“Hawk Among the Sparrows”

I read this novella in a secondhand copy of the very issue of Analog whose cover is shown here. My cousin Barry gave me a box of about five years of Analog magazines, the nearly complete run from 1968-73. Barry gave me this gift around 1973, when I was 12 years old. I read the magazines cover to cover one summer, every word, including the letters and probably the ads too.

Barry is about 15 years older than I, so he would have been in his late 20s or 30 then, when I was about 12. And he was a voracious science fiction reader. I think he moved on to technothrillers over the course of the 80s. When we visited his house in the early 70s, he let me borrow freely from his library. Some of the books I was exposed to at that time were racy and dealt with drug use and other themes; this was the time of the science fiction New Wave. But I got a lot of the classics from the 1940s and 1950s that way too.

Barry outright gave me his castoff books, some of which I loved and are still in my collection. He and I now have very different tastes in fiction; I think a lot of it has to do with my having formed my tastes to a large degree on books he gave me because he didn’t want them!

“Hawk Among the Sparrows” is a time-travel story with a twist. Published in 1968, it’s about the pilot of a cutting-edge (for 1968) fighter jet cast back in time to World War I, along with his fully fueled and operational plane. The pilot tries to use his advanced technology to win the war for the Allies against the Axis powers. But he finds his technology is too advanced. If I recall correctly, the missiles are heat-seeking. Either that or they’re metal-seeking. Either way, there isn’t enough heat (or metal) on a World War I battlefield for the missiles to target on. Also, the plane requires prodiguous quantities of kerosene to fly, and the entire Allied economy can barely produce enough to put that one plane in the air. So the pilot and his World War I friends struggle to find a way to use this technology from 50 years in the future.

Amazingly, 1968 is only slightly further in the future of World War I than today is to 1968.

A day at the San Diego Miniatures Show & Sale – 71 photos

We went in February and I’ve been meaning to upload the photos ever since. Finally getting around to it today. I believe that these photos are still current – none of these miniatures have grown larger in the intervening six months.

35 photos from my day at Comic-Con

I had a great time at Comic-Con yesterday. First I volunteered for voter registration for the San Diego County Democratic Party and La Mesa-Foothills Democratic Club. We got a lot of positive feedback. People came up and thanked me for what I was doing. Three people even asked me to pose for photo, which had me gobsmacked; I don’t go in costume, so I’m always the guy TAKING the photos.

We didn’t get a lot of voter reg, but that’s OK. It’s more about visibility, I think. Nobody ever wakes up in the morning and says, “Hey, I think I’ll go to Comic-Con and register to vote.

Following the volunteering session, I stopped in at the Field Irish Pub for lunch, and then walked around and saw what there was to be seen outside the convention center. As is often the case for me, I was unable to buy tickets this year, but that’s OK; the con spreads out over the entire Gaslamp.

Back this afternoon for a quick in-and-out to meet a friend and then that’s a wrap for me for Comic-Con 2018.

I took a five-day social media break over Memorial Day weekend and didn’t know what to be outraged about

I took a break from Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Tumblr, starting the Thursday before Memorial Day to the evening of the holiday.

There were exceptions to my break. I used Reddit. And I logged in to Facebook and other social media for a couple of hours to do some work for the La Mesa-Foothills Democratic club. But other than that I left social media alone.

So how was the break? Nice. Not life-altering, but it was good to get away.

I’ve thought about doing it in the past but there’s a compulsive aspect to social media. Facebook in particular. A feeling that it’s somehow rude to ignore my online friends. Which is just silly. Everybody should take a few days away from social media now and then. I expect to do it more often.

While I was away, I read books and articles, watched some TV with Julie, and took the dog on two long hikes. One hike was on suburban residential streets around La Mesa, including going up 245 outdoor steps, and then immediately down 184 steps.

The other hike was Cowles Mountain. That was a distance of 4 miles, with a 1,600-foot climb. Cowles is the highest point in San Diego County.

For Twitter, Google+ and Tumblr I just walked away and didn’t post anything and didn’t check comments. I don’t get a lot of interaction on those services when I’m not actively posting.

