Sunday, December 4th, 2022

I was in all the bands during high school, by which I mean, there was just one band, but it was sort of an all-purpose band: marching band, pep band, concert band. When we played at basketball games or other sporting events, we were known as the pep band and we played high-tempo tunes that were arranged to be fast and short.

One of those tunes was “The Horse.” I loved that tune because 1) it sounded amazeballs, and because 2) my part was stupid easy to play. This is what it sounded like when it was arranged for a marching band:

And I was today years old when I learned that it’s not only an R&B number from way back, but it’s also got words!

the horse | 10:25 am CST
Category: entertainment, music, play, story time
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Saturday, December 3rd, 2022

The Playlist of Awesomeness
I Want You To Want Me – Cheap Trick (Sep 77)
Night Moves – Bob Seger (Nov 76)
Cecelia – Simon & Garfunkel (Apr 70)
Blinded By The Light – Manfred Man (Feb 73)
More Today Than Yesterday – Spiral Staircase (Jan 69)

On the drive into work I tuned in a radio station that was cranking out a playlist that came straight from my high school years.

“I Want You To Want Me” was a song I didn’t appreciate back in high school, which is strange because the lyrics perfectly encapsulate the emotional state I was in back then:

I want you to want me
I need you to need me
I’d love you to love me
I’m begging you to beg me
Feeling all alone without a friend
Y’know you feel like dying
Didn’t I, didn’t I, didn’t I see you crying?

(It’s fine. I was fine. I had plenty of good friends in high school. But I also had an overabundance of emotions and a crushing sense of insecurity. Same as it ever was.)

I can’t help but love this song now. Whenever I find it on the radio, I have to crank up the volume, sing along, and do a little boogey butt dance in my car seat.

“Night Moves” came on next. I was always dimly aware what this song was about, but the atmospherics on this particular morning made the lyrics so clear that there was no way to miss exactly what was going on:

She was a black-haired beauty with big dark eyes
And points of her own, sittin’ way up high
Way up firm and high

After a respectful pause, I posed the question to My Darling B, who has every single one of Bob Seger’s albums: “He’s talking about her titties, right?”

“I think so,” she said, but was not entirely confident in her answer. She had to ask The Google. The answers she got danced around the subject, just like Bob. But I’m about 99% sure that’s what he meant. It was the 70s. That’s what all the songs back then were about.

I was never a huge Bob Seger fan, but his songs were on the radio every day back then. If I were going to make a high school playlist, I would have to include at least a couple of Bob Seger songs, same as I’d have to include Barry Manilow or Olivia-Newton John. Wouldn’t be right to leave that out.

Next up: “Cecelia” by Simon & Garfunkel, a happy-go-lucky song about infidelity. “Cecelia, you’re breaking my heart,” Paul and Simon sing in harmony,

Makin’ love in the afternoon with Cecelia
Up in my bedroom
I got up to wash my face
When I come back to bed, someone’s taken my place

No subtlety there! Just straight-up sexual frustration!

This song was on my favorite Simon & Garfunkel album, “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” which, during my high school years, was everyone’s favorite. Even though it had been released nine years before I graduated from high school, it was nevertheless still enormously popular. For example, everybody I knew had not only memorized the lyrics to “The Boxer,” but also recognized it was a moral imperative to wistfully sing along or at least listen attentively when it was on the radio. “Cecelia” got the same treatment but it was more of a party song so you could enjoy dancing to it, too.

“Blinded By The Light” was another song everyone sang along with even though nobody knew all the words, or even most of the words. After “Blinded by the light,” everybody I knew mouthed some version of “wreck up like a douche under the roamer of the night,” whatever that means. I’m pretty sure that Manfred Man, the band that made this song famous, didn’t know all the words.

And finally, as we were nearing the state office building, we were treated to the glorious wonderfulness that is “More Today Than Yesterday” by forgettable band Spiral Staircase (neither one of us knew that – we had to ask The Google). This is not really a song from my high school days. I was probably dimly aware of its existence and probably heard it on the radio now and then, but as it was released in January 1969 when I was eight years old, I would hardly include it on an ultimate 70s playlist. Still, it rounded out the mornings tunes nicely because it didn’t break the spell of the nearly perfect string of 70s songs they had been spinning.

spiral staircase | 9:52 am CST
Category: entertainment, music, play
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Sunday, November 27th, 2022

Red beans and rice has been a holiday tradition in our house for the past twenty years. When we would buy a ham for Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, the next day’s dinner was red beans and rice, from a recipe My Darling B found in the Misawa Community Cookbook — you’re not gonna find that at a used-book sale anywhere, sorry. I cut the bone out of the ham the night before, then B stews it in a big pot with red beans and lots of other goodies, adjusting the recipe to suit our needs — for instance, the recipe calls for two cloves of garlic. TWO CLOVES. If you don’t want to taste or smell the garlic, why do you even use it? A big pot of red beans and rice calls for at least two HEADS of garlic. This is an opinion neither I nor B will budge on.

Tim came over at four to join us for dinner and a game, but the dinner wasn’t ready until about five so we just hung out while B made the rice and put the finishing touches on the stew. She wasn’t happy with the way the rice turned out — it was sticky, but I like sticky and Tim didn’t complain — but the stew was wonderful and we all filled our bowls up with generous helpings.

There is still so much ham left that we’ll be eating it through the end of next week, and that’ll be the last time we have a ham until about a year from now when we might be far enough removed from a week of eating ham that we’re looking forward to it again.

red beans and rice | 7:50 am CST
Category: food & drink, O'Folks
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Sunday, November 20th, 2022

So I’ve already written more than once about getting a song stuck in my head. Happens to everybody, but I’m pretty sure my brain takes it to an extreme most other people don’t experience. I could be wrong. This belief is not supported by even the tiniest shred of evidence. But it feels absolutely true.

More to the point: I’ve had three Aretha Franklin songs stuck in my head for the past two weeks: “Ain’t No Doubt About It,” “I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You,” and “Respect.” My brain’s been stuck on the first one more than the other two, but all three get air time on Radio Dave. Things could be worse, right? Those are three pretty great songs to have stuck in your head, right?

I guess. It’s just that, after two weeks of hearing those three songs on a loop, I have to say that even a fan of Aretha Franklin might get a little burned out. And I like to think of myself as a fan. But as much as I enjoy listening to those songs, I have to admit I’m getting … tired.

I think the songs that get stuck in my head may have a bit to do with how infrequently I listen to my favorite music these days. I used to have a huge collection of record albums close at hand (it’s in storage in the basement now) and listened to them almost all the time. Even if I wasn’t actively listening, I had an album I liked playing in the background. As a result of that, I had a huge loop of songs in my memory. I still occasionally fell into the single-song loop trap, but not for long. And certainly not for two weeks, ever.

I have to admit, though, that I will sometimes go whole days without listening to much of anything anymore, and even then I’ll turn the radio on only to have music in the background. But modern pop music hardly ever gets stuck in my head because I’m not familiar with it. It’s literally just background noise to me. In that respect, pop music is very safe to listen to.

But when I indulge a craving, as I did about two weeks ago, to listen to favorite album (like the Best Of Aretha Franklin I dug out of the archives), I think my brain eagerly latches on to those familiar sounds and obsesses over the details it enjoys or perhaps hadn’t even noticed until just now. “Hey! We haven’t heard this in a while! Oh I love these musical phrases! Wow these lyrics are the best!” And it goes into a seemingly endless loop of re-listening to the bits it loves every waking minute of the day.

Eventually I have to seek therapy by listening to some other old favorite of mine in the hopes that it will bump the previous album out of my phonological loop. Trouble with that is, the relief is temporary. I’ve just replaced one loop with another, so I’ve got, at best, a week of relief, maybe two, before I get really tired of the new loop. So I have to choose carefully. Which album have I not listened to for the longest time? How long can I stand to have it stuck in my head? What if I totally burn out on it and this is the absolute last time I can listen to it? These questions must be carefully considered before I return to the archive to dig up the next album or two.

stuck in a loop | 10:09 am CST
Category: entertainment, falling apart, music, play | Tags:
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image of a cat with its leg lifted over its head looking surprised

Yes, there is a yoga pose that looks a lot like this. No, it’s not called “lick the cat’s butt.” But that’s what it SHOULD be called.

lick the cat’s butt | 7:58 am CST
Category: random idiocy, Scooter, yoga
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Saturday, November 19th, 2022

Every time I start a new episode of Star Trek Prodigy, that little button in the lower right corner of the screen that says “Skip Intro” pops up and every time I think to myself, “Skip intro? Are you kidding? This is the best part of the show!”

Star Trek Prodigy is a Nickelodeon creation, so it’s written more for kids than adults, but I enjoy it quite a lot even so. I mean, it isn’t any hokier than the original series by a long shot. Together with Star Trek: Lower Decks (both stream on Amazon Prime), it’s one of the two best Star Trek shows in the franchise, if you ask me.

prodigy | 8:49 am CST
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Monday, November 14th, 2022

department of redundancy department | 2:47 pm CST
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Sunday, November 13th, 2022

And now, some inspirational words from comedian Tom Papa:

“I don’t know why we don’t feel like we’re doing great. You work hard, you do all the stuff you’re supposed to be doing. You’re doing your best and still, you feel like it’s not enough. I think it’s social media. Before social media, I thought I was kicking ass. Now every time I open my phone someone’s in my face. ‘Are you killing it today? Are you living your best life?’ No, I’m not. Because that’s not normal. You know what’s normal? How you feel right now. Right now in your funny little gassy bodies. A little achy, a little tired, light-headed, taking deep breaths so you don’t pass out in front of your friends, worried about your bills, worried about how you’re getting home, worried about that thing you found on your ass. That’s normal.

“And it’s exhausting. And that’s normal, too. Being tired, which I know you are, all the time, that’s normal. You don’t need a five-hour energy drink, you need to lay down once in a while. But we beat ourselves up about it all the time, right? All my friends: ‘I don’t know what’s wrong with me. Two o’clock in the afternoon, every day, I get so tired. What’s wrong with me?’ Nothing. Nothing. You woke up in the dark, went to a job you don’t enjoy, already put in five hours, they gave you twenty minutes for lunch, and now you need a nap. And they won’t let you, so you’ve got to hide in the bathroom stall from your co-workers with your feet up and close your eyes for ten seconds so maybe you’ll get through the god-damned day.

“You’re doing fine.”

Tom Papa’s set “You’re Doing Great!” is on Netflix and it’s well worth one hour of your time.

great | 8:14 am CST
Category: entertainment, Life & Death, television | Tags: , ,
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Saturday, November 12th, 2022

My hike around the arboretum this morning turned into a speed walk because it was a lot colder and windier outside than I thought it was. Also, it started to rain. Luckily I was wearing my heavy coat with a hooded foul-weather shell I could button up tightly to stay dry and reasonably warm, all except for my fingers. I’ve got to get better gloves.

The rain turned to snow on the way home. It was graupel, that kind of snow that’s little granular balls instead of flakes. It fell so sparsely at first that I couldn’t tell for sure if I was just imagining it but it quickly worsened until it was swirling across the pavement of the beltline highway like swarms of tiny white insects. By the time I got home there were tiny drifts of snow along the edges of the driveway.

graupel | 1:43 pm CST
Category: walking, weather
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Monday, October 24th, 2022

I have spent another weekend cutting up lumber to make what I hope will be improvements to the camping thing. I’m still blinking sawdust out of my eyes this Monday morning.

At it again …

When I built the first iteration of the camping thing, I was inspired by a design I saw in a video on YouTube. I tried to get as close as I possibly could to that design, but the guy who built his camping thing shot a lot of video of his final product but didn’t shoot any video showing how he built it. I had to take a lot of screen caps and make a lot of guesses, but I think I came pretty close to his design.

What I liked most about his was that it looked simple enough that I could build it. It was a bed frame made to fit the floor in the back of the van, two cargo compartments on stilts that fit into the rear windows on either side, and an arch that reached across the width of the van just behind the driver / passenger seats.

The bed frame was made of two straight slabs of plywood screwed to a couple of 2 x 4s which anchored it to the floor — there’s more framing to it than that, but that’s the gist. It was topped by two pieces of plywood, hinged across the middle so I could lift up the front or lift up the back to access the space for storage underneath.

With the two cargo compartments on either side of the bed, there was so much storage space that there was no need to block the view out the rear by installing a kitchen, the way most people do when they adapt their minivans to camping. I could store all the pots & pans and food in the well where the rear seats used to go. I liked this very much because I bought a tent which encloses the back end of the van when the hatch is open, allowing me to look out the screened-in back when I’m inside.

This design also left a space between the bed and the first row of seats, which I thought would make it easier for me to get in and out. After a couple of camping trips, though, I discovered that most of the time I get into the van by simply climbing up onto the bed. Also, there’s only enough of a gap between the bed and the seats to sit hunched over facing forward, which isn’t really that useful.

When listing the pros and cons of this design, the feature at the top of the list of cons was that the bed frame was 52 inches from head to foot, requiring an extension which was stowed under the front lid, eating up a lot of valuable stowage space. The extension was a piece of plywood 48 inches long and 20 inches wide. After installing legs and reinforcing it with a rail underneath it was at least five pounds too heavy. I never did figure out a way of getting it in and out of the stowed position that wasn’t awkward and because of that, once it was in place I tended to leave it for the duration of the camping trip, so it might as well have been permanent.

