Thursday, December 29, 2022

Friday Links!

We're very, very light for New Year's, as usual. Happy 2023, everyone! After the last few years, we're all due for an upswing.

Leading off this week, a fascinating read: CRISPR’s quest to slay Donegal Amy

This is a terrific video: The wild and beautiful descendants of the dogs abandoned at Chernobyl. And this is beautiful: Gorgeous video of 2,400 leaves of different shapes and colors, one after another. Ars Technica is a real treasure: The world’s oldest pants are a 3,000-year-old engineering marvel

From Kevin Womack, and it's coming much, much faster than I expected: How Kindle novelists are using ChatGPT

From Wally, and here's a fascinating bit of WWII history: Winkie the RAF Pigeon who Saved the Life of a Bomber Crew. I definitely have days where I feel like this: If People Lagged in Real Life (Compilation 2). This is an interesting read: Hell on Two Wheels, Until the E-bike's Battery Runs Out

Until Death Do You Part, Unless It's Your Phone, In Which Case It Apparently Takes Much Longer

There are times when the bureaucracy of death becomes parody. 

I went through quite a bit of this in the first six months after Gloria's death. It seemed like most weeks I was encountering some inexplicable corporate policy that no one working at the particular corporation could even explain. It was darkly funny, as death often is, and as long as you can laugh at some of these things, you're not lost. 

If you stop laughing completely, I assume you're in deep trouble, but fortunately, I never reached that point. Even in the worst moments, I was able to laugh at the utterly ridiculous. 

I shielded Eli 21.4 from the bureaucracy of death as much as humanly possible. He was at Oxford, trying to take advantage of the greatest educational opportunity anyone could ever have, and my job was to carry everything else so he could grieve and somehow still succeed. 

Which he did. That boy has a quality, as we all know. 

Last week, though, he encountered one of these situations himself. It involved him terminating his Verizon account, which had been a sub-account of his mom's. Through a frankly incredible series of mistakes by Verizon, he was still getting billed after his account was cancelled, but the bill was being sent to Gloria, because it was her name as the owner of the account. 

Among many stupidities in this case, I'd spent hours with Verizon in December a year ago clarifying all this, taking official documents, etc., and they'd still managed to totally screw it up. 

Eli went down to the local Verizon office to straighten it out. They said he had to talk to support (apparently the store doesn't offer that particular kind of billing "support"), so he called from the store. He was then talking to various reps on the phone for almost an hour, long after the store had closed. 

A well-established feature of the death bureaucracy: endless shuffling between departments. 

The last rep he talked to kept saying Gloria needed to be responsible for the bill, even though Eli had told him several times that she'd passed away. Finally, the rep said it one more time, like repeating a mantra, and Eli finally  lost his patience. He said (with a raised voice), "Gloria's dead! She is no longer living. She has been dead for quite some time!"

He said he felt like he was in the Monty Python "Dead Parrot" sketch. Behind him, the reps still in the store (who were quite invested now) burst into laughter.

There was a long, long pause on the phone, lasting almost ten seconds. Then the rep said, "Yes, sir, we'll take care of it."

Laughing at the ridiculous moments feels good. Sometimes, it's your only weapon. 

Wednesday, December 28, 2022


Welcome to the musical rabbit hole known as "Zamrock."

Zamrock emerged in Zambia in the 1970s, according to Wikipedia. What is it? Well, it's a lot, a "a fusion of traditional African music and psychedelic rock, garage rock, hard rock, blues and funk, taking influence from popular bands like Black Sabbath, Blue Cheer, the Rolling Stones, Deep Purple, and Cream."

That's a mouthful. 

A friend of mine told me about a group called Amanaz and their album "Africa," which was released in 1975. It's the only album they ever made. 

It's great. 

The depth and breadth of the album is astonishing. There are bits of Hendrix and Santana and Dylan, all combined into this amazing mix of sound. 

That's not giving consideration to anything but the music. Funky beats, fuzzy guitar, terrific hooks--it's a real showcase. 

This led me down the rabbit hole, and I've listened to quite a bit of other artists in the other few days. Unfortunately, none of them are nearly as good. This one album is like lightning. 

I think the album is on all the major streaming services, so if you still enjoy late 60s-early 70s rock, give it a listen. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2022


Even on the backside of a blizzard, we had a sporting tradition to uphold. 

Since Eli was in the 7.0 range, we've always done something on Thanksgiving and Christmas. First, it was unicycling for half an hour or so through the city. Then it was tennis for many years. Even in Grand Rapids, we played tennis on Christmas once (or New Year's, I can't remember. I do remember the wind chill was under 30F, though). A few times, we'd go to the high school stadium to throw passes and kick field goals. 

