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Mar. 13th, 2016

LED Bulbs, RF Noise, and a Crazy Idea

Carol and I were in Costco last week, stocking up on consumables (everything from toilet paper to Hoody's Peanuts) when we spotted something that made me do a double-take: a package of four Feit LED dimmable 60W equivalent light bulbs for $10. I've never seen them for less than twice that. We grabbed a pack to try at home, because our new house here contains a lot of 60W bulbs.

How much of a lot? There are nine Hampton Bay ceiling fan/lamp fixtures, each holding three 60W bulbs. (We found later that the fixture over the dining room table had three 75s in it.) That's 27 bulbs right there, plus another twelve or fifteen in bathrooms and outside light fixtures. Figuring 40 60W bulbs, that's 2,400 watts. Granted, not all of them are on at once, and several fixtures (like the one in the guest room and the two outside on the patio) are rarely on at all. However, there are another eighteen 65W ceiling floods, so I'm guessing our typical evening use is about 2,500 watts overall. It adds up. If bulbs are now as cheap as Costco was offering them, I was ready to jump.

A sidenote: There was some sort of utility company instant rebate, so the register price was about 1/3 less than the package price. Outside the Phoenix area, your prices may (and almost certainly will) vary.

This being Arizona, there was a thick layer of brown dust (over and above the dead bugs) on the lamp globes and on the existing bulbs themselves. We ran three loads of lamp globes through the dishwasher because their spatter finish tears threads off the ScotchBrite pad by the sink. I put three bulbs in the fixture in Carol's office, then stood back to gauge the quality of the light.

Marvelous! Three $2.50 LED bulbs gave brighter and slightly whiter light for a total power draw of 28.5 watts. We went back to Costco and bought 24 more, plus a test pack of 65W equivalent LED ceiling floods. I spent a day on a ladder swapping out bulbs, and although the ceiling floods aren't all done yet, we're looking to cut our lighting power draw to 1/6 of what it would be on incandescents.

This isn't all about money. It gets hot in Phoenix in the summer (duhh!) and the heat that you pay for when you light your bulbs you then have to pay to pump out of your house with the AC. Ok, so maybe it is all about money. In some respects, LED bulbs are a twofer.

Now, there's a downside. Both CFL and LED bulbs require power at entirely different voltages than incandescent lamps. Every bulb has a little power supply in it, and to keep the power supply circuitry small, the supply uses a technology that generates a lot of RF noise. If the whole house is running LED bulbs, I'm guessing that my IC736 will deliver audio that sounds like the center of a raging thunderstorm, only 24/7. I don't have my shack wired up yet, but it'll be interesting to see what happens when I run a temporary longwire out to the pool shed later this year.

Now, it won't happen this year and perhaps not next year, but the 5-year plan includes a new building in the NW corner of our 5/8 acre lot to house my workshop and radio shack. (I'm using the small garage for now, and although I was clever and got everything in, it's...cramped.) I'm sure I'll hear our LED bulb symphony (and perhaps the neighbors') but if I don't use LEDs or CFLs in the shack, things may be a lot better.

So...what are the chances of opening up the bulbs, pulling out or bypassing the power supplies, and running them at the LEDs' native voltage? This isn't an idea original with me, and in fact one chap has a very nice article up on Instructables. The 40W bulb he dissected delivers 30VDC to its LED array, and he had to do some major surgery to rewire the array to take 12VDC instead. My approach would be to figure out what DC voltage a given type of bulb generates for its LEDs, and then build a high-current passive (i.e., non-switching) power supply to deliver exactly that voltage to all the modded bulbs in the building. (Note that there's nothing magical or standard about his 30V figure. That's just what the maufacturer happened to use in that particular model of bulb.) This would require running a separate 30VDC (or whatever) power network inside the workshop building, but since it's going to be a custom building, I can do that.