But I didn’t feel right about just walking away from Facebook. If people were leaving comments on my posts, which they would do, they deserve a prompt response, within a day at most.

So I temporarily disabled my Facebook account. This only took a few minutes to do but it was RIDICULOUSLY complicated. It took six steps and Facebook warns you SEVERAL TIMES that your friends will be unable to contact you. Because apparently Facebook is the only way we communicate now. We don’t talk. We just Facebook.

You can only disable your Facebook account for up to seven days at a time; after that, Facebook will automatically re-enable the account.

However, although the process of disabling your Facebook is complicated and intimidating, it only takes a few minutes to do. And it seems to be the only way to reliably let people know I’m not on Facebook for a bit and not to expect a response.

I wish Facebook had some equivalent of the email out-of-office message.

One other loophole in my social media break: I like to post links to articles, and I was still reading articles, so I used Buffer to queue up the links after my social media return. And now they’re trickling out.

I think I’ll take more one-day and multi-day breaks from social media. It’s nice to get off the machine for a while.

Minnie and I got into a tussle with a stray dog yesterday afternoon

I had taken Minnie out for an extra-long walk in a new neighborhood, and was walking around one of our local parks to cool off when an off-leash dog charged us, barking excitedly. Minnie said “holy crap!” and scrambled to get behind me.

Minnie is a lousy guard dog; we’ve already established this.

The off-leash dog got behind me too to get at Minnie.

I started turning around to avoid being pulled over by the struggling dogs and the leash.

The stray dog was about 60 pounds. Minnie is about 35 pounds. So Minnie is much smaller.

I’m about 170 pounds. I don’t know if that’s relevant. I’m just throwing it in.

And so we spun around and around in circles with the dogs barking and growling and and bumping up against me, and me shouting swear words and yelling at the stray dog to get away.

Many F-bombs were dropped that day, I can tell you!

I was not too far from a public restroom, and I started moving in that direction, thinking to go inside and barricade Minnie and me in there somehow.

A young man came running over and I thought that was his dog and I yelled at him to get his darn dog away from me and put it on a darn leash.

I did not say “darn.”

It wasn’t his dog. He was just being a good Samaritan.

And he was a dog-whisperer too. He got the stray dog calmed down fast. The stray even rolled over on his back after a couple of minutes.

Poor dog. Poor good Samaritan. Getting yelled at by the strange foul-mouthed man in the park.

And now everything was calmed down. The stray dog was quiet. The good Samaritan had one arm draped over the stray’s shoulder. I stood about five feet away, with my back to the wall of the public bathroom. Minnie was next to me.

I didn’t want to go anywhere, in part because I didn’t want to abandon the young man with the stray dog, and in part because I didn’t want the stray dog following us and resuming hostilities.

The man’s wife came over, along with his two little kids. He asked her to get a rope from the car, which she did, and fashioned a makeshift leash.

The man and his wife conversed in mixed English and Spanish. They seemed to be Mexican-American. I’m throwing that in here because of the stupid bigotry against Mexican-Americans we’re seeing from the Embarrassment in Chief in the White House and other assorted morons. Here was a Mexican-American who did a good deed for a stranger.

During that time, I called the cops. 911. “There’s a stray dog roaming around the park. It charged me and my dog!” I said.

“What is the emergency?” the operator said.

“Um, that was pretty much it. Stray dog. Charged at me. Off leash. Owner not around. Dangerous.”

We went back and forth like that and the dispatcher said they’d send a car but there were four calls ahead of me. Which seemed reasonable, but did leave us in an awkward position.

The police wanted to know if the stray dog was wearing tags. The dog was not. No tags, no collar, no identification of any kind.

It seemed at that point that the most useful thing I could do would be to get Minnie away from there, and so I did. The man said he’d wait for the police.

We walked back to my car. I took Minnie home, checked on her to be sure she was ok, let Julie know what had happened, and then went back to the park with a spare leash we had around the house.

I came upon the man and his family loading up their car in the parking lot. He told me the police had been and gone, as had the dog’s owner. I shook his hand and thanked him for his help, and he said you’re welcome and then I left.

