Sep 17

Operation Splinter, part three

I did not give you the update on Wednesday, but there was work done on the current super secret project. For more on how little of this I’ve told you about it, you can find part one here and see part two here.

Anyway, on Wednesday I spent about three hours working on my cereal smuggling submersible project. As I mentioned previously, I am on step two of the build. This second step has three phases. Last week I progressed through the first two of those three phases. Wednesday, I made it into the beginning of the third phase of the second step of the project.

(Everybody got that?)

And so it was that I found myself under a threatening rain cloud on a Friday afternoon, driving way out into the countryside to pick up a few tools from a co-worker who was kind enough to loan me some speciality items. You can’t just build a cereal smuggling submersible project like this with a hammer and nails alone, no sir. This third phase will involve, as I said last week, two precise series of calibrations. I’ll lay all of that out tomorrow and complete step two over the course of the weekend.

The good news is that laying the keel the third phase of step two of my cereal smuggling submersible project will go quickly, and I may also get to the beginning of the third step this weekend, too.

And if I make it through the third step with my sanity intact or without breaking too many things then the end will be in sight. Step four has two parts and the fifth and final step is really just a question of putting the cereal smuggling sub in the water installation.

So if you come by this weekend, you’re in for a treat.

Also, you’re in for another sort of treat. Today is the first day of Catember. Use that link, or just visit every day, for the last on The Black Cat’s adventures.

Aug 17

What do you think he’s thinking?

Saw this guy on the way back from lunch today. It was cloudy when we set out, started raining before we got back inside and then waited it out before going back to the office. So the timing was just right and the preying mantis was probably wondering where all that water came from and why it suddenly stopped when we happened by.

Preying Mantis

And what’s the story with these creatures holding these rectangular things so close to my face? Don’t they know I could eat them?

Isn’t it interesting, that when you anthropomorphize a creature you give it some rational thought processes, create the cute barrier between them and us by a valley of not understanding some aspect of our lives like cameras, but then give them the power of understanding human constructs, like shapes?

It’s like a two block walk back to our building. I have time to think a few things through, is what I’m saying.

Hey, here’s a book, let’s look in it!

Reader's Digest

I have a stack of my grandfather’s books. Text books, technical manuals, encyclopedias and old magazines. A little at a time I am adding some of the cooler things to the site. You can see the first few things I found in this 1960 Reader’s Digest here. You can see the entire collection right here.

Aug 17

Hurry up, cookie

With this evening’s dinner came this good news:


The obvious reply is … Well?

And the obvious retort is “You got lucky numbers on the next line, pal. This is an American thing, not some ancient mystic wisdom. This is from a factory in Manitowoc, Wisconsin or some place and not from a specifically catered-to-you diving insight. We use a javascript the boss’s nephew wrote to randomize these notes, after all.”

Which is funny in its own way. The last time we ordered Chinese we got four cookies. Two cookies each! My fortunes were identical. So someone in Manitowoc needs to step it up.

In our undying effort to set the record straight, Wikipedia will now tell us where fortune cookies are made:

The largest manufacturer of the cookies is Wonton Food Inc., headquartered in Brooklyn, New York. They make over 4.5 million fortune cookies per day. Another large manufacturer are Baily International in the Midwest and Peking Noodle in the Los Angeles area. There are other smaller, local manufacturers including Tsue Chong Co. in Seattle, Keefer Court Food in Minneapolis and Sunrise Fortune Cookie in Philadelphia. Many smaller companies will also sell custom fortunes.

So be on the lookout the next time you get a fortune cookie. Then maybe you start a spreadsheet and see whose cookies have the highest rate of prophetic accuracy.

Here’s a fine looking building:

Monroe County Courthouse

Find out more about it on the historic markers site. There are more interesting and important local places you can see right here.

And I think you should read this on Twitter:

It’s nice to see the public-facing Bill Murray have such a nice year. Seems the least the universe can do.

