A winter day in Fallbrook

I took a walk yesterday with the Fuji camera and the new 135mm prime lens. I only came away with 2-3 pictures I liked much. Combination of bad light and still learning with the lens. I find that my closeup vision isn’t as sharp as it once was, so focusing a shot with delicate depth of field isn’t easy.

But here’s a nice, very detailed macro-ish shot. The detail on the sycamore ball is pretty great. Shot from about 10-12 feet away, ISO 640 at 1/2000 second. And I like the bokeh.

And here’s a still life of grapevines in winter. Nice colors, in spite of the sun being high and in front of me. This one’s at ISO 3200 and 1/2000.

Sooner or later I’ll graduate to wildlife shots and some portraiture with this lens. I do enjoy shooting on manual again. Shooting full auto for so many years, you don’t really think about the shot the way you do in manual mode. I’m more in the moment this way.

Your tax dollars at work, vammit!

From MIT Technology Review, What went wrong with America’s $44 million vaccine data system?

God, when will governments learn that throwing millions of taxpayer dollars at a consulting firm in a crisis to build a bespoke information system always, I repeat always, results in a complete loss. They may as well take the millions and burn it in a wondrous campfire. At least then we’d have s’mores.

The CDC awarded two multi-million dollar contracts to Deloitte with no competition. None. Just “Here, take this money and come up with something useful.” Heads should roll. From the article:

Her frustration is echoed by millions of Americans who have struggled to get vaccines through various chaotic systems. But unlike others in some states, she wasn’t encountering these problems with a third-party consumer service like Eventbrite, or even through an antiquated government system. She was on the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s brand-new, $44 million website called VAMS—the Vaccine Administration Management System, built by the consulting firm Deloitte.

Unless you’re in one of the few states using it, you may not have heard of VAMS. But it was supposed to be a one-stop shop where employers, state officials, clinics, and individuals could manage scheduling, inventory, and reporting for covid shots—and free for anyone to use. 

The Biden administration has inherited a web of tech systems and policies that it must navigate to meet its goal of administering 100 million doses in the first 100 days.

Instead, “VAMS has become a cuss word,” Marshall Taylor, head of South Carolina’s health department, told state lawmakers in January. He went on to describe how the system has badly hurt their immunization efforts so far. Faced with a string of problems and bugs, several states, including South Carolina, are choosing to hack together their own solutions, or pay for private systems instead.

Clinic workers in Connecticut, Virginia, and other states say the system is notorious for randomly canceled appointments, unreliable registration, and problems that lock staff out of the dashboard they’re supposed to use to log records. The CDC acknowledges there are multiple flaws it’s working to fix, although it attributes some of the problems to user error.

This is what gives “big government” a bad name. Waste, fraud and abuse.

As long as I’m on the subject of government outrages, this person needs to go. She’s a serious candidate for “Worst Person in the World” now that Twitler has left the stage. Another belligerent, arrogant, narcissistic person in public office, this time a female. What is it about this personality type that public office attracts?

Underachiever

In a recent post I mentioned that I like Chuck Wendig’s blog, Terrible Minds. So I decided I would probably like his books, and I started with his most recent, Wanderers. And holy shit, what a book. I’m only a third of the way through it and I love it.

A third of the way through isn’t a small sample. Wendig’s book is 800 pages long and 280,000 words. And he wrote it in six months! That makes me feel…inadequate. Lazy. Underachieving. So thanks, Chuck.

Wanderers is about a plague infecting the world during a Presidential election between a normal, rational President and a crazy-evil candidate. He wrote it in 2019. Prophecy much, Chuck?

So a lot of today will be spent soaking up Wendig’s book, instead of being outside in the sun or writing my own puny book. But it’s OK. Reading a good book, maybe a great one (jury’s still out; I’ll let you know) makes me happy. And these days a happy day is worth a lot.

Cooks with attitude

I’ve started reading Chuck Wendig’s blog at Terrible Minds. If you don’t know who Chuck Wendig is, start here.

He’s a very funny guy and a good writer. And I love his recipe style. Here’s an excerpt from his recent blog post on cooking:

CHEESY EGGS AND RICE

Our Chinese food place gives you a whole container of rice for every dish you order, and that usually means we end up with enough leftover rice to choke a bear. But I don’t want to choke a bear. I like bears. So, instead I try to use the rice in a variety of ways, chief among them is fried rice, which I just mistyped as “friend rice.” Which sounds nice until you realize it might be a Soylent Green thing? Whatever. But for breakfast, I do a different thing with the rice, and this is that different thing —

Skillet on medium-high heat. Toss in there the OIL OF YOUR CHOICE, which here I recommend either unrefined coconut oil (nice coconutty taste) or butter. Why butter? Because butter.

Then, take a bunch of rice and dump it in. How much? Jesus, I dunno. How do you measure rice? By the fistful? One FIST OF RICE. There. The goal of this is you want the rice to get cooked on the bottom but stay somewhat pillowy-ricey on top. Spread it out. Think: layer.

