Mimsy Were the Borogoves

The word “signal-box” is unpoetical. But the thing signal-box is not unpoetical; it is a place where men, in an agony of vigilance, light blood-red and sea-green fires to keep other men from death. — G.K. Chesterton (Heretics)

Hobby Computer Handbook—Wednesday, December 1st, 2021

In August I bought what I think is the final issue in an obscure early personal computer magazine that is probably of interest only to me. Hobby Computer Handbook was a publication of Elementary Electronics; it came out one or two times a year and may have collected computer-related content from its parent magazine.

The “Fall/Winter 1979 Edition” convinced me that a computer would be a better purchase than a programmable calculator. I found it in the magazine rack of one of our two local grocery stores and read it cover to cover several times. Its articles on BASIC allowed me to write BASIC programs, and so learn BASIC, before I had a computer to write on. None of them worked, of course, but it was a valuable experience. As much as I enjoy seat-of-the-pants scripting, some of my greatest successes come from planning out program logic far from a keyboard.

I also enjoyed the advertisements for computers and computer software. That was possibly the main purpose of the somewhat annual magazine: it was filled with not just advertisements but a “Software Directory”, a comprehensive list of software for various home computers along with thumbnail descriptions of each.

As a teenager who had never considered the possibility of owning a computer, I was amazed at what kinds of software were available. I never meant to write my own word processor. I looked at the prices in Hobby Computer Handbook, saved up what I needed, and brought cash to the annual Hamfest in a nearby city. I figured I’d be able to get a good deal there on software.

I was right, but, Jack-in-the-Beanstalk-style, I saw a Space Invaders game and bought that instead. I figured it would be easy to write a simple word processor, and much more difficult to write an Invaders clone. I was right; I wrote a perfectly passable word processor1, and never did get around to finishing an arcade game.

CoCoFest! 2021—Wednesday, November 24th, 2021
Color Computer 3 MIDI music station

I started using the TRS-80 Color Computer in about 1987, and started seriously using it in about 1988. I’m pretty sure I started using the Color Computer 2: I’d been using a TRS-80 Model 1, but a house fire melted it. The computer surprisingly still worked—or perhaps unsurprisingly, the Model 1 wasn’t just battleship grey, it was built like a battleship—but was unusable and probably untrustworthy due to the damage.

One of the reasons that I never saved programs from the Model 1 was that many of the disks were damaged by water and mold. The main reason was that the programs wouldn’t work on my next computer, so why bother? Nowadays, of course, I’d just copy everything over and forget about it, but I had no hard drive then. So any disks that were working went along with the Model 1 when I sold it to someone else for parts.

I had a used Color Computer 1 or 2 that I’d acquired at some point, possibly for the hard drive that came with it. Because it was stored in a box in the closet, it escaped damage from the fire. My memory of this is very hazy, because I didn’t buy that CoCo for use. But since it was the computer I had, I tried it out, and it did what I needed it to do. At some point thereafter I acquired a Color Computer 3, probably pretty quickly, and with that, Microware’s OS-9.

OS-9 was an impressive operating system for its time, certainly compared to Windows and even compared to the Macintosh. Remember, this was the late eighties. Windows 3 wouldn’t be released for a couple of years. I quickly found OS-9 and the CoCo 3 indispensable for both programming and writing, and so I searched out support tools for it, abandoning the Model 1 line.

The biggest and best of the support tools for the CoCo 3 was Rainbow Magazine. It was as filled with great software to type in as 80 Micro had ever been—and by 1987 80 Micro was an anemic shell of its former glory. I’m not sure I was even subscribing to it at that point, as it had mostly abandoned the Z-80 line in favor of Radio Shack’s IBM semi-compatibles.

Time is not fungible for writers—Wednesday, November 17th, 2021
Underwood Champion

Some of this photo is a joke about writing stereotypes. The typewriter is serious.

Often, ambitious young men or women write, wanting to work for me or assist me in my research. What they do not understand is that it is a labor of love, and I would relinquish no part of it at any price. I do not need help; I need time.

