Magic

Some of my experiences are post-worthy, others but note-worthy:

A few small steps. I was visiting Seattle, staying with “Radical”, from Everything, All at Once. We drove from his house to the Northgate park-n-ride to meet “Snow” (from that same post), whose bus arrived just as we approached. Just as we greeted each other, our express bus to downtown pulled up, one of the new (at the time) ones with middle doors opening onto a low platform, hardly a step at all, so welcoming. We sped along the express lanes, commuter traffic stalled in both directions. A few blocks to the ferry terminal and we stepped onto the boat just as they closed boarding behind us. I wish I could say that we saw orcas, but alas. I note that it is a habit, when I visit Seattle, to ferry over to Bainbridge, walk through the local park and on to the Harbor House pub, where they have a great selection of local microbrews, with an often outstanding brew on the rotating tap. Along the way we enjoyed one of my favorite sights, kingfishers hovering and braying and diving. The reverse journey was similar: onto the ferry and sailing with hardly a wait, then immediately onto an express bus back to Northgate, evading the afternoon commute.

The greatest shit story ever told. I had to go. Not just that: I was going to go, whether or not. No sooner had I besat myself (no “h” there, whew!) than it started. All by itself, then kept going, with no effort on my part. Going, and going, and going. “This will be stupendous!”, I thought to myself, wondering whether to investigate any of the long-expired magazines in the little holder alongside as I waited out the proceedings. Imagine my astonishment when, expecting to spy a glistening coil, I crouched around and gazed bowlwards: nothing but water! Imagine my further astonishment, after performing the initial cleaning gesture, when there was no debris to be seen! I commended myself for that on what must partly be due to a healthy diet, and concluded that a single cohesive “rope” must have emerged, navigating over the “P” trap to dangle unsevered, dragging the whole mass sewarwards once it detached. For some reason not everybody loves to hear me brag about this, so I hereby take it out on the internet.

Stormwatch. As related in House of Baloney, soon after moving to Seattle for college I ended up sharing a house in Wallingford, befriending especially one of my housemates who was part of a network of environmentalists. A few months after moving in, they invited me to go hiking with them in Olympic National Park. I was lucky enough to have the loan of my parents’ small orange Datsun pickup, and could thus transport the gear. These folks evidently did this fairly frequently, as they had a routine: stop at the Port Angeles ranger station to get permits and check conditions, then hit the Safeway on the far side of town for supplies. You had to know about that Safeway because as you leave town it looks pretty dead and at first you’d wonder whether you’d be stopping for last minute groceries in some expensive store with no selection farther out on the Peninsula. Hours of driving, then a few miles up the Hoh. Flat hiking amid giant moss-covered cylinders, the sky moss, the ground moss, moss enveloping deadfalls and boulders. At the Happy Four a great widening of the river allows you to walk well out into its summertime bed, away from the forest. That first night, moonless, cloudless, I gazed into the sky. I had never been so distant from light pollution. But no! A band of cirrus! An approaching warm front and its attendant rain? Wait! The clouds weren’t moving. Could it be? It could only be! The Milky Way! I had never seen it! I wasn’t knowledgeable enough then to have the kind of epiphany I had at Granite Lake, but I certainly felt the novelty and emotional impact.

Rowhammer of God

You may have heard that “we are probably ‘living in’ a simulation”. The conceit is that any species that both develops sophisticated science and avoids the depressing solutions to Fermi’s Paradox will inevitably develop vast computational abilities. Thus, they will be able to simulate entire universes at the physical level, including conscious entities such as themselves. With sufficient fidelity, this consciousness will be “real”. Given that even one such species would be able to simulate untold quantities of universes with conscious entities, the vast majority of conscious entities in the universe “must” be simulated ones. If this kind of speculation amuses you, I recommend reading Neal Stephenson’s novel Fall. If you choose to do that, you will thank (for values of “thank” that may include “curse”) me if you first read his Cryptonomicon and System of the World (why? Three syllables: Enoch Root). Most of the discussions of this topic that I have seen assume that we could never, by definition, determine whether we are simulations. Various objections to this assumption exist such as “all simulations are code; all code has bugs, find the bugs, prove the simulation”. I prefer a more constructive approach to objection.

