Archive for December, 2020


Mushroom, Apple, and Cherry Pie

So on Christmas itself (which was I think just yesterday) we had all the traditional stuffs, including presents and a nice and relatively simple ham dinner. On a whim I got a Sweet Potato Pie from the grocery, and that was good (and less work). And experimentally I prepared the partly-computer-generated Mushroom Pie from All Reality.

The thing that delighted me most, perhaps, was that I grabbed the wrong bottle at first, and ended up cooking a cup of mushrooms in brown sugar, corn starch, and Ricard anise pastis, which apparently smelled rather memorable. The little daughter noticed I’d grabbed the wrong bottle, and so I did it again with rum per the recipe (see below), but ending up with a cup of mushrooms cooked in licorice liqueur on the side was definitely a highlight. As I pointed out on the Twitters, if one had just paid say $32 for them at a fancy restaurant, one would say “oh, these are exquisite”.

For those who somehow haven’t memorized the recipe, or even somehow haven’t read the book (I’m kidding here; probably no one has read the book), here it is:

Farmer McDowell’s recipe for her famous Midpoint Mushroom, Apple, and Sour Cherry Pie

1 pie shell, to bakea pie
1/3 cup brown or molasses sugar
2 Tbsp cornstarch
1/3 cup rum
1 cup morel or similar mushrooms, sliced
1 cup Qualification sour cherries
2 Midpoint green apples, sliced thinly
1 hen’s egg, beaten
1/2 cup nuts or as you will

Heat the oven to 375°F or Mark 5.

While the pie shell is baking, heat together the brown sugar, cornstarch, and rum in a small saucepan. Cook until they are smooth and bubbling. Add the morels and cook until they’re tender. Let it cool slightly.

When the oven is up to temperature, remove the pie shell, and fill with the brown sugar rum morel mixture. Top with the cherries, apples, egg, and any nuts. Bake for another 30 minutes, until the egg is set and the top is golden.

As I’ve mentioned somewhere or other else recently, I don’t remember how much of this was me and how much was GPT-3 the AI. I think I gave it the title, it produced a version of the ingredients and instructions, and I adjusted the language but not the underlying recipe (i.e. the same amounts and basic ingredients and steps).

Half-baking the pie shell first was a bit odd; the edges folded in on themselves a bit. That may have been my own lack of experience in baking an empty pie shell though.

If you cook the mushrooms in the rum and cornstarch for long enough, it rather suddenly stops having any liquid in it, and becomes rather tender mushrooms coated with a thick sweet rum glaze, which is interesting. Stopping a bit before that might have resulted in there being more moisture for the apples especially to participate in later on.

I didn’t have morels, which might have produced a (what?) smokier flavor, but the baby Portabellas that I lazily got pre-sliced from the grocers worked fine. I didn’t have Qualification Sour Cherries, as they are fictional, or any sour cherries for that matter, but random red cherries also worked fine. Similarly about 1.75 Granny Smith apples worked in place of the Midpoint Greens. I didn’t add any nuts.

The result is interesting, somewhere between a pie and a tart, with a novel layer on the bottom, and then cherries and slightly dried-out apple slices with random bits of them coated with cooked egg on top. It might have worked better to mix the cherries and apple slices and egg all together for a more even coating, or even to mix everything with the rum and mushroom mixture before putting into the crust.

As it was, the cherries and apples were good, but I thought rather in a “one might just as well have eaten the ingredients separately” sort of way. Although they did go well with the rum and mushroom part, flavor-wise. The little daughter, who has standards and does not mince words, said that she thought it was pretty good, so that’s basically a triumph.


Christmas Eve, 2020

Continuing the tradition of recent years, of doing various New Year things at Christmas time instead, we made 158 dumplings today. This compares plausibly to the mere 113 in late 2019, the 161 in early 2018, and so on, back to say the 140 in 2007 and so on back into the Time of Mists.

some Chinese-style dumplings on trays waiting to be boiled(We also gathered a new statistic, and determined that between the four of us, now all nominally adults for some years, we ate just about 107 of them for dinner. We are rather full. Probably any dessert will have to wait.)

Yesterday we made the Christmas Cookies, using a recipe card from Sherbrooke Village in Sherbrooke, Nova Scotia, that has inter alia a hand-written note at the bottom saying to save a certain reindeer-shaped cookie for Christmas Day, in 1996.

Which was like ten years ago, right?

Tomorrow we’ll be Opening Presents, making a nice modest ham dinner, eating (store-bought, woot!) Sweet Potato Pie, and being amused by my attempt to bake Farmer McDowell’s Famous Midpoint Mushroom, Apple, and Sour Cherry Pie, from a computer-generated recipe in my 2020 NaNoWriMo novel. We don’t have any sour cherries (is that even a thing?) but I have the feeling that that’s not going to be the main snag. :)

A small Christmas tree on a tableWe have the pretty little artisanal tree up on a table this year, where it looks rather nice, and the usual Christmas playlists are playing on the stereo from various Apple and Android devices. The stockings, also, are hung by the chimney with care!

