altivo: Running Clydesdale (running clyde)
A productive weekend, more or less, but not nearly enough done.

We went up to Williams Bay, Wisconsin with friend Carol to hear the opening performance of the season by the Lake Geneva Symphony. There were only two pieces on the program.

The first was Ravel's Piano Concerto in G Major, new to all three of us and (I gather) not often performed. The piece clearly reflects the result of an American visit by the French composer, who used jazz styling and motifs throughout. The timing and nuance are almost Gershwin-like, and reminded all of us of American in Paris and Rhapsody in Blue though there were no obvious quotes from either of Gershwin's masterpieces. Pianist Krassimira Jordan was remarkable, virtuoso even beyond what I expected, and that is certainly needed for this concerto. The style is intricate rather than bombastic, and requires passages where each hand plays in a different key or time signature, as well as a lot of cross-hand work. The overall result was very fine and we enjoyed it greatly.

The second selection was Tchaikovksy Symphony No. 4 in F minor, which was all the better for Conductor and Musical Director David Anderson's advance explanation of major themes and elements of the work. The LGSO has improved a great deal (not that it was bad to begin with) under Anderson's direction, and the performance came across very well. The French horns play a major role in this symphony, and they sounded like the noted horn section of the Chicago Symphony this time.

A predicted heavy frost skipped over our small garden, so we still have green tomatoes that "might" ripen before the vines are killed, but hope is diminishing. The plants are heavily laden, but almost nothing has turned ripe yet. The pumpkins I did NOT plant have produced six usable pumpkins so far after sprouting from seeds that apparently made it through last winter in the compost bin. There are many more immature fruits on the ground, but I'm pretty sure the frost is going to cut them off soon. These are the small and heavy pumpkins that can be used for pies and soup, not the large thin-shelled jack-o-lantern variety. We will put them to good use.

On Sunday I also baked a peach pie, bought groceries, tried to photograph the fall colors though it wasn't really sunny enough, and made a pot of cholent. We haven't had cholent for a couple of years and the cooler weather inspired me to put it together. It's a traditional Jewish stew, created to cook slowly overnight from Friday to Saturday so it would provide a hot meal on the sabbath without requiring anyone to cook or light a fire. The principal ingredients of my Hungarian version include small lima beans, tomatoes, onion, garlic, carrots, turnips or rutabaga, smoked sausage (I use a turkey sausage,) and both hot and sweet Hungarian paprika. I usually bake this in a closed cast iron pot at 250°F for about 8 hours, but this time I opted for a slow cooker set to high temperature. A little red wine added near the end of cooking enriches the blend and enhances the aromas. The smell becomes enticing after about four hours and makes you drool after the sixth. As usual, it turned out well, since it is almost foolproof and requires little attention once assembled.
altivo: Geekish ham radio pony (radio)
It may seem to most of you that cell phones and the internet have taken the appeal out of amateur radio, but I would disagree. For one thing, internet usage is controlled by the corporate world, which means everything is profit based, advertising stuffed, and overpriced. For another thing, those of us who live in rural areas continue to be severely underserved when it comes to internet bandwidth. Unlike European countries, where populations are densely packed and governments make an effort to insure equal access to all their citizens, the US has left the internet in the hands of telephone and cable companies who prefer to cherry pick service areas that promise the highest profit for the least investment in infrastructure.

Amateur radio continues to offer communication capabilities to those of us in rural areas, where cell phones are often unreliable and DSL or cable internet is simply not available.

So here's my public service announcement to my furry friends:

1) It is easier than ever to get an amateur radio license in the US. You don't have to learn morse code any more. The Technician examination requires only a brief period of preparation to pass, and covers just a few essentials of electronics and radio, along with the regulatory aspects of amateur radio itself.

2) The opportunities for a computer oriented ham to explore new ideas and technology that join the personal computer with the radio spectrum are nearly unlimited. Functionalities that you probably identify with cell phones and broadband internet are often available through amateur radio without the commercial trimming (advertising, tracking, spyware, etc.)

3) Furries have their own subset of amateur radio activities. Fox hunts have been popular at conventions. We have our own ham radio club (thanks to Yappy Fox, K9YAP,) Furryhams ( and thanks to Tycho Aussie, NE8K, our own weekly chat net on the Echolink network. (Tuesdays 9 PM EDT/Wednesdays 0100Z on the *DODROPIN* conference channel.)