Now let us discuss e-ink. Its crisp black and white display comprises pixels, each a tiny sphere, half black, half white. Each sphere can be flipped so that either the black half or the white half is showing, providing a programmable monochrome display. These pixels are quite large compared to the nodes laid down on today’s integrated circuits. I challenge you to imagine various possibilities here: nano-traces could be written on the surface of the pixel-spheres, each its own microprocessor; instead of spheres use tiny cubes (or other polyhedra), each face a different color; make them even tinier and faster, for high-res videos.

As you know, computers are “merely” bunches of networks of electrical circuitry. A memory bit is essentially a tiny volume of electrical field held steady and controlled by clever arrangements of matter. These tiny volumes are jammed so tight you’d think they would interfere with each other, but part of the cleverness is arranging things so that they are immune to the expected proximity effects. However, if a programmer arranges for, say, a whole bunch of bits surrounding a target bit to flip between one and zero according to some clever pattern, it is possible to force that target bit to flip, independently of the normal control mechanisms. This is known as a rowhammer attack. Similarly, you might recall famous stories, from the olden days of computing, about how clever patterns of reads and writes on one of those refrigerator-sized disk drive cabinets could exploit natural resonances of the system, so as to “walk” the drive across the room.

Now, any computer running a simulation of us is going to have to compute whatever we do convincingly enough that it matches our understanding of our simulated physics. If we can impose excess load or complexity, or exploit the equivalent of resonances in the apparatus, the outcome would appear to us either as new physics or the supernatural. Who knows what it would take, maybe cubic light years of arrays of quantum dot e-ink screens playing random cat videos. The basic idea behind these rowhammer and disk drive antics is that no physical system, as we conceive of physics, is immune to clever interventions. I recall certain dialogs from Hofstadter’s Gödel, Escher, Bach, where the Tortoise repeatedly disassembles Achilles’ ever-more-sophisticated record players with carefully crafted platters. Let’s just hope the alien Sim-Universe players don’t reset to an earlier save if their computer room starts shaking.

Orbit All the Things

To get to a higher version number in the Space 2.x. series, we will need to go beyond simply (!) reusing rocket first stages, as SpaceX does with their Falcon 9 rocket (Space 2.0). A few other rocket companies are working towards partial reusability as well, but the approaching implementation of the very large and fully reusable rockets known as Starship and New Glenn is likely to so re-structure space launch that these smaller efforts (Ariane, Soyuz, Vulcan) will become inconsequential. Let us call this outcome Space 2.1.

Space 2.1, with its unprecedented reduction in launch costs, will likely exacerbate the orbital debris problem by triggering an exponential increase in the number of satellites. In early days of space exploration, little thought was given to the fate of spent upper stages and expired satellites. Today is different. These hulks occasionally collide, at high velocities, shattering into multitudes of fragments, each of which becomes a potential participant in future collisions. This situation leads eventually to Kessler Syndrome, analogous to criticality in a nuclear reactor. As we increase the number of expired objects in orbit, the collision rate increases to the point that a chain reaction occurs and an exponentially increasing number of flying shards reduces the expected lifetime of a launched payload to an interval far too short to justify launching it, essentially cutting off access to space, possibly for centuries.

Today, if you launch a satellite, you need to responsibly deal with the spent upper stage, and with the satellite itself once it expires. The main benefit from this regulation is to simply postpone Kessler Syndrome, as the number of orbiting objects still increases, all the more with Space 2.1. What is needed is an active program to remove expired objects from orbit. This is just as expensive, if not more so, as putting them there: you have to match orbits with your target, attach to it, and then burn propellant to give it Earth escape velocity or force re-entry. Fortunately, with Space 2.1, this becomes a lot cheaper, and realistic projects for actively preventing Kessler Syndrome can now be imagined, leading to a situation we might call Space 2.2.

