Even George W. Bush Had His Moments

Imma level with you: That dude was not a PotUS I dug in the least—I spent almost his entire two terms on a travel watch list, bought a house that lost much of its value in the economy he destroyed, watched civilizations crumble and collapse in response to his foreign adventures—but I was still moved to tears of gratitude one night, driving home from the grocery and listening to NPR, when I heard him stand up for American Muslims following 9/11.  He was not a good President, and I have every reason to believe he is not a particularly good person, but he still had his moments.

‘course, by contrast to where we’re at now, GWB was a fucking statesman nonpareil:

and

… and on and on and on.

It doesn’t matter if you’ve been on the right side of every issue since November of 1999—if you’ve voted right and protested right and written the right letters to the right reps and given the right donations to the right charities to do the right things for the right people.  

This, here, today is still the country that we have all made, together, for better or worse.  Like it or not, GWB was my president, and Obama is my president, and whoever—or whatever comes next—will be my president, too.  God have mercy on my soul.

My Dog is Full of “Masses”

This lil mutherfucker is Lunchbox:

His baleful eyes flashin' like the fires o' Hell!
His baleful eyes flashin’ like the fires o’ Hell!

The vet’s records say Lunchbox is 13-years-old, but that’s not true.  We’ve had him for 13 years, but he was full grown when we got him from the rescue. We thought he was a puppy—and he was marketed as such—but as he failed to grow any bigger, or loose any “baby” teeth, or need to be housebroken, it slowly dawned on us that he wasn’t a puppy, he was just a small dog some dipshit didn’t want.

Anyway, on Friday he really wasn’t feeling well.

We figured it was the heat; we live in Michigan, it had been 90 for a week, we have no AC—it was miserable.  He mostly just moped around that week, looking at us with utter disgust at our inability to make the house work properly.  By the weekend, he was lying on the hardwood floor in front of a fan, only going outside to potty when coaxed (or, on several occasions, carried).

Then the heat broke, but he felt no better.  He was very listless, and seemed confused.  He was having trouble standing up, and trouble navigating the steps, not that he couldn’t—he could be coaxed up with treats—but more like he couldn’t quite understand how steps worked.

Charming young Lunchbox
Charming young Lunchbox

This all seemed Really Bad, so I took him to the vet Monday.  It turns out that he’s full of “masses” that are almost certainly tumors.  One (are several) inside the membrane that surrounds his heart, and another maybe on his liver or spleen—which is in line with some elevated something-something levels in his blood (he had a lot of tests, and I was having trouble following, because the vet—who was a very nice, small young woman—was so obviously absolutely miserable to have to be telling me any of this).  As a consequence of the tumors (and possibly the heat, and likely a variety of lingering infections permitted to slowly simmer in his failing, mass-ridden system), his pancreas had swollen enormously, and was smooshing his organs and distending his belly and generally making him miserable as fuck.  Also, it was making it really hard to tell in the x-rays what masses in his guts were attached to what, and how severe they may be.


The upshot is that Lunchbox probably has 6 months to live, maybe a year, maybe less.  The vet sold me anti-emetics and antibiotics, and instructed me to shift him to a very low-fat diet—which, absolutely no joke, is my diet: Cheap-ass, low-fat beef/chicken over steamed brown rice.  I also had to pick him up a ‘scrip for controlled narcotics.

At the human pharmacy.

For my dog.

My dog is on dope.  His name is on the bottle and everything:  “Lunchbox Spindler.

This is the face of the Midwestern opioid epidemic #America:

One charming old mofo
One charming old mofo

It’s now two days later, and he’s absolutely and 100% back to being his old self—mostly due to the anti-emetics (which killed his nausea, restoring his appetite) and antibiotics (which are bringing down the most obvious belly-distention), but infinitely bolstered by the fact that he’s absolutely elated to be on my diet.

From his perspective, this has all turned out terrific—because he doesn’t know what the future is, and therefore doesn’t know that he’s mostly dead.  

I don’t know if that means he’s an idiot or a fucking zen master.  I guess, all things being equal, I hope that I can begin to emulate his comportment in the face of death.

When I first started trying to find a way to talk about all this, I’d imagined I’d follow that bold-italics bit above with something like “I guess that means God is not a total dick sometimes.”

But then I realized: Lunchbox is a dog. God didn’t make dogs; we did.  They are our first, grandest experiment in Genetically Modified Organisms, now in it’s 15,000-ish year. We are their God, and we made them in our image—or at least the best parts of it: We took wolves and foxes and selectively bred them until they became beasts mostly composed of love and loyalty, forever content, forever in the Now, perhaps somewhat easily Scared, but not cursed with Fear, because they aren’t cursed with thinking they have any fucking clue What Comes Next.

The Rabbi Jesus might have urged all-y’all to consider the lilies of the field and how they grow, neither toiling nor spinning, but I couldn’t tell a fucking lily from a mayapple or crocus or onion plant.  Fuck lilies.  As far as I’m concerned, consider the dog, how he loves, how he trusts that things will sort out OK, and food will come, and rest will come, and warmth will come, and affection will come. He doesn’t toil, he doesn’t fret, and yet he does OK, all things considered.