Even the equipment needs are minimal. I linked to the Furry chat this week using just my cell phone and a bluetooth headset. The headset made it more convenient, but the cell phone alone was adequate. A license is required, however. The license is free, but there is usually a nominal charge for taking the exam.

For those of you who will be attending Midwest Fur Fest this year, I understand there will be a ham radio panel where you can learn more. Probably there will be demonstrations and a fox hunt, and I hear that you will even be able to take the exam if you wish.

Amateur radio is a social opportunity for the technically inclined. I think it's well suited to a lot of furs, and is worth a closer look.

("Best wishes from Altivo K9NZI")
altivo: Running Clydesdale (running clyde)
Note to myself perhaps more than anything.

General chuntering about theatre organ sounds )
altivo: 'Tivo as a plush toy (Miktar's plushie)
Time again for the annual Day at Peterson Farm, in which we demonstrate spinning, weaving, and related crafts on a 19th century farmstead over near McCullom Lake. Some of you will remember my past remards on this event. It is normally unpleasantly warm and humid, but mostly fun and filled with people who have never really thought about where clothing comes from or what the steps might be in producing it.

Attendance was lighter than in past years, perhaps due to the morning weather which included dense fog and dripping trees. By 11 am or so, though, the sun was out and the temperatures were fairly mild. Spinners, weavers, and quilters were all lined up in the shade of some ancient oaks and near an equally ancient barn with two wooden silos that are in amazingly good condition considering their age. I suspect that the trees are younger than the barn, in fact. The area they occupy was probably a cow pasture when the barn was built.

No really ignorant questions this year. A few teenagers demonstrated their lack of awareness of the processes involved in making fabric for clothing, but the adults (both men and women) actually seemed to know what it was all about and were asking much more detailed in thoughtful questions about wool and other fibers, the operation of the spinning wheels and looms, and even the dyeing processes.

The sponsoring historical society provides us with a free lunch, and there were vendors on hand with ice cream and other additional treats. Gary came along this year, and spent considerable time chatting with exhibitors and providing some music with his concertinas.

Overall, quite a pleasant and tiring day. Expect to sleep well tonight.
altivo: Clydesdale Pegasus (pegasus)
We first met in person during June of 1982 and have been together ever since then.

Today we went to Unity Spiritual Center in Woodstock with our papers and Rev. Tom Wendt (Rev Tom to his friends and congregation) helped us formalize and legalize our relationship with a brief reading of I Corinthians 13:4-13 and this promise as we exchanged rings:

"I promise to continue to love and cherish you in sickness and in health, and in joy and in challenge. I promise to continue to share gardening and music, and cooking and friends, and our dogs and horses in joy and in love."

Rev Tom then pronounced us "husbands for life."

altivo: 'Tivo as a plush toy (Miktar's plushie)
Yeah, it's been a while since I've posted here. This is going to get longish, I suspect, so...

Recursive fandoms in a dream state )

And that's why I suddenly feel ancient, like that last passenger pigeon trapped in her octagonal cage, waiting for the return of her flock that never comes while children fling bits of gravel at her to make her move around and be less "boring."
altivo: Rearing Clydesdale (angry rearing)

Written more than two centuries ago, these words or their authors could never have imagined the internet, the telephone network, or the image communication formats we have available to us today. However, I am entirely certain that these writers would have included such information explicitly could they have known of it.

Tell the government, Congress, the NSA, and the Obama administration that enough is enough. The Patriot Act is an unconscionable violation of the 4th amendment to the US Constitution, and it always has been such. Now that we know of some of the abuses being perpetrated under cover of that heinous and illegitimate law, it is time for us to stop them. Click on the image above for more information about what you can do.
altivo: Clydesdale Pegasus (pegasus)
Today is the 31st anniversary of Gary's and my first date. Earlier this year, I had hopes that the useless Illinois legislature would pass a gay marriage bill in time for us to finally make it official today, but no, of course it's still stalled. Passed the Senate, but the House continues to dodge the vote. Perhaps Wednesday's Supreme Court decision will finally put a fire under their lazy butts but I doubt it.

Anyway, Gary gave me tigers. Because, y'know, we had lions and bears, but not lions, tigers, and bears, (Oh my!) Turned out he wasn't quite right, because the tiniest tiger in the photo was already here but he hadn't noticed it. The large Wild Republic Cuddlekins tiger and the medium Aurora tiger on the left arrived today.

