Peace on Earth and Goodwill Despite it All

It’s been a very long time since I’ve posted. Anyone who follows me on Facebook knows my mood has covered the entire spectrum from cynicism to hopelessness. I firmly believe we’re circling the drain as a country, and who the hell knows?  Maybe as a species.  Let’s hope the cockroaches do better.  God knows they’ve had the time to see everyone else make all the mistakes.

It’s the Christmas season. I’ve put on the Santa suit for another year and I’m really glad I have. I don’t know what it is about putting it on, but it changes me.  Sure people react to someone in a Santa suit differently than Joe Blow on the street, but that’s not it.  I spend a good part of my day looking at the world with mild to outright contempt. But it stops when I put on the suit. I think it makes me a better person.

Part of the reason I like doing the Santa thing is that I utterly refuse to take money for doing  it. Given that I’m sure the Labor Department would call me underemployed, I’d probably be a better capitalist if I took paying gigs. But I can’t do it.  And not because of any aversion to making money or some “virtue signaling” that I get accused of on Facebook roughly every 12.6 seconds merely because I don’t like being an asshole.  I want the act of putting on that suit to represent what the myth represents. Here’s the deal:  that damned thing is hot. I’m not wearing that cool vest for my health.1 My knees hurt. I weigh too much which is a disadvantage every single moment I’m not wearing a red suit. I’m an introvert who’s center stage with a spotlight on me. It’s not easy.

And I love every minute.

I play Santa because I want to be good without expectation. I want people to look at me and not see the miserable person I think I am. I want to be the person I wish I was allowed to be all the time. I play the role because I put on a Santa hat while Christmas caroling when I was 16-years old and I wanted more. It was like a drug. I wanted the whole experience.  And for about a month a year, I get to do it.

I’m very, very lucky. Any man, woman or, or child who puts on that suit is my comrade. We understand. No matter what we believe when we take it off.

I truly believe that all kinds of fans are about to be bombarded with all kinds of fecal matter in the coming months. There’s nothing I can do about that. It’s out of my hands. What I can do is put on a hot red suit and remind people for a little while that it’s OK to be happy. It’s OK to give without expectation of what you get in return. I don’t care who you voted for or how you feel about this or that social issue. My hugs are as big for kids who wear #MAGA hats as they are for #BLM t-shirts. Kids are kids. Parents are a crap shoot, but they love their kids. That’s enough at Christmas.

I was at a gig over the weekend and a mom told me her kid wasn’t a good candidate for me because he was Jewish.  “Tooth decay doesn’t care,” I said as I gave him a candy cane. All I ask anyone to believe is that one person can be nice to another person without expecting anything back.

Confession: I’m also not a fan of the crying child picture.  Anytime you see one I can guarantee that no one in the shot was having a good time.  I don’t judge kids.  I do judge parents.

December 26th will come.  My beard will be trimmed. I’ll go back to not being Santa. I don’t know what prayer means anymore, but I pray that I get to do it again next year. But I’m going to enjoy it while I can. It makes the rest of the year worthwhile.

Merry Christmas. It’s not your obligation to me. It’s my obligation to you,


1 Wait. That’s exactly why I’m wearing it. Never mind. Little known fact: you could actually survive in the Arctic wearing a Santa suit.
2 Please tell me what color the sky is on your planet if you don’t see those as opposite poles.

Frozen in Time

Rodins Thinker

Statues are not history. They are not for the dead. They are for the living. They are memories cut in stone and bronze. Those memories are no more impartial and disinterested than any of our own. We don’t build statues to gravity any more than we think of gravity as a thing apart from our everyday reality. Those things just are and there’s no need to think about it, much less carve and cast it. They are there whether we think about them or not.

Statues are not like that. They are objects that tell us what to think about and how to think about them. They tell a story. Given enough time, those stories are told by the dead to the living. Often those stories are about what the dead thought about people who were already dead. Statues are the dead telling us how to remember other dead.

The dead do not speak ill of the dead. There are no statues of Osama Bin Laden in lower Manhattan, Arlington, VA, or Shanksville, PA and I expect there never will be. And rightly so, I suppose. For such a statue to exist we’d have to relegate the objects to mere historical record and we have many other ways to do that. Such an object in those places could never be merely neutral. There would be a message to those who would come after. The dead don’t like their stories to be that complicated.

Statues are stories told by one set of dead people about another set of dead people. Their existence is a fact of history, but they themselves are not history. They are selective memories. They are the stories our ancestors told themselves. They are our ancestors pointing to their past and saying “this is what you should think about when you think about us.” We don’t commemorate the Shoah. We commemorate and honor the memories of those who perished in it. That’s not everyone. We don’t commemorate the guards and the orderlies and secretaries and the train engineers who made it all possible. And we should not. We can’t change the fact they existed. We can only punish them by making them anonymous. Not forgetting what they did. Forgetting them.

Statues do not spring from the earth fully formed, and they do not pass through our generation to the next without our consent. When we pass a statue along to those who will follow us, we say “Yes, this is how we think of this as well.” We, who will be dead, add our voices to those who already are.