We're not nearly done with the house and landscaping here yet, and I won't have a great deal of loose time until the summer. (We still have work to do on our Colorado house before we sell it.) I'll start a research binder on LED bulbs in the meantime, and maybe allow myself a few hours at some point to pull a cheap bulb apart to see what its LEDs are eating. If any of you have played around with LED bulb internals, (or have come across any pertinent links) by all means share in the comments. I have a hunch that a lot of very clever guys are pondering this problem right now, and I'm looking forward to hacking the hardware myself. I haven't done much building in the last couple of years for various reasons, and damn, I miss it!

Mar. 11th, 2016

Using GWX Control Panel to Lock Out Pesky Windows 10 Upgrade Stuff

A few days ago, a countdown timer appeared on Carol's Win7 PC when she booted up. It told her that Windows 10 would be installed in two hours.

WTUBF?

I turned off the machine and started digging around online. A lot of people have this problem, apparently. All of us who aren't already running Win10, of course, have been nagged mercilessly about upgrading since last summer. I don't care if it's free. I don't want it now. If I want it later I'll pay for it. But just so you know, I don't plan to leave Win7 land before 2020. I dislike the nags, but nags are just nags. This time MS told me they were going to give me something I didn't want and hadn't asked for.

Uh-uh.

So. I quickly learned that the upgrade software is contained in a Windows update module called KB3035583. I turned Carol's machine on and as soon as I could I uninstalled KB3035583. That ended the spy-movie countdown timer. Alas, the next morning the damned thing was back. The countdown timer now said Thursday, (it was Tuesday morning) which was some comfort. I still had some time to work.

I hid KB3035583. The next morning, someone (guess!) had un-hid it. Ok. This means war. I dug around a lot deeper, and found an enormous amount of cussing and bitching and suggested fixes. I tried a couple of things with mixed success. Then I stumbled upon the GWX Control Panel, by Josh Mayfield of the Ultimate Outsider site. Josh initially released it late last summer, and has been updating it periodically ever since. Josh's instructions are pretty good, but for something a little clearer, take a look at Mauro Huculak's article on Windows Central. He did a good job, which I know because I followed his instructions when installing GWX Control Panel on my lab machine. I had no issues, and understanding that MS was about to start messing with my wife's PC, I installed it on her machine as well.

Like Philip Phillips says, Gone Gone Gone. We've not even seen the nag window since Thursday, much less the countdown timer. I quickly added GWX Control Panel to all of our other Win7 machines. Worked every time.

Now, why did Carol's machine say it was about to install Win10, while our several others just kept nagging? We don't know how, but Carol's PC thought that somebody had reserved a copy of Win10. The download manager in KB3035583 had already downloaded well over a gigabyte of stuff, which I assume was all the install machinery and the OS itself. Carol doesn't remember clicking on anything, nor do I. It's possible that one or us selected something by mistake. MS seems to be increasingly desperate to get as many people as possible to upgrade, and its popups offer no clean way out.

Ironically, I vaguely remember reserving a copy from my lab machine way back when this business first came up. The lab machine did not have the install files and was not giving me a countdown timer. My only theory is that Carol's PC may now be using the local IP address that my lab machine was using way back when I (may have) reserved a copy, even though that was in Colorado. It's kind of crazy, but I have no better ideas.

I don't have anything strong against Windows 10. I know a lot of people who like it just fine. I will probably use it eventually--once it has several years of history behind it. However, as most of you know, I do not like to be pushed. That's the heart and soul of being a contrarian. The harder you push me, the more likely I am to go in the opposite direction.

All the usual cautions apply to GWX Control Panel. Do a full backup and a restore point before you install it, just as you would with any new software. Follow the directions closely, and do your best to understand what you're doing. We've had no adverse issues with it, granted that I installed it yesterday. If anything changes tomorrow morning, well, you'll read about it here.

Mar. 9th, 2016

The Raspberry Pi 3 leaps into our laps

RPi3-500 Wide.jpg

On February 29, Eben Upton announced that the Raspberry Pi was four years old, and to celebrate, the Raspberry Pi Foundation had released the Raspberry Pi 3. I grinned a little: The RPi is a Leap Year baby, and so it might conceivably be considered one year old, since we haven't had another February 29 since its initial release in 2012.