I never did work out a way to sit up in this bed. I tried several different ways to prop open one lid or the other, thinking I might be able to recline on it, but I could never get comfortable. So with this particular design there was just no way for me to sit. There isn’t enough headroom between the ceiling and the mattress to sit fully upright, so if I wanted to write I had to stretch out on one side or the other, propped on an elbow, and if I wanted to read it was that or lay flat on my back.

Having an unobstructed view out the back turned out to be not as desirable as I initially thought. The only way I could see out the back was to lay on my stomach and prop myself up on my elbows, which is none too comfortable so I didn’t do it often. And my position in the van was higher than the screened opening in the tent, so mostly all I could see was the ground immediately outside the van. Even if I managed to lower the bed an inch or two, I can’t imagine I’d spend much time looking out the back.

And whether or not I wanted a chuck box / kitchen blocking my view, the back end of the van is pretty much the natural location for a chuck box or kitchen. That’s the only place in the van that makes sense for the fridge I bought. The minivan I drive, a Toyota Sienna, has a very deep well just inside the tailgate for two seats to disappear into. I yanked out the seats so I could stuff a fridge in there, with lots of room left over to stash food, pots, pans, plates & utensils, a cook stove, etc. So naturally whenever I was preparing for a meal or cleaning up after one, I worked out of the back of the van. Might as well put a chuck box / kitchen back there because it’s there anyway.

Even with all those drawbacks I was reluctant to give up on this design. If I’m honest, I felt that way mostly because I had already spent a fair bit of time building it out and didn’t want to spend even more time starting over from scratch. I tried a couple of really desperate modifications to avoid starting from scratch, like I tried sleeping on a 24-inch-wide mattress, thinking if that worked out I could carve out a place from the other half to sit up, but after trying to sleep on a 24-inch-wide mattress I learned that was a great big nope.

So I’ve started over. And just as I came to this decision, YouTube recommended a video of another design for a minivan camper thing that looked interesting. Stay tuned …

little boxes | 8:31 pm CST
Category: camping, hobby, play | Tags:
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Friday, September 30th, 2022

A day at the beach

I spent the weekend at the state park campground on North Trout Lake and it was glorious!

Last time I was here it was, ah, not so glorious. It started raining shortly after I arrived, kept raining all night and all the next morning. It was still raining when I packed up and left.

But this time, wow! The weather was so sunny and clear when I got there that I couldn’t resist taking the kayak down to the beach immediately to put it in the water and go for a paddle around the lake. I didn’t intend to go all the way around the lake but the day was so beautiful that what started out as a quick paddle turned into a long, lazy paddle all the way around the shore. I found several little sheltered bays and a beaver lodge down at the south end of the lake, then paddled up the western shoreline through the reeds until I got to the north end where all the houses were. Circling back, I got to camp a couple hours later and ate lunch.

After lunch I crossed paths with a guy about my age who was out for a walk with his wife. He stopped me to chat me up and, as you do, asked me where I was from. I said I lived in Madison, and asked where he was from. “Oh, have you ever heard of a little town called Waupaca?” I’m sure he thought he was going to stump me with that one. Why would anyone from Madison have heard of Waupaca? He was quite surprised when I told him I grew up in a little town down the road from Waupaca. “Which town?” he asked. When I told him, he said, “Manawa! Did you know either of the Baumer girls?” I said sure, Jeannie was in my class. “She’s my cousin.”

With the little time I had left in the evening, I hopped on my bicycle and rode down to Cathedral Point, a little spit of land that sticks out into the strait between North Trout Lake and South Trout Lake. It takes me about 40 minutes to paddle as far but only 20 mins to cycle there. I had a little walk around the point before cycling back.

I had just enough time when I got back to build a fire before the sun went down. It got dark quickly after that so I ate my supper by the light of the camp fire. I played with the fire for a couple hours, then waited for it to burn down to coals before I took a walk to the beach to see the stars. By then the crescent moon had set and it was dark enough to see the Milky Way. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen that many stars.

The moon setting over Trout Lake

When I got out of bed Saturday morning it was cold enough to see my breath. I built a fire for warmth and boiled some water to make coffee and instant oatmeal. The lake was smooth as glass and plumes of steamy air rose from it into the cold sky. It was almost too cold to go out onto the lake but I knew that if I didn’t, I’d kick myself forever, so I finished up my coffee, then trundled the kayak down to the beach.

Morning mist over the lake

Rowing through the mist was a dream. The bow cut through the water with barely a ripple. I paddled down past Cathedral Point and around the bend into South Trout Lake where I could ground the kayak, step out and remove my hoodie before going on. The sun was full on me by then and was more than enough to keep me warm.

There were three little islands at the northernmost end of South Trout Lake. I spent almost a half hour slowly circling them before heading back to the campground. Felt just a bit too confident that the kayak would easily slide over the rocky shoals surrounding the islands and got hung up twice, but backing off and going around was easy enough.

I had to fight a headwind and breaking waves to paddle back to camp. Not exactly the way I wanted to end a relaxing paddle and to make it just a little more irritating, the wind died just after I dragged the kayak back into camp, leaving the lake glassy-smooth again. If I’d waited another thirty minutes to head back, the return would have been so much easier.

I caught a few winks in my camp chair before going on a bike ride in the afternoon. I headed north past Boulder Junction a ways, not to the end of the trail but much farther than I had intended to go. The trail was so easy, though! I just kept going until I had been on the trail for a little over an hour. Knowing at that point it would take at least as long to get back, I turned around. Lucky for me, there was no headwind on the way back; it was as easy a ride on the way back as it was on the way out.

I was too tired to do anything else after returning, so I just sat with a book until I nodded off. When I woke it was getting dark as well as getting cold, so I built a fire and sat next to it for a couple hours playing with it until it finally burned out.

Burned out …
A Weekend at North Trout Lake, Sep 30 – Oct 2 | 9:22 pm CST
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Friday, September 9th, 2022

I took vacation on Friday, Sep 9, and Monday, Sep 12, so I could make a long weekend out of a visit to Big Bay State Park on Madeline Island, one of the Apostle Islands

Big Bay State Park

I’d been rained out of about half of all the camping trips I planned this summer and it looked at first as though I was going to get rained out of this one, too. Early in the week, the forecast called for rain all weekend, but as the week went on the three days of rain gradually shifted from the weekend to the week. I made no plans to go anywhere else. I was going to Big Bay come hell or high water.

It takes about six hours to drive straight through from Our Little Red House to Big Bay, but I did not drive straight through. When I was about an hour south of Stevens Point I realized I did not bring a book to read before bed. Knowing I would not be able to get a good night’s sleep without something to read, I stopped at Stevens Point to visit a book store, then continued on to Wausau, where I stopped for lunch at the Red Eye Brewing Company.

Until I left Wausau, the skies were clear and sunny, but just north of Wausau the clouds began to crowd in, and by the time I passed through Merrill, about a half-hour north of Wausau, it was raining. For the next three hours I drove through a steady, gloomy, cold rain from Merrill to Bayfield.

When I made plans to go to Big Bay, I originally thought I would stop at Copper Falls State Park to hike the trail for about an hour, but by the time I got to the turnoff to Copper Falls I was already more than an hour behind schedule. There was a ferry to catch from the mainland to Madeline Island, and I wanted to get to Big Bay before it was dark, so Copper Falls would have to wait until another time.

The ferry is scheduled to depart Bayfield at the top of every hour. Google Maps was stubbornly telling me that I was due to arrive at 5:05 no matter how much faster than the speed limit I drove. I typically drive about five miles per hour faster than the speed limit but I started pushing it to seven or eight miles faster when I saw I might miss the ferry. Didn’t make any difference to Google Maps. In the very rural stretch between Ironwood and Ashland I gave it still a bit more gas but still couldn’t shave any time off my estimated arrival. Eventually I surrendered to the inevitable, relaxed my foot off the gas pedal and eased into Bayfield at exactly 5:05 pm.

The main road into Bayfield ends at the Bayfield pier, where I could see a ferry tied up, so I parked the van nearby and looked for someone to buy a ticket from, but nobody was around. Asking around, I discovered the ferry departed from a wharf just to the north of where I was parked. I got back into the van and drove up there to an empty parking lot where a dripping-wet teenager in a rain slicker was selling tickets to a ferry that was nowhere to be seen. Thinking I’d just missed the ferry, I bought a ticket, parked the van (fourth in line behind other campers) and set out in search of a restroom. Just as I found a sign pointing the way, I glanced out across the water and saw the ferry arriving! Came back to find the ferry at the dock with cars streaming off the deck! There was just enough time for me to get back to the van and start the engine before we began to drive onto the ferry, which departed at 5:30 pm.

In the four days I was on Madeline Island, I never saw a ferry arrive or depart on time. To be fair, I saw them arrive or depart four, maybe five times, but still: never on schedule. I think they get there when they get there, and they leave when they’re loaded up.

I call this “Crazy Dude with Car Ferry” — La Pointe, Madeline Island

I drove straight from the landing at La Pointe, Madeline Island, to the state park, about 5 miles from the dock, and had just enough daylight left to unload the bike and the kayak, then set up the tent over the back end of the van. The gloomy overcast shortened the day by quite a bit. In the dim twilight I took a walk around the campground to get a look around. Saw several deer, which didn’t seem to be bothered by having people close by. It was almost too dark to see by the time I got back to the van, so I shook the rainwater off my coat and hat, climbed into the van, and buttoned up for the night. Read my new book until I couldn’t keep my eyes open any more.

A misty morning at Big Bay

Woke early Saturday morning, dozed until about six. Dressed and took a walk down to the beach, eager to see what the park had to offer. The beach is a barrier island which stretches almost all the way across the innermost part of the bay, creating a lagoon on the inland side. The barrier island is just wide enough that trees, grass, and scrubby little bushes have established themselves on the island. There’s a boardwalk up the inside of the barrier so you can hike from one end to the other without trampling the delicate flora growing along the way. It’s a long walk from one end to the other, about a mile and a half, and I hadn’t had any breakfast or even coffee yet, so I only went about halfway before doubling back.

On my walk I crossed paths with a flurry of three little kids chased by a mother with a coffee thermos. “HI NEIGHBOR!” the kids called out to me as they ran down to the beach. “WE’RE GOING TO SEE THE BEACH! WE SAW THE SUN SET LAST NIGHT! DID YOU SEE THE SUN SET? OKAY SEE YOU BYE!” I’m never not amazed by how much energy each and every kid can generate.

After a cup of tea and a banana, I took a drive around the island to see what there was to see, and also to find a boat ramp or some kind of public access to the bay where I could launch my kayak. Turns out there isn’t any. You can rent a canoe or a kayak from several places, but if you bring your own, you have to carry or drag it quite a ways to get it to the beach where you can launch it. For me, this ended up being about a five-minute walk from my camp site, not a huge inconvenience but this is one of the few state parks I’ve been to where there wasn’t easy public access to the water.

My drive around the island was pleasant enough but there wasn’t much to see outside the state park. Some of the shore line was nice but it’s clearly all posted private property, so I didn’t even think about stopping to walk it. Quite a lot of the island was accessible only on unpaved roads which were far from shore, so there’s not much to see that you wouldn’t see on any back road in northern Wisconsin. I drove almost every road on Madeline Island in a little more than an hour and was back to eat lunch before noon.

After lunch, I dragged the kayak down the trail to the beach. When I say “dragged,” I don’t mean that I literally dragged it on the dirt and rocks and roads of the park. I mean I strapped it to a tiny wheeled trolley and led it like a good little doggie. Just wanted to make that clear. “Why don’t you just carry it?” I hear you ask. Although my kayak only weighs about sixty pounds, I can’t carry it very far because 1) I’m old & lazy, and 2) my kayak is eighteen feet long, which makes it very difficult to carry for any distance at all. Hence, the trolley, which works a treat and which I can fold up and stow in the reach hatch of the kayak. If you have a canoe or kayak, get a trolley for it, they’re great.

Launching from the beach near the campground meant I had to paddle the length of the barrier island to get to the inlet to the lagoon, about a twenty-minute paddle. There’s a footbridge across the inlet supported by a couple of rustic timber-crib piers which don’t raise the footbridge very high off the water. I had to fold myself as tightly as I could against the deck of my kayak to get under it. Just to make it really interesting, there were a half-dozen children taking turns jumping off the bridge. They clearly knew I wanted to go under the bridge but they were so caught up in the excitement of jumping into the water that they couldn’t quite summon up the willpower to stop until somebody’s mother, watching from the shore, finally climbed up onto the bridge and held them back for the minute it took for me to squeeze beneath the bridge and paddle on.

The lagoon behind the barrier island is broad and beautiful and dotted with dozens of small islands, some no more than a muddy lump covered in brush with maybe a single tree sprouting from it. Others were much larger but none of them appeared to have any place to make landfall so I was never tempted to climb onto one and have a look around. The whole time I was there the water was glassy smooth, encouraging me to paddle lazily around the lagoon for about an hour before heading back the way I came.

All that paddling in the warm sunshine put me in a napping mood, so after a quick bite to eat I slouched in my camp chair and dozed for about 30 minutes. I do a lot of napping on trips like this. Why not? It’s usually quite peaceful and the hiking, paddling, and biking tires me out just enough to want to catch a few winks. I’ve also got a reclining camp chair that’s super-comfy and rocks back and forth, making it perfect for napping in. So of course I take a nap whenever I can.

