Friday, May 31, 2019

A few pictures from Texas

Coastal South Texas: Mesquite, Prickly Pear and an estuary. Location
Two of the four dishes delivered to the table for the $12 entree. The name of the restaurant was the El Dorado.
They taste like chicken. This one is wearing lip stick.
These birds are invariably found in pairs proving the proverb that one good tern follows another.
Prickly pear fruit that birds drilled into and ate the seeds.
Alter at Our Lady of Consolation Church. The best place to get recommendations for authentic, Mexican food are at churches that have Spanish language services.
No blood. Skinny guy on the crucifix. Very subdued for a church with a large Mexican-American base.

Close-up of the grain on a mesquite cutting board.


One of Belladonna's friends at college is from Ghana.

I had a chance to talk to her recently, much to Belladonna's annoyance. Bella is not a political animal and discussions about land ownership patterns and legacies of various colonial powers puts her to sleep.

It was a wide ranging discussion.

"J" seemed to believe that there were vast tracts of vacant land in Ghana waiting to be claimed. I suspect that she is a city person and automatically believes that land that is not actively under the plow does not belong to anybody.

We talked about tropical agriculture. She is of the belief that temperate agricultural practices have little to offer compared to traditional, tropical methods. Since the primary tropical method is slash-and-burn with a ten year fallow followed by one good harvest and one mediocre harvest, the method is limited.

And those wide open spaces? The southern third of the country has a population density of 400-to-600 people per square mile, about on par with Maryland or Connecticut. Hardly unsettled.

Her professors told her that third world countries are poverty stricken due to lack of infrastructure. Like all generalization there is a degree of truth to the statement. Most roads and rail lines exist to carry resources from the interior to the port.

"J" shared an example one of her profs gave as "Proof". A village might have a crop failure due to flooding while another a mile away had a bumper crop due to the excellent rains. The village that flooded will starve out because there is no infrastructure to move the food from the village where food is abundant.

I got the sense that "infrastructure", from the prof's perspective meant taxes, officials and forced redistribution.

I asked about markets "Do they count as infrastructure?"

The professor never got around to discussing the role of free markets in moving goods from where they are abundant and cheap to where they are scarce and dear.

Mrs ERJ wanted to talk about the brain-drain. Many smart people from third world countries go overseas to get an education and then do not return to their home countries.

"J" was adamant that nearly all of her peers want to return but that there are no jobs.

That is when I twisted the knife. I said "It seems like many of the jobs are make-work jobs in government. The people in power create sinecures to employ their sons and nephews. Those make-work jobs raise taxes and create more administrative burdens for job formation and are a tremendous economy killers."

"J" agreed that if you were not a member of the area's dominant tribe or related to the people in the power structure you were basically screwed.

Why I still use herbicides

If you have been following the news then you are aware that Bayer Chemical company bought Monsanto Chemical company just before the "Round-up" law suites slammed them. There is a very real concern that Bayer will be driven into bankruptcy status.

Recently, a California case was concluded with the headlines "Round-up causes Cancer" and a two-hundred million dollar settlement.

There are hundreds, maybe thousands of "Round-up" cases percolating through the courts.

This is a perfect storm for Bayer. Monsanto is hated by Greenies because they were at the forefront of what Luddites call "Franken-foods", that is, genetically engineered food crops. Farmers dislike them because Monsanto aggressively protected their intellectual property and used the legal system to put competitors out of business.

One must wonder, why are all of these court cases coming to fruition AFTER Monsanto left "American" ownership and is now owned by the Germans?

I hope I never regret these words
I still use glyphosate, the active ingredient in Round-up herbicide.

I also use 2,4-d which was one of the ingredients in Agent Orange, the herbicide used in Vietnam.

Both of them are effective herbicides and work as well, or better than claimed on "the label".

With regards to causing cancer...juries are not scientists and lawyers are paid to present the most compelling case, not the most un-biased, evidence-based science.

The the other thing is that users are not supposed to bath in it. I use due care in the application and immediately shuck off the clothing that may have collected spray drift and take a shower.

I was a grounds-keeper for a few summers. The temptation is to spray in the morning when the wind is down and the temperatures are pleasant for walking around. The pant cuffs or socks get wet with dew and the herbicide spray is un-noticed. It saturates the clothing and the person who applied the spray might continue to wear them for the entire shift. Or they might wear sandals while applying the herbicide.

Looking a little farther down the road, it is reasonable to expect that every drug, every chemical in an aerosol can will sky-rocket in price.

In layman's terms, industrial science involves a finite amount of "certainty". Said another way, it is mathematically impossible to drive 'uncertainty' down to zero. Any law suite can chisel away at a produce because the certainty is not absolute.

If 95% certainty is not good enough than what is the magic number? How about 97%? Or 99%? 99.9%? 99.9999%?

Each increase in "certainty" vastly increases the size, complexity and cost of validating products. $20 aspirin tablet will become the norm rather than the butt of a joke and stalks of celery will cost $5 each.

Lefties point to Round-up as a reason why we need more government over-sight. They say you cannot trust Corporations.

I see their conclusion as the result of false choices.

I have limited trust of Corporations and I have limited trust in Government. The Lefties would have the people responsible for the Flint water crisis (Political Scientists and "don't make waves" bureaucrats) overseeing chemists with Ph.Ds. Yeah, great plan. What could go wrong?

It is child-like to think that we can give away our responsibilities and safely live on auto-pilot while floating through life looking at our smartphones and being totally self-absorbed.

My objection to the false choice is that it is neither required nor desirable that adults give their responsibility to any entity, corporate or government.

As an adult, I am the captain of my own ship. I look at the charts and listen to the weather forecasts. I listen to the creak of the ship and assess the quality of my sails. Then I plan my own course and accept the consequences.

Seven Skinny Cows: Northward bound

Mark Salazar and eight-year-old Rosie Cowper started north a week after the rain stopped. Mark expected that they would have to hole up a few times along the way to wait for flooded bridges but he had a bad feeling about staying with the buildings.

The day before they left Mark filled the most isolated outbuilding on the east side of the property half full of firewood. He did not stack it, he left it jumbled. He wanted to have a good draft into it.

Then he brought Grumpy and Doreen’s bodies and gently laid them on the pile with about of foot gap between them. Then he arranged them so they were holding hands.

Mark read from Isaiah 35 and John 14.

He asked Rosie if she wanted to say good-bye. She did.

“I don’t know how to pray.” Rosie said.

“What would you say to God if he was standing right here in front of us?” Mark said.

“Do I have to say it out-loud or can I say it in my head?” Rosie asked.

“Either way works.” Mark said. “But my mom always said that saying it out-loud was to pray twice. That, and it feels more like you were praying.”

Rosie had a heart-to-heart conversation with God as she leaned into Mark.

Rosie wanted to know why God made the plague.

Rosie wanted God to keep her parents safe, where ever they were.

Rosie asked God to buy a stove like the one Doreen had cooked and baked on for fifty years. She asked that Grumpy have plenty of dead ash to split, cinnamon rolls to eat and coffee to drink.

“It is probably better if you don’t watch the next part.” Mark said.

Rosie went back to the house and stood by the two back-packs on the porch. Old Shep waited there with her as Mark started the fire on the windward side at the bottom of the woodpile.

He waited to ensure that the wood was catching before turning away.

“Fair winds, Grumpy and Doreen. Fair winds.” he said out-loud as he walked away.

They shouldered their backpacks and Mark opened the door to the chicken coop on the way by. He blocked the door open. Maybe they could make it as feral chickens. Maybe not. But at least they would have a chance.

They made it five miles the first day. Rosie lacked suitable shoes. Everything she owned was ‘fashionable’. They sparkled and had heels. Mark had to dig through the attic and find some of Doreen’s old shoes. For now they were too big but extra socks helped with that.

Mark and Rosie camped beneath some red cedar trees two hundred yards from the road they were following. He dipped water from the swollen stream that had served as the water source for the old pasture they were in.

Dinner was rice and chunked summer sausage.

It took three days to make it to the Michigan line. Mark breathed a sigh of relief.

