Monday, December 31, 2012

In the Yard

The weather has been weird here in usually sunny Southern California recently.

A couple of days ago it was sunny and rainy at the same time - resulting in a rainbow.

Look, the neighbors above us on the slope have cut down their overgrown jungle! We can see the sky!

And this morning there was frost on the roof.

This is pretty unheard of. We're close to the ocean here, not in the desert, and I've only seen it frosty once before. All the giant birds of paradise died back.[1] (You can see our up-slope-and-to-the-left neighbors are going to have some trimming to do!) Our normal-sized birds of paradise are ornery enough that it won't affect them, but I'm worried about the orange tree (also visible in the rainbow picture) as a frost kills young fruit. Having said that, we do live in Orange County and orange trees are considered nuisance fruit trees as the oranges just fall and hurt people/rot/roll into the road because there are so many that we can't eat that much orange.  We keep ours because it's pretty, or it was pretty until it got Dreaded Lurgy, which has just reached Orange County and picked on us as early adopters. The good news for actual growers is it is just unsightly; it doesn't affect the fruit yield. The bad news for us homeowners is it is unsightly and doesn't affect the fruit yield.

The cold weather has impressed various cacti and succulents. The Fenestraria is blooming. You only really keep these for the "foliage", if that's the word for the oddball Cyriak-looking tubes they produce, but the flowers are pretty and surprisingly daisy-like. This one is blooming in two colors at once.


A flower

This thing, probably a Kalanchoe, is about to flower also.

And its little friend the Senecio articulatus is also about to do its thing. The ones I have indoor are about three feet tall and no sign of flowering. I think the hard life outside is making this one short and flowery.

[1] I said that to someone in non-Lala Land once and she thought some actual exotic birds had died. They're plants - Strelitzia plants. There's a literal jungle of them visible in the next yard up in the rainbow picture.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Grout and About

When I was nobbut a bairn, I thought one of the lines in the Monkees I'm A Believer was "There's not a trace of grout in my tiles". I'm not sure what childhood trauma led me to believe that was the most likely interpretation, but I've recently come to accept that this was a true description of the well-used areas of my current kitchen counter. So, for Crimbo, I bought STB a grout removal tool.

It was a bit late, in a way, since the main reason to have good grout on the kitchen counter is to have a germ-free countertop on which to roll christmas cake marzipan and icing, make the christmas pies and so on, which were already done. In fact, once we got round to applying it, the grout removal tool removed a great deal more confectioners' sugar and flour paste from between the tiles than it did remaining grout.

We watched about five hours of how-to video on regrouting before we tackled it. Despite areas of the 'grout' being only flour paste, the grout removal took approximately four eons, and the actual grouting about 20 minutes. (The removal tool performed wonderfully - it just takes that long. If we'd followed the advice of YouTube and used a screwdriver or a nail file or whatever else their terrible recommendations were, we'd still be at it.)

The flat bits grouted easily, with a float, and the curved bits were done, as YouTube assured us was quite kosher, with index fingers. In this case, we believed YouTube.

One of the issues with this particular 1971 house is this thing, seen here set in the nice new grouty countertop.

It's a wooden chopping board, which cannot be lifted up - it's set in a metal surround that is accessed from underneath, and when you remove the whole arrangement, there's a gaping hole in the counter that's about three inches deep and goes straight down into the pan cupboard. It's also not flush with the countertop - the ring is flush but the wood rises up about four millimeters above it, almost as though it was there to keep something from touching the countertop itself.  Ours is about  30 by 45 centimeters.

STB removed the board, but, in replacing it after the regrouting, we lost one of the three metal doohickeys that jack it into place in its ring and hold it tight. This sent us on a Web Adventure!

It turns out that a lot of 70's houses have these metal holes in the counter. For a long time they were believed by kitcheyologists to be "Hootie Rings" but eventually an ancient sage was found who remembered that they were in fact Hudee frames, originally made by the Hudee Manfacturing Co.

If this triggers any subliminal Goatse flashbacks, sorry in advance.