We’re very lucky to have all four of us together, having been able to take sufficient precautions and exercise sufficient waiting periods to be comfortable being together in the house without regard to distance. Kind and underpaid people bring various things and put them on the front porch, and we tip generously, if not sufficiently.

I am on vacation for quite awhile, because I booked it before I realized that the new employer (new as in a mere seven or so years now) doesn’t do anything special to vacation days at the end of a year. So I needn’t have, but it’s nice.

The world is strange. I have been paying altogether too much attention to the vile acts of the outgoing President, and to the various crackpot theories of those of his remaining followers who either believe or just loudly declare that he will continue to be President after January 20th. Fortunately this seems unlikely, but it will be a great relief when he is finally and thoroughly out of power. I could write quite a bit about all of that, but at the moment I don’t think it would be healthy.

It has been such a year, for so many people. I’ve suffered comparatively little, as I undeservedly tend to; many other people have suffered undeservedly much more. There are so many hopeful signs at the moment that I almost dare to be optimistic. But I’m going to try to resist that until say February, and just Hang In There and tip well in the meantime.

I miss Manhattan! As I may have mentioned before, I have snuck in for a day on my own just wandering around (and avoiding Indoor Dining) a couple of times during this Very Long Month of March, but at the moment it doesn’t look like a terrific idea this month. We went in the other day to pick up the little daughter, the boy and I did, but didn’t even get out of the car to speak of.

Get those vaccines distributing! I want to ride a crowded subway train, sit crammed into a corner table listening to live jazz, drop into a familiar bagel store for the first time and get an onion bagel with whitefish (not toasted).

I may go for a long drive in the suburban countryside sometime in the next several days, just to see things I haven’t seen recently, and get a feeling of movement.

And I should meditate! This is almost always true. :) Meditation and sleep have in common that they are easy to do, and I love doing both of them, and also tend to put off both for as long as possible. The main difference being that sleep is much more insistent.

Blessed Solstice, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah, Happy Holidays, and Bonus Novus Annus to all!

Here’s to a very different 2021. <3


Basic Bagels

Yes, these are New York Style bagels, because there are no other bagels. Anything else is just small toroidal loaves of bread, with which one might as well not really have bothered. This is similar to the way that one can get some rather tasty Chicago-style cheese-and-tomato-sauce-bread, but not actual pizza.

(I’ve been reading Nancy Mitford, and there may be the odd little Britishism sneaking into my diction here and there.)

This recipe for six; it can be straightfowardly doubled for a dozen, or two-thirds’d for four.

Three bagels in dough formSix Bagels

1 1/4 cups warm water
1 Tbs or ~2 packet active dry yeast
3 Tbs sugar
2 Tbs veg oil
1 tsp salt
5 C or so (bread) flour
One pot of water
2 Tbs or so of barley malt syrup (or honey)

Dissolve yeast and sugar in warm water, gradually add flour, oil, and eventually salt, until it begins to be dough. Do not add the entire 5 cups of flour; stop when the dough is kneadable but not dry.

Knead the dough well, and then put into a covered bowl to rise for an hour in a warm draftless place, or a couple of hours in a cool draftless place, or (ideally) overnight in the refrigerator.

Punch down and form into six tori. I find the best way to do this is to make six spheres, and then flatten each one, poke a hole in the center, and spin it around a bit on your fingers to make the hole gently larger.

(There is also the “make a snake and then convince the head and tail to stick together” method, but I find (perhaps especially when the air is dry) that this results in croissant-shaped bagels distressingly often.)

Let these rest while you preheat the oven to 450 degrees (F), boil the pot of water, and dissolve the barley malt syrup in it.

Once the water is boiling, lower the bagels in (likely three or so at a time, depending on the sizes of your pot and your tori), and boil for about one minute per side, turning them over halfway through (obviously).

Put the boiled bagels onto a sheet of baking paper on a cookie sheet.

Once the bagels are boiled and the oven is hot enough, put the cookie sheet (the one that the bagels are on) into the oven (most likely on the middle rack) for something like 15-20 minutes, or until just before the bottoms get too dark. Let cool on a wire cooling rack (or, you know, whatever).

The boiling is the key part of the recipe, and what makes them bagels rather than just weird small bread loaves. The barley malt syrup is supposedly extremely key, but I admit I’ve done it with honey instead and I won’t swear that I could tell the difference. I’ve also entirely forgotten to put anything into the water, and they were still, I would say, actual bagels.

If you compare this recipe with yesterday’s Basic Bread, you may suspect that some of the quantities don’t entirely make sense, and you may be right. The amount of flour is especially approximate; purists will know that it’s really the weight of the flour and not the volume that matters, and I don’t know the weights that I use, I just sort of put in more flour until it seems about right.