A consequence of high school sports is that residents of the Upper Peninsula, four hundred miles away were more likely to have heard of ‘Eaton Rapids’ than Ohio residents a mere seventy-five miles south of Eaton Rapids. Eaton Rapids rarely had a winning football season but they were widely known for their wrestling and softball program.

The first challenge was at the East Branch of the St Joseph River.

The man had his gun trained on Mark and Rosie from fifty yards away. He had them stop five paces away and demanded that Mark give up his gun.

Mark said, “I don’t think so.” He had it hanging from a loose, tac-sling across his chest. The 16 gauge shells were loaded with #6 shot, a shot size typically used to shoot rabbits and squirrels. At five yards it would act like a solid slug.

“All we ask is safe passage. We are heading north.” Mark said.

“Where are you going?” the man asked, keeping his own weapon at low ready.

“I have family in Eaton Rapids.” Mark said. “My daughter and I are going to rejoin them. My name is Mark and this is Rosie."

Mark and Rosie decided that it would be far easier to explain away Rosie as being Mark’s daughter.

“That is a mighty long walk.” the man observed. Then as an afterthought said "My name is Dean."

“Well, Dean, we would have taken the bus but it seems as though they stopped running.” Mark observed, wryly.

“How far do you think you are going to go today?” Dean asked.

“We have been averaging about ten miles a day.” Mark said. “We are still toughening up after doing nothing all winter.”

“Where did you start?” Dean asked. Dean and all of his neighbors were hungry for information.

“About three miles south of here.” Mark said. “Can you recommend a high place for us to camp a couple hours north of here? That would be about six or seven miles.”

“Yeah, you might try the Pittsford State Game Area.” Dean suggested.

Mark winced. “Probably crawling with a bunch of city dudes that 'bugged out' thinking they are going to hunt for a living.”

“Any other suggestions?” Mark asked.

Dean frowned a little bit. He did not know it but Mark had turned him into a friend by the simple expedient of asking for advice.

“A couple of miles east of the State Game Area there are a couple of lakes. As far as I know, there aren’t any people living in them right now. Might be ‘OK’ if you were tidy and didn’t make a mess of the place. Most of them leave a spare key under the mat or a garden gnome.” Dean offered.

“Sound perfect.” Mark said. Where there were lakes there were likely to be ducks. A northbound duck would be a welcome change from the summer sausage. Who knows. They might even be able to turn up some vittles in one of the cabins that the locals missed.  Either one of them would be a welcome change from spaghetti, rice, Spam and summer sausage.


Thursday, May 30, 2019

Fawns, horseradish and plum curculio

Can you see it?

How about now?

I darn near stepped on this little rascal. He/she stayed where mama put her. I expect this fawn's mother was born last spring. Most 1-1/2 and older does drop twins and they drop them in the first week of May. This little dude is not that old.

There are undoubtedly hundreds, if not thousands of species of parasitoid wasps. They are just now getting attention for purposes like stopping the Emerald Ash Borer and Chestnut Gall. For the OCD, the difference between parasitic and parasitoid is that the parasitic control leaves the host alive but debilitated. The parasitoid flat out kills the host.

The current research suggests that providing suitable nectar sources can extend the effective lifespan of parasitoid wasps by a factor of three.

Anybody who has hung out near a prime nectar source like rhubarb or horseradish quickly realizes that they pull them into the orchard like a beacon.

Key Points: Prime nectar/pollen plants

  1. Increase the number of parasitoid wasps in your orchard, 
  2. Are a critical resource that makes them live three times longer
  3. Provides parasitoid wasps with nutrients so they have the energy to find pests and lay eggs on them
  4. Pests that migrate in from surrounding areas can be whittled down if prime nectar sources are planted along their infiltration routes

This is what blooming horseradish looks like. In a perfect world I would have varieties with bloom times that spanned from the end of apple blossom until after the plum curculio (an insect pest) pressure ended.

A plum curculio and the crescent shaped scar it leaves when it lays an egg in a young fruit.

The plum curculio is the hardest pest to control in Eastern orchards. It shrugs off most easily available pesticides.

According to data from New Jersey, first egg laying was seen at approximately 300 Growing Degree-Days and peaks at about 400 Growing Degree-Days. At this time, south-central Michigan is sitting at about 340 GDD b50. That is about five days behind the long-term average.

This tells me that I need to get off my dupa and spray my apple trees with Imidan tonight.
Other sources say that curculio like warm (+70 degrees F), sunny days and cool, rainy days slow them down.

Typically, I would expect to start seeing heavy plum curculio damage on my apples around June 1.

Janelle gets a bee in her bonnet

Janelle sat, staring at the table covered with the parts of a disassembled rifle.

Kelly was not the kind of man to fill the air with senseless chatter. He let her stare.

After five days of watching her spend virtually every spare moment just staring at the parts, Kelly caved.

“What are you thinking?” he asked.

“I am thinking the shotguns were a piece of cake.” Janelle said. “I think it is time to reach a little bit.”

They agreed to build the shotguns in “batches” of ten. That would give them some efficiencies of scale but would also give them opportunities to make changes.

The first batch was a struggle. The second batch of ten was hard. The next two were built with no issues. Even though they had planned on building 100, the demand slacked off after thirty-five. They they stopped building at fifty preferring to conserve resources. The fifteen extras were in the vault.

Kelly got a cold chill down his spine. Janelle was looking at a disassembled AR-15, a very sophisticated weapon that used high-tech processes.

“You aren’t thinking of making AR-15s, are you?” Kelly asked.

“Nope.” Janelle said.

Kelly’s relief was short-lived.

“We are going to have to make a lot of changes if they are going to work with black powder.” Janelle said.

That is when the hackles went up on the back of Kelly’s neck.

A bit of history is in order to make sense of what Janelle said.

The AR-15 was a space-aged weapon made from forged, aircraft grade aluminum and made with exquisitely tight tolerances.

When first deployed in Vietnam, the weapon was subject to jamming after relatively few rounds were fired. The cause of the problem was quickly traced to the chemicals added to the smokeless powder to buffer the acid products that accelerate the deterioration of smokeless powder in hot, humid climates.

The other factor that made the AR-15 exquisitely sensitive to powder residue is that the design is a “direct impingment” design. A small hole was drilled in the barrel and a tube carried the high pressure, contaminated, gasses directly into the upper receiver where a small piston/cylinder arrangement harvested the energy of the gasses…and then indiscriminately spewed the ash contamination into the upper receiver where all the small, moving, closely fitted parts lived.

Other chemical buffers were found that did not leave solid residues and the problem, mostly, went away.

Approximately 1% of the original smokeless powder became solid residue that gummed up the lockworks. By contrast, black powder leaves almost 50% of its original mass as solid residue.

Had it been anybody other than Janelle, Kelly would have harshly rebuked them for the stupidity of the idea.

“Why black powder?” he asked.

“Someday we are going to run out of components for reloading AR ammo. I am trying to stay ahead of the game.” Janelle said.

“You know that you picked about the worst action in the world for running black powder, don’t you?” Kelly said.

“Yup. That is why it has to be changed.” Janelle agreed as if that was not a big deal.

Poking the gas key on the bolt carrier, “Why does that have to be in the upper receiver?” Janelle asked. “Why can’t the gas key be longer and have the gas tube end in the hand-guard?”

Kelly had never thought about that.

“And since the gas is still under pressure when the gas key moves away from the gas tube, why not cut the end of the gas tube on the diagonal so it biases the gas to the right and out of the handguard or route it around and vent it out the bottom?” Janelle asked.

“Those guys who build two-stroke racing motorcycles know a lot about using pressure and momentum to move air and fuel where they want it.” Janelle said. “I don’t see why we can’t use tuning to kick most of the gas out, away from the upper receiver and action.”

“You know black powder cartridges won’t have nearly the power of smokeless ones, right?” Kelly asked.

“Yeah, I get that. But everybody else will be running out of smokeless powder ammo. too.” Janelle said. “It is like the old joke, I don’t have to be able to out-run the grizzly bear. I just need to be able to out-run the guy I am fishing with.”

“I looked up the ballistics of the old 25-20 Winchester. It has a case volume similar to the 5.56mm round.” Janelle said. “1500 feet per second for an 85 grain bullet is a lot more impressive than a .22LR pushing a 40 grain bullet at 1200 feet per second.”

