. Another part of what the book does is to suggest what kinds of optimizations, compilers should be able to help provide, given certain hardware support. It’s really a deep dive into the relationship between algorithms, compilers, optimization, instruction sets, and hardware, wrapped up and presented as a cookbook of tricks to help the programmer do tricky things as efficiently as possible.

Anyway, the book has just the algorithm I need. It even has an implementation in C. And, the author allows people to use his code! You can even download it here. Even if you didn’t buy the book! (But I recommend buying the book; it’s a great book).

The code I’m using is available here. In particular, I borrowed his divlu2 function. That function takes four parameters:

  • Two 32-bit unsigned integers, representing the high and low parts of a 64-bit unsigned integer dividend
  • A 32-bit unsigned integer divisor
  • A pointer to a 32-bit unsigned integer remainder

It returns a 32-bit unsigned integer.

Warren has other algorithms that will work with bigger numbers, but I chose this one because it actually does what I need. My divisor and quotient will both fit into 32 bits. I made some minor tweaks to his code. I removed the remainder logic, since I don’t need it. I modified his C implementation to follow my “house style.”

My general policy, having been writing C code for a living on and off for almost 30 years, is to avoid goto. Some programmers use goto routinely in error-handling. I don’t. I use the structured programming concepts I learned way back in school. I just believe these constructs make code more readable in most cases.

But I’m not entirely dogmatic about it; I’ve used goto in C code on occasion, to break out of nested loops. The need for goto always suggests to me that I should consider refactoring my code to avoid it, but sometimes there just isn’t a simpler way to do things, so I use it. I think I’ve probably actually come across fewer than a dozen cases where I felt that goto was justified, in decades of writing code in C and related languages.

I guess my rule could be stated “don’t use goto in C code unless you have a very strong justification for doing so.”

This is not all that different than Edsger W. Dijkstra’s advice in his famous letter to the editors of CACM, “Go To Statement Considered Harmful,” in which he wrote:

The go to statement as it stands is just too primitive; it is too much an invitation to make a mess of one’s program. One can regard and appreciate the clauses considered as bridling its use. I do not claim that the clauses mentioned are exhaustive in the sense that they will satisfy all needs, but whatever clauses are suggested (e.g. abortion clauses) they should satisfy the requirement that a programmer independent coordinate system can be maintained to describe the process in a helpful and manageable way.

David Tribble has annotated Dijkstra’s famous letter, which might help us understand it:

Here, finally, we get to the crux of Dijkstra’s argument concerning the lowly goto statement. Essentially, Dijkstra argues that the “unbridled use” of goto statements in a program obscures the execution state and history of the program, so that at any given moment the values of the call stack and loop iteration stack are no longer sufficient to determine the value of the program variables.

This obfuscation is a consequence of the fact that an unconstrained goto statement can transfer control out of a loop before it is completed, and likewise can transfer control into the middle of a loop that is already being iterated. Both cases complicate the way in which the counters in the loop iteration stack are modified.

Tribble makes the point that Dijkstra is talking about the use of unstructured goto:

What Dijkstra means by the goto statement as it stands is otherwise known as an unstructured goto. That is, a goto statement with no restrictions about how it may be used in an otherwise structured language.

In my own code I’ll occasionally justify goto in cases where I want to break out of deeply nested code, jumping forward, and I can’t find a clearer way to express the code.

Of course, at the machine language level, most flow control involves jumps that are the equivalent of goto, either conditional or unconditional, and of course high-level code turns into code with this kind of goto in it. (I say “most flow control” because some architectures do provide instructions that implement loops without explicit goto).

So this suggests another possible justification: a programmer might want to use goto because he or she knows that using goto will result in a compiler generating a certain desired sequence of instructions, for performance reasons. I’m not a big fan of this approach, using C as more readable assembly language, because it tends to be very fragile. A minor compiler update or change to an optimizer can and likely will break the programmer’s assumptions. In these cases, I think it might be better to write a reference implementation in C without goto, and a platform- and compiler-specific implementation in assembly language, for maximum control of the implementation.