I know a fair amount of music from the 30s and 40s that I play on piano and/or organ, but this should perhaps inspire me to learn the Tiger Rag (not easy, but I can do it if I work hard.)

Tiger Rag
altivo: Running Clydesdale (running clyde)
Way too many things and stuff, actually. Both in terms of disruptive events and physical items to be sorted and, in at least some cases, eliminated. The house and garage are packed full, in part due to the passing of Gary's mom and sister-in-law at the end of last year. The calendar is full too, mostly with things I didn't choose to put there but alas, most of them require action on my part.

Long post under cut )

And that's where I've been. Still ticking, just way too busy.
altivo: Clydesdale Pegasus (pegasus)
Some of you long time followers may recall The Clydesdale Librarian, my furry review site. It was launched on the beta Google sites, and collapsed when Google changed the code and structures so much that I couldn't keep up with the necessary revisions. Of course, it was beta after all, so what could I expect? Still, it was discouraging enough that I let the site languish for several years.

In the last couple of weeks, I've been receiving notices that Posterous, a blogging and image sharing site, is going away. I had an account with Posterous, but only used it to follow others. Nonetheless, they keep advising me that Posterous will be shut down (as of today in fact) and I should back up my content and move it elsewhere. I requested the backup file of all three of my posts, which has never arrived.

Anyway, Wordpress was suggested as one of the platforms to which Posterous material could be moved. I've meant to look into Wordpress for a while, and this gave me the needed nudge. The end result is that I spent most of Sunday manually rescuing content from the Google sites edition of Clydesdale Librarian, and translating it bodily (textually?) to a new Wordpress site. I completely deleted the old Google sites pages, which means that various links in Google are now dead. We'll see how long it takes them to catch on and update to point to a non-Google site.

The new URL is and the title is Exposterous Hossification: The Clydesdale Librarian. The first new content went up this morning, a review of Howard L. Anderson's Western-style Australian adventure novel, Albert of Adelaide.
altivo: From a con badge (studious)
No, I'm not talking about pool toys here.

This week I spent $13 to buy an old Versalog slide rule off EBay. I've wanted one for years, in fact since they were actually still being made. That would be around 1969 or 1970, when I was still in college. (For any readers too young to remember what a slide rule is, it's a mechanical calculating tool that works on logarithms. The slide rule was used by engineers and scientists through much of the 19th and 20th century and many of our architectural monuments and mechanical achievements were based on slide rule estimates and calculations. This includes early space flight experiments as well as things like the Empire State building and the Golden Gate bridge. Though it looks crude in comparison to a modern digital computer, the slide rule is still a useful tool. Unfortunately they aren't made any more (other than as novelty items perhaps) and no one learns to use them.

Anyway, the Versalog I acquired still has the leather protective case with the name of a former owner inscribed under the flap. The rule was very dirty, but it cleaned up well and I realigned the scales and cursor so it is usable. Then some historic research. This rule was made in April of 1962, so it is 51 years old this month. It sold new for about $29.95, which was a lot of money back then. Versalog was the "Cadillac" of slide rules according to most of the guys in my undergraduate classes. In fact it is a very good tool, well made and precise, and built to last with very little maintenance.

After a discussion with Gary about the equivalence of that $29.95 price in modern dollars, I went to an online calculator to figure the actual inflation rate. It turns out that $30 in 1962 had the same purchasing power as $231 today. Now I understand much better why my dad was so protective of his "good" slide rule that he kept in his work brief case and wouldn't let me or my brothers touch, let alone use.

Today that $231 is enough to buy groceries for Gary and myself, plus the food for our two dogs and three horses, for about two weeks. Because the inflation calculator is based on the Consumer Product Index, I assume the $30 in 1962 would have gone about as far. A professional grade slide rule was a substantial purchase back then, much more than a pocket calculator, even a scientific one, is today. In fact, you can buy a low end tablet computer for $200 now.

I do intend to use the Versalog for radio and electronics type calculations. I'll be treating it with a great deal more respect in light of this new awareness. It is a pleasant tool to handle, with a nice heft to it. The slide and cursor operate smoothly now that it has been cleaned, It is more than sufficiently accurate for analog electronics. In fact, we used slide rules in my college physics and astronomy classes to calculate much more complex equations. I could use a calculator of course, or a computer, but I like the connection to historic principles and the awareness of mathematical concepts that a slide rule engenders. And... no batteries required. No charger, no solar panel, nothing but a steady hand and a sharp eye.
altivo: From a con badge (studious)
I keep seeing complaints from people who claim to have been "lied to" about the need for or value of higher education. They feel they've been "cheated" because they sank money and time into a degree that has "done nothing for them."

