Mimsy Were the Borogoves

And the weakness of all Utopias is this, that they take the greatest difficulty of man and assume it to be overcome, and then give an elaborate account of the overcoming of the smaller ones. They first assume that no man will want more than his share, and then are very ingenious in explaining whether his share will be delivered by motor-car or balloon. — G.K. Chesterton (Heretics)

The Parable of the Soldered RAM—Wednesday, November 29th, 2023
512 MB DDR desktop RAM: Elixir 512MB DDR RAM M2U51264DS8HC3G-5T for desktop computers, circa 2006.; memory

Just looking at this brings back my very reasonable fear of static electricity.

I’m not a big fan of the continued miniaturization of computer parts, nor of the transformation of computers to appliances. These trends make weekend tinkering a thing of the past, much in the same way that modern cars make garage mechanics impossibly difficult. Surface mount devices are far more difficult to solder, and require special tools beyond merely a soldering gun.

But my dislike of them doesn’t change that they increase reliability and decrease cost. Everything in life is a trade-off. One of my long-standing complaints with tech bloggers, from the introduction of the iPod to the expectation that no-one has a computer more than a year or two old is an inability to see that time saved is a very important feature.

Last October, one of the bloggers I follow snark-announced the next Apple CPUs. His biggest complaint:

With all variants of Apple’s CPUs the memory is soldered onto the CPU module. You can’t upgrade it, ever.

Two days later, his Top Story was:

Seems to be a loose connection inside my laptop. That's why the problem is intermittent. It can probably be fixed, I think I’ll just turn it into a Linux server and stick it on a shelf, and take the other laptop (better screen and CPU but 16GB of soldered RAM) and use that as my Windows system.1

I’m not a big fan of soldered RAM either; but I’m comfortable—mostly, I still have an irrational fear of static electricity—opening up my computer and replacing user-replaceable parts. Most people are not, and for good reason: every time you open it up, you increase the chance of screwing something else up.

But everything is a trade-off, and soldered RAM is a good example of that. Loose connections have plagued home computing since the beginning, and soldered parts vastly increase connection reliability. This is especially true for any device that’s going to be dragged around a lot, such as a laptop. Soldered RAM that comes loose is a manufacturing defect that justifies a replacement computer. User-serviceable RAM that comes loose is… just what user-serviceable RAM does. That’s the whole point, that the RAM can be removed.

Are you authorized?—A Poem—Wednesday, November 22nd, 2023

I was driving from Texas to San Diego after a blowout near Sonora when the basics of this poem began to bubble up from the tar beneath my wheels.

Are you authorized?

    • Drive not into smoke
    • Nor brave standing water in the road.
    • When lightning flashes, seek not a shading tree,
    • Nor stand amidst the wide and waving plain.
    • Hitchhikers may be dangerous
    • There is no tolerance for speed.
    • The bridge across the gaping earth
    • Ices before the road.
    • That which pursues you
    • May be closer than it appears.

As you read this I’m probably on the road again, so this is my gift to you as you also travel to family and friends this Thanksgiving holiday—or as you reminisce about Thanksgivings past.

The title comes from a story told by a police chief while I was researching The Dream of Poor Bazin. I was in a small town in Louisiana, and trying to find a nearby ghost town. It was a real ghost town, in that it had been overgrown so much it was invisible, and this was before ubiquitous GPS mapping. I did have a map, but all of the roads supposedly leading into the ghost town were labeled “unnamed road”… and unless I was in the wrong place, they were also overgrown to the point of invisibility.

So I went into the nearest non-ghost town thinking I might find a local history section in the library. The library turned out to be closed, but the library was in the same building as the post office, so I thought I’d ask whoever was working there when the library would open.

The post office, while open, was unattended. However, the town hall was also in the same building, so I walked over and asked the ladies at the front desk if they knew anything about that ghost town, or where I might find more about it.

“Oh, you need to talk to our police chief!”

And the chief of police came out from a back room—the police department was apparently also in this same very small building—heard what I was interested in, and immediately dropped everything to give a tour of the ghost town. He was a local history buff, and even loaned me a relatively rare book about the Nightriders.

