December 23rd, 2017

#6038: It could not have been a better day.

I suppose there are ways my workday could have been better than this, but most of those are highly unlikely.

Got to work on time, checked e-mails, logged in. Proceeded to handle e-mails, and an occasional phone call, for one hour. By eleven, the e-mail queue was empty.

A few calls an hour, cleaning out my skillset's inbox as they came in; but after about 1 PM, I was sitting at my computer watching YouTube videos, and the person training me was reading her book. I waited to go on lunch until she left for the day at 2:30 (she took half a day off today because holiday weekend and then I spent my hour sitting at my desk, eating a sandwich and...watching YouTube videos and doing crossword puzzles on my phone. Difference between work and lunch: 0.00...0.

Logged back in at 3:30, and--after clearing up a handful of e-mails--did exactly what I did at lunch. My idleness was broken only by four phone calls and perhaps five or six more e-mails. Only one of the phone calls was in my bailiwick; the others got transferred--and the one that was my responsibility to handle was basically to connect Software Engineering with someone who'd put in a ticket. My involvement in those cases is minimal anyway, but they'd all gone home from that location, and it was closed.

I was a bit unhappy that I hadn't thought to bring drawing materials with me. I could have finally added some pages to Megumi's Diary or Chicory, not that they'd look very good--I am woefully out of practice!--but I could have done it.

About 5:30 I realized that there was absolutely no reason in the world that I could not fire up Pandora on my phone and listen to Christmas music, so I did that. The one call I got thereafter was not bothered by it.

One call an hour. One.

Virtually no one else in the office, nothing going was blissfully quiet and relaxing. I'll probably not have another day like that for a long time; I'm glad I enjoyed it.

* * *

No, it is not your imagination. Your older iPhone is running slower. Apple claims it's because as the batteries get older, they lose capacity, and this change is to make the batteries last longer. SUUUUURE it is. And if my grandmother had wheels, she'd be a wagon.

This is nothing but Apple inserting planned obsolescence into their products in order to force people to buy new phones every other year. They've been doing this at least since the iPhone 3G was released; every time a new model came out--EVERY LAST TIME--there's been a spike in Google searches on "iphone slow".

...because with each new phone there's a new version of iOS, and version upgrades are mandatory (closed ecosystem!) and--I would bet money on this--keyed to model numbers so that performance is deliberately degraded on older hardware.

Because selling hardware is Apple's bread and butter. They make money by selling hardware made in China at a steep markup, but if people keep using their old phones Apple won't sell as many new ones.

This is why I only buy phones with user-replacable batteries. If I can't pull the back off and stick a new battery in the thing, without advanced training and specialized equipment, I don't want it. Apple charges $80 to put a new battery in an iPhone (the battery costs maybe $5 in bulk; the rest is labor) and you run a very real risk of destroying your phone if you try to do it yourself.

To hell with Apple.

* * *

I disagree with one point here. Joseph was a working man, a carpenter, but I don't think he was poor. Jesus, after all, was educated--besides his native Aramaic he knew Latin and Greek, two languages which were essential to any scholar, and at that time no one could be considered educated before he learned them. It would go without saying that he'd also be able to read and write, something not common then. And there was no socialized education; if you wanted your kids to learn things you had to pay someone to teach them to him, particularly if you did not know them.

(Just looking at the history, here, the society they lived in, without the religion angle.)

Why--more importantly, how--would a poor man afford such a luxury for a child in his care, a child (by any estimation of the laws of the day) that was effectively his son? And besides that, as a Jew, Jesus would also have known Hebrew. His command of the scriptures was encyclopedic, of course. Knowing Hebrew was part and parcel of him being a Jew, of course, as well.

I would think that if Jesus had just known these languages etc it would be remarked upon in the gospels, as was the "water into wine" story. But what the hell do I know?

* * *

I was going to write more here, but Mrs. Fungus wanted to watch Gremlins, so that's what I ended up doing.

Still have a couple minor things to do tomorrow. I'd better hit the hay.