I hope he didn’t steal my luck, though. The fortune cookie came to me, after all.

Aug 17

There’s a lot of odd stuff in this post, so, the usual

Do you know the significance of this building? It has some important history.

You’ll learn about this building on the most recent addition to the historic markers site. If you just can’t get enough of the historical markers you can see them all right here.

Today I helped put stickers on cameras for a few minutes. All of that Sunday school training paid off. Except for on the few stickers that were a millimeter or two off-center here or there. (But don’t tell.) Four stickers per camera. One on the body, one on the lens, another on the power adaptor — it does a slow focus pull in video mode — and another on the external microphone.

This is the funniest cruel thing — is it the funniest, cruel thing or the cruelest, funny thing? — that I’ll watch. The premise is the expert explains the topic over hot peppers. Some people get through it just fine, this lady tells an interesting story and she’s really hurting. And I’m sympathetic to her plight. But I learned some neat things:

We watched this last night. Just an incredible hour of television, which took place in 2005 and I just discovered. It is amazing, in a way, that this made it to network television. And it was the fourth highest rated episode of the last season of West Wing. And of course, this would never happen in real life, ever. But it is a fun watch:

The West Wing S 7 Ep 07 – The Debate

Or maybe you just have to be a certain kind of viewer to appreciate that. But I enjoyed that, didn’t want it to end. I dreaded it ending, and how often do you say that about a single episode of television? I realized why Alan Alda is there and put away, for an hour, my Unifying Theory of Alda, because this was more important, than that. Which is saying something for a fictitious debate in a non-existent presidential campaign in a world that we don’t live in — with issues similar to ours.

But, then, I spent a lot of my master’s degree working on debates and writing and researching campaign material, so maybe you have to be an especially specific kind of viewer. I’m going to have to stop it during the opening credits right now, or I’ll end up watching the thing again …

Jul 17

‘Now batting … Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar II’

Any guesses on why this path is important?

Trick question, the sidewalk itself isn’t important, but the property is quite meaningful. You can find out why on the most recent addition to the historic markers site. And if you want to read all of the markers I’ve collected from my bicycle, well you’re just a special history fan yourself, aren’t you? You can see them all, in reverse chronological order, right here.

A quiet day at work, a quiet evening with food from the grill. I spent some time writing.

And I read the scariest story of the day, something Michael Lewis got in Vanity Fair, that reads like it is the first chapter of his next book. Lewis has his detractors, but he can put words down. And if even a third of this story is feet-down accurate, this is disturbing. And so an almost-random six paragraph selection:

(T)he Trump White House asked the D.O.E.’s inspector general to resign, along with the inspectors general of the other federal agencies, out of the mistaken belief that he was an Obama appointee. After members of Congress called to inform the Trump people that the inspectors general were permanent staff, so that they might remain immune to political influence, the Trump people re-installed him.

But there was actually a long history of even the appointees of one administration hanging around to help the new appointees of the next. The man who had served as chief financial officer of the department during the Bush administration, for instance, stayed a year and a half into the Obama administration—simply because he had a detailed understanding of the money end of things that was hard to replicate quickly. The C.F.O. of the department at the end of the Obama administration was a mild-mannered civil-servant type named Joe Hezir. He had no particular political identity and was widely thought to have done a good job—and so he half-expected a call from the Trump people asking him to stay on, just to keep the money side of things running smoothly. The call never came. No one even let him know his services were no longer required. Not knowing what else to do, but without anyone to replace him, the C.F.O. of a $30 billion operation just up and left.