While that’s cooking, lay a slice or two — broken up — of melty cheese atop the rice. Again, I will recommend to you Cooper Cheese for this vital task.

Now, to the eggs.

I do this two ways, depending on my druthers. The fuck is a druther, anyway? It sounds like the last name of a nosy neighbor in an old sitcom. “Oh, no, here comes our landlord, Mister Druthers, again — careful, or he’s going to figure out that one of us roommates is actually a haunted mannequin!”

First way is, scramble the fuck out of it. Then, when you feel the rice is sufficiently ready, you use your spatula and get that eggy scramble into the rice. Give it a stir, keep stirring, don’t let it scramble too much, and then put it on a bowl.

But, I find the second way a bit more satisfying.

I make two nests — two egg craters, you might say — in the rice. Like a fish swooping out the riverbed to lay its future fishchildren. Then put in a little more fat in those culinary rice pockets, and crack an egg into each. Let it cook a bit, then flip each yolk. Once they firm up a little bit, so that they’re starting to get jammy (jammy is one of those food words that I find enticing when used appropriately, so like, with caramelized onions, or egg yolks, but not, say, tuna fish). Then break the jammy yolks, stir them into the rice, and serve.

The cheese should be melty. The rice will be both soft and chewy. The eggs will incorporate throughout, a kind of ricey-eggy-custardy pillow. I use a little sweet soy sauce (buy it separate or make your own with soy, mirin, bit of vinegar, bit of sugar, garlic, ginger). I sometimes use Penzey’s Fox Point or Shallot Pepper too to finish. You can do other stuff to dress this up, too: start with onion, garlic, ginger. Maybe add in a dash of sesame oil. Greens go well here, too, like spinach or bok choy. Shit, this would probably taste good speckled with lawn clippings and eaten out of an old shoebox.

It’s delightful.

I like a little entertainment and attitude with my recipes. Wendig’s the guy.

Flowers, anyone?

I took a walk a couple of days ago to take some photos with the new 135MM prime lens. I like the results but I don’t love them. The light that day was weak, diffused behind clouds. So I mostly stuck to close-in objects, using the long lens as a macro instead of a telephoto.

This first photo is a good example of the lens’ sharpness as a macro. Any blur is due to yours truly not having 20/20 close-in vision for focusing. The detail when you zoom in on this is amazing. Thanks, Fuji 26 megapixel sensor.

The depth of field (or extreme lack of such) with this lens is amazing. It’s probably less than one inch at these settings.

I could have done a better job framing this one, but it’s still not bad. The colors have not been enhanced or retouched – this is just the lens and the image sensor.

In this next one we’re starting to see some of the bokeh I hoped the lens would produce. We also see the extremely narrow focus field again.

I’ll take it back out on a spin on a sunnier day soon and get some true telephoto shots.

To convict or not, that’s the question

On Trump’s second impeachment – should the Senate spend the time to try and convict him?

In a word, no. He’s already been impeached twice and that’s good fodder for the historical record. He just hasn’t been convicted by the Senate.

Biden should turn his new DoJ loose on Trump and the whole crime family, plus send signals to state AGs that the Feds will do whatever can be done (legally) to support their state-level prosecutions.

That allows the Senate to do the best it can to enact Biden’s urgent agenda, as opposed to being mired in Trump bullshit for months. This also precludes the possibility of the Senate failing to convict (again) and Trump taking a MAGA victory dance about that failure (again). Let the impeachment stand for what it is.

Finally, I think DC insiders overestimate how punishing they think their impeachment/conviction action would be. Trump’s legacy is already a raging dumpster fire. Being convicted by the Senate won’t materially add to the dumpster fire. But a few Senate leaders are looking for revenge in the name of accountability. Let the courts bring Trump to accountability. They’ve got larger, pointier teeth.

Rainy day, great day

It’s raining today, hallelujah. (I had to try three times to get “hallelujah” spelled right. Don’t use that word often.)

We’ve had about a half inch so far. Not much by back-east standards, but it’s a great start here in Dry-ville.

One of the things I like about rainy days is that my tendency to stay inside and read/write is 100% justified. With 330+ bright sunny days per year, the self-imposed pressure to go outside and “do something” gets old.


Update – just saw this on NPR and thought it was interesting. For what it’s worth, other populations – in this case the Dutch – are having trouble accepting pandemic restrictions too. It’s not just us. Misery loves company.

Random Saturday musings

Only three days into the new Administration and things are starting to return to normal. Competent, efficient governance without drama or crime. What a concept.

It’s clear that the Biden team realizes that vaccine rollout has to be the #1 priority. Everything else follows from that – normal can’t return until it’s safe to congregate again. I’m thankful that they’re making this the #1 priority, because at current rates of vaccination in Socal it’ll be 2022 before K and I get to the head of the line. I’m becoming increasingly impatient to get back east to see the grandkids again, and without vaccination that is another cross-country drive.

