So, that was rather a confluence of tiny mostly-amusing challenges....

I was at a party this evening in a no-shoes house. When I went to collect my shoes from the pile, at the end of the evening, I couldn't find them. I did see a set of rather more beat-up ones that looked superficially similar and were the same size, but distinctly were not mine.

So, well, I was raised a country boy. It's been a few (ahem) years since I drove home barefoot, but no worries, I can do that.

Second problem is that I forgot to recharge my electric car at work today, and it doesn't have the range to get home from the party, so I need to go charge it. This shouldn't be a problem; I realized the issue before I left work, and confirmed that there was a fast-charge station in a Walgreen's parking lot a couple of miles away.

I found the Walgreen's, and the parking lot, and the charger in the parking lot, no problem. And I even figured out where the release was for the cover for the fast-charge port on my car, which I hadn't used before. So, I plugged the charger cable in, and looked at the screen on the charger, and it said something like "Wait a moment...."

I waited a moment. I waited a few more moments. It didn't do anything. I pushed the "start" button, which did nothing, and I pushed the "stop" button, which also did nothing. This did not seem promising.

However, there was a handy electrical junction box next to the charger, with a big switch on the side. After confirming that this looked like it only went to the charger, I tried power-cycling it. It turns out that turning a 60kW switch on or off makes a fairly satisfying ka-chunk sound. It also turns out that it does not solve this particular problem with the this particular charger, although when it booted it did have a nice little "This SD card is not connected" Windows-esque dialog box (with a little "ACK" button on it) on top of the "wait a moment..." screen.

Right, then. Next plan. I knew there were also some regular chargers a block away, so I went to find those.

Those turned out to be in a municipal parking lot that had locked gates at 11:30pm at night.

So. With modern networking (smartphone acting as wifi hotspot -- conveniently, I had specifically remembered my cellphone today -- and laptop), I was able to locate some more fast-charge stations a couple of blocks away, in a Walmart parking not. One of the two of them was even powered on, though I could not say the same for the other one.

It did not have a working credit-card reader, however. It told me to swipe my card, but then it completely ignored it. It ignored my other card. I tried all four possible directions. It continued ignoring them.

The charger did have a sign on it saying that one could also use the phone app from the company that runs it, so I started downloading that.

About this time, another person drove up in their electric car, also wanting a charge. I mentioned to them that the other charger wasn't working, and this one didn't have a working card reader, but they had the app on their phone already, and conveniently also they needed the other of the two plug types. So they started charging their car.

They also took a look at my feet, as I was standing barefoot on the damp concrete parking lot -- oh, did I mention that it's raining a bit? -- and asked if my feet were cold. I told them about the party and missing shoes, and they were very amused, and said I deserved mad props for being comfortable standing there barefoot, and asked if they could take a photo of me.

Then we discovered that the charger only has power to do one connector at a time, but they didn't need it for long. And so now they have left, and I have written this post and am about to post it, and my car is also sufficiently charged to head home.

Still no idea about my shoes, though!

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    amused amused
dunno, scruffy, silly

In which I wrote a silly thing.

Simone Giertz is a lovely person who has lots of fun creating horribly ineffective robots and posting videos of them to YouTube, in celebration of the fact that you don't need to be good at something to enjoy it. She also has a Patreon where she shares videos and also has recently been talking about the process of having a benign brain tumor removed. In celebration of the last round of radiation treatment being done, she created a mural on the wall of her workshop/studio, and posted a video of making it.

She also challenged us to write our "loftiest art reviews" in the comments, and so I wrote one, which I figure some of you might also be amused by.

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I was basically pulling all that out of thin air or dark orifices, so I'm not sure what to make of the fact that after writing it I half-believe all the stuff I wrote about the "obvious" symbolism in the piece.

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    silly silly

Things that I said on looking at the listing for a $3.4-million house.

[personal profile] suzannemoses was randomly looking at house listings, and came across this $3.4-million house north of Boston, not too far from where [personal profile] kiya lives.

There are many things to say about this house. Among the ones I actually said were:

"When your closet has an emergency-stop button, your closet is excessive."


"I have never seen a four-poster Jacuzzi with a fireplace before...."

(She also found this rather nice hotel -- spoiler: not actually a hotel -- which was just sort of random overdone mansion, until it got to the closeup of the ceiling and I said, "Oh. It has cherubs in.")