I've kept quiet about this for a long time, but I think it's time for me to set the record straight.

Yes, you can get a job without a college degree. Yes, you can get a college degree and still not find the job you want. Neither of these situations proves anything about the value of education. They depend instead on the state of the economy, trends in the career fields that can change so rapidly that skills and knowledge that were in demand two or three years earlier are no longer wanted. Betting your money on a gamble like that is risky, and the decision is yours alone.

I've said this before, and more than once: Education and Training are not the same thing.

"Training" is what we do with horses, dolphins, and dogs. They learn to perform the desired actions by rote, at a given signal or command. They may not understand the whole process, or where their part fits in, but they happily jump through a hoop or press a lever at the appropriate time, for an expected reward.

"Education" is broader, more complex, and involves among other things learning to learn. The ability to adapt to change, see the broader picture, find where the block in your hand fits into the puzzle, solve problems, and fix complicated messes. It takes longer to acquire, and you can't get it merely by sitting through some specified number of classes and passing some multiple choice examinations. Having a piece of paper that says you did that doesn't prove that you are educated, qualified, or competent at anything.

Let's consider a specific occupation, one that still seems to be pretty popular here in the US: automobile mechanic. This can be a career, and it can be well-paid. Or it can really just mean that you end up working for hourly wages changing tires and fixing flats all day. Neither of those really requires a college degree, but the difference between being the shop manager or supervisor, or the guy who troubleshoots the really difficult stuff, and the one who just keeps loosening and tightening lug bolts all day depends on personal initiative and outlook. The active interest in what you are doing, a willingness to learn new things, and an ability to make practical decisions will help you advance here. The more experience you acquire, the more you can advance. A technical or trade school can help ground you in the details, but those details change pretty quickly so what you get in school isn't going to see you through to retirement, nor will it get you promoted to general manager (let alone customer relations or some other wider responsibility.) You can't blame the school for that. The trade school can only offer you a stepping stone. It's still up to you to find somewhere to step up with it, and to keep moving.

Furthermore, if there are too many people looking for jobs as mechanics in your area, the competition for the available jobs can be rough. This is where a broader education, such as some business and marketing classes or accounting from a two year community college, can give you a way into the automobile business through a different door, such as sales, advertising, etc.

For long term flexibility and hiring appeal, though, you really need a broader picture and less tight focus. That's where the full college degree applies. No, it's not a magic pass to riches, as so many seem to expect. It's really preparation to adapt yourself to a changing world and variable job market. and once you have a position the ability to see farther ahead and behind and know what is coming next and what your options are.

The decision you make is whether you want to be a trained seal who is suddenly out of a job when the circus shuts down, or the general business manager who can move from the circus to the opera house or the movie theatre using pretty much the same set of skills and experience. An education in which you actively participate, with interest and curiosity, will prepare you to be the business manager. If you expect merely to absorb training passively, you will end up as the trained seal. The responsibility is your own.

There's an old saying: "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink." The same is true of any kind of education. The teachers and the institution can only do so much. The rest is up to you. And to keep going in any career field, you must take an active part in what you do, and look for opportunities to expand your knowledge and awareness. Only you can do that.


Mar. 3rd, 2013 08:42 am
altivo: Running Clydesdale (running clyde)
I'm not sure I can account for all of the time since the last post.

A good bit of it was consumed by just dealing with winter and work, daily routine for me without many breaks or distractions. I don't particularly enjoy that, but it's a horse thing, ya know?

Small things have happened along the way. Max (our latest rescue dog, eleven year old bearded collie) has finally figured out the dog door. He learned to go out on his own a while ago, but never would come back in unless invited or someone held the door open for him. Now he comes back in on his own most of the time. He's good about not doing anything in the house, and we worried about leaving him here for too long unable to get out. Then we worried that he'd freeze outside when he was able to go out but wouldn't come back in unaided. At least that concern is pretty much resolved.

