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Dec. 15th, 2015

Tripwander

Colorado really didn't want us to leave Colorado, and did its damndest to follow us down to Phoenix. We got underway Friday afternoon, having spent the morning tidying up the house and making sure that everything else was in order. There was a snowstorm on the forecast for Saturday, and I really wanted to get over Raton Pass before the first flakes fell, tired as we both were.

The weather was gorgeous, and we got over the pass late afternoon, stopping in Las Vegas NM for the night. My intuition was valid: We awoke Saturday morning to a glowering sky and much lower temps. So we piled the Pack into the Durango and blasted south. By Albuquerque it had started to snow. We got onto westbound I-40 with the wipers still on intermittent, and got almost to Grants before things got ugly.

And once they got ugly, they got ugly fast. We could see the cell on Weatherbug's radar. It went from nothing to red in almost no space at all. The glowering sky became a blizzard in the space of half a mile or less. Visibility was only a few hundred feet. Predictably, there were crackpots blasting past us at 80+ MPH. I considered stopping, but the right shoulder was relatively narrow and we were a biggish target. So we slithered on, with snowflakes the size of "Have a Nice Day" stickers splatting against the windshield.

As quickly as it began, it ended. The splatting and slithering, however, were not over. We got another hundred miles or so, and crossed the state line into Arizona, before the skies opened again. This time it was sleet. The cell wasn't as intense, but it was a great deal larger, and I white-knuckled it for over forty minutes until it faded out into rain and then mist. The universe suffers no shortage of crackpots, all of whom were determined to get to Winslow by noon or die trying. A couple of them had to be doing 90…in a sleet storm. What was truly boggling is that we only saw one car in the ditch, with no evidence that it had rolled or struck anything else.

Fifteen miles past Winslow the sun came out. By the time we got to Flagstaff it was 4 PM and the roads were dry. We spent the night at a Quality Inn that was just a notch and a half shy of false advertising. The rooms didn't even have fire sprinklers, and the outside stairways to the second floor were falling apart and roped off with yellow "Police Line" tape.

The next morning it was sunny, and four degrees above zero, mostly par for Flagstaff in mid-December. We hung out in Flagstaff until the Sun had had some time to work on the road ice. But once we blasted south on I-17, the sky was clear and the pavement almost entirely dry. We got down the Mogollon Rim with knuckles no whiter than usual, and rolled into our new driveway at 2:30 PM.

Colorado wasn't quite done with us. We emptied the car under cold (by Phoenix standards) but clear skies, and after an excellent meat lovers' pizza at Humble Pie, we mostly sat around reading trashy novels and trying to make our hair lie flat again after a long day of dancing with freezing storm cells. I dipped into Monster Hunter Nemesis, trying to dope out what it is that makes Larry Correia's adventures so damned good. In short (for this volume at least): Monsters, guns, endless action, more guns, and, well, Frankenstein as a sort of paranormal Man in Black. I powerfully recommend the Monster Hunter International series, with one caveat: Start at the beginning. There are running jokes, background character arcs, and much else that will leave you scratching your head unless you start with Book 1 and go from there.

Come Monday morning, the Arizona Sun was gone, and it was once more cold and raining. It rained off and on most of the day. This morning, it was 30 degrees with a frost on everything exposed to the sky. Like I said, Colorado didn't want to let us go. Phoenix barely gets frosts in February, much less before winter actually begins. We didn't mind; frost kills scorpions, and the fewer scorpions around here, the happier I'll be. Besides, if Global Cooling ever becomes a Real Thing, I'd rather be here than Up Nawth, staring down blizzards every weekend and monitoring glaciertracker.com with a nervous eye. My hometown was once under a mile of ice, and whereas I often think it's only what they deserve, I'd just as soon not have Robert Frost's (!) marvelous little poem come true. (My long-term research suggests that hate trumps desire.)

We're doing errands today, and generally vamping until tomorrow morning, when The Big Truck O' Stuff shows up and things get aerobic again. We don't yet have Internet at the house and are waiting for Cox Cable to dig a new trench from the node in the alley to the house. So again, what you see here has been uploaded from a coffee shop or restaurant, which we at best will visit once a day. I'll be a little scarce until Cox builds our own personal Information Superhighway. Then again, it's not like we won't have enough to keep us busy between now and then, whenever "then" happens to be.