The new board (still out of stock, just checked) is almost identical in physical size and shape to the Raspberry Pi 2, and should be able to bolt into any sort of case or mount designed for the 2. That said, the new board packs a lot more horsepower:

  • A new SoC: the Broadcom BCM2837
  • A 1.2 GHz 64-bit quadcore RM Cortex A53 CPU.
  • 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.1 right on the board.
  • A VideoCore IV graphics system running at 400 MHz, with the 3D core running at 300 MHz.

Most of the other specs match the RPi 2: 1 GB RAM, HDMI video capable of 1080p at 30 fps, four USB ports, a 1000BASE-T Ethernet port, composite video, and the same GPIO bus.

And still $35.

Many years ago, I think back in the VDM era, I predicted that computers would eventually become swellings along the wire between the keyboard and the screen. We're well along toward that day, but with Bluetooth on the board, there won't be a wire between the keyboard and the screen at all. In fact, there's no reason not to just bolt the computer to the back of a TV or monitor using the VESA mount holes. That's what I did with my RPi 2, and I'll use the same mount for the RPi 3, whenever it shows up. It'll basically become part of the TV, and it'll talk right to my Logitech Bluetooth keyboard/mouse.

I had another thought about mounts for the Pi: Most Dell monitors from the last ten or twelve years have a tab-mount system for amplified stereo speakers built into a bar beneath the lower edge of the screen. The bars are cheap on eBay (look for Dell part #AS501, though there may be other SKUs that snap into those same tabs) and I'm tempted to cut one open and see if I could "persuade" the bar to accept an RPi 3 board, or at least mount a board on the back of one. If I had a 3-D printer I would sketch up a snap-in Dell monitor RPi mount designed for those tabs.

One thing that many have said about the RPi 3 is that it finally has the chops to be a general purpose desktop computer. Granted, you can run a fair number of GUI productivity apps under Raspbian--and MagPi magazine lays the mag out on an RPi (using Scribus) and has done so since inception. I managed to get the Lazarus IDE installed and runing on the original Model B, though it was very sluggish and had to be installed from binary packages. Having 1 GB of memory makes many things possible, especially recompiling open-source apps for the ARM Cortex CPU. Libre Office already runs on the RPi, as do GIMP and Scribus, if slowly. (I tried both, and while they were usable, I'm kind of spoiled by 5+ years of using a quadcore Intel box.)

So what will I do with the board when I finally get one? First of all, it will replace the Pi 2 I have bolted to the back of a 23" Toshiba widescreen TV. As I did with the Pi 2, I'll install Libre Office and several other productivity and graphics apps, just to see how much faster they run.

But most eagerly, I'll be installing Lazarus 1.6. I haven't done a lot of programming over the past year because, well, I've been moving us to Phoenix. I miss it. As I've said here perhaps too often, Lazarus has made programming fun again. Sorry, C/C++ is drudgery, and Python makes whitespace significant, sheesh. (I do like TkInter.) Lazarus on the RPi 2 is nowhere near as sprightly as Lazarus on my Intel quadcore. The Pi 3 can't help but be better.

I'm strongly tempted to continue the (suspended) adaptation of my book Borland Pascal 7 From Square One for Lazarus/FreePascal, because students should be aware that C and Python are not the only damned programming languages in the world. I don't know of anything in Lazarus' class for C/C++ nor in truth any other reasonable language. There are supposedly 8 million RPi boards in the world now. 8 million. That's one helluva potential audience.

On the other hand, if I don't get some traction on a new novel pretty soon, Certain People are going to skin me.

I thought I was retired. I thought retired people were bored. I recall being bored for half an hour once, in (I think) 1967. Whatever the opposite of bored is, I am. The Raspberry Pi 3 isn't going to help with that.