It was not for Ozymandias to decide to find himself in that desert. Someone apparently did look upon his work and despair. And decided it was time to stop.

Two Week Tuneup: Electric Boogaloo

heart grahic
A word cloud from the glossary of my device manual.

So I went back to the Arrythmia Guy’s office today for my first followup. It went very well. There was some fine-tuning of the setup that, frankly, surprised me, but in a good way. There was one part of the visit that seriously sucked, though. Because I have nothing but nice things to say about them, I probably ought to mention that I’ve been going to the Arrythmia Center at St. Elizabeth’s in Edgewood. While Dr. Hays is my guy, I wouldn’t hesistate recommending the practice in general (I think it’s four doctors, a nurse practitioner and a whole bunch of other nurses and technicians). It is, without a doubt, the single nicest medical staff I’ve ever dealt with.

Despite the fact that there was one point today I thought they were going to kill me. (Spoiler: they didn’t.)

The nurse who handles the implanted device programming had to test the thing. It started out easy: speed up, slow down. Then it started seriously sucking. She had to text each lead (and there are three of them) under varying conditions. And at one point she shut the thing down. The good news is that in the vanishingly small chance the thing ever fails, I probably won’t die. The bad news is that I’ll want to. Man, that sucked. Not painful, really. More like a fish jumping around in my chest, along with a sudden, profound fatigue. She worked fast. She warned me. It still sucked.

I’m glad she got that out of the way first because the good stuff came next. I’ve been having minor spasms in my diaphragm pretty much since I got out of the hospital. They’ve been easy to live with. I’ve been aware of them, but that’s about it. I could usually reposition myself and that would be that. Or so I thought. She was able to make adjustments to the leads that made the spasms stop altogether and keep the same safety margins I had before. That’s good, but it gets better. Now that they’re completely gone I realized it was more than just spasms. Apparently all the muscles on my lower left side have been continuously tense. Maybe it was just me anticipating the spasms, but whatever it was, it feels like somebody unwound a rubber band on my left side. Tomorrow will be two weeks since the surgery and I’ve just been attributing some stiffness to that. Nope. That wasn’t it. I haven’t been sleeping all that great and now I think I know why. The technical term for what she did was ‘adjusting the lead vectors.’ The alternate title to this post was “What’s the Vector, Victor?” but c’mon. The word “two” was involved. I never pass up on a chance to work in “Electric Boogaloo.”

Classes start up in three weeks and I’ll be teaching two HTML/CSS classes over at NKU. I’ve let myself goof off for the last couple of weeks, but I really need to get down to getting stuff prepared. Last year I had no time to work on anything but classes because I wasn’t well-prepared. I don’t want that happening this time. I’ve got some writing I want to get done as well as some coding. I think of myself primarily as a freelancer, but I think you have to have actual clients in order for that to be accurate. Otherwise I’m just massively underemployed.

And it’s time to start moving on. I’ve spent the last couple of weeks waiting to freak out. It’s not really happened. I’m having to kind of figure out what’s the same and what’s different, and I still have to baby my left arm until the end of this month. Other than that? I guess I’ll find out as I go along. A few months ago I was seeing my GP about something unrelated to any of this and it came up in the discussion that any more A-Fib was going to mean another ablation, and I was figuring that would be the last. one of those Anything beyond that would mean getting a pacemaker. She shrugged and said I’d be surprised how many people had them and there was no way anybody would know you had one unless you told them. All the stuff you used to hear about avoiding microwaves and the like is pretty much ancient history. I really like my GP because she doesn’t make a big deal out of thngs that aren’t so you pay attention to the things she says are a big deal. Everything about this conversation screamed “no big deal” and I think that’s why I’ve been able to take this all so calmly. If you read this you know me, and if you know me “taking things calmly” isn’t really one of my strong points. This? I’m shrugging about this.

And now I can’t feel it in my left side when I do.

You’re Next

I believe life is hard. The Buddha said all existence is suffering and any Bengals fan can attest to that. I don’t know if everyone is basically good or basically bad, but I do know everyone is just trying to get through the day. Get up and try to make it to night. Try to be better off if you can, but try like hell to keep from slipping backwards. Rinse and repeat. You’re just trying to get through the day. Just like everyone else. It’s never easy. For anyone.

To me the greatest sin I can commit is to make someone else’s life harder. I can’t always make it easier, though I should if I can, but I should never make it harder. What other people do to me is up to them. My actions are not contingent on theirs. I have no obligation to allow someone to make my life harder, by the way, just as I can’t try to make my life better by making yours worse. Make someone else’s life better if you can, but never, ever make it worse.

I do not write the name of the short-fingered vulgarian in the White House. He values it more than anything, so it’s the thing I’ll always deny him. It’s symbolic, petty, and utterly ineffective. That’s my wheelhouse. If clear writing demands the use of a name, I use Don Palmturd (anagram!). Comic Colin Mocherie is a strong proponent of Lord Dampnut and it’s hard to beat. The juxtaposition of mocking nobility with incontinence and impotence is hard to pass up. Mine starts off with a double entendre. It’s a casual nickname sure to annoy someone who uses his full name and middle initial to refer to himself, but also a title of respect — among criminals. The surname juxtaposes shit in the tropics. Like Mar-a-Lago.