Louis L’Amour wrote that in his autobiographical Education of a Wondering Man. It seems contradictory on its face, but I can understand where he’s coming from. Time is very important for writers, and not just the time spent butt-in-chair. I get some of my best ideas during the twilight between sleeping and waking, or when I need to be out the door five minutes ago. I don’t have time to wait for a computer to wake up, or for an app to start up. In those few seconds, the dream-thought is gone, or I am already on the move and my attention has left the great idea and focused on the road.

If you’re following the geeky hinterlands of this blog, you know that I use a TRS-80 Model 100 and a manual typewriter for a lot of my writing. I am not a Luddite: I pretty much always have an iPhone and an iPad available. But when I need to write quickly, I use devices that start quickly.

The boot-up time for a Model 100 is less than a second. The boot-up time for a typewriter is taking off the cover. I keep paper in it at all times. Compare this to the time it takes to unlock a tablet, open the app, and navigate to the appropriate document—possibly also to pair a keyboard with it.

My memory has always been leaky when preparing to write down what’s in my memory. And if the tablet has decided that this time I need to enter my password… I’m screwed. The great idea will be gone by the time I get to where I can write it down.

The Thrifty Peanut in Shreveport—Wednesday, November 10th, 2021

Shreveport, Louisiana, is a great place to stop for a rest and walkabout while driving east or west on I-20. And if you’re a fan of used bookstores, you should definitely make time to browse The Thrifty Peanut while you’re there.

The first time I browsed The Thrifty Peanut, I had Robert Aickman on my want list. I found two of his short story collections, Cold Hand in Mine and Painted Devils on the Peanut’s shelves. Aickman is a very subtle horror writer, and these were elegant hardcover editions with covers by Edward Gorey. The stories are about hauntings that aren’t quite there, slightly twisted realities seen obliquely. Things just on the edge of remembrance, jus tout of reach of the senses.

I have often noticed in life that we never really learn anything—learn for the first time, I mean. We know everything already, everything that we, as individuals, are capable of knowing, or fit to know; all that other people do for us, at best, is to remind us, to give our brains a little twist from one set of preoccupations to a slightly different set.

On my second trip, William Sloane’s The Edge of Running Water was on my list; it had been recommended to me in an offline forum so I didn’t know what to expect. Sloane turns out to have strong similarities to Aickman. He blurs genre as much as he blurs reality and the supernatural. The Edge of Running Water is a ghost story with science fiction elements (vaguely similar to the much later Hell House), or perhaps science fiction with horror elements a la Lovecraft.

Tomato relish and tuna salad—Wednesday, November 3rd, 2021
Tomato relish

The relish is good spooned over just about anything that could use salsa or relish.

Today is National Sandwich Day. I’ve had sandwich day posts about bread and about the meat that goes in the bread for four years now. Today, I’d like to travel to Australia for a look at the relish that goes between the meat and the bread.

Every once in a while, I run into something unique at an antique store. I often wonder how they got there. How did this typewritten cookbook of the Royal Australian Air Force Women’s Association end up in an antique store in Fort Worth, Texas?

However it happened, I’m glad it did. One of the more intriguing recipes in it is today’s tomato relish. Whenever I buy a new cookbook, I make several test recipes before I decide if I’m going to keep the book. Often I’ll choose a recipe I wouldn’t normally make, and for this cookbook that was the tomato relish. I’m a big fan of dill relish; not so much of other kinds.

Because this is an Australian recipe, the tomatoes, onion, and sugar are all measured by weight, not volume. I’ve put approximations of what the volume should be after each of those ingredients, and there’s a lot of leeway anyway; you should be able to adjust the ingredients according to your own taste. That said, a kitchen scale is an invaluable cooking and baking tool, and decent digital ones are relatively inexpensive.

National Sandwich Day—Wednesday, November 3rd, 2021

National Sandwich Day is always November 3, whatever day of the week that happens to be. But that’s fine, because every day is a good day for a sandwich.

