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Week of December 5

Do you remember where you were 20 years ago yesterday? I do because that was the day I, along with 7,000 or so other people, were laid off from Enron. I have some thoughts and memories that I will be sharing with you over the course of the month, or as soon as I get my act generally together. They may be called Enron +40 years or something like that, but hey. Quality takes time. So does my stuff. Watch for a banner on the right.

Report from the Eastern Shore.

Since we moved here at the beginning of this millennium, we have gone to the Eastern Shore of Virginia for the Eastern Shore Artisan's Guild's Studio Tour (AKA the Craft Crawl), where visitors get to go into the artists' studios to see working conditions and purchase items directly from the artists. Plus, they have snacks. We had the usual good time, but, unlike previous years, we didn't try to get to every studio. Some observations:

Off roading. Like most non-locals tend to do, we spent most of our time either on Route 13 or in major towns (Onancock, Cape Charles). But a year or two ago, one of the 'must-stops' moved from a spot beside Route 13 to a new location, down a twisty dirt road. Path, actually. To deal with oncoming 'traffic,' both vehicles have to pull most of the way off the beaten path. I got a new appreciation for 'out there.'

The Re's. Most of the Eastern Shore looks like you would expect, an area on a gentle decline. Closed stores, abandoned homes, neglected buildings. There are some efforts to revitalize and renew, but it's an uphill battle against decay and abandonment. But then in some areas, notably larger towns and along the shore, there are signs of revival and renewal, a new spirit.

The locals. In the larger towns there are signs of liberalism. In Cape Charles, right across from the concrete plant, there was a lot of activity at the local craft distillery and brewery. But in other places, we saw signs saying 'Let's Go, Brandon' and a sign in a gas station window demanding the repeal of the cigarette tax. Mixed bag indeed.

Battening down the Christmas hatches.

The all-Christmas Classics Oldies (a Mariah Carey-free zone) radio station was up and running the day after Thanksgiving, and holiday-themed ads and movies are making an appearance (the Hallmark Channels [which have a penchant for jazzy versions of classics, as sung by Johnny Mathis, Tony Bennett, Harry Connick Jr., or Michael Buble], started on October 22), which means that I will be soon entering Holiday Earworm Hell, songs that I will be humming in my head because I just can't escape them, short of moving off the grid. (Thus concludes the first sentence, impressive for its use of nested parenthetical elements, if not length (at 94 words, Faulkner was just getting up a full head of steam.)

Any song, if played often enough, can be annoying. But some songs have a special level of 'make it stop!' for me, based on growing up in Rochester, NY, when Rochester had over 110 inches of snow a year. So topping the 'H.E.H.' list, because of all the time I spent getting bundled up to go out to shovel snow as a kid, we have two:

Let It Snow
Walking in a Winter Wonderland

because the first was a command, not a wish, and the second, well, when you've seen one blanket of snow, you've seen enough to last a lifetime. Or two.

Next up on the list:

The Little Drummer Boy

And a b-rump-a-dumb-dumb to you, too.

No list could be complete without the world's saddest Christmas song,

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

Finally, add to the list any holiday music by Mannheim Steamroller or Trans-Siberian Orchestra, especially if played from a grocery store ceiling, and double-especially if featured in a car advertisement. (Disclaimer: I own a Mannheim Steamroller Christmas CD. I bought it in 1986. They were wild and crazy times. I was young. What can I say?)

Another creative, four quadrant matrix.

If Stephen Covey didn't invent the four quadrant matrix, he sure popularized it. You know the one:

Covey's matrix.

The upper right quadrant is where you do your best work (and in the best of all worlds where you would do most of your work), and the lower right is where all aimless scrolling occurs. We probably spend way too much time on the left side (the 'I do my best work under pressure' side), though, putting out fires.