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The "How I Actually Cook" Chronicles: The Mussels Episode

Tonight was one of those nights where [personal profile] suzannemoses is out, and there wasn't anything in the fridge that was particularly collated into "dinner ingredients." There were leftovers, but I was not really wanting most of them.

What there was, primarily, was a large bag of mussels from our community-supported fishery. I've specifically opted out of getting bivalves from them, because Suzanne doesn't like them and so they often just go bad in our fridge rather than being eaten. But someone else forgot to pick theirs up, and so (being the person who cleans out the delivery cooler at the end of the day) I ended up with them.

There was also a half-eaten takeout box of cucumber salad from a local Chinese dumpling place. I took this out and ate the rest of it while pondering. This will be relevant later.

Clearly, though, the solution was to cook the mussels. The fishery had suggested this recipe for mussels in white-wine broth, so I looked there for inspiration.

Mussels, in most recipes, annoy me. This recipe was no exception.

The recipe called for cooking the mussels, making a cream/broth/white-wine sauce, and tossing the mussels with the sauce while still in their shells. The result is that you have to pick the mussels out of the shells at the table, and you get lots of lovely delicious sauce on the shells that you're not going to eat, and a plateful of shells only produces a tiny amount of actual mussel meat.

On the other hand, the recipe did give me a basic idea of how to cook the mussels -- clean them, put them in a pot with about a cup and a half of liquid, and steam for 6-10 minutes until the shells open. The recipe suggested a mixture of chicken broth and white wine, but I had no chicken broth and figured watered-down white wine is probably a waste of wine, so I just used water.

And then, since the container for the cucumber salad was handy, and had a couple of tablespoons of liquid in it that seemed to mostly be a sort of miso-based briny liquid with a good bit of diced raw garlic in it, I dumped that on top. Why not?

Once the mussels were done cooking, I took them out of their shells. From a full 3.5-quart stockpot, I ended up with a 6-ounce custard dish of shelled mussels.

I noticed that the remaining water in the cookpot was fairly cloudy, so I tasted it, and it turned out to be a fairly strong shellfish-broth. (And more of it than the water I'd put in; I think there was some salty water in some of the mussel shells.) Score! I poured it into a tub to freeze for later use, and pondered what to do with the mussels, because a 6-ounce custard cup of meat is not really a dinner.

It occurred to me that a thing one usually finds with shellfish to bulk out the meal is pasta, so I hunted around and found a half-used bag of casarecce pasta (sort of dense little twists) to use. Now, for some reason -- presumably lots of Rice-a-roni meals -- I keep thinking of Kraft Mac-and-Cheese Dinner being cooked with just enough water for the pasta, rather than being drained. And thus I thought of doing this that way, using some of the mussel broth. So I put a cup or so of the broth back in the pan, along with a pat of butter since the recipe I'd looked at suggested it, and put in the pasta, and then -- predictably -- remembered that that was how boxed rice dinners work, not boxed pasta dinners.

Oh well. I remembered an article I'd read a couple of months ago on testing various ways of cooking dried pasta, which concluded that so long as there's sufficient soaking time and the right amount of cooking time (which usually overlaps with soaking but needn't necessarily do so), it basically didn't matter. And so I figured that doing it sort of like risotto -- adding bits of broth when it needed more, but not too much so it ends up absorbing most of it, and stirring often -- should be fine anyway.

And, indeed, that worked out. About halfway through I switched from broth to water. I also adjusted the temperature up a bit at the end because (as with risotto) I always forget that it is much slower taking in liquid when it's almost cooked and so I need to add smaller amounts, and so there was a bit of extra liquid to boil down.

I confirmed (by tasting a piece) that the pasta was in fact basically done, and then added a little more butter and the third of a cup of cream that was left in a container in the fridge from some cooking last week (or possibly week-before-last; cream keeps rather longer than milk) and cooked that down a bit, and put in a bit of pepper (also recommended by the recipe), and stirred in the mussels.

The end result was really, really good. The reduced broth and cream and starch cooked off the pasta made a silky-rich sauce, with a robust shellfish taste even in the bites without bits of mussel in them.

And so that's how I made dinner tonight from basically five ingredients including a bag of mussels, some leftover takeout cucumber salad, and a half-empty bag of pasta.

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    cheerful cheerful

Random funny technology things.

I just calibrated my computer monitor with one of those fancy light-sensor dealies. I had hopes that it would improve things, as I've known that everything brighter than a light gray was getting pushed to white -- and, for some reason, this was happening on two separate monitors I had, on two independent computers.