#6039: The majesty of creation

The problem with modern society is that we no longer stop and listen.

Here is an explanation as to why Christmas is on December 25.

When you look at the historical record--excluding faith entirely--and examine just the hard, scientific facts surrounding Christ's birth, you realize how many things had to coincide and go exactly right for the narrative to turn out the way it did.

The three magi traveled from the east to visit the new king--and they went based on nothing more than a sign in the heavens: the conjunction of Jupiter and Regulus, just happening such that Earth and Jupiter were in position for that conjunction to happen not once but three times in a single year due to retrograde motion.

The "star" of Bethlehem was almost certainly the conjunction of Regulus and Jupiter, happening not once but three times, and the lore surrounding those heavenly bodies was enough for the magi to leave their homes and travel a very long way, at a time when long-distance travel was a major undertaking--rather than a simple matter of hopping on a 737.

File this one under "If you have eyes to see with" etcetera.

* * *

The other day I was driving home from work--I think it was last week--and saw yet another example of someone in a virtually incontinent hurry struggling to go fast when traffic wasn't.

He passed me three times.

So, I'm in the left lane--the fastest-moving lane on the road--keeping up with traffic. This guy whizzed past me on the right, going maybe 90. Within my sight he veered over into the right lane to get around a clump of cars--traffic was moderately heavy--but didn't have enough room and had to stand on the brakes. GRRRRRRRRIND right down to the speed limit, plummeting to about 60-ish in perhaps a car length or two, and unable to move left because of the traffic in the right-middle lane. I smirked as he receded behind me.

A few moments later, though, ZOOOOM! there he was in the left-middle lane, back up to 90...and he proceeded to do exactly the same thing. Right lane's empty, so he veers across the right-middle lane into the right lane, and GRRRRIND on go the brake lights and down goes the speed, back to about 60-ish. And again, unable to change lanes because he was boxed in, I rolled past him. "Right lane's not the passing lane," I said to myself.

And then a few moments later, ZOOOOM! off he went, finally finding a hole in traffic big enough that he didn't get caught behind someone. He got off on I-55, I think, the exit of which was not much further down the road from there, but he spent as much time getting through that knot of traffic as I did.

To get his car to do what it did, he had to stand on the gas and stand on the brakes. That's hard on the engine, transmission, brakes, and suspension. Do that often enough and you're spending a lot of money on repairs. And for what? He got to the 55 exit perhaps twenty or thirty seconds faster than I did.

You can't go faster than the road is going. It's just that simple. And whatever small advantage you get isn't worth it.

* * *

I'm only going to comment on this story because it took me a bit to understand what the headline meant.

Headline: "The West Proves That Poland's Loyalty Was Worthless"

Now, that implies that Poland was not actually loyal. Like, if I say, "This tape is worthless," it implies that the tape does not stick well, or is craptastic for other reasons. Generally you say that something is worthless if it does not perform to expectation or need.

But reading the article, I find that what they meant was that Poland's loyalty was worthless to the European Union. And so the headline should have said so, saying something like "The West Doesn't Value Poland's Loyalty" or something. Maybe not as pithy, and it doesn't grab your attention the same way, but it's accurate.

A headline isn't an advertisement; it's supposed to be a one-sentence summary of what the article is about. Making it an ad blurb is sensationalist.

* * *

This kind of thing is why I dread having to buy a newer vehicle. I certainly don't want to buy a new car; they cost far too much and depreciate far too quickly. Pay $30,000 for a car and it loses $10,000 of value the instant you sign the paperwork, with years of payments ahead--no thank you. Okay--to get the same capability in a new vehicle as I've got in the Jeep, I'm paying $360 a month for seven years...and that's for a frigging pickup truck!

I've been thinking about the inevitable--the Jeep ain't going to last forever--and trying to figure out what I want to do. Ideally, I'd like another Cherokee of the same configuration, because they're comfortable and durable vehicles. (I've put 90,000 miles on it since buying it used in 2007, and that's typical--my late sister had one with 270k on it, and it was only taken off the road because of rust.) They're getting hard to find, though, because they were last made in 2001, one year newer than mine.

