Six.

Here is a thing I do: I ride bikes.

I ride on the roads, not the bike paths, because we go fast. I ride in groups, when it’s not during a pandemic. We work together to cheat the wind, taking turns in front to poke a hole for the rest of us. It takes a lot of effort and time and no small amount of expense, but it’s immensely rewarding and exciting and fun, and as a side effect it’s good for you. I’m fitter at 50 than I was at 30. My resting heart rate is like 65, and my friends and I could ride a big two-day event like the traditional MS150 on any given weekend.

If it was anything else, someone would have an intervention. Probably Erin.

But it has risks, and I can tell you this from experience, because six years ago today, I had a pretty bad crash. I went down in a paceline on a rainy ride the Thursday before Thanksgiving, and broke my left hip.

44 year olds don’t break hips. It’s rare enough that they actually called what happened to me something different (“high energy fracture of the femoral neck”) based on circumstance and I guess bone density and, apparently, angle of break. But it’s the same bone that snapped when your aunt Millie fell off the couch reaching for the remote.

The “good” news was that, well, biomechanically, it’s an easy fix. It’s not like one of those joints like your knee or angle that has a bunch of complicated soft tissue stuff going on, and that once ruined is never right again. The “bad” news was that I was too young to do a straight replacement — which has a super fast recovery window, and often results in patients walking out of the hospital on the new joint — so they repaired me. Apparently, it’s better to have your own bone, and also at 44 and active I’d likely wear the joint out in 20 or so years, and then need a replacement replacement in my 60s, and that’s not something they want to set you up for.

So: I got scaffolding. It looks like this:

My hip x-ray

This also meant I wasn’t allowed to put ANY weight on the leg for three months, which necessarily means that once cleared for weight bearing I would be in Atrophy City. I used a walker through the holidays, finally was cleared to PT, and graduated to a cane by February. The cane was a companion through the following summer, really, before I was finally able to give it up.

I didn’t ride again until late March of 2015, and at that only 27 miles. But I rode. I wasn’t really “back” in any real sense until mid-summer, when I did a metric century with some friends at a real pace (20-ish), 9 or so months after my crash.

It was a long road, and I haven’t even mentioned the site infection, the PIC line, or all the added stress that Erin carried for the duration of the process. I honestly don’t know how I would’ve handled it all without her. Because she is awesome. But if you know me well enough to be reading this, you’re also nodding your head and saying “Obviously, you doofus, you married WAY the hell up.” I know, people, I know.

So now, six years later, I’m a stronger rider than I was then. I came back, with the help and encouragement of lots of people. The injury isn’t a total memory — I have some pain in the soft tissue of the joint on that side, sometimes. If I overwork it, I’ll ache and limp. I’m taking steps to work through that, but i suspect some left-side weirdness will be a companion as long as I’m active. I’ll take it, though, because I’m just happy to be here, healthy and happy and active, even in this weirdest of years.

Who wants to go ride bikes?

Because hope is always welcome.

I follow, and have for years and years, a nerd-culture stick-figure comic strip called xkcd. It doesn’t stand for anything.

Ten years ago, the author posted cryptically about a family illness.

The following spring he elaborated: It was his fiancee, and it was stage III breast cancer. Both of them were very young — mid 20s — this was, as he notes, seriously bolt-from-the-blue territory.

One of his more famous comics, called Lanes, came not long after, in summer 2011, along with a more lighthearted take on the process. The following summer, he ran Emotion.

Then, in 2012, he published Two Years.

And in 2017, he followed with Seven Years.

This month, he wrote Ten Years.

Hope and joy and grace can be found, even in weird, dark times.

Just a chat with George

I’m not entirely sure what we did to deserve George Clooney, but, well, we got him anyway.

This long GQ profile/interview is pretty great, and includes the long-sought official confirmation that the “Clooney once gave his best friends a million bucks each, in cash” story is 100% true.

The best part:

“You know, it’s funny,” Clooney says. “I remember talking to one really rich asshole who I ran into in a hotel in Vegas—certainly a lot richer than I am. And I remember the story about the cash had come out, and he was like, ‘Why would you do that?’ ”

Clooney smiles. “And I was like, ‘Why wouldn’t you do that, you schmuck?’ ”

Pleased to meet you.