All Purpose Flour may be used instead of Bread Flour, and it will be easier to knead and somewhat less chewy and bagel-like (but still bagels) as a result.

You may use barley malt syrup instead of some or all of the sugar. This is said by some to be even more authentic, but note that (1) the substitution ratio is for you to figure out, (2) barley malt syrup is considerably harder to obtain than sugar and if you do this you will run out faster, and (3) if you keep your syrup in the refrigerator after opening (which one in instructed to do), you will want to warm it up and dissolve it in the water, rather than attempting to incorporate a basically solid lump of cold syrup into your flour mixture.

And that’s it! It’s really not a big mystery, which leads one to wonder why the things sold as “bagels” in (for instance) Florida, appear to be small toroidal loaves of bread instead. Possibly it’s something about the water, in which case I can only advise using water from within say 80 miles of New York City in the above recipe, just to be on the safe side.


Basic Bread

I love baking, especially bread baking. I’m sure I’ve told the story before about how we came early to a friend’s party back in college to help with preparations, and she handed my a 3×5 card and said “Okay, you can make the bread”. I’d never made bread before, so that was rather terrifying, but the bread came out delicious. It did have some dense bands because the baker was clueless, but as it was a rich sweet bread the bands were good.

The recipe for that exact bread is a secret, but I’ve posted (long ago) a recipe that eventually evolved away from it far enough that I felt okay posting: Our Golden Bread. It’s a sweet buttery bread, and amazing both for dessert and for sandwiches. I’ve also made various cheesy breads and eggy breads and things over time.

The other month, for some reason, I decided to write down an extremely basic bread recipe (I think there was some reason, but I’m not sure what it was; maybe it was in the uncertain beginning of the pandemic, and I was figuring out the fewest ingredients we’d need to make our own bread if we had to).

It’s not the simplest possible bread recipe (it has more sweetening and oil than it strictly-speaking needs just to be bread), but it is simple. This is it:

Sun shining on a slice of breadBasic Wheat Bread

2 cups warm water
2 tsp or 1 packet active dry yeast
1/4 cup sugar
2 tsp vegetable oil
5-6 cups wheat flour
1/2 tsp salt

Sugar can be reduced to like a teaspoon if you really want to, and vegetable oil can conceivably be left out entirely. Up to half (or all, if you’re bold) of the flour can be Whole Wheat. The flour can be “all purpose” or “bread flour”, and you might or might not notice the difference. Salt is optional, but it’ll be a bit bland with none.

Add the yeast and sugar to the warm water and let it sit for awhile if you feel like it, so the yeast can start doing its thing. Add the vegetable oil and enough flour (two cups or so) that the mixture is like thickish mud. Add the salt last (because it discourages the yeast to some extent).

Give this “sponge” (the muddy mixture) about 100 strokes with a wooden spoon (hey, I like wooden spoons), to incorporate a good amount of air into it (whatever that means, really), and then cover with a warm damp cloth and let rise at least 45 minutes somewhere warm and not windy; inside your oven (when the oven is not on) is good for instance.

Take it out and add more flour until it feels like dough; not quite sticky but not dry. Knead it (probably with floured hands on a slightly floured board) until it feels right; ideally sort of silken and alive. Put it back into the bowl (generally using a touch of oil or butter or cooking spray on both the inside of the bowl where the dough will be sitting, and on the top of the dough itself, for some reason), cover the bowl with a warm freshly-damp cloth, and let it rise in a warm and windless place for another at least 45 minutes.

Punch it down and form it into either one or two loaves (one will be quite large, two will be more normal), and put the loaf or loaves into the corresponding number of lightly oiled or cooking-sprayed or buttered bread pans. Let the loaf or loaves rest in the pan or pans while the oven pre-heats to 350 degrees F.

Put the pan or pans into the oven, on the middle rack I suppose, for 40 or 60 minutes, until it seems done, the bottom thumps nicely, and so on.

Remove from pan or pans and let cool on a cooling rack or whatever until you feel like cutting it open.

And that’s the recipe! You can play with pretty much anything from there; substitute an egg or milk for some of the water, fold in some cool butter instead of the oil, substitute honey for some or all of the sugar, add things like cheese and raisins and vanilla extract and so on.

I was going to include the bagel recipe in this post also, but I think that’ll be tomorrow.

(Partly because just getting WordPress to slightly indent the recipe (and then use a very slightly smaller interline spacing while I was in there) was such a ridiculously large amount of work; I had to convert the paragraphs to “Classic”, and then hand-enter a bit of CSS style separately into every paragraph element in the Code Editor. The new shiny “Blocks” style couldn’t deal with it at all, and kept telling me that I had Invalid Things. How does someone make an editor that has neither “indent paragraph” nor “search and replace” in 2020?)

So that is Basic Bread, and tomorrow-or-soon, I will put up Basic Bagels.


Microsoft Hates This One Weird Trick To Escape OneDrive!