Another consequence of the formerly prohibitive expense of space launch is that exploring the Solar System has mostly been a series of one-off probes, whether flybys or orbital missions. Orbiters give the best return, typically lasting a long time and providing a continuous stream of data about the conditions and dynamics of the body of interest rather than a snapshot. But orbiters are really tough to pull off. You need to pack enough propellant just to slow down and enter orbit – half or more of the total mass of the probe, mass that won’t be instruments. With Space 2.1 that is still the case, but at least the costs of all that extra mass are now much lower. An expanded series of Solar System orbiters can now be envisioned. Coincidentally, to pull off Space 2.2 (anti-Kessler) successfully, we will probably need to supersede the one-off mission concept, at least in Earth orbit. Once your anti-Kessler craft attaches to its target and burns propellant to de-orbit it, will also de-orbit, unless it does another burn to prevent re-entry. This additional burn requires having enough propellant left over from the original mission. With Space 2.1 it becomes conceivable to envision a refueling network, so that your very expensive anti-Kessler craft can, through frequent servicing by tankers, de-orbit dozens of hulks. It doesn’t take much imagination (although it would take a lot more engineering!) to extend this concept to maintaining a network of orbiters around all the planets and moons of interest, Space 2.3, if you will. Orbit All the Things!

Monetizing Belikeme

What blogger wouldn’t love to magically get paid for blogging? For $100 per post, I would post every workday. At 20 posts per month, that’s an annual gross of $24,000. I could halfway live on that. Hardly anybody makes even that kind of money blogging, though. If I toiled at monetization, I might occasionally find sponsors for posts on given subjects. Or I could embrace ads, although that seems scammy and is hateful. In this optimistic fantasy scenario, I might gross a thousand dollars a year, although a thousand pennies seems more likely. I would make much less than $15 per hour, enjoying only the few moments that actually involved writing. Sloth and abhorrence keep me from looking further into it, although I suppose I should do so if I want to entertain more than fantasy.

An alternative to magical pay-per-post is indirect revenue. What could I offer here that would attract someone to pay me for something else? I’m planning an algae-farming website that I hope to monetize, directly and as a consulting portal, so maybe belikeme could drive traffic there. Authors Charlie Stross and John Scalzi seem to use their blogs as indirect advertising. But the algae website should stand on its own, and as I write about mostly non-algae topics here, I envision trivial revenue at best from that approach. I might put together an algae-farming MOOC, but again, that’s an unrelated project, so any revenue provided by driving traffic there with belikeme would also likely be trivial. I could exploit the punnery in the title, and create videos in which I didactically demonstrate an eclectic mix of entertaining practicalities, exhorting viewers to be like me, but again, the probability of making a living getting paid to make videos seems low.

Riffing on that last bit, however, suggests some possibilities. Instead of just blogging, create e-art (ebooks, music, videos, images) that could be streamed for a fee or sold. Perhaps I could even create sellable physical objects. I need to overcome my sloth on this and do some research into how people who do make money with “blogging plus” actually manage that. Crowdfunding. App stores. Clearinghouses. A lot of these sites and approaches seem to charge too much and assume motivations and compliance on the parts of their desired clientele only distantly adjacent to my own expectations. Any work plan involving that ecosystem will assume such utilization is a stepping stone, supporting me until I devise my own money-bringing processes.

First, though, I would need to increase my blog traffic. While I have my own ideas for this project, I need to consult the oracle to gather more, and then actually implement some of them. I would start with the least time-consuming ones first. If my experience is any guide, any effort that succeeds will require increasing repetitions of that effort until the sigmoidal curve of reward v. effort flattens out. At this point in belikeme’s history, any success increasing traffic will seem exponential. Even trivial success will engender a sense of fulfillment, likely leading to complacency, vain hope and then disappointment, followed by more incremental effort.

Ultimately, I will need assurance that all this monetizing actually advances my goals. Granted, if I could gross $60K from part-time home-office blog-related toil I would ride that train, damn the humanity. With the likelihood of that scenario nil, until I stumble across an approach that works I’ll simply abandon any monetization effort that provides neither humanitarian payoff nor personal enjoyment. And, knowing myself, I will still hope for magic.

Carbon Footprints

Prolepsis: Global warming (GW) is real system response to the ongoing increase in atmospheric CO2 concentration, and is caused by human activity. If you suppose that you disagree, there’s plenty of internet real estate for you to express that feeling on; knock yourself out! Ocean acidification (OA) is another system response to increasing anthropogenic carbon loading. If you “believe” in OA but not GW, again: you can express those emotions on that same internet territory; you’ll probably get a lot of likes from the deluded yokel community. If you accept the overwhelming physical evidence that GW and OA are real and caused by human behavior, yet discount or deny the harm that will be the outcome of this particular example of humanity’s profligate socializing of environmental costs, or even make excuses about how bad some past natural disasters were (thus: so what!), let’s simply never bother to attempt any sort of communication with each other on this topic.