Red, the big lab/golden mix that we rescued a couple of years ago, has developed an autoimmune problem that makes his nose blister and peel. It seems most likely to be pemphigus, which is a nuisance thing for most dogs that have it, but not life threatening. However, it could be lupus which is much more serious. Now awaiting lab results on a biopsy that is supposed to determine which it is and what treatment might be likely to help. During the biopsy they found a large tumor on his tongue and removed that too. Now he's on "soft diet" for two weeks, though his appetite is good and he doesn't appear to be in much discomfort. (Could be the pain meds he's getting, though.)

Weather has been bizarre here. Winter didn't really set in until January, which is very late for us. Fortunate in a way, since we had the two family funerals and attending excursions in November and December. And after last summer's drought, not so good, since we need rain or snow badly. The snow finally came in February, with a vengeance. about 18 inches (official at O'Hare but more like 23 inches by our measurement here) in three big snowfalls. Not done yet, either, as they are predicting another storm for Tuesday-Wednesday of this week with possibly 7 to 8 inches of accumulation. No snow days from work for me, alas. Gary's university did shut down in the last snow, but only as he was leaving for the day anyway.

Gary and his brothers put their mom's house on the market in January thinking that it would probably not attract bidders until spring. Wrong. They had three cash offers in the first week, and the third was for the full asking price. This is a tiny two bedroom brick house on a very narrow lot in Chicago, and not in a particularly trendy neighborhood either so we were surprised. Of course it means they have a big high pressured hurry to clean the house and garage out before the closing which is now only a week away. Since the whole family are "savers," the place was stuffed to the gills and going through all of it is traumatic. I know he'd like to bring a lot more back here, but even he realizes that we have space limitations. Two sewing machines, furniture for two households, and memorabilia reaching back three generations. Plus he's attending two graduate courses with the requisite work to do. I'm trying not to intervene in the triage and decision making. His brothers are picking up their share of the load, fortunately, and I feel it should be their family decision.

He keeps bringing back items that I made and gave to his mom as gifts, which is heart-breaking but sweet as well, and we'll find new homes for them if we can't use them here. Some of these things go back almost 30 years to when I first met him and his family, and I hadn't thought about them for a long time. I have two or three small boxes of similar things from my own mother and older brother, and I've never looked through them from the time the executor of my brother's estate handed them to me. Consequently, I can't complain about his stress and indecision on all this stuff. I was lucky that I didn't have such a huge bulk to sort through. The executor and my younger brother took care of that (it was in Texas.)

I still have a stack of holiday cards and notes that really deserve a reply, since we sent out nothing this year at all. I keep promising myself I'll get to them soon.

So here we are, waiting for a hint of spring. This morning's temperature of 4°F didn't help. I've been neglecting my writing and weaving for months, just doing the chores and trying to stay warm. I've done more reading, and am pushing myself to bake more bread and practice my music more. Additional posts with some of that news soon.


Jan. 18th, 2013 04:22 pm
altivo: Clydesdale Pegasus (pegasus)
Last night as I sat reading by the wood stove, I was sure I smelled a skunk. Smelling one indoors in winter had to mean it was quite close by, so I checked to make sure the dogs were in, and quickly closed their door panel for a while so they couldn't go out. Thought the smell had subsided, so I unlatched the dog door again and Red immediately ran out, letting in another strong whiff.

Fortunately he didn't find the skunk. We looked around near the house and couldn't locate it, nor did we see any tracks on the snow. (The snow on the ground is only about a half inch deep and is fairly hard and crunchy now, so no tracks isn't really proof of much.)

I forgot about it until this morning when I went out to feed horses. Didn't notice anything until I'd given the boys their beet pulp and carried the bucket with Tess' portion over to her stall in the arena. Doors of both barns are closed at night this time of year, of course, to hold in what warmth we can and keep the wind out. When I opened the door to the arena, I was nearly knocked down by the stench of skunk, a mixture of rotten onions and who knows what else. Tess whickered at me and made faces, but she was OK. I felt sorry for her having been shut in all night with that (presumably) and hurried to open both of the large sliding doors. One of those is at the north end and the other at the south, so the air started to clear right away. Fortunately, Tess didn't seem to have lost her appetite either.

It was so powerful I was afraid it would cling to my hair and clothing, but it all blew away before I got back into the house. No obvious tracks in the arena dust either, but the skunk had surely been inside there. I hope it doesn't come back. Or that it goes back to wherever it was hiding and goes back to sleep. I didn't think skunks were supposed to be out and about at this time of year.
altivo: Geekish ham radio pony (geek)
I'm fed up with the distorted and incomplete reports from the media, including many sources that ought to know better and provide all the details.