This year presented unique challenges. At least 18" of snow on the ground, and much higher in places. 

"Looks like basketball," Eli 21.4 said. 

"Of course," I said. "Clearly the answer."

We walked a mile to the elementary school, which has three baskets arranged in a rectangle missing one long side configuration. 

It was about 5F, and the wind chill was below 0. Still, tradition. 

"Look at my handle," Eli said, "and took one dribble as the ball almost disappeared in the snow. 

"Nice fried egg you've got there," I said. 

The snow was dry, so the ball didn't get wet, which was nice. And even though we both had gloves on, we couldn't miss. It was ridiculous. 

"Would you stop making shots?" Eli said at one point. 

He beat me, but I kept him out there a long, long time to do it. 

I picked up that ball and threw it somewhere, but he has godlike reflexes. 

We walked home, talking the whole time. It was peaceful, the way that it always feels peaceful when we're together. 

Monday, December 26, 2022

It Was Just Snow, After All

On Friday, when it looked like we could get two feet of snow and 50+ MPH winds, I kept waiting for the power to go out. 

"This is pretty great, really," Eli 21.4 said. "Plenty of food, multiple Game of Thrones episodes, no problem."

"It's all just a party until the power goes out," I said. "Then it's the Donner Party."

In the end, though, the power never went out. We got about 16" of snow, the wind was fierce, the roads were barely drivable, and it was a nice little vacation from the outside world. We were lucky. 

Here's a picture I took yesterday:

Grey, and lots and lots of snow, but no big deal. 

2022 Holiday MegaSale to Benefit St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital

lummoxjr (otherwise known as fine author Lee Gaiteri) let me know that the annual science fiction/fantasy benefit is underway, and you can check it out here. Over 175 authors participating, with books free or 0.99.

All proceeds benefit St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital, and it only lasts through December 27, so head over now. 

I mentioned Lee. All his books are excellent reads, but "Below" is particularly fine. 

Thursday, December 22, 2022

Friday Links!

Our weather forecast today is for 6-12" of snow and 50+MPH winds, so I'll be questioning my life choices.

Leading off this week, a book! The Man You Trust.

From Meg McReynolds, and this is amazing: What color are reindeer eyes? Depends on the season.

An excellent read: London’s lost mega-motorway: the eight-lane ring road that would have destroyed much of the city

From Chris M., and it's an annual favorite: The 2022 Prize Winners of the Worst Opening Sentences to Novels. In a similar vein, except actually good: The Best Book Covers of 2022.

From Wally, and it seems inevitable that we quickly reached this point: Artists fed up with AI-image generators use Mickey Mouse to goad copyright lawsuits

From lummoxjr, and it's fantastic: I promise this story about fonts is interesting

From C. Lee, and it's a fascinating read: Extinctions, shrinking habitat spur 'rewilding' in cities. It's incredible how much respiratory illness is in the U.S. right now: It’s Time to Wear a Mask Again, Health Experts Say. This is very concerning: Lead and Cadmium Could Be in Your Dark Chocolate.


It's a little strange here today. 

No one cares about the weather up here. They just ignore it and go about their business. Even on the worst day, when the roads are just ice, you'll still see a fair amount of traffic as people have regular days. 

Not this time. 

I walked this morning (about a 45 minute loop) on the same roads I took yesterday. Traffic was 10% of what I saw yesterday. People have actually hunkered down (an interesting phrase, and it's Scottish), even though the snow isn't supposed to start until around 2 and the high winds aren't expected until tonight. 

It's a little eerie, really. 

I'll be taking before and after pictures, and hopefully this turns out to be less than the big deal people are making of it now. 

This is the current view:

Kidding! Here it is:

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Around Town

We went to Downtown Market to pick up a few assorted things before the blizzard. 

There's a bakery there that has amazing bread. They were almost completely out of fresh bread, but they had a day-old loaf that only cost $4 (compared to $9 "new").

"What a deal," Eli 21.4 as we walked out. "It's a day old, but that doesn't matter to me, because I wasn't even here yesterday!"

Then he gave me the side eye and we both burst out laughing. 

After being inspired by the World Cup final, we've spent the last three days designing a soccer game you play with cards. We have a playing field (green felt with white paint), and the game is fast and fun and occasionally very goofy. Hopefully we'll be able to get the rules to a point where I can share them with you and get some feedback. Right now, it's just a secret language we have between us. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

The Man You Trust is now available

After over six years and so, so much effort, The Man You Trust is now available on Amazon. Here's the link: The Man You Trust.

