Dysons Spheres, Chinese food, and shitty Time Warner
Thursday, October 15 2015
I gathered today's hefty 134.6 pounds of firewood in the late morning from the same place 80 feet below the north end of the Gullies Trail where I've been salvaging wood for the past several days. I noticed that the skeletonized oak I'd tried to cut down some days back had cracked through a partial cut I'd made, though it was still hung up on another tree. But now at least I had a loose chunk of wood from the bottom of its trunk that I can cut three or four pieces from.
Later in the day, I cut up a few stray sticks of wood from around the woodshed and added them to my now-substantial collection of firewood. I didn't weigh it, but it probably came to about 100 pounds. At this point, I probably have more wood in and sprawling from the woodshed than I ever had in the past (previous records with on the order of this amount of firewood being last year's and back in 2011).
This evening Gretchen and I drove over to Susan & David's place for what would ultimately be a meal at the Little Bear Chinese restaurant. First, though, Susan & David gave us a tour of the basement. With the exception of a staircase that required ripping out walls and installing new structural members, the basement didn't look terribly different from the way it had the last time I'd seen it months ago. Windows and plumbing have been installed, lots of indoor carpentry has been installed, and a key structural member has been replaced with a steel ibeam (not an Apple product!), but there's still no subfloor or insulation.
I should mention that David is also in the process of building a woodshed; it will be a little smaller than mine but have a floor. For some reason he has decided to build it outside the fenced-in dog yard near the front door, meaning he will have to carry his wood through a gate.
We took a seat in the lower "porch" area of the Little Bear (it appears to have once been an actual porch, but now it is enclosed and heated). The evening was perhaps the coolest one so far of the season, so we selected a table that looked to be warmer than the others (though this was more about lighting than actual air temperature). We weren't there long, though, before a big family arrived that included a young toe-headed boy [admit, it's funnier spelled that way!] and a child so young that he or she had to be carried in a container featuring a handle. Everyone else in our party was off in the bathrooms, so Susan and I made the executive decision to relocate to a table at the other end of the "porch," a move Gretchen enthusiastically endorsed when she returned.
Gretchen is still off her feed, but tonight she had an appetite that was willing to expand to include the chewy rice cake soup. I ordered a dish that was composed mostly of mushrooms and bok choy. It was alright, but in the future, I think I'll be getting something containing more protein. Dinner conversation lingered for a time on the subject of that star 1500 light years away with a weirdly-fluctuating light pattern that has been in the news for the past couple of days. There are no good theories to explain these light fluctuations, particularly given the absence of a strong infrared signal, so one wacky hypothesis being floated by respectable scientists is that perhaps the star is the center of a planetary system where an intelligent civilization is in the process of building a Dyson Sphere to capture as much of their stellar energy as possible. Though it's highly unlikely that this is the correct explanation for the data, I like the romance of it and am willing to ride it as long as it remains a possibility. So tonight over our Chinese food, I played it up as a possibility, hoping we really do turn our radio telescopes towards it and try to eavesdrop on their radio transmissions, if they exist (and aren't so compressed and encrypted as to be indistinguishable from noise). After David gave another one of his dour predictions that India and Pakistan will inevitably fight a regional nuclear war, I said that evidence for an advanced civilization building a Dyson Sphere would be good news, since it would imply that not all intelligent life forms are necessarily self-exterminating.
After dinner, we all returned to Susan & David's place. There was an imperial IPA in the back of their fridge, which was good news for me. It wasn't long before I found a small (though not tiny) tick embedded in the flesh on the left side of my chest (2.25 inches chinward from the center of my left nipple). I shouldn't've said anything, because Susan (who is a congenital worrier) insisted on getting it out with a special tool and then swabbing the site with antibiotic salve. But her technique for removing it involved rotating the tick around its bite site using a small plastic device that resembled the claws on a claw hammer, and this didn't seem to work at all. I finally just reached down and plucked the damn thing out with my stubby fingers. Easy-peasy. After that, Susan wanted me to keep the tick (perhaps in my freezer) in case I developed some disease from it, but I insisted we just kill it and throw it away. I've heard that Susan has a large tick collection in her freezer, and, while it might prove valuable for something some day, it's unlikely it will ever play a role in saving her from a tick-borne illness.
Meanwhile, the unstapled advanced readers' copies of David's new childrens' book have arrived, and he passed them out for us to see. They told the tale of a group of incredibly cure anthropomorphic animals responding to a group of equally-cute anthropomorphic bully animals by building themselves a theme park using heavy machinery. It's great, and I can imagine it selling well. Children's books are one of the few forms of books that cannot easily be replaced by electronic files or pirated via Bittorrent.
Somehow we got to talking about our favorite movements in Art History. Susan is a professional painter whose work is a modernly-whimsical take on Rococo, though her two favorite art movements are Etruscan and medieval German. Gretchen's favorite is German Expressionism, David's is Western American landscape, and mine is combination of Pre-Raphælite, Post-Impressionism, and Symbolist, though Gretchen reminded me of my appreciation for the magical paintings of Charles Burchfield. Susan was familiar with Burchfield, though she said his worked looked dated to her. She admitted that perhaps this was just a function of the way the pigments in his paints had faded over time. I knew what she meant by this, but suggested that she focus not on his many watercolors but on his oil paintings, some of which have a timeless hallucinatory quality. (It turns out that he didn't actually paint many if any oil paintings, though some of his watercolors have the persistent saturated hues of oil, and that's probably why I assumed they had been painted that way. See, for example, the painting that first drew me to Burchfield's work upon seeing it in a psychology text book.)
Towards the end of our time at their house, Susan and David complained at length about their Time-Warner cable service, which provides them television, internet, and a phone land-line. Apparently, the internet is out much of the time, the television is virtually unusable, and the phone is crap. When they call and complain (which they do a lot), they're told that perhaps sunspots are the problem. (At that point I rhetorically asked, "So what star would you suggest we orbit?" which Gretchen found so funny that, after gaining control of her laughter, she claimed was the funniest thing she had ever heard.) Gretchen insisted that they call up Time Warner and threaten to move to Verizon DSL and DishNet, demanding that they get a refund for all the months of shitty service. We know from all the plaintive offers sent by DirecTV, our erstwhile satellite television provider, that there is nothing these companies want less than to lose a customer, and if one seems certain to leave, they will offer huge incentives not to. Of course, one sort of has to have the steely negotiating ability of a Gretchen to pull this off; I have my doubts that Susan or David (or, for that matter, I) is/am up to the task, so I suggested they have Gretchen make the call for them. But that didn't happen tonight.
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