The Destruction of Title IX—Wednesday, November 15th, 2023
Apocryphal Milton Friedman: Women’s Sports: Put the government in charge of women’s sports, and in fifty years you’ll have a shortage of… women and sports.; sports; war on women; Milton Friedman

Milton Friedman is apocryphally thought to have said that if you put the government in charge of the desert, in fifty years you’d end up with a shortage of sand.

Title IX passed on June 23, 1972. Last year was its fiftieth anniversary. Friedman would not be surprised that a government program meant to protect the right of women to compete against each other in sports, now protects the right of men to dominate women.

Put the government in charge of women’s sports, and in fifty years you’ll have a shortage of… women and sports.

You’ll have government bureaucrats driving women out of women’s sports and replacing them with men. Forcing young women to accept men exposing themselves in women’s bathrooms and locker rooms. Injuring women and beating them in contact sports. Raping women in prisons.

These males are not even attempting to pass as females, and there’s a good reason for this. Puberty blockers don’t turn a boy into a girl (or a girl into a boy). They interfere with and even stop the natural processes that children must go through to remain healthy. They irreversibly stunt their natural development from children into adults. They mutilate children and create mutilated adults.

So, it’s obvious why, not required to take these drugs, the men pretending to be women don’t. They’re dangerous.

But more importantly—to the boys and men attempting to compete against women—these drugs would reduce their ability to dominate women. They would reduce their ability to win in these sports.

It’s so obvious what’s going on that its supporters have to resort to silencing everyone with an audience who points it out. From J.K. Rowling to Margaret Atwood, it doesn’t matter how reliably left you are, if you point out the “men who beat women up and the corporations that support them.”

Or ask, “why can’t we say ‘woman’ anymore?” instead of “pregnant person” or “people with uteruses”.

“Gender-affirming care” is one of those opposite words that the left uses so well. It’s not gender-affirming, it’s gender-destroying. And like all of their opposite words, when it fails and kills children, they blame it on someone else.

When they can’t blame it on someone else, they pretend it doesn’t happen. Despite all the evidence of our eyes, they pretend that men do not dominate in women’s contact sports, do not injure women when they take part in contact sports.

They deny that a progra to protect women now exposes women, including minors, to abusers, in bathrooms, dressing rooms, and on the playing field.

A one-hundred-percent rule for traffic laws—Wednesday, November 8th, 2023

If you ask people what laws most cause a disrespect for law, a lot of people would answer, our insane drug laws. Others might answer our laws that disarm the law-abiding, giving murderers free rein to kill. Aficionados of older media might answer copyright laws. Nobody who cares about older media follows copyright laws—you can see this all over even mainstream sites such as YouTube. Parents might point out that laws making it illegal for children to sell lemonade or hold bake sales teach even the very young that some laws are meant to be broken.

But the real answer is so ubiquitous it’s invisible. If there is one set of laws that most causes a disrespect for law, it is our traffic laws. All of my examples above were made with the expectation that people would actually follow them or that people would be arrested for not following them. There is no such expectation with traffic laws. Cities and states create laws that they expect everyone to break, and then set up their budgets so that if everyone followed those laws they’d go broke.

That’s the real kicker about these laws: if you look at city and state budgets, they very clearly need people to break traffic laws. That’s why you don’t go to jail for speeding. The government needs your fine, and it needs you to keep speeding to pay more fines.

Speed limits are not set for safety. The rule of thumb for setting safe speed limits is to set the speed limit at the 85% level. That is, where 85% of drivers are driving that speed or less in free-flowing conditions. Decades of studies show that the 85th percentile is far safer than slower speeds. For reasons beyond the scope of this post, most people naturally drive at the speed safe for any particular road.

Most roads don’t have the speed limits even as high as the safe 85% level. On most roads the speed limit is set so dangerously low that anyone traveling at the limit is at serious risk of causing an accident; police know this and only ticket less than one percent of violators, while still retaining the option of literally stopping anyone on the road.

Yes, even if you’re one of the very few who cause traffic accidents by driving under the speed limit, you can be stopped and ticketed. You’re guilty of violating the law against unsafe driving. Drivers can be stopped for “impeding traffic” when driving at, under, or over the limit.