No doubt he was telling his children never, ever to use the kind of language they’d heard me use at that dog.

As I was driving off, a police officer returned my call. He told me they’d been there and resolved the situation.

So what happened to the dog? Honestly, I don’t know and as I drove off I didn’t care anymore. I’d spent far too much time on the fiasco, and was very, very hungry for dinner even before the dog charged us. I just wanted to get home and eat.

My guess is that the dog is home. Either the owner got there before the police and picked the dog up, or the police took the dog away but the man at the park told the dog’s owner what happened, and the dog’s owner picked up his animal from the shelter.

Either way, I fear things will end up badly for that dog and maybe someone else the dog encounters. The dog had no tags and no collar. That suggests that the dog’s getting loose may not have been a freak accident. It suggests the owner is careless and irresponsible and the dog will get loose again and maybe it won’t have such a happy ending next time.

Script for adding an email from Outlook as an OmniFocus task

I had an amazingly difficult time finding a working script that would automatically save an email from Outlook as an OmniFocus task. Google kept directing me to scripts that did NOT work. But at last I was able to find a solution – it’s here at the bottom of this thread on the Omni forums.

The page contains both a script and an Alfred workflow. I’m using the workflow. Enjoy!

Hot public sex in the park!

I came across these two having hot, shameless public sex in the park!

Walking Minnie Friday afternoon on the footpath around Lake Murray, as we do almost every day, I saw a half-dozen people standing around looking at something on the edge of the path.

When I got closer, I saw this is what it was.

I kept a prudent distance in case they were poisonous rattlesnakes. (What do I know from rattlesnakes? I’m a New Yorker born and raised – we don’t have snakes, just garbage strikes.) Later, Julie found a photo on Facebook nearly identical to these videos, and the person taking the photos identified the snakes as California king snakes, non-poisonous, and they eat vermin too. So you two lovebirds just go at at and make plenty of little baby snakes.


I’ve been using Aeropress to make coffee every day for a few months now. I like it because it makes great coffee, it’s fast and forgiving, and the Aeropress itself is cheap – about $25.

The Aeropress doesn’t care if you use the precisely right grind. Measuring can be approximate; at first I used a scale and measured coffee and water to the gram, but now I just scoop and measure by eye. The coffee still tastes great.

No need to even boil water: We have a third tap on our kitchen sink that dispenses water at the right temperature for the Aeropress, about 175 degrees. Many people have those; I suspect the Aeropress may have been designed with that in mind.

Cleanup is easy: Just rinse and use a damp sponge to wipe the parts that come into contact with the ground coffee.

I make four cups of coffee at a time first thing in the morning, which requires two runs through the Aeropress. That sets me up for the whole day.

I’m currently looking for a container that I can brew the coffee into and keep it hot for the hour or two it takes me to drink it all. Previously, I’ve been making the coffee in a glass beaker and then transferring it to a Thermos. But I think I might be able to make the coffee directly in the Thermos – just use a funnel to catch the brewed coffee. I’d be balancing the Aeropress on top of the funnel on top of the Thermos, which sounds precarious but I think I can make it work easily.

On the other hand that might result in a huge mess and a trip to the emergency room. I’ll try it tomorrow. Adventure awaits!

Updated Saturday 5/19: The adventure ended anticlimactically. The entire assembly of Aeropress, funnel, and Thermos was too tall to fit under the instant hot water spigot. I was left scrambling to find a suitable container to brew the coffee into, while the ground coffee in the Aeropress got damp. The coffee still tasted good, though; like I said, the Aeropress is forgiving.

Getting the Due app working with the Apple Watch

For years, I found the Due iPhone timer useful. It’s much more flexible than the built-in iPhone timer app, and I used it often.

But then I got the Apple Watch in December and Due was incompatible with the way I use the Watch.

My iPhone is silent at all times; when I get a notification I just get a nudge on my wrist from the Watch. It’s one of my favorite things about the Watch.

But, alas, the Due app doesn’t work with the Apple Watch.