Feb. 18th, 2016

Odd Lots

  • Lazarus 1.6 has been released. It was built with FreePascal 3.0.0, a first for Lazarus. Mostly incremental changes, but there's a new rev of the docked form editor that looks promising, even though it's not quite stable yet. Wish I had more time to play with it!
  • Older versions of Lazarus have run well on the Raspberry Pi for me. However, installation on the newer Raspberry Pi 2 is much trickier. This installation tutorial is almost a year old, and I haven't yet installed Lazarus 1.4 or 1.6 on my Pi 2, but it's the best how-to I've yet seen.
  • From Glenn Reynolds: Indie author Chris Nuttall lays out his journey as an indie, emphasizing that all but the biggest names are being driven to indie by publishers who simply don't understand which way the wind is blowing. Read The Whole Thing, as Glenn says.
  • Back when I reviewed the Baofeng handhelds, there was some discussion in the comments about the RDA-1846S SDR chip. Gary Frerking pointed me to the HamShield project on Kickstarter, which is an Arduino add-on board (a shield, in their jargon) that uses the RDA-1846S to transceive on 2M, 220 MHz, and 450 MHz. Like the Baofeng radios, HamShield will also operate on FRS, MURS, and GMRS, though the group doesn't say that explicitly. (This is an SDR, after all.) It's not shipping yet, but they've raised a fair amount of money (well over $100,000) and appear to be making progress. Definitely one to watch.
  • Cool radio stuff is in the wind these days. One of Esther Schindler's Facebook posts led me to Beartooth, which is an SDR roughly similar to HamShield built into a smartphone battery case that snaps onto the back of your phone. Unlike HamShield, beartooth is going for FCC type acceptance and will operate on MURS. However, there's been no activity on their Web site since mid-December and I wonder if they're still in business. It's not an easy hack; see this discussion from midlate 2014.
  • Oh, and I remembered GoTenna, which is similar to Beartooth except that it's limited to texts and geolocation data. (That is, no voice.) It's a Bluetooth-powered stick that hangs on your belt and uses your smartphone as a UI, basically, and allows you to text your hiking buddies while you're out beyond the range of cell networks. I guess that makes it a sort of HT...a Hikey-Textie. Unlike HamShield and Beartooth, GoTenna is shipping and you can get two for $300.
  • Twitter continues to kill itself slowly by shadowbanning users for political reasons. What the hell is in it for them? When they collapse, something else will appear to take their place. They're a tool. (Take it any or every way you want.) When a tool breaks, I get another tool, and generally a better one.
  • In case you've never heard of shadowbanning...
  • I stumbled on something called Roblox, which is evidently a high(er) res take on the Minecraft concept. It's looking more and more like what I was thinking about when I wrote my "RAD Mars" piece for the last issue of Visual Developer Magazine in late 1999. Anybody here use it? Any reactions?
  • Slowly but steadily, reviews are coming in on my Kindle ebooks. Here's one that I particularly liked.
  • The Obamacare exchange in Colorado "smelled wrong," so Carol and I avoided it. We were right. (Thanks to Sarah Hoyt for the link.)
  • I don't care how many tablets and smartphones you have. Paper is not dead.

Feb. 16th, 2016

Odd Notes on the Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Three ereaders - 500 Wide.jpg

Way back in my entry for November 24, 2015, I explained how we lucked into a pair of Samsung's Galaxy Note 4 smartphones. The Note 5 was out by then, but I didn't want it. Why? It has a non-replaceable battery and no internal card slot. That was a deal-killer for me, and something I'll go into more detail on a little later. We stayed with Verizon, because several people said Verizon has the best local network in Phoenix. (I'll state from experience that they did not have the best local network in Colorado Springs.)

Why did we want a Note phone at all? I have a lot of Samsung gear, and for the most part it's been reliable and delivers what was promised of it. The Note 4 is bigger than my 2011-era Droid X2 (a feature I wanted, irrespective of the ghastly coinage "phablet") but still small enough to fit in my shirt pocket. (I made scale cardboard cutouts of all the major phones I was considering and did the test on several shirts.) More compute power was basically assumed, since my Droid was almost five years old. I wanted a larger, brighter, higher-res display. I wanted S-Health, a piece of Samsung software that does several useful things, like tracking steps and measuring blood oxygen. Carol wanted a stylus. Her fingers have a somewhat strained relationship with touchscreens, and unlike me, she texts a lot. The stylus works perfectly for her.