There's much to write; in fact, not writing at length for over a month has left me very antsy. It's almost a physical need, and right now it's not being met.

I'll keep you posted as best I can. In the meantime, I gotta go throw a couple of old bedsheets over my oranges, lemons, and limes. The world may be warming somewhere. It's sure as hell not warming here.

Dec. 3rd, 2015

Seeing (Or Not Seeing) Spots

Above is the image of the Sun's disk posted today on SpaceWeather.com. The sunspot number is 26. Here's an experiment you can do yourself: Save the image off the page to disk, bring it up in an image browser, and zoom out until it's about the size of (...a silver dollar? Nobody knows what those are anymore...) a spray can lid, or something else measuring two inches or under.

Now, how many sunspots can you see?

Imagine yourself an astronomer in 1700, using a telescope made with skills and understanding of optics available at the time, to project the Sun onto a card or a wall. How many sunspots would you see?

Be honest: Zip. Zero. None.

This is the problem we have comparing solar activity today with solar activity 200 or 250 years ago: People then did not have the instruments we have today, so the counts really don't compare. Some efforts have been made to address this, but it's really an unsolvable problem if we want accurate comparisons of sunspots in 1700 to sunspots today.

My point, which is hardly original with me, is that we see and count spots today that could not have been seen in 1700. So we may already be sliding into a Maunder-class solar minimum. If solar cycle 25 (roughly 2019-2030) is as weak as they're predicting, it may exhibit few if any sunspots that astronomers in 1700 would have seen.

Nobody knows what this means. The Sun has been slowly going to sleep since its Grand Maximum in 1958 during cycle 19. I'm not going to claim that solar activity is the sole governor of climate, but it's a major contributor. (And yes, you hotheads, I freely admit that CO2 does contribute to global warming. We're still arguing about how much. Remember that you may not use the word "denier" in my comments.) My point is that most of us will live long enough to see whether sunspot counts are in any way a proxy for global temperature.

My blood oxygen issue is the major reason we're moving to Phoenix. It's by no means the only one.

Nov. 30th, 2015

Samples from the Box of No Return

Box of No Return - 500 Wide.jpg

I'm packing my office closet, and realized that The Box of No Return was overflowing. So in order to exercise my tesselation superpower on it, I had to upend it on my office floor and repack it from scratch.

I hadn't done that in a very long time.

You may have a Box of No Return. It's downstairs from the Midwestern Junk Drawer, hidden behind the Jar of Loose Change. It's for stuff you know damned well you'll never use again, but simply can't bring yourself to throw away. A lot of it may be mementos. Some of it is just cool. Most of it could be dumped if you were a braver (and less sentimental) man than I.

I took some representative samples and laid them out rectilinearly on the carpet for a quick photo. Behold my 1970s Xerox photo ID, 3,000 yen of Japanese folding money, a Wizard of Speed and Time button, a tooth from a cow--and a couple of dead crowns of my very own. Name badges from obsolete callsigns, Comdex buttons, a 2708 EPROM without the quartz plate over the chip, a packet of real gold leaf, a sealing wax candle from my early correspondence with Carol, ROTC insignia, and two of the weird little HP thingamabobs that I still haven't identified. (Scroll down to the February 9 entry.) There's a shell case from the 21-gun salute the VFW fired at my father's funeral in 1978, Carol's GT membership badge (mine has been lost) and lots of keys for locks long forgotten. (I did find the keys for my Kennedy toolchest in the garage, so I guess it's The Box That Asymptotically Converges on No Return.) There's a Space Shuttle rubber stamp and my Iguanacon badge, to stand in for the 20-odd con badges in the box. The red cylinder is a medium-format film can, into which the Fox Patrol crammed a reasonable first aid kit in 1965, and won the prize for best first aid kit.

I tossed a couple of things, like my SFWA membership badge. SFWA wanted to get rid of me for years for not publishing often enough; I saved them the trouble. Rot in irrelevancy, you dorks; I'm an indie now, and making significant money. Some promo buttons were for products I couldn't even recall, and they went in the cause of making room. But most of it will go back in the (small) box, and it will all fit, with room to spare for artifacts not yet imagined, much less acquired.