Warren uses goto in a couple of places like so:

   if (q1 >= b || q1*vn0 > b*rhat + un1) {
     q1 = q1 - 1;
     rhat = rhat + vn1;
     if (rhat < b) goto again1;}

He’s not using it to escape from nested loops; he’s using it to create a while loop, albeit a while loop with an extra exit condition at the bottom. So essentially he’s combining a while loop and a do loop. In C; there’s no:

loop_if ( condition 1 )
    /* Loop body */

} continue_if ( condition 2 );

Although — maybe there should be something like that? What if we had a language that supported this kind of loop, and we also had reversed versions of these statements:

loop_if_not ( condition 1 )
    /* Loop body */

} break_if_not ( condition 2 );

And what if we allowed the statements break, continue, break_if, break_if_not, continue_if, and continue_if_not to be used in the body of the loop?

Would those constructs help people better express their programs?

Then, we could also have a straight-up loop, using an unconditional loop keyword:

    /* Loop body */
    /* optional break or continue statements or their negative versions can go anywhere in the loop body */


So we’d have some extra keywords; we’d have loop, loop_if, loop_if_not, continue, continue_if, continue_if_not, break, break_if, and break_if_not. But we could express a huge variety of loops, and we’d avoid keywords from Common Lisp, Dylan, and Ruby that I find hard to read, like unless. The equivalent of a C do loop could look like so:

    /* Loop body */

} continue_if( condition_1 );

And what if we had a variant of break which used a label? That would pretty much cover all the loops I ever use, and the only conditions under which I would typically use goto. Although I’m still chewing over how to stick the label to a set of braces; I might like to put the label after the top brace, and I might like to use a Perl-like sigil as a cue to the compiler, and a label namespace. But I haven’t thought about the problem very hard yet.

Anyway, this is why they don’t let me design computer languages… but I am still harboring a secret plan to design and implement a language.

But anyway, let’s look at Warren’s code again:

   if (q1 >= b || q1*vn0 > b*rhat + un1) {
     q1 = q1 - 1;
     rhat = rhat + vn1;
     if (rhat < b) goto again1;}

There are some funny things in this code. Both conditions depend on rhat and b, and two “branches” of the first condition depend on b, so that’s three comparisons that depend on b, and two that depend on rhat. This suggests to me that there might be a way to combine these conditions. But for now I’m going to assume that if there really was a good way to optimize those comparisons, Warren would have done it, and so I’m not going to go down that rabbit hole, at least not today. (Did you ever wish you could split yourself into multiple clones, like Michael Keaton does in Multiplicity?)

Normally I’d write a loop like this, which executes zero or more times, as a while loop, and I’d use break to end the loop early. But this logic is backwards: the code goes back to re-evaluate the loop condition if rhat < b. We could do that like this:

while (q1 >= b || q1*vn0 > b*rhat + un1) {
     q1 = q1 - 1;
     rhat = rhat + vn1;
     if (rhat < b) continue; else break;}

But if we’re willing to reverse the comparison to rhat >= b, and I don’t see why we shouldn’t be willing to do that, we can just write it like this:

while (q1 >= b || q1*vn0 > b*rhat + un1) {
     q1 = q1 - 1;
     rhat = rhat + vn1;
     if (rhat >= b) break };

I took a peek at the generated assembly, and it didn’t seem to be inflated by this change, and I tested the function, and got the same results, so I’ll stick with this change to get rid of the goto statement. I think getting rid of it makes the underlying structure of this code fragment clearer; it’s a while loop with an extra exit condition. And I don’t see a good reason not to remove the goto statement.

I could spend the rest of the day profiling the slightly different versions of the function to determine if there is any significant performance difference at all, but for my present application that amount of work isn’t justifiable.