I didn't really intend for this to be a review, because by this time I'm guessing it's pretty hard to find anybody selling Note 4s. Several people have asked me what I think of it, and what I'm doing here is gathering my thoughts on its first ten or twelve weeks in my pocket.

I like the phone a lot, and most of that cooks down to one thing: It consolidates several functions into a single slab. Prior to getting the Note 4, I did most of my ebook reading on my Kindle Paperwhite, which is still a marvelous item. However, it's another slab, and if I'm running around it has to be carried somewhere. I was poleaxed at how good the Note 4 display is for text, assuming you're not out in the sun. It runs the Kindle app, and it's in my pocket any time I'm awake. So if I need an e-reader to kill some time in an unexpectedly bad line at the Post Office, it's always there. In the photo above we have, L-R, the Kindle Paperwhite, the Galaxy Note 4, and the Droid X2, all running the Kindle app. I still lean toward the Paperwhite when I'm sitting in my comfy chair at home, but the Note 4 comes very close to the same experience.

It has a surprisingly capable digital camera, which (given sufficient light) takes very good HD video. The pedometer/blood oxygen/heart rate monitor serve specific needs of mine right now. I've tested the phone performing those functions against other instruments I have at home, and it agrees with all of them. I actually measured out a two-mile walk on MapPoint and walked it with the Note 4 in my pocket and its pedometer feature active. It agreed with MapPoint on the distance to within a couple hundred feet. I'm guessing that GPS helps out a little, as S-Health makes no attempt to physically measure my stride.

On the downside, battery life is nowhere near as good as on the Droid X2. I suppose that's reasonable, given the device's greater compute power, but it is annoying. When I'm at home, I find myself plugging it into the charger no later than 3PM and sometimes sooner. I'm not entirely sure how well it would handle a full 14 hour day. When the battery falls below 40%, I simply stop using it. If I had to be away from a charger for over a day (unlikely but possible) I would carry an extra charged battery.

Which brings me to the second point of this entry: The mysterious disappearance of replaceable batteries and SD card slots in modern smartphones. I specifically wanted the Note 4 because the Note 5 has no SD slot, and a non-replaceable battery that limits the useful life of the phone to the life of a single battery. Some say it's a cost issue, which is nonsense, especially on a $500 high-end phone. Some say it's a security issue, which puzzles me, since the phone can be set not to deal with apps installed on an SD card. No, these are excuses. I am pretty damned certain that the carriers are putting enormous pressure on the manufacturers (who sell most of their phones through carrier upgrades) to get rid of the card slots. The reason is simple: The carriers want to charge you bigtime for network data, and if you can sideload all your music and movies onto a 128 GB SD card, they won't get paid when you don't have to pull them down from the cloud. The battery is collateral damage, because the best excuse for a missing SD slot is to give the phone a back that can't be removed.

Planned obsolescence is a particular loathing of mine. When I like a piece of gear, I want to be able to use it as long as I choose. (We drove our 1995 Plymouth Voyager for almost 20 years. We've had our 4Runner for 15 years now, and intend to go for 20 there as well.) Microsoft's enormously pesty Windows 10 upgrade offer falls into that category. I like Win7, and feel that it's by far the best version of Windows yet. I see no reason to stop using it. Sooner or later, MS is going to make the upgrade mandatory, or at least slip it in under the door in the middle of night, rather like Congress did with Obamacare. What happens then I don't know and probably won't talk about, except to say that I will keep on using Win7. Or perhaps switch to a Linux distro that's been tweaked to look just like Win7. I have Zorin (if not the latest version) and may consider something like RoboLinux that runs Win7 in a VM. We'll see.

Carol and I have now had enough experience with our phones to decide that we're just not going to have a landline put in down here in Phoenix. We haven't had one here for two months now, and haven't missed it a bit. That's a first for us: Neither of us has ever lived for more than a few days without a landline. (We also bought an indoor TV antenna and so far have not missed cable, either.)

