Friday, February 15, 2019

Happy birthday, Val

Time marches on.

Having visions of Fimbulvetr

Looking out the window this morning all I can think is "Christ on crutch, is it ever going to stop snowing?" I'm feeling like we're trapped in a fantasy/horror story I once read about a person who ends mentally stuck inside a snow globe forever. In terms of total inches, it's not actually that bad yet -- our record snow total is about 430 inches for one winter and we're only up to around 150 -- but it has gotten to the point where it's causing problems for us. The S.O. is running out space to shove it out of the way with the plow truck. The driveway is getting narrower and narrower -- I want to order something online but can't because I know perfectly well that at the moment if the UPS truck came in here he wouldn't be able to turn around to get out again. The snowbanks are creeping too far in, and the turnaround has definitely shrunk.

We should order another cord of firewood, but it's the same deal. If the guy we bought the last cord from came in now with his dump trailer, he'd have a horrible time trying to get turned around to get out again. Backing out from our place is not an option when it would require reversing for about 800 feet and negotiating a couple of curves. Not dramatic curves, granted, but still not fun to do when the snowbanks are closing in and if you're off by just a couple inches you're going to get stuck. (We're not going to freeze if we don't have wood delivered. We do have a propane furnace as a back-up, but don't like using it.)

The thing that kind of worries me is this is only the middle of February. What's going to happen in March? March is when we get the spring storms where snowfall gets measured in feet, not inches, and the stuff that falls tend to be slush instead of fluff. Maybe I should be stocking the freezer and prepping for us being basically snowed in for awhile. I know that between the use of the plow truck, an ATV with a plow on it, a snow thrower, and the Yooper scooper we will always be able to get our driveway open eventually, but we could end up with multiple days where it's not possible to get into town. 

I am really missing the county road commission this winter. They stopped doing private driveways a few years ago, but this is the first winter where not having that grader come in occasionally is actually an issue.

Photo is of the S.O. plowing a couple weeks ago. We've gotten a lot more snow since then.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

I don't worry, I know

I don't worry about invisible formatting. I know it's happening. All it takes is looking at what's happening in HTML as a final step in editing and seeing a gazillion formatting commands that are going to do strange things as soon as I hit "publish." 

Thursday, February 7, 2019

How to ensure your political party dies

I did not watch the State of the Union address. It doesn't matter who the President happens to be, I never watch that speech because it's just pure political theater. It has, however, been interesting watching and listening to the after-the-fact responses.

Older Republican men seem to be especially flummoxed by the Democratic women. The amount of ignorance, sexism, and just plain out-of-touch-with-the-real-world bloviating has been a tad unreal. One dude was blathering on about, more or less, "what was with all that white? They looked like the KKK." Holy shit. The stupid, it burns*. Apparently that dude did not bother to listen to any of the women when in the days leading up to the State of the Union they explained  they were going to wear white to honor the history of the suffragettes who pushed for voting rights. No mystery, just a clear cut homage to the women in the past who made it possible for women to be in Congress and the Senate now.

Other male pundits and political establishment men didn't go quite that far into the depths of displaying their ignorance, but there has been an astounding amount of condescension and mockery. Lots and lots of thinly disguised "Oh, how cute. Look at the little girls playing at government." The news media is starting to call the middle-aged white dudes out on their cluelessness and rudeness, but the guys still don't get that they're digging their own political grave. A former Republican Congressman kept referring to Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez as a "barista," for example, and a reporter  chastised him for not treating Ocasio-Cortez with the respect any elected representative deserves. The Republican's response? He changed the subject. That type of clueless, belittling behavior emphasizes to anyone watching just how misogynistic the current Republican party is. And the more they do it, the more they sneer at women and belittle people like Ocasio-Cortez, Kamala Harris, and Ilhan Omar, the easier it becomes for activist groups like Emily's List to recruit more women to run for office.