I was surprised how much difference this made, though. It's striking -- the grays that were getting shoved up into "white" are a significant range. I can now see the tabs on my Chrome window! Google maps actually shows the roads clearly! There are so many more gradiations! I had no idea!

This probably means that all the highlights in the photo editing I've done in the past several years has been way off, though.

(Also, this did confirm my impression that the default brightness on my new monitor is absurd, though. After taking a room-brightness measurement, the software said basically, "That's bright! Maybe turn down the room lights a bit?" And then it turned out that the monitor should have the brightness dialed down to about 33% to match anyway.)

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Gaming: Epic Battle is Epic

Today was a day that, by the end of it, I rather needed to be smashing some fictional undead hordes. Conveniently, today was a day in which our gaming campaign delivered.

Today was a day in which our gaming battle had a Metallica soundtrack. Literally.

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...and that was the end of the evening.

The warrior-druid's player mentioned to me, on the ride home, that I should come up with a playlist of my own for next week. Especially since I'm planning to go down the list of thematically-appropriate spells, and the next one up is "Song of Thunder".

So, thoughts? I'm pretty sure Red Rider's "Lunatic Fringe" is the opener, but then what?

Given the start of the battle, obviously I need some Queen in there, but "We Will Rock You" is a bit too obvious.

Also, I'm thinking this lovely bit of style mashup is going to have to go in there just for completely throwing the Thünder off their game.

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"Steering into the skid"

A person might think that a post with that title was using it as a metaphor. This would be a reasonable thing to expect; it is a quite useful metaphor. However, this post is about the literal meaning of the phrase.

This came up because [personal profile] suzannemoses and I were driving on highway 101 recently, and it was quite wet from the rain, and I saw (and Suzanne heard) a car three lanes over spin into the sound-block wall at the side of the road. We were in the far left lane, and the relevant vehicle was in the exit lane on the far right, just slightly ahead of us. I presume I glanced over because they started spinning; by the time I had actually glanced over, they were somewhere between sideways and backwards, and obviously doing a reasonably-lazy slide into the wall -- the sort where there was an audible crunch as the front bumper hit the wall and had its cover pulled off, and probably the side of the car would be banged up, but probably slow enough not to cause injury.

Anyway, in the "What was that?" conversation immediately thereafter, I mentally looked back at the split-second image I had of them sliding, and realized that the front wheels were turned in a direction that would make the skid worse rather than better.

Using the common phrase that people use for this, I said that they were "steering away from the skid, rather than into it."

Suzanne was quite familiar with the phrase, having grown up in snow country and thus having had it firmly drilled into her head that it was what one did in case of a skid on an icy road, and asked the confirming question of, "So they were turning like this (with gesture), not like that (opposite gesture)?"

Actually, no.

At which point she pointed out that approximately nobody actually explains what "steer into the skid" actually means, and that is a real problem because it is ambiguous!

And so it seems useful to actually explain....

The underlying idea of the advice is that you only have control of a car if it is going forward and the front wheels are rolling. If the wheels are sliding, the car is just going to slide and you have no input on where. Thus, if you are driving a car and it is starting to spin and skid off the road, the right thing to do is accept that the car is going the direction it is going (at least for the moment) and turn the steering wheel so as to get the car to point so that that direction is "forward" -- ideally before the car is completely sideways. And then, once the car gets back to being under control, you can deal with controlling it to not go off the road.

This is sort of counter-intuitive if one's sliding sideways off a snowy road -- you want to get back to the middle of the road, so if the car is sliding to the right, a person might instinctively turn the wheel to the left to get back onto the road. And so then the car slides sideways off the right side of the road.

On the other hand, for a spin where the problem is the car is going the right direction but pointing the wrong way, it's actually what feels intuitive (at least to me); the car is turning clockwise and I don't want that, so turn the steering wheel to make the car turn counter-clockwise.

Or, going back to the initial phrase:

The wrong interpretation: "Steering into the skid" does not mean, when the car starts spinning or skidding, steer to make it turn in the rotational direction that it's spinning.

The right interpretation: "Steering into the skid" means, when the car starts spinning or skidding, steer to make the car point in the positional direction that it's moving.

This clarification also has me thinking about what that means as far as properly applying the advice metaphorically, but as I noted at the beginning, that is not the subject of this post!

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Also in tonight's gaming session

Also in tonight's gaming session, we had an excellent example of the "fail forward" style of gamemastering.