That said, we are embedded in a civilization that is currently dependent on burning excess fossil carbon. One reliable way to avoid being a totally shitty person in such a horrific environment is to simply strive to be better than our times. In the GW/OA context this means working to decrease our carbon footprint. If the amount of carbon burned on behalf of my lifestyle is lower than the global mean, then I am at least helping to move things in the right direction, especially if (as I am) I am a resident of a high-carbon-footprint country. If, further, as the legatee of considerable privilege, I spend some of that privilege helping move society in general towards reduced fossil carbon burning, then I am almost a hero (I say this ironically, knowing it is likely to be misinterpreted)! If you are privileged and are at least doing the first bit, thank you! If you are privileged and not doing either bit, well, fuck poor [sic] you and your hard [sic] life. Poor baby, your portfolio is so important. If you lack privilege and are doing either of the bits, bless you (if not, I get it: you deal with a lot of suck, more than I can know in both quality and quantity; plus you’re likely already on the lower end of the carbon footprint scale)!

Here’s what I’m doing. I haven’t owned a car for two years, while I’ve been living in Germany, where I bike to work, walk to shop, and rent a car for a few weeks a year when I really need it. Alas, I’ll be moving back to the US soon, to a city that is actively bicycle/pedestrian hostile. Fortunately (privilege warning) my wife is retired and we can probably get by with the one (compact) car. Even when we both had cars our total driving was much less than the US mean. I try to eat only a small amount of meat, mostly poultry and fish. I’ve blogged already about how I don’t like vegetables. This is a weakness I fully acknowledge, but I used to eat lots more meat, so I am improving. We keep our house pretty cool in the winter and don’t use air conditioning in the summer (except for installing a window unit in the spare bedroom when we have guests). I don’t have a job that I commute to daily (I have had them in the past and have done that). Instead of burning the planet to maintain my portfolio, I am attempting to help give birth to sustainable practices (I’ve blogged about this, too) that will swallow some carbon and make agriculture more carbon neutral or even carbon negative. What are you doing or not doing?

Lean, Clean Dean

Evidently, I lucked into good health, due in part to an advantageous genotype and salubrious development that have provided me with innate and learned abilities to be somewhat diligent in my diet, exercise, and hygiene. I don’t have chronic medical afflictions (well, since I moved to the US Mid-Atlantic from the Pacific Northwest I’ve suffered from a persistent mild nasal congestion). I grew up drinking fluoridated water and eating a relatively healthy diet. In my early teens (due to the influence of a certain aunt) I read the book Sugar Blues by William Dufty and wrote sweets out of my life for many years. I still don’t consume much sugary food, although I do live a little – occasional sweet pastries, ice cream, holiday cookies and pie, gourmet sodas.

I’ve always been somewhat active, often taking long walks around town, and enjoying frequent day hikes in the woods and mountains. For years, winter’s end triggered a season of multi-day backpacking excursions, usually in the Olympics or Cascades. However, I am not athletic. As a nerd I was picked on in PE class and school hallways by the jocks and cowboys, from sixth grade through high school. Consequently, I have avoided all team sports, and just being inside a sports facility, whether stadium, fitness center, or simple gym, provokes a strong sense of alienation. My fitness activities are thus essentially solo, or in groups of essentially solo participants. I strive to do some basic calisthenics five days a week, and in Germany I biked to work. Even when hiking in a group, I seek to lose myself in the experience – becoming “one in nature” rather than “one with nature”. For a while I attempted to pursue rock climbing. I enjoyed the technical challenge and the exhilaration, but the constant attentiveness required is incompatible with what I actually seek from outdoor activities.