Lord knows I’m mostly out of patience for boomer-era culture, but there’s absolutely nothing deniable about the Stones in their heyday.

This is the first performance of “Sympathy for the Devil,” from 1968 concert film “The Rolling Stones’ Rock and Roll Circus,” so they’re basically at their peak. It’s also the last performance (apparently) with Brian Jones, who’d be ejected from the band — and planet Earth — within a year.

Watch for John Lennon dancing at about 5 minutes. ;)

The S definitely does not stand for “super”

Somehow I missed it — well, not somehow; I know how — but about 2 years ago, Microsoft introduced something they call “Window S Mode” on new non-professional editions of Windows.

If you’re in S mode, you literally cannot install any software that doesn’t come from the (hamstrung, poorly populated, very limited) Microsoft Store. I only ran into this today because we’re trying to get a new consultant up and running on the double, so we dropshipped a consumer grade laptop to him when Dell couldn’t get him a “real” one before December (about which: WTF?), and it came with Windows Home.

The new guy needed some help getting software installed, and so as is our usual approach I got him on a GoToMeeting session intending to use the meeting’s remote control features to get things rolling quickly. Except now GTM kinda of biases its web app, which doesn’t allow remote control.

No problem; I’m used to walking folks through switching to the desktop app, which does support remote control.

Except the steps that usually result in downloading and running the GTM desktop installer kept shunting him into the Windows Store, in which there is no GTM app. WTF?

Oh yeah. S mode.

As an aside, let me say this: I know what they’re doing here. S Mode is an attempt to copy what Apple did several years ago. New Macs ship with an option set so that they’ll only run software from the Mac App Store. Superficially, this is the same, except:

  1. On a Mac, changing the setting is dead easy; it’s just an option in the Mac version of the Control Panel. On Windows, you have to follow a much more complex path that requires you to have a sign-in with Microsoft.

  2. On a Mac, you can just turn this setting back the other way any time you want. On Windows, it’s a one-way change. You can’t return to S mode later.

So even when Redmond copies, they fuck it up. I mean, I’m supportive of machines coming configured more for Aunt Millie than the likes of me, but the pathway out of this more limited mode has to be much, much more transparent and simple. Don’t get in my fucking way and tell me it’s for my own good. And for the love of Christ don’t do it on a computer where adults are trying to work.

This bear is dead.

There are probably lots of dead bears available in bear-infested areas, but this one is mostly interested because (a) it’s been dead for more than 20,000 years and (b) it’s insanely well preservedhttps://boingboing.net/2020/09/15/scientists-find-preserved-cave.html). Like, soft tissue is relatively intact. Organs. Nose. Fur. It’s amazing.

(And is pretty clearly only coming to light because, well, the permafrost isn’t so permanent anymore. Still! Silver lining?)

Billy Joe Shaver, dead at 81

My friend Andrew penned the Chronicle coverage:

Billy Joe Shaver — a honky-tonk hero so original he coined the phrase “honky-tonk hero” — has died of a stroke. He was 81.

Shaver was without question one of the greatest songwriters Texas produced, which made him among the best in the larger field of music. He mined his life for songs about drifting and dabbling, all manner of ill-advised behaviors that seemed certain to put him in the grave before age 81. “The devil made me do it the first time,” he sang in “Black Rose,” a song about visiting a brothel. “Second time I done it on my own.”

His lyrical sensibility had a natural quality that defied all training and logic. He wrote like he spoke, and it nevertheless came out as poetry. That style endeared him to some of the biggest country music stars of the 1970s. While Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson were the face of what became known as Outlaw country in the 1970s, Shaver didn’t enjoy the same spoils of success as those two men. There was no golfing to fill Billy Joe Shaver’s time.

Whether at a gig or between shows, he ambled around in the same denim shirt and jeans — songwriter Todd Snider called him “the Man in Blue” — hair wild and squinting eyes gleaming with notions of pending trouble. He endured the death of his wife and his son, a heart attack and a quadruple bypass and a broken back. He was acquitted for shooting a man in the face.