There is of course a remanufacturer of Hudee rings, Vance Industries, and so we were able to order replacement doohickeys (they are actually lug bolts, and they come in sets of six, not three).  But on reading through Vance's site, and following up with the incredibly useful Retrorenovation site, we saw that apart from sinks, Hudee made trivets, not wooden cutting boards.

A trivet is a thingumajig that holds hot pans above a surface. Hudee's were made of tempered glass in nice flowery 1970s patterns.  Interestingly enough, when we first moved in, the wooden cutting board had a big circular burn mark on it, exactly like one that would be produced if someone used to using a trivet had placed a hot pan on it to cool down rather than risking the pan contacting the counter below!

Our kitchy sense tingled. We've decided that our house must have come with a nice tempered glass trivet which at some point someone broke, or attempted to remove from its Hudee frame with a knife or similar no-no and dropped it, and it's been replaced by a modern little-pieces-of-wood-glued-together chopping block, which was cut to size and held on with the remaining few doohickeys. (We believe a lug is lost to a parallel dimension every time a Hudee frame is replaced.)

Although I'm not one of the paranoids who think germs thrive on wooden cutting boards - wood takes care of bacteria by itself, assuming you clean properly after use and regularly use vinegar to disinfect - I can see why a nice glass trivet-cum-cutting board was the original idea.

STB ground the board down to remove the burn and I fed the raw wood 6 ounces of mineral oil to reseal it. Sitting there in its nice new grout surround it looks great. Happy new year Lyle's kitchen!

Friday, December 28, 2012

The wind cries MRI

I have a frozen shoulder, which is like whatever it is the undead pirates have in POTC on Davy Jones's ship where they're all turning into coral and barnacles and fusing with the hull. The shoulder just seized up and stopped doing the things shoulders do. That in itself is annoying, but it also hurts like a motherfucker when a) I try to move it and b) when I'm not trying to move it.

I've been having physiotherapy for a while – and that's a saga in itself – but a couple of weeks ago my doctor suddenly said, "It might not be a frozen shoulder - it might be a rotator cuff tear...although probably not because the steroid shot I gave you didn't work...but it might be. Only an MRI can tell for sure. Have an MRI!" 

So I said, "Why? What would you do differently if it was a rotator cuff tear?" and he must have, at that point, taken something out of his pocket and said something along the lines of, "Look at this attractive shiny object. Just look at it!" because a minute later I was walking out of the office with a scrip for an MRI, and I couldn't remember whether he'd answered my question or not. So I'm not sure why I've had an MRI.

The physiotherapist was skeptical of me getting an MRI appointment before New Year, as 'everybody tries to get them in before then as they've already met their year's deductible'. I'm in a plan where it's not possible to 'meet' the deductible – like Little Joe's clients in Walk on the Wild Side, on my plan everyone just has to pay and pay. My health insurance is about $550 a month (this is lightly disguised as I pay some of it from my wages and the company pays the rest, but the company prints both amounts on the paycheck every month as it wants me to be fully aware that this is money it could be paying me but isn't because it's paying Aetna instead) and every visit to a health care practitioner has a $35 'co-pay'. This doesn't sound like a lot if you see, say, four doctors a year – though if you saw four doctors a year you'd be paying Aetna $1650 for each one and they'd be paying each doctor $90 ($360 total), so they'd be laughing all the way to the bank. However I haven't just seen four doctors this year – as well as the usual run of doctors I've had 15 physiotherapy sessions, for which I pay the $35 each, or $525 this year, on top of the insurance premiums. Aetna tells me that the physiotherapy appointments are 'fully covered' which means everything except the co-pay, so they pay about $50 a visit out of my premium and I pay the further $35. They are still laughing all the way to the bank.

This is a picture of my shower. It looks like I feel. 

Anyway, I phoned up the MRI people and they answered on the first ring and offered me an appointment the next day, as opposed to next year.

"No, I can't take tomorrow off – how about next Wednesday since I'm taking all Christmas week off?"

Done, they cried.

"Wait, that's Boxing Day…I mean the day after Christmas. Are you sure you're open?"

Yes, they cried.