(Actually I have no idea whether Microsoft hates it; what would it mean for a corporation to experience hatred? Can an entity hate something without experiencing hatred? Some thorny questions there! But for now, on to the trick.)

This is a followup to yesterday’s whinging about how Windows 10 decided to store my “desktop” and “documents” and “pictures” in their teeny little cloud drive (“OneDrive”), and then nag me for money once it got full. I have (I think) a solution! But first I will talk about what didn’t work, because this is a weblog.

First, what not to do, or at least what to undo quickly if you do it: One thing that the Microsoft site and various web searches will recommend if you ask the question in certain ways, is to just go into OneDrive setup, and turn off syncing (or backup or something) of certain directories. If you read the fine print before doing this, what it actually tells Windows is “I don’t want to be able to see these directories from my computer, just keep them up there in the cloud.”

This is exactly the opposite of what I want, which is to have these directories actually physically present on my computer, and not in the cloud at all (“There is no cloud; it’s just someone else’s computer”) except to the extent that I elect to put them there explicitly.

To accomplish that thing that I do want, it turns out that you want to (here is the trick) “unlink” the computer from OneDrive (or perhaps unlink OneDrive from the computer). The instructions for doing it are on the obvious Microsoft Help Page, but they cleverly don’t say what it actually does! And what they do say (“You won’t lose files or data by unlinking OneDrive from your computer. You can always access your files by signing in to”) makes it sound like it will do what turning off syncing does, which is to make the files invisible from the computer.

But in fact what it does (I’m pretty sure; this is what it appears to have done for me anyway!) is point the Desktop, Pictures, and Documents at local directories (without the dreaded “\OneDrive” in their names), put all of their content into those directories, and then stop sending everything that you put into them up into the cloud, where they will cause OneDrive to fill up the tiny 5G space and start begging you for money. Copies of the files will (probably?) still exist in OneDrive, getting slowly out of date, unless you take action to clean them up (and who has time for that, really?).

(One caveat: among the fine print as you do this, is a note that any files (or folders) that are “online only”, will disappear from your computer. Do I have any “online only” folders or files? Beats me! Is there any way to tell, short of looking at every one? I don’t know! But I assumed, and so far apparently correctly, that I don’t have any of those. With luck, you don’t either.)

(Important update: In fact if you are like me, lots of files might be “online only” without your realizing it! Like, in my case, at least all of the screenshots prior to May of 2020! So you’ll probably want to check in whatever way you prefer (haha) to make sure that there are at least the same number and/or size of files in the newly-local directories (“folders”) as there are up on or whatever it is. Arggh!)

It’s possible that some of the behavior I’m seeing here is because the directories (“folders”) involved are the special “personal folders”: Desktop, Pictures, and Documents. (You might think that all of the folders on a Personal computer would be Personal folders, but in fact Microsoft considers everything outside of Desktop, Pictures, and Documents to belong to Microsoft Corporation, and don’t you forget it!)

One thing that I’m considering doing is creating like a “d:\onedrive_cloud_data” directory, and telling Windows to “link” and/or “sync” with just that. Then I could store stuff in OneDrive only when I wanted to, by putting it in there. But I kind of doubt that I’ll do that, because it’s just too likely that if OneDrive is turned on at all Microsoft will start putting the Desktop etc. there again just for fun and revenue.

So now you know! Assuming I’m not completely wrong.

Afterward: While poking around inside Windows for this trick and these weblog entries, I ran into various reminders of why I try to avoid poking around inside Windows (and why I’m so happy that I don’t rely on Windows for anything beyond playing entirely optional games).

For instance, while I was poking around for disk information, I went into the “System and Security” part of “Control Panel”, and found that in there there is a subsection called “Backup and Restore (Windows 7)”. I’m sure I don’t want to know why that is there.

There is another subsection called “Flash Player (32-bit)”, which I wish wasn’t there because it suggests that I have Flash Player installed, which is a security nightmare and now I have to go find it and uninstall it. One also wonders in what sense the Flash Player is “System and Security”, but I suppose calling the section “System and Security Nightmares” would have been bad for marketing.


In which I simply whine about OneDrive

I started out to write a more general weblog entry, but ended up just complaining (or “whinging” or even “whingeing”, as the Brits say and the spellchecker here recommends against) about Microsoft OneDrive, because that is what is currently Top of Mind. Apologies that this is probably Not Terribly Uplifting.

I have this fancy “Legion” laptop (named after the WoW expansion a couple before last, for some reason), which has a cool multicolored keyboard, and came with Windows 10, many of the features of which I am becoming convinced are subtle pranks on the user.

I just want a computer that can run WoW and Chrome and Second Life and maybe No Man’s Sky and not really a lot else, but nooooo what they sell me is a whole little ball of strange marketing things and little popups about how great the “Edge” browser (i.e. “okay, okay, we admit Explorer was bad”) is and wouldn’t I like to switch to it, and keeps storing what are apparently important files that I thought were on the very large hard drive into the tiny “OneDrive” instead, and then telling me that “OneDrive” is full and wouldn’t I like to pay for more of it?