A few years back, I was talking with some friends over drinks about whether or not my then-20+ year tenure in Texas has naturalized me to “true Texan” status. The natives were unsure about it — until I told them this:

I’ve shaken Billy Joe Shaver’s hand in Gruene Hall.

I’ll hang my hat on that. Godspeed, Billy Joe.

Today in Rando Pop Culture Knowledge

During the time Kenan Thompson has been on SNL, he has seen fully 25 people come and go — i.e., have their entire SNL career.

  1. Finesse Mitchell (started the same year)
  2. Rob Riggle
  3. Jason Sudeikis
  4. Bill Hader
  5. Andy Samberg
  6. Kristen Wiig
  7. Casey Wilson
  8. Abby Elliott
  9. Bobby Moynihan
  10. Michaela Watkins
  11. Nasim Pedrad
  12. Jenny Slate
  13. Vanessa Bayer
  14. Paul Brittain
  15. Taran Killam
  16. Jay Pharoah
  17. Tim Robinson
  18. John Milhiser
  19. Mike O’Brien
  20. Noel Wells
  21. Brooks Wheelan
  22. Sasheer Zamata
  23. Leslie Jones
  24. Jon Rudinsky
  25. Luke Null

“Only” 158 people have ever been in the cast at SNL. 16% of those have had their ENTIRE CAREER happen while he’s been on the show.

All in, Kenan has shared the bill with 52 cast members — those 25, plus anyone who was already on the cast when he was hired (Armisen, Dratch, Fallon, Fey, Forte, Hammond, Meyers, Parnell, Richards, Rudolph, and Sanz) plus all those still ON the cast (16 people at the end of last season, plus himself).

IOW, he’s been cast with just over 33% of all cast members of SNL ever.

As if we needed more proof that Customs & Border Patrol is a rogue, garbage organization

Please “enjoy” this story from former US diplomat Tianna Spears who was constantly harassed by CBP at the Juarez/El Paso border crossing despite carrying diplomatic credentials and a SENTRI authorization.

These people behave like this because they enjoy it, and because there is zero accountability. As with most law enforcement groups, the first response to reports and evidence of misconduct is to circle the wagons, blame the victim, and insist no wrongs were committed.

It is never convincing. But they don’t MEAN for it to be convincing, because they know that, unless something serious changes, no consequences will accrue to the organization or the individuals responsible. And in the meantime, they managed to hound a bright young diplomat out of the Foreign Service.

I swear to god, I really have no understanding why Black Americans would feel any warmth towards this country. It baffles me.

From the Archives, sorta

My love for the comedy troupe The State is well documented, but somehow I never saw this piece in Details back in 1996 about their ill-fated and almost-never-seen network debut, a Halloween special on CBS on a random Friday night that year.

Nothing went well, obviously, or the group would’ve gotten bigger instead of staying a cult favorite. Lots of the alums went on to bigger success — several in Reno 911!, Wet Hot American Summer, and obviously Joe Lo Truglio in Brooklyn Nine-Nine — but this mostly marked the end of The State as a going concern, which is sad.

Anyway, this article — written by a comedy writer who worked with them for the special — is a great time capsule, and it includes a laugh-out-loud treat for modern readers. Hint: watch out for the name of a particular day player, then essentially unknown with a single credit, now hugely famous & festooned with awards.

Throwback Friday: The Model 100

This is a double throwback, since I’ve apparently had this tab open for over a year, but feast your eyes on this sales training video for Radio Shack’s TRS-80 Model 100, a sort of proto-laptop introduced in the early 1980s.

My pal Rob actually had one of these in high school, which was astounding (later, Rob had the first Mac I ever saw, purchased the summer before he left for Rice). For the era, it was really amazingly capable — and as such, found a quick market with anyone who needed to write on the go, such as journalists. Remember, at the time, the alternative was to phone in copy.

Oh, the cheek!

Years ago when I was doing more travel, I signed up for a State Department notification list. I get mails about whether or not State thinks it’s a good idea to go to country X or whatever.

There isn’t much activity on the list, so I forgot about it until this morning, when I noticed a message saying I maybe shouldn’t go to the UAE.

Well, first, thanks. Wasn’t planning on it, but good to know.