Amen.

I got the best letter from the US Postal Service!

This arrived in my mailbox on Friday, August 12:

2016-08-13 19.06.16

 

Lemme zoom in on the first graff:

postalfiregraff

And just one more time:

postalfire

A postal truck “experienced a fire.”

My God, I love that!  We have sentient postal trucks, out there having new and interesting experiences, and yet they don’t have the damned sense not to play with fire.  It’s a self-aware 80,000 pound truck with the executive function of a toddler; O brave new world that has such people in’t!

At any rate, this does tend to explain the errant check for several thousand dollars I’ve been waiting for.  *sighs* Guess I’ve gotta call a client later today.

Anyway, for the curious, here’s my mail burning up last month:

-077dab07e6c61c86

(source)

Project: The “Non-Violins” Synthamajig

2016-07-24 16.46.54Here’s a little something I cooked up while special-guesting at Motor City Steam Con, July 22–24, 2016:

The “Non-Violins” Synthamajig:

 

 

Here’s a static view, front and back:

The "Non-Violins"—'cause it ain't a violin no more
The “Non-Violins”—’cause it was a violin, but it ain’t no more!
Rear view of the guts of the Non-Violins
Rear view showing the guts of the Non-Violins

So what’s going here? Some of it is standard steampunk greebles (e.g., that faux wind-up key, the old vacuum tube being lit with a modern LED mounted behind it, some obtuse knob and mounting hardware choices), but the guts are a combination of totally legit early prototype circuits from my book (e.g., a four-2016-07-24 14.21.38step version of the Bleepbox Sequencer, of which only three of the steps can be pitch-controlled) and simple versions of a few others I hacked together on the spot (the voice is a stripped-down Single Chip Space Invader Synth driving a simplified Dirty-Cheap Amp).

2016-07-24 14.21.11

 

Why did I do this?  ’cause Emmy Jackson asked me to.  Emmy is a really swe2016-07-24 14.21.01ll guy, and did me huge solids at both Motor City Steam and Penguicon (where he both handled book sales for me and the other authors on hand, and offered a safe space for my son if he should lose track of himself or get freaked out).  He showed up at Motor City Steam with four rejected violin bodies, on 2016-07-24 14.21.05the condition that I rework at least one to fit in with his Dieselpunk aesthetic.  I gladly gave it my damndest (another instrument from this same weekend, the Diddley Fiddle, is still in development—as is, it’s a fine lil diddley bow, but damned if I don’t want it to be at least a tad more electromechanically rad-as-hell).

 

Here’s some video of me presenting the Non-Violins Synth to EmmyJ at Motor City Steam Con:

dave
Dave wishes the Non-Violens a fond fare-the-well

DUNGEON!!!

My son has been at “Rocks & Robots” camp this week (mostly building

"You are likely to be eaten by a grue..."
“You are likely to be eaten by a grue…”

sumo-wrestling robots with Mindstorms, plus two half-days of rock climbing), and apparently he and several other kids have developed a species of spoken-word text-based adventure that they play over lunch, called “Dungeon!!!”  The game starts with someone saying something along the lines of “You are in a cage hanging from a rusted chain, and realize the cage door is not actually locked. What do you do?” Whoever else is sitting around is in the party and starts asking questions and making decisions. No gold, no XP, no dice, no pencil, no paper—just you and the Dungeon.

But the best thing, IMHO, is that in order to look around the room you say ls (the *nix command to get a list of the contents of the current directory, like dir in DOS).ubuntu-cp-demo

Why?

“Because it’s easier than saying ‘I look around the room,’ or whatever.  And sounds cooler.”

And, yes, he did indeed “Get the idea from computers.”

*headshake* Poor lil nerd don’t even have a notion of the basic framework of what is and is not cool.

Running his Ruby scripts from the command line
Running his Ruby scripts from the command line

Three Thoughts on Nukes: The Parable of the Six Fishes, the Demon Core, and the 10,000 Dead Americans We Don’t Care About

one

Which reminds me of a story Penn Jillette used to tell.  He and Teller were scheduled to appear on TV (maybe Letterman?), and so they prepared a new twist on a classic trick: You take a volunteer’s watch, put it in a bag, smash it, dump out the tattered remains, do some patter, and then make the watch reappear whole and ticking.  In their version for Letterman (or whoever), they were going to take the host’s watch, smash it, then wheel out a big aquarium, and sprinkle the parts in the water, where they’d dissolve and the fish would eat them.  The host would freely select one of the fish, Teller would scoop it out with a net, they’d gut and and ta-da!, there would be the whole, ticking watch in the fish’s guts!

But the network standards folks wouldn’t let them do that trick; it’d be too brutal to have an animal killed on screen.  So Penn and Teller re-jiggered the trick: Instead of an aquarium full of live fish, they’d wheel out a fishmonger’s ice table with six dead fish on it.  They’d take the host’s watch, smash it, sprinkle the bits in the ice, the bits would dissolve, the host would freely select a dead fish, and Teller’d fillet it to reveal the watch.  Standards loved it, the host loved it, and that’s what went on live TV.