There are are lot of variants. This matrix about creativity comes from Arne Dietrich by way of Maryann Al-Balooshi. creativity matrix

Unlike the Covey matrix, where it is possible to move between squares but not inhabit two squares at the same time, on this matrix it is possible, I think, to occupy two places simultaneously, to be spontaneous and deliberative with flashes of brilliance, for example. I know a number of writers who shift between deliberate and spontaneous on a regular basis. I don't know if knowing this helps anything, but here it is.

Aside: You really should read Arne's mini-bio. Very unscientific, great fun.

Perfect placement.

The BBC: El Salvador Bitcoin city planned at base of Conchagua volcano.

They can have volatility contests. Which will blow up first?

Shout outs.

About a year ago, I was complaining (quelle surpris, as they say in France) about Apple removing a feature in their calendar widget that I liked–Up Next, which told you the next item on the calendar that wasn't today.

Well, it's back, in an even more elegant form. Events today are on the left; 'up next' on the right, and if there are no events in the coming week, it shows the calendar for the month.

Neat. Good job.

Getting out just in time.

I just bumped into (thanks to Stephen Levy) Moravec's Paradox, which is described by AI-Ethics as high-level reasoning [that] requires relatively little computation power, whereas low-level sensorimotor skills require enormous computational resources. Translation: brain work is easy for a computer-robot. But having the total skill set of a two-year old is hard work. Further translation: we will never see a fully functioning robotic cat.

So it is easier to expect a computer to write TomatoPlanet!! than to take out the trash. Why? Computers are binary. Also, they have to know exactly what they are doing next, with no surprises. Cats (and humans) are not built that way. It will be a long time before computers have nuance.

Wait! How is TomatoPlanet!! binary? Easy. It works on a binary 'funny/not funny' system.

Your mileage may vary. We're still working on some algorithms and computer thingies, like figuring out what funny is, and why so many people don't think puns are funny. Or TomatoPlanet!! for that matter.

Value add!

While looking up something else, I found out the Yellowstone Caldera is not just a caldera, it's a Supervolcano!

I also found out that it's not scheduled to blow anytime soon, and geologists say the chamber only contains 15 percent magma. Also, they expect that the big one would be preceded by a series of jolts, much like the flame spurts in the fire swamp make a popping noise before well, spurting.

Too bad, though. A supervolcano eruption could certainly help repair climate change problems, particularly the global warming part.

Fred the Flower

fred the flower

Delmarva to NC

(a found poem, mostly, courtesy of the NWS)

A broad swath of stratiform


is ongoing

across the Mid-Atlantic

just ahead

of an eastward–




A surface cold front trails

to the southwest

across the VA/NC Piedmont.




should persist

ahead of it. Poor mid/

upper-level lapse rates

sampled in area 12Z soundings

will be a





to severe thunderstorm development

compared with yesterday's favorable

profile across the region.



along the front

coupled with peak surface heating

may be sufficient

for isolated thunderstorms

with strong gusty winds

capable of tree



Which is to say:

It might rain

where you are.

It will be hot,

and then not.

Bring your trees


for your and their safety.

Apt 123

Apt 123 quotation

If God had meant for us to be naked, we'd have been born that way.

Mark Twain

rear view mirror

November 28

This will be a light post, as we are still in post-Thanksgiving recovery. Good food, good friends, good conversation, good laughs. We were able to attend the 19th Annual Eastern Shore Artisans Guild event on the Eastern Shore. More good food on the shore, and then home for leftovers. Otherwise, having oof moments, slumped in front of the TV.

Random musings.

This year, we bought a turkey breast. As I was preparing it, I couldn't help wondering what happened to the formerly attached turkey legs. Soup? Pet food? Or perhaps, in the most gentle of worlds, I could picture our turkey's leg clutched in the hand of a ten-year-old girl at a Renaissance Festival. I wonder if they ever thought about us.

Reflections on the Macy's T-giving Parade 2021.