Sure, it’s supposed to work. Due has a Watch app. But it’s unreliable.

Or so I thought.

I had been using the Due Watch app to set timers. A week or two ago I thought, “What if I use the iPhone Due app to set timers?” And so I started doing that and it works great. I set the timers on the iPhone and they go off reliably and silently on my Watch. Hooray!

By the way, you may well ask what’s so great about Due?

First, you can have multiple, custom presets.

I have many presets, including one for five minutes and one for 20 minutes, because I often need to time things for those two intervals.

The iPhone timers app has no support for presets, and with the Watch timers app, you take the presets Apple gives you and you like it.

Also, the Due app lets you set multiple different types of timers.

Apple’s built in iPhone and Watch timers keep going off until you press a button to turn them off. The Due app has timers that go off for a couple of seconds, and then stop on their own.

The Due app also supports reminders that will go off every couple of minutes and keep nagging you until you switch them off. That’s handy for things you really need to do sooner rather than later, like take a pill or feed the dog or dial in two minutes early for a conference call.

Captain Mitch’s Whiz-Bang PR Tips! (a continuing series)

Note to my friends in PR: One of the best ways you can enhance my chances of writing about your news is to tell me about it before it’s announced. This is called an “embargo,” and it’s common between PR people and business journalists. (An embargo is an agreement though – don’t just send me your news and assume I’ll sit on it. Ask first.)

When I see an email from a PR person that says their client announced a thing this morning – i.e. it was already public by the time I got the email – my pinky finger is starting to move to the DELETE key.

If Apple Mail performance is slow, uncheck “Load Remote Content” in preferences

My work mail is Microsoft Office 365, which I access using Mail.app on the Mac. Recently, I noticed performance had become so slow as to become painful. Mail downloaded just fine, but when I clicked on a message it took forever to open, and when I marked a message as read it took forever for the message status to change.

The solution: Go into “Preferences” and make sure “Load remote content in messages” is unchecked. Loading remote content means the Mac has to go out to the Internet and download images, which takes time.

It’s probably a good idea to uncheck that for security reasons as well as for performance.

I don’t recall whether that box is checked or unchecked by default. Previously, I had it checked – messages set to download remote content automatically. And that’s what was slowing down my Mail performance. I unchecked it, and mail performs just fine for me now.

If I want to see remote content, such as images, for a particular message, I can click a button on the top of each individual message, and the remote content downloads quickly enough.

Most of the time I don’t bother. I don’t bother reading about 99% of the email I receive anymore.

A note to my PR friends

Your pitch needs to fit in the length of a tweet. I am not kidding about this. I have 2,400 unread emails now, mostly PR pitches. I give a pitch one sentence to get my attention. If it hasn’t grabbed me by then, I just hit delete and move on. (signed) A Cranky Editor

Overheating MacBook Air problem solved (I think)

I think I resolved my problem with the MacBook Air overheating. A gentleman on Reddit said the keyboard cover I’d bought to keep the MBA clean was suffocating the machine. It’s running cool as a cucumber now.

I may try again to move the MacBook Air in front of the big display, which is where I like it. On the other hand, there’s something to be said for having it off to one side and out of harm’s way.

The problem with using the Internet for work

The problem with using the Internet for work is you start in one place, and end up in another, bewildering, and clearly not-work-related place, and have no idea how you got there.

This is particularly true when you’re a journalist, as I am. It is even more true when you’re using Facebook.

I started out doing this legitimate work thing and ended up reading about the Riverworld series of science fiction novels, which I love, and which begat not one but two TV series pilots. Which is odd, because after a TV pilot fails once it’s surprising to see someone try it again seven years later.

I have absolutely no idea how I got from where I started to Riverworld.

Although if the novels are correct, we are all going to Riverworld eventually.

The novels are fantastic – or at least the first three are – and I’d love to see somebody do them right for TV.

Troubleshooting my overheating MacBook Air

For nearly the last 20 years I’ve been working on a laptop configuration with the laptop off to one side, propped open, and attached to a big external display. The external display is my main desktop, and the open laptop is secondary. I use an external keyboard and trackball to drive the thing.