They aren’t mutually exclusive names, of course. I like the image of a shabbily-dressed Englishman doorman announcing “The Lord Dampnut, Don Palmturd” and the two-bit Il Douche strutting into the room, jaw-jutting with the smirk on his face. He thinks everyone is applauding him, but they’re really applauding the doorman behind him air-wanking and rolling his eyes.

Don Palmturd doesn’t believe what I believe. Yeah, yeah, yeah, you can’t look into the hearts of others and all that, but come on. This guy enjoys making people’s lives harder. He gets off on it. Many of his supporters do too. You ask them how they’re buying any of this crap and they tell you “Ha, ha, ha libtard, we won and you lost.” (Even though they’re speaking aloud they’ll still manage to misspell three words, but that’s beside the point.) It’s an entire political philosophy built around “neener, neener, neener.” They didn’t win. You lost. That makes them happy. That’s all that matters. They believe their lives are better if someone else’s is worse. That’s winning. That’s making America great again.

Nope. It’s not politics, it’s potty training. I can’t fix it. I won’t accept it. I don’t have to.

I actually don’t care who they hate. I don’t care who you hate. Your hatred doesn’t give you the right to make other folks have a harder time getting through the day than they would have had otherwise. Remember, you don’t have to make anyone’s life easier, you just don’t have a right to make it harder. If I consent to let someone else make your life harder, then it’s as if I did it myself. No one gets a free pass. Making someone’s life harder is always a choice. You make that choice and you’re giving everyone permission to do the same to you.

Make no mistake. They will get to you eventually. There are people who currently reside outside the top 1% of wealth-horders who think they’re safe from all this stuff. They tsk, tsk, tsk about everyone freaking out about losing their health insurance, for example, because they get theirs through their employer. As if somehow providing health insurance is something employers will always be required to do no matter what, forever and ever, Amen.

Let’s try a thought experiment. If you have employer-provided healthcare, what would happen if your company decided they didn’t want to offer it anymore? How easily could you change jobs? Remember, you’ll likely be competing with every single other person at your company who does what you do. You that good? What if you’re wrong? And it’s only going to be an “issue” if your company is the first. All someone has to do is be the first. By the second or third it will be the new normal. If you complain you’ll be an entitled whiner-loser-millennial. There will be Wall Street Journal features on the titans of business who disrupted human decency and made the stock market soar. And after all, isn’t that all that really matters?

Of course, it can’t happen. It’s ridiculous. It’d be like an airline started charging you for carry-on luggage! No one would stand for it! Until the FAA becomes a wholly-owned subsidiary of United Airlines and standing-room-only flights are approved, of course. Then flight attendants crews will have to be issued cattle prods, if only for appearances sake.

Yesterday the Senate of the United States of America voted to make a few people more wealthy without having the slightest idea how many people’s lives they’ll make worse. Much effort has gone into not knowing because it doesn’t matter. If you think anyone will hesitate to make your life worse if they think there’s even a chance they can gain from it, you’re delusional. You represent nothing they can’t find in a million other places. You are a commodity. Raw material from which wealth can be extracted. Then you’re slag. To be discarded.

So go ahead and say nothing when you see other people’s lives being made worse. They’ll get to you eventually. And you’ve already given the folks who could say something about it permission to say nothing. Good job!

Your time is coming. Get your hating in now. You’ll be too busy later.

Or dead.

Taking It Slow

Tom's Manual
After 19 years of marriage she finally gets a manual. I suppose I should be encouraged she only asked about the ‘mute’ button and not ‘on/off’.

The bottom line right now is that I’m feeling pretty good. If you’re pressed for time you can stop reading right now and be pretty much up to speed. If you decide to keep reading you’ll know only a little more than you do now and the chances are pretty good that will only be a fart joke.

Hey, I gotta be me.

As the title says, I’m taking it slow. It’s only been five days. I haven’t been out of the condo since we came back from the hospital and I don’t plan to go anywhere until tomorrow. There’s no place I want to go that badly. The dressings are all off and everything looks like it’s healing fine.  I’m learning what positions lead to the diaphragm spasms and how to shift around to make them go away. My follow-up is next week and at this point I’d rather give them a data set with no settings changes. I’m conscious of the spasms, but they aren’t troublesome. And it tells me the damned thing is still working. Right now there’s a lot to be said for that.

I was in bad shape.1 I knew I felt like crap. I just didn’t know by how much. I’m not going to say it was like being a frog in a slowly heating pot of water. One of my favorite writers is James Fallows and he has a special disdain for that metaphor. Turns out that’s not how frogs work. Unless you remove their brains.2 But the left bundle branch block had been damaging things a lot more than I thought.

It’s not like every doctor didn’t tell me it was a big deal, because they did. Imagine hearing every time you went to the doctor that you had a spike in your forehead. It’d kind of take up all your  attention at first,  but after a bit  it’s “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Spike in forehead.  Got it.  But what about this other thing?”