So on Boxing Day I turned up half an hour early (to fill in forms) for a 10:00 AM appointment. To my intense delight and complete surprise, almost a quarter of the forms were already filled in by the computer. (Mostly the financial stuff.) I've been filling in crap about myself on doctors' websites for the past few months as they've been dragged kicking and screaming into the late 20th century recently due to HITECH and HIPAA. These attempts have not worked. When I finally turn up at the doctors, the computer is 'down', and I have mimeographed forms – I swear, mimeographed forms, and wavy lines from Xeroxing copies printed in Courier forms – to fill in. At the MRI center, a good 20% or so of the forms were prefilled. Good start; luck was not to continue in this vein.

The first symptom was that I was not called into the Second Waiting Room (there's always a second, hidden, waiting area; health care is a bit like Disneyland that way) until 10:45, which means that like almost all my healthcare appointments this year, the facility had managed to get 45 minutes behind schedule within the first couple of hours of operation. This suggests either stupidity or some pack 'em in and fuck 'em scheme that values their time over mine, every time. When I got to the Second Waiting Room, the uncheerful radiography technician looked right through me [1] and said to mid-air, "How many patients can they schedule in a day?"

"Merry Christmas!" I replied. Actually, no, I didn't! Joke! I just stared at her trying to figure out if she thought I was deliberately ruining her day or whether she was talking to a ghost behind me. [2]. She directed me into the little locker room where I was to take my clothes off, put on the gown (which fastens in the back, she reminded me), lock my gear in locker and the restroom is that way.

"Where do I wait after I take my clothes off?" I asked.

"Then you put on your gown…" she stated correctly, though unasked. She looked puzzled, perhaps because I'd deviated from her script. She recovered. "If you don't want to go to the restroom, there's a chair over there."

I interpreted this as meaning I should wait on the chair over there, rather than wait in the restroom. [3]

Another 25 minutes passed as I sat on the chair watching my ankles swell from sitting. (And yes, I did go to the restroom as well.) Eventually she let out a little old man (possibly had been virile young man when he entered) and allowed me in the room.  I offered her my locker key and she put it on the windowsill – I was expecting some sort of jeweled faraday cage steampunk radioactive Uranium 238 box, but no.  She gave me earplugs and warned me about the upcoming noise-fest. I dutifully put them in.

"Busy, are you?" I said smalltalkily.

"Busy?!" she replied incredulously, but declined to elaborate. "Which shoulder is it?" she asked.

"The left."

She got out some gaudy pauldron item much more to my Cyberpunk tastes and placed it on my right shoulder. "What's that?" I asked. For all I knew, it might be the Thing That Hides The Wrong Shoulder For A Better Picture.

She looked surprised once again that the question had come up. "It's the thing that makes the picture," she explained. 

Technical terms L

"Oh good."  Was it my place to explain to a health care professional what I actually needed? I guess I would have to. "That's my right shoulder."

"Oh!" She replaced it on my left shoulder. Then I got on the paper-lined bench (have you noticed doctors' bench-lining voodoo paper is getting thinner? It tears as soon as you sit on it nowadays. As a barrier to germs, bugs and cooties, I suspect it was never useful but it certainly isn't now) and she wrapped me up, like a mummy. Arms by my sides, wedged in with plastic, sheet wrapped around to prevent my arms moving. Then she gave me a panic button. Once again, it had never seemed to occur to her before – suddenly she realized! My arms were wrapped up and I couldn't take the panic button! She'd have to feed it in under the sheet until my fingers could grab it!

Then, of course, the actual MRI happens. They had asked me if I could stand an MRI before I got the appointment – a big advance over the first one I had, several years ago, when it was a complete surprise and also very painful (I had a torn rotator cuff on other shoulder[4], and was in for breast imaging, which means lying on your front completely still for about three eons. The shoulder did not take that, uh, lying down). So when the unit engulfed me, I knew what it was going to do. It's still like being buried alive. The unit itself is like a dryer drum. Not a big commercial Laundromat dryer either, like a little domestic dryer in radius, but long enough to enclose half your body length. This one was airplane-interior-colored plastic, that lifeless taupe that you can't possibly object to except on aesthetic grounds, and fitted with airplane-interior lighting strips, bright enough to shoo away that freshly-buried feeling. Since my left shoulder was the center of attention, I was lying slightly to the right, which made the light strips off-kilter and, because I'm long-sighted, more out of focus on the closer right lights than the more distant (by a couple of inches) left lights. The effect was of being trapped in a very, very small airplane. Without glasses. Then the imaging began.