It was nice to see the Macy's Parade back after its COVID-19 layoff. Some observations:

  • For the septupuleenth year in a row, NBC tried to make the parade about itself, even to the point of sending Al Roker into the street to talk to participants. NBC also had a float, featuring a peacock, which, oddly enough, did not have its tail unfurled. Poor planning? Mechanical problems? Budget cutting?
  • Speaking of poor planning, a lot of marching bands and other pedestrian groups seemed to be rushing to get in position, becoming speed marching bands. The year off did nobody any favors.
  • Balloon report. There were two balloons featuring round-headed kids: Charlie Brown and Greg Heffley (AKA Wimpy Kid). Creepiest balloon: Ronald McDonald and Baby Yoda (tie).
  • Broadway shows are definitely back, and they all wanted exposure in the parade. Outside on W. 34th is not nearly as friendly as indoors on 42nd at Broadway, however.
  • Some producers collected large groups of high school musicians and/or dancers from across the United States to perform. However, somebody forgot to tell the producers about Black Lives Matter, diversity, and other inclusive initiatives. I mean, how hard would it be to find talented young black musicians and dancers of high school age?
  • Both my wife and myself spent a lot of time asking 'who?' and 'how long ago were they on TV?' We did recognize Foreigner, but our question was 'why them?' and a comment–'the seventies called, and it wants its band back.'
    I realized my window of opportunity to be a teenage heartthrob is closing.
  • For the septupuleenth year in a row, I missed Santa's arrival, as I was in the kitchen putting the turkey in the oven.

Still, it was overall nice to have the parade back, even if we didn't know who anybody was, except Santa and Foreigner.

And we really wish we didn't know the latter.

I don’t understand.

We voted at the local elementary school, where the mascot is a shark. An exhortatory billboard, featuring a large, open-mouthed shark, exhorts (which is what exhortatory billboards do), Chomp into Comprehension.

Get the alliteration, get the intent, but otherwise I don’t get it. The irony is not lost on me.

Unexpected humor.

I've mentioned before that I've given up on recipes that contain exotic ingredients. A recipe for Three Sisters Bowl in The New York Times had promise, but then I came to 'tepary beans.' Yellow flags arose. Turns out it's a bean grown in the Sonoran desert. But, he said to himself, the Three Sisters was an agricultural innovation developed by Indians along the East Coast. Next stop: find out what beans Indians grew.

ThoughtCo. didn't give me an exact answer, but did provide me with this gem: Nutritionally, the three sisters provide a wealth of healthy foodstuff. Maize provides carbohydrates and some amino acids; beans provide the rest of required amino acids, as well as dietary fiber, vitamins B2 and B6, zinc, iron, manganese, iodine, potassium, and phosphorus, and squash provides Vitamin A. Together, they make a great succotash.

More interesting.

A man just walked by, playing a harmonica. The dog he was with seemed to be trying to ignore him.

Staff of life report.

Yes, I can make bread. Yes, I can buy organic all-natural bread from a local bakery. Yes, I know the bread I buy from the supermarket contains a lot of ingredients whose name I can't pronounce and might kill me. But life goes on.

My first choice used to be French or Italian loaves, but they went moldy after four days. Next up, I tried a 12-grain store-brand loaf. I bought for about six months, and then they stopped selling it. Next stop was the regular bread aisle. I settled on one brand, either their twelve grain, whole wheat, or oatmeal bread. Tasty, toasted well, substantial slices. Life was good.

Well, a couple of weeks ago, it disappeared. Sighs of regret, figuring it had gone the way of the store-baked.

Well, this week it reappeared. Same flavors, same price. Happily, I grabbed a loaf and went home.

(You can see what's coming, I'm sure.) I opened the bread, and instead of seeing the old familiar, I was confronted with a piece of bread that could be toasted in an E-Z Bake oven. Where it had been 24 ounces, it is now 18, a reduction of 25 percent. It could hide, cowering, under a slice of processed American cheese. Oh, yeah–totally different texture.

So the quest begins again. Just to let the now-former provider know, This is not my bread anymore. I'm sure they'll get the reference.

No need to get science involved.