"The other thing I was thinking was to see how much potassium nitrate we could replace with ammonium nitrate. Ammonium nitrate won't leave the residue that saltpeter does." Janelle said.

“So what are you going to do about receivers?” Kelly asked. “It is not like we have a forging press for 7075 aluminum.”

“You are right. We don’t.” Janelle said. “The lower receivers don’t need to be that good. Heck, you can buy them...” then she corrected herself “ used to be able to buy them made of polymers.”

“Did you know that we have a neighbor who worked in a small shop making investment castings for a company that sold custom jewlery?” Janelle asked.

“You mean Bob?” Kelly asked.

“Yeah, Bob.” Janelle said. “I bet Bob could design and make the patterns in his sleep.”

“I thought investment casting used wax pieces that were melted out of the mold.” Kelly said. “Why would we need molds?

“I was thinking it would be more ‘production’ if we used steel molds for the exterior surfaces and sand or plaster cores interior surfaces that aren’t undercut. Then use Bob’s wax pieces for the most detailed areas.” Janelle said.

“I still don’t think you will be able to hold the tolerances the AR demands.” Kelly said.

“That is what shims are for.” Janelle said.


Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Phone apps

The particular phone app is called Spectroid
I will never admit this to Belladonna but there are some cool apps for smartphones.

This app is called Spectroid and it has a FFT (Fast Fourier Transform) software that converts a time signal into the frequency domain and charts it as a waterfall or carpet plot.

The sound shown above is the sound of a fence shorting out every second.

Why is that important? Because the Captain's hearing is not what it used to be. It would be pretty cool if the sound could be characterized so he could use his smartphone to find shorts.

This is a soft short inside a cracked insulator. Yes, you are seeing the frequency scale correctly. I expanded it to look at the 10,000-to-20,000Hz range. That range is unpolluted by everything except small song birds, chipmunks and the sound of shoes brushing through damp grass.

That last one surprised me. If we could hear well in that range then feet walking through tall grass without lifting them up would sound like fingernails on chalkboards.

One intriguing way to apply the information for the fence shorting is to bond two microphones together side-by-side approximately 1/4 wavelength apart atop the band connecting a set of headphones. Then process the signals so the frequency is in the highly audible range, say 1/20th the input and play them stereo into headphones where the phase relationship between the two signals is maintained.

For example, suppose one chose 17,000 Hz to study. The wavelength is approximately 20mm (3/4 inch) so 1/4 wavelength would be 5mm.

One twentieth of 17,000 Hz is 850 Hz which is very audible.

The point of maintaining the phase relationship is to allow our ears and brain to process the signal for direction.

Is this a huge market? I don't know. But it would be very cool to hear the shorts arcing through cracks in the insulators from farther than 12" away.

I want to document the high frequency of feet brushing through vegetation under several different conditions. It may disappear with dry or mature grass or it may be that wind generates the same content. But it would also be very cool the 10kHz-20kHz band was a clean way to hear people and animals sneaking through the underbrush.

In case you were wondering...

I asked a native why Mission style churches always have one bell tower taller than the other.

He was able to quickly satisfy my curiosity. "Sir, it is because they used more adobe bricks in the taller tower."

Now why didn't I think of that?

Seven Skinny Cows: Shotgun Start

The change in weather purely sucked for Chernovsky’s forces.

Chernovsky made it a practice to move camp at least once a week. Sometimes it was after a four day interval. Sometimes it went a full seven days.

During the cold of the winter, the young men became adept at cutting brush and driving the stems into the wind packed drifts. They salvaged brush from the old site and wove them into the new.

The soldiers, for they were soldiers now, slept two-to-a-tent. They erected the tents on wooden pallets and piled straw into them before unrolling their sleeping gear. Wet is the enemy of warm. Body heat will melt snow if there is not separation between the warm, sleeping bodies and the snow. The pallets, straw and sleeping bags did just that.

While they were not exactly comfortable, they all survived a night of -14F without the loss of any fingers or toes.

Moving camp was a full squad evolution. One fire-team held over-watch while the other team moved a single tent. Wooden pallets are heave and the fire-team alternated moving heavy and light parts.

Quinn Spackle thought the constant moving was a waste of energy. When Quinn pushed Chernovsky he simply replied, “Best practice.”

Later, after the relationships had developed, Chernovsky pointed out that they went through a lot of firewood. He also pointed out the fact that they could not dig proper privies given the deep snow and frozen ground. That was not a problem now but would be when the spring thaws came.

Finally, Chernovsky pointed out that permanent camps were magnets for attacks. Moving the camp on a frequent, semi-random basis was one way of denying attackers solid intelligence.

Quinn regretted calling this to Chernovsky's attention because Chernovsky immediately started drilling them on how to respond if/when the camp was attacked. If a human can imagine it, Murphy will make it happen someday

The relentless rain made hot meals almost impossible. The tents shed the rain and thus ended up teetering on two-foot tall plateaus of melting slush.

Needless to say, "Cookie Girl" did not make any deliveries which added to Quinn's misery.

Chernovsky blew the whistle and they moved camp during the heaviest of downpours.

They moved to the ridges and knobs of a played out hay field where the exposure to wind and rains had melted off all of the snow. They threw the pallets on bare, mineral dirt for the first time...ever. Ok, not dirt….mud.

Chernovsky barely thought about the breach in “best practice.” His soldiers’ tents were in the open and sky-lined from 360 degrees of approach. If he thought about it at all, it was that NOBODY was going to be pushing through the rain and flooding for weeks.

The water in Silver Creek backed up and flooded the ground floor of the honey-pot houses and the de-roofed pole barns.

The approach to the bridge in Dimondale was under water.

And while 24 inches of water does not sound like much to wade through, it must be remembered that the water was snow-melt, that is, as cold as ice. The water was flowing swiftly and with the grid down there was no easy way to dry out wet clothing and footwear. Furthermore, famine depletes a body's resources and there is not enough fat to shiver-more-heat. Hypothermia is a mortal risk to a hungry person.

The young men in Lansing were less organized than Chernovsky’s soldiers.

More often than not, a gang of young men forcibly evicted a family from their home shortly after sunset only to wake up at mid-morning to find their new home was surrounded by three or four foot deep water.

No food. Rats. Fleas. Cold. As often as not one of the gang members had some shitholistan form of the cooties.  Miserable.

But they were alive, which might not have been the case if all of the gangs had crowded into the small bits of old Lansing that had not flooded.

As the flood waters receded, the first bits that were opened up were the roads and bridges upstream in Eaton Rapids and Dimondale.

Then the roads that crossed Carrier Creek became passable. Then land-bridges formed over the Dibble Street flooding.

The receding waters also made the gangs escaping the flooded houses a progressive thing.

From the perspective of Chernovsky’s soldiers, they would see the tide of refugees and gangs as a shotgun start rather than a Le Mans, standing start.


Tuesday, May 28, 2019

St. Bernoulli, don't fail me now

Seven Skinny Cows: Flooding

Ah-fula Shi-Thead was livid with rage. The meals-on-wheels delivery was late.

Unlike most residents of Lansing, Mz Shi-Thead had her meals delivered to her because of her three children under the age of five. It was deemed too difficult for a single mother to shepherd three, pre-school children to the soup-kitchens three times a day. Consequently, she had her meals delivered.

While she could have walked to the nearest kitchen, three blocks away Mz Shi-Thead was not inclined to do so. It had been raining for three days straight. The intensity varied between steady to monsoon-like. Furthermore, the temperatures had risen into the mid-forties to the mid-fifties. The higher temperatures compacted the packed snow on the sidewalks and streets into glare ice.

Mz Shi-Thead was not athletic and despite her low center-of-gravity she was prone to falling. She had weak ankles and knees and an impaired view of the ground in the vicinity of her feet.

She knew her rights. When the driver showed up she was going to give him a piece of her mind.

Had she looked out the window she would have been praying for a boat rather than a meals-on-wheels truck. The corner of Francis Street and Kalamazoo Avenue was under three feet of water and rising fast.