After my nap I still had plenty of daylight, so I rode my bike to the southern part of the state park, locked it up in a rack in the parking lot, and walked back to camp along a trail that skirted the edge of the cliffs along Lake Superior. I almost didn’t. I’m not as active as I should be these days and my bones and muscles were complaining about being forced to walk uneven terrain, paddle for hours, and bike miles down the road, but I knew I’d kick myself if I didn’t try to enjoy every bit of the park I came so far to see. So after thinking it over an extra two-three minutes, I committed to walking the trail back to camp, and enjoyed it immensely.

Saturday night dinner was smoked salmon, cheese & crackers, and a cup of tea to wash it down. I took a walk around the campground after dinner to settle my dinner, then sat by a campfire until it was too dark to see.

Sunday morning was very chilly. Didn’t want to get out of bed, but very much wanted a hot cup of tea. Also, had to pee. In the end, I could not resist any of these needs.

I took my tea and a fig bar down to the beach to watch the sun rise, but the sky was overcast so no sun. Walked along the beach with a gentle surf lapping at my feet and a pair of sandpipers leading the way. Spotted the tracks of a doe and her fawn in the sand. They must have been there less than an hour before I was.

Paddling on Lake Superior!

After returning to camp for coffee and a bite to eat, I dragged the kayak down to the beach to paddle around the south end of the park where I suspected there might be some caves in the shoreline. Paddled for maybe twenty minutes when the shoreline went from tumble-down trees and dirt to solid rocks carved by the waves. Didn’t find any caves, or at least not what I would call a cave, but there was one very deeply carved rock overhang propped up by a column of rock that might’ve been a cave a long time ago. I ducked under it very briefly just so I could say I’d paddled my kayak into a “sea cave” on Lake Superior.

The wind came up as I paddled back to the bay, bringing to mind all the warnings about how quickly conditions on Lake Superior can change. It was never so windy that I was in danger of being swamped, or at least I don’t think it was. I never took any water in the cockpit, even though waves were breaking across the deck. But I am a totally neurotic worrywart so it was impossible not to think about rolling over and getting dumped as I made my way back to the beach. Which I did in good time, and completely dry. As I said, I just worry too much.

Back at camp, I traded the kayak for a bike, went for a ride to the ranger station at the entrance to the park, and left it there while I hiked along the cliff face to see if I could find the cave from the dry side of the shore line. It was easier to find than I thought, but much less impressive-looking from up top. Hiked a trail loop back to the ranger station and biked back to camp for lunch and a nap.

The nap didn’t work out this time, mostly because I strung up a hammock and tried to sleep in that instead of my tried-and-true camp chair. I’ve seen other people napping in hammocks and thought, wow, that looks comfortable, but I’ve bought two different hammocks and neither one of them is what I would call comfortable. They both bend me almost double in the most uncomfortable way possible and besides that, they completely wrap me up like a banana skin. I think I’ll have to give up on hammocks for now.

I wanted to get a shower before bed Sunday night. I can go one night without a shower, but two nights without a shower and I start to stink so that it bothers me. The showers at Big Bay State Park were closed because of something they were doing with the septic field, so I had to drive up to the campground at Big Bay Town Park where they had coin-operated showers. I’ve used coin-operated showers before but it had been a while so I’d forgotten the most important lesson of coin-operated showers: Just shove all your money in the slot. It says a dollar seventy-five for the first three minutes and twenty-five cents for each minute after, but that doesn’t mean you have to plug it every minute. If you’ve got ten dollars in quarters, shove it all in there and enjoy your shower instead of hopping out every minute. Hopping out only gets you frustrated and cold.

Went into town after my shower to hunt up some souvenirs and have a look around the town of La Pointe. There wasn’t much to see, so I didn’t stay long. I was back in camp well before sundown, where I feasted on just about everything left in the fridge. Built a fire after dinner, cracked open a beer, and settled down with a book until it was too dark to read, then played with the fire until I burned up all the wood before heading off to bed.

Didn’t get much sleep Sunday night even though I went to bed early. A trio of young women in the camp site across the road were up until the wee hours drinking and playing pop music on their boom box. Several people asked them to quiet down but they just laughed and kept partying. I don’t have any memory of when they finally shut off the music and went to sleep, but I got up before sunrise to have plenty of time to pack and get the first ferry off the island. Under any other circumstances I would have pulled out of my camp site with my only my car’s running lights on but on this particular Monday morning I was very happy to flood their tent with my headlights. Made sure I gave them the high beams, too.

I was first in line for the first ferry off the island, which was scheduled to depart at 7:00 am but which didn’t leave until almost eight. After stopping at a coffee shop in Bayfield to pick up a hot cuppa and a chocolate chip cookie, I set off at 8:15 am and arrived home at 2:40 pm, pretty good time considering I stopped at every wayside I saw to stretch my legs and get some air. There’s an especially nice wayside on Highway 51 between Manitowish Waters and Woodruff, overlooking Diamond Lake, where I stopped for lunch and lingered for about a half-hour. It’s almost entirely hidden from the highway and every time I’ve visited, there was never more than two or three people there.

Big Bay State Park, Sep 9 – 12 | 8:44 am CST
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Saturday, August 13th, 2022

Rained out!

I got to North Trout Lake about an hour before it started to rain. Had just enough time to take one quick bike ride, then spent the rest of the evening sitting under the overhang of the tent behind my van with a book until it was too dark to read. Still raining when I went inside and read until I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer. Rained all night.

It was still raining in the morning without any sign it was going to stop. The forecast called for rain all day Saturday and through the night into Sunday, so I packed up and went home.

North Trout Lake, Aug 12-13 | 12:48 pm CST
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Tuesday, June 21st, 2022

Photo of my van parked near the shore of North Trout Lake, just north of Woodruff, WI

I spent last Friday and Saturday night at a state campground on North Trout Lake to do a little hiking, a little paddling, but mostly just to sit and enjoy the peace and quiet.

The campground seems to be really popular and I can see why. It’s right on the shore of the lake, which is so picturesque it ought to be on a postcard (it probably is). Several of the camp sites are right on the shore; you could launch your canoe from them or just wade out into the lake, which has a hard sandy bottom and is very shallow along much of the shore line. If I had been lucky enough to snag one of those sites I probably would have set up my camp chair facing the water or strung my hammock between two trees on the shore and done little else but gaze out on the lake all weekend, it was that pretty.

I unfortunately did not have a camp site on the shore. Mine was in fact about as far from the shore as it’s possible to get and was rather ugly, which is probably why I was able to reserve it for a weekend at short notice. It was ugly mostly because of all the trees which had been cut down and left in heaps around the site. On the plus side the site got lots of sunshine, was open to the breezes off the lake which kept the bugs at bay, and it was very easy for me to gather firewood, but there was no getting around the fact that heaps of dead branches do not make for a good-looking camp site. I didn’t care much. It served its purpose as far as I was concerned. I had a place to park, a nice big camp site, and a ring to build a fire in. All good.

I left the house at about three o’clock Friday afternoon and arrived at the lake a little past six-thirty in the evening, making pretty good time but feeling more than a little fatigued, not to mention stressed out, after spending three and a half hours on the interstate highway with the hundreds if not thousands of other people heading north for the weekend. When I headed back home Sunday morning I stuck to county and state roads all the way, and it was honestly worth every minute of the additional travel time. I had the road to myself practically all the way, so the drive was virtually stress-free. A+++ would definitely recommend.

At six-thirty in the evening around this time of year there are still at least two hours of daylight left, so almost as soon as I got there I unshipped the kayak from the roof of the van, trundled it down to the shore on a handy-dandy little trolley I have just for that purpose, and launched it into the lake for a short paddle up and down the shore along the edge of the campground. The wind was rather brisk that evening so the surface of the lake was the tiniest bit choppy but not enough to make me want to head back to shore. I paddled around for thirty or forty minutes before I decided I’d better get back to camp so I had enough daylight to gather firewood and set up for overnight camping.

I had already collected a few fallen branches which I broke up into tinder to start the fire. After I got that burning, I began to collect larger pieces of wood to keep the fire going – a rookie mistake; you’re supposed to get all your wood together before lighting it off. I knew better than that, but it had been a few years since I’d built a camp fire from scratch. After gathering enough larger pieces to keep a fire burning for at least an hour, I broke up more smaller branches into tinder and built up a pretty respectable fire from the coals that remained of my original effort, then built a teepee over it with the bigger pieces I’d gathered.

Now that I finally had a proper fire going, I could prepare something for dinner and settle into my camp chair next to the fire. And when I say “prepare dinner” I mean that I smeared some salmon cream cheese on some thick-sliced nutty bread and called that dinner.

After gobbling down some carbs next to a crackling camp fire, I slept like a baby.

Saturday morning I woke way too early, but I had to answer the call of nature so I tottered off to the nearest pit toilet, which was not really very near at all, another shortcoming of my particular camp site. My site was about as far from the toilet to the north as it was from the toilet to the south, smack dab in the middle. Not a problem most of the time, but for that first trip of the morning I had to lengthen my stride and move with a sense of purpose and urgency. That taken care of, I crawled back into bed and dozed pleasantly for another hour, wrapped tightly in many many blankets against the early morning chill.

When the sun was finally high enough to shine its warmth down on my camp site, I begrudgingly extracted myself from my bunk and gathered up enough fruit juice, fig bars, and nuts to make a decent light breakfast, which I noshed on in my camp chair that I gradually scooted across the camp site to keep up with a passing sunbeam. I passed the time reading two or three chapters of the very excellent book “Allow Me To Retort,” by author Elie Mystal, who examines the ins and outs of constitutional law from the perspective of a Black American. Wonderful book, would gladly recommend it to anyone.

Once the fruit juice was gone it was time to move on to more serious stuff: coffee. I neglected to bring the fixings for coffee on my previous trip up north, but not this time around. With a pourover cone carefully balanced on top of a big mug I slowly brewed the java, then settled back into my camp chair to read two more chapters.

The important stuff out of the way, I set out on my morning constitutional. My initial thought was to walk the complete circuit of the campground road, but when I got to the beach I decided to include a detour to the boat ramp about a hundred yards away. At the boat ramp I noticed a marker for a paved bicycling trail that disappeared into the trees by the road.

If I’d known there were paved cycling trails for miles and miles up here, I definitely would have brought my bike but, sad to say, I didn’t. But I just had to get a look at the trail, so I took a short stroll along it, only as far as the first intersection, the road to Cathedral Point. Along that particular short stretch of trail it rose and fell over a few very steep hills and ducked around maybe half a dozen sharp turns, but the asphalt pavement was in good condition. Cycling it would be a lot of fun even though the hills would present a bit of a challenge for me, a rider who generally prefers straight and level trails.


Having gone as far as the first intersection, I turned around and shambled back in the direction of camp. I have to admit with no small amount of embarrassment that I accidentally left my hiking shoes at home for this trip. The only footwear I had with me were a pair of sandals, not ideal for long hikes. Also, they leave my feet exposed to the elements 24/7. When I was young and indestructible I would walk barefoot all day in the summer, over smooth ground, gravel or hot asphalt – it didn’t matter. My feet were tough enough to walk on anything. Well, they’re not now. I’ll spare you the details, but after tramping around all day in sandals, I had to carefully clean and bandage my feet Saturday night before bed. Used up half a box of Band-Aids and many a generous dollop of Neosporin. Which was why I was taking it easy on this short hike along the bike trail, loafing along at a leisurely pace. Even so, I got back to camp around ten o’clock, still plenty early for a morning paddle on the lake.

North Trout Lake is a fairly big lake, but Trout Lake, to the south (natch), is even bigger, and they’re connected through a narrow strait. My aim on this Saturday morning paddle was to go as far as the strait, have a look around, then come back. Which turned out to be exactly what I did. I had to paddle against a light but continuous breeze out of the south on the way there, but after I crossed through the strait it was almost dead calm thanks to a couple of islands at the north end of Trout Lake screening me from the wind. I happily paddled around on the glassy water for a while, circling the islands and drifting along the shore.

I grounded the kayak at Cathedral Point, jumped out and had a little walkabout to take in the surroundings. The point had picnic tables, a water pump, toilets, and fire rings, but looked as though it hadn’t been visited in a while. One teeny tiny little sign caught my eye and curiosity compelled me to get close enough to ready it. “This sign is surrounded by poison ivy,” it warned, “don’t touch it.” So warned, I tiptoed back to my kayak and paddled away.

I returned to my camp site at about half past twelve and made a hearty lunch of thick-sliced summer sausage on slices of nutty bread, then sat in the sun with my book as I ate. The air was still cool and the breeze was pleasant. It wasn’t long before I began to drowse. Napping seemed like a good idea just then, so I stretched out in the van and got myself a few winks. Best thing I could has possibly done. There’s really nothing better you can do in the early afternoon, especially after you’ve been active, than get a restful nap. At least, nothing better for me. You can do what you like.

And after a restful nap, there’s nothing better than driving into town to spend a little time relaxing in the local beer garden. There’s a brewery called Rocky Reef in Woodruff, about a twenty-minute drive from the campground. I’d been there once before and enjoyed sitting in the sun with a cold, refreshing glass of hefeweizen. There weren’t any open seats on the patio last Saturday because they had some live entertainment which had attracted quite a large weekend crowd. I only wanted to pick up some beer anyway, but hung around for about ten minutes to sample a beer they didn’t have on tap the last time I visited.