Ideally, I’d have a version of this function in optimized assembly language to use. Then I would just treat it as a black box in my code. But I haven’t been able to find one. I suppose I could work on writing one (but see again my earlier comment on splitting myself into multiple clones to free up time…)


Costco closes at 8:30 and I made it in the door at exactly 8:10 last night. I bought fruit, celery, pork medallions, lunch meat, rolls, a box of ramen for the kids, and a chicken pot pie. Unfortunately I didn’t have enough time to return all the returnable cans and bottles, so they are still rattling around in the back of my car. And I made the mistake of going to Costco while I was quite hungry, so I brought home a few extras that weren’t strictly necessary including a box of cookies, “Petite Palmiers.” I also bought some dark chocolate caramel candies, a bag of toasted chick peas, and a bag of toasted hazelnuts. I really do start to crave carbs, hard, as the days get shorter. I have to watch myself a little more closely; we didn’t actually need those things, although they will certainly be eaten.

Grace made chicken soup in the Instant Pot using the second chicken we bought last Friday. It was quite good. We’ve got a fair amount of leftovers, so Friday’s shopping trip shouldn’t need to be all that big.

Things have been difficult with our housemate; I’ll leave it at that for now.

While Grace was getting ready for bed, I read a bit more in Daughter of Dreams. I’ve finished the second of three parts of the novel. Things have gotten complicated as Elric, whose own body is an enchanted sleep, and who is now piloting Von Bek’s body, travels the Moonbeam Roads and meets his daughter, Oona. We’re getting into highly abstracted locations now, enchanted places, and I have to confess I am not really enjoying this part of the story quite as much as I enjoyed the earlier parts. If the third part is good, I will still consider it a good book. If the third part doesn’t improve and the story doesn’t end well, then I’ll consider it an interesting book that had a lot of promise but which didn’t quite work out.

I heard today from our realtor that she is showing the house again.

Grace and I continue struggling to try to figure out what to do with the house. I’m considering whether it might be possible to borrow a few thousand dollars to put in a furnace. That might make it simpler to lease the house as-is.


The Saginaw house has been shown a few more times and there are more showings scheduled, but so far we haven’t gotten any new offers.

Last night we had a pot pie for dinner. The kids were begging for a movie afterwards but Grace and I were really not up for it and wanted to get to bed early. I read some of the kids a few more chapters of The Wild Robot Escapes and we sent them off to bed. Then I read a little bit more of Daughter of Dreams. Not very much, though — I was too tired to concentrate. So Grace and I did get on to sleep at a more reasonable time, about 11:30. We were woken up by Sam and Joshua making ramen for breakfast, and then Pippin screaming his head off, as someone apparently said something to him that set him off. I had breakfast at Harvest Moon. I should get paid tonight. Grace found the paperwork for renewing my driver license, which was behind one of the benches in the family room for some reason. I’d been wondering where it was. I need to get that paperwork done and also change my voter registration so I can vote locally.

I spent a good chunk of time working on what seemed like a simple task: getting our Amulet GUI to display a special character, the “plus/minus” mark. (There’s an HTML entity for it, &plusmn;, and if it works correctly in your browser, or you are reading this in some other derived format such as a printed PDF file, you might be able to see the character between the quotation marks here: “±”.

The standard Arial Bold 12 font that comes with GEMStudio doesn’t have this character; it contains a limited subset of the character from the Windows TrueType font. GEMScript has a number of strange limitations. It doesn’t handle escaped character codes in string constants, although it will do it in character constants.

What I finally wound up doing was copying and pasting the character directly into the string constant in the source code. That’s not something that I would ever consider doing in a more conventional programming language, like C, or Python, or Java, or JavaScript. In fact sometimes it works to put special characters in strings, but the C standard specifies that implementations are only required to support uppercase and lowercase letters, numerals, and a handful of special characters including punctuation, brackets, etc. (basically, everything printed on the keys of an American keyboard), and a few whitespace characters like tab and form feed.

GEMScript supposedly supports Unicode strings, but given that, it’s pretty crazy that you can’t specify Unicode characters in strings.

There’s a tool which will generate an Amulet font file from your installed Windows fonts. You can specify a range of characters to include. So I extended it a bit, to include the plus/minus character (it has the code value 0xB1). But it didn’t work right; my characters were all way too big, now.

I finally learned that the fonts that the GEM Font Converter creates are affected by my Windows accessibility settings. I had my on-screen text set to use “medium” size fonts, instead of the default “small,” because I’m fifty years old.