The extensive snow-pack changed the albedo of the eastern half of North America. Most years the increasing day length and intensity of the sun would have resulted in gradual warming of the surface and a slow, progressive melting of any lingering snow.

The snow reflected the radiant energy of the sun back into space without converting it to heat. There was a crisp break between bare ground and snow covered ground. Even through the cloud cover the bare ground absorbed heat and the difference in temperature drove violent storms where the two met.

Adding to the storm was the warm moist air generated in the Gulf of Mexico.

Most years the air would have pushed into eastern Texas and headed north, gradually curving to the east. This year the cold dense air over the snow-pack fought to move south just as hard as the less dense Gulf air tried to move north.

The stalemate resulted in the spring rains arriving to the mid-West four weeks later than usual. Eventually, old Sol pumped enough heat into the Gulf and the warm air was able to win the arm-wrestling match with the cold, stationary air and a jet of hot, super-saturated air knifed upward into the nation's underbelly.

It pushed the cold air to the east and the super-heated air bulled its way north and quickly chilled as it passed over the snow, dumping its water in a ceaseless deluge.

Rivers that drained to the south were less impacted with flooding than the ones that flowed north.

The Wabash river, for instance, drained into the Ohio and encountered little in the way of ice-dams and the surge was long and drawn out over several weeks.

Rivers that flowed north, like Minnesota’s Red River and Michigan’s Grand River upstream of Lansing were monkey hammered with flooding. The northward roll of melting added water to the river in synch with the flood surge. Furthermore the leading edge of the surge was impeded by the thick ice that had built up on the rivers.

Within the cities the storm drains were overwhelmed. The leaves that would have been hauled away by the city workers were washed down the streets and clogged the grating of the storm drains.

Downtown Eaton Rapids was underwater from Canal Street to Elizabeth Street.

Nothing is unique in history but the last time Lansing saw such flooding was before the 1600s.
Portions of the Red Cedar Floodplain were under forty feet of water.

The path of the Grand River through Lansing is much like a sickle or Question mark. The river flows in from the south, hooks to the east for more than a mile, then a mile to the north and then it turns west toward Lake Michigan ninety miles to the west.

The portion of the river where it turned west was both narrow and high banked. It was a natural choke-point.

The geographic evidence suggests that at various times the flooding on the Grand River has been high enough to flood most of Lansing and East Lansing east of Martin Luther King. There was also evidence that the river cut across the west side of Lansing east of Dibble and short-circuited by diverting through the Carrier Creek channel turning the portions of Lansing that were not submerged into an island surrounded by raging torrents of ice cold water.

Those people who had sufficient situational awareness and mobility quickly retreated to the high-points in Lansing and the tops of multi-story buildings.

The flooding destroyed the soup kitchens.

The hundreds of thousands of bushels of grain that had been moved into Lansing had all been stored on the ground floor. Grain is heavy and the people who moved it dropped the bags as soon as they were out of the boss’s sight. The grain was all destroyed. Worse, what grain appeared to be sound was infested with vomitoria and other fungal toxins.

If there was an upside it was that the vast volumes of water diluted the fecal matter that citizens had been pitching out their doors and into their front yards. In most cases the level of typhoid, cholera, E. coli bacteria was such that most cases of dysentary were not fatal.

The biggest downside of the high water was that the rats were flooded out of the sewers and millions of rats comingled with the soaked refugees….refugee being the most appropriate term for somebody who had been evicted from their home.


Monday, May 27, 2019

Texas size portion

I think the wait staff enjoys messing with us. Mrs ERJ hit upon the idea of ordering one meal and splitting it.

Tonight the meal was much smaller than expected. I must have made a disappointed sound because our waitress assured us that three more plates of food were coming.  That was in addition to the chips, salsa and quesa dip.

The amazing thing is the entree included generous portions of chicken and shrimp and cost $12.

Seven Skinny Cows: Making evidence dissappear

“It raises the question, what are we going to do?” Milo said as he looked at the ten boxes of pills, each worth $60k at pre-Ebola street prices.

Nyssa looked at the boxes of pills speculatively. “You know, it might be decades before civilization gets back on its feet. That means no more pain meds for surgery or broken bones.”

“This stash is incredibly valuable.” Nyssa said.

"If it is counterfeit, how do you know it is any good?” Milo asked.

“The problem is that it tends to be too good.” Nyssa said. "People over-dose on the counterfeit pills. By the time it is smuggled into the States, fentanyl or carfentanil is cheaper than hydrocordon as far as bang-for-the-buck. The trade articles I read said that most of the counterfeit pills were either made with Fentanyl or some other souped-up, synthetic opioid. Most of the counterfeits have more zip than the real ones.”

“Well, we can’t just start passing them around like candy.” Milo said. “Somebody has to know that Duckworth had this kind of stash. With these kinds of quantities he was a wholesaler. He had suppliers and he had customers and none of them are nice people.”

“Let me think about this for a few minutes.” Nyssa said.

“You know, there is another problem.” Nyssa said. “Brittany and the kids can’t come back here. Ever.”

“It would be even better if she changed her name and left Kates Store. As long as somebody named Duckworth lives anywhere near here they will be a lightening rod.” Milo said in agreement.

“Hmmm.” Nyssa said thoughtfully. “I wonder if she could move in with Luke up in Pray Church and pretend to be his girlfriend, at least until we sort things out and come up with a better plan.”

“That would work but what if Luke already has a girlfriend. She might object.” Milo said.

“Can you keep a secret?” Nyssa asked. “Seriously?”

“Well, I should hope so.” Milo said, offended that Nyssa had to ask.

“Luke is gay.” Nyssa said. “Dad does not know. Mom suspects. There is no girlfriend to worry about.”

In fact, Luke was bisexual but there were not that many girls who found Luke all that interesting. It has just been far, far easier to tell Nyssa that he was gay so she would stop setting him up with all of her fellow nursing students.

Thinking through Luke’s living arrangements, “He has enough room. Do you think he will go for it?” Milo asked.

“Luke is a very private person. He will jump at the chance to shift the focus off himself.” Nyssa said. “Having a girlfriend with a ready-made family will be a lot easier for the people in Pray Church to understand than finding out that he is gay."

"Besides, he will have forty days while Brittany and the kids are in quarantine. They have to go into quarantine if we want to convince anybody they are from somewhere else." Nyssa said.

“OK, let’s say Brittany and family moves in with Luke and she takes her maiden name. That still doesn’t help us get rid of the drugs.” Milo said.

“And that is why our next stop is Christine Cherrystone.” Nyssa said. “Put one of those bottles in your pocket. We are going to take a walk.”

Christine Cherrystone was a witch.

She lived in a stone-faced cottage nestled in a hollow just east of a ridge. In the summer her house was a riot of flowers in the style of a Thomas Kinkade painting. In the winter the yard was a dreary, stick-filled space with cats beneath every bush.

Mobiles with every manner of Wicca paraphernalia dangled from the branches of every tree: crystals, pyramids, runes and effigies.

Widow Cherrystone was a mousy looking woman with naturally gray hair tied back in a bun. Surprised to have visitors, she invited her guests in.

Her house was festooned with bundles of herbs hanging from the rafters. Every horizontal surface was covered with antique, colored bottles or arcane jade carvings.

After the normal pleasantries, Nyssa came to the point. “The drug companies are not able to distribute drugs. I know that you have a garden of medical plants. Would you consider expanding it ‘for the duration’?”

“What kinds of plants are you thinking of?” Widow Cherrystone asked, timidly.

“Well, I know you grow poppies. What do you think of making tinctures for pain?” Nyssa asked. “And you grow fabulous foxgloves...maybe digitalis for heart medicine?”

“Oh, dear.” Mrs Cherrystone said. “Growing and harvesting poppies on that scale is a serious Federal crime! I am not sure I am willing to do that?”

“I have people who are not healing.” Nyssa said. “I have people ripping out their stitches because they are in pain.”

“I am not into Wicca, but I have talked to a few witches. If you are a white Wiccan, then you pledged to heal. I am a nurse and I need drugs to heal with. It is push-comes-to-shove time.” Nyssa said.