For my diet, I strive to eat nutrient-dense foods whose production and transport have minimal negative environmental impacts (I’ve got to do a bit more studying on this but I do fancy that buying at the local farmers’ market is usually better from a carbon footprint standpoint, and is certainly great from a variety standpoint). Unfortunately, what I most enjoy eating, beef with potatoes and gravy, doesn’t really align with my aspiration. I thus must consciously strive to eat mainly plants, although I dislike most fruits and vegetables. This situation has required me to become a worthy cook. Worthy cookery demands substantial preparation and cleanup in order to convert ingredients I don’t crave into meals I look forward to eating. For day-to-day dining my approach is to produce a freezerful of tasty meat sauce portions, using those as a seasoning for carbs and vegetables in a stew-like concoction I call “glop”, in honor of my wife’s family’s dining traditions. Don’t bother me with fad diets such as Atkins and Paleo; instead, I practice a form of intermittent fasting. I exploit sources like Cook’s Illustrated, Good Eats, and Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking to guide my choice of ingredients and techniques. I feel somewhat guilty that I don’t buy organic as often as I might.

I floss, but didn’t use to. I usually take the stairs rather than the elevator. When walking to the store, I often take the long way rather than the more direct route. I may be slightly overweight (I also quite enjoy Oregon-style craft ales), nevertheless in my fifth decade I feel more fit than I did in my previous four. I continue to increase, on average, the reps and intensity of my exercises, and have even slightly reduced my beer consumption. If only I had started being so prudent in my twenties!

Auf Wiedersehen, Deutschland

It’s been two years since I started my two-year contract as a visiting scientist here in Germany, so I will be leaving soon. I have mixed feelings about this, but ultimately my family situation would have made it very difficult for me to continue with another contract, although I would have welcomed one. I would have preferred that my wife move here with me permanently, with occasional trips back to the US, but her friends and family are almost all in the US, and she has the opposite of social anxiety – she would do much worse “all alone” here than I have. The second-best solution, for her to spend half her time here, likely wouldn’t have worked either, due to various additional life complications that needn’t be related here. Finally, when I visited the US over Christmas, I realized that I hadn’t realized how much I missed various aspects of life with family and friends. Once I had self-quarantined and tested negative, I was within my “pod”, which I haven’t had in Germany. One major pleasure was the fact that the ingredients I most like to cook with were easily available in a way they are not in Germany. I gained substantial weight, more than half of which probably came from dishes that I didn’t really have the wherewithal to easily put together here.

As much as I love living in what I judge to be a much more civilized locale – I really do have almost entirely positive feelings for the local Germany-Netherlands-Belgium region – the day-to-day difficulties of language, combined with my already-blogged-about social anxiety and other weaknesses, do leave me feeling quite lonely and adrift. I certainly can live with that to some extent; as a loner-nerd some aspects of Covid-19 lockdown feel like they were made for me, although I would guess that most self-described loners no longer quite feel as much at-one with their asociality as they may have at the beginning of the pandemic. Returning to Germany after Christmas this year felt much less like coming home than it did last year (in fact, it was a slog I may blog about some day). Now that my fate is sealed, part of me can’t wait to finish tying things up here and getting back to Baltimore. Another part, of course, wishes I could have the best of both worlds. If I were wealthy, I could maintain my apartment here and simply use it as a base for annual travel.

Ultimately, I feel this is a positive development, or I can create that impression in my mind, or at least it’s not totally negative (as I said, I have mixed feelings; perhaps in some language there is a word that means “mixed, weird, mostly positive but with some negative, feelings” (Seltsamgutschlechtgefühl?)). I think my effectiveness at my chosen humanitarian effort was hampered by a mismatch between my abilities and responsibilities. Fortunately, I have some current projects ongoing that I will be able to increase my involvement with, and I am developing a specific project that I think I will be able to pull off, even with my acknowledged deficiencies. I think there is a good chance that here in Germany I have “seeded” a project that will be ongoing, which was at least my minimum goal, and I have learned (or confirmed) much about myself. My German, while still terrible, is much improved. I can often get the gist of paragraphs that I read. When listening to news in slow German I often understand many of the words, and sometimes recognize words that I know I don’t know the meaning of. I hope to continue my German studies: it will help keep my brain more plastic, which is desirable; I will not be giving up on the German studies I began in high school and briefly continued in college, giving me a sense of fulfillment; I hope my wife and I will be able to again indulge in our every-few-years European travel, likely with some part of that in Germany.