The idea that this setting would affect the fonts that the GEM Font Converter can retrieve from Windows is insane, but not actually surprising. Windows is a collection of layers and layers of historic hacks. Of course they just made it so that the accessibility settings simply scaled up the fonts that the Windows API provides to clients, rather than adding a new API or modifying an existing API to allow the client to indicate whether the client wants the raw font or the font scaled per the user accessibility settings. Microsoft pretty much always takes the route of maximum backwards compatibility, even if the results are surprising or confusing.

Anyway, that’s how you can waste half a work day trying to get your Amulet GUI to display a single special character. I don’t recommend it. (But the page finally looks just the way I want it).


As an experiment, I set my phone to show all images in grayscale. This is supposed to make your phone and the applications on it a little bit less addictive and sleep-disruptive. It seems so far like that is true, but it also seems like this setting makes the phone eat its battery charge a lot faster than usual. So I’m not sure I can leave it that way.


Last night we roasted the pork medallions from Costco and at them with kale salad. Then after a long delay trying to get everyone to brush their teeth, I took the kids down into the basement to watch another Kung Fu movie. This one was The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, from 1978.

Watching it, we had the same problem we had watching the last one: at a random point in the movie, the playback froze up, and I had to force iTunes to quit. After launching it again, I could play that same part of the movie with no issues. Technical problems like this are one of the reasons I don’t really like buying movies through the iTunes store, although I’ve been doing it since I still have a lot of iTunes store credit.

This movie is rated PG, compared to Iron Monkey which was rated PG-13, but this one actually feels more violent and includes scenes of blood. The blood is a pretty blatantly fake color (almost magenta), but it was a little surprising. We also have moderately convincing makeup showing gangrene and bruising. So I guess this movie makes the attempt to be a little more realistic, in that it connects fighting with violence and injury and even death.

The version available from iTunes is strange, in that it is both subtitled and dubbed. The dubbing doesn’t match the subtitles, so if you are reading along and listening it’s really laughably confusing at times. The movie also feels a little long, at almost 2 hours. But many of the training sequences are really fun. I was talking to the kids about their favorite rooms. My personal favorite was the one in which our hero has to walk through a room full of swinging sandbags, knocking them out of the way with his head. All around him, fellow students are slamming their foreheads into the sandbags and then falling down, dazed. I just hope this doesn’t encourage my kids to give themselves concussions.

The actual history of the Shaolin temple, and what was taught there, is a lot more mundane, although still interesting:

In the 5th century, an Indian Buddhist master named Buddhabhadra traveled to China to spread Buddhism, and by the year 477, he had become influential enough that Emperor Xiaowen of Northern Wei built the original Shaolin Temple for him to begin teaching Chinese monks. These are among the few facts of the early Shaolin that scholars generally agree upon.


Over the ensuing centuries, the Shaolin Temple performed basically the same function as it still did into the 20th century. It was essentially a boarding school for boys. The younger the recruit, the better; students as young as 5 or 6 years old were preferred. They developed tremendous flexibility and agility, and studied Buddhism.


In 1972, when American TV viewers first saw Kwai Chang Caine wrap his arms around the hot cauldron and brand himself with the marks, what they didn’t see was the rest of this elaborate test called the Wooden Men Labyrinth. But nobody else ever saw it either, because like so much of what we think we know of the Shaolin, it was the purely fictional invention of modern authors.


But still, I grew up occasionally watching Kung Fu, the television show, and my step-brother Tony liked to show me Bruce Lee movies. I’m a fan of Jackie Chan and an even bigger fan of the fantastically beautiful and artistic wuxia genre. While it’s important to be skeptical of the Orientalism and stereotyping that goes into these films, I love the tales of legendary heroes fighting corruption and injustice with humility, tenacity, bravery, and discipline. I’m a big fan of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and Hero, and House of Flying Daggers. I’m curious about The Forbidden Kingdom, although the reviews aren’t terribly good, and Curse of the Golden Flower, although the reviews for that one also aren’t very good, and it is rated R, so I don’t want to show it to the kids. I’m also curious about The Assassin (the 2015 film), and Dragon (the 2011 film), although The Dragon is also rated R. Are there any more I should be looking for? How are the twenty-six(!) old Zatoichi films? How is the 2003 film? How is Tai Chi Zero?