This computer has, in particular, about half a terabyte of reasonably fast SSD as the “C:” drive (hello, 1983!), and another ummm about one terabyte of not as fast “D:” drive. In contrast the “OneDrive” is apparently five (5) gigabytes in size, and is almost full, because Windows keeps putting things into it.

(It also causes a perpetual red warning X to appear in the Windows toolbar thing, due to being worried in some obscure way about three files whose names end in “.lnk”, and really ask me if I care.)

It was almost full the other week, and I tried a bit to figure out what it was, and decided it was a teeny bit of free Cloud storage space to which Windows automatically syncs who-knows-what, so that I can get to it from my other Windows devices, of which there are zero (0).

So I erased the largest thing in it that was taking nearly all of the space, the “Epic Games” directory (sorry, “folder”) and everything under it, because why the heck was it syncing that to cloud storage anyway?

And of course it turned out that erasing that from OneDrive also erased it from my hard drive (or at the very least made Windows think that I had), and so now none of my Epic games work anymore until I reinstall them.

I’m guessing that I won’t be able to reinstall them, because there isn’t enough space in OneDrive.

In the meantime, even without having tried to reinstall any of those games, I am getting warnings again that my “OneDrive” is filling up and wouldn’t I like to buy more? This time, it’s apparently because Windows has decided to put every screenshot that I’ve ever taken, as well as a whole lot of other image and movie / video files there. I am of course afraid that if I remove them from OneDrive they will be destroyed, so basically Windows is actively holding them hostage, demanding that I pay them monthly or who-knows-what will stop working, and preventing me from moving them elsewhere by an implicit threat to move them back, since it moved them there in the first place without asking me.

I would like to tell Windows to remove all trace of OneDrive from my computer, and to keep all of my files on the hard drive thank you very much. I see that many other people have had this same desire: “Just what the hell is Onedrive and how do I get rid of this nuisance?“, “OneDrive – How do I get this off Windows 10“, “When was the last time you even used OneDrive?“, “ONEDRIVE is a photo theft program“, and so on and so on.

Some of these prior complaints contain or link to ways to (try to) get Windows to stop this hostage-taking behavior. I don’t have much faith in my ability to do this, and I suspect it will continue stashing things there forever. But perhaps I can get it under some sort of control.

My tentative theory is that it is configured to “sync” my “desktop” to OneDrive, and that since there are/were symlinks or “shortcuts” or something from my “desktop” to various photos (and Epic Games) directories, that counts. I will follow one or more of the sets of instructions on the web, and/or just configure it to sync nothing at all, and see if that helps.

I consider it a bad sign that Windows seems to think that the path to the desktop for instance is “C:\Users\xxxxx\OneDrive\Desktop”, but I carry on regardless.

Wish me luck!


The Govner

Here’s that story that I mentioned the other day. Turns out I sat with it for a few days, but made almost no changes. It might not be too bad! :)

The party was just slightly out of control, just slightly raucous and just slightly tense if you hadn’t drunk quite enough. All fine, really, a good time, if you didn’t happen to feel that small tension.

Lewis was feeling that small tension, for whatever reason, sitting out in his back yard with a nice view of the harbor and the bay, a mild headache making it harder to have a good time with all these friends and neighbors drinking and enjoying themselves in the twilight.

When he saw some guy, indistinct in darkness in that part of the yard, but obviously being entirely too friendly with Patty, he was glad to have something to be pissed about, and he lunged over in that direction.

And then he saw it was just the Govner, so that was all right. He sat down in a nearby chair and smiled over at them, wondering if the man was going to take Patty inside. It was always sort of an honor to have the Govner take your wife to bed.

His headache was mostly gone, he realized, probably just from the Govner’s presence. He did feel it enough, though, to remember the feeling in that moment when he thought it might have been Harris, or Peters, or some stranger, touching Patty’s arm like that. Pure insult, that would have been, but this was fine, because…

And maybe because of the headache, or because of that long moment seeing a man in the darkness and not realizing who it was, it occurred to him for the first time to wonder why it was fine to have the Govner take Patty to bed, whereas any other man even hinting at it, he would have had more than a word with.

The Govner could do anything, of course. No restaurant would charge him, and he always got the best table that they could press on him. Any woman, and for that matter any man, would be gratified to be the object of his affection for however long or short a time. He had his own motor yacht in the harbor, that he’d just modestly asked the Tylers at Tyler Marine if he could have and they’d of course been happy to say yes. And the Govner’s parties, when he decided to have one, were the best, because everyone who came donated the best of everything to them.

Lewis was still trying in a vague tipsy way to recall why the Govner was different from everyone else, and for that matter where he’d come from or how long he’d been there, when the man himself kissed Patty firmly (which, Lewis knew, was a good thing, but also something that no other man would have dared) and came over and sat down with his beer next to Lewis himself. His voice was soft and smooth, as always.