One reason the Republicans did poorly at the polls in November 2018 is they're managing more and more to be see as the party of out-of-touch, stupid old white men. They used to be able to count on one group of women -- college educated whites -- but even they're jumping ship. If the GOP can't attract minorities of any color, and they're losing women, what's left? Sooner or later the supply of not-very-smart white guys is going to run out. Every so often someone in the GOP will point this out, but apparently the old dudes in office now figure it's not their problem: they're already guaranteed a pension and a cushy lobbying job if they're voted out, so why worry if the party as a whole goes the way of the Whigs?

*The dumbest remark at all may have come from Don jr who criticized Octavio-Cortez for not wearing a flag lapel pin when, with the exception of the President, no one in the Trump family bothered to wear one either, including Don jr.  

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Fecking amateurs.

Or, Another Museum Horror Story.

It is astounding how much damage people can do when they don't have a clue as to what they're doing. This is especially true when they think they're doing something good. For example, I've experienced many a day spent quietly weeping, figuratively speaking, over labels written in ink on photographs and documents, especially labels that weren't necessary or were positioned on the front instead of the back. You name a practice or activity that is an absolute Never Do This for archival documents or museum objects and I can say with certainty it's been done at our local historical society museum, and done multiple times by people who were sure they were doing the right thing.

The latest nightmare: because there's no heat in the building, I decided to take uncatalogued archival material home to sort through, scan, and get into the PastPerfect database. I figured out back in December it's hard to work with documents when you're wearing mittens. There's been a clear tote packed full of documents sitting unsorted since I began volunteering in 2012. It's about a 40 quart size. I popped the lid on it awhile back to get some sense of what was in it. Didn't take long to figure out the overall theme for the stash was "schools." I'd grabbed a few things out of it in the past couple years, like some rolled up diplomas that I flattened and encapsulated, but never penetrated very deep into what looked to be a spectacular mess.

That changed this week. The last time I went into town, the S.O. and I stopped by the museum. I dropped off a stack of material that will be filed once things warm up a little and grabbed a fresh stack from the "schools" box. It is indeed a mess. Today I weep.

Why do I weep? Because salted in with a lot of odds and ends are pieces that were obviously pulled out of a scrapbook -- the residue of scotch tape adhesive is a telling clue. A ticket stub from the Milwaukee Road, matchbooks from Chicago restaurants, and other souvenirs. A few have "senior trip" scribbled on them. I have a strong hunch where they came from. Last year I inventoried several scrapbooks that belonged to a woman who graduated from Baraga High School. One had a lot of gaps in it, spaces where things had been removed. Of course, I have no way of knowing that these things came from her scrapbook other than the fact that a souvenir program from the senior girls' tea has the woman's name and adhesive residue. That constitutes a suggestion that the other ripped from someplace else items might have been hers, too, but there's no way to ever know for sure.

So what's the result in the end? If this were a crime investigation, I'd say the chain of custody has been broken. In museum terms, provenance is now unverifiable. And just in general interpretive thinking and cultural history, what happened is some well meaning amateur took a scrapbook that if left intact would have provided a really nice slice of late 1950s high school life, a coherent picture of one person's history, and turned it into a stack of miscellaneous out of context incoherent junk. All that senior trip stuff, for example, if it was still in the scrapbook would have been really nice to incorporate into the schools' exhibit with the album open to those pages. As it is, even if a matchbook has "senior trip" written on it there's no way to know which school, what year, who the student was, or anything else. In short, a potentially valuable piece of local history got converted into garbage. 

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Yes, it's cold. So what?

It is minus 12 degrees Fahrenheit as I type this. It's cold outside. It's also January, a month not noted for balmy breezes or warm, sunny days. The fact it's cold outside should come as a surprise to no one.

It's also sort of snowing. Not especially dramatically, but an occasional flake or two has wafted down. Also not a surprise at this time of year, especially when we get hit with lake effect all the time. The Upper Peninsula sits between three of the Great Lakes: Superior to the north, Michigan and Huron to the south. Depending on which way the wind is blowing, if those lakes aren't solid sheets of ice, somewhere in the U.P. lake effect snow will fall.