Only the paperback version will be available initially. Due to the bug with iBooks on Mac, I decided to hold back the digital version until I can find some resolution.  

Fredrik's beautiful images are in black and white in the paperback (it would be prohibitively expensive to print in color), but I'd like for you to seem them in their full-color glory. Here's a link to his website where they're all displayed: Fred's amazing images

I wish I had been able to write with a professional approach when I was much younger. I had a literary agent when I was in my twenties, and wrote a book with promise, but it needed years of editing and no one told me that. I wouldn't have had the discipline necessary to do it then, anyway. 

Back then, I also don't think I had much to say. Having Eli changed my life in so many ways, but one of the best was that I was able to feel in a way I never had before. It made my life three-dimensional, if that makes any sense. 

Writing this book would never have been possible without that third dimension. 

I appreciate how many of you have shown interest in the book as it developed. At least 40-50 of you read various versions, and everyone was incredibly generous with their time. 

In one way, this book is unlikely to be successful, if you measure it solely in terms of copies sold. It's a book available to our community, though, and it would never have happened without your help, and in that sense it's already a success. 

A success that makes me very happy. 

Monday, December 19, 2022

Update: Almost

I was really hoping today's post would be a link to Amazon to purchase The Man You Trust.

Instead, I'm playing whack-a-mole, because the automated system Amazon uses to check submitted files is telling me there are text elements too close to an edge of the cover. This in spite of Amazon having already printed out proof copies of the book where the cover looks perfectly fine. 

Making it more difficult is that there are no details on which elements are in violation. 

The good news is that everything else is fine, so if I can just get this cover submitted properly, it should be approved within 48-72 hours. 

This is all I'm doing today until it's approved. 

The eBook version, unfortunately, is delayed, because an error was discovered for people using iBooks on the Mac (certain images are being cut off at the right edge). iBooks automatically scales images in certain ways to fit a vertical container without considering the width of the image, and it's apparently caused a real problem in the scientific field where books are table/image heavy. I don't want people to have a problematic experience, though, so I'm going to put out the paperback version now and tend to the digital version after the holidays.

Thursday, December 15, 2022

Friday Links!

Leading off this week, a wonderful, thoughtful essay: Lessons from my dying therapist: care less, have fun – and accept the inevitable

From David Gloier, and it's excellent: 40 Years Ago, One Woman Changed the Video Game Industry Forever

From Wally, and it's a terrific read: Digitizing ‘Christmas Books’ at the UK’s Cambridge University Press. It's going to take plenty of time to work all this out: Invasive Diffusion: How one unwilling illustrator found herself turned into an AI model

From C. Lee, and I certainly feel this way: 2023 Bum Steer of the Year: Austin. Well, this is interesting: North Korean cyber spies deploy new tactic: tricking foreign experts into writing research for them. This is a savage takedown: ‘An unfinished Frankenstein’s monster’: the disastrous new Orange County Museum of Art. This is horrifying: Scientists Capture the Spray From a Flushing Toilet in All Its Disgusting Glory. This is some serious data nerd stuff, and helpful, too: Study: Coughers more likely to spread virus on up escalators

Antique Mall p.2

First off, there's this beauty:

This console television was from the 1950s, I believe. The screen was probably 13" from corner to corner. Not totally sure, but it certainly wasn't big. A documentary about "duck and cover" in case of nuclear attack was running on loop, and it was astonishing. Telling little Bobby to duck and cover if a nuclear weapon explodes nearby was one of the most blatant examples of propaganda in U.S. history, because the government knew full well that wasn't going to do a damn thing. Believing a nuclear was was survivable, though, was essential to all kinds of strategic concerns. 

Watching that documentary on the same television that people of that era watched it on gave me a chill that took a while to shake off. 

I also wondered what Blade Runner would look like on that screen. 

Okay, two of your emails today. First, concerning the chain gang, it's Patrick W. weighing in:
Your first guess was right, it's for a miniature railway. There's a label on the box announcing "HO Scale", which is a common scale for model railways (1:87, which means that the little guys should be a bit less than an inch tall). It's half the size of the "0" scale ("half-0"), which was the smallest model railway scale introduced by the German company Märklin around 1900, the idea being that "normal people" could have a model railway in their homes instead of needing a whole castle for that (or at least a large garden). My dad was a life-long model railway enthusiast, and I grew up with lots of tracks, train engines, wagons and stuff at home. And I learned how to build mountainous landscapes using plywood and gauze and how to hide little tracks in them.

That's both excellent information and a wonderful story. Thanks, Patrick. 