Some of these are available via the iTunes store, and I still have a credit, so maybe we’ll try some more of them.

I’d like to pick up the 2013 Criterion Zatoichi set, with 27 discs(!), but that’s not really in the budget.

If you are wondering what I’d like for my fifty-first birthday, besides “selling the old house,” that’s it: the Criterion Collection Blu-ray set called Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman. My kids and I would watch the hell out of those. In fact I thing those movies would be great to show on Potts House movie nights, when we get our basement set up with a projector or a big screen and enough chairs to have folks over to have dinner and watch movies, also known as “chili and Netflix.” But unfortunately the very basic basement home theater we hope to set up is another one of those goals, like beds for our children, that keeps receding into the future, as we continue to fail to get our finances under control.

There are three showings of our old house today. Grace and I are praying that one of these showings will turn into an offer. We just had to pay choir tuition for two of our sons and it is a big expense. We still haven’t received our last reimbursement from Liberty Mutual. I got paid overnight, and today I am making a credit card payment; I have been setting aside money from the last three paychecks to put towards paying down one of our two credit cards. But it’s discouraging when we just had to charge something that is bigger than our payment. It means our debt situation continues to move in the wrong direction.

For lunch I had a grilled cheddar and marmite sandwich with a side of pickles and olives, and a cherry Italian soda. It was tasty but like anything involving marmite, damned salty. So I’m guzzling extra water and hoping I haven’t damaged myself. While eating I read two more chapters of Daughter of Dreams. The story does pick up a bit in the third section; we get more scenes with fighting, and Elric doing things, like summoning Meerclar, Mistress of Cats. So I’m feeling optimistic about the rest of the book.


Last night after work I went to Costco as usual. It was a pretty standard load of groceries, except that I’ve been adding red meat at Grace’s request. So I got some beef and some lamb chops. This adds quite a bit to the final bill, unfortunately. Grace and the kids did not make a pot of rice so when I brought salmon home we had salmon, salad, and one of the giant Costco pumpkin pies.

After dinner and a half-assed cleanup job we took the kids down into the basement. They wanted to watch Ninjago, but I’m kind of sick of Ninjago, so I put on the second disc of our DVD set for the original Star Trek animated series. One or two of these episodes we had seen before. So I wound up going into my little office room in the basement and continued the ongoing project of cataloguing books. I started a new box with all the Elric books I’ve finished and a couple of recent Library of America arrivals.

I’m reusing a 12" by 12" by 12" book box. This is unfortunately the last empty one. If I’m going to have to continue to store most of my books while still slowly acquiring new books for much longer, I’m going to need to order more boxes. The plan for the last couple of years has been to get everything shelved, or at least large sections of the collection shelved, and do some purging as we un-box and shelve books. I suppose we could also try to purge while everything is still in boxes, but that sounds incredibly tedious: look through the online catalog, identify some books we’re willing to get rid of, take apart the stacked boxes to pull out the ones containing the books to purge, open up the boxes and take them out, leaving loose space in the boxes which I would presumably fill with newsprint or something like that, and then re-stack everything.

My Mac Pro seems to be running slower and slower and it’s been hot in the basement. The Delicious Library program just crawls, when you do things like add a shelf. I don’t know why it is so slow, but it makes me wish I hadn’t put my whole book inventory into this program. Maybe I should have stuck with a simple spreadsheet, or just flat text files. The integeration with Amazon is nice, though; I like the ability to look a book up that I have in my hand, in Amazon’s database, and then find it and add it to my library with one click. The bar code scanning functionality is nice, too, although it tends to fail sometimes, which I think is oten more an artifact of the uneven and inconsistent bar coding on products themselves, rather than the scanning code.

I have a suspicion that the boot drive is going, or is at least very bogged down. Maybe the CPUs are throttling? But I don’t remember that ever happening before, even when I had the machine running in my hot attic office in Saginaw. I have blown out dust pretty recently so it shouldn’t be a matter of clogged airflow. And the fans aren’t blasting.