If you have a Box of No Return, dump it out on the floor every few years. (I haven't been through mine since the mid-90s.) You may be surprised what's in there. I was.

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Nov. 24th, 2015

Tripwander

Before we left our Phoenix house in September, we arranged for a great deal of work to be done, and spent these past ten days down there making sure it all got done. And it did. Paint throughout, cabinet work, drywall work, and a new air conditioner in the single-bay garage (which will be my mad scientist's workshop until I build a better one) among many other, smaller things. While we were there we had all the trees on the property trimmed to civilized proportions, had the AC vents cleaned, and had an interesting business called Seal Out Scorpions come out and, well, seal out scorpions by filling cracks and running matte-finish transparent silicone around the edges of all the wall plates. Those guys are into scorpions on a total lifestyle basis, and I learned a great deal about the little bastards just listening to scorpion guru Mike Golleher walk us through the seal-out process. They glow under UV, but I'm sure most of you knew that. (Didn't you?)

Tourist shops around here sell lollipops with real scorpions in them. You probably didn't know that.

The real mission was to make sure the house was ready to receive the Big Truck of Stuff, which is scheduled to arrive there on or about December 15. So we vacuumed and mopped and stacked spare floor tiles in the slump-block shed, collapsing into bed a little after nine every night. Oh, in truth we collapsed after spending half an hour in our hot tub, which made the collapsing all the more pleasant...especially on the night we knew Chicago was getting 16 inches of snow. I drew the outlines of my several workbenches in blue painter's tape on the floor of the small garage. We figured out how to use the washer and dryer. We did not figure out--entirely--how to use the Nest thermostats, but they're impressive in one slightly unnerving way: When you walk past one, even a couple of feet away, it wakes up the display. When this happened at 6 AM in a dark house, I jumped.

Workshop Taped.jpg

As aerobic as the trip was, we lucked out in a major way not once but twice. I had selected Samsung's Galaxy Note 4 as the successor to our increasingly cranky 2011-era Droid X2 phones some time back, but by the time I did, the inferior Note 5 was out and carrier shops around here no longer sold Note 4s. While shopping the Scottsdale Costco, I spotted a Note 4 on display at the smartphone kiosk. Assuming it was just display leftovers, I asked one of the kiosk guys if they still sold Note 4s. He looked up inventory, and sure enough, there were six of them on the shelves. Sold! said Jeff. We walked out with what amounted to a pair of unlocked phones on the Verizon network, which I've seen named as having the best coverage in the Phoenix metro area. At any time we can pay off the balance on the phones and take them elsewhere. I'm not used to that kind of deal in the smartphone world; perhaps the universe is now unfolding as it should.

The display is gorgeous, and although the upgrade to Lollipop (no scorpions!) ate up a spectacular amount of data, we're very pleased with the phones. I'll have more to say about them here once I've had a little more spare time to poke at them. Such time has been scarce; patience, patience.

Our second bit of luck was even stranger. Carol was going to supper with her friend Jan, and on the way to their favorite Paradise Bakery, they passed Oasis Waterbeds up near Scottsdale Road and Mayo Boulevard. Out of the corner of her eye Carol saw what looked disturbingly like a "Going Out of Business" sign in the front window.

Whoops. We shopped there in August, and had decided to order a waterbed as soon as we got down there for the winter. Carol and Jan took a quick detour and confirmed that the store was half-empty, with inventory going fast. Carol cranked up her Note 4, buzzed me, and told me to get my hindquarters up there Right Damned Now.

A bit of backstory: Carol and I had a waterbed all the 13 years and change we lived in Scottsdale, and when we sold the house, the buyer asked if we'd sell him the bed. We decided to try the new Sleep Number technology when we got up to Colorado, and have been using that ever since. Sleep Number works well, but on balance, we both prefer the old waterbed. With growing alarm, we realized that there were only a handful of beds left in stock, and just a couple in Cal King. Had we waited until mid-December, there might have been none at all. So we bought one on the spot, for delivery December 17.

Crawling Eye Coffee Cup.jpg

Getting the rest of our Colorado house into boxes by December 9 is going to take everything we've got, so I expect to be scarce here, as much as there is to say. In closing, I must show you the Einstein Brothers coffee cup I got the morning we had breakfast there, at 64th and Greenway. Evidently Einstein's has signed The Crawling Eye to be their holiday mascot for 2015. This would be a problem, if anybody but me remembered The Crawling Eye. (Hint: It was Forrest Tucker's big film debut. Then again, since nobody but me probably remembers Forrest Tucker, that won't help much.)

