Life choices

From my decision decades ago to teach myself how to bake and cook – with Julia Child’s help – so as to lighten McDonald’s load of my money, to my spare room’s many months’ supply of staples like toothpaste, shampoo, paper towels, dental floss, dish detergent, cleaning supplies, &c. – because I hate wasting time shopping for that sort of stuff weekly or even monthly – to my house being basically a big man cave, decorated throughout in a manner not unlike a museum gallery, with framed vintage film one-sheets, insert posters, and lobby cards; 20×16″ enlargements of the best Apollo program photos; poster size signed prints of the Rita Hayworth airbrush artwork of Philip Castle, who did the poster artwork for “Full Metal Jacket” and “A Clockwork Orange”; display cases of intricately-detailed Apollo spacecraft models; and my own photos, pencil life drawings, and WWII-style flight jacket pinup paintings, some of my life choices are serving me well these days.

None of it was planned for the current circumstances, but it all seems ideally suited, and believe me, I feel extraordinarily lucky.

I almost forgot that I now get to see much more often this item from Charlie Duke that’s been on the lunar surface – with tiny flecks of moon dust on it, visible in the inset – because it’s on the wall just to my right at the home PC.

Click for a larger version

That piece of netting likely came from the smallest and most easily unsnapped section toward the front of the Lunar Module – a souvenir that most if not all crews took home with them – which is visible behind Gene Cernan in this photo.

A side effect: Funnily enough, though these dishes and others that I’ve made in the last five or six weeks are all quite tasty and not exactly low-calorie, I’ve dropped several pounds eating only the things I’ve made and no fast food. Pretty telling, that.

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Hard drive replacement tip

One of my internal hard drives at home used for media has been logging some errors recently, and I confirmed with the free CrystalDiskInfo that its SMART records show it’s close to running out of reserved sectors that can be used to replace bad ones, likely meaning some physical degradation has been occurring lately. The yellow “Caution” that CrystalDiskInfo shows for the drive means the drive should be replaced ASAP before it inevitably starts getting unrecoverable errors – or possibly suffers a catastrophic failure – so I ordered a new 6TB drive to replace the crusty old 4TB, which was due for an upgrade anyway because it’s nearly full.

Last night, I started copying the old drive to the new with Microsoft’s RichCopy utility, which can do multiple copy threads at once and is therefore a lot faster than copying with Windows Explorer or with xcopy at the command line, but after eight hours it wasn’t even 10% done, so I abandoned that.

I then remembered what I didn’t remember last night, which is that the free Macrium Reflect that I use for backup can clone disks to same size or larger drives. I hadn’t tried it before, so I started it 20 minutes ago. Watching it in action, I see it actually takes the target drive offline and uses volume shadowing to make the clone. It’s writing 180+MB/second to the target drive instead of the 12-15MB/sec RichCopy was achieving and is already 5% complete, so instead of 80+ hours it will take about 8.

Postscript: I ended up having to use AOMEI Backupper to clone the drive (their free version allows you to clone non-system disks). Macrium Reflect kept reporting an unrecoverable read error 73% of the way through, but I had verified with chkdsk /r, which checks all sectors for bad blocks, that the only bad blocks were in unallocated sectors on the drive. Macrium’s “Intelligent sector copy” clone method, which I had selected, is supposed to copy only allocated sectors, but it was obviously trying to copy unallocated sectors, a hundred or so of which are bad on the old drive. Backupper was a little slower than Macrium (160MB/sec rather than 180+), but it didn’t try to read any unallocated sectors.

These are all free utilities:



Macrium Reflect:

AOMEI Backupper:

Precisely so

I read this a couple weeks ago in The QI Book of Advanced Banter, a book of quotations from the “Quite Interesting” series research folks. I hadn’t thought of happiness in this way before, but it makes a lot of sense:

We act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements of life, when all that we need to make us happy is something to be enthusiastic about.

Charles Kingsley

I think he has that just about right. In fact, I know so.

In addition to all those linked targets of my enthusiasm, I can also be enthused about just the occasional comfort and luxury: Yesterday, I upgraded my 2013 Elantra to the 2019 version below that I’ll be picking up Monday evening.

It’s a middle-of-the-line, lower cost Value Edition, but it has a 7″ display with Android Auto, sunroof, pushbutton start, proximity keyless entry and trunk release, rear-view camera, blind spot and reverse cross-traffic warnings, auto-dimming rearview mirror, automatic headlights, two-zone automatic climate control, heated seats, remote start and more remote control via phone app – all the latest tech, with perhaps three-quarters the features of a Tesla (the best three-quarters). For instance, the Elantra has no “Autopilot,” he typed, being careful to put it in quotes since it ain’t that at all but its name alone encourages all manner of Tesla misadventures.