And second, it’s goddamn hilarious that State is telling us where not to go, because at this point the US is basically already on everybody’s no-go list due to our abject failure in containing COVID-19, so it’s cute they’re saying “don’t go to place X” when most places at this point are safer than staying in the good ol’ USA.

Sigh.

So about those flat earthers….

This video is actually pretty great, and zeros in on an aspect of the modern flat earth “movement” that I think lots of folks miss. It boils down to a sort of scientific solipsism, wherein the adherents distrust anything and everything they cannot explain or experience with their own senses.

Modern science stands on the shoulders of giants. Probably no one understands it ALL, but we trust the scientific method, peer review, etc., to lead us towards the light. Flat Earthers see the implications of modern science, find it at odds with their lived experience, and choose their own naive POV over that of the scientific community.

In the 1800s, there was a similar problem; a man named Samuel Rowbotham pushed a school of thought he deemed “zetetic inquiry.”

In the Flat Earth sense, the term refers to flipping the scientific method on its head and deriving one’s observations from testing, with no regards to any hypothesis. Of course, if you did scientific inquiry this way, you’d end up with stating that a sphere is flat just because it looks flat to a relatively minuscule observer on its surface.

Got to concentrate / Don’t be distractive

Amazon has produced an adaptation of the graphic novel Radioactive, about the life of Marie Curie. Rosamund Pike stars. I am sold.

After watching the trailer, I was shocked to re-discover a couple things about her. Obviously, there’s the whole “was the first female winner of the Nobel, and then did it AGAIN 8 years later” thing — and, by the way, at the time no one had won the Nobel twice before.

But there’s also the following. See, while she basically discovered radioactivity, the dangers of atomic radiation were absolutely not understood at the time. I knew she died from this — her constant exposure and lack of protective equipment led to her death, at 66, of aplastic anemia, but also gave her cataracts and a host of other problems.

And those problems aren’t over:

She was interred at the cemetery in Sceaux, alongside her husband Pierre. Sixty years later, in 1995, in honour of their achievements, the remains of both were transferred to the Paris Panthéon. Their remains were sealed in a lead lining because of the radioactivity. She became the first woman to be honoured with interment in the Panthéon on her own merits.

Because of their levels of radioactive contamination, her papers from the 1890s are considered too dangerous to handle. Even her cookbook is highly radioactive. Her papers are kept in lead-lined boxes, and those who wish to consult them must wear protective clothing.

Whoa.

Anyway, Radioactivity airs July 24 on Prime Video. Here’s the trailer.

Dept. of Big-Ass Snow Trucks

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking “Chet, where can I find a high quality, relatively short video on heavy trucks intended for sub-zero use?”

Well, good news! I’ve got JUST THE THING!

This short documentary — just 36 minutes — is FASCINATING. It’s about the development of the Soviet Union’s Antarctic overland snow tractor in the 1950s. The design ended up having some drawbacks, but the three examples they made saw daily use down there for FIFTY YEARS, and the gen-2 version may still be in use.

It’s great stuff. Make time!

So, who WAS Woodrow Wilson?

This backgrounder over at Talking Points Memo is extremely informative. I had a vague sense that Wilson was a jackass, but until now I didn’t appreciate what a complete and utter shitbag he was.

For example:

He ultimately taught at Princeton, where he made his mark with a compact textbook, “Division and Reunion,” about the Civil War and postwar reconciliation. Contained within was an outline of the post-Confederate vision of a nation reunited based on shared Anglo-Saxon interests. He declared the “charges of moral guilt” leveled against Southern slave lords were unjust because slaves “were almost uniformly dealt with indulgently and even affectionately by their masters,” who themselves were the beneficiaries of “the sensibility and breeding of entitlement.” He condemned Reconstruction — the effort to enforce the civil and political emancipation of African-Americans in the occupied South — and said allowing Blacks to vote was a “carnival of public crime.”