Nov. 11th, 2015

Kick Ass. Just Don't Miss.

FWD dog tags - 500 wide.jpg

I haven't posted much lately. Hey, how many more times do you want to hear "I threw another metric shitload of stuff into boxes"? That's been my life, more or less, for several weeks.

Well, today, I was packing books and other things in my office into boxes (yet again) and happened upon the little box of things that came to me from my father: his gas company tie tack, a Lane Tech prom favor, his Holy Name Society lapel pin, one of my grandfather's medals from WWI, his WWII service medal, his Ruptured Duck, his corporal's stripes, and finally--by then I had to reach for a Kleenex--his WWII dog tags.

My father signed up for the Army the day after Pearl Harbor. He was 19. He wanted to be in the infantry, but he had a crooked leg and a limp and didn't qualify. The Army told him to finish his freshman year of college at Northwestern, and told him there'd be a spot at radio operator school waiting for him in June. There was some grumbling, especially since he hated the accounting curriculum his father had browbeaten him into taking, but so it was. That June he went to Scott Field in southern Illinois, and became one helluva radio operator. He was in the AACS, and could copy Morse in his head at 30+ WPM and hammer it out on a beat-up Olivetti mill all night long. He had a job and threw himself into it with everything he had--it was his way--but what he really wanted to do was shoot Germans.

This always puzzled me, and it had nothing to do with my ancestry--or his. It took me decades to figure it out, and I had to dig for clues in a lot of odd places. He told a lot of stories, and I heard a few more from my mother and Aunt Kathleen, his sister. Once I was in my forties and had put a little distance between myself and my father's long, agonizing death, I could deal with the troubling reality: My father was a wiseass, a snot, a fighter, a dare-taker. He was suspended several times from high school for fighting (and once beat the crap out of a much taller kid after the kid had stabbed him in the stomach in wood shop) and took a fifth year to finish. Limp or no limp, he had at age 45 broken up a fight in Edison Park single-handed, while my little sister watched in astonishment. He was literally throwing teenaged boys in every direction until they quit beating on a smaller boy at the bottom of the pile. Limp or no limp, he dove into deep water once and hauled a drowning man back to shore under one arm. (He was all muscle, and swam like a shark.) I used to think of him as brave, but no: He was fearless, and that is not the same thing.

To be brave is to do what you know you have to do in spite of your fear. To be fearless is to just wade in and kick ass, damn the consequences. There were consequences, like six stitches in his stomach and being held back a year in school. I hate to think what might have happened if he had made the infantry. I might have ended up being some other man's son.

He knew this, of course, and as I grew into my teens I think he was trying to guide me away from fearlessness and toward bravery, not that I had ever shown the least measure of fearlessness. (One of his weirdest failings as a parent was this unshakable assumption that I would grow up to be exactly like him.) He had a saying for it: "Kick ass. Just don't miss." The lesson was not to let fear paralyze you, but instead let it calibrate you. Fear can turn down the volume on your enthusiasm and force you to take stock of your resources and your limitations. I got that, and have done as well as I have by balancing enthusiasm with discernment. Only one other piece of advice from my father ("If you're lucky and smart you'll marry your best friend") has ever served me better.

As I've mentioned here a number of times, our house is positioned on the slopes of Cheyenne Mountain such that we can hear the bugle calls (and cannon!) from Fort Carson, two miles downslope. We hear taps most nights, and I realize (now that most of the house is at last in boxes) that I won't be hearing it a great many more times, and almost certainly not again on Veterans' Day. Tonight I will go out on the deck again and salute both the brave and the fearless, my father and countless others who have kicked ass in the service of their countries. Some missed, many didn't, and the lucky ones came home to tell their stories and raise their (sometimes peculiar) sons.

I am by no means fearless, and I sincerely hope that I never have to be truly brave. However, if I ever have to kick ass, I will. And thanks to a man who knew the difference between bravery and fearlessness, when that time comes, I will not miss.

