An undistinguished year

Let’s take a look back at 2023….

Nah, let’s not.

… Just a few highights, then.

Excitement

Most of the thrilling action around here this past year happened in the garden. I summarize it here.

Music

This year’s musical discovery was guitarist Takeshi Terauchi, who formed his first group 60 years ago. If Dick Dale had been Japanese, he might have sounded like Terauchi.

Dick Hyman’s 1975 recordings of Scott Joplin’s music were finally re-released in their entirety this year. Jed Distler says that they’re the best, and he may be right. Previously my preferred Joplin recordings were William Albright’s — which are good (and Albright’s own ragtime music is worth investigating) — but Hyman’s are more alive and colorful, and swing better. Hyman is a jazz pianist, and it shows, particularly in his improvisations on Joplin’s rags.

Entertainment

This fall there were two first-rate anime series broadcast simultaneously. Most years there are none. If Frieren and The Apothecary Diaries maintain quality in their continuations, they are both potential classics.

Books

Most of what I read was disappointing, and what wasn’t I haven’t finished yet. The most curious was Roger Scruton’s Fools, Frauds & Firebrands, in which Scruton summarizes, as far as it can be done, the philosophical underpinnings of radical leftism. I have a hard time with philosophy; it’s often difficult to believe that most of it isn’t ultimately just complicated word games. Scruton’s book doesn’t help. Although he writes clearly and engagingly, the people whose ideas he analyzes come across as a bunch of pompous loonies proclaiming nonsense. It’s possible that Scruton is unfair to his subjects, but other things I have read by him indicate that he is generally a reasonable, temperate man. Scruton on Slavoj Žižek:

We should not be surprised, therefore, when Žižek writes that ‘the thin difference between the Stalinist gulag and the Nazi annihilation camp was also, at that moment, the difference between civilization and barbarism.’ His only interest is in the state of mind of the perpetrators: were they moved, in however oblique a manner, by utopian enthusiasms, or were they moved, on the contrary, by some discredited attachment? If you step back from Žižek’s words, and ask yourself just where the line between civilization and barbarism lay, at the time when the rival sets of death camps were competing over their body-counts, you would surely put communist Russia and Nazi Germany on one side of the line, and a few other places, Britain and America for instance, on the other. To Žižek that would be an outrage, a betrayal, a pathetic refusal to see what is really at stake. For what matters is what people say, not what they do, and what they say is redeemed by their theories, however stupidly or carelessly pursued, and with whatever disregard for real people. We rescue the virtual from the actual through our words, and the deeds have nothing to do with it.

No more spinning beachballs

I’ve had my new laptop for two weeks now. Articles on switching from Apple to Windows recommend that you quit using your old Mac cold turkey, and that has been easy. Windows 11 feels very Mac-like, and I’ve had little trouble finding my way around. The new computer is also much, much faster than the aging iMac, thanks to solid-state drives. I can check my mail thirty seconds after turning the laptop on; with the old Mac, I had time to shave and fix breakfast before I could delete the morning spam. Whenever I do use the old Mac, everything happens in slow motion. (I expect that the current generation of Apple computers with SSD drives are as fast as my new Windows machine, but the prices range from Too High to Absolutely Ridiculous, and they generally aren’t upgradable.)

With one major exception, most of the software I used on the Mac has Windows versions which I could — usually — install on the new computer without buying again. (The exception is Logic, the digital audio workstation that I’ve been using for over twenty years. It is Apple-only, and it is the only remaining good reason for using a Mac.) Sometimes the installations went smoothly. Applied Acoustics Systems conveniently assembled all the instruments I’ve bought over the years into a single file to download, which installed everything in the right places and authorized them, all at once. They get an A+. Native Instruments’ installer also got it right the first time, which is important when the total download is nearly 600 gigabytes and needs to be split across two drives (the applications on the main drive, the samples and soundware, which constitute the bulk of the downloads, on the capacious external drive). NI also gets an A.

IK Multimedia, however, gets a D. The installer for their “product manager” would not launch the first few times I tried. Re-downloading it didn’t make any difference. Just before I sent IK an angry note, I tried once more, and this time it worked and installed the installer. The total IK download was about 450 gigabytes, and as with NI, it was also to be spread across two drives. However, the product manager screwed things up. Although I told it that the sounds were to go on the external drive, it ignored me and put most of them on the main drive. Fortunately, it was easy, albeit tedious, to fix: copy all the misplaced files to the correct folders, launch each application one by one and tell it where to find the sounds, and delete the superfluous files.