We are, in short, having what for us Yoopers should be viewed as totally normal weather. It's not some sort of bizarre, unexpected natural disaster. It's winter. Hazardous driving conditions, including possible whiteout conditions, and life threatening cold temperatures are the norm up here from early November well into April. So why did everything shut down today? I have no clue, unless all the hype by the news media over the cold polar air pushing deeper than usual into southern states convinced various persons that an actual emergency existed. I can see closing schools in Missouri when it gets into negative numbers for kids waiting at bus stops; I can't see closing them in Michigan where we cope with this crap all the time.

What is truly bizarre, though, when it comes to coping with what is actually pretty ordinary winter weather is the number of businesses that shut down. Bars. Restaurants. Stores. I find all the closing announcements to be more than a tad unreal. Am I the only one who thinks that if snowmobilers and ice fishermen are able to go about pursuing their hobbies as usual there is no major winter storm event going on?

I will confess I tend to be a tad blase about winter cold. I still remember the fun times during my youth when there were cold spells that lasted for multiple days with temperatures hovering down around minus 30 for longer than I care to recall. It's a real joy to wake up in the morning and realize the feeble space heater in the living room did not manage to keep your bedroom above freezing overnight, the layer of ice in the water glass on the nightstand providing a strong clue the robe and slippers must be donned with lightning speed.

The Younger Daughter called from Arizona to ask how we were coping with the cold. I reminded her that 10 or 20 below at night is nothing. "Don't you remember," I asked, "that it was 30 below in the middle of the day when you were born?" Apparently her memory of the event isn't as clear as mine because, no, she doesn't remember it being super cold when my body finally expelled her. She arrived more than two weeks past the due date. At the time I was sure she'd heard just how cold it was outside and didn't plan to emerge until Spring.

I then reminded her about the Winter in the 1990s, the one where things stayed so cold for so long that I was sure we'd be seeing Frost Giants any time and municipal water lines froze that hadn't frozen since they'd been installed a hundred years earlier. We survived while living in a poorly insulated shoebox of a mobile home. She doesn't remember that one either. She was in Alabama staying with my sister while taking classes at the local community college.

I did tell her that if she's really concerned about her aging parents having to deal with Arctic air her dad and I could always come stay with her until things warm up here. We'd have to be house guests because the Guppy isn't running at the moment. Oddly enough, that's when she changed the subject from fretting about aging parents staying warm to hoping there's not another government shutdown this year because she really doesn't want to sit through another 4-hour staff meeting ever again. 

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Spam magnets

What, I wonder, turns a blog post into a spam magnet? About two years ago I wrote a post about one of the National Park sites in Arizona. It got two comments at the time, which is about par for one of my on-the-road posts, time passed, and then spam began appearing. Because I moderate comments a notice would pop up in my Hotmail account. I'd take a look, and the comment would be obvious spam: a very bland, meaningless sentence that could apply to any post with a suggestion that I check out a link.

Sometimes there wasn't even the meaningless sentence, just a link. They all seemed to originate in southeast Asia, e.g., Malaysia or Indonesia. I never clicked on the links, of course. I have days when I'm not the sharpest tool in the shed, but even barely awake and non-caffeinated I'm not stupid enough to click on links in spam.

There was another one of those spam comments this morning. Same post. You'd think that after a couple years passed the spammers would latch on to a different URL to target, a more recent post, but apparently not. 

Sunday, January 20, 2019

If you're going to write a book, do some research

I managed to depress myself recently by reading This Is The Way the World Ends, a thoroughly researched and remarkably frightening book about the rapid pace of climate change and just how thoroughly screwed we are. I decided I needed some mind candy, a piece of fiction that wouldn't require much thinking at all. You know, a break from reality. I'd check out a mystery, but nothing too dark, something from the Janet Evanovich school of writing instead of James Lee Burke or John Sandford.

