2016-10-21 10:50
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I was at an SF con and having trouble with the hotel. I was standing in line to talk to a hotel person (the line in front of me kept getting longer, although I didn’t see anybody cutting in), when we were all herded over to the side of the room so that Hillary Clinton’s cat could sniff over our luggage looking for blood.

I think I’ve been reading too much election coverage.


2016-08-08 12:47
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Sergei was holding forth on the problems he'd had in Russia as the son of a Government official. At one point, he was running in a large park and three agents were following him around. As cover (and to track him if they lost him), they were walking dogs. Unfortunately, the dogs were Chihuahuas, which simply couldn't keep up. Another time, they tried the same thing with medium Poodles. This time, the problem was that the dogs were far too fond of tummy rubs. Every time they saw a person, they'd run over to them and flop down on their backs for a tummy rub.

There were also hamburgers, chocolate pastries, and a restaurant with far too long a hallway between dining rooms. I made a point to leave the waitress a big tip.


2016-07-15 11:12
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A new entry for The World's Worst Cocktail: the eggplant sour.

I don't remember the rest of the dream. This is a Good Thing.


2015-10-07 14:01
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Dentists and penguins are a bad combination.
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Yah, I get it. You've answered the same elementary bleepin' question a zillion times and you're tired of hearing it. I understand the temptation to just tell the questioner to buzz off. But if you do, you've just created an enemy. Never a good idea.

There's always the temptation to just tell somebody to "do a Google search". Don't. Give it a try (turn Safe Search off; you may get a surprise!); you'll find that it invariably brings up all kinds of garbage along with the good stuff. The reason people need answers in the first place is that they can't necessarily tell the good from the bad.

The answer, developed early in the history of the Internet (long before the Web!), is the list of frequently asked questions, or FAQ. You simply take all those questions that you're tired of hearing and put them into a list, along with answers. Then, when some clueless newbie asks an elementary question, just send him a pointer to the FAQ, perhaps with a note "see number 12"


  • The tone must be as neutral as possible. Anything starts out with some variation of "you jerk!!" isn't going to do any good at all. Beware of adjectives.
  • Avoid loaded words. "Rape", "murder", "genocide", "terrorism", and "treason" are the ones that I've seen misused the most. Most dangerous of all is attempting to redefine loaded words -- if you refer to someone as a Nazi, be sure that they really were a member of the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei.
  • Learn what Marxist dialectic looks like. Avoid it like the plague. Older people (like me, for example) have a nasty trigger response to it.
  • Use real questions. I've seen too many "FAQs" answering questions that I can't imagine anybody actually asking. Some is axe-grinding, some is market-speak, some is just plain cluelessness.
  • One of the most useful things you can put into a FAQ is a list of "magic words". To someone not familiar with a field, it's often not obvious what search terms to use. Use the wrong terms and you'll get buried in drivel. For example, if you're looking for instructions on how to do something in Linux, the Magic Word is HOWTO.


  • Avoid the "all X are Y" fallacy. It's ether false, a tautology, or a definition.
  • Be careful of "if X then Y" constructions. People tend to ignore the "X" and argue with the "Y".
  • When possible, frame things positively. People often don't hear the "not" in a statement and will think you said the opposite.
  • Be very careful with terminology. Words mean different things in different contexts. For example, "freedom of speech", "treason", and "fair use" have specific legal meanings. Make clear when you're using the technical instead of the popular term.
  • Know the difference between an elementary question and a stupid question. Answer elementary questions; ignore stupid questions. The main "stupid questions" I deal with are the ones that have already been answered, the ones that are wildly off-topic, and the ones that are out-and-out loaded. That said, you don't need to write a textbook if your subject depends on an understanding of, say, calculus. Point them to a real textbook.


  • Learn about primary and secondary sources. This is Research 101, but it's amazing how many people don't know the difference. Reports of scientific research in the popular press are infamous for getting things backwards.
  • References to respected authority are always good. After all, one of the reasons you're writing your FAQ is that you know enough about your subject to know who the "respected experts" are. For this FAQ HOWTO, see "Language in Thought and Action" by S. I. Hayakawa.
  • Beware of wikis. It's too easy for axe-grinders to get in and mess things up. The Wikipedia article about a friend of mine is wildly inaccurate and borderline libelous, for example. (Wikipedia's "edit wars" are infamous.)
  • And speaking of Wikipedia, remember that it's the first source for everything and the final authority on nothing.
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Fairly frequently, I have a "no pants" dream, where I am not wearing pants (or less commonly, naked). Nobody ever notices. Whatever else is going on in the dream has no relevance to my lack of lower body covering.

Last nigit, I had a dream where a young woman (blonde, slender, nobody I know) was naked, and nobody noticed. I think I wandered into her dream.

There were also mattresses that had to be lugged from Here to There and alligators wrapped in duct tape. Like my dreams make sense?