Embertone gets a C-. Here again you need to download an installer. Unfortunately, the link to that installer goes to “This site can’t be reached.” I finally heard back from the company yesterday and all is now well, but they need to update their website.

Graphics software was more of a problem. If I am going to continue to use Photoshop Elements, I will have to purchase it again (like hell I’m going to “subscribe” to anything Adobe). I think I’ll see if Affinity Photo (cheap) or GIMP (free) will do what I need. Topaz Labs does make their “legacy” filters available for download on their site, but the installers put them in random places. You have to track them down and manually move them to the right plugins folder for Photoshop to find them. I may be looking for alternatives for Topaz. Filter Forge doesn’t offer legacy downloads, and you need to purchase the most recent version to install it on a new computer. Adobe, Topaz and FF all get C’s or worse. Other specialized software vendors are more responsible, fortunately; Helicon Focus, PanoramaStudio and Photomatix were all easily installed and get A’s.

Not everything about Windows is delightful. The task bar is stuck at the bottom of the screen where it constantly gets in my way, and, as far as I can tell, it is not possible to move it to the side in Windows 11, as I could the dock on my Mac. Special symbols like a degree sign or an em-dash are simple three-key combinations on a Mac keyboard, but require either an easily-forgotten alt-plus-(number pad) digits sequence or scrolling down a menu to insert. I use a lot of dashes when I write, and this is a damned nuisance.

Notes on life offline

Some new neighbors have moved in the next street over.

***

Most of the plants I started this year are perennials which will take a year or two to reach blooming size. However, a number have flowered already. Currently, Helianthus mollis, the “ashy sunflower,” is putting on a good show. The plant has a more refined appearance than most sunflowers. According to what I’ve read it’s inclined to be rambunctious, so I’ve got it in the dry far corner of the yard where its aggressiveness will be a virtue.

Continue reading “Notes on life offline”

Still cuckou after all these years

Twenty years ago today I launched my first weblog, Mixolydian Mode.1 I intended to write mainly about books and music. My gimmick was that I would post a simple MIDI arrangement of a traditional, public domain melody every day. I never wrote all that much about what I read or listened to, but I did post a tune a day for over a year. Finding and arranging the tunes became tedious; I eventually reduced the frequency I with which I posted them, and finally quit altogether. There are over 600 of these MIDI files gathered here. Some of them are transcriptions of old music, but the vast majority are my own arrangements.

The first tune I posted, on April 14, 2003, was the thirteenth-century round, “Sumer is icumen in.” Here is the file. Back then, if your browser wouldn’t play a MIDI file, QuickTime would. This is no longer true. Here is the tune as an mp3, which should work in all browsers.

Here are the lyrics, if you’d like to sing along:

Sumer is ycumen in,
Loude sing cuckou!
Groweth seed and bloweth meed,
And springth the wode now.
Sing cuckou!

Ewe bleteth after lamb,
Loweth after calve cow,
Bullock sterteth, bucke verteth
Merye sing cuckou!
Cuckou, cuckou,
Wel singest thou cuckou:
Ne swik thou never now!

The first several years of the twenty-first century were the golden age of blogging. Even though I never had much to say, my site got a lot of traffic and a lot of links. At one point I was receiving over 400 hits a day, and it’s possible that most of them were actual visitors, not just bots. Sure, Glenn Reynolds got that many hits in a minute, but out here in the backwaters of the internet, that wasn’t bad. That golden age is long over, and I get less and less traffic every year. I expect that when I observe the twenty-fifth anniversary of my weblog, I may get a hit every other day from an actual human visitor (and a hundred from the multitudinous bots every hour).

Soon after starting Mixolydian Mode I discovered that some Japanese animation is worth watching (most isn’t, of course; Sturgeon’s law applies here as it does everywhere else). This led to contact with Steven Den Beste and the eccentrics who hung out at his place. Steven quickly became my most prolific commenter. Soon I began a second weblog for my anime explorations, so that readers of my main weblog who weren’t fascinated by all things Japanese would not be subjected to my obsessions.

Back when I started posting online, Blogger and Safari didn’t get along, and WordPress didn’t exist. Instead, I used the now-forgotten pMachine. It worked well for a while, but eventually it became impossible to efficiently clean up the spam comments that increasingly infested the blogosphere. When the pMachine people abandoned the free version of their software, it was my cue to move to WordPress. In April 2007 I re-launched my weblogs, calling them now “Zoopraxiscope” and “The Kawaii Menace.” Some time after that I merged the latter into the former so I just had one weblog to maintain. The original weblogs no longer exist. Some of the highlights are collected in the “ancient texts” in the sidebar at right. There are snapshots at the Wayback Machine for the morbidly curious.