Science proves it: Most NFTs are worthless, Fast Company says.

Welcome to the real world, NFTs! Most stuff is worthless. George Carlin said it best. But take a look around. I did. Right now, I'm seeing an aloe vera plant, a ceramic chicken (el pollo de Oaxaca, as we call it) stuffed full of mailing labels from people wanting donations, a stack of read books, storage cases holding mostly art supplies, a couple of chairs, and a calculator. In other rooms, there's food, my stamp collection, a bed, clothes, TVs, and various knicks and knacks–all the usual clutter of modern American life. All stuff needing dusting, except maybe the food.

But it all has worth. Just not all the time. It acquires value when we use it. Brushes are worthless until it's time to paint. A refrigerator full of food has no value until a person is hungry. Once the hunger pangs are gone, the food resumes its valueless state.

Some items have sentimental value. But basically around here, items acquire value in accordance with utility.

But then we come to mostly worthless things, at least in terms of utility. I'm thinking of collectables, the knick-knacks, my old stamp collection or baseball cards. Now stamps always have some value, at least for mailing a letter. But baseball cards? Worthless, unless they have sentimental value, or until they have value for another person. And that's where NFTs settle in. Visit e-Bay or an auction house for a real world example of how this value to others works.

More time.

After Daylight Savings de-escalation last week, I found out we have more clocks to change than I thought. But I also found a way to simplify the process on the gotta go all the way around clocks (like the 24 hour coffeemaker clock). Instead of leaning on the button through the rest of AM, all of PM, and back through AM, just unplug the device. Then you only have a third or so to cover again. It's better the earlier in the day you can do this, but still better.

And it only took 40 years of living on my own to figure this out!

Mr. Musk.

The Wall Street Journal reports on Elon Musk, in the debate about unrealized gains (like from stock) not being taxed, put it to a vote on Twitter. Twitter told him to sell. The ten percent suggested amounts to $21 billion.

Now, Musk will not hand the sale money over to the government. He will be taxed on it, so he'll still have $15 billion or so to put into a savings account, money market fund, or more stock. Or hide it under a mattress.

The compelling question is, how much will this sell-off affect Elon's life(style)? My guess is not at all.

World's Fair.

Quick! What's the last World's Fair you remember hearing about or visiting?

For me, it was Expo 86 in Vancouver, BC, which was also the last World's Fair/Expo held in North America. The last in the US was Knoxville, TN in 1984. Never went to any of them.

You may be surprised that the rest of the world has been chugging along merrily on the World's Fair train. It's most recent stop is in Dubai, where the exciting food is chicken nuggets from Al Baik, a Saudi restaurant.

I have no idea what they're like, but the ingredients include a half cup of Hot Sauce, Ginger Powder, Garlic powder, msg, Cinnamon, Paprika, Chili Powder, Vinegar, and Red Food Color on approximately 2 1/4 pounds of chicken.

Not a record, but still impressive.

The Wall Street Journal sure likes to drop names, as seen in this caption: Ruth Negga as Clare Bellew in Rebecca Hall's screen adaptation of Nella Larsen's 1929 novel 'Passing.'

Foodie alert.

The Guardian: Paella, ‘icon of the Mediterranean diet’, given protected status...Valencia declares beloved – and often abused – dish an item of cultural significance.

All paella, or just the good stuff, the authentically prepared? I've had some paellas that deserved to be hunted down and exterminated. Of course, alligators are protected, too.

I know.

Fast Company, in a special brain issue of its newsletter, lets us know Your brain has a delete key.

Yes, and someone's been leaning on mine so much they've broken it. No access to much of anything.

Maybe I'll get it fixed by next week. In the meanwhile, happy shopping! (which is a contradiction in terms if I ever heard of one).

Fortnightly T-shirt

T-shirts money can't buy.

TomatoPlanet!! is a random collection of writing, cartoons, and things that skew absurd. It's funny, or at least I think so. © 2003-2021, John McCarthy

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