“I can get kids to help with the weeding. I can get a flat, fertile piece of ground tilled up for you. I don’t have the time, expertise or seeds to do what you can.” Nyssa said. “You can always plant the seeds and if things flip right-side-up in the meantime then we don’t have to harvest them.”

“You make some valid points, but I only have a little bit stored up until we can harvest in August. What would you have me do until then?” Mrs Cherrystone asked.

“I am glad you asked.” Nyssa said. “Would you consider making tinctures with what you have and enhancing it with other herbs?

Mrs Cherrystone mulled over the proposal. “I suppose I can synergize it with capsaicin and catnip, but it will still be pretty weak.”

“What if you added some Tylenot?” Nyssa asked. “We brought a bottle just in case you agreed to the proposal.”

Nyssa gestured to Milo to hand her the bottle.

Mrs Cherrystone opened the bottle and shook out some pills. She looked at them carefully and crushed one of the tablets between her molars and chewed it.

Then she looked at Nyssa accusingly. “These aren’t Tylenot, are they.” In the 1960s Mrs Cherrystone had a more than casual relationship with some very hard drugs.

“They have Tylenot in them. They also have synthetic codeine in them.” Nyssa said.

“Why did you lie to me?” Mrs Cherrystone asked. “That is not a good way to treat your business partners.

Milo answered. It was the first time he spoke. “There are still drug users and drug dealers around. That bottle you are holding has a street value of $10,000.”

“Nyssa thought...we thought that you could help us. We need the drugs for legitimate patients but we also don’t want to alert every bad person in central Michigan that we have them.” Milo said.

“We thought that if you dissolved it into a tincture you could standardize the strength and mask the source...killing two birds with one stone.”

“You would just give me this bottle?” Mrs Cherrystone asked.

Nyssa and Milo nodded their heads.

“And you would expect me to just give away my tinctures?” she asked.

“Well, no. Actually we want you to charge what the market will bear.” Nyssa said. “If you gave it away for free then we would have a drug problem when everybody needs to be on their toes and able to put in a full day’s work. In fact, it would be a good thing if you priced your tinctures on the high side.”

“Let me think about it.” Mrs Cherrystone said. “May I keep this bottle until I make up my mind?”

Nyssa knew she had made the sale. “Absolutely.” Nyssa said.


Saturday, May 25, 2019


It is hard to be in South Texas and not think about assimilation.

The gravity model of a planet pulling material into its orbit comes to mind. The space rocks' trajectory changes much...and the  trajectory of the planet is also influenced.

Somebody broke into a truck in the hotel parking lot last night. They looted food out of a cooler and stole a pair of boots. Draw your own conclusions.

Another guest at our hotel had a very stressful encounter with the law because she shared a first, middle and last name with a notorious frequent flier.

Thinking about middle-school kids who just want to fit in. The reason they turn into zealots is because too many of them fail and are humiliated. Much of this is due to grandiose expectations.

Assimilating is an issue to important to leave to the experts.

I don't think South Texas has all the answers. There are too many pawn shops and bail bondsmen and payday loan shops as evidence of economic stress.  But I see huge amounts of new business formation and polite, civil relations between black, white, hispanic and snowbirds.

That said, if you are a knucklehead you can still find somebody to knock your teeth out.


All of those little tan hairs are barbed and they grab hold like a dog-tick.  Or that is what Mrs ERJ tells me.

It was a trick to find ripe fruit that the birds had not eaten the seeds from.  They left the ones hanging down alone.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Belladonna update

Bella beat her seed by five place.

Big smiles all the way around.

Heading to a seafood place in Riviera TX to celebrate.

Seven Skinny Cows: Working on mysteries without any clues

“Tell me again what we are looking for?” Milo asked.

Nyssa said, “We are looking for any clues about where Carson and Cameron went. “

“And if we cannot turn up any clues, we are looking for anything the kids can wear or that Brittany can sell so she can be self-supporting.” Nyssa said.

“Everything about this guy creeps me out.” Milo said.

That was so out of character that Nyssa stopped and looked at him. That had the unfortunate effect of blinding him. Even though it was mid-day and the curtains were open, it was so dark in the cavernous house that they were both wearing head lights.

“You are over-reacting.” Nyssa said. “Just because you don’t like somebody doesn’t mean they are bad people.”

“You didn’t hear me.” Milo said. “Nothing about this guy rings true.”

“Like what?” Nyssa challenged.

“Did you see the tools when we walked through his garage?” Milo asked.

“Yeah. So?” Nyssa said as she returned to sweeping the room with the beam of her headlight.

“They were all new.” Milo said.

“New tools are nice.” Nyssa said. “You told me that you wished you had newer tools.”

“Not ‘newer’. His tools are new...still in the box.” Milo said. “Every one of them.”

“He is supposed to be some kind of hot-shot pipe-fitter and all of his tools are still in the box.” Milo said.

“Maybe he just stores them in the box?” Nyssa offered.

“Still got the factory tape sealing the flaps of the boxes.” Milo said.

“What else bugs you?” Nyssa asked.

“His truck is too clean.” Milo said.

“Maybe he is just a inherently clean person.” Nyssa said.

Milo snorted. “You go to new construction you get mud on your truck. It gets splashed up into the frame. His truck looks like it came off the show-room floor. Not a single scratch in the bed, either.”

Nyssa was willing to chalk that off as “men” stuff.

“Anything else?” she asked sweetly.

“Have you seen any pictures of his family? Any diplomas or certificates? Any pictures of Cameron playing sports or doing anything?” Milo asked.

That started to get Nyssa’s attention. “Now that you mention it, I haven’t seen a single picture on the walls. Maybe they just aren’t picture people.”

“Every guy has an “I Love Me” wall, even if it is just a couple of pictures of fish he caught.” Milo said.

“Look at the décor.” Milo said. “I am not an interior decorator, but this place looks like a Hollywood stage set for the inside of a 1955 Memphis whorehouse.”

Up until then, Nyssa had been pushing away that same thought. She liked Brittany and was ignoring the ugliness in an attempt to be kind...perhaps Brittany was one of those poor unfortunates who simply could not harmonize interiors.

“I bet Carson picked all of this stuff out.” Milo said.

“No.” Nyssa said.

“Flocked wallpaper? Gold tassels on the curtains? A naked cherub lamp stands? Brass spittoons?” Milo pointed out.

“I’ll ask when we get back.” Nyssa said.

For all of the baroque splendor of the rooms, there was very little that was usable.

They had finally worked their way through all of the rooms in the house except for Carson’s “man cave.” It was locked.

“I guess we will have to ask Brittany for the key.” Nyssa said.

“I bet you a months worth of doing the dishes that she doesn’t have a key to the man-cave.” Milo said.

Thinking of mousy, brow-beaten Brittany, Nyssa declined that bet.

“So what do we do?” Nyssa asked.

“Wait here while I go back to the garage and pick up a couple of skeleton keys.” Milo said.

He came back a minute later with a three foot wrecking bar and an eight pound sledge. He also brought along a brand new pair of gloves, still joined with the zip-tie. The wrecking bar was still sticky with cosmoline as shipped from China.

Nyssa held her tongue.

It is a common shortcoming of people to use the screws supplied with the door and frame. Carson was no different. The $500 heavy duty, steel, exterior grade door was no better than the screws attaching the hinges to the door frame.

“The problem with brute force” Milo pontificated “is that people rarely use enough of it.”

He had been prepared to chisel his way through the stud-wall and was pleased that he didn’t have to break a sweat.

The man-cave was starkly utilitarian. In contrast to the parts of the house that somebody might see, it was nearly bare. The only thing of interest was the 14 gun, gun safe.

A strong man, well versed in the use of large hammers and cold chisels can un-zipper an exposed piano hinge in about the time it takes to read this sentence. Milo was that man.

There were no guns in the safe but there were ten boxes. The top box was open and revealed six, bottles filled with white tablets.

Milo opened one and shook out a handful of tablets. He inspected them in the bright light of his headlamp. It was a white scored tablet that was slightly longer than a half inch with M367 impressed into the side.

Nyssa whistled. “That is hydrocordon. Well, hydrocordon and Tylenot.” Nyssa said using the name of a common, brand name for acetaminophen.

“Hydrocordon?” Milo asked.