The big terrible dangerous flaw in Java that they are reporting was introduced in version 7, release 10 to be exact. It involves a totally new function call, and poses a risk only for Java run from the web using the Java plug-in (or possibly Java programs downloaded that require version 7.)

Version 7 of the Java plug-in is not present on most PCs yet. Most of us, and especially those who are not running Windows 8, probably have version 6. Scripts designed to take advantage of the flawed function do not work with version 6.

So... Disable or uninstall Java if you wish, but don't buy the pile of BS the media is trying to dump on you. It's true that Java security seems to have declined since Oracle took over, but Java 7 is not installed on "850 million PCs" as the press keeps trying to claim. In fact, I doubt that any version of Java is installed on that many machines. A quick check of about a dozen PCs running XP that I could easily reach at work and at home found version 6 with releases ranging from 24 to 30. No version 7, even on two machines with Windows 7.

The actual US-CERT alert is here. If you read it carefully, you will note near the bottom that it explicitly says that downgrading from Java 7 to Java 6 removes the vulnerability.

I believe in most cases you can find out your Java version by entering the following at a command prompt:

java -version

Note that the version appears with a "1." in front of it, so Java 6 is actually version 1.6.0_xx and Java 7 is actually version 1.7.x_xx. If you have 7, you should definitely do something about it.

Of course, caution is always in order when dealing with unfamiliar web sites or untrusted sources.
altivo: From a con badge (studious)
(As opposed to one-upsmanship, wretched excess, and destructive enhancement? Well, maybe...)

A week ago, good friend @RothRWolf and I went up to Organ Piper Pizza in Greenfield, Wisconsin, for a little entertainment and lunch. We've been there before, and will be again I'm sure. The restaurant has a Wurlitzer theatre pipe organ (enhanced with a lot of additional traps and pipe ranks) installed and a regular round of organists who perform daily. This time some questions about the mechanical controls on a theatre organ console came up, and I did my best to answer in simple terms. (Though I'm no virtuoso, I do have some playing experience and a lot of hours of disappointing practice behind me.) Concepts such as "second touch" and "reversible pistons" can be tricky to explain, even to other musicians if they don't play the keyboards or don't have exposure to the way things were done before MIDI came along.

I won't go into the history of the electro-pneumatic action or the tragedy of Robert Hope Jones, its inventor and primary promoter, here. Let's just say that the organ console is a hugely intricate device that rivals a mechanical computer, even to the point of some pretty impressive programmability and non-volatile memory.

Anyway, it's always difficult to point out the details of these functions at a live performance. For one thing, you don't have a close enough view of the performer's hands and feet, or of the controls available to him/her. Even in a venue like the Organ Piper, which is a lot more intimate than the original theatre setting of the instrument and is designed to let the audience see the pipes and mechanics at work, it would be pretty rude to stand next to the console and stare at the performer's hands or feet. I haven't seen anyone, even little kids, doing that and I'm not about to do it either. (Let alone point at things and shout out explanations while they are playing...)

Critical essay cut for brevity. Caveat lector. )

Thanks for bearing with me while I was being overbearing. I don't mean any disrespect to these performers, all of whom are great virtuosi whose abilities I can only envy and admire. I just think that there's a practical limit beyond which dramatics can overshadow the artistry of a performance.
altivo: Rearing Clydesdale (angry rearing)
Statistical Abstract of the United States, the annually-produced compendium of data about the US economy and population, is doomed.

I missed the original controversy last year when in a fit of (no doubt GOP-inspired) cost cutting, the Bureau of the Census decided to stop producing this report. The estimated savings? They cut 24 full time jobs and saved a measly three million dollars a year, effectively killing a reputable source of information relied upon by social, economic, and marketing researchers since 1878.

But wait, the annual volume will still be prepared by the private corporations ProQuest and Bernan. The Bureau of the Census will no longer even collect the data, though. ProQuest must come up with the figures on its own. I don't know about you, but I trust a private capitalist corporation to do this impartially about as much as I could single-handedly throw the entire set of volumes from 1878 to 2012 across the street. This is like appointing Fox News to publish the Federal Register (and maybe that will be next.)