Next, it's Mark W., who comes to the rescue with the full text of She Sits Amongst the Cabbages:
She sits amongst the cabbages
Quiet and forlorn
She wants a carrot on her hand
But all she sees is corn

Lettuce say a silent prayer
Perhaps they will turnip
With a Justice of the Peas
A proposal on their lip

She will look so radishingly
And they won't miss a beet
They'll say I dew with love so true
And sugarcane so sweet

She blinks, they're gone, a fruitless dream
Tis no one to propose
There's just a lonely scarecrow
Standing in the rows

She cries amongst the cabbages
Which sadly have turned rotten
Her dreams are like her garden now
Lonely and forgotten...

That is first rate. Suck it, Faulkner.

Wednesday, December 14, 2022


If you have an iPad, Android tablet, or Kindle/Kindle Fire, I could use a person on each platform to load the final .epub file of the digital version of "The Man You Trust" and page through to verify that nothing looks funky. There's a previewer in the Kindle Digital Publishing process, but I'm sure it isn't representative of all platforms. 

As a bonus, you get a free copy of the book in its final form. 

Good Guys Win

Dwarf Fortress on Steam has sold over 300,000 copies. At $29.99.

This country seems so dominated by bullies now. Bullying has become a brand. Our entire economic system doesn't reward fair play; it rewards predation. It's overwhelmingly sad.

For over twenty years, while Tarn and Zach have developed this game, they've engaged in countless forum conversations. Not once, in thousands of conversations, have they ever been rude, to the best of my knowledge. They've never bullied. They've never done any of the shitty things that people routinely do to be "successful." 

And in the end, they won. 

They built an incredibly loyal fanbase the right way, and they've never changed. I've emailed with Tarn occasionally for fifteen years, and he's always been exactly the same. Nothing's ever changed him. I'm sure nothing ever will. 

It feels so incredibly satisfying to see good people rewarded. There's a holiday miracle for you.

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

The Antique Mall

I've never been to an "antique mall" before. 

Almost nothing in an antique mall is actually an antique. Maybe nothing, actually. It's just different collections of stuff, and if you take your time, you find some bizarre and amazing things. 

Like this:

Yes, that's a chain gang for your what, exactly? Miniature railroad? Holiday display? That scores very highly on the creepy scale. 

Then there's this:

"Get MORE than you bargained for" is both confusing and remarkably offensive. What a shame these didn't catch on. 

One more, and I'm so disappointed that the pages were cut out:

I mean, I guess we all sit amongst the cabbages, right? I did a little research and it appears this was a gag/novelty item, back in the day, so I think the pages were intentionally blank (there were pages, but just the borders, no text). 

Someone needs to start working on the words immediately. 

Monday, December 12, 2022

Fusion Breakthrough

If these results stand up to scientific scrutiny, it's huge:
For the first time ever, US scientists at the National Ignition Facility at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California successfully produced a nuclear fusion reaction resulting in a net energy gain, a source familiar with the project confirmed to CNN.

The article is here: US scientists reach long-awaited nuclear fusion breakthrough, source says.

Scientists have worked on nuclear fusion for almost eighty years now, and even though this is obviously a very small-scale result, the implications are staggering. Nuclear fusion could entirely change our planet in so many ways. In combination with solar/wind and other clean energy sources, environmental pollution from power generation would plummet. 

It's one of those "better future" moments we might not all live to see, but Eli 21.4 and your children will. 

It's Been A Long Time

I'm so old I remember when people thought Elon Musk was a genius instead of a bullying, edgelord prick.

Friday, December 09, 2022

All Hands on Deck

I've learned over two decades that we have almost one of everything here. So if you're a cardiologist who can answer a few questions, or married to one, or have access to one, please contact. I'm looking to help a friend. Thanks very much.

Thursday, December 08, 2022

Friday Links!

This is a terrific read: Infinite lives: the company saving old arcade machines. And here's an important bit of music history: Watch the earliest footage of Jimi Hendrix on guitar.

From Wally, and it's unfortunately true: Oxford word of the year 2022 revealed as 'goblin mode'. Some real groaners here: 25 Jokes That Scientists Will Love. This gets your attention: Terrifying sign posted at Hawaii’s notoriously dangerous Olomana Trail

From Meg McReynolds, and it's blech: A lump of kale in your stocking? I tried all 13 disgusting Archie McPhee candy cane flavor. Also, this is beautiful: Tsunami from Heaven / Amazing Rainstorm Timelapse / Downburst / Microburst


I know this has been a terrible week for even remotely interesting content (believe me, I know), but I've really struggled. 