Since 2007 I’ve paid for my webhosting, so that visitors are spared ads and I have adequate online storage and control over my websites. Some hosts are more reliable and ethical than others, and I’ve occasionally had to move my weblog. The WordPress migration tools don’t always work perfectly, and quite a few of the pictures from years past have disappeared into the aether. All the text since April 14, 2007 is still archived, though.

Blogging has changed over the past twenty years. As I recall, it used to be more social, more fun, more frivolous. You could discuss the ramifications of a recent political outrage, and then post the results of silly Quizilla quiz, or play tag with other bloggers. Quizilla is gone now; webrings are forgotten; St. Blog’s Parish has lost most of its parishioners. Part of the change is probably due to foolishness and triviality migrating to Facebook and other slums, and part of it may be due to the medium maturing, but I sometimes miss the old days.

There are those who are no longer with us. Steven, Charles G. Hill, Shamus Young, Wonderduck2 — all of them are missed, along with Zippy Catholic, Gerard Van der Leun and others. And then there are those who took their blogs private or just stopped posting altogether. I sometimes wonder how the Rat Maiden is doing these days, or Kashi, or the crack young staff at the Hatemonger’s Quarterly.

I’ll continue posting spasmodically until Big Sister takes my computer away from me or a Carrington event crashes electronic civilization. The frequency of posting will probably steadily diminish, but I’ll continue reading, watching, weeding, grumbling, thinking cynical thoughts, and taking pictures of everything.

2022: Gardening

2020 was a rotten year, when I lost what little remaining faith I had in government, journalism, medicine, the Church hierarchy, academia and scientists. 2021 was a transitional year, when I at last escaped the big city. In 2022 I could finally relax and devote my attention to matters beyond immediate emergencies and the end of civilization. Let’s take a look back at 2022, starting with the garden.

I focused on annuals this year, not entirely by choice. I did order some perennials from a couple of online sources, but that did not end well. I asked nursery #1 to ship my plants at the end of March. They didn’t. I sent them emails in April and May and received no replies. Finally, in June, when the weather here was too hot for planting, I heard from them. There had been some sort of catastrophe in their office, but it was finally all sorted out, and should they send my plants now? I told them to cancel the order, and I will shop elsewhere in the future.

I ordered several daylilies from nursery #2. The large, healthy roots arrived on time, and I expected great things from them. I was disappointed. Hemerocallis generally are foolproof. They’ll grow almost anywhere under almost any conditions and bloom profusely. Mine did not thrive, however. One died; the others hung on, but were weaker at the end of summer than when I planted them.

The problem, I think, was that the ground was poisoned. My predecessors here had used the bed where I planted the daylilies as a place to display kitschy little statues. When I moved in, the ground there was covered by lava rock over sheets of black plastic. Apparently they applied a strong, long-lasting herbicide to the ground before laying the plastic, and enough of it lingered deep in the soil to damage plants with large roots. Come spring, if the daylilies are still alive, I’ll transplant them elsewhere, and plant shallow-rooted annuals there for a few years.

On a whim, I picked up a handful of bagged perennials at Walmart. Cheap though they were, they were still overpriced. The plants, or fragments of roots, were small and weak. Nevertheless, enough survived to make the purchases worthwhile. In a few years I should have a nice collection of hostas.

Most of the reliable annuals — poppies, Phacelia, dahlberg daisy, cosmos, etc. — performed well. The exception was Gilia tricolor; normally every seed sprouts, but this year not one germinated. I presume it was a bad batch of seeds. The experiments were partially successful. Mentzelia lindleyi produced brilliant yellow flowers for a month, but the plants were scraggly and unattractive. Nolana paradoxa had fine blue flowers, but they weren’t as profuse as I had hoped. The morning glories took forever to set flower buds, and when they finally did, it was too late.

Some of the bulbs I planted in the fall of 2021 did well, and some didn’t. The lilies put on a good show, as did Allium christophii. About half the Walmart daffodils bloomed, and only two of the 35 species tulips. Fall and early winter last year were freakishly warm, and perhaps with normal cold weather at the proper time they would have done better. (But there is no such thing as normal Kansas weather.)