In his follow-up effort, a “poorly written and shoddily researched five-volume tome” called A History of the American People, he

furthered the white supremacist arguments in “Division and Reunion,” calling freed slaves “dupes” and the KKK a group formed “for the mere pleasure of association [and] private amusement” whose members accidentally discovered they could create “comic fear” in the Blacks they descended on. Immigrants were a problem because they were no longer “of the sturdy stocks of the North of Europe” but contained “multitudes of men of the lowest classes from the South of Italy and men of the meaner sort out of Hungary and Poland” and Chinese people, “with their yellow skin and strange, debasing habits of life,” who seemed “hardly fellow men at all, but evil spirits” and who provoked understandable mass killings by white mobs.

Once elected president — which, we should note, really only happened because of a 3-way split of the electorate, as he took office having only captured 42 percent of the vote — he made his priorities clear:

Wilson presided over the segregation of the federal government, with Black civil servants directed to use only certain bathrooms and to eat their lunches there too so as to not sully the cafeterias. At the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, makeshift partitions were erected in offices so white clerks would not have to see their Black counterparts.

Lindsey Graham and Tom Cotton want to destroy the Internet

The new bill, called the Lawful Access to Encrypted Data Act, essentially outlaws end to end encryption that does not feature a back door, which means it outlaws any secure encryption at all.

It is not possible to create a secure encryption scheme that includes a back door. The existence of the back door means the existence of some sort of master key that will inevitably be leaked and misused. Insisting “but we’ll require a warrant” is cold comfort in light of that, and never mind that the whole warrant process for surveillance has been shown repeatedly to be rife with abuse itself.

This isn’t just about encrypted communication in WhatsApp. This touches every financial transaction online — every payroll deposit, every mortgage payment, every credit card charge. All of these things use secure encryption. And all of them will be made materially weaker and far, far easy to compromise by this bill.

Ars lays it out:

Encryption doesn’t work that way

Providing the sort of backdoor Graham and company keep asking for means, among other things, providing the service provider itself access to “encrypted” data. This, in turn, opens that provider’s customers up to privacy violations from the service provider—or rogue employees of the service provider—themselves, which in turn would break much of the security model of modern cloud services. This would gravely impact not only end consumer privacy but enterprise business security as well.

In recent years, large cloud providers such as Amazon, Microsoft, and Google have made big and successful pushes to convince large businesses to host increasingly confidential business data in their data centers. This is only feasible because of secure encryption using keys inaccessible to the cloud provider itself. Without provider-opaque encryption, those businesses would return to storing critically confidential data only in self-managed and controlled private data centers—increasing cost and decreasing scalability for those businesses.

This, of course, only scratches the surface of the true impact of such a misguided effort. Secure encryption is an already widely available technology, and it doesn’t require massive infrastructure to implement. There is no reason to assume that the very terrorists Graham, Cotton, and Blackburn invoke wouldn’t simply revert to privately managed software without holes poked in it were such a bill to pass.

There’s also no reason to assume that the service providers themselves would be the only ones able to access the critical loopholes LAEDA would require. It’s difficult to imagine that such vulnerabilities would not rapidly become widely known and be exploited by garden-variety criminals, foreign and domestic business espionage units, and foreign nations.

The advocacy group Fight for the Future issued the following statement (also in the Ars article):

Politicians who don’t understand how technology works need to stop introducing legislation like this. It’s embarrassing at this point. Encryption protects our hospitals, airports, and the water treatment facilities our children drink from. Security experts have warned over and over again that weakening encryption or installing back doors will make everyone less safe, not more safe. Full stop. Lawmakers need to reject the Lawful Access to Encrypted Data act along with the EARN IT act. These bills would enable mass government surveillance while doing nothing to make children, or anyone else, any safer.

It’s weird to me that the answer isn’t obviously “the gallows.”

What Do the Hohenzollerns Deserve?

Apparently, the German royal family — deposed since 1918 — are trying to rewrite history, and perhaps regain a place of honor on Germany, including compensation for land and palaces in Berlin taken from them after abdication (which would come in addition to the dynastic wealth they retained even after 1918).

This is ridiculous, and would be ridiculous even without clear evidence of his family’s collaboration with and support of Hitler.

Monarchies are all based on murder, mayhem, and corruption. Monarchal wealth that persists past the end of the governing monarchy ought to have been subject to state confiscation. It’s ridiculous that the Hohenzollern descendants are still wealthy layabouts and not normal citizens with a historical footnote in their family tree.