The note 4 runs all the apps I'm used to running: Voice Search, Google Maps, Weather Underground, Sky Map, Waze, GPS Test, SoundHound, a couple of dumb puzzle games, and whatever else comes with the phone. Response is more than perky enough for my needs, which are nowhere near as smartphone-centric as a lot of people's.

Bottom line: It's a good phone. It can be loaded to the gills with Flash memory, and you can keep a spare battery in your pack. If you have one, take care of it, because given the carriers' data-based business model, we may not see its like again.

Feb. 12th, 2016

Odd Lots

Feb. 10th, 2016

Guest Post by Brian Niemeier: Announcing Souldancer

Before I turn today's entry over to Brian, a few words of explanation: In the wake of the Sad Puppies explosion almost exactly a year ago, my career as a writer changed. When 2015 opened, I was still locked in a state of existential paralysis, trying to decide if it was worth hammering on tradpub doors trying to get a (lousy, all-benefit-to-the-publisher) contract for Ten Gentle Opportunities and whatever works I might produce going forward. And I wasn't writing very much at all. Moving to Arizona was time-consuming and didn't help, but every time I tried to get a new writing project underway, I failed. I didn't say much about it here. Why bitch online? You folks don't need that. I started to get depressed again. Been there. Faced that abyss in 2002 for reasons you all know. Climbed out again. I'm not going back.

A year later, I have four books on KDP and KU, and they're making money. I'm not talking about a buck here and a quarter there. Think hundreds of dollars most months. Not riches...but would I have made more in tradpub? Not likely. So I tossed tradpub overboard, and for the first time in my 42 years as a published author, I control my writing career completely.

What happened? Sad Puppies. In researching the phenomenon I found people who were facing the same problems I was. They were writing adventure stories in the old style, and getting sneered at. They dared question the elites who dominate tradpub and con-oriented fandom, and were called every name in the book. I reached out to them, and they pulled me in the door, handed me a drink, and made me one of the gang. I was called a moral coward at one point for daring to embrace the Puppy culture, but by then I just laughed. I had already won that argument. I had new friends, and they had my back.

One of those friends is Brian Niemeier, a new author whose path into indie publishing has been very much the same as mine. His debut novel intrigued me: Nethereal is a seamless blend of space fiction and a sort of theological fantasy that admits to a deeper strangeness in the universe than most are willing to accept. No spoilers here, but I will caution that people with an instinctive dislike of fantasy may not care for it. Radical materialists will probably loathe it. Their loss. In truth, I've never seen anything remotely like it. I'm now reading it a second time and will review it here as time allows.

So on that note, I'll turn it over to Brian, who has a few words about his new novel. I bought it an hour ago and (obviously) haven't read it yet, but I have this sneaking hunch that I'm not going to be disappointed.


SDcover-small-2.jpgAnnouncing Souldancer, Soul Cycle Book II by Brian Niemeier

First things first: thanks to Jeff Duntemann for lending me his platform. The higher elevation lets my voice carry farther. [Ed: About a mile less high than it used to be!] He's given me a few digital inches to announce the release of Souldancer, the sequel to my debut space opera-horror novel Nethereal.

My indie publishing journey has felt like riding a spaceship at relativistic speeds. The past months have seemed like days, and in that time I've gone from an obscure SFF writer with a couple of short story publications to an obscure SFF writer with enough reader loyalty to get my first book into the Sad Puppies 4 top ten.

I'm quite sure that my readers wouldn't have had Nethereal to suggest if I'd stuck with my initial plan of riding the tradpub rejection carousel. I can now focus on writing, and it took less time to release a second book than the big publishers often take to do initial edits. It's a crazy time to be alive in a lot of ways (read the news much?) but it's also the best time in recorded history to be a writer.

If you've got a story to tell and the discipline to tell it in prose fit for public consumption, you can be an author. You don't need the Manhattan crowd. The only people you need are readers. If your primary motivation for writing fiction is anything other than pleasing your readers, you really don't understand writing.