The only one who lost track of the spike in my forehead was me. My electrophysiologist (AKA “the Arrhythmia Guy”) certainly never downplayed it. I’d be all “Yay! I’m out of A-Fib” and he’d be all “Yeah, but there’s still that bundle branch block…” He wasn’t just trying to be buzz kill. Mistakes were made. Let’s look forward and not backwards. I have a lot of denial to account for here.

I’ve found it’s much easier to move around now. Getting up out of a seat isn’t the epic production it’s been.  They told me they wanted me up and walking around and I kind of groaned when they said that. I will be commencing actual walking for exercise, but for the moment I’m just enjoying getting around the house. This is one time I’m actually following instructions. I have lifting restrictions for another five weeks, but I’m getting used to them.

It’s amazing what happens when your heart beats closer to the way it’s supposed to.

No fart joke.  Sorrry.  Next time.

EKG Before and After
What a difference a month and tiny electronics make. I think the technical term for the “before”  is “that’s butt-ass ugly.” And yes.  I have an EKG app. Is that a surprise?

1To make your reaction more entertaining for me I’d like the left side of the room to handle saying “no” and the right side to say “shit”. OK, OK. You can all say “Sherlock” together.
2Insert Pepe the Frog fanboy jokes here.

THAT Escalated Quickly

I have a pacemaker now.  I keep saying it to myself waiting for it to sink in. To get some kind of reaction.  Something significant. Something momentous. I’ve got a little computer in my shoulder that controls my heart via three wires.

A technician can pull out a large briefcase-sized unit, press a couple of keys and say “Your heartrate is 80. ”

Click-click-click

“Now it’s 70.”

And all I can think of is how cool it is. There’s a box about the size of a set-top cable box plugged in next to my bed that downloads data from the pacemaker and transmits it to my Arrhythmia Guy’s office every night. If they see something funky, I’ll get a phone call the next morning. Having a pacemaker means never being alone.

I didn’t know I was getting a pacemaker Wednesday when I got up buttcrack early to go to St. Elizabeth’s. I knew I was getting one someday, but that was some other time that wasn’t now.  Wednesday was supposed to be an ablation. It’s the same procedure I had two-and-a-half years ago. I’d been in A-Fib since May. I’d been progressively feeling worse and worse. I ‘d cooked at the Porkopolis Eggfest over the weekend and it just about did me in.  I couldn’t walk more than a few feet without having to rest. It’s been hard to stand for any  length of time for quite a while. I don’t even want to talk about the depression. It’s not been a period I plan to look back on with nostalgia.

A-Fib isn’t what got me the pacemaker.  Not directly, anyway.  What got me the pacemaker is something called a Left Bundle Branch Block.  That had first been diagnosed back in 2004 or 2005.  When it was first discovered a cardiologist told me that someday I’d have a pacemaker.

Someday.

My heart apparently decided someday was Wednesday. According to my surgeon, they had run the first lead up my leg to start the ablation procedure when the left side of my heart decided it wasn’t going to talk to the right side anymore. Maybe they talked politics. Could have been Russia.  Might have been a Bernie/Hillary conversation.  I don’t know. Whatever it was they had to go track down Carla to get permission to change directions.  Apparently one of the leads was tough to get in. Took three or four tries. They did a cardioversion and called it a day. The nurse anesthesiologist’s first words to me (that I remember, anyway) were “We’re done and we had to put in a pacemaker.”

I feel OK. I can already tell that I can stand and walk better than I could Monday. Some things are awkward because I have to limit my range of motion with my left arm for the next six weeks. It’s going to take a while for the leads to get really secure in my heart muscle, so I have to be careful about pulling them out. That means I can’t reach backwards with my left arm or go above my shoulder with my left hand.  I can’t lift a weight more than 10 pounds or so with my left arm. It’s going to be difficult. Not impossible, just difficult. Pain in the ass more than anything else.

There are still adjustments to be made.  One side effect is that one of the leads stimulates the left side of my diaphragm.  Imagine having the hiccups on one side and not the other. It’s as pleasant as it sounds. It was bad the first night, but a rep from the pacemaker manufacturer came out and made some initial adjustments. I still get them, but not very bad.  It has a lot to do what position I’m in.  It’s extremely mild (or can be if I shift around) so I’m inclined to let it ride until my next follow-up in a bit over a week. I figure there’s a lot of adjusting to be done.

When I had the ablation done in 2015 I didn’t say much about it. This time I decided to be a bit more open about what was going on. I’m glad I did.  I’ve gotten wonderful support from so many people. I’m grateful for all of you. I still feel a bit shakey. Anesthesia has always kicked my butt and this time is no different.

So I have a pacemaker. That’s not a surprise. Apparently I also have a future I don’t have to dread. That’s what’s different.

 

A SMOBOT Kickstarter Update

SMOBOT Control Unit
I cannot wait to get my hands on this thing.