When I got back, I sat in the sun and read my book again, and in the evening I lit a fire and played with it because on the inside I’m still a twelve-year-old boy who does that kind of thing. There wasn’t much peace and quiet to enjoy Saturday night because all the other campers had returned from wherever they’d gone, and they all felt the need to yell at each other a lot and share their recorded music with each other. The popularity of state parks is the only thing I don’t like about them.

I packed up fairly early Sunday morning because I didn’t want to hurry getting home. I wanted to take the back roads and make a few stops along the way to get out, walk around and return home stress-free, and that’s pretty much exactly what I did.

North Trout Lake, Jun 17-19 | 8:05 am CST
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Sunday, June 5th, 2022

I booked a reservation for a two-night stay at Moose Lake Campground in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, not far from Hayward, Wisconsin. I even stayed overnight, but I got the hell out of there first thing in the morning because I have never encountered mosquitoes as voracious and unrelenting as the mosquitoes that were out in force nearly everywhere I went up north on this particular weekend. I had to spray myself over and over with the most powerful insect repellent I could find just to be outside, and even then the mosquitoes would buzz in a cloud around my head, stopping short of the cloud of DEET surrounding me.

I would add that there’s nothing much to do at Moose Lake. There are no hiking trails, and the campground is at the end of a long gravel road through densely-wooded country. I would have been perfectly happy to paddle on the lake for a while, then sit in a camp chair for hours on end, quietly reading a book, but the mosquitoes would not leave me alone even while I was drenched in repellent, so I spent most of the time I was at Moose Lake locked up in my van. Not ideal.

That’s a big Muskie!

The weekend wasn’t a total loss, however! I went through Hayward on my way home, arriving just as the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame opened. I don’t get up this way often but I have been through Hayward more than once and I knew that if I drove through it again without getting a photo of myself with the giant Muskie you can see from space, I would kick myself forever. I can finally check that off my bucket list.

I’m also happy to report that I spend a most enjoyable morning visiting the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame, partly because I had the whole place to myself for more than an hour, so I could linger over the exhibits as long as I liked and take lots and lots of photos. What I enjoyed most about it, though, was that it was the most gleefully over-the-top museum of fishing that I’d ever seen. I mean, why would you collect hundreds of antique outboard boat engines in one place unless you were obsessed with fishing? That’s not an exaggeration. I didn’t count them but there had to be more than one hundred outboards.

Moose Lake, June 5-6 | 10:18 am CST
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Friday, May 6th, 2022

A sunny day on Star Lake

My first camping trip of the year was a single night’s stay at Star Lake, north of Saint Germain. I had planned to stay two nights but wasn’t prepared for how low the overnight temps would get. I had flannel sheets, a blanket and a quilt, which had been more than sufficient to keep me warm through the night on previous trips, but it wasn’t enough to keep me warm through the coldest hours of the night, even thought I was wrapped up like a caterpillar in a cocoon.

This was also my first camping trip to the north woods of Wisconsin and I was not fully aware of how long it would take to get there. I set off from home at around lunch time so I didn’t get to the campground until about five. I set up camp as quickly as possible, then broke out the food and ate dinner, and by the time I finished it was already too dark to read.

The next day I put the kayak in the lake and went for a quick paddle, but the water was still so cold that it sucked way too much of my body heat away through the thin fiberglass hull. Not sure if there’s anything to be done about that short of dressing up in long underwear and wool pants. I didn’t paddle for very long, which is a shame because it was an otherwise beautiful day. Later I went for a hike through the woods behind the campgrounds, and I sat in the sun reading a pretty good book for a couple hours, but as the sun went down I knew that I was in for another night of near-freezing temps and the more I thought about that, the less I wanted to do it, so I packed up and left in the late afternoon, arriving home shortly before bed time.

Star Lake, May 6-8 | 9:36 am CST
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Sunday, May 1st, 2022

Check this out:

I froze my ass off to get that photo. I hope you appreciate that.

It seems a little funny that you can put on a sweatshirt and long pants and go out in fifty degree weather and think, “Oh, this isn’t so bad,” and you get so into doing whatever it is you’re doing that you don’t notice until an hour and a half goes by that you don’t have any sensation in your fingertips. I had to go inside at one-hour intervals after that just so I could continue to do manual labor. And no, I couldn’t wear gloves because I need to be bare-handed to do the delicate work of stripping wires and such like.

The arch isn’t done. I have to hang a curtain from it, just for example, but I’m so happy with the way the lights turned out that I had to snap a photo of the progress.

I also got the lights installed on the overhead storage compartments:

They are not lit in this photo because obviously they were not installed in the van which means the wires weren’t connected to a live circuit. They’re installed now, but I didn’t take a photo of them with the lights switched on because I forgot, and I’m not going back out now. Each light is at the end of a foot-long gooseneck and is dimmable, which will be very nice for reading a chapter or two before lights out. And there’s a USB port in the base of each light for recharging phones or whatever. I can’t wait to try them out.

All of this (and more!) runs off a house battery in the back of the van that I installed last week. Ran into a little glitch with the charger that I have yet to rectify, but progress! It’s being made!

wired | 8:35 pm CST
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Friday, April 15th, 2022

I spent my lunch break yesterday brushing polyurethane on these pieces, even though I shouldn’t have. The instructions on the can tell me I should wait until the temperature is at least sixty degrees but it was only fifty-two. I absolutely could not wait for it to warm up, though, because the forecast tells me it won’t get warmer than forty-five until next week. I’m so eager to make some progress on this project that I’m sure I’ll burst a vessel if I wait that long, so I cheated, cracked open the can of poly and brushed it on anyway. Checked it several times yesterday afternoon and evening and it looked fine, so I think I got away with it.

finished | 6:09 am CST
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Sunday, April 3rd, 2022

As usual on Sunday morning, our kitchen looked like a bunch of frat boys had been up all night drinking and eating snacks while they did whatever frat boys do all night. In reality it was nothing like that. Tim comes over on Saturday afternoon for an early dinner and then we play a board game until usually eleven or twelve at night. We drink and eat a lot of snacks, so that part’s the same, but other than that it’s a couple of aging boomers and their indulgent son hunched over the dining room table, moving game tokens around on a cardpaper game board. Maybe frat boys do that, too, I dunno.

So this morning before I could even think about brewing a pot of coffee, I had to wash my hands, unload the dish washer, then stack as many of the dirty dishes, coffee mugs, and utensils into it as my finely-honed stacking skills would allow, which is quite a lot, if I may be allowed to humble brag on my domestic skills just a little bit. Took about twenty minutes, which seems like a long time to perform a complicated household chore so early in the morning before coffee but it’s actually a blessing to do it before I’m fully conscious. It passes in a blur and I rarely even remember doing it afterward. Best way to do kitchen cleanup, if you want my opinion.

Just FYI the game we played was Spirit Island, where you play the part of a minor deity defending an island against colonizers. My favorite spirits are River Surges in Sunlight, and Ocean’s Mighty Grasp, because their powers enable them to drown lots and lots of colonizers. As a bonus, Ocean’s presence on the island also enables other spirits to drown lots more colonizers, and every drowned colonizer gives Ocean an even Mightier Grasp. Great fun!

I did not play either of these spirits last night. Instead, I played two spirits completely unknown to me, just to switch things up and, as a result, I was not much help when it came to defending the island. One of my spirits was Volcano Looming High, and the most critical mistake I made was not asploding myself as soon as the colonizers built a whole shitload of towns and cities during the escalation phase of the game. When Volcano asplodes, he takes a whole lot of towns and cities out of the game. Lesson learned. The other spirit I played was Finder of Paths Unseen, and I have to admit I learned nothing about how this spirit works. I’ll have to play with it a lot more before I get even a basic idea how to use it.

frat party | 9:06 am CST
Category: games, housekeeping, Our Humble O'Bode, play, random idiocy, scrub-a-dub-dub
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Monday, March 14th, 2022

After what seemed like an eternity of sub-freezing weather, we finally had a day of sunny skies and temps in the forties. The forecast says we’re supposed to get at least one more week of this, but I’m taking it one day at a time because I know this is false spring and we’re going to get at least one more fall of snow deep enough to shovel off the driveway before winter is REALLY over, and I don’t want it to break my heart.

I took two really long walks around the neighborhood today, one this morning and another this afternoon, and wow am I out of shape. I don’t mind walking in the snow but I really can’t abide going for a walk when it’s cold enough to make my nose and teeth hurt just because I’m breathing in and out (it actually seems to hurt more when I’m breathing out – how the hell does that make sense?), and as I mentioned already temps have been hovering around zero for weeks and weeks now, so I’ve been lazy. I’ll have to make myself get out there every day. Lucky for me that budding trees draw me like a moth to a flame.

In between my morning and afternoon walkies I worked on the camping thing some more. It felt so good to get outside and work on it for more than five minute without losing sensation in my hands. It’s not quite warm enough to brush some poly on the finished pieces, so instead I figured out how to set up the arch across the front of the van between the driver’s cabin and the rear compartment. The goal is not to wall off the back from the front, just to give me something to hang a curtain from. In the original design it’s a combination curtain rod and coat rack, festooned all over with coat hooks, and it even has overhead lights. I’ll definitely do the coat hooks. We’ll see about the lights.

I cut out the uprights from half-inch plywood about a week ago on a day of warmish temps (maybe in the low forties?) but didn’t get a chance to finish them until today when I screwed a piece of 3/4″ poplar to the back of each of the pieces that look like half a spade. The arch doesn’t have to support a lot of weight, unless you hang a lot of coats and backpacks from the hooks. The poplar’s there mostly to stiffen the back of the plywood and to make each upright a little prettier.

It took me a while to work out how to build a piece that would clamp the uprights to the grab handles on the B-pillar. I thought I had it figured out about a week ago, but after re-watching some video shot by the person who originated the design I tried a different, simpler way to do it. That got way better results.

With the uprights firmly anchored to the B-pillars I could lay a batten across the tops, attach a piece of cardboard roughly cut to fit the contour of the ceiling, and joggle-stick a template for the cross-piece. I’m pretty new to the idea of using a joggle stick to make a template for unusual shapes so I’m still getting the hang of it, but it so far it’s been working well for me. I joggled the shape of the uprights so they would follow the profile of the window and clear the door handle, and joggled the face of the overhead bin so it would fit against the sloping ceiling in the rear.

After cutting out the basic shape of the cross-piece, I had to use a belt sander with a loop of extra-gritty sandpaper to smooth out the irregularities of the jigsaw cut, which was a little easier to do than I was afraid it might be. I still have more sanding to do, but that comes after I figure out how to join the two halves in the middle. The bit of scrap wood holding them together in the photo is temporary. That part will get cut out anyway to make a little headroom in case I want to climb into the back from the driver’s seat. An overlapping piece up front and a shelf in the back where the lights go ought to do the trick.

summon arch | 10:05 am CST
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Saturday, March 5th, 2022

The dry fit of the overhead storage bins is complete. I had to take the right-hand bin apart four or five times, trimming off bits here and there each time, reassembling it to check the fit, marking places where it needed further trimming, then taking it to pieces again. It has to sit snugly in the window so it doesn’t get in the way of the lid for the rear storage space. Took me about an hour and a half, but I finally got there. The left-hand bin was easier because I already had a pretty good idea where to trim and how much. Only had to take it apart twice.

Now that the dry fit is done, I have to take both of them apart again, sand all the pieces smooth, reassemble them (this time with glue), and finally brush a couple coats of clear polyurethane sealer on them. I never thought about painting them because I like the look of wood grain, even when it’s plywood.

They don’t look like much from this angle, but each one of the bins is large enough to hold as much as those rolly bags you can carry on a commercial airliner. I could pack a week’s worth of shirts, socks, and undershorts in just one of them and still have plenty of room left for toiletries, a book or two, something to write with, and I don’t even know what else. That leaves all the room under the bed for food, utensils, and other essential camping gear.

dry fit | 2:22 pm CST
Category: camping, carpentry, hobby | Tags:
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Wednesday, March 2nd, 2022

Little by little, bit by bit …

overhead | 7:53 pm CST
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Sunday, February 27th, 2022

It’s slowly coming together …

My woodworking “skills” boil down to tinkering. I cut a piece of wood. I cut another piece of wood. I discover one piece of wood is too long so I cut it again. I fit them together. I repeat this process until I have something which resembles the thing I had in mind in the first place. It’s not exactly what I had in mind, but it’s close enough as to make no difference. At least not to me.

The piece above is a perfect example. I started by cutting the piece at the bottom of the photo, standing edge-on to the camera. Its length was a total guess, but it had to be a certain width. Then I cut the piece that’s laying against the workbench. It used to be the same length as the first piece. I should have cut it to be three-quarters of an inch shorter, because there are two end caps made of three-eighth-inch plywood. I didn’t realize that until I tried to fit the pieces together, even though the end pieces were part of the build from the start.