Since I commute, I keep thinking a Subaru would be good--their boxer engine sounds kind of like an old Beetle, they're okay on gas, and they're all AWD. But I want to be able to tow a trailer occasionally, and small cars really can't do that.

But I'll definitely be buying used. And I'm going to put it off just as long as I can.

* * *

This is exactly how the left wants it. The white guy showing islamic goon being a barbarian is the one at fault.

* * *

I laughed at this:

* * *

Well, I suppose I'd better get after my chores.


Put on Pandora's "Traditional Seasonal Radio" (TSR) channel and got two hours of Gregorian chants. *whimper*

Prior to the Gregorian fest, though, there was a very nice mix of songs. One complaint I have with the "Christmas Traditional Radio" (CTR) channel is that it doesn't play any Mannheim Steamroller; TSR does.

Then there's my "Santa Lost A Ho Radio" channel (SLAHR) which plays goofy songs mixed with the occasional traditional song. It's a nice change of pace.

Sadly, there's no way to tell it to shuffle certain channels; otherwise I'd put all three of them into a group and let the it pick at random. But if I put it on "shuffle" I'll get "Alan Parsons' Project Radio" and "Bluetech Radio" as well, neither of which I want when it comes to listening to music on a holiday.

I have 99 first-world problems.

* * *

Well, the traditional and typical pre-holiday house cleaning is done. It did not need a lot, but what it did need, it needed, to the point that I had to scrub the bathroom floor. Maybe half an hour's work on the bathroom and 40 minutes in the kitchen, plus some other time spend tidying other areas, and it's done. Figure maybe an hour and a half all told. I might run the vacuum in a little while.

I sure know how to party.

Later today I'll head out for some last-minute shopping and to get some pies; and then it'll be wrapping time. Hoping that it won't take too long to do the last-minute thing, but it will take some time. And there's no set schedule to it, either, which helps.

* * *

Yesterday at work was such a lovely day.

There was this guy who called at 5 PM wanting to check an employee reference. I haven't any access to HR stuff; my skillset is keeping the production systems working, things like the warehouse systems and users with password issues and so on. So I told the guy I'd be happy to find out where to send him, and send him thence.

He told me he'd already talked to those people, that he was trying to get a clarification on what they'd said to him. I replied that they were the ones he'd have to talk to, as there wasn't any additional information I could give him.

Well, that didn't do at all, and he wanted my name and title! I don't know my title, so I told him my first name and advised him of same. He didn't seem very happy about any of this.

Well, for fuck's sake, dude! You're calling at five PM on the Friday before Christmas. To any reasonable observer, that's outside of business hours. And you're calling the care center, not HR.

I should have wished him a Merry Christmas. He hung up before I thought of it.

But he didn't spoil my day, and I really enjoyed it, because I know another such day is unlikely at best.

* * *

On watching YouTube at work:

I was surprised the first time the guy training me clicked over to his browser and watched a couple videos about the wildfires in California. They're just not that uptight over there, nothing like it was at the last place. As long as the metrics are being met--and they are--the bosses sit back and let their people be professionals.

These people know why they are there, and they work hard; but a couple of times my guilt reflex has been triggered when the chatter seemed to go on too long. I wasn't the one chattering--I was waiting for a call and working on an e-mail for most of the conversation--but once I was finished with my current task I stayed in "not ready" and listened to the remainder of the conversation.

I have not seen any examples of people lollygagging.

To be honest it's been quite a while since I was in a job where I was trusted that much. My last job was the worst example, but Best Buy was retail, where they trust no one; ditto for Target. And prior to that, the nursing home--yeesh.

So, this is a very welcome change.