I made a post about the SMOBOT Kickstarter campaign when it started back at the beginning March. I’ve been obsessively tracking its progress. There are now five days to go and it’s hard to say whether or not they’re going to get funded or not. They need about 50 more people to commit to buying a unit. I have no illusions that a lot of people read this blog, but I’m going to write this in the hope that it might help someone who’s on the fence make a decision. I like the guys behind this. I’ve been using  a pre-production Beta unit for over a year now and I love it.

If you’re not sure what a SMOBOT is, go read the last blog post and watch the video. The tl;dr version is it’s a robotic damper control unit that attaches to the top of a Kamado-style smoker like the Big Green Egg, Kamado Joe, or Primo. A thermocouple tracks the temp inside the cooker and the damper opens and closes to maintain the temperature at the set point. The damper looks like this when it’s operating.

Animated GIF of the damper working
This is a time-lapse of the damper working. In real-time you rarely see the damper visibly move. The individual adjustments are very small. That’s why the whole unit can be powered by batteries.

There are also two food probes that allow you to track the temperature of whatever you’re cooking. And since we live in the future, all the data is available on your local Wi-Fi network and even through a free cloud service. When you’re a nerd like me, that’s pretty damned cool.

What the SMOBOT doesn’t have is a fan or blower. There are other temperature control units out there, but they require you attach a blower unit to the lower air inlet of the cooker. That’s where the airflow control comes from. Clearly the things work because lots of people swear by them, but they never appealed to me. The whole idea of something like a Kamado is that it’s built to draw in air. The things work essentially like a convection oven. Getting air into the things is not the issue.  The issue is how much and when. That’s what the SMOBOT takes care of. It constantly watches the temperature and fiddles with the damper when it needs to, and leaves it alone otherwise.

The data from my last cook. Winds were 18mph gusting to 30mph. They were blowing directly into the damper-opening side of my Big Green Egg. It was like sticking a hair dryer in the lower damper and randomly turning it off and on. To say these were challenging conditions is an understatement. I never touched a thing from the time I put on the food to the time I took it off. I was actually cutting the Kickstarter video the whole time.

I have no idea how much charcoal Eric Reinhart and Curtis Pope have burned developing the algorithm that runs the thing. There’s probably an sixteenth of a degree of global warming with their name on it. Small coal plants in China look at them and say “See?  Why are we getting all the blame? Hey, is that honey-glazed pork?” Whatever rainforests have been depleted, the algorithm is solid. The published control range is +/- 5°F, but I’m convinced the thing takes a 2°F error kind of personally. You can see from that graph up there that the unit never stops looking for that equilibrium point. It’s sort of Terminator-like that way.  Except for the whole traveling-back-to-the-past-to-kill-your-mother thing. I can saw with absolute assurance mine has never done that. Mark that worry off your list.

I really like the design of the production units. I’ve used my trusty Beta unit for a long time, but when I get my new one it’s going to be displayed on a shelf. From that picture I can’t be certain, but I think these units are quite a bit smaller than the Betas were. For one thing they aren’t trying to jam two 9v batteries in there. It’s powered via a USB port now. I’m assuming that’s a micro-USB cable plugged into the side in that picture, which means that whole thing isn’t very big at all. They’ve decided to ship a 4000mAh external battery pack with the Kickstarter package and the estimate is that it should last 48 hours in continuous operation. Worried about weather?  You should be able to toss the controller and battery in a zip-top bag. It doesn’t matter if the damper gets wet. Mine sits out in the weather continuously and laughs at rain. At least that’s what it tells me it’s laughing at. I think it might actually be me it’s laughing at. I’m very insecure that way.

Something that people are really paranoid about is the damper getting gunked up with grease and grit. It can happen, but it doesn’t really cause a problem. If the damper gets bound up with dried grease, you can easily free up the mechanism by lifting up on the arm that moves the damper just a little. It’s not like it’s welded or anything. The bond is pretty weak.  I light my Egg with a torch and I just swipe the flame over the metal part a couple of times.  That melts the grease and then it’s lubrication, not a binder.

They’ve added an indicator light to confirm the unit is actually attached to your Wi-Fi network, which is nice. Once you get it set up on Wi-Fi the first time there’s not much reason to mess with it, but it’s nice to have the visual feedback without having to reach for a phone to check each time. I’ve used the Beta unit at our local Eggfest using a LTE hotspot and it works great.  Cooking at one of those things can be hectic (and loads of fun), and it’s nice when you can resist the urge to fiddle with the dampers, especially since the lid gets opened and closed so much more often than with a normal cook.

The best new feature after the overall size and USB power is that “auto” button.  You’ll usually want to turn on the unit when you’re first lighting the fire. The lid’s up and at that point, though, and you really don’t need the damper working so it powers up in “manual” mode. On the Beta units you had to scroll through a menu to kick it into “auto” mode so the controller would take over.  It was remarkably easy to forget to do.  Or so I hear. Just like I heard a rumor it’s easy to forget to attach the thermocouple to the grate. Don’t think there’s anything they’ll be able to add to fix that.

