Friday, July 31, 2020

To Open School, We Could "Open" School

Or open-school, if you prefer hyphens to scare quotes.

We've done it before. Over a century ago, tuberculosis was same killer that Covid-19 is today. So the same question arose: how can we send our children to school without making a lot of people sick? The answer was to change where school was held. It was actually done outdoors, in the sunlight (with canopies), where fresh air breezes could help blow the contagion away. It worked.

It is hard to believe, even with a president and other people in positions of power denying the findings of scientists, that we could not do as well today. Here's a picture of what New Yorkers did to teach their children over one-hundred years ago:

That's class, being held on the deck of a ferry boat. Manhattan is behind them, to the west, and that's the Brooklyn Bridge, upper right, to their north. They are on the East River. On a boat. In school.

Yes, they are too close together by the standards we would use today. And they don't have masks on, again because we know more about stopping infection than our great-grandparents did. But what they knew and did worked. We could only do better.

Worried about the sun? Use a tent:

Worried about the cold? Use an "eskimo bag" and a block of heated soapstone under the feet:

Keep the windows open for anything indoors. And have lots of windows:

Or just stay outdoors:

Remember, this was all done by people with a fraction of the knowledge, technology, and resources that we have today. Our great-grandparents may be watching. Let's show them that they taught us something, both in those classrooms through our parents' parents, and through those pictures, to ourselves and for our children.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

This Time Last Year

We all do the one-year-ago thing from time to time. Here's one of mine.

I was carrying a package addressed to my son and holding it up so I could take a picture of it to send him, when something kind of unexpected happened...

Monday, July 27, 2020


Had to admit the whole current situation(s) in America kind of got to me a bit this morning. So, to cheer myself up, I went outside with my pruning shears. It was warm and sunny, with a bit of breeze. There was no screen in front of my face and, for a few minutes, I wasn't backspacing over the latest in my endless series of typographic errors as I use my keyboard, which is pretty much all I do all day.

I cut these blossoms from two of our crepe myrtle trees and put them in a glass vase with water. Just doing that simple thing and having these flowers to look at cheered me up some.

If you are feeling down, go outside, feel the sun and breeze, and pick a flower. It helps.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

What's Wrong With This Picture?

The icons displayed on my household thermostat are supposed to indicate the current state of the weather outside my house. No doubt, this one means "sunny."

Ignoring the problems that professional heliologists would discern, do you see an artistic component of this image that makes no sense whatsoever?

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Next Stop, NYU... Wherever That Is

I'm thrilled that my son won acceptance to his first-choice school, New York University. He is eagerly looking forward to being a student in the Big Apple. He has family there, at least one high school friend who will also be at NYU, and very much wants to become a real New Yorker.

He gave me no opportunity to participate in the process of choosing where he would go, nor has he asked me for any input about being a college student. That's okay. I'm still excited for him, even if I have no role in this part of his life myself. The only question left that any of us really needs an answer to at this point is this:

Will he be starting on the ground in the city of New York this fall or not?

The school keeps sending him and me lengthy emails, all of which state emphatically that they are going to do something at some time in the future, and it will be done in a way that makes sure it happens, one way or another. They never say what it will be or when it will happen, but you can be sure they are working on it very hard and will keep us informed that it is pending as often as they can.

What they mean, of course, is that the answer to the question above is, "We don't know."

They could just tell us that in so many words, but I guess they are afraid to do so. But NYU tends to limit its student body to bright young people who, typically, have bright parents. None of us is dumb enough to miss the fact that they just don't know yet if he will be going or staying home this fall.

The email we got today has several links in it to Web pages NYU maintains. Many of them likewise commit the school to making sure they remain firm in their resolve to declare their goal of keeping us informed about their efforts to make plans for the future. After using one of the many links in that email and playing follow-the-links for several hops, then scrolling a long way down one page, we finally get this:

Why not just say that to begin with? They just don't know if they will be holding school on campus yet or not. My son is a big boy now. So am I. We could take this information straight. But, no, they want to be mealy-mouthed about it and try to obfuscate the obvious.

I learned  most of what I know and virtually everything I use to live my life from books I read on my own, and experiments I tried with my own resources. Increasingly, the value of a deep six-figure education is hard to see. Communications like this make it harder. If NYU is going to teach him to hide the truth, avoid bad news, and just blow smoke when the facts can and should be clear, I suspect he will have a lot of reading to do on the side, if he ever wants to learn anything useful.

Friday, July 17, 2020

I am not Happy About Rising Deaths in Florida

I know some people in Florida. I like them. I would miss them if they died.

As Covid-19 case counts surge in states that haven't required enough mitigation tactics, conservatives play a familiar game of telling us we're looking at the wrong data. Here's the history of the number of new cases each day in Florida:

It's going up and getting faster at doing so. I won't try to impress you with math. Just look at the curve. It's going up, and it's going up faster every day.

But that's the case curve, and Republicans are saying that only dying matters. There are lots of other reasons to be worried about cases of Covid-19, like lifetime side-effects, exacerbation of other conditions, loss of time from work, and (last but not least) overloaded hospitals. But let's do what the Republicans want and look just ad the daily number of deaths in Florida:

As you can see, it is also rising and getting faster at doing so. (That bumpy oscillation imposed on the curve is due to uneven reports over weekends.)

Now, for a short time, the Republicans thought cases could go up without deaths going up because treatment was getting more successful. To prove this, they overlaid the early death history onto graphs of the early case count and showed they were pretty tightly coupled. We liberals have been warning everyone that deaths lag cases. The Republicans and their two-curve graphs tended to rebut this claim. They said deaths and cases come in tandem, yet here we were in places like Florida where the cases were surging and the deaths were not.