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Nov. 2nd, 2015

Halloween and Entropy

So another Halloween is now history. It was an absolutely gorgeous Saturday in Colorado Springs, sunny and in the low 70s all afternoon and early evening. I kept a mental tally of how many groups of kids came to the door. Care to guess?

Nine.

Ahh, well. Nothing new there. Like entropy, Halloween is not what it used to be, and knowing what we now know about sugar, that may be for the best.

You don't buy nine candy bars at a time, so Carol and I ate far too much chocolate for dessert this evening--and not great chocolate either. It was the Great Big Bag of Mega-Mass-Produced Miniature Candy Bars 'n Things. I picked the bag clean of Rolos and Nestle's Crunch. Carol grabbed the Reese's peanut butter cups. Tomorrow the rest of the bag goes to the big candy bowl over at Canine Solutions. Every year it's more or less the same: I remember how much I like Rolos, I eat a few too many of them, and then I won't have them again until next Halloween.

Man, that's a familiar routine.

This year's Halloween brought to mind one of my favorite years: 1964. I was 12. It was the last full year before puberty's hormone storms began washing over my gunwales, though I could already hear its distant thunder. I had discovered electronics--and the Beatles. My father was healthy. We had a summer place, on a lake. Better still, Halloween was on a Saturday...and it was warm! I could run around as a Barbary pirate without three sweaters under my costume.

I got together with a couple of my friends and we ranged all over the neighborhood, going blocks and blocks afield, and I ended up with a pretty fat bag of sugar. Diversity was the order of the day. There were lots more species of candy in the Halloween ecosphere back in '64. Most of it was good. Some items I liked more than others. A few I wouldn't touch, like the almost inexplicable Chicken Bones. I would have traded them to my friends for Smarties (which, alas, now give me headaches) except that they didn't want them either. Ditto Mary Janes--wouldn't touch 'em, though I remember getting a Turkish Taffy from my friend Art as swap for a handful. Individually wrapped Charms were about, if not common, though more common than the peculiar but compelling Choward's Violets. And Snaps! Loved those, more for the not-quite-spicy coating than for the underlying licorice. The small red Snaps boxes all had "2c" printed in very big letters. Small boxes of Atomic Fireballs and Good'n'Plenty could be had here and there. I remember one house handing out very stale conversation hearts, from the previous February or possibly earlier. There used to be individually wrapped Chuckles, which I haven't seen in a lot of years, as well as short rolls of Necco Wafers. I broke a tooth on a Necco wafer when I was in high school, and haven't done them much since.

Every so often somebody would be passing out pennies. Meh--I got whole dimes rescuing returnable soda bottles tossed into empty lots. There was a house down on Hortense that was giving out flyers about Lutheranism along with Tootsie Pops. The nuns at our school were very hard on Luther, who was painted as the chief Protestant supervillain, though he got off easy compared to Arius, who according to Catholic legend was eaten alive by worms. And hey, nobody hands out fliers about Arianism, with or without Tootsie Pops.

I think you get the idea. We didn't throw rolls of toilet paper into trees or anything like that, because it was a bad use of our time. We were in it for the sugar, and we all knew that Halloween on a Saturday was something we would not see again for seven years, and with summery weather, well, in Chicago probably never.

My sugar buzz is now almost gone, and it's pretty much time to go to bed. I don't eat a lot of sugar, and you've all seen my rants about how sugar is making us all fat. It's not me being inconsistent. It's about the notion of celebration, and how if we celebrate something for too long, that which we celebrate becomes ordinary, and loses its magic. If I ate Rolos all the time I'd get tired of them, and fat to boot. So I eat them once a year. Halloween is as good a time as any, and allows me to remember the buzz of being not-quite-grown at a time when kids could tear around for an afternoon without adult supervision, and no one would freak out. Like warm Halloweens on Chicago Saturdays, such will not be seen again for a long time, if ever.

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Oct. 30th, 2015

Daywander

Dead Rat and Squid - 500 Wide.jpg

We had another estimator come out today for the move. After she was gone, once again Carol and I collapsed on the couch and didn't say much for awhile. The reason is interesting: After working on this move for as long as we have (and with about 150 boxes stacked up to prove it) we get worn out thinking about how much we still have to do. We're going to drive down to Phoenix in November with a small U-Haul trailer and no dogs, to make sure all the work on the new house was completed and done correctly. Then we fly back and kick into high gear on packing in preparation for a December move.