Eddie Doucette’s Potato Bread—Wednesday, November 1st, 2023
Potato Bread: Potato Bread, from Eddie Doucette’s “You Can Have Fun With Yeast” in the Alton Evening Telegraph of April 4, 1967.; bread; potatoes; Eddie Doucette

Friday is National Sandwich Day. If you’re having a backyard barbecue or picnic, or just making sandwiches for lunch, consider making this light, flavorful potato bread to help celebrate the occasion.

I found this recipe in the April 4, 1967, Alton Evening Telegraph. It was part of a media blitz for Eddie Doucette’s “French Cooking Can Be Fun” show at Alton’s Monticello College. There was a lot of cool stuff in there, which you can see in Tempt Them with Tastier Foods. Tempt Them is a free download, and it’s also available in print if you (as I do) prefer having a book in the kitchen.

I can’t overemphasize how much fun Eddie Doucette’s recipes are, how much joy he takes in spreading the message that “cooking can be fun”.

The article that featured this recipe is “You Can Have Fun With Yeast”. It’s a typically upbeat and encouraging article from Chef Doucette. He starts off quoting his mother about the importance of bread, talks about the nostalgia, drama, and romance of working with yeast, and ends with a positive affirmation about the pleasures of home cooking:

With our modern mode of cooking and baking it is a pleasure to produce sumptuous light taste-provoking baked goods, whether it be for your own table, a surprise gift for a dear friend, a church social or what-have-you, I’m certain you’ll find you can have “Fun With Yeast.”

It’s an upbeat sentiment that others can only see pessimistically.

When I was growing up nobody could show me how to bake bread—and it’s only gotten worse. It seems such a shame that as a culture we don’t teach our children about the basic things in life—bread making, gardening, sewing—and the value of work. At some point, all these things got to be beneath our dignity. If you can’t work with your hands, you lose the richness of your life and the sense of being productive. — Edward Espe Brown (Flour Power)

Doucette’s unstated motto is, why complain that people don’t bake, when you can instead show people the joy of baking? That cooking can be and is fun!

Salted, roasted, pumpkin seeds—Wednesday, October 25th, 2023
Jack shows he’s got guts: Jack-o-lantern: “Jack shows he’s got guts.”; Hallowe’en; pumpkins

The process of making a jack-o-lantern is truly a gory one, well-suited for Hallowe’en. Depending on your proclivities, the most gorious is that all of Jack’s slimy viscera must be removed, usually by reaching in and tearing them out by hand. It’s a messy process, but without it your jack-o-lantern will rot much faster, and won’t be able to hold a candle securely or keep it lit.

But Jack’s innards don’t all have to be tossed. When looking for a good use for pumpkins this year, I was surprised to find that I hadn’t already posted this recipe for roasted pumpkin seeds. I love pumpkin seeds, and this recipe is so good and so easy I use it year-round for other squash seeds, such as the butternut squash I made yesterday as I write this.

Pumpkin seeds are the best of squashes for edible seeds. They’re a great size and have more meat. All of the seeds from inside the pumpkin should be kept for this great salty snack.

Clearing the seeds off Jack’s gut-strings is a further mess but well worth the work. The easiest way I’ve found to clean them is to put the guts into a big bowl, cover them with water, and then remove the seeds by hand. Many will come out easily; others will have to be pulled loose from the wet, stringy entrails. The seeds usually separate easily by squeezing them at the point where they attach to the strings.

When I wrote last year that “I’ve taken to carving two Hallowe’en pumpkins so that I have more body parts left over” a good part of it was so that I’ll have more pumpkin seeds. It’s very easy to go through an entire pumpkin’s seeds very quickly.

You’ll need to carve the pumpkins at least a day ahead of when you need the seeds: the critical step in this recipe compared to more complicated recipes is that the seeds need to be soaked in very salty water overnight. This, I suspect, tenderizes the seeds as well as infuses them with flavor. Previous recipes I’ve tried tended to make chewier pumpkin seeds with less flavor, even if they used more spices.