A month or so ago I moved the laptop — currently a 2015 MacBook Air, which I bought new — to the FRONT of the display. That meant the laptop screen was below the big monitor, and I was typing on the laptop’s built-in keyboard and using its built-in trackpad. I LOVED that. I got much better use out of the laptop display.

But I noticed it was running slow. I opened Activity Monitor and found a process called kernel_task was using up a ton of memory and CPU. What the hell is kernel_task, I asked myself. Google to the rescue.

kernel_task is a fake process — it intentionally soaks up processor resources to slow your Mac down and keep it cool.

I could hear the fan running loud.

Aha, I said to myself.

Elsewhere on the Internet (I’ve lost the link) I saw a suggestion that using a big external display and the onboard display together could make a MacBook Air overheat. That’s lots of pixels for the Air’s relatively wee processor to draw.

Another potential cause of overheating: Running the MacBook Air on a surface that does not provide adequate ventilation.

I was doing all of that. So I moved the MacBook back to its stand, and kept working.

This morning, I noticed the MacBook was running slow and hot again, even while I had it on a stand with adequate ventilation. So I closed the clamshell on the MacBook and am just using the big display as my only monitor. The MacBook performance improved a little right away, and now the fans are off and the MacBook is running pretty well.

I’m about to take my exercise break. I’m going to shut down the Mac and let it cool completely while I’m out. Then I’m going to try one other thing: I bought a keyboard condom back when I was using the MacBook keyboard as my primary input; it’s possible that the condom is blocking air flow and causing the MacBook to overheat. I’ll try getting rid of that and see if I can at least get the two-display benefits by keeping the MacBook open and to one side while I work.

Although on the other hand there’s something to be said for the focus of having just one display.

Update Sunday 4/8: Problem solved (I think).

Next time will be different

Me every six months:

“I hear DevonThink is a great app. I have never given it a good workout. I need to give it a fair try!”

[opens DevonThink]

[overcome by confusion]

[closes DevonThink]

At this rate my eval period will last 40 years and I’ll never have to buy it.

TARDIS in my bathroom

When we remodeled the bathrooms last year, I asked Julie for something Tardis-like in mine bathroom, because I am such a Doctor Who fan. But (I said) I don’t want it to be weird and fannish and obvious – make it discreet, I said.

She had this pattern of very small tiles put in next to the shower control, which is just perfect.

Mildly interesting encounter with a possible paid Russian troll

A few months ago, I was still getting drive-bys writing random pro-Trump inflammatory slogans on some of my political posts on various social media sites. These seemed to be cut-and-paste comments, insulting liberals and only tangentially related to anything I actually wrote.

To amuse myself, I started replying with comments like, “Greetings comrade! Do you get paid in rubles or dollars?” “How is the benefits program for pro-Russia trolling?” “Is it very cold in Moscow this time of year?” and so on. I really had no idea whether these were actually paid Russian trolls or garden-variety American trolls. I was just amusing myself at the expense of random rude strangers.

I was thinking last night about this one guy who showed up a few months ago. He left the usual “Libtards die! Trump rules! MAGA!” rubbish, and I replied in kind and I figured we were done. But then he started turning up on other posts – and he was just posting regular comments there. I’d post a cat video and he’d make a comment, “Cute!” I’d post a car ad from the 1950s and he’d comment “Great car!” And then after a couple of days of that I never heard from him again.

I was thinking about this exchange the other night. Imagine you’re a guy working for a Russian troll farm. You work in an open office somewhere in Moscow. You sit at your computer, running searches on keywords in social media and leaving inflammatory comments on American social media posts. It’s a job, like any other, and you take breaks from work like everybody else. You notice this one guy “Mitch Wagner” – you left one of your troll-comments on one of his posts the other day, and noticed that most of this guy Mitch’s posts aren’t political. Many are, but Mitch also posts a lot of cute animal videos and retro ads from the 70s and stuff. They’re mildly entertaining so you check out his page every once in a while and when you see something you like you leave a nice comment. Then after a couple of days of that you lose interest and move on.