I read most of the 535-page 2019 Elantra Owner’s Manual last week, admittedly just skimming the 67-page section on seat belts, child restraints, and airbags. I had a list of things to check during the test drive yesterday – for which I’ll get a US$50 Amazon gift card from Hyundai – and got positive answers to all of them.

Chief among them were two questions about Android Auto on the 7″ display to ensure I could replicate what I do currently with my pedestal-mounted Bluetooth-connected phone, its configuration shown here in 2012.

  1. Whether Google Maps on Android Auto could display surrounding roads in satellite view, with green/yellow/red traffic status, without first entering a destination. I found that it can, but every video review I had looked at only showed the Directions display with a destination.
  2. Because my current podcast app, BeyondPod, is, according to users in its support forum, unstable through Android Auto and was even banned by Google for a period of months last year when it disabled all other audio apps in Auto, I needed to find a podcast app with Android Auto support and verify that I could access my always custom playlist on the Android Auto display. Most podcast player apps, including BeyondPod, won’t pass a custom playlist to Android Auto, instead giving you access only to a list of categories and podcasts by name, which stupidly disables the ability to automatically and seamlessly listen to podcast episodes from all your feeds in the exact order you want. My testing showed DoggCatcher sensibly does pass any custom playlist(s) through to Android Auto. DoggCatcher also supports another feature I used a lot in BeyondPod: a virtual feed folder where you can copy in MP3s and M4As that aren’t actually podcasts – for instance, audio books and BBC Radio 4 programmes that don’t have a podcast feed but which can either be downloaded if a button is there or captured via its programme ID with get_iplayer. (It’s legit: BBC Radio allows audio downloads with get_iplayer regardless of your location. It’s video content that they protect well.)

The two things that surprised me during the test drive were the much-improved suspension and the fact that the 2019 model is at least 50% quieter inside than the 2013, something that’s not easy for car makers to achieve. I’ve always thought of my 2013 model as really nice, especially given its extraordinarily low price relative to similar competitors, but I think the 2019 version just might be all the way to magnificent – and the price is still low.

Start to finish, including the 45-minute test drive, trade-in inspection, brief negotiation, signing, and my round trip to the credit union to get the check for the dealer, took about five hours. The dealer gave me a good trade-in value – in fact, a fair amount more than I had anticipated, no doubt encouraged by the day-long detailing I had arranged last week for the six-year-old, 88,000 mile car, which afterward looked maybe 95% new. Yearly detailing with a final one just before trade-in can be a good investment. The best part of the deal for me is that the rebate Hyundai included will effectively pay 100% of my credit union auto loan interest.

After I pick it up, I’ll be celebrating with popcorn shrimp and catfish at a Cajun place just down the road from the dealer.

Here’s the remote app on my phone, showing the car’s status 32 miles from where it sits at the dealer until tomorrow:

Uneasiness sets in

Jeremy Hardy, Ricky Jay, and John Clarke were on my mind this week because “The News Quiz” just started a new series (the 43-minute “Extra” podcast is posted Monday nights here), I got good news about a particular book, and it’s now been two years since Clarke left us.

There are some people you wish would live a long time. When you have just a handful that you respect highly, it becomes increasingly unsettling as their numbers dwindle.

Faulty premise

I heard this interstitial while listening to “Car Talk” today:

“As soon as you wake up, you need the latest.”

Do I really? This seems presumptuous.

“And that is why ‘Up First’ is here. It is NPR’s morning news podcast.”

Yikes. That sounds like a stressful way to spend the first minutes of consciousness.

“In just ten minutes, you can start your day informed.”

Yeah…no. In just ten minutes, I can start making my second Americano.

52 assistants, no curator

Ricky Jay has left us – and left us bereft.

I have two recommendations for the uninitiated: The “Secrets of the Magus” profile of him that appeared in The New Yorker in 1993 – happily not behind their paywall – and the 90-minute documentary “Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay” (2012). The latter also aired in a severely edited, half-length form on the PBS series “American Masters” in 2015. The full version is preferred and you can find it on several streaming services. It’s free if you’ve got Amazon Prime, here.

From The New Yorker article:

The playwright David Mamet and the theatre director Gregory Mosher affirm that some years ago, late one night in the bar of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Chicago, this happened:

Ricky Jay, who is perhaps the most gifted sleight-of-hand artist alive, was performing magic with a deck of cards. Also present was a friend of Mamet and Mosher’s named Christ Nogulich, the director of food and beverage at the hotel. After twenty minutes of disbelief-suspending manipulations, Jay spread the deck face up on the bar counter and asked Nogulich to concentrate on a specific card but not to reveal it. Jay then assembled the deck face down, shuffled, cut it into two piles, and asked Nogulich to point to one of the piles and name his card.