It’s raining a little here in Socal, with more on the way. That’s a great change, but we need a LOT more rain just to catch up to our normal paltry rainfall. Water is surely going to become the new oil in the western US.

I made this dish for dinner last night, and it was amazing. Baked gnocchi, go figure. Rich, savory, tasty, chewy and even healthy. One of the best and simplest recipes I’ve tried in a long time. This will become a staple in our household.

KY basketball continues to implode. Worst season ever thus far, with little reason to believe it will improve. I’ll keep watching and supporting the team, but it’s painful.

I recommend this article for anyone who still wants to argue/debate with conservatives about their fears concerning liberals now running the country. It’s a great, facts-included point-by-point refutation of most of the conservative talking points. Useless for anyone who’s gone full-cult, but possibly helpful for anyone who’s still capable of thinking.

This collection of impromptu wildlife photos is amazing. Beautiful. Though I worry about the dude with two brown bears licking his head. Doesn’t seem advisable…

This is also some food for thought. Biden pardoning Trump may not be a bad idea. I think if we could be sure that NY and GA would come after Trump hard for a variety of state crimes, I’d be OK with Biden just getting this piece of shit off his Federal shoe and moving on with the important business at hand. I want to see Trump held accountable, but not at the expense of distracting Biden’s administration for months and months.

Better days ahead

It’s definitely a new year with a new feel. I can finally stop worrying about what new outrage the TCF (Trump Crime Family) might commit next. We can all feel better knowing that the federal government will actually be working for us again. Biden/Harris certainly aren’t going to solve all our problems, but they will make things better over time and I don’t expect them to add to the list of Big Problems we have today.

On the personal front, I just started an exciting project where I get to work with quantum encryption and 5G network technologies. My role isn’t as a technologist or engineer, but more of a project manager. But working with these advanced technologies feels good. That’s how I started my career and it’s great to get a dose of high-tech again.

This gig comes at the expense of novel writing time, but…a friend needed some immediate and trusted help on this, the money is good, and it’s super interesting. So the novel will have to go on the back burner for a while. I only expect this gig to last a couple of months – one of my tasks is to help them find someone qualified but less expensive to take over from me.

24 hours

Sunset on the Trump era (see above photo). Half of America (OK, maybe 55%) is breathlessly awaiting noon EST tomorrow, when the final rat is removed from the sinking ship that was the Trump presidency. The big rat himself, POTUS 45, Twitler, the Orange Menace, the Liar-in-Chief…one can go on and on.

And even now his henchmen continue to work against the peaceful transfer of power. Publishing an alternate history of America’s founding, trying to converge (white Christian) religion and democracy. Destroying hard drives and records of the Justice Department. Installing a Trump toady in a senior position of the NSA. Putting extreme pressure on the census Director to release a flawed and incomplete report, one that would undercount Blue districts. Issuing hundreds of pardons with no rhyme or reason other than Trumpism ideology and loyalty. Continuing the assault on clean air and water regulation. One can go on and on.

But 24 hours. Soon it’ll be over and the Biden administration can begin the largest toxic cleanup operation in history. America is generally a Superfund site at the moment. Bright, clean spots are few and far between. I know that’s a somewhat nihilistic view of the world, but how else can you interpret the state of things right now? “There’s nowhere to go but up” might be the best attitude. Almost anything Biden does will be an improvement.

It would be great to think that America would pull together to fix/improve things at this moment in history, just like people did after the Great Depression and WWII. But I don’t think that will happen. Biden’s team and progressives will be rowing one direction, and some large part of the country and our Congress will row in the opposite direction. That’s the thing that makes me most pessimistic. We’ve been a great country, capable of doing great things, through most of my lifetime. But we are likely to self-destruct our position as a world leader with the country divided as is.

Insider threat

There won’t be many (any?) regular citizens at the inauguration on Wednesday due to security and COVID risks, but there will be 25,000 armed guards. The fact that they’re giving the National Guardsmen live weapons and ammo seems…problematic. What’s to keep one or more of them from going full-jihadi and shooting attendees? Or the guests of honor?

Dave Winer over at Scripting News thought about this too. Here’s what he had to say.

I got an answer to a question I asked yesterday, about who 20K+ troops in DC will report to, until Biden is sworn in. By law they report to the commander-in-chief, President Trump. Just a fact. If Trump orders them to assassinate everyone at the inauguration, it’s not all that different from what Trump told the mob to do on January 6. So unfortunately it is in the realm of possibility.

It all hinges on who the troops are loyal to. Turns out the military thought of that, and pre-screened the soldiers assigned to this job to weed out white supremacists. I kid you not. They know how to do that? I guess it would be naive for them not to.

It’s a brave new world, and not a good one. At least not yet. Protecting political figures from its own citizens has always been a thing (…how did you like the play, Mrs. Lincoln?), but the threat was previously a lone wolf gunman. Now it’s millions of brainwashed Trump cultists.