“She’s a fine woman, Lewis,” he said, “you’re a lucky man.”

It was always good to talk to the Govner. Lewis could remember, if without specific details, sitting with him in this same back yard on many nights, just the two of them, shooting the breeze about everything and nothing. He did it with everyone, it was one of the great things about living around the bay.

Now he found himself at just the right combination of tipsy and comfortable to bring up this particular subject.

“Thank you, sir,” he said, “I know that I am.” And then after a pause, “Would you mind if I asked you kind of a funny question?”

“Anything Lewis, you know that,” the Govner replied in that easy voice.

“Well, not saying that there’s anything at all wrong about it, of course, but just curious, you know?”

The Govner nodded encouragingly.

“I mean to say, well, why is it, exactly, that, you know, that you’re so different from everyone else, and, again it’s all fine and proper, but why is it that we’re all so happy to just — give you everything?” After he said it, Lewis felt light-headed, and ashamed.

The Govner just looked at him there in the twilight, for a lot of seconds.

“You know, Lewis,” he said, “that’s a very good question.”

He looked out over the harbor and the bay, and then back into Lewis’s eyes.

“Up until this moment, I’ve assumed I was just having a very good dream.”



In the Old Days, each weblog entry was just dated, without any overall title, and therefore without any presumption (presupposition?) of a unifying theme of any kind. Each one was just “Here is what I am writing in my weblog today”.

I could still do that, of course. This one I’ve just titled “Saturday”, but (probably?) one doesn’t want to have too many (even more than one?) weblog entry with the same title, so that won’t do as a recurring pattern.

There’s a short (short-short) story that I’ve had swirling around in my head since some evening, years in the past, when it occurred to me while sitting in some yard of some rental house on I think Linekin Bay. I’ve never quite written it down, and I thought that perhaps today I would, and put it in the weblog here.

So I got up the energy to finally write down a draft, and it’s sitting in Drafts in the ol’ Weblog Content Management System here, but I don’t think I’ll post it today. I can’t decide whether I’m happy with it, or will be happy with it after a bit of fiddling, or if it’s entirely wrong and I should delete it and try again. I suspect it’s that middle thing, and that I’ll fiddle with it some today and tomorrow perhaps, and (perhaps) post it as a weblog entry tomorrow.

It strikes me that in a way it’s thematically similar to this year’s NaNoWriMo novel :) and therefore somewhat thematically similar to some of the others as well, and probably to most of the thoughts that interest me the most. But I won’t disclose any more than that.

I’ve probably already gotten your hopes up too high about this story. :) It’s very short and probably not really All That Much, just so ya know.

What else? Spennix is max level in the new World of Warcraft Shadowlands expansion already. Traditionally that should go in the secret Second Life (and other virtual words and games and stuff) weblog, but I really haven’t written in that in ages, and returning to two weblogs in the same week would require more energy than I’m willing (able?) to devote to it.

Leveling from 50 to 60 was basically a walk in the park. The new content seems mildly interesting, although many of the things in the new expansion are either very much like things in prior expansions (blue people, annoying little servant guys, blobby evil things) or are (rather inexplicably) exactly things in prior expansions.

(I mean, the Drust were one of the big enemy groups in BfA, and just by coincidence they are also one of the big enemy groups in one of the areas of the Universal Afterlife? I mean what a coincidence, eh? Maybe they’ll explain it, but heh. Given that every planet in the universe supposedly sends its dead here, an awful lot of Azeroth seems to be around. And for that matter the place should really be much more crowded!)

It’s the end of the year, and especially given that we didn’t take the traditional vacation this year (we had a place near Portland, Maine reserved with M’s sister’s family, but due to You Know What it was all canceled), I have considerable vacation days left, and am taking lots of them in November and December; I think I have like six working days left in the year (yes, I’m spoiled!). This is nice for relaxation purposes, but not as nice for Imposter Syndrome.

Also it turns out that unlike Previous Employer, Current Employer doesn’t throw away vacation days at the end of the year at all (there’s just a maximum number that you can accrue in total), so there isn’t really any reason to take a whole bunch in December. But I’m used to it, and other people do also, and I reserved them as vacation before I bothered to look up the policy, so here we are!

And today it’s cold and rainy and grey for the second (third? not sure) day in a row, and I feel like just crawling back all warm under the covers, possibly until Spring and/or easy and reliable vaccination. Maybe I will for an hour or two before or after dinner, at any rate. :) Stay comfy!


SCP-[NNNN] : the horrid doorbell

Inspired by yesterday’s topic convergence, I went over into the Shortly client for GPT-3, and gave it as input:


Item #: SCP-[NNNN]
Object Class: Safe
Special Containment Procedures:

Note that I didn’t actually use “[NNNN]”, I used a four-digit SCP number that doesn’t currently have an entry in the SCP database, but I won’t give it here because I don’t plan to claim the number, and I wouldn’t want to confuse future searches if the number does get assigned to something. I’ve made the same substitution below, and since the AI never uses the string “[NNNN]”, you can tell.