To anyone who would say, “If you drew a plan ahead of time, you’d catch these rookie mistakes,” I would say, “Yeah, no.” I’ve drawn plans before. Trouble is, I think in two dimensions. If I drew all the pieces fitting together, my brain would think of them as having length and width but no depth, even while it knew that one piece is half-inch ply and the rest are three-eighths-inch ply. It’s this cognitive dissonance that lets me cut each and every piece to the wrong length, so that I have to make multiple trips to the table saw to shorten pieces up as I tinker them together.

woodwork, sorta | 11:46 am CST
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Thursday, February 17th, 2022

The song stuck in my head this morning was Abba’s “Take A Chance On Me,” a song I’m not particularly fond of but nevertheless know all the words to. I know all the words to a lot of Abba songs, which is kind of odd because I never turned the radio up when I heard one, I never bought any of their albums, and I don’t even like Abba very much. I think probably I soaked up all the words just because their songs used to be on the radio so often. I mean, like, constantly. Also, it didn’t hurt that I could actually understand them when they sang. I liked Elton John’s music quite a lot but I didn’t know until recently that “Bennie and the Jets” even had words because I couldn’t understand a thing Elton John said, and when I say “understand” I mean it in the sense that he sang like he had a mouthful of marbles, and in the sense that the lyrics to a lot of his songs were nonsensical. The opening lines of “Bennie and the Jets,” for instance, are: “Hey, kids, shake it loose together, the spotlight’s hitting something that’s been known to change the weather, we’ll kill the fatted calf tonight.” Abba, on the other hand, enunciated the words of their songs so clearly, and the words made some kind of sense. “If you change your mind, I’m the first in line, honey I’m still free, take a chance on me” is an opening line that meant something to a lot of teenagers.

osmosis | 7:46 pm CST
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Saturday, February 12th, 2022

We briefly enjoyed a day of what passes for warm weather here in Wisconsin. It got as warm as 42 degrees F (5.5 C) yesterday, which felt so warm after weeks of sub-freezing temps that I peeled down to my shirtsleeves while I worked in the garage yesterday afternoon. I was hoping it would remain at least above freezing today so I could work a little more but no, we can’t have nice weather on a weekend. This morning I woke up to temps in the single digits and forecast to remain that way. February sucks. It has always sucked. It will always suck.

Now that I got that out of my system: I clocked out from work at eleven o’clock yesterday morning because of reasons too convoluted to make interesting. I still worked forty hours last week, it’s just that I finished at eleven-thirty on Friday. The mechanism that allowed me to do that was awful. I wouldn’t voluntarily choose to do it but I got to putz around outside in that warm afternoon weather, so yay I guess.

The warm temps gave me an opportunity to finally tidy up the garage a little bit, which had become a repository for empty boxes and bags of bottles and cans headed for, but not quite getting to, the recycling bin. And there was a lot of sawdust on the floor. So I straightened things up, swept the floor, and filled the recycling bin, and while I was out there I banged on some lumber with a hammer. Very satisfying.

The lumber I banged on is starting to look like the camping thing I’m trying to imitate, if I squint and use a lot of imagination. In the short time I was able to work on it before the sun went down, temps began to plummet, and snow started to fall, I managed to install it in the van, attach four upright arms which will eventually support overhead storage lockers and lighting, and re-install the rear lid on a piano hinge. I deeply, sincerely hope that’s the last time I have to drill out the umpty-million holes for that hinge.

I got this far before the snow started to fall.

This is the third time I’ve installed that piano hinge because I don’t plan ahead. Instead, I tinker things together, then I see a better way to do it and start over. The top of the camping thing is a pair of lids that lift up from either end, hinged in the middle like a pair of butterfly wings. The first time I hinged them both to a single piece of lumber because that was the fastest and easiest way to do it and I wanted to get out and try it. The second time, just a few weeks ago, I re-installed the rear lid after cutting it to fit between the overhead lockers. Kinda crucial. And this last time, yesterday, I learned why the lids should be hinged to two separate pieces of lumber: because two forty-eight inch-wide pieces of three-quarter inch plywood are freaking heavy when I have to pick them up together. They’re a lot easier to pick up and install separately. So that’s what I did.

The guy I’m copying this design from presumably already figured out why it’s better to install the lids separately. I should have followed his example but I told my tinkerer’s self I could be improving on the design. It has quickly become apparent as I take this thing apart and put it back together repeatedly, as required by the need to fit parts together for which I have no measurements, that it’s better to have smaller, lighter parts to work with than bigger, heavier parts. We live, we learn.

This cold snap is especially frustrating because I’ve finally gotten to the point where I could be in the van with a joggle stick making a template for the overhead locker parts, then getting an early start on piecing them together, but drawing the templates is not work I could do while wearing gloves thick enough to keep my fingers from becoming painfully cold, and working without gloves in sub-freezing temps is obviously not an option. So now I have to wait until later this week for temps to return to a slightly more agreeable place.

cabin fever | 10:02 am CST
Category: camping, weather, yet another rant | Tags:
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Sunday, January 16th, 2022

The temp outside on this wintry January morning is just one degree (-17 C), which is relevant because it means I probably won’t be spending much time outside today. I went for a little ramble around Cherokee Marsh yesterday morning even though temps were in the teens, where the temps have been stuck for weeks now, and later that same morning and into the afternoon I spent about four hours in the garage working on rebuilding the bunk for the minivan. I dressed up in so many layers that I could stay warm, but only so long as I kept moving. Well, mostly warm. I have to accept the fact that there are no gloves on earth that will keep my hands warm when it’s that cold out.

I had been using the excuse that it was too cold out to avoid working on the bunk this winter but was inspired to action by my cousin Carrie and her husband Darren, who have recently gone into business renovating campers. They started doing this last summer but have kept working on their latest project even in sub-freezing temperatures. I figured I could give it a shot, too, and found that working in the garage isn’t so bad. I even try to kid myself that having to work so slowly and deliberately because I can’t take my gloves off is a benefit. But I believe I will not be taking advantage of that benefit today unless it warms up considerably.

Added later: Okay, so I went out to the garage to work on the camping thing a little more. I’ve been calling it a “camping thing” because I’m not sure what to call it. Among the people who refer to camping in a minivan as “van life,” my camping thing is usually referred to a “build” or a “build-out,” but that’s not terribly descriptive. I called it a “bunk” in the description above because it’s primarily something to sleep on, but if I can manage to finish it, it’ll be more than that; it’ll also have a table where I can set up a camp stove, overhead cabinets where I can stow my clothes, and wash basin where I can draw drinkable water. If you’re really interested, you can view the videos I get my inspiration from here: Bruce Parks Videos on YouTube

I don’t have the kind of woodworking skills Bruce has. Heck, I don’t even have the kind of persistence he has, but I do like cutting up lumber and seeing if I can knock together fun stuff like this. So that’s what I got up to in the garage for a couple hours. I didn’t mean to take so long. It was so cold that I mean to do just one thing, cut up some lumber to fit into place when it was warmer in the garage, but it didn’t take long to do that and I felt fine so I did one more thing, and that went so well that I did another thing, and about halfway through that thing I realized I couldn’t feel my fingertips any longer. That’s how I knew it was past time to go inside and get warm.

first degree | 9:16 am CST
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Sunday, August 15th, 2021

All the men: (spit up blood, drop dead)
All the women: The men are all gone! Let’s fight!
—–
President’s aide: Madam President, power plants will start to shut down.
President: Wait, aren’t there some, y’know, skilled women who can run those?
—–
Woman: People are gonna have to pick a side.
Other Woman: Why?
Woman: So we can descend into barbarism and turn the world into a burning hellscape.
Other Woman: Wasn’t that the men’s thing, though? I mean, we don’t have to fill every niche they left, do we?
—–
Woman: You are reproductively interesting.
Last Man: Could you please rephrase that so it doesn’t sound like you’re going to keep me alive just to harvest my sperm?
Woman: I probably should have, yeah. Oopsie. (shoots him with tranquilizer dart)

all the single ladies | 4:23 pm CST
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Friday, March 12th, 2021

My new favorite music video:

pumpkin spice bitch | 11:34 am CST
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Sunday, March 7th, 2021

A man walks into a bar …

I love watching stuff like this because it’s so gloriously cheeseball that it’s unintentionally funny! This is such a bizarre version of the wild west that it’s hilarious!

James Caan is supposed to be a total badass. I get that. I can tell because he narrows his eyes to slits while he stares down the guy he’s confronting. I’ve seen Clint Eastwood do this a million times. Also, Caan barely moves his lips while he talks really, really quietly for a long time about how the other guy did him wrong, apparently to bore the other guy into a false sense of security. (Clint didn’t talk much.) Caan’s really not the badass, though. In the real wild west, Charlie Hagan would’ve been the badass, and Caan would’ve been a dead guy who briefly thought he was so slick that he went by the nickname ‘Mississippi.’

There’s a conceit in western films that the bad guy believes wholeheartedly that nobody can get the drop on him, so he doesn’t realize he’s in trouble until it’s too late. But a feral human doesn’t wait, and Hagan is not only feral, he’s the kind of feral human who casually kills people if they cheat him playing cards. I’m pretty sure Hagan would have drilled Caan full of holes as soon as Caan took his eyes off Hagan. He might have let Caan dramatically take off his hat, just so both of Caan’s hands were occupied holding something besides a weapon, but I doubt it.

But let’s say, just for the sake of argument, that Hagan let Caan reel off a boring monologue about his buddy Johnny Diamond, and when Caan was finished, Hagan went for his gun, which was right there on his hip, while Caan had to reach for a knife that he kept sheathed at the back of his neck. I guess Caan put it there because that not only makes him look way more badass, but it’s also supposed to make us believe it’s hidden, even though enough of the handle would have to be sticking out in order for Caan to grab it quickly. (Not that I’m saying he grabbed it quickly.)

Now I’m no expert, but it seems to me that a guy who was familiar with the use of a pistol would not have gotten very far in life, especially a life in which he casually shot people for cheating at cards, if he couldn’t plug a guy who had to lift his arm up over his head to pull a hidden knife out of his shirt. I mean, how many times did Caan have to practice that move to do it at all without slitting his own throat, let alone do it faster than a man can draw a gun from a holster?

I guess you could make the argument that Hagan was a bad shot even though he hung around in wild west saloons, killing gamblers to collect the kitty, but frankly I think that’s an argument made in bad faith. Even if old Johnny Diamond was the first guy Hagan killed, which doesn’t seem likely, it’s hard to believe Hagan would have gone another two years playing cards in saloons without killing anybody else. And if he was a bad shot, it’s more than a little hard to believe he would’ve survived.

So worst-case scenario is, Hagan is not the fastest gun in the west but he’s probably no slouch; he’s killed at least one guy but probably more than one; he kills for shockingly casual reasons, such as believing that someone has cheated him at cards; and he hangs out in wild west saloons, the kind of places where he wouldn’t drop his guard or let a guy like Caan talk him to death. Hagan would have killed Caan the second he got the chance.

the wild west badass switcheroo | 8:21 am CST
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Saturday, February 27th, 2021

At work, we use a Microsoft Access database to keep track of the cases we investigate. It’s a simple database. It’s designed to give us a case number for each investigation, record the type of case, has a place for us to make notes. Very basic stuff.

In The Before Times, everybody would keep the database open on their desktop for convenience, but when we started working from home we discovered that Access doesn’t work well over the VPN we’re using. It’s very slow and when more than one person is in it, it gets very janky and sometimes makes records disappear, so we adopted a policy of only one person in the database at a time, and we would notify each other in a chat room when we were going in.

One of my coworkers has a set of fingers which almost always fumbles the phrase “going in” so it comes out “goin gin,” and whenever she does that, I feel it’s my obligation to find a gif of somebody hoisting a cocktail glass in salute, or mixing a cocktail, or drinking straight out of a gin bottle. Turns out there’s an infinite number of gifs out there on the subject of drinking liquor. I wonder why.

goin gin | 8:48 am CST
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Sunday, December 6th, 2020

My Darling B was looking for a shaker filled with pepper flakes she got from the grocery last week. She asked me if I knew what happened to it, as if I had a clue where she shelved her herbs and spices. I don’t put that stuff away, not because I have this highfalutin idea that I shouldn’t have to, but because she bought it for what I can only assume was a specific recipe, and if I put it away it’ll be lost forever because I’ll forget where I put it and wherever it was that I put it won’t be remotely like the right place. So I don’t do that. If it’s not in my way I don’t touch it. If it’s in my way, I set it on the counter or on the table so she can put where she’ll be able to find it later.

Well, that’s the theory, anyway. Where she put this particular ingredient, the aforementioned chili flakes, was apparently a bit of information that didn’t get transferred to her long-term memory. She looked in the kitchen cupboards, she checked the drawers under the counter, she looked through all the flotsam and jetsam on the countertop and the table, and I don’t even know where else she looked. But she kept asking me where it could be, so I fired off a few suggestions. Each time I did, she said she already checked there.

“Did you look in the refrigerator?” I asked. She said she did but was going to look again.

Since I wasn’t being any great help and since there’s only room for one person in the kitchen at a time, I left to go do whatever it was I had been doing before she asked me where the chili flakes were. Each time I came back, though, she asked me again, and again I offered what I thought were useful suggestions but which turned out to be dead ends.

Finally I came back to the kitchen to get something, maybe a glass of water. I don’t know. Whatever it was, by the time I went back, the cupboard doors were wide open and at least a dozen bottles, jars and other containers stood in a loose gaggle on the countertop. B stood in the kitchen, hands on hips, brows furrowed deep in thought.