“Norco. Vicodin.” Nyssa said. “When I was working up in Saginaw it had a street value of $10 a pill. It is probably counterfeit because I can’t imagine this much product disappearing out of the supply line without huge alarms being raised. Even so, it is still be worth $10 a pill.”

Milo hefted the bottle. “Feels like it is about a pound.”

“At 400 mg to the pill, that would be more than a thousand to the pound.” Nyssa said.

Doing some quick math, Nyssa said “A thousand pills to the bottle. If all of those boxes hold six bottles the we are looking at sixty thousand pills.”

“Holy shit. That is over half million dollars worth of street drugs!” Milo said. "Duckworth sure-as-hell didn't walk away and leave this. Something happened to him."


Thursday, May 23, 2019

Is there mesquite

Looks like July 21 in Michigan.

89 degrees.

My thumbs are stupid at typing.

Vines growing on fence by hotel.l

Seven Skinny Cows: Brittany Duckworth

Gladys called Kate a little before midnight. Mrs Duckworth was frantic with worry.

Kate got the details. Cameron and Carson had gone out shortly after dark and had not made it back.

Mrs Duckworth put the two other children to bed and waited up.

Mrs Duckworth apologized as Kate and Rick were ushered into the Duckworth living room. “I always get like this when I am pregnant.” Mrs Duckworth said. “I am a worrier by nature and the closer I get to my due date the worse I get.”

She was due in a month and it was very apparent that she was “in the family way.”

Kate had not seen her for several months and her being pregnant was news to her. “Have you seen Nyssa? She is a nurse.” Kate asked.

Mrs Duckworth hung her head. “Carson said we couldn’t afford it.”

Kate silently fumed. Nyssa never charged a fee for a visit. She could not officially diagnose or prescribe, she could only advise. Carson had never asked anybody about fees. He just decided.

Kate would have call Nyssa that very night but the wind was whipping along at twenty miles per hour with gusts to forty and the snow was falling furiously, the way only moist, heavy spring snowfalls can.

“Do you know which way they went?” Rick asked.

“You can’t go out looking for them.” Mrs Duckworth objected. She could hear the wind shrieking in the eves.

“Maybe not, but we can put lights in the windows on that side of the house.” Rick said.

After hearing that Carson and Cameron had disappeared south of the house, Rick went to the upper story and put LED flashlights and candles in the windows looking out over the muck bog.

Rick did not have a very good feeling about Carson and Cameron’s chances. Either they had picked tonight to get-out-of-Dodge or they had gotten tangled up in the bog. Wet clothing, thirty degree temperatures and high winds are quickly lethal. But of course, he would not share his fears with Mrs Duckworth.

When Rick came back downstairs he learned that Mrs Duckworth’s first name was Brittany. He also learned that Cameron was Carson’s child by a previous relationship. That made sense to him. He had never spent any time close to Brittany without Carson getting in his face. Now that he had a little bit of time Rick saw that she was not be much older than twenty-five.

Rick and Kate were up at seven in the morning. It was before sunrise and the storm was abating in fits and starts. They made breakfast for the Duckworth family and found themselves promoted to Uncle Rick and Aunt Kate.

As soon as Rick could see his shoelaces when he was outside, Rick started calling up a search crew.

Six neighbors showed up to help Rick search. The late winter storm had dumped seventeen inches of new snow.

Rick laid out a search pattern that not only covered the ground between the house and the bog, but he added generous wings to either side.

The crew did a quick search with searchers fifty yards apart. If either Carson or Cameron were conscious and in the search area, they should be able to hear the searchers as they hailed each other to stay properly spaced. If they were conscious then they should be able to get the searchers attention.

The searchers pushed as far south as they could. They turned around when their boots started sinking into the bog.

After the first, non-productive search Rick tightened up the search grid and they swept the search area on fifty foot intervals. They were looking for melted snow where living-but-unconscious bodies may have created hot-spots.

That sweep failed as well.

They had done what they could. Rick called Gladys and asked her to put out word to the surrounding communities. Perhaps Carson and Cameron had become disoriented and ended up in North Eaton Rapids or the cluster of houses east of Kates Store.

Frankly, Rick did not have a very good feeling about Carson and Cameron’s chances.

After eating a late lunch Rick and Kate held an impromptu huddle. There was no way Brittany could keep the huge house warm and parent her two, small children without another adult to help.

Rick and Kate did not have fancy. They had something better. They had “enough”, enough to be generous.

Coming back into the Duckworth house which was already starting to become gloomy as the sun slowly lowered itself in the cloud-screened sky, Kate told Brittany, “We want you to stay with us while we continue to look for Carson and Cameron. We will leave a note right here” Kate said while pointing at the door of the refrigerator “so they know where to find you when they come back.”

Brittany “lost it” when she realized that she did not need to be strong, to be the only one looking out for her children.

“I really should be weepy like this.” she said, wiping her eyes. “Its the damned hormones.”

Rick emptied the dresser drawers in the kid’s bedrooms into plastic trashbags. He pressed a couple of the neighbors who were still hanging around into helping him carry the luggage back to Casa Salazar.

Kate, for her part, called Nyssa and told her that Brittany was close to giving birth and would benefit from an exam. Nyssa quickly accessed her midwifing textbooks. It looked like she was going to need to use those skills sooner rather than later.

Nyssa sent Milo on, ahead of her. The Salazar house was undoubtedly cold and Milo could stoke the woodstoves and start to take the chill out of the house. Milo looked through the cold-box and found a pot of beans. He put it on the back of the stove to start warming up.


Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Seven Skinny Cows: Duckworth

Orion and Fidelis moved slowly along the edge of the grassy marsh in the gathering gloom of evening. They moved east with the wind at their back, a nearly inpenetrable scrum of thorny scrub to their left and the partially frozen bog to their right.

Fidelis was a great hunting dog and Orion was a very good hunter...for a human. But even a mediocre dog can turn a good human hunter is a great hunter if they can work as a team.

Rumors of deer sign had come to Kate’s Store even as winter belatedly showed the first signs of loosing its jaws on the land. Orion was looking for rabbits or the elusive deer. Either would be a welcome addition to the pot.

Orion moved slowly and stopped often. Rabbits will hold tight if the hunter keeps moving but will bolt if they fear the predator is triangulating a fix for the pounce.

The rabbits along the edge of the marsh had not been hunted by humans much. They would run thirty yards and then freeze. That was a pay-day shot with either shotgun or .22. Orion carried the smaller gun, the .22 as the shells were far more plentiful and either were equally deadly when put in the right place.

The .22 was decidedly on the light end of weapons for deer but Orion had taken them before. Close shots between the eyes meant the deer dropped in its tracks. A shot to the heart or lungs took longer. The key was to wait an hour and let the deer bleed out. Consequently, Orion was dressed in expectation of a long wait in the gathering wind.

It felt like it was going to storm as the wind was coming in gusts and was slowly clocking from west to north.

A half mile from where the hunter started out, a rabbit scooted out from beneath a tent of cattails. It stopped thirty-five yards out, which was just a little farther than the hunter was comfortable shooting given the gusty wind. Edging forward, the rabbit darted another ten yards out.

A game of cat-and-mouse resulted in Orion investing twenty minutes before harvesting the rabbit. Only then did Orion realize that Fidelis was missing.

Back-tracking, Orion found where their tracks diverged. Following the tracks Orion found Fidelis caught in a snare with unseeing eyes bugged out. The poacher had used a spring pole and a cam-lock. Fidelis never had a chance.

A smoldering rage grew Orion. Somebody had been snaring deer and not sharing them or taking the excess to Kate’s Store. That would account for the scarcity of deer. Orion knew that families were snaring deer on the north end of the neighborhood and sharing among themselves. Nobody hunted where they had their snares set.

Orion saw the trail stomped by boots leading northwest from the snare. Orion followed the trail the way a buck follows a scrape-line, walking parallel from the track, ten yards to the downwind.

It bee-lined to Carson Duckworth’s property.

The smoldering rage became all consuming.

Liars lie. Thieves steal. Cheaters cheat. Duckworths had been a bur under everybody's saddle, including Orion's ever since Ebola hit Michigan.

Thinkers think. Planners plan. Hunters hunt.