Lazlo Hollyfeld on the electric car—Wednesday, October 11th, 2023

In my last post, I wrote about the problems with current battery technology. Today’s batteries make owning a battery-powered vehicle a huge hassle and limit travel options to nearby destinations—or enforce artificially long travel times. In both cases, they require that the destination be one where electricity is available in sufficient quantities for charging a battery-powered vehicle. Trips to out-of-the-way places become very difficult when you can’t just store extra bottles of your power source in the trunk. Battery-powered vehicles already maximize every spare location as battery space.

Any unforeseen problem—temperature, traffic jam, etc.—runs the risk of draining the battery, leaving the driver stranded, even during daily trips. And there is no obvious way forward: the future of battery-powered vehicles requires a completely new battery technology, and we not only don’t have that technology we don’t even know where it will come from.

I’ve sometimes said that electric cars are basically daily beaters at the cost of a sports car, but that oversells them. As a daily beater they’ve got issues as well; I’ve known several people who have bought electric cars thinking they’d use them to get back and forth to work, do their shopping, all their local driving. All but one of those vehicles have since been replaced with gasoline vehicles. That one is owned by a friend who has a habit of buying cars that need constant attention.

I think, at best, today’s battery-powered vehicles are little more than Sunday drive vehicles. You don’t have to worry about filling up with gas or checking the oil; you don’t have to worry about rush hour, or temperature extremes. It’s a wonderful day, so get in, drive around the countryside for an hour or two, and come home.

When you do have to worry about losing power during a traffic jam, or having less of a charge than you thought you did because it’s too hot or too cold, or the parking lot’s charger is already occupied and you’re late for work, they make a lot less sense. It is absolutely insane that some states are mandating battery-powered vehicles today. They do not make traveling easier when that travel has the purpose of getting to a specific place at a specific time.

But that brings up a not-so-obvious question. Are electric cars really meant to make traveling easier? Let’s, as Lazlo Hollyfeld might say, look at the features of the modern all-electric power source, that is, the modern battery:

What will a useful electric car look like?—Wednesday, October 4th, 2023
White Tesla Roadster: Image of a Tesla Roadster, March 18, 2015, from Zobeid Zuma. Public Domain.; Tesla Motors; automobiles; cars

This is a beautiful car. EVs are an amazing feat of technology. But they’re currently a lot like Samuel Johnson’s walking dog. It’s amazing it walks, but it’s not done well. That’s mostly because battery technology isn’t up to the needs of motorists.

Electric cars that work are potential game-changers for personal transportation. Never having to worry about hitting the gas station in the morning—because your vehicle’s “tank” automatically refills overnight. Using the same system to power accessories as is used to power the vehicle’s motion. Redundancy for the electrically powered accessories so that one dead battery doesn’t shut down the vehicle—as currently happens when a modern gas vehicle’s one battery dies.

All-electric vehicles even today have advantages. Acceleration is immediate: the direct link between power source and motive force makes changes in speed happen faster, making electric cars more maneuverable and thus potentially safer. This advantage, however, is held back by the mass requirements of both modern battery packs and current safety regulations. Heavier vehicles are less maneuverable.

One big problem is that what we call an electric vehicle is a misnomer. Our “electric” vehicles run off of chemical batteries. Our current battery technology is designed for far less strenuous tasks than the special needs of transporting large masses over long distances. I am increasingly of the opinion that when we finally get useful batteries for cars, their technology will be so different from current technology that we won’t even call them batteries.

Gasoline, after all, is a battery. It stores energy for later use, and in a very concentrated form.1 Gasoline is far more powerful and efficient for moving vehicles than our current electro-chemical batteries. Even in my giant old American car, a full tank of gas weighs a little over a hundred pounds, and this amount drops as the gas provides energy. Battery packs in cars weigh a thousand pounds or more, a thousand pounds that not only can’t go as far as my hundred pounds, but does not weigh less as it produces energy.

If I tricked out my trunk to hold a thousand pounds of gasoline in my car, I could go well over 3,000 miles without a refill. And it would probably still take less time to refill for another 3,000 miles than it does to refill an EV for another 300. That’s how efficient gasoline is compared to modern batteries.

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