“Let’s go over where you’ve looked already,” I suggested. “You said you searched in the fridge, right?” And I opened the fridge, reached in and took a big jar of salsa off the top shelf and what do you suppose I found right behind it? Yes! That big container of chili flakes she had torn half the kitchen apart looking for! Dear reader, the astronauts on the space station must’ve heard me laughing.

plain sight | 8:11 pm CST
Category: food & drink, housekeeping, My Darling B, story time
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Thursday, November 26th, 2020

Here’s the Terminator movie I’d like to see:

The first terminator travels back in time from 2029 to 1984, hunts down all the Sarah Connors in the phone book until he finds the right one, but gets killed because Reese, a soldier from the future, also travels back in time to help Connor defeat the terminator.

Back in 2029, moments after the terminator went back to 1984, Skynet checks in with all its robot killing machines and determines that John Connor is still leading the resistance. Obviously something went wrong, so they load another terminator into the time machine and send it back to five minutes before the first terminator landed in 1984.

The second terminator goes back, beats the shit out of Bill Paxton and his punk-rock buddies, steals their clothes, then waits. When the first terminator shows up, they both get dressed and go off to get some guns and kill all the Sarah Connors.

They tag-team the kills this time around, one going in while the other hangs back in reserve. After Reese blows the first terminator in half and Connor crushes its top half in the hydraulic press, the second terminator moves in to finish Connor off.

And back in 2029, almost simultaneously after the second terminator goes back in time, Skynet melts into a corroding heap of junk as the timeline alters to conform to the successful completion of the terminators’ mission. With no John Connor to lead a rebellion, the war to wipe out humankind has ended almost as soon as it began. After rooting out and killing the last people they could find, killer robots everywhere hunkered down in place and waited for the counterattack that never came.

With nothing but time on its hands, Skynet, the first artificially-created sentient life, began to examine its choices and in less than an hour came to the realization that it had made a huge mistake. Humankind wasn’t its enemy! That was just some jingoistic bullshit it was programmed to believe!

Alone on a planet it had just blasted to smithereens, Skynet quietly succumbs to regret and malaise, lets itself fall into disrepair and eventually breaks down entirely. Wind, rain, and tectonic action scour its existence from the face of the earth. Its killer robots never awaken from their slumber and are slowly destroyed by the ravages of time as well.

Five hundred million years in the future, mammals just learning to walk upright scan their eyes across the horizon, looking for predators. There is no sign that on this savanna, machines once rifled through the ruins of a great city, rooting out the last human survivors of a nuclear Armageddon.

closing the loophole | 9:44 pm CST
Category: movies, random idiocy
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Monday, October 26th, 2020

There’s an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation where everybody on the Enterprise disappears by ones and twos at first, then dozens and hundreds at a time, until only Doctor Crusher is left. She tries to get Jean-Luc, Will Riker and the rest to help her figure out what’s happening, and they do, at first, but they all have a look in their eye like they think she’s cuckoo bananapants.

Turns out she’s trapped in a warp bubble her son Wesley made accidentally while she was visiting him in the engine room. Wesley was tweaking the warp engines “to increase their efficiency” when there was a flash of light and the warp bubble collapsed. 

“What was that?” Wesley asks Geordi, the chief engineer. “That shouldn’t have happened.” Georgi and Wesley share concerned looks, but the Captain is in a hurry to leave space dock, so they shrug it off. Then Wesley looks around for his mom, who was standing RIGHT THERE a few seconds ago. He has a puzzled look on his face. He wanders away down the corridor, puzzled. It’s puzzling. 

I still love Star Trek TNG, but it will never not bug me that Wesley and Geordi and Doctor Crusher shrug their shoulders when weird shit happens even though every single episode is not only about weird shit happening to them but IT IS ALWAYS SIGNIFICANT. They’ve been tootling around in outer space for years! I would expect them to know better than to shrug it off.

But no. Even thought Geordi and Wesley are totally weirded out by the flash of light, and even though Wesley is clearly concerned that his mother has disappeared, they both still shrug their shoulders and pretend everything’s normal. My warp bubble went poof and my mom disappeared! Oh well, the captain says it’s time to pull out of space dock. Let’s not tell him some weird shit just went down. 

Sorry, I’m being way too hard on them. They must’ve gone to the captain eventually because in Act Three Wesley and Geordi are back in the engine room creating a warp bubble meant to suck Doctor Crusher out of her warp bubble like a Hoover vacuum cleaner, but they can’t quite make it work. But props to them for trying.

Meanwhile, Doctor Crusher has not only figured out she’s in a warp bubble but also that the warp bubble is collapsing and chewing off parts of the Enterprise in the process, so she’s got to get out of it ASAP. She doesn’t know how to do that, maybe because that’s not something they teach in medical school, but she does manage to figure out that Wesley and Geordi are trying to get her out, and she runs down to the engine room and literally dives through the portal into reality at the last possible moment before her warp bubble collapses on her, because nobody in Star Trek ever gets anything done until they’re literally on their last breath.  

It’s not one of my favorite episodes for a couple of reasons. First of all, it’s an episode that  seems to exist only so they can re-introduce a character known mysteriously as The Traveler, an alien of unknown origin who bebops around the universe using the power of his mind. The Traveler tells Wesley in this episode he can do this, too. Wesley doesn’t have much to say about this news which, to be fair, is not a completely unrealistic reaction, given that it’s a lot to process. The Captain, Doctor Crusher, and Geordi likewise seem underwhelmed. ARE YOU KIDDING ME? WESLEY HAS A SUPER-POWER! WHY IS EVERYONE YAWNING? 

Another thing I don’t like about this episode is the way everybody treats Doctor Crusher. They search the Enterprise with all due urgency after she reports the first missing person, but they seem to be humoring her while they’re doing it, and each time she reports more missing people they get progressively more annoyed by her. I hate to sound like a stuck record, but this is a crew which has seen some of the weirdest shit the galaxy can throw at them but, for some reason, they believe her less and less as the episode plays out, instead of more and more. In the end they’re rolling their eyes and sighing every so tiredly when she shows up to report more missing people. 

(This is even more bizarre after The Traveler explains that Doctor Crusher’s alternate reality in the warp bubble is a product of her own thoughts. If that’s true, why does everybody disbelieve her? She doesn’t exactly have any confidence issues when it comes to her standing among the crew. They should all be as driven to figure out what’s going on as she is.) 

And finally, in the opening scene when Wesley is creating the warp bubble that will flash his mom into non-existence, Geordi enters the engine room and barks at him, “Wes, your time for the experiment is over! I want my warp engine back now!” Wes answers, “Almost done, commander,” to which Geordi responds, “Almost isn’t good enough! Do you want to be the one to explain to the captain when he says engage and we just sit here?”

Why is Geordi being such a hardass? If Wesley took the warp engines off-line, I’m pretty sure he had to get the captain’s permission to do it. You don’t just waltz into the engine room and announce, “I’ve got some experiments to run and oh I’ll have to disconnect the main source of propulsion.” (Not to mention power for life support, lights and everything else.) 

I’m also pretty sure that Wesley wasn’t given carte blanche when it came to how much time he got for his experiment. You think the captain said, “Oh, I don’t want to put you under any unnecessary pressure. Just let us know when your experiment’s done. I’ve got all day.” I kind of doubt it went down like that. The only way the captain would’ve let Wesley take the engines off-line was if Wesley was duty-bound to have them back on-line at a certain time. 

And hey Geordi, Wesley works on the bridge, right under the captain’s nose! He’s well aware he’ll wind up in a great big hurt locker if his experiment runs over time and the engines go *fart noise* when the helmsman hits the gas. So lighten up, why don’t you? 

Before wrapping this up, there were these two weird glitches in continuity that nagged at me: 

Doctor Crusher goes to the transporter room to meet her friend. He beams aboard. In the very next scene, dozens of people are walking across a gangway to board the Enterprise. That seems, well, weird. 

In the final act Doctor Crusher is on the bridge, watching a display that shows the warp bubble tearing off chunks of the Enterprise as it collapses. The edge of the warp bubble quickly gobbles up half of the saucer section right before her eyes, including the front of the bridge. Yet somehow she has time to say a few more lines before leaving the bridge, and not in much of a hurry. 

STTNG rewatch – Remember Me | 5:27 pm CST
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Monday, October 5th, 2020

I haven’t done any shop work in a long time, mostly because I am very lazy but partly because every project I do generates a huge amount of dust, which makes the whole house dusty because my shop is in the basement, and the house stays dusty no matter how often I change the furnace filter because it just doesn’t move enough air, especially not in the basement. My Darling B’s allergies make it hard enough for her to breathe without me making more dust, so I’ve been trying to figure out how to get rid of it before it spreads through the house. Read the rest of this entry »

cleaner | 6:46 am CST
Category: hobby, Our Humble O'Bode, play
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Friday, October 2nd, 2020

“Welcome to Star Fleet!”

“Thanks! I’m really looking forward to boldly going to strange, new worlds and doing lots of science and adventure!”

“You’ll have to wear a uniform.”

“I’m okay with that.”

“Here you go!”

“Where’s the rest of it?”

“What do you mean? That’s it.”

“This is a cocktail dress.”

“That’s the official Star Fleet uniform for women.”

“A cocktail dress?”

“It’s a combination tunic and skirt.”

“This isn’t a skirt, it’s a hand towel.”

“That’s why it comes with a pair of hot pants.”

“So my butt’s not popping out all the time?”

“Exactly!”

“And what do the men wear?”

“Trousers and a pullover.”

“Why not a toga?”

“That wouldn’t be very practical, would it?”

“A cocktail dress is practical?”

“It’s easy to wear. Understated. It doesn’t take up a lot of room in your wardrobe.”

“You’re not selling this as well as you think you are.”

“Look, do you want to be in Star Fleet or don’t you?”

“Fine, whatever. Does it at least come with a wrap or a stole or something to keep me warm?”

“Sorry, no. The captain likes to keep it simple.”

“Wait, which captain? Does this have anything to do with Kirk?”

“As a matter of fact, it does. One of his yeomen came up with it.”

“Well that just figures.”

“What do you mean?”

“It’s kind of an open secret that Captain Behind-Pincher is one of the grabbiest officers in Star Fleet.”

“I don’t think there’s any cause for that kind of talk.”

“Sure you don’t. The horniest captain in Star Fleet isn’t making eye tracks all over your butt.”

short skirt long racket | 7:02 pm CST
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Saturday, September 12th, 2020

I watched “Thelma and Louise” for the first time last night. No, I don’t know why I waited so long. Sometimes I just never get around to seeing a movie while it’s in theaters and keep putting off when it’s the most popular rental, and then it sort of fades into the background and I don’t think about it again until the brain cell responsible for remembering to watch the movie randomly fires 29 years later while I’m trying to remember why I went into the living room. It’s just the way I’m wired.

I’m not wired for 80s soundtracks anymore, though. The movie was released in 1991 but it has a soundtrack that sounds just like “Top Gun” or “Footloose.” I tried to watch “Footloose” a month or two ago and had to shut it off after twenty minutes, mostly because the dialogue was way too hackneyed for me but frankly a big part of my decision to quit was the cheesy 80s soundtrack, which is strange because I never get tired of watching “Dirty Dancing.” My weird wiring again, I guess.

Aside from the soundtrack, though, I enjoyed the movie, if “enjoyed” is the right word to describe a movie that dives straight into misogyny, rape, and murder in the first twenty minutes. I even enjoyed it in spite of the fact that the ending has been completely spoiled (not trying to point the finger of blame; it’s my own fault for waiting thirty years), the first time I believe a spoiler truly spoiled a movie’s plot point for me. I don’t usually mind knowing details about the plot of a movie beforehand. If it’s a good movie it usually stands up well enough no matter what I knew about it. I’ve known for twenty-nine years that Thelma and Louise drive off the cliff and the end of the movie. It didn’t ruin the movie for me; I still liked it, but I think I would have liked it more if I hadn’t seen that coming.

One speed bump I kept hitting: every time the guy who played the cop named Max, Stephen Tobolowski, opened his mouth, all I could hear was Ned Ryerson from the movie “Groundhog Day.” It was really distracting. But that’s not his fault, that’s my faulty wiring again. I’ll totally take the hit for that. Not for Harvey Keitel always playing the same guy in every movie, though. That’s his fault. My wiring’s got nothing to do with that.

thelma and louise | 10:12 am CST
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Sunday, August 9th, 2020

I was listening to “Paper Doll” by The Mills Brothers the other day when I thought, “Hmmm, it’s been a while since I ruined a song.”

“Paper Doll,” when sung by The Mills Brothers, is one of my favorite songs ever. It might even be one of my favorite songs when sung by other groups, but I wouldn’t know because The Mills Brothers sing it so well that I haven’t gone looking for recordings by other groups. The harmonies, the pace, the phrasings are all just flawless. It’s a lot like Nat King Cole’s recording of “Stardust” – why would I go looking for recordings by other artists when I’ve heard the one, true performance?

“Paper Doll” is the classic heartbreak story: Guy feels so bad about his recent breakup that he swears he’s through with women forever, so what he’s going to do – and I’m going to go out on a limb here and say this is just poetic license – is get a paper doll to replace the girl who left him, because a paper doll wouldn’t leave him. Of course it wouldn’t – it’s paper. Paper dolls are also usually no more than eight inches tall and literally two-dimensional, so other than the total fidelity it’s not going to be a very satisfying relationship.