Orion moved back toward the snare and made a small prayer to Fidelis’s soul. Fidelis would understand. Fidelis was a hunter, too. Fidelis’s body was bait in the great hunt.

Orion waited for two hours. It was beyond full dark when a flashlight came bobbing through the tangled brush toward the snare. Orion had his back turned to ensure that the flashlight did not cause night blindness. Nothing is more recognizable at night than a human face or eyes reflecting light back to the holder of a light.

When the poacher bent over to examine his catch, Orion shot him in the back of the head. The gentle cough of the .22 with the supressor was swallowed up by the snow and wind. The poacher had been given just as much chance as the poacher had given Fidelis.

Looking at the poacher, Orion saw that it was Cameron, Carson’s 19 year old son. Cameron had been pulling a sled.

Orion set up in another concealed position. It seemed likely that Carson would come looking for his son when he did not return, either to help drag the deer or to see what the problem was. Orion did not want to be surprised disposing of Cameron’s corpse.

Ninety minutes later, another flashlight came bobbing down the track. That confirmed in Orion’s mind that poaching was a family project and that both were culpable for Fidelis’s death and for poaching.

Orion killed the second Duckworth from a range of fifteen feet as the senior Duckworth slowed to push aside some thorny canes Orion had woven across the track at belt and head height.

Orion had a long night but nobody was waiting at home for Orion’s return.

Orion dragged the two Duckworths, one at a time into the marsh and deposited them into an old drainage ditch. A fringe of brush grew along the cusp of the ditch. The coming storm would fill the ditch with snowdrift driven by the north wind. The snow would not melt until April.

Then Orion took Fidelis back home and placed him in a plum thicket that grew on a rise in the marsh. There was no way to secure Fidelis’s body from scavengers but Orion knew that Fidelis would not mind.

Finally, Orion scrubbed the blood out of the sled and dragged it back to Duckworth’s property. Orion left the sled on the west side of the property beneath some spruce trees.

Then Orion walked home as the snow fell thickly and covered the story that had unfolded that night.


Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Science is real

I have a niece who is as sharp as a carpet tack. Her name is Maya, although that is not important.

She will be a sophomore in college this year and she is investigating research topics for her Ph.D. To say she is a planner is to understate things.

Since I have a few ideas about such things, I had little difficulty talking with her this past weekend in Ludington.

I wonder how many people who post this sign in their yard realize how hard "science" can be.

I suspect that most people who put this sign in their yard are not scientists or engineers. They probably believe that science is simply a matter of cranking one dial clockwise and validating the increase/decrease of a single output.

Much science is like that. The easiest and best part, really.

The hard part is where inputs are coupled. The Design of Experiments guys call this "interactions".

Consider a bicycle. What happens if you crank the handlebars clockwise without leaning to the right? Yup. You fall on your dupa and skin your elbows. It gets harder from there.

How about the interactions between hydrogen, oxygen and sparks? Boring, boring, boring until all three are present...then duck.

Where science gets punched in the nose is where there are strong interactions and multiple inputs. The number of "experiments" that need to be run is mN! where m is the number of replications and N is the number of variables.

Let's set m to something trivial like 3. N=2 will require 6 "experiments". N=3 will require 18 experiments. N=4 will require 72 experiments....N=8 will require 120,000 experiments.

As you can see, increasing the number of variables quickly puts the economics of the scientific method in the ditch when there is a high degree of coupling.

Which makes the tendency of progressives to couple dissimilar things particularly maddening.

They would couple the pay of the Chief Executive Officer to the lowest pay-rate in any enterprise.

They would couple the tax on gasoline with carbon emissions in China.

They would couple property taxes with rainfall (New Jersey).

They would fine landowners for using best-practice arid gardening techniques, preferring that they let the water run off and be repurchased from municipalities (Oregon).

They would subsidize statin drugs and then lament the increase in Type II diabetes.

Real science holds some hard truths. There is no free lunch. If you think you found one then you better get ready because something is about to bite you in the azz.

Note from the Management

Mrs ERJ and I will be heading to the Corpus Christi, Texas area for about a week. I don't announce when I will be out-of-the-house on public platforms because that is stupid.

The house will not be empty. Kubota is not going with us nor are the two German Shepherds.

The current plan is for me to not take my laptop. That means that the only blogging will be what is scheduled ahead of time. Both quantity and quality will drop since the scheduled story material will lose one editing cycle.

There will be holes in the posting. I have nothing for the weekend and there may be one weekday where the Skinny Cows story will not have a post.

Nor do I expect to monitor comments.

All that might change if the hotel has courtesy computers or if Mrs ERJ gives me the nod to take the laptop.

Thank-you for understanding.


Seven Skinny Cows: Planning for Battle

Scale of map is approximately three miles N-S and four miles E-W. Close-up is shown later in story is slightly north of Squad 2 Camp near center of image. People who live near Dimondale will notice slight liberties were taken.

There were three roads that Chernovsky had been tasked with “observing”.

Only one of those roads was likely to have much zombie traffic. That was the paved road that started twelve miles north of Dimondale and ran south, straight as a laser south into Eaton Rapids. Additionally, that paved road ran through the middle of Markle Estates Mobile Home Park a scant mile north of the northern frontier Chernovsky was tasked with "observing". MEMHP hosted four-hundred units.

The other two roads, one a mile to the east and the other a mile to the west, were gravel. The one to the east started at the outskirts of Dimondale and meandered to the east a bit before making up its mind and turning south. The one to the west of the paved road started a mile north of the point where Chernovsky chose to “observe” it. The road to the west jiggled and jogged like it could not make up its mind before settling down and heading south into the heart of Pray Church.

Chernovsky’s professional assessment was that Squad Two, the one with Quinn and Donnie as team-leaders was head-and-shoulders above the other two squads, even though the squad was running a man short.

So Chernovsky tasked Squad Two with observing the paved road and gave the road to the east to Squad One and the road to the west to Squad Three.

Then Chernovsky gave Quinn the task of selecting the four best positions on the paved road from which to observe, and attack, south-bound zombies.

Furthermore, Chernovsky required that Quinn pick at least two defensive positions within a mile of the northern frontier and two that were further back in the event that the zombies blew past the two primary defensive positions.

Black lines are 850 ft elevation lines. Red lines are 870 ft elevation lines. Green arrows are approximately one hundred yards. Gray rectangles are wooden-trussed pole barns. Brown rectangles are houses. Approximate scale three hundred yards N-S and four hundred yards E-W. Again, real location with slight liberties taken.

Quinn and the team had just walked Chernovsky and the other four team-leaders through their choice for the northernmost post on the paved road.

“Spackle, that plan sucks.” Chernovsky said.

Quinn was immediately defensive.

“The only other defensible place in the first mile is Observation Post #2. Quinn said.

“Your set-up as too many holes in it.” Chernovsky said with the emotion of a man stating that a dropped set of car keys will fall to the ground. It was a simple statement of fact.

It stung all the more because Quinn knew that it was 100% true.

The only two positions that had a view of the road were separated by two hundred yards and there was a huge, gaping hole in the observer’s fields of vision where hostiles could disappear. Forty yards might not sound like much but a forty yard blind-spot a hundred yards from an observation post is a problem.

The site did offer an exceptional elevation advantage. Over the eons, Silver Creek dug a channel that was a solid twenty feet below the plateau that overlooked it. The challenge was that an ambitious developer built three pole barns between the most favorable ‘observation’ sites and the road. Those barns interrupted the view of the road.

A second factor that played into the suckiness is that the plan was to lure the invading gangs, or zombies, into the honey-pot houses. Once inside the houses the invaders would find AMPLE supplies of booze and weed. Chernovsky’s stated plan was to send in a team after dark and to...well…execute the incapacitated invaders.

That plan would crap-out if the observers could not identify exactly how many invaders went into exactly which houses. Hence the excruciating pain caused by the blind-spots.

An aspect of leadership that is rarely commented on is the element of theater. Oft times the leader will have a very precise picture in their head of the optimum solution.

Sometimes they are wrong, but often they are right.

The easy path is to simply direct the underlings to create the leader’s vision. The easy path is not always the best path.