“Three of clubs,” Nogulich said, and he was then instructed to turn over the top card.

He turned over the three of clubs.

Mosher, in what could be interpreted as a passive-aggressive act, quietly announced, “Ricky, you know, I also concentrated on a card.”

After an interval of silence, Jay said, “That’s interesting, Gregory, but I only do this for one person at a time.”

Mosher persisted: “Well, Ricky, I really was thinking of a card.”

Jay paused, frowned, stared at Mosher, and said, “This is a distinct change of procedure.” A longer pause. “All right—what was the card?”

“Two of spades.”

Jay nodded, and gestured toward the other pile, and Mosher turned over its top card.

The deuce of spades.

A small riot ensued.

The trailer for “Deceptive Practice”:

HBO aired a somewhat trimmed version of his show “Ricky Jay and His 52 Assistants” in 1996. As with all of his stage shows, he only performed “52 Assistants” in small venues. Given the speedy scarcity of tickets every time he performed, he could have easily done larger halls, but he wanted to make sure everyone got a good view. To him, the art was far more important than the money.

A fair-to-middling full copy of the HBO special is on YouTube and linked below, but if you search a little, you should be able to find a 558MB version that’s 640×480 and twice the quality of this version.

I first saw Jay perform on “Saturday Night Live” in early 1977. Several months later, an article about him in the December 1977 Playboy – part of it shown below – further piqued my interest. The article mentioned that his first book, Cards as Weapons, was coming out, and I bought it a few weeks later. It sits on the bookshelf behind me as I type, along with his Learned Pigs & Fireproof Women: Unique, Eccentric and Amazing Entertainers (1986), Jay’s Journal of Anomalies (2003), and others.

I’m leaving out the rest of the two-page spread due to boobs and such

I’ve traveled to see shows in New York City just twice – not Broadway shows, but off-Broadway masterpieces by Ricky Jay. The poster from “52 Assistants” is on my office wall and “On the Stem” is at home.

People are really telling Dingleface all this stuff?

Hackers gained access to “gender, locale/language, relationship status, religion, hometown, self-reported current city, birthdate, device types used to access Facebook, education, work, the last 10 places they checked into or were tagged in, website, people or Pages they follow, and the 15 most recent searches” for 14 million users…

I would like to meet some of these people.

“Let me hold your wallet for a minute.”

“Oh, sure. Here you go.”

“I’ll just be taking this photo, some of the cash, and one of your cards. Okay?”

“Um…okay, I guess?”

“Yes it is. Tell me, do you hold any sort of degree?”

“No, I only went to college for a year.”

“Okay. Dating anyone right now?”

“Not at the moment, no.”

“Got it. Now, what was the last thing you bought?”

“It’s kind of embarrassing, but if you must know, it was some Immodium and some toilet bowl cleaner.”

“I see. Well, thanks! Nice to meet ya!”

Wildfire topics that few talk about

I refer you to the 31 July 2018 “Built to Burn” episode of 99% Invisible, podcast and transcript here.

I think this and McPhee’s “Los Angeles Against the Mountains” are vital to the proper understanding of wildfires, especially in the western United States. You can’t build developments in guaranteed wildfire zones, take no preventative measures, even the simplest and most effective, to protect the homes – the topic of the 99PI episode – and blithely expect nothing dire will ever happen. A few embers from a fire that never actually reaches your house can easily ruin everything.

99PI will have a follow-up episode this week.

“One of the very frustrating things that I had experienced this past summer, particularly from the California fires, is the continued sense of fatalism: ‘Oh, well, there’s nothing that could be done.’ Well, no. The bottom line is that we can do something; it just doesn’t have anything to do with controlling the wildfire.”

Watching news footage from the California fires, something stands out, especially if you’ve spent a lot of time with Jack. Once you get over the shock of seeing neighbourhoods reduced to ashes and the drama of firefighters talking about how there was nothing they could do to stop the flames, your eyes shift to something else: the green trees, untouched by fire, surrounding the burnt-out homes.

From this week: Lake Keswick Estates in California; click for a larger version

From this week: Lake Redding Estates in California


State of mind not proportional to desk clutter

My old home office desk was feeling too samey of late, so I replaced it. The old one was all wood – well, veneered particleboard – and similar to the new one, with the same 4×3 foot footprint along with a raised monitor shelf and pull-out keyboard tray, but the new one is a better design, with 50% more desk space, 50% more bottom shelf space, 50% more room on the keyboard tray, and maybe 200% more class.