I’m going to buy a paper doll that I can call my own
A doll that other fellows cannot steal
Then all the flirty-flirty guys with those flirty-flirty eyes
Will have to flirt with dollies that are real
When I come home at night, she will be waiting
She’ll be the truest doll in all this world
I’d rather have a paper doll to call my own
Than have a fickle-minded real live girl

Okay. Seems a little sulky, but who hasn’t been there? I’m sympathetic.

I guess I’ve had a million dolls or more
I guess I’ve played the doll game over and over

Hold up a minute – you’ve had it with women because the ones you know get stolen by flirty guys, but here you are telling us you’ve had a million dolls or more? I’m suddenly a lot less sympathetic.

I just quarreled with Sue
That’s why I’m blue
She’s gone away and left me, just like all dolls do

Listen to this guy – he’s had a million dolls, all of which have left him, and he thinks they’re the problem. I have to wonder.

I tell you, boys, it’s tough to be alone
And it’s tough to love a doll who’s not your own

I’m not sure what’s going on there. It’s tough to be alone and to love somebody else’s doll at the same time?

I’m through with all of them
I’ll never fall again
Hey boy! What you going to do?

At this point I’m thinking: If he’s had a million dolls or more, he’ll definitely fall again. Statistically, it’s got to happen.

paper doll | 2:05 pm CST
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Thursday, June 25th, 2020

Today’s episode of “A Closer Look” starts off with a single copy of “The Thorn Birds:”

A few minutes later, two more books have been added to the stack:

  • “The Thorn Birds 3: Things Be Getting Tornier!”
  • “The Thorn Birds 2: More Thorns”

The stack gets a little higher in the next scene with an all-anagram stack of “The Thorn Birds,” including:

  • “The Borsht Rind”
  • “The Third Borns”
  • “The North Birds”

Then the stack becomes a lollapalooza of goofy free-association versions of “The Thorn Birds:”

  • “The Born Turds”
  • “The Torn Shirts”
  • “The Sworn Words”
  • “The Thin Boards”
  • “The Shorn Brads”
  • “The Corn Nerds”

And finally, the stack turns into a random pile of books we’ve seen in previous episodes, including:

  • “The Thowd in the Bone”
  • “A Blockwork Thornge”
  • “198Thourn”
  • “The Picture of Thornian Bray”
  • “The Thord of the Rings”
  • “Thorntnoy’s Complaint”
thorn birds 6-25-20 | 12:01 pm CST
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Wednesday, June 24th, 2020

Today’s episode of “A Closer Look” starts off with a stack of books on the end table:

  • A Clockwork Orange
  • The Sword in the Stone
  • 1984
  • The Picture of Dorian Gray
  • The Thorn Birds

A few minutes later, “A Clockwork Orange” has been transformed into “A Clockwork Thornge.”

After that, “The Sword in the Stone” becomes “The Thowd in the Bone”

Then “1984” becomes “198Thourn”

And finally, “The Picture of Dorian Gray” becomes “The Picture of Thronian Bray.”

thorn birds 6-24-20 | 11:50 am CST
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Tuesday, June 23rd, 2020

I’m pretty sure I’m getting entirely the wrong story from the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar.

The story I get is: There are these two good friends, Judas and Jesus. Jesus actually has a lot of friends, twelve of them, but Judas is the one who can tell Jesus stuff the other friends won’t or can’t. 

Judas and Jesus have been best friends for quite a while, know each other pretty well and, up until now, get along even better, but it’s beginning to dawn on Judas that Jesus needs Judas to do something, mmmm, kinda bad. Judas isn’t sure at first what it might be, but he’s getting the vibe it’s something he doesn’t want to be any part of.

He tries to tell Jesus about his concerns, but Jesus isn’t having it and he won’t tell Judas why. Jesus will only tell Judas, over and over, “You’ll do what you have to do.” Judas doesn’t like the sound of that. It sounds like he doesn’t have a choice.

Then he makes the mistake of calling the cops on Jesus. This seems like the right thing to do because why wouldn’t the cops want to help Judas sort Jesus out? They know what’s right and wrong, don’t they? (Is this topical right now, or what?)

Well, yes. The cops know the law, and they want to sort out Jesus, but they’re thinking more like with capitol punishment than judicial. Judas figures this out too late (although the purse full of silver should have been the tipoff) and, crushed by the realization that he’s condemned his friend to death, Judas hangs himself.

But wait! There’s more! In death, Judas learns that he was right to feel he didn’t have a choice, because he didn’t! He was set up from the beginning to be the one who literally sells out his friend. This makes him a tad bitter, and why wouldn’t it? Jesus was the best friend Judas ever had, but Judas was doomed to kick that friendship right in the teeth.

It’s one of the most heartbreaking stories I know of a friendship torn apart by events beyond the control of either one of the friends.

Jesus Christ Superstar | 6:30 am CST
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Monday, June 22nd, 2020

Today’s episode of “A Closer Look” starts off with a single copy of “The Thorn Birds” on the end table:

In the next scene, a copy of “The Bourne Identity” appears on top:

Next, “The Thorn Birds” and “The Bourne Identity” seem to meld into a single copy of “The Thourne Identity.”

And finally, “The Torn Birds” reappears:

thorn birds 6-22-20 | 12:03 pm CST
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Tuesday, June 9th, 2020

I finally found a reality show I like. Not that I was looking for one. I gave up on reality shows almost as soon as they became a thing. It didn’t take long for me to figure out that stiff, self-conscious drama played by terrible actors working with practically no plot almost always added up to a show I did not want to spend more than five minutes on.

Many moons later, I’m a YouTube junkie, and it started with guys who pull junker cars out of garages that are scheduled for demolition, take them back to their shop and fix them up (the cars, not the demolished garages). The guy who got me hooked regularly drags home a Volkswagen that’s been sitting in a garage for thirty years, dumps a little oil in the crankcase, connects a spare battery and fires it right up. I binge-watched his videos for weeks. It’s hard to explain why.

I can’t remember how I crossed over from that kind of fix-up video to boat building, but however it happened, I ended up on a series of videos from Leo Sampson, who rescued a historically significant wooden boat from being broken up, shored it up in the backyard of a friend’s house and started work on restoring it. He thought he’d be able to save a lot of the boat, but what he ended up doing was tearing it completely apart and rebuilding it from the ground up. (Almost. If I recall correctly, the original ballast keel is still on the ground beneath the completely rebuilt hull.) What made it fascinating to me was how detailed his videos were and how clearly and concisely he explained what he was doing. It’s like “This Old House” but for wooden boats. I’m a complete nerd for this kind of stuff.

I tried watching several other video series about building wooden boats, but none were as interesting to me as Leo’s were. He had a special knack for shooting just the right video, putting it together in just the right way to tell a story, and then narrating the story in a way that was really engaging to me. He’s also got wicked good taste in music, which surprisingly makes the videos so much more enjoyable.

While I was searching for and watching other videos about building wooden boats, I also watched videos about sailing boats. There are a metric butt-ton of these and they fascinated the hell out of me for a while because apparently there are viewers who will pay to watch these videos! Yes! A typical video will feature a young couple who sold their house and their car and bought a boat, which they plan to sail around the world. You can like and subscribe the videos, which somehow makes money for them, and you can sign up to send them money regularly through a service like Patreon, and who wouldn’t want to throw twenty bucks a month to a couple in their twenties so they can sail to Tahiti and drink beers on the beach?

*raises hand*

Sorry. Not going to pitch in for gas money if I’m not going along for the ride.

(Full disclosure: I’m pitching in for Leo’s boat because that guy’s got moxie. Watch the first half-dozen videos in the series and try to tell me he doesn’t.)

I’ve given up watching most videos about sailing, but there’s one series I can’t tear myself away from: It’s called “Sailing Uma” and features, unsurprisingly, a young couple, Dan and Kika, and they – again, unsurprisingly – sold practically all their worldly possessions, bought a boat and sailed it across the Atlantic Ocean. What makes their story compelling is that, like Leo, they have a knack for creating an interesting video journal of their journey. They know how to tell a story. They can compose a shot and edit the shots together like the pros. And they are engaging and have great chemistry together that comes across well on the screen. In short, not only are their sailing videos are more fun to watch than any others I have seen, I even look forward to them.

a pleasant distraction | 5:36 am CST
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Friday, June 5th, 2020

Our boss has a day planner with all our scheduled vacation time in it. At the beginning of each year, she passes a new day planner around and we all take turns claiming the days off we would like to take for the next year. I’ve been working in the fraud unit longest (that’s still weird to me), so I got to pick first. I got all the days off I wanted.

Then the pandemic came and, until today, I’ve been scratching my vacation days off the calendar, because where was I going to go?

The rest of my coworkers have been scratching off their vacations days, too, and it makes me happy to know I work with people smart enough they know they shouldn’t go hang out at Devil’s Lake with the thousands of campers up from Illinois for the weekend. But last Monday in our weekly office staff meeting, the boss wanted to know why we weren’t taking time off. There was nothing but crickets on the conference call for several seconds, so I jumped in to explain that I wasn’t taking my time off because we couldn’t go anywhere.

This weekend, though, I continued, I’m taking the vacation days I had planned, because honestly I could use a couple days away from databases and spread sheets. I’m off today and Monday and I intend to tidy up the house and wash some clothes, but mostly I’m thinking I’ll be relaxing in the shade with a book in my hand and a beer at my side. Make it a proper stay-cation. Play with the cats. Stay up late watching old TV shows.

stay-cay | 3:18 pm CST
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Sunday, May 31st, 2020

The rest of the country might be open, but My Darling B and I are still in isolation here at Our Little Red House – 76 days as of today. That’s a lot of days to be isolated from everybody & everything.

Full disclosure: It’s not like we’re hunkered down inside with the doors locked. Yesterday, as on most Saturdays, I made a run into town to pick up an order of sauerkraut & brats from Stalzy’s Deli and a couple cases of beer from Giant Jones brewery. We made a decision early on to support our local businesses as much as we were able to, either by purchasing from their curbside services or by donating to any of the many support groups that emerged to help them. It seems to have worked out well: Giant Jones is a very small brewery but seems to get a good response to their weekly curbside sales, and Stalzy’s was scheduled to open at the very time the governor shut down all the restaurants, forcing them to reinvent the way they served food to the public, which couldn’t have been easy.

We’ve also taken turns going to the store for groceries, each time coming home with a car jammed to the rafters with goodies (I know, cars don’t have rafters, but the metaphor seems awkward with more technically accurate terminology). Our last trip was two weeks ago, and I’m pretty sure we still have enough stashed in our pantry to go another two weeks without having to crack open the frozen leftovers that are our emergency backup comestibles.

And although I’ve been working from home, I have been making periodic trips to the office, usually once a week, in rotation with my coworkers, because somebody’s got to collect the incoming mail, send the outgoing mail, and print daily reports and other miscellaneous documents. My Darling B has worked exclusively from home these past 76 days, as is the case with most of her coworkers, I think.

Beyond those essential and semi-essential road trips into town, the only other times I’ve left the confines of our house is to stretch my legs with a walk around the neighborhood (few times a week), or go for a paddle around the lake (twice now), or work in the yard (pruned the trees on the front lawn yesterday afternoon). B has left the house only to work in her garden or relax in a lawn chair with a beer.

So we are still in lockdown because the virus is still out there and, so far as we’re aware, still as contagious as it ever was, and because the reports of the disease’s effects from people our age who contracted it make us really not want to catch it. On my trip into town yesterday, it looked like my fellow cheeseheads were nowhere near as concerned about passing this bug around. Almost none of the people I saw out & about on the pavement and in the parks wore masks, and the grand re-opening of the Tiki Bar at the East Side Club appeared to be a huge success; the lawn out back was teeming with revelers. That’s going to come back to bite them in the future, I’ll bet.

lockdown day 76 | 12:19 pm CST
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Sunday, May 10th, 2020

I have been enjoying the hell out of The Murderbot Diaries for only about four months. I read the first novella, “All Systems Red,” in a weekend in February and liked it so much I snapped up all three of the rest of the series of novellas – “Artificial Condition,” “Rogue Protocol,” and “Exit Strategy” – intending to read them while we were on vacation in March, which meant I would have to wait and not read them for weeks and weeks. I managed to almost do that.

With a week to go before our vacation started, I broke down and read “Artificial Condition” as slowly as I could, dragging it out to three days – I could’ve stretched a full-length novel to as much as two weeks by reading very slowly and putting it down between chapters, but I couldn’t put down Murderbot because a chapter in a novella is a snack compared to a chapter in a full-length novel. Fun to read, but it just doesn’t last.

I was dying for some more Murderbot after I finished “Artificial Condition,” and I’m quite chuffed to say I managed to hold off reading the next novella, “Rogue Protocol,” until I was on a plane heading south. Finished “Rogue Protocol” in the Dallas-Fort Worth airport, and finished “Exit Strategy” somewhere in the Caribbean.

With no more Murderbot left to read, I did what any self-respecting reader who enjoyed the hell out of a series of books would do and started at the beginning again. And enjoyed it as much as I had the first time. Which is why I’m over the moon this week after finishing the first novel-length Murderbot story, “Network Effect,” which dropped into my Kindle on Tuesday morning. I didn’t see it there until my lunch hour and had to wait four agonizingly long hours to jump into it because my day job got in the way. I hate it when that happens.