Deferred Interactivity

I’m not proud of the fact that I am not a gregarious person. I tend to be socially anxious, unless I’m with people I’ve known and liked for some time. When necessary I can compensate by “faking it”. While I don’t exactly embrace this characteristic about myself, I don’t think this has to be bad: a person is the way they are and shouldn’t always feel guilty about that (although I think that often society disagrees). However, for the sake of consideration, I’m willing to stipulate that social anxiety is not a desirable personality trait. Now, with some tendencies we may not like about ourselves, simply repeating the disliked behavior enough times can cure or eliminate the anathema. Perhaps the unliked activity builds up up metaphorical calluses, or exercises atrophied metaphorical mental muscles. For example, until recently I wasn’t a flosser. I’ve always known I should floss, much as I know I should (perhaps) interact better and more often with people. With flossing I started slowly, literally one tooth-gap the first day, two the second, etc., until I was doing the upper teeth one day and the lower teeth the next, and really hating it. The metaphorical scar tissue or muscles weren’t happening. It turns out that the floss I was using sucked, and when I started using a better floss, I immediately switched to doing the whole jaw every day, and I’ve kept it up.

With socializing, especially with strangers or just acquaintances, things are different. I have repeatedly gone from the rewarding sloth of minimum interaction, to increasing amounts of it, generally dictated by necessity (such as job situation), until a breaking point arrives. “Breaking point” may be an exaggeration; what I mean is that after enough of these interactions of necessity, there is a lull, that prompts my becoming overwhelmed (perhaps I exaggerate: suffused? permeated?) with feelings of relief and “I never want to do that again”. Perhaps this “lull” is partially self-created; I simply start backing off and avoiding participation in optional events. If frequent social interactions are again required soon thereafter, I really have negative feelings.

I use words like “perhaps” and “exaggerate” above to convey some skepticism about whether all this is necessarily a problem. Certainly, it makes various life situations more difficult, and certain career paths likely impossible. I will never be a glad-handing manipulator. Don’t get me wrong: I use those negative-connotation words to emphasize my own feelings. What for me are glad-handing and manipulation are for others sincere attempts to help people take advantage of mutually beneficial opportunities, although I don’t doubt that there are actual exploitative, zero/negative-sum glad-handing manipulators: they do suck.

Possibly ironically, I love public speaking. Maybe this is a dominance behavior. I am grandiose and have an agenda, and frankly I find most people haven’t thought through or properly studied the areas of my own interest and advocacy – to be sure many of them are more or less grandiose and have their own agendas – and they would benefit from listening to my perspective. To be fair, I usually take the attitude that I, too, would benefit from others’ perspectives. I am delighted to be found wrong about things that are important to me, if “found wrong” means as demonstrated using factual information and logical argument rather than self-righteousness and ideology. My ego may be the “improved floss” that encourages me in public speaking. Whether there is “improved floss” for me socializing somehow, I wonder.

Enchilada Sauce

In accordance with belikeme’s policy, I hereby exhort you to “be like me” with this post.

Suddenly hankering for enchiladas, I studied the first several (non-ad) hits from searching “enchilada recipe”. Evidently the sauce is a major determinant of success, so I instead pulled up the first few hits for “enchilada sauce”. Many of these flogged the “just 10 or 15 minutes” needed to complete the recipe. Reading further, I realized that these entries were based on tomato sauce, adding ground cumin along with onion, garlic, and chili powders, and whisking the spices with flour into a roux. I inferred they did this to easily achieve smoothness, but with so much liquid they needed the flour a thickener. I wasn’t interested in such a short cut, so I decided to start with diced tomatoes, adding actual onions and garlic, adjusting the thickness with stock (to thin) or tomato paste (to thicken) if needed. Doing some desultory web research, one garlic clove per half teaspoon of garlic powder seemed to be the consensus, so I doubled that (we’re not garlic freaks, but most recipe amounts of garlic don’t pack enough flavor for us). Similarly, I found that one tablespoon of onion powder corresponds to a medium sized onion. With this slight modification to the ingredient list, I was ready.

I make my own chile powder. Onions and garlic are great as-is, but roasting them adds a certain delectable smokiness to any vegetable. We were running low on roasted garlic, which we like to keep around for ad lib seasoning, so I tossed some onion chunks, garlic heads (with most of the skin removed and the tips sliced off) and carrots (for later – if I’m going roast things, might as well fill up the oven) in oil, and stuck them in a 425 °F oven. The sizes weren’t uniform, so I harvested the pieces as they got nice and brown. We were also low on chili powder, and our guests were not really aux fait (or is that por cieto?) with hot spiciness, so I made some of that too. Two kinds: one mostly mild guajillos, and the other a mix of chipotles, New Mexicos, and guajillos. For chili powder I take some dried chilis, and, using shears, cut off the stems, halve them lengthwise and scrape off the seeds, then cut the strips into small pieces and toast them in a cast iron pan until they are just about to smoke. Then I pulverize them in a coffee whacker (which is not a grinder, by the way).