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I dreamed I was in some kind of entertainment complex, with a lot of bars. Some were mobbed; some were deserted. Most were just ordinary bars, but some were specialized. 'Way down at the end was a bar specializing in rum cakes. They had all sort of rum cakes, from plain to very fancy (a T Rex head, white with black spots, Dalmatian style. You could get a slice for five dollars or so, or the whole thing for $999 (it was seriously large)). And of course, beverages to go with. Fortunately, this included plain coffee.
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Bacteria are "in"

Market "healthy" bacteria. Skin bacteria, stomach/mouth bacteria, large intestine bacteria.

Spray some bacteria on your socks and no more stinky feet.
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  • Carbon fiber fabric. Used for making very stiff, strong, lightweight panels. My understanding is that the aircraft industry has first dibs on all production. Also, the quality requirements for aircraft are far higher than for, say, automotive body panels. This means that carbon fiber panels are a lot more expensive than they should be.
  • Aerogels. Would make *terrific* insulated windows. They would have a higher R value than the wall that they're set in. I think that with the latest aerogel technology, you could get a solid object that is lighter than air by filling them with hydrogen or helium. Great demo!
  • Blue LEDs.  They shouldn't work, but they do.  Figure out why.  Semiconductors depend on the perfection of their crystal structure to work.  Blue/UV LEDs are just jam-packed with imperfections, but they still work.  If you could get rid of the imperfections, they'd probably work a lot better.
  • High-temperature superconductors.  The theory still isn't worked out very well, and "traditional" applications are difficult (you can't draw them into wires, for example).  Magnetic levitation is a possibility.  Energy storage?  Motors? Put a big current through it, drop the temperature to the critical point, and you've got a "permanent magnet" that might be able to compete with rare-earth magnets.
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When you have a chemical reaction, you start out in one energy state and end up in a lower energy state. However, there is an "energy barrier" between the states. This means that you can mix, for example, hydrogen and oxygen gasses without them reacting, until something adds enough energy to go over the barrier. You get that energy back as part of the reaction; it just keeps the reaction from starting. Catalysts work by lowering the energy barrier, usually by providing a bunch of intermediate states that have lower energy barriers than the original reaction. In quantum mechanics, there are two ways of getting past a barrier. You can go over, which requires adding enough energy to climb over the barrier. However, you can also "tunnel" through the barrier *without* adding energy. The probability of tunneling depends on the area (integral) of the barrier, and not on its height. So theoretically, a catalyst could work by reducing the *width* of the barrier instead of its height.
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This is Grandad's and Grandmother's house; I spent a fair amount of time growing up in it. Grandad commissioned it when his store started doing well in the 1920s and lived in it the rest of his life. It's now a B&B The problem is not that it's been gutted and remodeled and, I think, merged with the house next door (the Tudor one). The problem is the lawn and the trees.

"What lawn?", you say. "What trees?" Well, when I was there, the lawn was the kind of thing that supposedly you only get on very old English estates, like a very thick carpet, soft as a feather bed. I remember Grandad walking carefully around the lawn, looking for weeds. When he found one, he would take out his pocket knife (a little bitty thing on his keychain) and carefully cut it out.

There were three or four large trees in front, right next to the road. I'm not a Plant Person; I don't remember what kind of trees they were. If they were elms, that might explain why they're no longer there. But it's a real shame; the shade was wonderful during the summer. One thing about the Great Plains; there's always a breeze. (If you can walk against it without too much trouble, it's a "breeze" :-) Remember that originally, this was dead flat shortgrass prairie.

Cimmaron National Grassland
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Never wrestle with a pig. You'll both get filthy, but the pig loves it.
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In planetary physics, the Lagrange points are points in a two-body system where the gravitational attraction from the two bodies are equal. There are five such points; L1-L3 are unstable while L4 and L5 are stable. The Earth-Moon L4 and L5 points have attracted interest as possible sites for space colonies.

But what's already there? There has only been one space mission through L4 and L5 (the Hiten spacecraft), which found no increase in the amount of interplanetary dust. (That was the only instrument it had.) It seems to me that all sorts of interplanetary flotsam should end up there, from dust to fairly good-sized rocks. Some of them should be visible (via light or radar) from the ground. It would also seem to be a good place to collect samples of interplanetary flotsam; much easier than going all the way out to the asteroid belt.

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How big is the Universe? What's its mass? I don't mean the *visible* universe -- I mean the whole thing. According to current cosmology, immediately after the "big bang", the universe went through a period of "inflation", where space itself expanded far faster than the speed of light. This spread out all of the "wrinkles" in space-time that should have been generated by the Big Bang, so that we see, for example, the cosmic background radiation as being very smooth in all directions.

However, this means that there are parts of the universe that we can't see -- they're "over the horizon". Inflation pushed them to a distance that their light simply can't get to us.

According to the Wikipedia article above, estimates of the size of the total Universe range from 250 times the size of the visible universe to 3×1023 times the size of the visible universe. I'd think that this would be a critical parameter for any "theory of everything". With estimates differing by 21 orders of magnitude, there's obviously room for research.