Why November 3? Because that’s the birthday of John Montagu, the fourth Earl of Sandwich, from whom popular etymology says we got the name for this wonderfully quick and tasty meal-in-one. Whether it’s a fresh sandwich, a cooked sandwich, or a combination (say, grilled cheese with tomatoes), the sandwich combines the great taste of good bread with the great taste of just about anything that can lay vaguely flat on a slice of bread.

Great bread, great fillings, great spreads. The sandwich doesn’t need anything else, although a good drink and something crunchy alongside is always a comfort.

November 2021 Texas propositions—Wednesday, October 27th, 2021
Texas flag on a Pecos wall

Tuesday’s election has several propositions on it to amend the Texas constitution. Both the Texas Public Policy Foundation and Texas Scorecard have summaries available.

Most of them seem to be somewhat inside baseball. Proposition 1 would allow adding the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association or the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association to the national sports leagues allowed to hold raffles at their events. Proposition 2 would allow counties to go as heavily into debt as cities and towns.

Proposition 4 would extend the already crazy prohibition on non-lawyers serving as Texas justices by requiring that they have been lawyers for even longer than they currently are, and also that they have been Texas lawyers. They must also have not pissed off any bureaucrats during that period. Proposition 5 would let the State Commission on Judicial Conduct interfere with elections. Both of those are incumbent protection propositions.

Proposition 7 would make spouses of disabled persons eligible for the same tax breaks as the disabled person; proposition 8 extends tax breaks for spouses of military killed in action to spouses of military killed in training.

Two of the propositions are an attempt to alleviate some of the authoritarian impulses of bureaucrats and elected officials. I just read a dystopian science fiction novel that featured a law against three or more people gathering to worship. A few years ago I would have thought it a nutty idea and totally unrealistic. Proposition 3 would ensure that government officials cannot make Texas into a dystopian science fiction novel again, at least in that respect.

Proposition 6 would allow nursing home and other long-term care residents to designate one person who cannot be prohibited from visiting them. Like proposition 3, it stems from some of the authoritarian craziness of the past two years, in which some bureaucrats isolated people from friends and family against their will. Frankly, I agree with the opponents of this bill: residents should be able to allow anyone to visit them, not just one person. But one is better than none, which is what they currently get.

The ruling class’s unexpectedly old clothes—Wednesday, October 27th, 2021

I was re-reading an issue of 80 Microcomputing from July, 1981, when I ran across a familiar phrase:

Tandy/Radio Shack, Fort Worth, TX, had 31 percent higher sales this April than it did a year ago, and Garland P. Asher, director of financial planning for Tandy, sees it as a sign that the retail market is firming up. Asher said April was the third straight month of unexpectedly high sales figures. He said this may be a reflection of the unexpected strong upturn of the U.S. economy in the first quarter of 1981.

That would be, the unexpected strong upturn when President Reagan took office, with the expectation of all that he’d promised to do to restore American jobs and business. To leftist economists, the sudden, similarly thriving economy of 2017 was just as unexpected. Their forecast after Trump’s election was:

If the question is when markets will recover, a first-pass answer is never… we are very probably looking at a global recession, with no end in sight.

Among the many dark jokes among conservative commentators is the use of “unexpected” to describe economic gains during a conservative presidency and economic losses during a Democratic presidency. Economic forecasts and even quarterly estimates during the Obama administration always seemed to have to be unexpectedly revised downward; the same forecasts and estimates during the Trump administration always seemed to be unexpectedly revised upward.

While I wasn’t aware that the “unexpected” turn of phrase went back to the eighties, I was aware that the press had the same worldview then. Things were always unexpected to them whether they used the word or not. In Straight Stuff: The Reporters, the White House, and the Truth, James Deakins looked at the United States economy in 1983 and concluded that Reagan was doomed to be a one-term president. The already visibly-improved economy under Reagan was unexpected, and could not possibly last. In fact, the economic growth under Reagan was the start of one of the longest sustained periods of growth then or since. Reagan won his second term.

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