Anyway, without further ado:

Item #: SCP-[NNNN]
Object Class: Safe
Special Containment Procedures: SCP-[NNNN] is to be stored within a sealed water-resistant plastic case within the anomalous object storage area of Sector-28.

Description: SCP-[NNNN] is a small (approx. 8cm x 4cm) slab of black granite, inscribed with archaic symbols not present on other known varieties of granite. A hole is drilled into the top of the object, allowing it to function as a standard door knocker.

SCP-[NNNN]’s anomalous properties manifest when it is used to deliver a firm yet gentle tap to a door. In 99% of cases, the door in question does not exist.

SCP-[NNNN] came to the attention of the Foundation within the home of Robert ████, a former student of ███████ United Kingdom’s ancient languages faculty. Mr. ████ had discovered that his house was not as he knew it.

Upon moving into his home of two years, Mr. ████ had first suspected his house had been burgled, as several items were missing. Mr. ████’s wife, having remained home while he was at work, revealed to him that the missing items had never been there to begin with. Dr. ██████ replaced all of the missing items with new ones, and Mr . ████ found the missing items in his home within [REDACTED] days.

Over the course of the next 3 years, Mr. ████ found that several other objects that were missing from his house re-appeared, including items that were previously in plain sight and which he, his wife, and the replacements provided by Dr. ██████, were unaware of. It was not until he requested Foundation intervention that an investigation was carried out.

Mr. ████ was instructed to knock on the door of his home a single time with SCP-[NNNN]. He did, and was instructed to enter the house.

Upon entering, Mr . ████ discovered that the inside of his home had changed dramatically. After passing through the door, Mr. ████ discovered an alternate version of his house outside of a nearby door, with several differences. The door led to a living room of a house identical to his own, except that everything was in excess and in violation of an uncountable number of laws of physics, and an uncountable number of living people were crammed inside of it.

All of the people within the room were completely silent, and were unaware of Mr. ████. Upon resuming his inspection of his home, Mr. ████ learned that most of his original furniture was missing , and replaced with slightly different versions, made of a different material.

Several areas of his house had been repainted outside where the door was to deliver as the subject entered. Mr. ████ determined that the only plausible explanation for this was SCP-[NNNN].

Mr. ████ was infected with numerous diseases, all of which spread to those within the house after he exited. Infected subjects were incapable of moving, and they were entirely unable to vocalize. A few individuals became bloodthirsty, vicious, and violent, yet none of them were able to exit their room and attack anyone, as the doors to the house were impenetrable .

It is unknown if anyone had intentionally infected the occupants of Mr. ████’s home, and it is suspected that SCP-[NNNN] was the cause.

Does it make sense? Not really! But the idea of a mysterious object that seems intended to be a door knocker, and when you use it as a door knocker, weird anomalous things happen, is rather perfect for an SCP.

And for pure randomness, I do like “In 99% of cases, the door in question does not exist.” :)

(When I kept pushing the button, it started writing an interview of Mr. ████ by a Foundation researcher, which was very appropriate, but the interview was rambling and pointless, so I didn’t include it. And it’s a pretty good length as it is I think.)

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Secure, Contain, Protect!

Here I am writing for the second day in a row, and not because it is either NaNoWriMo or NaPoWriMo.

Today I’m going to point my faithful readers at The SCP Foundation, which is an extremely cool collaborative writing and world-building project with an extremely cool premise, lots and lots of material to get lost in for hours, and high potential to produce nightmares on overlong exposure.

The basic premise is, to summarize inadequately, that the world is a much weirder place than ordinary people like you and me realize, and that the continued existence of human life (and for that matter of the universe as a whole) depends on dedicated individuals acting to contain the impact of the weird anomalous things out there that would otherwise… do very bad (or at least very disruptive) things.

The Foundation operates to maintain normalcy, so that the worldwide civilian population can live and go on with their daily lives without fear, mistrust, or doubt in their personal beliefs, and to maintain human independence from extraterrestrial, extradimensional, and other extranormal influence.

I got into the SCP maelstrom through, I think, the Antimemetics Division Hub, and in particular the bulk of the tales therein written by the rather amazing qntm (twitter), about whom I know nothing except that they have written some rather mind-blowing stuff. (While writing this very paragraph, I just discovered, or perhaps was reminded, that they have a whole website, and that they did NaNoWriMo in a way this year, and now I have to go read lots more stuff.)

But anomalous antimemes are another matter entirely. How do you contain something you can’t record or remember? How do you fight a war against an enemy with effortless, perfect camouflage, when you can never even know that you’re at war?

Welcome to the Antimemetics Division.

No, this is not your first day.