To assemble the sauce I needed some stock, and as I was planning to make chicken enchiladas, I bought two rotisserie chickens at the grocery store, stripped off the meat and boiled down (way down) the meaty carcasses. When refrigerated, my stock is really stiff. The meat I chopped into small bits for assembling the enchiladas later. I made two portions of sauce, one mild, and one hotter. For each portion I put half a drained 28 oz can of diced tomatoes into a food processer, with about an onion’s worth of roasted onion and four large roasted garlic cloves. A quarter cup of chile powder, a teaspoon of ground cumin, and half a teaspoon of ground black pepper finished it off. I processed the whole mass down to a fine puree, a total of about 60 seconds, pausing to scrape down the sides a few times, then put the mix into a pan with 2/3 of a chicken’s worth of my condensed stock. It was pretty thick, so I added half the reserved tomato juice and some water, brought it to a simmer and let it cook for 20 minutes. When cool, I put it in the fridge for the next evening’s get-together. Next time I will add more heat to the “hot” chili powder, maybe double the amount, and double the number of garlic cloves.

The Cult of Dozenality

Among my super-aspirations is the adoption of base twelve, or “dozenal” for my arithmetic. Here I utilize the prefix “super” to imply I expect to never actually pursue this aspiration, or at least not to the point of actually calculating in dozenal routinely. Adopting various computational bases is of course routine in computer science, which runs on base two (binary), with bases eight (octal) and sixteen (hexadecimal) frequently used as easy shorthand for the fundamental base. Base twelve, however (formally “duodecimal” although as implied I prefer “dozenal”), doesn’t buy you anything in computer science; the supposed advantage is that 12 is evenly divided by 2, 3, 4, and 6, forcing fewer infinitely repeating decimal representations of fractions than the usual base ten (decimal). I’m not sure fewer infinite representations is that much of an advantage: fewer is not zero. Nevertheless, unless I am the victim of some variant of Poe’s law, some folks seriously advocate adoption of this boutique number base, citing further purported advantages you can read about on your own.

No, my super-aspiration has more to do with self-improvement. In my teens, I played with various techniques from The Memory Book by Lorayne and Lucas. These techniques do work, I enjoyed using them, and I still make limited use of some of them. For example, I use the so-called “Major” system to memorize a PIN or phone number. However, beyond simple daily uses I’m not convinced they are much more than mere stunts. If you really get into a topic, the mere repetition of recalling or re-looking-up needed information while studying does similar work. However, I do fancy that when one needs to quickly acquire a relatively high facility in a topic with lots of material to memorize, some of these techniques would be useful for getting up to speed.

In the Major system, you associate the digits 0-9 with consonants, then add vowels at whim to create mnemonic words that then help you memorize long numbers. For example, my German phone number is “boil doobie lich car”. I imagine myself boiling a doobie in my kitchen while looking out the window at what would normally (!) be a bunch of clowns piling into a car, except it is a bunch of lich monsters from Dungeons and Dragons. The so-called “person-action-object” (PAO) system (not described in Lorayne and Lucas) riffs on this groove by associating every two-digit number with a memorable person (whose name is derived from the numbers by the Major system) performing a stereotypical action, say “Santa handing out gifts”. With these pre-memorized mnemonics, you can then even more quickly memorize long numbers, or create multidimensional arrays of memorized items. Again, follow the links if you are interested.

My conceit is that I would derive a dozenal Major/PAO system from twelve, rather than ten, digits. Not to memorize long dozenal numbers (how often does one need to do that?), but to create 12 x 12 x … 12 arrays, so I could memorize arrays of 144, rather than 100, or 1,728, rather than 1,000 items, etc. As I say, this is super-aspirational, and I doubt I’ll ever pursue it seriously. I have gotten so far as to often do 6 or 12, rather than 5 or 10, tedious things at a time. A mundane, but satisfying aspiration.