I'm usually very good about mowing through a list of tasks, because raising an energy tornado requires it, but I've hit this temporary lull where I'm struggling to complete things. Even small obstacles stop me in my tracks. So I'm not getting much done, and the interesting part of my brain has mostly shut off for now.

It's highly unusual for me, and I'm working through it the best I can. Hopefully, I'll be back to normal by Monday. 

Wednesday, December 07, 2022

The Long Dark

In reference to Grand Rapids, not the game. 

I looked up and it was 6:30 and I felt like it'd been dark for hours. Which it had been, actually, because it's staggering how early it gets dark here compared to Austin. 

It doesn't seem like much at first--sunset at 5:30 in Austin compared to 5:08 in Grand Rapids. Austin is usually sunny, though, and Grand Rapids in winter is usually not. In Austin, darkness today would have been at least 5:45, maybe later. It was already dark in Grand Rapids by 4:45, which is obscene. 

It makes winter seem longer, and it's already too damn long. 

Tuesday, December 06, 2022

Dwarf Fortress Released on Steam

Dwarf Fortress, the greatest simulation ever created, is now available on Steam: Dwarf Fortress.

When I played the ASCII version, I butted my head against the wall for a while, and then there was this moment where the door opened and I was seeing this incredible, secret world that had been created just for me. It truly captures all the magical things that computer games can do for our imagination, and is the essence of why we love them so much. 

I'm going to write up my impressions of the new version (now with sprite graphics and a tutorial) as soon as I have a few hours of playtime. In the meantime, though, never has a game purchase been so richly deserved. 

Monday, December 05, 2022


This bland missive comes to you courtesy of the Parks and Recreation department, where I'm leeching wi-fi after business hours because the house lost power five hours ago and it still hasn't come back yet. There are over a million people in the Grand Rapids metropolitan area, and right now. 25 don't have power. 


Eli 21.4 finished applications for his top three choices next year (one is the Fulbright, which I've already discussed). He finds out if he's a finalist for any of them within about four weeks. All would require him deferring entry into grad school for a year, which isn't a problem, since he hasn't even applied to grad school yet. 

He has to survive for eleven more days. This semester, he's taken four classes, taught another, finished three major applications for programs/grants, played intramural football, and been in a hockey league. Oh, and started a GeoGuessr club on campus that hosted its first tournament last Saturday with nine universities competing. Even for him, the pace has been extreme. 

Last week, he called me on Friday and said he needed me to bring his hockey stuff down, because he'd forgotten they had playoffs. I said fine, then texted him this Saturday morning.
In exchange for assembling your 
bag and bringing it to Ann Arbor, 
I demand one large, high-quality 
chocolate chip cookie in return. 
That is all.

When I got there, he gave me a big hug, carried his bag to his car, and said, "Let's go get your cookie." 

We did. 

Thursday, December 01, 2022

Friday Links!

This is fascinating: The ancient Japanese technique that produces lumber without cutting trees. 

An excellent read: When diplomacy fails: After gifts, Teotihuacan turned on Maya cities.

This is quite amazing: 271 Years Before Pantone, an Artist Mixed and Described Every Color Imaginable in an 800-Page Book.

Wolves are incredible in general: Behavior-changing parasite moves wolves to the head of the pack.

From Eric Higgins-Freese, and it works for me: Listening to podcasts may help satisfy our psychological need for social connection, study finds

From C. Lee, and it's quite a problem: The Exceptionally American Problem of Rising Roadway Deaths. Brilliant artists: Angelo Badalamenti talks about composing the music for TWIN PEAKS with David Lynch. 

From Meg McReynolds, and it'll melt your mind: Ames Window

From Wally, and unfortunately, it's true: Twitter is Just a Guy Now. This is quite amusing: Impressions of American Hotels.

From C. Lee, and it's terrifying: How Colleges and Sports-Betting Companies ‘Caesarized’ Campus Life. This is a terrific read: Norway's Sovereign Wealth Fund

Ah, Supplements

I had honestly never heard of Brian Johnson, aka "The Liver King," before.

He's a supplement shill with the twist that he's also promoting eating raw meat and organs to unlock some sort of alpha male ancient bullshit power or something. 

The guy's hugely popular, with millions of followers. 

I've said before that anyone selling supplements is a grifter. No real nutritional benefit, obscene markups on products, etc. 

Plus, none of these guys are honest. 

So here's your huge surprise:
Who Could Have Possibly Predicted The Bull Testicle Guy Was Juicing?.

Oh, yeah. Massive amounts of HGH, with a healthy dollop of assorted steroids on top. 

Let me just re-emphasize this: anyone promoting supplements is a grifter. 

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