Yes, the money is thin. It's a long game. Hardly any authors ever got rich, even back before publisher advances began imploding. Self-published millionaires are likewise extreme outliers, but the data show that indie allows more authors than ever to at least earn a decent living. Not only are NY publishers no longer the boss; they never were the boss, and it's not surprising that readers are flocking to authors who understand that publishing sovereignty rightfully belongs to those same readers.

And so to my new book Souldancer. It's a true sequel to Nethereal; not the second part of a single story split into two halves [Ed: Or three halves?] like certain Hollywood adaptations of popular YA books that I will not name. The action picks up a generation after the first book's ending, and we immediately get to see the changes that resulted from the prior story's climax.

As Jeff said of Nethereal, it's almost impossible to say much more about Book 2 without spoilers. I can say that Souldancer features stronger romance and horror elements than its predecessor-and yes, it's scarier than a book that's largely set in Hell.

I appreciate the chance to launch Souldancer here, because my own SF sensibilities could justly be described as contrarian. Fans of Nethereal (including Jeff) have told me that, for all of its nods to classic SF, gaming, and anime tropes, they've never read anything quite like it.

You can buy the eBook right now from Amazon. For those with more old school tastes, the trade paperback edition will be available soon on Amazon CreateSpace.

Thanks again to Jeff, and as always, to the readers who make indiepub possible. We're all in this together, and the fun is only beginning!

Feb. 8th, 2016

Dash Gets Best (Almost) In Show

Dash Reserve 2-2016.jpg

Earlier today, Dash won his biggest dog show prize yet: Reserve Best in Show for the Owner/Handler category at the Heart of the Desert Classic here in Phoenix. I was filming the final judging on my Galaxy Note 4, and when the judge pointed to Carol and Dash for Reserve, I said something awkward and almost dropped the camera.

Dash has done well in dog showing for the past few years. He's already a champion, and is now within four points of becoming a Grand Champion. After that there are Silver, Gold, and Platinum Grand Champion. He's still headstrong and sometimes defiant, and loves to play with kids and other dogs so much that he simply won't stand still in the presence of either.

A quick note on jargon here: "Owner/Handler" is a category defined by the dog's owner (in this case, Carol) being the handler at the show, which simply means running the dog around the ring and presenting it to the judge. Not everyone presents his or her own dogs in shows, for many reasons including lack of time, poor health, or simply a disinclination to run around the country winning ribbons. There are specially trained people who take other people's dogs to shows for a fee. These are called professional handlers. It's possible for owner/handlers to compete against professional handlers (which we have done, and won from time to time) but professional handlers cannot compete in the Owner/Handler category.

The notion of "reserve winner" is harder to explain. It's insurance against the possibility that an award cannot be given because the winning dog is shown to be ineligible for some reason. Another dog got Best in Show for Owner/Handler, but before the award is logged in the AKC's books, the organization checks the winner's eligibility. It's unlikely, but if an irregularity is found, the award goes to a sort of runner-up called the reserve winner. It's pointedly not second place. There is only one "best in show," but in Dash's case, he will inherit the award if the winning dog is disqualified.

It's a really really big deal, especially at a dog show as big as the annual 4-day Heart of the Desert Classic in Phoenix.

As you might imagine, Carol is glowing in the dark. We all had a Cane's Chicken Fingers feast this evening, and everybody got some chicken. We're all dog-tired, and I'm going to shut this thing down now and get some Zs. As will Carol. And, as I strongly suspect, will Dash.

Tags:

Feb. 5th, 2016

Odd Lots

Feb. 3rd, 2016

Rant: Lots of Supermarkets

Twenty-odd years ago I remember reading a compendium of "real-world" ghost anecdotes. They weren't stories, just individual reports from ordinary people who were not looking for ghosts but ran into them anyway. One of my favorites was a report from a widow in England who saw her recently deceased husband on the staircase every night for a week. The man looked happy, but said nothing until his final appearance, when he spoke one sentence: "There are lots of supermarkets where I live." Then he winked out and she never saw him again.

Well. I can think of a lot of better things to tell your grieving spouse when you appear to them postmortem:

  • I'm all right.
  • I love you.
  • I forgive you.
  • God is good.
  • There is $10,000 in hundreds stuffed inside the living room couch.