* * *

Poor Twigs. In the process of cleaning things, I needed to use some vinegar to get some calcium deposits off a bowl that had held water for the cats (since replaced with an actual water dish, one they can't knock over). I also put the sink sprayer in it, because that's gotten clogged again. Anyway, my hands smell like vinegar, and just now Twigs jumped into my lap only to recoil when I tried to pet him.

Poor Twigs.

#6041: Only In A Jeep

"Only in a Jeep," they say. Right.

Let me tell you about a Christmas miracle.

I'm an RF engineer--I design radio systems--and I work about ninety miles from home. My commute is a weekly thing; I drive to work Monday morning, stay in an extended-stay place during the week, and drive home Friday night. My job pays a lot of money, but it doesn't pay enough to make me want to live closer to it. I tried to retire from it, but they kept raising my salary until I couldn't resist staying a few years longer. They pay the extended-stay. They pay my mileage. I insisted, and they didn't balk, because I'm the only person who knows everything about our products. Kids these days--if it doesn't have some kind of microcontroller in it, they can't hack it; half our customer base uses analog radios, they like them fine, and they don't want to change to digital because it would simply cost too damned much. Regardless of how you're modulating it, in the end, RF is RF, and it's analog.

When I was in engineering school, I chose to go into RF precisely because it--from the outside--looked like black magic. The physics courses and the math courses and the electronics all blended into one hellish blur of electromagnetism and calculus, but at the end of it I was top of my class, and I understood it. Long after digital systems became commonplace I still preferred analog circuits; digital was stultifyingly simple by comparison. And most of the time, a problem that a digital guy could solve for five dollars a unit, I could solve for half that.

RF is tricky stuff, and the higher the frequency goes, the trickier it gets. Once you're in the microwave bands, you're pretty much in rarefied territory. So when I made noises about retiring--yeah.

So happened that Christmas Eve was a Friday that year, and further, we got hit with the kind of blizzard that only comes a couple of times a century. Now, I'd always been a Jeep guy. My first new vehicle had been a CJ-6--what they later called the "Wrangler"--and these days I drove a Grand Cherokee, an '04, the last year you could get them with solid axles. I didn't like the independent suspension versions, so it had been years since I bought a new truck. Jeeps go and go, anyway, so that was fine.

So when the weather folks started talking "winter storm warning" I pretty much ignored it. Living where I did, that usually meant "we're getting a few inches of snow; everyone panic." It gets cold in winter here, more often than not, but we just don't get a lot of snow.

And when I left work that evening, around 4:30--which is typical for Fridays--there were a few inches on the ground, maybe four or five, nothing the Jeep couldn't handle easily. A couple of hours of driving, maybe a bit longer because of the snow--and then I'd be home with my family. Kids anbd grandkids were supposed to be coming to stay overnight with us; I'd been looking forward to that. I wouldn't even have been there on Christmas Eve if it hadn't been for a top priority rush job for one of our biggest customers, needing a new feedhorn design for a satellite downlink. I'd put three solid weeks in on that one, hoping to have it done by the 22nd, but the inevitable spec changes kept me working on it a couple extra days. Make up your minds before you send me the spec and I'll hit your deadline. If you start changing things--

But I was only a day past it, and it was done, and I was off for the rest of the year, so I brushed the snow off the truck humming "Let It Snow" while the engine warmed up a bit.

Once inside and belted I put her in drive and tested the traction. The rear settled and the wheels spun, the truck inching forward; with a grunt I stepped on the brake, pulled the transfer case lever into 4H, and tried again. This time she eased forward properly, wheels biting and pulling her ahead. The dash light confirmed it was in AWD mode; if I really needed pulling power I could go into part-time 4WD, where all the differentials were locked--and in the worst case, 4L, which was the underdrive gear that multiplied the torque available at the wheels.

The streets had been plowed not too long before, but there was maybe an inch of fresh snow over pavement. It was only a little slick. I drove about the speed limit, instead of speeding along above it as I normally would. Got on the highway; it was pretty normal there, too, maybe just a bit slick. I settled into my seat and flipped on a station playing Christmas music and relaxed, expecting a normal commute home.