I am really not sure why it is so hot in the basement. Last summer even when it was hot outside, the basement stayed cooler than the first floor. I think it may have something to do with the old dehumidifier we are running down there; it puts out a lot of heat, and the basement level may be so tightly insulated that the heat can’t escape. I need to make sure everything gets a fresh backup. I haven’t had the money to replace drives, but it’s overdue.

While I was waiting for Delicious Library to catch up, I looked up movies this weekend. I saw a special movie scheduled, with just two showings: Dragon Ball Z: Broly - The Legendary Super Saiyan. Knowing almost nothing about the whole Dragon Ball Z franchise, I thought maybe I would take the kids. I’m trying to get them interested in animation and film that is not all part of their current obsession, Lego Ninjago. This movie is apparently in limited release as part of the marketing campaign for a a forthcoming movie, Dragon Ball Super: Broly, which I also know next to nothing about.

After the kids finished four old animated Star Trek episodes, they were bored with it and we finished up and came back upstairs. We managed to get to bed at a fairly reasonable time. This morning we didn’t sleep all that late. Grace drove down to Milan to pick up some bread at the Mother Loaf bakery. It turns out if you get there before noon, they have a lot more bread! (That’s sarcasm… we’re just always running late to do everything). We got several loaves today, including a breakfast brioche which was fantastic. While she was getting bread, I hauled out the griddle and made pancakes. It is still really hard to get good results on our cast-iron griddle. Even letting it heat for five minutes, it’s too cold for the first batch, and then too hot for the second batch. So the pancakes were unevenly cooked, although not too uneven to eat.

I took the kids to the movie. I had not really intended to take Benjamin, but he was unhappy at the last minute and I wanted to avoid a meltdown, so he came with us. When we got into the theater, the trailer for the new Broly movie was playing, but there was no sound. Some of us in the audience spent a minute or two entertaining ourselves doing our own voiceover, karaoke, and foley. But the sound remained off, so I walked back down towards the lobby and told the ticket-taker about it. He called someone on his radio. After a few more minutes we had sound, but we had missed a few minutes, so we didn’t really know what was going on. And that situation sort of continued through the movie. Most of the movie consists of big, dramatic fight scenes, which I expected, but I was expecting a little more plot and story. Maybe Dragon Ball Z is the wrong franchise for people who want plot and story.

Anyway, Wikipedia has a plot summary that explains the part that didn’t have sound:

On his planet in the Otherworld, King Kai senses the destruction of the South Galaxy by an unknown Super Saiyan, telepathically contacting Goku upon realizing that the North Galaxy will be targeted next. At that moment, Goku and Chi-Chi are sitting down having an interview at a private school which they hope Gohan will attend, Goku abrupted uses Instant Transmission to reach King Kai’s planet and get the entire story.

Back on Earth, the Z-Fighters are having a picnic in an unknown peaceful area when a spaceship lands and an army of emerging humanoids greet Vegeta as their king. Their leader is a Saiyan, Paragus, who claims that he has created a New Planet Vegeta and wishes for Vegeta to accompany him in order to rule as the new king. Vegeta initially refuses, but agrees after Paragus tells him that a being known as the “Legendary Super Saiyan” is running rampant throughout the galaxy and must be destroyed before he comes to Earth. Skeptical of Paragus’ story, Gohan, Trunks, Krillin, Master Roshi and Oolong go along with Vegeta.

So. The drawing style is all over the map, constantly shifting, which is fun. There are a lot of explosions, and the way the characters fight and smash each other and the scenery seems quite reminiscent of Akira. None of us really enjoyed the film all that much. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that hearing the first few minutes wouldn’t really have helped. Joshua described it as “all abs and eyebrows.” The movie was mercifully short, and I was grateful for that. Sam and Joshua think it could have used more dialogue and more story. I guess this wasn’t a good introduction to the Dragon Ball Z franchise. Maybe I’ll poke around in the iTunes store and see if there’s something else.