In trying to infiltrate the inner sanctum of the evil cult that I mentioned in my previous post, we needed to acquire some red robes that the cult elders wear. We had two already, but with five of us, that was insufficient even with the proposed "I'm literally a halfling standing on the shoulders of a dwarf" plan to require only four of them.

We had determined that these are not regularly washed (it being that sort of evil cult), so that there was not a central laundry that we could infiltrate. However, they still had to be being manufactured somewhere, and since this was pretty much a self-contained cult city, it had to be somewhere in the city.

The party then started debating how to best steal some of the robes.

This debating went on rather long, so my character -- being a dwarven spy -- just went off in the brown robes of a normal cult member to steal some, taking the more severely-damaged one of the red robes we had with him. His plan was to simply walk in and say, "I was sent to return this one that's damaged beyond use, and get a replacement and three more for new recruits."

However, I then rolled a 1 -- a complete and total failure -- when trying to do this.

The gamemaster decided that what had happened was that when my character walked in, they had said the traditional greeting of "May the [Evil Monster] be with you," and he had replied with "And also with you," which was entirely the wrong response, and the elders that had also been there had sentenced him to ten lashes with the Cane of Correction for not remembering that it was supposed to be "And also with your spirit."

Before I could decide whether to accept this or attempt to run away, the "action archaeologist" monk walked in wearing the other set of red robes, and attempted to bluff her way into being the one to give the punishment. She didn't roll a 1, or even any sort of failure, and thus succeeded in doing this.

There was then a bit of scene of her character attempting to not actually hurt my character while making it look good, and my character squealing like a stuck dwarf.

So everyone else I think presumed that plan was done, but my character said in a small defeated voice, "Okay, now can I get the robes I was sent for please?" and after the rest of the players finished laughing, the monk led my dwarf by the ear back to the robe manufactury and said sternly, "Now take your replacement robes and remember the doctrine next time, heretic."

And thus we obtained the robes we needed for infiltrating the sanctum of the elders.

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Well, this will end well.

Our gaming session this evening ended on a bit of a cliffhanger.

At the end of the session, we had successfully infiltrated one of the deepest sanctums of the evil cult that is trying to control the evil monster that we are trying to kill before it devours the world. And we were quietly grabbing all of the important books while trying not to wake the cult elder who was asleep on the couch in the middle of it.

Then some of us noticed that this sanctum wasn't just any random giant floating gold cube in the middle of a cave -- it was a millennia-old magical flying machine.

Specifically, our "action archaeologist" character who is basically Indiana Jones if Indiana Jones were an anime Wushu monk noticed this.

She noticed this, and since she has intelligence as her dump stat [1], she immediately got very very excited and started trying to quietly get the attention of our wizard to point out the control lever to him with flailing hand gestures of excitement.

Our wizard, who has wisdom as his dump stat.

Needless to say, he cheerfully pulled the lever.

We'll find out what it does next session, but surely no serious harm will come from this, right?

[1] For non-gamers: When creating a character, one typically assigns a set total number of points among the various attributes (e.g., strength, constitution, dexterity, intelligence, wisdom, and charisma) that determine their abilities. A character's "dump stat" is when a character has a very low value in one characteristic so as to have more points for the others, and also so that they can fail in entertaining ways.

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Some really fascinatingly-alien deep-underground life.

Per this article in The Guardian, scientists at the Deep Carbon Observatory have discovered some really nifty life forms deep underground.

What I find fascinating is not just that these organisms are living deep underground (where "deep" is measured in kilometers; this is well below dirt levels), but the adaptations that this low-energy environment means as far as timescales. Some of them -- and these are microbes (it's not clear if they're singlecellular or multicellular) -- live for thousands of years, barely moving. One methanogen is described as using the tiny amount of methane it can produce "[not] to reproduce or divide, but to replace or repair broken parts." The rocks move on geological timescales, and so, it appears, does the microscopic life living on them.

Other interesting datapoints are that we're only recently discovering this because of a combination of advances in deep drilling and "improvements in microscopes that allow life to be detected at increasingly minute levels". The depths where the scientists have found life are only limited by the depths of the boreholes, though they've currently not found anything that lives in places hotter than 122C.

Oh, and based on their numbers, they're estimating that this deep-subsurface biomass is about 3-4% of the total biomass on the planet. It's not just a tiny bit of stuff.

There's a bit more at "Science Daily", too.

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