Perhaps an hour into my drive, though--fifteen minutes after I'd left the highway for the country road that went by my house--things suddenly got worse.

Although it had snowed the entire time, it had been moderate; now, suddenly, it turned into a near-whiteout. I had another forty miles to go, and the weather had just turned bad. Belatedly I recalled that the weather forecast had said the snowfall would be moderate until something like six PM, at which point it would turn into a blizzard. For crying out loud, why was this the one time the weatherman was right?

I pulled off the road into an accident investigation site and considered my options. About twelve miles back was the interstate, and perhaps another fifteen minutes along there I'd find a hotel. Thirty minutes of driving in this junk, probably more due to worsening conditions. On the other hand, an equivalent amount of time--more or less--and I'd be home, with my family.

I could not stay where I was, that was certain. Forward or back? The choice was obvious.

Fifteen minutes later I began wondering if I'd made the right decision. I'd slowed, and slowed again, and now I was barely making 20 MPH, my hazard lights going. I could barely see the limit of my headlights; the road had barriers on one side but all I could see of that was the shape it made in the deepening snow. Fortunately, the wind swept a mere quarter of the two-lane road clean of snow, so that I had one narrow track in which my passenger side tires could run. The driver's side tires were wallowing in six to eight inches of the stuff. Every so often I'd plow through a snowdrift and find myself driving by Braille until things cleared enough for me to see. As it was, it was falling so fast I had to keep my windshield defroster on high; I was sweating my ass off even with my coat off and the windows cracked.

That's when the deer came.

Stupid animal ran right out in front of me. I was not going very fast, but I reflexively stood on the brakes; and because my speed was really too slow for the antilock system to do much of anything, the truck went into a skid, and the next thing I knew the truck was off the side of the road, nose-deep in the ditch.

Put her into reverse, and the wheels just spun. Locked the diffs and she moved--sideways, not backward, and after a few moments of finagling I ended up all the way in the ditch.

Still more annoyed than concerned, I threw off my seat belt and pulled my coat on, then got out and opened the liftgate. I keep a pretty well-stocked tool chest back there, with things like jumper cables, a tire repair kit, tow straps--all kinds of things. In fact, this time I was carrying my acetylene torch set, because I'd loaned it to a coworker and he'd just returned it to me that week. But what I was after this time was the folding shovel.

I dug the folding shovel out and started working on clearing a path out of the snow. After about twenty minutes I realized I should call my wife, so I pulled out my phone. No signal.

"Perfect," I sighed. There was one dead spot on my route home; of course I'd found it. Nothing for it, so I continued working on my digging.

"This is ridiculous," I said after a while, having dug trenches in front of my wheels almost all the way up to the road. "Shoulda told them to stuff their deadline. Shit."

Tossed the shovel into the front passenger footwell and tried again. The Jeep moved forward perhaps three feet, and then started screwing sideways again. No matter what I did, I could not get the nose to point up the bank to the road. Even when I got her pointed so that her front end was perpendicular to the slope, it simply would not climb; instead it would go sideways.

I stopped to think about this. Traction was the problem. Would the old floormat trick help?

I tried it--jamming the floor mats under the front tires and the rear ones under the back. It got me about two feet up the embankement, after which I hit snow and she started screwing sideways again. But I retrieved the mats and did it again; and to my surprise, after repeating this process about half a million times, I was on the road again.

It was nearly nine PM.

After catching my breath, I put her in gear and headed homeward again. "I really am getting too old for this horseshit," I commented to no one in particular. "I'm retiring in January. My mind's made up!"

But I was crawling homeward at 10 MPH, and the weather was deteriorating, and now I was only catching glimpses of the road; it was perhaps 90% covered now. My headlights were thrown back by seemingly solid wall of whirling snow, and saying I had twenty feet of visibility would probably be an exaggeration. I was still maybe twenty miles out, and now the Jeep was starting to have trouble with the snowdrifts. If I didn't get home in about the next hour or so, I realized, I might not make it at all.