If the underlings do not OWN that plan, then they are not invested and will have little incentive in making the plan work. On the other hand, it is a well known fact that people with investment in a plan can make a concrete canoe float.

“Suppose” Chernovsky said, primarily addressing Quinn and Donnie but also mindful that the other team-leads were listening “that you were designing a video game and you were given this map.” he said waving his hands at the landscape.

“Now suppose you are designing level 6999, the one that nobody ever gets to because it is way too hard.” Chernovsky said. “How would you change the houses or the pole barns to make it so fiendishly difficult that the players...the invaders coming from the north...will all die and nobody will ever make it to level 7000?”

“I’d get rid of the pole barns.” Donnie said without hesitation.

“No, I would make the pole barns holograms.” said another team leader. “So the observers could see through them and the hostiles could not.”

“I would put bottomless-pits-to-hell in the pole barns so anybody who went into them would fall to their doom.” said another.

Chernovsky let them thrash around for about ten minutes. He could not fault them in their enthusiasm for video games.

“OK, Spackle. From all of the ideas you heard, what would you do to make this the perfect killing field?” Chernovsky asked.

Collapsing the barn roofs allowed all potential observation sites to have unobstructed view of the road. Southernmost observation site is in near-enfilade position for columns advancing south on the road while the other two positions are in defilade positions.

“I would leave the pole barns standing but collapse the roofs so the observation posts had clear fields of vision. I would remove the door handles on the insides of the barns and put wire mesh over the windows. And I would fill them with barbed wire.” Quinn said.

“Why not get rid of the barns?” Chernovsky asked. He had his own opinions but wanted to hear Spackles.

“We might have to start shooting at the zombies. If we get rid of the barns then they will figure out the only place the shooting could come from is our observation posts. If we leave the shell of the barns standing then they will probably figure the shooters are in the barn.” Quinn said. “I would rather have them shooting into empty barns than have them shooting at an observation post where they might get lucky.”

“Is there anything else you would do?” Chernovsky asked.

“Yeah, I would put something outside the doors of the honey-pot houses so I would know if the doors had been opened. Maybe a two-liter pop bottle with some water in the bottom. It would get knocked over if somebody opened the door to the house.” Quinn added. “Then I could do a quick walk-by and would know if there might be zombies in the house.

Chernovsky was impressed. He had not thought of that.

"Your plan to let the hostiles into the barn sucks." Chernovsky said. "Once they are in there you lose sight of them. You need to rethink that part of the plan."

“Is there anything that you need help with?” Chernovsky asked.

“Nope. I think my squad can handle this.” Quinn said. “We will cut the bottoms of the trusses and the snow load will take care of the rest.”


Monday, May 20, 2019

Worst customer ever

I am in the running for "Worst Customer Ever" award.

I went into the cellphone store to have a 4G Smartphone I purchased activated. I activated phones in the past via the internet but this one needed a SIM card.

The young woman sitting on the stool behind the counter argued with me for four minutes telling me that it was not worth her time to turn on a phone that was more than three years old.

First she told me that the phone I brought in would not work with the cell phone provider who employed her.

I said that was not what the person who sold it to me said.

With a sniff she asked, "And who would that be?" expecting it to be some other geriatric.

I said it was a Top Rated Seller on Ebay with 19k reviews and a 99.9% good rating. He specifically said it would ONLY work with that carrier.

I asked her if she would try.

Then she went into the spiel about how she could activate it but it would just stop working in two weeks or a month. That she had activated hundreds of that particular model and every one of them died in less than a month.

That is when I decided it was more important to get my phone working than to ask pointed questions. So I did not ask "How could you activate hundreds of this model of phone if they don't work on your employer's signal?"  The other germane question is, "They all worked like gangbusters until you touched them and then they rolled over and died. I don't think the phone is the problem."

After she started on the same loop for the fourth time and did not move an inch toward the back to get a SIM, I told her that I did not come to the store to hear her opinions. That is when I told her to shut-up and just do her job.

Then she said that slagging phones sold by her employer were part of her job.

She was physically incapable of shutting her mouth and doing the job she had been hired to do.

It took her forty seconds to figure out how to install the SIM card in that particular model. "...activated hundreds of them..." my azz.

Friggin nineteen year olds.

Expect to see a picture of me captioned Worst Customer Ever

Oh, by the way, the phone works.

Seven Skinny Cows: Winter Faire Part II

Steve Reynolds and Dave Matthews ran their Polaris snow machines into the commercial garage eight miles west of Kates Store.

After stripping out of their windproof suits, they walked up to the office on the second floor of the administrative building.

“What do you think?” the beefy man said behind the desk.

Reynolds, the more cerebral of the two regretfully shook his head. “They don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell.”

Matthews nodded his head in agreement.

“We only saw one AR. Other than that it looked like an Amish flea-market.” Reynolds said.

Clearly, they missed the fire-team member who had been tracking them in his 4X scope from a hundred yards away. The even tan color of the work over coats and leggings had become mottled from the sun bleaching and the relentless grinding of firewood bark-dust and lichens into their surface

They were also unaware of the landholders who hauled ass out of their houses and barns at the first sound of motors. They grabbed their weapons and posted up at the defensive positions they had dug-out since Dan Nessel's raid on Kate's store.

“A pity.” the beefy man said. “No matter. We can flow in after the Ebola burns them out. It will be that much easier to take it over.”

“What about Seraph?” Matthews asked.

“What about him?” the beefy man said.

“He was there checking things out.” Matthews said.

“Eaton Rapids is on their ass. Got too many old people and too many approaches. The other thing you gotta remember is they are closer to Lansing than we are and they didn’t see this coming.” the beefy man said.

“If Paul Seraph is alive a year from now, he will be begging us to come into Eaton Rapids and restore order…that and to execute the blind zombies roaming the streets.” the beefy man said.


The second day of the fair involved more trade than the first day. People learned what had the most trading value. They went back home and rummaged around in their garages and basements. They brought back reloading presses, bottles of smokeless powder and bricks of primers, transformers from defunct microwave ovens and so on.

The vendors kept a small supply of goods at their table. When large orders came in, they sent a “runner” with a sled to collect more goods. They operated out of a small display for several reasons. One was simple theft prevention. You immediately notice when somebody walks off with half your visible inventory. You might not notice if they took 1/20th. The other reason was operational security. Visitors came from outside Kates Store and they did not want to appear too wealthy.

Gabby did a VERY brisk business selling soybean oil. Most people had been monkey-hammered in the transition to a high-carb, high-fiber diet. They CRAVED oils and fats. As her supply diminished, the price rose. Some of the people who bought early succumbed to the temptation and resold what they had bought cheap.

Farmers took note of Gabby’s prices. Clearly, there was now a market for oil-seeds. It was a pity that so much of the crop had not been harvested and was now beneath a heavy blanket of snow.

The fire-teams from Squad One and Three had swapped out. The ones who been on guard took sentry duty on the northern frontier while the ones who had been on sentry duty guarded the fair.

Quinn Spackle continued to belly-ache.

To nobody's surprise Mrs Shaw, Shadrack and Walt's mother, won the cookie contest. The batch of cookies she entered in the contest had a shortbread base, a fruit-leather middle and an oatmeal-crumble top. She used honey for sweetening.

The other major change in the Faire was that the second day focused on “manly skills.”

Particularly popular were skills of throwing. The weather was too cold for the snow to pack, so snow was mixed with water the night before and compressed into balls to freeze over-night.

The two most popular contests were hitting a target that was in a swinging, spinning tire and throwing “darts” with an atlatl. In both cases pictures of various political figures were offered as targets. It should not be surprising that the politicians who had most stridently demanded open borders were the most popular targets. The people of Kates Store clearly blamed them for Ebola being in the United States.

The third most popular contest was beheading a swinging dummy with an axe.

Battle axes would never be a viable weapon against Ebola carriers. Too much blood would spray on the defender. Battle axes did, however, make the wielder feel manly and taking the head off of a dummy was great fun.

Conspicuously absent were bows. Arrows were in very short supply and one problem with bows is the awkward transition to hand-to-hand combat. A well designed atlatl transitions well to a light club or baton while a bow only tangles up the shooter.