After the movie Grace and I put my old aluminum-frame Marin mountain bike, which I used to use for commuting, in the back of my Element, and took it to a local bike shop. The bike has been in storage for about ten years. Sam is behind on learning to ride, so I asked them to remove the pedals, so he can use it as a balance bike, and then maybe after a while we can put the pedals back on. I am embarrassed to report that I actually didn’t know that Sam could not yet ride a bike. We have a bunch of bikes and I see the kids riding all the time; I just thought he was riding, too. This is what happens when we’ve been living in “crisis mode” to one degree or another for about five years; we’ve been putting off every expense, including keeping the kids in rideable bikes. For a year and a half, I was only living with my family half the time, and the kids weren’t even playing outside. And since we’ve moved, it feels like all I’ve done is worry about money and try to figure out what we are going to do with the old house.

He’s tall enough now to stand over the top tube, which was a little startling. So they will check out the inner tubes which may well have dry rot by now, brake pads, etc. The bike was decked out for commuting, with a water bottle cage, frame pump, lights, lock, and upright handlebars. So I stripped some of that stuff off of it. I guess I’m giving up hopes of ever riding it again.

I used to be so into bikes — reading bike magazines, taking road rides on weekends, trail riding occasionally. Somehow all that ended, for various reasons. One reason is that most of the bike makers that I really liked, such as Cannondale, stopped making bikes in America, and I’m still disgusted about that. Another is that starting about 2001 we moved to places that I didn’t find to be very bike-friendly. I never found long road rides around Saginaw like I used to have in Ann Arbor. While I used to love commuting from my old apartment on West Hoover in Ann Arbor, to the medical campus, when we moved out to Medford, there didn’t seem to be a good, safe route to my job on South Industrial. Then in Saginaw, I worked from home at first, and later had a 45-minute commute to Dow in Midland, which would not have worked by bike at all. And now I’m about 13 miles away from my job, at least as I-94 runs. That doesn’t seem all that far, but I really can’t imagine a safe bike route. That part of town is extremely hostile to cycling.

So maybe Sam can use it, now. But I really have to find a way to get some regular exercise. My regular walks in downtown Saginaw were doing a lot to put a floor under my physical health and prop up my tendency to fall into depressive spirals in times of great stress. And I am getting nearly no exercise at all, other than the occasional shopping trip.

Joshua has been asking to learn how to play electric bass. So I’m going to get him set up with my old bass downstairs and give him access to a lesson CD and book. We’ll see if he actually shows any inclination to work at it.

I invited someone I know only through Twitter, “@verysmallanna,” to join us for a podcast episode. She’s a pastry chef and, I think, a millennial, in New York City. She has a podcast with a couple other folks, the Bread Line Podcast. It seems we have some common interests. So I’m excited to talk to her. She’s free to record on Tuesday or Wednesday night, so we’ll try that.

I’m not sure yet what we’re going to do for tomorrow’s show.

A few days ago, my father sent me a picture which was sent to him by a relative; it shows my family in Washington state. I’m wearing an R.E.M. concert t-shirt. Because of the t-shirt, and because of Google, and my memories of the show, I was able to place the exact date. I was seventeen years old. The show was at the Paramount theater in Seattle, July 12, 1985. I would have been 17, and this would have been the summer between my Senior year in high school and starting college in the fall. I don’t remember a lot of details about that trip, but I just happen to have kept a journal, which I still have. It’s short on dates and times and locations, but contained enough detail to remind me where we were, and when. I should transcribe it and find some extracts that I can add to the piles of writings that I’m trying to hammer into book-length manuscripts.

Books, Music, Movies, and TV Mentioned This Week

  • Dragon Ball Z: Broly - The Legendary Super Saiyan (1993 animated movie, 2018 Fathom events theatrical release)
  • The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978 Hong Kong Martial Arts movie)
  • Hacker’s Delight second edition by Henry S. Warren (used as a reference)
  • Iron Monkey (1993 Hong Kong Martial Arts movie)
  • Icehenge by Kim Stanley Robinson (finished)
  • The Wild Robot Escapes by Peter Brown (bedtime reading in progress)
  • Elric: The Moonbeam Roads (Gollancz, 2014) (omnibus volume containing 3 novels; the first, Daughter of Dreams in progress)

Ypsilanti, Michigan
The Week Ending Saturday, September 15th, 2018