I hadn't even seen another vehicle on the road since stopping at the accident site.

I stopped and checked my phone. Still no signal. Sighing, I pressed onward.

The wipers--now on high--were barely keeping the windshield clear, but I could see that ahead of me there was a kind of thickening of the snow; and after a few moments I could see a ruddy glow, like taillights, so I got ready to slow down.

I'll be dipped in shit if there wasn't this crazy guy there with a team of horses and a frigging sleigh. I counted some eight or nine animals in harness, which seemed excessive but for the sleigh itself, which was massive. I mean, it was the size of a U Haul, mostly open. I couldn't see what was in it, though it looked to me like some kind of excursion thing--but who would do that on a night like this? It was ornate, painted a deep cherry red, the runners and ironwork elaborate and beautiful. Anyway it was hanging off the road at an angle, just like I had been an hour earlier.

The guy was even wearing a Santa Claus outfit.

I stopped the Jeep and got out. "Hey, you need help?"

"Yes, my friend, I certainly do!"

He shook my hand, and in the Jeep's headlights I could see this guy was fully in character--big curly beard, rosy cheeks and nose, and he had the voice you'd expect a Santa Claus to have. "I haven't seen a blizzard like this in--well, a long time," he said with a chuckle. "I'm not sure why, but my sleigh is actually stuck."

"Let me look," I said. It took only a couple seconds with a flashlight--the runner, on the left side, had broken, and now the support dug into the ground beneath it, immobilizing the sleigh. I pointed this out to the guy, who clucked.

"My, my," he said. "This is certainly a pickle. I don't have anything that could fix this."

I remembered the torch. "As it turns out, I do, I think," I said. I explained what I meant, and the guy helped me with the gear. We rigged the Jeep's jack to lift the sleigh up, and then I welded the runner back together before welding it back to the support strut. It took some time, but not as much as I'd feared; it was an ugly kludge compared with the beautiful ironwork, but it was fixed and it was strong. Shortly we were putting the gear back into the Jeep.

The guy got back into the sleigh and took the reins, but the animals couldn't pull the sleigh out of the rut it was in. "This early I'm afraid the load is heavy," the guy said, the chuckle still in his voice.

"I've got a tow strap."

"Perfect! Bring it to me, friend, and I'll bend it on!"

So there I was, waiting for his signal; and when he bellowed, "On, all!" I eased onto the gas. The Jeep's tires clawed at the snow, but soon things moved, and after a moment the guy yelled, "All right!"

Retrieved my tow strap--and by now I could hardly see five feet in front of me. "You all right from here?" I asked him.

"I will be; but you may not. Why don't you follow me? You don't have much farther to go, do you?"

"Not very."

"I'll lead, then."

I was tired enough by now that I didn't think to ask any questions. I just got into the Jeep and followed the guy; and after a little while I saw my driveway and turned into it. The sleigh stopped, though, so I got out and went to the front of it.

"Merry Christmas," he said, handing a wrapped box to me.

"Oh, you don't have to," I said.

"No, but it's what I do," he said with a wink; and then he slapped the reins and they were off again, belled harnesses jingling merrily. By some chance of the wind, the snow cleared enough for me to watch the sleigh glide into the night; and just before I lost sight of it I could have sworn I saw it lift into the air; but after a moment, a rosy light begin to shine from the front of the team.

And that's when I knew: I'd just helped Santa Claus out of a ditch on Christmas Eve. Only in a Jeep.

#6042: There's the Christmas vignette.

Yup, not bad for a story that started out only as a vague impression. I had "bad snow storm" and "skidding into a ditch" and knew Santa Claus would be involved somehow. Sometimes you just need to sit down and write.

Previous vignettes:

2016, "Outpost".

2015, "Wrapping Paper".

2013, "Christmas Dinner".

2011, "Another Christmas Interlude".

2009, "The Sleigh Race".

Thursday night, before bed, I read them all. Now there's a sixth. Fun!