But...lots of supermarkets in heaven? That is so unutterably weird that it lends credence to the report. Why would the widow make something like that up?

Maybe she didn't. My experience here in Phoenix for the last month and a half suggests that it may not be so weird after all. Work with me here: Until six weeks ago, Carol and I lived on the slopes of Cheyenne Mountain near a town of about 400,000 people. Colorado Springs is not a small town, but we still had to drive 75 miles to Denver for certain things, like The Container Store and any useful bookstore that wasn't Barnes & Noble. Today we live in America's 6th largest city (instead of its 41st largest city) and if you toss in suburbs like Mesa and Scottsdale, the metro area has four and a half million residents.

Nor are we way out on the fringes of things, like we were when we lived in Cave Creek in the 1990s. We're right down in the thick of it all, three blocks from tony Scottsdale and a little over a mile from the Kierland neighborhood, where the primary occupation is spending money by the livingroom couchful.

The amount of retail here is staggering, as is the number and sheer diversity of restaurants. I didn't know that Mexican Asian food was a thing, but it is, albeit what sort of thing I'm not yet sure. (When I decide to find out, well, it's just a few miles down Scottsdale Road.) Driving around the area, Carol and I go into a sort of Stendhal syndrome trance at times, boggling at the nose-to-tail storefronts and shopping centers within a couple of miles of us. It's not like we're hicks from the sticks; Colorado Springs is hardly the sticks. But we've never seen anything even remotely like it.

There is a supermarket called Fry's Marketplace a few miles from us that is about twice the size of any other supermarket I've ever been in. They have a wine bar, a sushi bar, a substantial wine section (something we didn't get in Colorado due to corrupt politics) and plenty of stuff that may or may not be appropriate for selling in grocery stores, like...livingroom couches. (Eminently stuffable ones, too.) Outside there's covered parking and a car wash. Oh, and valet parking if you don't want to walk in from the far corners of the lot.

Now...what if we were hicks from the sticks?

I wager that we'd pass out in astonishment. Yes, I know, we all get lectured a lot about how we shouldn't obsess on material goods. So who's obsessing? I think I come out better on this score than a lot of people; granted that I hoard variable capacitors and never met a radio tube I didn't like, absent the occasional gassy 6AL5. Read this twice: There is a huge difference between wanting everything you see and seeing everything you want. I don't want all that much, but I appreciate being able to get things that I do want, weird or uncommon though they might be.

I can empathize with that poor old dead guy in England somewhere. Perhaps he lived all his life in a village in Cornwall, and ate the same things all the time because the same things were all there were in his village. Maybe he was poor. Maybe he just got damned sick and tired of bubble and squeak. He knew the world was a richer place somewhere, but his own circumstances didn't allow him to get there.

Then his heart gives out, and wham! God drops him out in front of some heavenly Fry's Marketplace, where your credit cards have no limit and you never have to pay them off. (Maybe he met Boris Yeltsin there.) Good food, lots of it, and never the same thing twice? That could be all the heaven some people might want. I think I understand why he came back to tell his wife about it.

So. Like most people, my collection of loathings has swelled as I've passed through middle age. I don't like green vegetables, and haven't now for 63 years and change. Along the way I've picked up loathings for certain philosophies and people, like Marxism, Communism, and the sort of virtue-signaling wealthy socialistic urban elitist busybodies who buy $59 titanium pancake flippers and then wear torn jeans to show their solidarity with the working poor.

Far worse are the people who assume that their way is the right way, and that if I don't see things their way, well, I'm a [something]-ist and deserve to be re-educated in the gulag of their choice.

Choice, heh. Choice is a good word. Freedom means choice. Choice does not mean overconsuming. Choice means being free to consume what I want, and not what some worthless meddling government apparatchik thinks I should want. I walked into Fry's Marketplace. It was a wonderland. I walked out with a smile on my face and a bag of gemstone potatoes under my arm. That, my friends, is America.

Slander it at your peril, and ideally somewhere out of earshot of the rest of us.

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