I found it via an image search for “workstation desk”, with this picture of the Cyrus desk, a metal and wood design with a heavy tempered glass desktop, on the third or fourth result page. From the look of it, I figured it would be pricey, probably between US$200 and $300, but I was pleasantly surprised to find it was just $130 on Amazon, which I believe is $40 less than I paid for that boring old workstation fifteen years ago.

I assembled it in a couple hours and found it quite sturdy. I think it’s so far away from samey as to be fantastic. I said to a visiting friend the other day, “I love this desk”, not something you hear me exclaim of many inanimate objects. My printer is on a separate glass and metal stand on the bottom shelf, with paper storage underneath, and the PC, not visible at lower right, and all cables and power strips are self-contained on the desk instead of partly behind and underneath as they were before.

As an example of how much more room there is on this desk, I could fit the keyboard and trackball and not much else on the keyboard tray before. On the new one, from left to right, I have a Logitech Harmony remote horizontal charging stand, a Motorola S305 Bluetooth headset, the keyboard, a Logitech trackball, and its receiver, which formerly sat on top of the PC. I added a hook on the left corner of the desk for the backscratcher and a soft rubber five-channel cable manager on the right corner to corral all the pesky USB cables. The 8″ long metal USB 3.0 hub with 7 ports and 3 charging ports that also used to be on top of the PC is now at the rear corner of the desk instead.

The old desk was perfectly usable, so I put it outside festooned with large “FREE” signs visible from the street. It took eight days, but someone finally got themselves a good desk and, on a less magnanimous note, I didn’t have to dismantle it to put in the dumpster.

US edumacation going grate, just grate

Here are the results of the first question of a February 2018 YouGov poll of 8,215 adults in the US. They probably ought to have asked if antisocial media was involved in any recent formation of doubts, because of course it was, because it’s fundamentally and irretrievably antisocial.

An interesting Venn diagram would show the intersection of 18-24 year-old oblate spheroid-doubters with those of that age who would like to work at a cool place like SpaceX. I would bet a crisp new one dollar bill that it’s not a null set.

“Gee, I’m not sure. Could be a dodecahedron for all I know. Well…if I knew that word.”

Minor annoyances

After hearing of Punxsutawney all my life, I’m at a point where I find Chamber of Commerce-invented groundhog prognostication about as annoying as astrologist-invented 7% larger than average supermoons (sic, I say…sic), but quite a lot less annoying than the phrase “super blue blood moon”, so obnoxious it might set my hair alight if I thought about it overlong.

A lot of people like snow. I find it to be an unnecessary freezing of water.

Carl Reiner

What a bunch of hooey

Perhaps I ought to be inspired by this article to come up with some daft product that my new company – how about Gullible You, LLC? – could sell, but the thought fills me with a pea-green gaseous mixture of nausea and shame. How do these people do it? Steelier guts than mine.

If you want to save some time, all you really need to know about “raw water” are these words from the article: “Mukhande Singh…(né Christopher Sanborn)”. Uh-huh.

“Nootropics”? Come now. Better hobbies for all, I say.

This bears repeating every now and then

Something I wrote seven years ago:

A friend mentioned during a lengthy conversation that, though he texts a lot and was about to set up a Facebook page for his restaurant ’cause that’s what you’re s’posed to do these days, he didn’t really get the appeal of Facebook. I told him that it exists primarily in order to teach youngsters early to undervalue and give away every last remnant of their privacy so that Facebook and others can make oodles of dough selling as much of their data as they can. He had just been regaling me with tales of how various customers had pissed him off in the restaurant during the day and how disgusted he was with people generally, so I concluded by saying that Facebook and Twitter were a lot like people, only condensed and therefore worse. My, how he laughed.

I still haven’t signed up to any of those things, for the same reasons that I don’t quaff sulfuric acid with my breakfast, jab at my eyes with knitting needles, or taunt rabid raccoons with sticks.

Betty back from surgery

Click for a larger version

A little tube repair, a fresh partial vacuum, a whiff of argon, and she’s good as new.

It’s been about twenty-five years since I found this hand-crafted wooden standup in a little seaside Marilyn Monroe/Betty Boop/Elvis memorabilia shop – at an irresistible post-season 50% discount. I imagine whoever made it back then would be pleased to know she’s alive and kicking.

It’s nice to have her aqua glow back in the kitchen.

Here’s a nifty clip from Betty Boop’s Bamboo Isle (1932):

Her hula was rotoscoped from the dancer in the opening sequence of the same cartoon performed by the Royal Samoans:

The full cartoon can be viewed here.