One of the Big Deals of the SCP is a whole bunch of descriptions of anomalous objects and entities currently or previously under the control of the SCP Foundation. (These anomalies are themselves referred to as “SCPs” sometimes, and it sometimes seems to stand for “Special Containment Procedures” or something; it’s all appropriately confusing.) There are lots of ways to start getting lost in the rich and delicious maze of SCPs; for instance you can start at The Big List, choose any one, start reading, and then follow various links deeper and deeper in, until you discover that it’s like four in the morning.

One of my favorite recent discoveries is SCP-914.

WARNING: At this time, no testing of biological matter is allowed. Refer to document 109-B:117. Applying the “Rough” setting to explosive materials is not advised.

It’s a very interesting object (I want one!) and also has links to lots of other interesting objects that it has been tested on, and some of their associated stories.

Input: 1 dram of SCP-837, rolled into a ball.
Setting: Rough
Output: The entire 3mx2.1mx2.1m output chamber was initially filled with clay, with small lines noticeable along the surface. Upon applying slight pressure to empty the chamber, the clay began collapsing in on itself, eventually setting down to a single dram of clay. Final sample demonstrates consistent properties of SCP-837.

Speaking of stories, another way to enter if you prefer narratives to weird objects, is the Tale Hub.

There are lots (and lots) of Tales.

In the inevitable topic convergence, at least one person set GPT-3 to producing new SCP descriptions. And it sort of in a way worked, both quite well and not all that well, depending. Here’s another one, by and/or from the famous gwern (no necessary relation to qntm). And another one! And back on reddit, yet another.

The cell is to be equipped with a camera and microphone system for monitoring all activity within it. A large metal door is to be installed at the front of the room, so that any attempts by SCP-123456 to escape will not result in them escaping through this door.

(Yes, there is an r/SCP on reddit. There is entirely too much content in the world to read. Remember when there was less content? I remember.)

And I’ve seen at least one suggestion that GPT-3 itself ought to be an SCP. Not implausible! :)

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Writing Weblog Things

I was talking to a friend today about how she’s been doing writing exercises of various kinds that sound like a Good Thing in various ways. And I said that I’ve been thinking about starting to write more in my weblog, which I have (been thinking about), but I’m not sure how serious I am about it. :)

I’ve always found it a nice feeling to write something here again, and certainly this year writing about NaNoWriMo has been fun because NaNoWriMo was fun (and I’m rather liking the finished novel as I read it over). But also it’s generally been true that after writing something here once or a few times, I then stop again. I’m not sure why!

Partly because I had less time, what with commuting two hours each way into Manhattan four days a week or so. But I haven’t been doing that since March (or, as it’s still March here, since the very beginning of this extremely long March), so that doesn’t apply now. I’ve been filling that commuting time partly with extra sleeping (yay!), and partly with playing WoW (the Shadowlands expansion is out!), and partly with lots of interacting with GPT-3 (not quite as crazily nonstop as I was early on, but still quite a bit), and even like reading books sometimes, and even more even going into Second Life a bit (most recently trying to figure out the most recent variations on Mesh Bodies and Mesh Heads and Bake-On-Mesh and other things that seem needlessly complicated but maybe fun).

But maybe I will try to write here more. The little boy mentioned, as we were going down to Queens to pick up the little daughter (who is now gainfully employed and lives in Queens, if you can believe it!) that he had at some time in the past in an idle moment found my old weblog (probably the pre-wordpress parts) and read some of them, and thought it was pretty neat. Which warmed the very cockles of my heart, it did.

Which does, naturally enough, make it seem even more attractive to write more here now.

Another reason I haven’t, I think, is that I have been giving so much mental time and space to stuff that is so quotidian (politics and elections, the global pandemic, etc.) that it seems more suited to Twitter, say, than to writing longer and quirkier and more leisurely and obscure things here, which is the kind of thing that this space feels better for.

Not that I couldn’t write longish thoughtful posts about how bad Trump is, and how and why none of the “evidence of fraud” is actually evidence of fraud, and how likely I think it is that everything will go more or less normally with The Transfer of Power, and when and how enough people will get vaccinated to get R below 1.0, and so on.

But there’s so much stuff like that on the Web already! My thoughts on the subject might be slightly above average, but that’s a pretty low bar (haha), and you can find better things with a quick web search on the obvious terms.

I’d rather write about more obscure things that are more my own, like using neural network language models to generate recipes, and how language can’t express truth (which I know I’ve probably overstated, but still), and whether there’s free will in heaven, and what one ought to do with absolute power over reality (and what “ought” might mean there), and other themes dealt with in my recent novel. :)

And even things that might have been dealt with there but didn’t happen to be.

It would be healthy to open up more mental space for those things (although having written a short novel about them in twenty-one days is pretty good evidence come to think of it that I’ve already devoted some space to them), but it’s not immediately clear that I’ll be able to, or that I will choose to, or that I will, to the extent required to actually write here regularly.

But maybe I will! I’ve certainly managed to write some words here tonight :) although admittedly they’re sufficiently meta that they aren’t really about anything in particular. Maybe next time there’ll be some first-order content!