The coolest thing that’s happened during the Kickstarter is that they’ve been able to add the Char-Griller Akorn Kamado grills to the lineup of cookers the SMOBOT can work with. For whatever reason, most of the ceramic Kamados have top vents that are similar enough that mounting the SMOBOT is just a matter of using one screw. The Akorns — which are made of steel and are typically much less expensive than the ceramic types — use a different type of top vent mount. Apparently a guy with both an Akorn and a 3D printer really wanted a SMOBOT.  After a little back and forth with Eric and Curtis, he came up with a prototype mount that works, so there’s an Akorn version of SMOBOT now. I’m pretty sure the same thing is going to happen with other models of cookers, but probably not in the next five days.

I know I know a lot of people who own some kind of Kamado cooker. Let this be my gentle reminder to you that you need one of these things. It works. It’s easy to use. It lets you sleep when you when you want to cook over night. It’s also just a cool gadget.

SMOBOT: Where Your Inner Geek Meets Your Inner Cook on Kickstarter

Something genuinely good is happening today. It’s nice to be able to say that. It’s been a long time since I’ve posted here. I’ve had to step back from the world a little to maintain my own sanity.  But today something good is happening. Something that makes me happy.

In May of 2014 I saw a video on one of the Big Green Egg forums by a guy named Eric Reinhart demonstrating a gadget he’d built. It was an automatic damper controller for his Egg. It controlled the temperature inside his egg by controlling how much air was being drawn in to feed the fire.  Like any kind of grill, the Egg takes in air from one damper to supply the fire oxygen and expels it out another as really good-smelling smoke. On an Egg (and other similar kamado-style cookers) the air goes in on the bottom and out the top. One of the reason people love this style cooker is that they’re very fuel-efficient. The heavy walls (typically ceramic or very thick metal) allow a very small fire maintain a temperature for a long time.  I’ve gone longer than 24 hours on less than 9 lbs of lump charcoal and had fuel to spare.

I have heard tell of people who can set the dampers once and walk away until it’s time to pull the food off the next day.  I am not one of those people. I can dial in a temperature that will hold for about six hours before it starts wandering. Realistically, I’d probably do better just to leave it alone and let the thing find it’s own equilibrium, but I’m not that person either. I mess with things.  It’s what I do.  The gadget I saw Eric demonstrating neatly solved the problem.  I wanted one. So I emailed him to find out what the deal was.

The deal was that this was his hobby.  He had a full-time job that kept him busy and (I later learned) a daughter on the way.  He was exploring the idea of building a few of the things and I asked him to put me on the list. I was completely paranoid about an announcement email going to spam and missing out, so every six months or so I’d email him to see what was happening. He’d always respond quickly and reassure me I’d not missed out. He’d been busy. Life is life , after all.

Then one day he emailed me (and it didn’t go to spam!  Yay!). He was finally pushing ahead on building some units  and asked if I was still interested. “Oh HELL yes!”  I thought,  though I was slightly more restrained in my response. But only somewhat. There are other temperature-assist units out there. What they have in common, though, is that they force air into the smoker using a blower.  People who use them love them, but it somehow seems like cheating to me. It’s not. There is no “cheating.” There’s not a rulebook.1 It’s just a personal preference, but it’s the one I have and I’m going with it.  I wanted to hold out for a passive system.

I learned as we chatted that Eric had joined up with Curtis Pope to refine and, eventually, market the gadget. It had a name now:  SMOBOT.  And a logo (though it changed later). I got to try out one of the Alpha-stage prototypes and was instantly hooked. I learned that part of the reason the timeline had stretched on was Curtis was working to wi-fi enable the device and that meant the control unit was basically rebuilt. The Alpha was Bluetooth-only, and even that was wonky. You could reliably control it remotely from up to four feet away. As long as you were outside. The Beta units would be controllable via wi-fi.  When I got my hands on an early Beta, I threw together a video they were able to put up on their website to explain what the thing did. Anytime you can use the words “robot apocalypse” in a project you know it’s going well.

It was definitely a beta unit. New software would be pushed out, and sometimes we’d get an email a day or so later saying “Um. You might not want to do that update if you haven’t already.” It only happened a couple of times, but it was still a work in progress. I’ve pretty much quit using my Egg without the SMOBOT attached. The Beta units are powered by two 9V batteries and the original leads were terrible. Eric came up with better ones and I sent mine back to him to be retrofitted. I made sure I did it when we were traveling so I wouldn’t have to be without the thing when I wanted to cook.

A little over a month ago Curtis and Eric contacted me and asked if I’d be interested in cutting their Kickstarter video.  I jumped at the chance. Some of the copy from my original video made it into this one, but this is a lot more polished project. I guess I should disclose that I have gotten paid for this, but the negotiations were pretty much “whatever is fine.”  These units are also going to be more polished. The Beta cycle taught a lot of lessons. You’ll be able to power it using anything that can charge a cell-phone, for example.  The wi-fi has always been solid, but I’m looking forward to seeing what’s been done with it using an upgraded chipset.

So the Kickstarter is live as of now. I think I’ve told everyone I know who has a kamado-type smoker, but in case I’ve missed you:  BUY THIS!