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"Topics For Research" are simply questions that I don't know the answer to, and might be interesting for a research project. Some, I am sure, are questions that were answered a long time ago, but I don't know the proper Magic Words to feed into Google. Some might be worthy of a dissertation.
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"What's reincarnation?" a cowboy asked his friend. His old pal told him:

It starts when your life comes to it's end: They comb your hair and wash your neck and clean your fingernails
And put you in a padded box, away from life's travails.
Then the box and you goes in a hole that's been dug into the ground.
Reincarnation starts when you're planted beneath that mound.
Them clods melt down, just like that box and you inside -
And that's when you're beginning your transformation ride.
And in awhile the grass will grow upon your rendered mound
Until someday upon that spot a lonely flower is found.
And then a "hoss" done eat it along with his other feed -
Makes bone and fat essential to the steed -
But there's a part that the horse can't use and so it passes through and there it lies upon the ground.
This thing that once was you, and if by chance I should pass by and see this on the ground,
I'll stop awhile and I'll ponder at this object that I've found.
And I'll think about reincarnation and life and death and such,
And I'll come away concludin' "Why, you ain't changed all that much!"

-- Wally McRee
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Another one from Grandad:

Abe: "I wish I could buy a battleship."

Zeke: "Why on earth do you want a battleship?"

Abe: "I don't. I just want the money."

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"Yuppies, Puppies, and Tea"

The only thing it brings to mind is an exceptionally syrupy New Age self-help book, like "The Celestine Prophecy" only more so.

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Pan-Roasted Chicken Thighs

Moist, juicy chicken thighs with a crispy skin.

Servings: 2-4

Cook Time: 35 minutes


  • 6 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs (about 2 1/4 pounds)
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil


Preheat oven to 475°. Pat the thighs dry and rub with the oil. Season with salt and pepper. Heat a 12" cast-iron1 skillet over high heat until hot but not smoking. Nestle chicken in skillet, skin side down, and cook 2 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-high; continue cooking skin side down, occasionally rearranging chicken thighs and rotating pan to evenly distribute heat, until fat renders and skin is golden brown, about 12 minutes.2, 3

Transfer skillet to oven and cook 12 more minutes. Flip chicken; continue cooking until skin crisps and meat is cooked through, about 5 minutes longer. Transfer to a plate; let rest 5 minutes before serving.4


  1. When I say "cast iron", I mean cast iron. The original suggests a nonstick pan; don't. You risk ruining it. Cast iron is indestructible.
  2. Like all good fried chicken recipes, this will splatter grease all over your stove and oven if you let it. I use a "splatter screen" over the pan on top of the stove and a piece of aluminum foil loosely over the pan in the oven. (This turns out to be surprisingly tricky -- air currents from the oven will pick up the foil and carry it away.)
  3. The temperature of the pan is critical to get the proper skin texture.
  4. This makes an excellent pan gravy.
Original recipe
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The problem with "berry" muffins is that the berries tend to dry out -- their juice cooks out into the main body of the muffin. In these muffins, the juice stays inside the pomegranate "arils" -- the little individual seed packets. When you bite into them, you get a little explosion of juice in your mouth.


  • 2 cups (270g) all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ⅓ cup minced crystallized ginger1
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
  • 1 ¼ cup pomegranate arils2, 3 (one medium pomegranate)


  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 large egg
  • ½ cups honey or ⅔ cups sugar
  • ¼ cup oil

In a bowl, mix flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Stir in crystallized ginger, lemon peel, and pomegranate arils. Make a well in the center.

In another bowl, blend milk, egg, honey, and oil. Add any juice from extracting the arils. Pour all the liquid into the well. Stir just until the batter is moistened; it will be lumpy. Spoon batter into 12 (2 ½ inch wide) or 24 (1 ¾ inch wide) buttered muffin cups, filling each almost to the rim. Sprinkle each with 1-2 teaspoons sugar.

Bake in a 425°F oven until lightly browned (about 16 minutes for large muffins, 13 minutes for small). Remove the muffins from the pan at once. Serve hot, or set on a rack and serve warm or cool.

  1. Crystallized ginger is wonderful stuff, but it tends to be pricey. Trader Joe's has "uncrystallized ginger", which is just as good, for a reasonable price.
  2. "Arils" are the individual pomegranate "seeds" -- the seed itself, the layer of juice, and the membrane that holds the juice in.
  3. Getting the arils out of the fruit can be a bit of a challenge. Try to use brute force and you'll end up looking like an extra in a slasher movie -- the juice stains. There are helpful videos on YouTube, of course. Some of them even work. The way I do it:
    1. Cut around the equator of the fruit, just deeply enough to get through the rind.
    2. Pry the two hemispheres apart
    3. Gently pull the rind apart, loosening the arils
    4. Hold the hemisphere over a bowl, cut side down.
    5. Whack it vigorously with a heavy wooden spoon. Ideally, the arils will just fall out.
    6. Pick out any of the white membrane that finds its way into the bowl.
    7. Repeat with the other hemisphere.
    Here's a YouTube video of the process.

Original recipe


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