The point of the story—which is the sort of thing that belongs in an atheist’s Bible—is that Nuclear_Blast_Animation_Blinding_Lighteveryone was more comfortable with six fish dying instead of one, provided they didn’t have to watch.  Perhaps this is why, if we are to have a death penalty, we should televise it.  Perhaps viewing should be mandatory.  Perhaps the president should be forced to kill one patriot before he or she kills 10,000 abstract men, women, and children.

two

Consider The Demon Core and the sacrifices researchers make (occasionally heroic, but almost always mundane, and very often totally unforeseeable).  I’m mostly putting this here because I’d first heard about this when I was a kid, and realized that many folks hadn’t–and further, that most folks don’t realize what a duct-tape-and-butterknives affair science really is.  We imagine clean labs and specialized gear, but in real life it’s a lot of tupperware and dirty countertops.  A few folks are celebrated for the “Eureka!”s, and even fewer die terrible (but instructive) deaths.  The vast majority toil steadfastly day after day to further human progress one negative result at a time—so that we can go onto to totally disregard their hard-won findings because an actor or know-nothing shouted something demonstrably false at the top of their lungs just long enough to fool our just-half-a-step-from-monkey brains.nuclear_explosion_test_at_sea

three

I hasten to add that, having protested the continuing operation of a damaged Fermi II back in the 1990s and edited a textbook about Chernobyl, I am now nonetheless firmly pro-nuclear energy.  As a species, we need a lot of electricity, and we’re gonna need even more to dig ourselves out of the slow climate avalanche that’s going to kill us.  The way we currently generate bulk electricity kills tens of thousands of people annually (for example, air pollution from burning coal kills more than 10,000 people each year just in the US)—and that’s when it’s working as intended.  Even taking into account the inevitability of the occasional Fukushima or Chernobyl, we’re still better off with the Demon Core than the Devil We Know.

FUN FACT: My grandad is in this picture!
FUN FACT: My grandad is in this picture!

Maybe Just Don’t Be a Dick About Grammar?

This is a little video about dropping the pretensions and just returning to using “They/Them” as the singular non-gendered pronoun.  It’s a fun video, but the Big Picture is this:

English is a fantastically error-tolerant language.  You can construct fantastically agrammatical sentences and still be sufficiently understood to get things done.  Optimizing around tiny matters of correctness (e.g., “unique can never take a modifier,” “never end a sentence with a preposition,” and so on) usually fails to bring any substantive increase in the clarity of your speech or writing. Insisting that others do so as well–especially when there is no legitimate confusion created by their chosen construction–usually means you are acting like a classist dickweed (plausibly because you are one).

THE TAKEAWAY: At best, perfect “grammatical correctness”—like taking a good long shit—is (and should be) an entirely private pleasure.  It’s not for polite conversation among civilized people like you and me.

My 10yo asks “Want to see me use the Force?”…

… I nod.

He sticks his finger in his mouth, then draws the spit-slick digit out and, swift as a fencer, pushes it into my face. I instinctively rear back, as though moved by some sort of mystical energy field, perhaps one created by all living things—the sorta thing that surrounds us, penetrates us, and binds the galaxy together.image

Touché, tiny nerd. You win this round.

The Art of the Not-Making-a-Total-Putz-of-Yourself

If nothing else of substance, the last couple days of RNC Trump Speech brouhaha have offered a pair of very important business lessons.

art by DonkeyHotey https://www.flickr.com/photos/donkeyhotey/
(art by DonkeyHotey)

My initial impression was that we were looking at this kind of fantastically gobsmacking paradox:

A candidate renowned for his wealth and business acumen is either unable to afford or incapable of selecting competent help.

But according to this article, that doesn’t seem to be the case.  Skilled workers are perfectly happy to hold their noses and accept Trump dollars, but their employer is totally unable to actually use the tools he purchases.

This puts me in the mind of a business aphorism (which I believe I first heard from Ramit Sethi):

A students hire A students; B students hire C students.

To mansplain: An A student knows what good work looks like, that good work is hard, and is confident that they can reliably produce good work through the judicious application of hard work.  A students want to see good work, and do not want to look like putzes, so they choose subordinates who are as capable as themselves (if not more so).  B students may occasionally do good work, but since they don’t know this other stuff (about how to judiciously apply hard work to reliably produce that good work), they can be pretty insecure.  They hire down the ladder to shore up their ego.

But, of course, Trump is proving to not even be a B student; the B student is insecure and frustrated because he or she knows what good, consistent work looks like—they just can’t produce it.

Trump is a C student wallowing in the depths of Dunning-Kruger Syndrome.

So, to revise:

A students hire A students; B students hire C students.  C students hire an A student, a B student, two C students, a guy on Craigslist, their cousin, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Mike Tyson, six doctors, and a personal trainer, follow none of their advice, and then scream at them when they get the C they earned.