1Please don’t yell at me if you have a blower-type controller. Your happiness with what you’re doing is all the justification you need to use what you like. Seriously. I’m not going to tell you you’re wrong, because … well … you just aren’t. This isn’t Highlander. There can be more than one.

It’s not going to be OK

Well, it’s finally here. I said I was staying off social media (and anything resembling live media) today, so if you’re seeing this on Facebook or Twitter it’s only because I have my blog set to squirt my posts over there.1 You can leave a comment there, but I won’t see it for a few days. Or you can leave one here. Or you can be like me and roil in a pit of despair.  After brunch. And doing some prep for my classes. I’m reasonably certain Monday will still happen. Everything after that is a crapshoot.

Both of my parents died of cancer. I remember what it was like knowing that it was just a matter of time before something awful happened and feeling utterly powerless to do anything about it. Then, when they died, saying to myself over and over “now it’s real” and being unprepared for it.  And I’ll never forget getting to the J-School the morning we started bombing Baghdad in 1991 and meeting Doug Barthlow outside the library. “Things are going to be different for the rest of our lives,” he said “We’re going to be living with this forever. It’s never going to be the same again.” That’s what today feels like. It’s a little before 10AM EST as I write this, so technically the world is still sane, but it’s over. I’m assuming the choreography has begun and the orange-skinned homunculus is strutting and thrusting out his jaw like the two-bit Mussolini wannabe he is. He wanted military units and tanks and missiles in his parade, people.  That’s fucked up.

Gallons of ink have been spilled and gazillions of electrons have been rearranged so people like me can scream. Today we become that dystopian novel we read. Today we lose all the wars we’ve fought in the past. Today Moscow becomes the most important capital in the world, and they didn’t really have to work that hard to do it. All they had to do was give us the fuel and we were perfectly content to burn ourselves down.

We’re really good at that, the burning ourselves down thing, I mean. I remember that tape that came out from Osama bin Laden where him and a couple of the other planners were talking about the 9/11 attacks. They were as surprised as we were that the buildings actually fell down . They knew they were going to kill a lot of people and we’d overreact and weaken ourselves as a result, but they never let themselves hope it would work out that well (from their perspective). We completely lost our shit. A few thousand guys running around in the mountains of Afghanistan managed to make a country of 350 million people with the most powerful military on earth completely lose its shit. 9/11 sucked, but it was alike giving a gorilla a little paper cut. The reaction should have been “Hey, do that another — oh — 200 or 300 times and you might start drawing some blood. Meanwhile we’re going to piss you off by not changing a bit.  Sure, we’ll hunt you down and turn you into a stain that’ll take more than Tide to get out, but we’re going to do it by being exactly the same as we were before. We can make you a footnote and not even break a sweat.” But, of course, we didn’t do that. We chose to become a completely different country.  One where the thing we fear the most is fear itself. That’s why the subtitle to this blog is what it is. The people who wanted to destroy the US in the past went about it the wrong way. We were always the best people for the job.

I don’t think there’s some hotline from Moscow to Washington with Putin issuing orders to his poodle.  Put a complete fucking moron in the top job and suddenly the United States is way down on Vlad’s “Things-I-have-to-worry-about-today” list. The things my parents and grandparents believed in and sacrificed for become irrelevant today. The zombie apocalypse is upon us. Mitch McConnell’s general appearance aside, the zombies aren’t undead people looking for brains to eat. They’re dead-eyed authoritarians looking for money to take. The country is about to be sold for parts. You will not be receiving payment. But the beatings will continue until morale improves.  Or not. It’s pretty much the same to the folks in charge. No one’s asking you to like it. You’re just supposed to comply.

I am, of course, over-reacting. “It’s all going to be fine,” you say,  “it can’t happen here.” Hands start waving around and a blanket of vague descends if I ask you, “Really?  Why not?” A lot of people are going to be in the streets today and tomorrow saying “This is not OK” and that’s the most hopeful thing I’m seeing right now. As bad as things are — and experience has taught me you tend to dread the wrong things too much and the things that really wind up sucking you don’t dread nearly enough — I find hope in that I know I’m not alone in this. I have found there are a lot of people out there who’ve been feeling like Cassandra. We’ve been on the wrong path for a very long time. You see, the deal with the idea of the USA isn’t that we’re especially good or exceptional people.  We’re just regular, flawed,  people who aspire to good and exceptional things for everybody. We’re not unique in that. Wanting good and exceptional things doesn’t make us good and exceptional. It just described how hard we needed to work. We mistook the ends for means. The payments for that mistake is coming due. And it’s going to suck.

It’s not going to be OK. That suggests that things are going to be how things are going to be without intervention and all we have to do is sit back a take the ride. If things wind up working out OK it’s because people will have made it OK and probably hurt some feelings along the way. Euphemisms and platitudes aren’t going to cut it. Civility is a great thing when you agree on ends but not on means. It makes it much more likely you’ll get there. It’s important to not jump to conclusions, though. Really, really important. Be sure you’re not really working for the same ends before you abandon civility. It’s hard to roll that back. If you get that wrong you are, indeed, the asshole. Political party labels are useless now. I know many, many, many self-identified Republicans who are horrified at what’s starting. There are things (guns, abortion, LGBTQ equality) we (stridently) disagree on, but we all fundamentally believe in the underlying framework for how that stuff gets worked out (and that it’s always a temporary solution). This isn’t liberal/conservative. Edmund Burke and Barry Goldwater would look at the current GOP and say “what the fuck is wrong with you people?” They’re not exactly relying on time-tested traditions. They’re about to throw a lot of them out.  There’s nothing conservative about what’s going on.