Unlike CT scanning, which was reassuringly invented in Britain - in fact inside Buckingham Palace, at EMI by Wombles, or perhaps Teletubbies, using war surplus equipment consisting largely of Bakelite, vacuum tubes and aluminium kettles with melted bottoms thrown away by grannies, MRI was invented by John Bonham and Keith Moon on a bender, and the image is formed by demons banging on the outside of the dryer drum with dinosaur bones, large saplings and pieces of the altar of Stonehenge until the 3D image forms on a piece of cloth along the same principle as the Shroud of Turin. So the effect was now much like being trapped in a very, very small airplane while the CD Japanese American Noise Treaty played loudly all around me. After about 20 minutes, the infernal banging becomes your friend, and so whenever it gives up and goes away (which it does four or five times in a scan) the sudden silence wakes you up.  Once you're awake again, there's little for you to do except think about whether the designers made the machine fail-closed, so that in the event of a power failure, the dryer drum would recede away from you, or whether it just, like, fails, so the drum simply goes dark and continues to enclose you. While you are wrapped in sheets in a space too small to allow any form of sitting up, or for that matter even scooting, even assuming you didn't have a hurty shoulder. Which I did have.

But eventually it was over. The drum receded, or perhaps the bench moved, who knows? The sheets and restraints and pauldron were removed and I sat up and attempted to equilibrate before I got up, not wanting to fall over. "Are you ALL RIGHT?" the technician said after about 0.3 seconds of this. Apparently making sure I wouldn't faint when standing up shouldn't be on her time, it should be on my time. Fair enough. There were probably 25 people waiting outside by now, in their knickers and gowns…I picked up my key and went to get dressed.

There weren't.  There was no one in the chair or the locker room and the waiting room contained mostly tinsel. Clearly I'd been scheduled during the rush. 

STB is a 3D imager by profession, so I signed up to get a CD of my data (which would be released only after my doctor okayed it – because of course you wouldn't want a patient wandering around unsupervised with a picture of their shoulder. Anything could happen! Think, people!) STB asked the receptionist how many people signed up for their own images (at $10 a pop).

She thought for a moment. "All of them," she said.

Then we went outside to get, in my case, Pigs in a Blanket at the local medical complex's breakfast nook.

Mmm, Pigs in a Blanket.

[1] She had possibly developed X-Ray Vision, of course
[2] I'm watching Being Human (UK) and it's surprising how many ghosts, vampires and werewolves work in hospitals and places like that
[3] Later I found you could just wait in the locker room. This had not occurred to me
[4] I should do more shoulder exercises. Or fewer shoulder exercises, whichever it is that prevents them getting damaged

Thursday, December 27, 2012

RIP Gerry Anderson

Gerry Anderson provided much of the fuel of my childhood.  I wasn't allowed to watch anything not on BBC, but even so, I managed to see Supercar, Thunderbirds, Fireball XL5, Stingray and Space: 1999.

Stingray provided my first attempts at fanfics and SF fantasies - at seven or eight, I was happily writing scripts for the programme. The more wide-open world and plot of Captain Scarlet seemed to attract the most, but I was a Stingray girl forever.

RIP Gerry Anderson and thanks for the worlds you built in Supermarionation.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The peak year of sci fi films.

Boing boing thinks that 1982 was a great year for summer blockbusters. Blade Runner, Tron, Poltergeist, The Thing, Wrath of Khan, ET and Tron.

It's like the theory that no years in music have ever rivaled 1971. It's true, they haven't.

Reggae of the Egyptian persuasion

Yesterday I mentioned Jonathan Richman's Egyptian Reggae. There are those who say Egyptian Reggae was a rip off of Johnny Clarke's None Shall Escape The Judgment (or judgement).  It has the same riff, but is 84% less danceable.

What say you?