Fortunately, it appears most Germans agree:

Many Germans are bewildered by their former royal family’s demands. “This country does not owe a single coffee cup to the next-born of a luckily long-vanquished undemocratic regime, let alone art treasures or real estate,” wrote Stefan Kuzmany, a columnist for Der Spiegel. “Even the request is an insult to the Republic.” The Hohenzollern wealth, he argued, was the product of historical injustice: “The aristocracy in general, [and] the Hohenzollerns in particular, have always been a plague on the country and the people. Like all so-called noblemen, they have snatched their fortune through the oppression of the population.” As Clark noted in his interview, “There seems to be a strong animus against the nobility within parts of the German public.”

Emphasis added.

In re: Charles Willeford, the best crime writer you don’t know

Well, you MIGHT know him — he wrote a book called Miami Blues that was made into a tight little hardboiled comedy in 1990 with Jennifer Jason Leigh, Fred Ward, and a 32-year-old Alec Baldwin. But you probably don’t.

But you should. Here’s a great intro from over at CrimeReads, which includes this spectacular sequence:

Although he was writing fiction, Willeford believed in doing his homework to make the story believable. He spent two years learning everything he could about the sport of cockfighting before he wrote his 1962 novel Cockfighter. Hard-boiled fiction is known for its terse heroes, but the hero of Cockfighter, Frank Mansfield, tops them all. He vows not to speak to anyone until he wins the big championship.

Cockfighter was going to be Willeford’s big breakthrough novel. But shortly after it was published, his publisher died and the publishing house went bankrupt. As a result, most of the print run, more than 20,000 copies, never reached bookstores.

Later, in 1974, Roger Corman produced a movie version directed by Monte Hellman and starring a masterful Warren Oates as Mansfield and Harry Dean Stanton as his nemesis. Willeford wrote the screenplay and had a cameo as a ring official. Corman said that it was his only film that lost money, despite the movie’s legendary tagline: “He came to town with his cock in his hand, and what he did with it was illegal in 49 states.”

Emph. added.

Anyway, there’s a new Willeford film coming — or, rather, it’s out, but in these COVID days lots of small films are getting lost. It’s called The Burnt Orange Heresy, based on his 1971 novel of the same name, and it premiered at last fall’s Venice Film Festival. Per the linked story, “A Variety review calls it ‘a marble-cool art-fraud thriller.'” Bonus: if you enjoyed the BBC/Netflix adaptation of Dracula earlier this year, you’ll be pleased to find that Claes Bang appears here in a leading role.

On loving a band, and loving The National

I’ll be up front and say that I do not love The National like this author, but I am entirely familiar with the sort of distracting and potentially unseemly love one may develop for a band that hits you where you live at just the right moment. Feeling that way about music is a magical gift; it opens doors to friendships and relationships and experiences that are inaccessible any other way.

So yeah, even if The National — whom I do enjoy — have never been that band for ME, I absolutely understand what Helena Fitzgerald is talking about here.

Oh, and while you’re at it? Here’s a great interview with frontman Matt Berninger you may enjoy, too.

And I’m listening to The National a bit more, anyway. Hey, nothing but time, right?

The Police are the Problem

The Police are the Problem

This week, we’ve watched countless peaceful marches descend into violence, but the striking thing is this: The violence has been overwhelmingly initiated and escalated by the police, not by the protesters. Standard operations procedure appears to involve kettling the protesters just before curfew, then refusing the let them leave and tear-gassing them, and then arresting and detaining as many as they can. After arrest they’re left to suffer in hot, unventilated spaces for hours with their arms bound, no access to bathrooms or water, with no explanation for their detention.

Police do this because they know no crime has been committed, so no charges will hold up in court— and so they mete out justice on their terms. It’s the maxim “you can beat the rap, but you can’t beat the ride” writ large, which is itself evidence of broken and corrupt policing. A cop can arrest you for any old trumped up bullshit, rough you up on the way to jail, and hold you for a day on nothing just because he wants to, and you’d need to be very rich or very connected for the cop to suffer any consequences for this thuggish behavior.

So in that context, read this editorial.