A fair amount of stuff will remain in this house so that we can come back in the spring to finish repairs and stage it for sale. That will take a couple of months, and we'll have to have the ordinary machineries of life available while we work: clothes, a bed, a kitchen table, a coffee maker, a couch, kitchen implements, etc. Resistors and capacitors, not so much. So we'll need to have a second (much smaller) truck bring down what's left when the house goes on the market.

Among (many) other things, we packed the stuffed animals today. Some people have knicknacks (and we have our share) but a lot of the odd items on our shelves are stuffed animals. Not all are animals; I have a stuffed Space Shuttle, created by my very brilliant seamstress sister Gretchen Duntemann Roper. Decades ago, in the Age of APAs (google it; blogging didn't come out of nowhere) I wrote an APA called "A Dead Rat and a String to Swing It On." So she made me a dead rat, complete with a string to swing it on. (Above.) Nearby was the closest thing to an action figure that I own: a giant squid with posable (is that the word?) tentacles. I've never actually handled a dead squid and it's not on my bucket list, exactly, but I'm wondering how well one would hang together if swung in a circle by one of its long feelers. (I suppose it depends on how long it had been dead.) However, someday, perhaps in some saga I have not yet imagined writing, somebody will grab a giant squid by a tentacle and swing it in a brawl. The image smells a little like a Stypek story back in his ancestral Realm of Tryngg, but no promises.

A book came to hand on its way to a box today that I think I've mentioned before: Conjuror's Journal by Frances L. Shine. (Dodd-Mead, 1978.) I see that numerous hardcovers are available on Amazon for 10c plus shipping. Read the first review of the book, which is mine. If you want a quick, cheap read that will, at the end, both bring tears to your eyes and make you want to stand up and cheer, this is it.

Tomorrow is Halloween, and we're having our first and last Halloween nerd party here at Phage House in Colorado Springs. I'm of way more than two minds about leaving here, but the little box I just clipped to my finger says my blood oxygen is at 88%. Better than nothing...but it's not enough. And so the move goes on.

Oct. 28th, 2015

Stay Tuned...

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Oct. 21st, 2015

Odd Lots

  • It's Back to the Future Day, and apart from antigravity, well, Marty McFly's 2015 looks more or less like the one we live in, only with better food and inifinitely worse partisan tribalism. If predicting 19 Jaws sequels is the second-worst worst flub the series made, well, I'm good with that.
  • October 21 is also the day that the Northrop YB-49 flying wing bomber made its debut flight, in 1947. (Thanks to Charlie Martin for the reminder.) The YB-49 is my second-favorite undeployed bomber prototype, after the stunning XB-70 Valkyrie.
  • Here's a (very) long and detailed essay by a liberal Democrat explaining why he went from being a climate alarmist to a global warming skeptic. Loads of charts and links. I don't agree with him 100%, but he makes a very sane and mostly politics-free case for caution in pushing "decarbonization." (Thanks to Charlie Martin for the link.)
  • Far from melting, Greenland is breaking all records for ice growth, having gained 150 billion tons of snow and ice in the last six weeks.
  • Here are 18 useful resources for journalistic fact-checking. Pity that MSM journalists are unwilling to do that sort of thing anymore. (Thanks to Esther Schindler for the link.)
  • The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has ruled that scanning books is legal. The court ruled against the Authors Guild in their 2005 class-action suit against Google. The Guild intends to appeal to the Supreme Court. If the Supremes take the case, interesting things could happen. If they don't, the case is over.
  • The secret history of the Myers-Briggs personality test. I am of three minds about Myers-Briggs. No make that nine. Oh, hell: seventeen.
  • This is probably the best discussion I've seen (and certainly the longest) on how and why SFF fandom is actively destroying itself at the same time it's dying of old age. Read The Whole Thing. Part I. Part II. Part III. (And thanks to Sarah Hoyt for the link.)
  • Also from Sarah: Backyard atomic gardens of the 1950s and very early 1960s. I love the word "atomic."
  • I love it so much that, having recently bought a midcentury home, I may subscribe to Atomic Ranch Magazine. I've begun looking for a Bohr atom model to put on our mantelpiece.
  • From the Elementary Trivia Department: The only way to make pink-tinted glass is to add erbium oxide to it.
  • Thunderbird is getting on my bad side. It regularly pops up a box claiming that it doesn't have enough disk space to download new messages. My SSD on C: has 83 GB free. My conventional hard drive on D: has 536 GB free. Online reports suggest that Thurderbird has a 2 GB size limit on mail folders. Still researching the issue, but I smell a long integer overflow somewhere.
  • From Rory Modena: A talented writer explains the history of the Star Wars movies, and rewrites some of the clumsier plot elements right before our eyes. A lot of what bothered him blew right past me; I knew it was a pulp film and was in it for the starships and the robots.
  • From Esther Schindler: A Mexican church long sunk at the bottom of a reservoir is emerging from the water due to drought. (This isn't a rare occurrance; it happened last in 2002.) I kept hearing Debussy's spooky tone-poem "The Engulfed Cathedral" while reading the article.
  • McDonald's recently went to a breakfast-all-day menu, to my delight. I'm very fond of their Sausage McMuffin with Egg, which is of modest size and makes a great snack anytime. Alas, adding all the new line items to the menu has caused chaos in some smaller restaurants, and franchise owners are having second thoughts. I doubt McD is facing "imminent collapse" but I'm now wondering how long the new menu will last.