My own feeling is that "di di bop, di di bop, di di di di di di bop" has signified "Egyptian" for a hundred years or more - though I don't know the origin of the musical phrase.

It's Top of the Pops - and it's Jonathan Richman!

In between collapsing crying over supposed "pedo" transgressions in the 70's, the BBC continues to make Top of the Pops available again.

Jonathan Richman, possibly the oddest man to hit because of 'punk', managed to get on Top of the Pops in 1977 with Roadrunner, a sublime ode to youth, to being there, and the coolest song for 10 years on either side of it. TOTP, unable to get Mr. Richman to perform 'live' as was their wont, asked their dance troupe Legs and Co to interpret the hit.

The resulting 'dance' is one for the ages.

But not enough ages to watch it unironically. Perhaps it's better just to turn the sound up and look away from the television and imagine what Richman meant to be a roadrunner, with the radio on.

Of course Jonathan Richman was particularly unblessed by TOTP - his Egyptian Reggae was also 'interpreted' by Legs and Co.

[Original link broke; now watch it here. Can't embed.]

This is widely regarded as the most unintentionally funny performance ever by the troupe. And that's saying a lot. Observe the camel. (What am I saying? You can't ignore the camel even if you try.)

It might have been better if he'd mustered his energies and come over to the UK himself to perform. Or then again, maybe not. Those who knew his oeuvre (egg?) didn't actually need him to be there.

Rolling in on a burning tire

No, not a Dead Weather reference. Just that at 60 seconds into this 18-wheeler police chase video, a real burning tire makes its entrance.

I can see why you'd want to avoid one.

Friday, December 21, 2012

This is the way the world ends

Well, the world ends today, apparently. That must be why no Australians have phoned or called me over the last few hours.



(No, I don't know what that store sells.)

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Apollo 17 - forty years ago today

Forty years ago today, man came home from the moon for the last time[1]. Since then we've stayed away. Forty years is a long time - almost two generations.

When I was a kid I thought exploring other worlds was a normal thing to do, and I was disappointed to learn that it isn't. I am still disappointed.

Apollo 17.

[1] However, we have since stopped calling a bunch of men who represent humanity "man", which has been regarded as tremendous progress, a bit like calling actresses actors. Now we call "man" humanity, and in compensation, women have been renamed "bitches". Our language is going somewhere (albeit in a handbasket) even if the actual speakers are not.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Handy ready meals - the Alu Muttar variation

I had this for tea.

Alu Muttar. Very tasty.

Of course, all the time I was eating it, my brain was singing the Alu Muttar song.

Alu muttar, gentille alouette, alu muttar, je te plumerai. Je te plumerai la tete...

Haha! Got you! You thought I was going to be singing this other Alu Muttar song, didn't you?

We used to sing it in England when I was growing up, where it made no sense whatsoever.

Alu muttar...hello faddah,
Here I am at...Camp Granada!
I went hiking...with Joe Spivey
He developed...Poison Ivy!
You remember...Lynyrd Skynyrd... (wait, that can't be right)
He got ptomaine poisoning last night after dinner!

We don't have poison ivy or ptomaine poisoning in England. Like charlie horses and shin splints, ptomaine simply doesn't exist. What is it, anyway?

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Kills - Kissy Kissy and the NYC 10th Anniversary show

When I go to the gym it's just me vs. three screens showing ESPN and one screen showing the fat tosser off of Fox News - can't remember his name, the fattest tosseriest one. Comes on after Papa Bear. Him.

Faced with that sort of thing, anybody would despair, but luckily I have my trusty mp3 player, which today served me up some Kills.

I think Kissy Kissy may well be the best song ever written. I was listening to the one from the Kills' 10th Anniversary show, which is amazingly available in its entirety on YouTube.

The whole ninety minutes of the New York show from the MTV feed...nom nom.  Kissy Kissy starts at the 14 minute mark.