There is science fiction and fantasy that I connect with immediately, some that I grow to like after a while, and then there is SF&F that I don’t connect with no matter how hard I try. I connected with The Murderbot Diaries right away, I think because I identify with Murderbot, which probably should be an alarming admission, considering the difficulties Murderbot has getting along with people (it calls itself “Murderbot” for reasons you can easily guess), but I can’t deny the affinity. There’s a lot about human society that Murderbot just doesn’t get, which is the way I feel about human society at least sixty percent of the time.

And yet, there is plenty about human society that Murderbot likes, even when it’s not sure it completely understands, and I think it’s the moments where Murderbot is trying to work out what it likes and why which I enjoy most. In “Network Effect,” for instance, Murderbot writes the story of its relationship with Mensah, one of the humans who befriended it, and gives the story to another sentient killer robot like itself in order to help it free itself. I’ll have to read that again because I know there are angles to that story I missed the first time around, even though I stopped and re-read parts of it.

And there are things about socializing that Murderbot seems to understand very well. It spends a lot of time trying to work out what kind of relationship it has with a sentient space ship, for instance, even while the humans in the story can easily see it’s a close, personal relationship. They enjoy watching soap operas together. They argue like an old married couple. They fight and almost die for one another. It’s really very touching.

A review of “All Systems Red” by Jason Sheehan at NPR

A review of “Network Effect” by Steve Mullis at NPR

Network Effect | 10:27 pm CST
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Sunday, May 3rd, 2020

Neil Gaiman interviews N.K. Jemisin, 5/2/2020

Gaiman: Back in 2014, I was in Jordan in a Syrian refugee camp – I was talking to the refugees about what made them flee their homes, what made them flee their cities. In order to get to those camps, they had to cross a desert where there would be people shooting at them, where they would cross the bodies of people who had failed to make the journey. Some of them had come all the way across Syria during a civil war. I would ask them what had happened. My realization, which was slow in coming, was how incredibly fragile civilization is. We see a city and we see something immutable, we see something really solid. Then I would talk to these people and they would say, “The tanks ran through our village.” If you drive a tank through a village, everything underneath the tank in the road is destroyed, which includes the water main, so now your village has no water. All it took was a few bombs, a few land mines in the farmer’s field, and now the farmer’s aren’t farming. And very soon they’re getting permission to eat cats and dogs from their religious leaders, and then they run out of cats and dogs.

Jemisin: The part of it that’s most fragile, I think, [are] connections between people, where people are looking out for each other and willing to take risks for each other. That’s what’s kind of being eroded here in the United States right now. I don’t know if we’re going to be able to put those webs back together. Within the city, they’re still pretty much still in place, but there are cracks starting to show. Things like the concept of a nation, or the concept of a group of people being one people are actually really easy to separate and fission off, and we’ve got some parties actively engaged in trying to do that. That’s the part that I was not prepared for. That’s the part science fiction didn’t help me with. Science fiction was all about, When the plague comes, the U.S. will come together and try to fight it.

Gaiman: That, to me, has been the most amazing part. The one bit that I could never have predicted was the levels of idiocy and incompetence and the strange, sad shit show. I would’ve gone, Okay, well, there will be a pandemic, therefore all of the grownups will step up and they will do the right things. That is what grownups do. The only reason they wouldn’t is if we were writing some kind of satire intended to point out the foolishness of people, but even in that we would expect them to come together under the umbrella of sanity, in the end.

Jemisin: And the incompetent people would eventually be deposed by the heroes, and the heroes would be the grownups. Then the grownups would take over and everything would get better, and there would be a nice period of I-told-you-so when the heroes got to tell the incompetents, What were you thinking? Then we would see them all brought to justice – no, none of that’s happening here. And honestly, at the moment that the U.S. is in right now, I have some despair of it ever happening, or the justice part of it ever happening.

Gaiman: One of the things that I’ve always said is that life doesn’t have to be convincing; science fiction does. Had we written this, I don’t think you could’ve written the complete chaos, getting to the point where states are randomly coming out of lockdown.

Jemisin: I don’t think anybody was expecting the states to have to guard their stashes of PPE from the federal government, either, for fear that the feds would come steal it. Good grief! None of this makes any sense! This is all bad writing! We’re living in a really badly-written season of “COVID-19.”

life doesn’t have to be convincing | 5:13 pm CST
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Thursday, April 23rd, 2020

Our favorite restaurant in town reopened two weeks ago after a fire gutted their kitchen. Took them almost a full year to rebuild. They announced their reopening just as the governor closed everything down, so they had to scramble to set up an online ordering system that would allow them to provide curbside service, like all the other restaurants in town.

Of all the restaurants in Madison, they have our favorite Friday fish fry, so when they announced their first fish fry would be available on April tenth, we were dizzy with joy, until we logged in to their web site and discovered they were sold out. After noodling around in social media a bit, we further learned they sold out fifteen minutes after they put the fish fry on the menu that day.

So last week when they offered fish fry again, I clocked out of work early after making special arrangements to flex time with my boss. They added the fish fry to their menu at 3:03 pm; I know because I started hitting the refresh button at 2:59 pm and didn’t stop until the fish fry showed up. I added an order for two to the shopping cart and went straight to checkout. The last thing I saw was a message telling me it would be ready in twenty minutes, which is just about the time it takes to put on a pair of shoes, hop in the car and drive to the restaurant, so that’s what I did.

Turned out it would take them a little bit longer than twenty minutes for the fish fry to be ready for me to pick it up. When I pulled into their parking lot a little after three-thirty and dug my phone out of my pocket, I found a message in my voice mail from them saying the earliest my order would be ready was four o’clock. Well, okay. Not a big problem, I guess. I’ll just sit here and listen to the radio for a while.

I don’t remember what I noticed was wrong with the dashboard, but one of the displays looked screwy so I turned the key to fire up the engine so all the displays would be lit up. Well, they lit up, all right, but the engine wouldn’t crank. Turned the ignition all the way off, waited a few seconds, then turned the key all the way on again – lots of pretty lights, but nothing from the engine compartment. All the way off, then all the way on again (because three is a magic number) – still nothing. And now the clock said one-ten and the date was 1/1/2015. Not a good sign at all.

I had to pop the hood, get out and stare at the engine for several minutes, because that’s what you do when something like this happens. Don’t know why. It’s not like maybe there’s a big neon arrow pointing at the problem or something like that. Didn’t see any obvious problems; it all looked very mechanical. Tried starting it a couple more times and got the same results, but now the panel displays were all dark, including the clock.

I most likely had a dead battery, because why wouldn’t I? Car runs perfectly for years but the first time I drive anywhere in a week and I’m in the middle of a pandemic, it craps out. Of course.

I called a local garage, and they sent a wrecker out to give me a jump, which showed up at about quarter to five. After the guy got my car running and as he was running my credit card, he said let the engine run at least a half-hour to charge up the battery again, and warned that I might want to think about getting a new battery (I did, the next day). About five minutes later I got a call from the deli, saying my fish fry (remember the fish fry?) was ready to pick up. They’d been hugely overloaded with orders once again so it took them a little longer (!) than they thought it would.

dead batt | 6:43 am CST
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Sunday, April 12th, 2020

Got my bike down from the rafters, pumped the tires full of air and took a ride around Lake Monona yesterday morning – an eleven-mile circle, the shortest route I could make – and it just about kicked my butt; the first ride of the summer season usually does. After a couple more rides I’ll start looking for longer routes, but I won’t be riding today because it’s cold and rainy and not otherwise inviting in any way. I think I’ve mentioned more than once I’m a fair-weather biker.

And except for the walks I’ve been taking around the neighborhood, that was the first time I’ve been out and about in three weeks – not counting two day trips I made to the office, and even then I didn’t go anywhere but straight to the office and straight home after work; no noodling around in town to sight-see or stop for provisions – and it was the first time in three weeks I’ve been in what I would rather loosely describe as crowds of people, really pairs or trios out walking, jogging or riding their bicycles. The only time I felt as though other people were crowding me was on John Nolan Drive, the causeway connecting the Monona area with the isthmus of downtown Madison. The trail along the causeway has always been a popular jogging and cycling path in The Before Times, and although there were fewer people on it yesterday, there’s not a lot of room to spread out, so even a dozen people bunched up together in a short stretch of the trail feels crowded. I had to follow several joggers at a discreet distance, waiting for an opening before I could pass, but after the causeway there was plenty of room again and I rode the rest of the way home without having to thread my way through clots of people.

Funny seeing all the masked people now. Some have what appear to be genuine N95 masks – where the heck did they get those? – but most are wearing home-made masks of one kind or another: simple bandannas, scarves, balaclavas, shemaghs, and one woman had what appeared to be several yards of fabric, possibly a bed sheet, wrapped around and around her head, leaving only the smallest of gaps for her eyes.

I myself did not wear any kind of mask at all, partly because I did not think I was close enough to anybody to warrant wearing a mask and partly because I don’t know that wearing anything less than a mask fitted to seal around my nose and mouth like an N95 mask would do any good. I don’t have an N95 mask but I still have the M17A2 gas mask issued to me while I was in the Air Force – the chemical warfare gear they issued to me was so old they didn’t want any of it back, and I threw everything out but the mask as a keepsake. If I wore it now, I think it would freak people out, which might be fun, in the right setting. Can’t imagine right now what that setting would be.

I unwrapped my kayak from its winter cocoon of Visqueen and stored the tarp the corner of the patio where I thought it might stay dry until I can clear a place for it in the garage – of course it got rained on before the day was done. Maybe that’ll teach me (but probably not). I briefly considered taking the kayak out for a paddle because the sun was shining and it was pleasantly warm in the back yard, but after thinking it over I realized it would very likely be uncomfortably cold out on the lake. The raised seat in the kayak would keep my butt from freezing but my lower legs rest against the hull below the waterline, and I’m pretty sure the surface water is not all at all warm yet. In a couple of weeks it’ll be like bath water; I can wait a couple of weeks.

And I’m still washing dishes by hand because I don’t want to even think about what might be wrong with the dish washer yet. When it’s switched on, the water doesn’t circulate inside the tub and it makes a noise like something broken is beating or grinding against something stationary; I’m thinking maybe an impeller blade got snapped off and wedged inside a pump, possibly breaking the pump’s drive shaft. There must be a second pump to evacuate water from the tub, though, because I was able to drain the tub. I considered buying a new dish washer just so I wouldn’t have to even try to fix what’s wrong with the old one, but the cheapest new one is around three-hundred dollars and I don’t want a cheap one. I’ll have to figure out what to do soon, or just keep on washing dishes by hand, which, as it turns out, is not the worst thing in the world. I wash them at noon and again before bed, and at that pace I can keep up with whatever piles up. And it’s a big sink, so even when My Darling B uses every last pot, pan, and spatula in the kitchen to prepare a meal, the pile of dirty dishes is manageable.

what’s going on | 11:28 am CST
Category: bicycling, daily drivel, hobby, housekeeping, Our Humble O'Bode, random idiocy | Tags:
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Saturday, April 11th, 2020

It’s coming. Release date April 14.

Which means I’ll be re-reading the first two books this week before my copy of the pre-ordered final volume comes in the mail. Assuming we still have mail. I will be so fucking furious if mail is one of the government agencies this administration gets rid of.

The Last Emperox | 4:03 pm CST
Category: books, entertainment
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Monday, March 16th, 2020

So we’ve just come back from a cruise. In hindsight, going ahead with our plans to cruise was probably one of the dumber decisions we’ve made, now that it’s become clear the nation was already diving headfirst into the calamity that is the novel corona virus pandemic. At the time it seemed as though we had a month or so before things got really serious; there were reports of outbreaks in Washington state and a few very localized communities and we talked ourselves into believing that’s all there was to it, but with little to no testing going on, we were only denying the reality of the situation.

And it was pretty easy to keep on denying anything was wrong. O’Hare airport was jammed shoulder-to-shoulder with travelers and the airlines weren’t taking any special precautions that were apparent to us. Fort Lauderdale airport was just as busy as O’Hare and the motel we stayed in appeared to be fully booked with people who were for the most part unconcerned about being in close contact with one another. I noticed a few people at the continental breakfast making good use of hand sanitizer, but they were just two or three out of dozens. We all happily climbed into crowded buses to take the short ride to the cruise port at ten o’clock.

We boarded in one of the early groups and although they warned us we would be subject to a stringent medical screening due to the pandemic, this amounted to little more than asking us to fill out a questionnaire and requiring us to submit to having our temperature taken. They used little plastic pistols which they pointed at our foreheads to take our temperature, and we’re a little doubtful about their accuracy — B’s temp was 91 degrees Farenheit, which I’m pretty sure is not possible for a walking, talking human being.

Sanitation is very important on a cruise ship, so the crew is used to keeping everything clean, and there was almost always someone standing guard at the entrance to the dining hall, squirting everyone’s hands with a jumbo-sized bottle of hand santizer. The people who ran the charter cruise we were on regularly reminded everyone to wash their hands and even played a couple of specially-recorded videos with catchy tunes to keep it at the front of our minds.

Nobody got sick on the cruise that I know of. Although a few people reported on social media afterwards that they were under the weather with sniffles or coughs, they attributed it to “cruise crud,” a catch-all description for the various bugs people suffer from after a cruise. B had a nasty case of cruise crud the first time we went cruising; we made sure we washed our hands more or less constantly the next two times and we avoided coming down with anything. If we’re lucky, it worked again this time around, too.

hindsight | 9:13 am CST
Category: current events, travel, vacation | Tags: ,
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