This year I will focus on perennials. I’ve already ordered too many seeds from Prairie Moon Nursery. Indoors, there may be more orchids when there is room under the lights again. 1

A quiet anniversary

A year ago this week I escaped from Wichita.

Overall, it was a good move. The neighborhood here is quiet. I can read without interruption, listen to music without competing noise, and sleep without being awakened by cruising subwoofers at 2 a.m. And I have an entire house to myself, with a real yard, an extraordinary luxury after years in a duplex. I don’t have to worry about my neighbors playing loud video games or bad music when I need to sleep.

Although where I now live is one of the larger cities in Kansas, it’s still much smaller than Wichita, and saner. In Wichita nearly everyone wore masks everywhere. It was common to see individuals driving alone with the car windows up wearing masks. When I weeded my tiny garden in front of the duplex, masked passers-by made ostentatiously large detours around me, sometimes walking into the street to avoid my malign aura. It was hard not to laugh. There’s been little of that silliness here. I’ve never seen any of my neighbors with masks. Some people still wear the stupid things at stores, generally either the very old or the compliant young and their unfortunate children, but they’re a minority.1

There are drawbacks, of course. I live literally on the wrong side of the tracks, and trains run frequently. I need to leave extra early for appointments lest I get stuck at a crossing. There are fewer stores of any kind, and those that are here generally don’t have selections as extensive as their big-city counterparts. I can find acceptable basic wines and bourbons at the best local liquor store, for instance, but not sherry or port, or Blanton’s. In general, if it’s not at Home Depot, Walmart or the local Kroger affiliate, I have to order it online. And I’m still in Kansas, where there is no such thing as normal weather.

Nevertheless, the inconveniences are more than compensated for by the quiet. I feel more at home here than I ever did in Wichita.

X marks the spot

California poppies have distinctive forked cotyledons, and seedlings look like little green X’s on the ground.

Winter is leaving at last — I hope — and I can finally start rehabilitating the badly neglected quarter-acre on which I now live. Posting will continue to be light as I prune, rake, dig, cuss, plant and dig some more.

There are two garden centers in town. Both are inconveniently distant, and neither has much of what I need. Fortunately, there are a Walmart and a Home Depot within easy reach. I’ve had better luck with them, but it’s still often frustrating. Walmart, for instance, has a surprising good selection of neatly packaged perennials for seemingly excellent prices. I found Eryngium and two kinds of Tricyrtis, neither of which I’ve ever seen in any Wichita store. However, they’re Walmart quality. If the package says it contains three roots, expect two. If it says two, one will be small and the other just a fragment or missing entirely. It’s not entirely a bad deal; these plants typically cost three times as much from online sources, and if they survive, they’ll put on a good show — eventually. But unless you have more patience than money, look elsewhere for your plants.

Hurry up and wait

Moving to a less urban area does have drawbacks. E.g., active railroad crossings. This train blocked my route for a half-hour earlier today. I would guess that it was traveling between five and ten miles per hour, say seven-and-a-half mph, so I watched roughly three and a half miles of train.

Elsewhere

I’ve finally escaped from Wichita. I now live in a city an order of magnitude smaller in a neighboring county, where I don’t hear boom cars and shouting strangers all evening. It will no longer be convenient for me to visit the botanical garden in Wichita, but quiet nights are compensation.

Waiting for me in the front yard when I moved in was the puffball above. I’d guess it’s either Calvatia fragilis or Calvatia cyathiformis. It was at its prime yesterday while my camera was packed away, and was starting to deflate this morning when I finally got a picture.

Also waiting for me were a couple of peony plants in their prime.

Two-thirds of spring

These are the three signs of spring in Kansas: ants in the house; lawnmowers; and, tornado warnings. I spotted the first ant a few days ago. Today, Sunday morning, at 8:40, two guys attacked the yard next door with edger, blower and lawn mower. All we need now is a real tornado, and spring will be fully here.

How thoughtful…

… of the earth to make sure I got up in time this morning despite the clocks all being wrong.

Update:

This makes four quakes in one day, a record for me. (The red dot is the one I felt a few minutes ago, not the one listed in red.)

Update II: It’s not stopping. There were two more this Monday morning. This isn’t exactly an Icelandic level of seismic activity, but it’s not like Kansas, either.

Spring has sprung …

… or has it? The tornado sirens were howling a few minutes ago, and the phone just blared a “severe weather” warning. Here’s the radar:

Another view:

See the storm? Neither do I. It’s not officially spring until the first real tornado warning, so it’s still technically winter here.