And for narrative complexity and two-lane-blacktopiness, below is the Keep On Your Mean Side version of the song from the DVD that was available in a limited edition when No Wow came out. (It says here. I don't have a copy myself.) The Kills, straining and soaring against the existential emptiness of the American outback and against its weird vampire cops that suddenly appear a yard behind you in the rear view mirror...wait that means they can't be vampires... weird werewolf cops that appear a yard behind you in the rear view mirror where before there was nothing but tumbleweed and Mexican Beaded Lizards on the road for the three hundred miles since the last gas station, which Jamie probably still insists on calling a petrol station to piss off the natives (but not as much as when he shouts "I'll be ahtside 'avin a fag!" every time Alison goes in to buy a carton of fluorescent orange juice to dilute down another bottle of drivin' vodka).  And you drive past prison after prison in the wilderness (and the notices against picking up hitch-hikers) trying to find the little brick cop house where you have to pay your fine and when you get there as you pull out your credit card you notice the cop's teeth are sharpened and it really wasn't your money the speed trap was designed to take out of circulation.

Well, I made all that up from seeing the video below - or 'deduced it from an icon' as Robert Graves used to write when what he meant was drunk writers - he called them poets - made something up from seeing a picture and what they wrote became the reality because what else is real?

Apocalypse Next Week!

It's the end of the world, but not as we know it (Jim) -

Doc 40 (the legendary Mick Farren) and the even more legendary Deviants are celebrating the business end of the Mayan calendar with a suitably porklips-themed party on December 21st. Unfortunately for me, the shindig is in Brighton, England, and I am not.

However, you may be, so here's the flyer.

Mick points out that it's not a Deviants show per se, however.

It's from 8 until Doom and it's free, so go along and party like it's 1999 (again)!

Sunday, December 09, 2012

RIP Patrick Moore

Sir Patrick Moore died earlier today. At 89 he'd had a good innings, as they say.

Moore, like many astronomers, was an eccentric - in his case, it took the form of strange beliefs about the forrins, the women and the metric measurement system - but I've begun to believe that society subtly but firmly canalizes famous scientists into eccentricity.

As a kid I used to watch Moore on The Sky At Night with my dad, who was a member of the British Interplanetary Society. I can't claim that he changed my life in a fundamental way, but like all great broadcasters, he certainly had an effect. I wish there were more of them around today.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Happy 40th, Glam Rock! My 1972 Diary, December

December 2nd.
Recorded Tommy. Also got sore throat and cough.

[Not sure what I recorded, as the Lou Reizner  version wasn't broadcast until the 9th.  I remember there was tremendous Tommy activity - musicals, films, clog dances - about that time so it was probably the Tommy played by Muppets at the Albert Memorial or something.]

December 9th.
Stayed in and listened to radio. Found out Marc Bolan has moved. He lived in Blenheim Terrace. Now lives in Wales.

[Really, Wales? Ahnd…that's it. I must have been so shocked I stopped writing for the rest of the year. ]

Put the needle on the record: Joy of the Single (BBC TV)

Ever wondered what happened to Stock Aitken Waterman? Me either, but you can't deny they wrote a boatload of hits. BBC 4's The Joy of the Single talks with and about them among many others in their paean to the seven-incher and its place in our youthful memories.

Slade, 10cc, Neil Sedaka, SAW, Suzi Quatro and many others join forces with Maul Poorly to eulogize the 45. All assume that it is now dead, and that we are currently forced to buy 'nothing' (i.e. an mp3) if we want music. The odd one out is Jack White, who of course is making singles and releasing singles by the dozen with Third Man Records. They don't actually ask him about that, so it sounds as though they have found a young fogey with artificial nostalgia. But we know better, don't we readers?

It's ultimately rather a lightweight program - I almost died laughing when Holly Johnson, of Frankie Goes To Hollywood fame described a record player with an autochanger in what sounded just like the words of an Area Man in an Onion interview. 'You could stack seven singles up on the Dansette record player and one would drop down and play and the next one would drop down and play - there's something amazing about that. Something mechanical yet magical.' But there's a little meat in there amongst the onions.

It's interesting that the program interviews a dozen people who can all remember the very first 7 inch they bought - and one or two who believe that the Youth of Today would be mystified by a vinyl object - but they don't actually ask any Yoots for their opinions. Jack White is probably the youngest voice on the program.


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