Oct. 17th, 2015

Tessellating the Big Move

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Packing continues apace. I consistently get 5-8 boxes packed every day, and over time it adds up. I have well over 100 piled around the house by now. A lot of the most difficult stuff has been done, including almost everything in my biggish workshop. Carol and I hoarded cardboard boxes for most of a year before the move, and in fact before we began looking for a place in Arizona. We knew we would have to pack the garage before we emptied it in preparation for replacing the concrete slab. The garage contains a lot of high-density items, most of them metal. Smaller boxes are good for that. Once we decided that the whole house had to be packed, small boxes became even more useful, for tools and Meccano parts and panel meters and much else from my twelve feet of head-high shelves.

We've done this before, but we're doing it more carefully this time. I've mentioned the core reason: We're going from 4400 square feet to 3000 square feet. During the process I've been passing judgment on things to be packed, asking myself if this item or that item really needs to follow us to Arizona. Such decision-making is difficult when you have to pile everything in the house into boxes over a single long weekend because a new job awaits you somewhere on the other side of the country. In the past, well, we just piled.

There's another reason to be careful: Movers emptying a moving van have to put boxes somewhere. Empty bookshelves take up as much space as full bookshelves, and 2200 books take up a lot of space, period. If we intend to be able to move around in the new house once everything gets down there, we need to put as much stuff into as few boxes as possible.

In pursuing that goal, I realized I have a personal super-power: tessellation. I can look at a pile of things beside an empty box, and fairly quickly fill the box so that little dead space remains. (See the photo above.) Mass-market paperbacks are no big challenge, because they're all nearly the same size and differ mostly in thickness. Hardcovers and trades are trickier. Reference books are all over the map, size-wise, and are the trickiest of all. Spools of wire are tricky too, because if you're clever you can nest them. I got an amazing amount of wire into a single Borders book box. (I still have a fair number of those from our move 12 years ago.) Tessellating test equipment proved diabolical, but I got a lot more into fewer boxes than I ever have in the past. I got my entire GRC-109 Special Forces radio set into a single 12" cube, though it's so heavy I fear for the box's life. (The radio units themselves are essentially armored and not especially vulnerable to weak forces like gravity.)

Tagged Boxes - 500 Wide.jpg

I have a labeling system to tell the movers what room to put each box in: I defined a 3-character code for each room in the house (plus the two garages and the shed) and then printed several sheets of Avery 5263 10-up labels for each code. I also have Visio documents for each code that place the code on a single sheet of paper as large as will fit. (The tags above indicate that the boxes are to be stacked in my office.) On moving day we'll tape those sheets to the entrances of each room in the house so that the movers know which code has been assigned to which room.

So box by box, we crawl ever-closer to moving day. Each time we do this, we tempt the Fates by saying we hope never to do it again. This time I'll play reverse psychology on the Fates by saying, Yo! Fates! Tessellation Man is ready for whatever you can throw at him!

I wonder if they're even listening.

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