The 2012 volume, last to be printed and distributed by the Government Printing Office, cost $36 in paperback or $41 in hardcover. So what is ProQuest's price for the 2013 volume? It just arrived on my desk with an invoice for $180. If the data were still being generated by the federal government and paid for by taxpayers, this would be unconscionable. ProQuest can no doubt justify the price based on the need to collect the data itself, but I question the methodology and do not trust the impartiality of the result.

A lot of what can be derived from the Statistical Abstract is pretty embarrassing to the United States, when you come right down to it. Levels of poverty, education, health care etc. are far worse than we are often led to believe. Availability of high technology such as broadband internet, digital television, or cell phone services is still concentrated in the densely populated areas and often completely lacking in rural communities. The Bureau of the Census has done an admirable (if politically unpopular) job of detailing and reporting these facts over the years. Now we are about to trade those facts for a glossy, shined-up corporate report on the glories of free markets and capitalism. Blech.

I have recommended that we cancel our standing order for Statistical Abstract and return the 2013 volume to the publisher.


Jan. 1st, 2013 10:07 am
altivo: The Clydesdale Librarian (Miktar's Altivo)
We've heard a lot of misguided nonsense about the Maya and their calendar over the past year. The end of the "long count" is just a cyclical event after which a new count begins. The calendars familiar to Central American scholars consist of multiple cycles of varying length, each of which simply repeats itself when it runs out. Thus the thirteenth long count began on or about the winter solstice of 2012. (Technically, it's the fourteenth b'akt'un since the first one was "zero," but by convention the repeating long counts are numbered in that way.) Anyway, the world didn't end on December 21. Instead, we just flip the long count back to the beginning and start over, just as we do with January 1 of each year in the common Gregorian calendar.

A similar occasion for our own calendar took place on January 1, 2000, when the collapse of civilization was predicted by some based on the notion that computer software would get confused about dates with the beginning of a new century. This was equally misguided, and very little happened related to that change. Furthermore, the actual 21st century didn't begin until January 1, 2001, since there is no year zero in the Gregorian system.

Recycling calendars is a practice we have picked up here at the farm, not out of miserliness, but because we save wall calendars that have particularly attractive pictures on them. The Gregorian calendar has repeating cycles too, just as the Mayan or Aztec calendars do, but the pattern of repeats is more complicated (at least to my way of thinking.) A little investigation, however, shows that the pattern of weekdays and dates for 2013 matches exactly with 2002, 1991, and 1985, as well as many earlier years. Our collection of favorite old calendars only goes back to about 1984, so those are the three years of greatest interest. Though we did get two new wall calendars this year (one with puppies, one with wolves) we normally use four at various locations in the house. This morning we sorted through the old calendars and pulled out two from 2002. One of those is the Workman Teddy Bear calendar from 2002, and the other is a calendar with photos of sheep breeds from the same year.

Phases of the moon, if indicated, on such recycled calendars are almost never correct. The dates for Easter and Ash Wednesday are usually wrong. Other fixed holidays and civil holidays that are moved to the nearest Monday are normally correct. We use a lunar astronomical calendar for moon phases anyway and disregard the approximations shown on wall calendars, so this is not a big issue. It's fun to revisit favorite calendar photos of years past, and our collection of 30 or 40 some old ones takes up little space on a bookshelf.
altivo: 'Tivo as a plush toy (Miktar's plushie)
I haven't posted for weeks, I know. From the time of that last post the distractions and time demands have been extreme.

The biggest highlights (or maybe low points) have been illnesses and deaths in my mate's family, including an uncle at Thanksgiving, sister-in-law a week later, and then his mother on December 20. Needless to say, this has been a gray and gloomy season for us. He spent several weeks in Chicago sitting in hospital rooms and dealing with stressful and difficult situations, while I stayed home and took on all the animal responsibilities which made for very long days indeed here.

The final straw was his mom's passing. She had surgery for cancer in November, and was in chemotherapy. Finally starting to improve, we thought, when a stroke hit her. He was there with her when she went to bed as usual and couldn't be awakened the next morning. Back to the hospital for the third time in a month, where she died without regaining consciousness two days later. Gerri was a kind and generous woman and we will all miss her very much, though at age 83 she had in fact been occasionally expressing a wish for her succession of medical difficulties to come to a final ending.

We're trying to return to a semblance of a normal schedule now, but it's taking a bit of a shakeout to get back onto the rails. I intend to return to a more regular posting schedule with the new year, if I can.

October 2014

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