So today it all changes. In about half an hour  from now we’re through the looking glass. God help us all.

See you on the other side.


1Paints quite a picture, eh?  You’re welcome.

Putin’s Poodle

I have long opposed the death penalty on the slippery slope principal.  Once we enshrine the idea that the State has the right to kill someone, the only thing left to argue is who gets to decide who needs killing. The list of those who decide tends to be people way too comfortable with the idea of doing it and the list that says who deserves killing only gets longer. It’s an awfully big hammer. So tempting to use. Sooner or later we’ll all qualify in someone’s eyes, and you never know who’s going to be put in charge. The usual argument I get into is someone points at some really heinous killer and says “You want to keep this guy alive?” (It’s usually a guy, and I figure in this case the sexism of that construction might get a pass). And I say “No, I really don’t. But I believe what I believe despite the fact that guys like that exist. That’s how important I think it is. Better this guy rot in a cell then say ‘Sure, I trust your judgement about who lives and dies.’ Because I don’t.”

I’ve been thinking about this a lot as it’s becoming clearer and clearer that, domestically anyway, the focus of the incoming administration will be to dismantle as much of the social safety net as it possibly can and sell it off piece by piece. Look at the people being nominated for Cabinet positions. Each and every one has a vested interest in gutting them. People keep yelling about “conflicts of interest” when, in fact, there’s no conflict at all. They don’t believe there should be a social safety net. Their interest is to make sure there isn’t one. It’s not a bug, it’s a feature. There’s no conflict.

“What do you mean you have popular prices? You’re the most expensive in town!”

“Well, we like them.”

I think idiot who got elected is only interested in having power and enriching himself and his family. I think his Veep is  interested in leading the Republican effort to strip the country down for parts and install a soft-core theocracy that allows you to believe anything you want as long as the only opinion that counts is “What Would White Jesus Do (in our opinion)?”

I’m equally convinced that Russia’s victory in the Cold War becomes final just after noon on January 20, 2017. They won this election. I don’t think that’s because they “hacked” the election. I think they hacked some computers and ran a pretty standard disinformation campaign. I don’t think they messed with voting machines because that’s not the weakest part of the system. That would be the people who do the voting. I do believe there was coordination between the Republican campaign and some Russian intelligence service if for no other reason Rudy Giuliani seemed to know what Wikileaks was going to leak before they actually did it. But that’s not why it worked. It worked because the Russians were very comfortable dealing with Americans as we actually are rather than who we’d like to think we are. Not having to pretend to care really opens up the old day planner.

And in the end we voted for the guy they wanted us to. By “we” I mean, of course,  the small number of rubes who had to vote particular ways in particular places to game the horrible system we use to elect a President. But they could have gotten more if they’d needed them. It’s not like the Democrats ran a candidate people actually liked. There were plenty of people out there plenty willing to believe all the pretty stories. Yes, in a sense, Clinton did win because she got more votes.  In the other, more accurate, sense she lost. There’s no “moral victory” column in the Electoral College.

At any point in the campaign did anyone ever float the idea that the CEO of ExxonMobil was the best person to be Secretary of State? There’s only one country that benefits from that, and Sarah Palin thinks she can see it from her house. (Hint: It’s not the United States). All the other appointments either hate the departments they’re supposed to run or they used to be a General up until very, very recently. Which is pretty much the way they run things in Moscow. There’s not a downside for Russia in this election. They don’t give a shit about our social safety net either. And they don’t have to pretend to. But we have to care about what they think because our Dear Leader loves their Dear Leader and wants to be just like him when he grows up.

So now we are confronted with the image of buyer’s remorse on a national scale. It’s kind of sort of sinking in for some people, but it’s coming for everyone who voted for him sooner or later. I’m on record (if Facebook can be considered a record) for wanting to be the one to announce to the assisted living facility that I worked on Election Day that the guy most of them voted for is going to touch their Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. And it’s going to be one of those bad touches you tell your grandkids about. Except you gave them permission to do it.

It’s tempting to sit back and laugh. Hey, if you’re dumb enough to vote for a con man, you deserve what you get. You managed to vote for the evil of two lessers. I can’t sustain that, though, any more than I change my tune on the death penalty when a serial killer or mass murderer is caught. I’m not going to oppose cuts to healthcare and the rest of the social safety net because the people who will benefit from them in the short term did anything to deserve it. I’m going to oppose them because it’s the right thing to do. I believe it so much, in fact, I’m willing to fight for it even when you couldn’t be bothered to do it yourselves.

For your sake I hope there are enough of us.  Because otherwise, you are screwed. All of us are, but we’ve had longer to get used to the idea.