For the uninitiated, Evanovich mixes romance and/or sex with the crime and corpses. Her lead characters are young women who manage to stay alluring while eating whatever they want (usually donuts and cupcakes), bumble their way through crime solving, and end up being saved by some dude who is the requisite tall, dark, and handsome (white horse to ride in on is optional). You know, classic female fantasy material. Evanovich also manages to be funny -- if Bob the Dog is involved, odds are there's going to some laugh out loud shenanigans happening -- so definitely mind candy. The mental equivalent of dining on gum drops and Snickers.

My expectations when reading fluff are not especially high. As long as the writing is reasonably smooth and the author doesn't commit too many howlers, I don't feel like it's been a total waste of my time. I'll flinch when I stumble across something that's a blooper, like referencing a cultural icon like a killer car and then saying that Christine was a Ford Pinto when she was actually a Plymouth Fury, but it doesn't matter what you're reading; with most fiction there's going to be blemish or two.

When that blemish turns into a severe case of creeping green crud, a fungus that permeates the entire work, however, I tend to get a tad annoyed. The latest annoyance? Holly Quinn's A Crafter Knits a Clue. I should have known, given the excessive cuteness of the title, but I really didn't expect it to turn into an incoherent hot mess. The first few pages weren't bad.

Then Quinn decided to turn high school basketball into a major plot point. First, she gets the season wrong. She has the sport being played much too late in the school year. Winter is over, daffodils are blooming, people are running around without winter jackets, but it's not even tournament season yet.. In Wisconsin. Let that sink in for a moment. The daffodils are a possibility, especially in the southern part of the state, but it's definitely not the end of Winter yet when basketball wraps up for the year. The Wisconsin state tournament is in mid-March. Maybe she'd never heard the term "March madness"? I can remember March Madness in Madison; there were still snowbanks. Disgusting, melting slushy snowbanks, to be sure, but still definitely not let's run around in just a tee-shirt weather.

Then she makes her teenage character a senior. It's getting towards the end of the school year, he's supposedly hoping to go to U-W on a basketball scholarship, but he hasn't been recruited yet. I used to be a college basketball coach's secretary. I know how this shit works. If a player is worth offering a scholarship to, the college coaches want to see them in action a lot earlier than the end of the season their senior year. They scout kids when they're juniors, sometimes earlier if their names keep popping up in sports reporting, check them out at summer basketball camps, and by the time it gets to be Christmas, they're angling for verbal commitments -- and when it gets to be National Signing Day (February 6 this year) they want the prospective players' signatures on paper. If there are college coaches or their minions at late season basketball games, they're not looking at the seniors. They're eyeballing the younger players and making notes on who to track as a possibility for a year or two down the road. 

There are multiple additional inconsistencies and bloopers in the book. Quinn really could have used a good editor. In one chapter her heroine is described as having a hard time juggling her purse, a bratwurst, and a soft drink but in the next paragraph she does a both thumbs up salutation to a friend -- and then is immediately back to dealing with both the brat and the drink simultaneously. Does she have four arms? The heroine gives out a slew of $50 gift cards for her shop but then thinks that it's a good thing sales were brisk that day because maybe she'll finally be out of the red. The handing out the gift cards made no sense in terms of plot development anyway. It seemed to be tossed in just to emphasize a little more what an extremely nice person Our Heroine is. End result? It feels sloppy. 

I suppose it could have been worse. One thing that grated a bit even if it didn't qualify as a blooper is the heroine refers to her full-grown golden retriever as her "puppy." Over and over. He's a puppy, not a dog, and although I think it's fine to baby talk to your dog regardless of his or her age in the real world it just reads as childish on the page. Not sure why that was irritating, especially when it could have been worse. Our Heroine could have been thinking of the beast as her fur baby.

Quinn apparently has fantasies of this being the first novel in a series. She may succeed in that ambition. Most readers won't pick up on the stuff that bothered me. Her attempts at humor fall pretty flat (she does definitely channel Evanovich, right down to having a good looking police detective as a romantic foil for the heroine), but they aren't offensive, just ineffective. The writing may be sloppy, but it's not hard to read. Readers who less fussy than I am might actually like the book. Stranger things have happened.