The reason is simple: early in the pandemic we tended only to test sick people. Those who were going to die tended to do so pretty shortly after being tested, so the case and death graphs were, indeed, coupled. Now, we are testing people and detecting cases a lot earlier in the evolution of a person's infection. This means we find and report cases, including those who are going to die, a lot longer before the correlated deaths occur. At the start, late testing meant deaths did not lag cases. Now, with earlier testing, deaths do lag cases. Both are rising in Florida, cases first, deaths second.

The Republicans want us to feel guilty about this. They say we want deaths to rise so our state governments can impose restrictions. Because of something to do with Jesus, guns, Donald Trump, and a sadly uneducated view of American constitutional law, they think the government is violating our rights by taking swift action to save our lives. The only way we can justify such intolerable deprivations of God-given liberty as telling everyone to mask up, they say, is to trot out The Death Curve and cackle about it. To get us to remain silent about how many people in Florida are dying for the Republicans' vision of their rights, they say we "want" to see deaths start rising. They say we would be "happy" if more people in Florida died.

Well, deaths in Florida are in fact rising. They are rising because of something to do with Jesus, guns, Donald Trump, and a governor who is a spineless ignoramus.

I know some people in Florida. I like them. I would miss them if they died.

Am I happy about this? No.

I am furious about it.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Instant Got

Anyone who has one of these things knows that Instant Pot is not a kitchen appliance, it is a religion. Some call it a cult, but they are not among us who know that these counter-top droids are a gift from God.

So far, I have used ours to make:

  • Risotto
  • Butter chicken
  • Beef stew
  • Cheesecake
  • Pea soup
  • Lentil stew
  • Fudge cake
  • Cornbread
  • Mushroom soup
  • Beef bourguignon
  • Short ribs
  • Navy bean soup
  • Hard-cooked eggs

And, of course:

  • Rice

Now, you can make all of these things without an Instant Pot (which everyone calls an "Instapot," but I am kind of hard-nosed about that). But there is something entrancing about using this machine. First, you do it all in one pot, and it is small enough to fit in your dishwasher. Second, it is a pressure cooker, so it is fast. Third, the magic of pressure cooking is all about the thermodynamics that allow its interior to rise above 100 Celsius and that, in particular, allow the water in your food to rise above it as well (trust me on this: you cannot make water rise above that temperature at ordinary atmospheric pressure, even in an oven set to 500F; it will boil away first). That results in amazingly tender cooked meats.

There are other virtues to this wonder of science, but I will end with: Fourth, when it pressurizes, it just sits there, silently, until the timer you set expires. You couldn't really even open it if you wanted to, as it seals tight while pressurized. It makes no noise. It emits no steam. It sheds no drops of water. As far as you will ever know, it could be sending what's inside to another dimension of time and space, one where benevolent Kanamits apply advanced technologies we will never have, after which it is returned to you in a form you cannot achieve in any other way. And that really is its more beguiling feature. You just seal it, wait, and when you can open it again, you will (if you do it right) have a meal you won't believe. Something about that quiet mode of operation makes it seem all the more enchanted. It doesn't ever seem to be "doing" anything. But it works.

Which brings me to my question. My penultimate entry was "Hard-cooked eggs." You just put a half-dozen of them on the trivet that lifts things above the bottom of the pot, add a cup of water, and pressure-cook on "high" for eight minutes (for eggs from the refrigerator; seven minutes, if the eggs were at room temperature). Blow the release valve immediately and put the eggs in ice-water when the time expires. You will have perfect hard-cooked eggs. And, so far, every single one of them has given up its shell without a fight.

You know what I mean. Hard-cooked (or "hard boiled") eggs often seem glued to the insides of their shells. Huge chunks of egg-white come off with them as you try vainly to peel your way down to a smooth ovoid. I've tried every trick there is, too. Suction. Shaking in a jar of water. Some kind of Swedish plastic scalpel. All work half the time, just like your fingers. But my Instant Pot eggs seem to be "wrapped" in their shells, not welded to them. Now, a shy egg might still be in my future, ready to keep its modesty as I do my best to see it in the nude. But, so far, all have just let their shells slide off. So, is it possible that pressurizing an egg does something to the seal between it and its shell? Something that breaks that seal? I mean, it's not like this machine hasn't already earned my obeisance for life. But this would elevate it from being a gift of God to the status of an idol in its own right.

Any of you making hard-cooked eggs with your Instant Pot? What have they been like to peel?

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Instant Pot Chocolate Cake

Image may contain: dessert and food

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon Vanilla
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup Cocoa Powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup chocolate chips (semi-sweet if you like it dark, milk chocolate otherwise)

  1. Cream the sugar, vanilla, and butter together until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time until well-combined.
  2. Separately, whisk together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt. Slowly add flour mixture to egg mixture until thoroughly combined. Stir in the chocolate chips.
  3. Grease a 6-inch spring-form pan with. Pour the batter into the pan and smooth the top; cover loosely with aluminum foil. Pour about a cup of water into your Instant Pot. Place wire trivet upside down into the bottom of the pot and set the pan on top. Place lid on pot and lock into place to seal. Pressure cook on high pressure for 40 minutes. Let sit 10 minutes, then use quick pressure release.

NOTE: It's a good idea to rig a sling with twine or cotton strips so you can lower/raise the pan into/out of the pot, particularly if you are using the three-quart model. Also, the recipe above will yield a molten center. Try splitting the batter in half and pressure-cook each half for 30 minutes to get a more cake-like result.

Note also that this recipe uses no liquid other than eggs and melted butter. As a result, it is one dangerously rich confection. If you eat it, your arteries will clog, your blood pressure will soar, and your pancreas will file an International Criminal Court complaint in The Hague.

Be sure to eat it warm with ice cream.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Without Supervision Returns

I despise Facebook, so I'm going to use this blog instead.