This was a loss. A lunch or two with the chief financial officer might have alerted the new administration to some of the terrifying risks they were leaving essentially unmanaged. Roughly half of the D.O.E.’s annual budget is spent on maintaining and guarding our nuclear arsenal, for instance. Two billion of that goes to hunting down weapons-grade plutonium and uranium at loose in the world so that it doesn’t fall into the hands of terrorists. In just the past eight years the D.O.E.’s National Nuclear Security Administration has collected enough material to make 160 nuclear bombs. The department trains every international atomic-energy inspector; if nuclear power plants around the world are not producing weapons-grade material on the sly by reprocessing spent fuel rods and recovering plutonium, it’s because of these people. The D.O.E. also supplies radiation-detection equipment to enable other countries to detect bomb material making its way across national borders. To maintain the nuclear arsenal, it conducts endless, wildly expensive experiments on tiny amounts of nuclear material to try to understand what is actually happening to plutonium when it fissions, which, amazingly, no one really does. To study the process, it is funding what promises to be the next generation of supercomputers, which will in turn lead God knows where.

The Trump people didn’t seem to grasp, according to a former D.O.E. employee, how much more than just energy the Department of Energy was about. They weren’t totally oblivious to the nuclear arsenal, but even the nuclear arsenal didn’t provoke in them much curiosity. “They were just looking for dirt, basically,” said one of the people who briefed the Beachhead Team on national-security issues. “‘What is the Obama administration not letting you do to keep the country safe?'” The briefers were at pains to explain an especially sensitive aspect of national security: the United States no longer tests its nuclear weapons. Instead, it relies on physicists at three of the national labs—Los Alamos, Livermore, and Sandia—to simulate explosions, using old and decaying nuclear materials.

This is not a trivial exercise, and to do it we rely entirely on scientists who go to work at the national labs because the national labs are exciting places to work. They then wind up getting interested in the weapons program. That is, because maintaining the nuclear arsenal was just a by-product of the world’s biggest science project, which also did things like investigating the origins of the universe. “Our weapons scientists didn’t start out as weapons scientists,” says Madelyn Creedon, who was second-in-command of the nuclear-weapons wing of the D.O.E., and who briefed the incoming administration, briefly. “They didn’t understand that. The one question they asked was ‘Wouldn’t you want the guy who grew up wanting to be a weapons scientist?’ Well, actually, no.”

In the run-up to the Trump inauguration the man inside the D.O.E. in charge of the nuclear-weapons program was required to submit his resignation, as were the department’s 137 other political appointees. Frank Klotz was his name, and he was a retired three-star air-force lieutenant general with a Ph.D. in politics from Oxford. The keeper of the nation’s nuclear secrets had boxed up most of his books and memorabilia just like everyone else and was on his way out before anyone had apparently given the first thought to who might replace him. It was only after Secretary Moniz called a few senators to alert them to the disturbing vacancy, and the senators phoned Trump Tower sounding alarmed, that the Trump people called General Klotz, on the day before Donald Trump was inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States, and asked him to bring back the stuff he had taken home and move back into his office. Aside from him, the people with the most intimate knowledge of the problems and the possibilities of the D.O.E. walked out the door.

And, finally, John Jay is trending. Apparently this is a left fielder for the Cubs, though of course I thought of the first chief justice of the Supreme Court. So I decided to make an all Supreme Court baseball team:

OF: John Jay
OF: Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar II
OF: Bushrod Washington
3B: James Iredell
SS: Benjamin Cardozo|
2B: Salmon Chase
1B: Thurgood Marshall
C: Melville Fuller
P: Hugo Black
DH: Harold Hitz Burton

Relief: William Howard Taft
Relief: Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Closer: Oliver Wendell Holmes

Holmes has to make the team, of course, but he has to also wear his bushy mustache. And Harold Hitz Burton was an obvious and inspired choice for DH. And my team probably can’t hit for power, and they have no real speed, but they make up for all of that with their clubhouse presence.

UPDATE: Of course it has been pointed out that I left off perhaps the most athletic jurist on the court. Byron White was an All Pro in the NFL before turning to the law. And he was an All-American on the football field at the University of Colorado, as well. The Whizzer also hit .400 for the Buffaloes. I wonder what he thought about free agency…